My Kee Kee Run to God

I spent the other morning having a wonderful conversation with a game warden at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Association about turkey calling.

You’ve read correctly. Turkey calling.

With turkey season right around the corner, I was interested in writing a story for the local paper about the many ways in which to, well, in which to get a turkey’s attention. Not that I am about to take up hunting or anything like that. I still prefer my turkey to come frozen with the label “Butterball” on it.

I was just curious about what seemed to be a Vermont youngster’s rite of passage—their first turkey hunt.

So I met up with the game warden who had been spending his free time at a local 4H Club teaching kids the many different turkey calls to use when out in the woods and fields.

Turns out a turkey’s repertoire includes more than just its famous gobbling. There is the yelp, the purr and the putt.

The call, though, that got my attention was a “kee kee run”—which the game warden explained is basically a three-note call lasting about two seconds followed by a yelp at the end. He did a wonderful job mimicking the call for me. I, on the other hand, needed some more practice as the warden muttered about a raccoon in heat or something like that. Again, I will be getting my turkeys in the frozen food aisle at the local grocery store.

What drew me to this specific call was when the game warden told me it was the sound a young turkey would make when lost from the rest of the flock. Just the image of a young bird frantically trying to reconnect with its parent, broke my heart in a Disney movie sort of way. Why is that all Disney movies have those tear jerker moments?

Well, I had the information I needed for my story and after writing it right on deadline and filing it with the editor, I didn’t think anymore of turkey calling.

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A young turkey on my path today, calling out to be found. 

Until today.

While spring is still proving a bit blustery, I set out for hike anyway. I pulled on my trusty, dependable mucks as many paths are beginning to show signs of mud season. While the wind whipped harshly at times, the walk felt good and it was reassuring to see even the slightest of buds on the trees. Soon, very soon, nature will be fully awake from its winter slumber.

I continued walking and as I did I began thinking. Thoughts of Holy Week starting this week crossed my mind and I felt a twinge of sadness that I was not yet serving a church in the area. I didn’t realize how much I was missing pastoral duties, especially the ones during the high holy days. Just then my sadness became a frantic cry to God as my heart began asking a question that echoed many a heart in search of being settled, secure, certain of the future, once again.

Where are you God? I feel lost God. I feel like I am wandering and wandering and wandering. When, God, when will you give me a clearer path? My heart was about to cry out “where are you?” again, but it was interrupted by an even louder cry.

It was indeed a kee kee run.

Over the ridge I could see in the clearing below a young turkey running around shouting out its three notes punctuated by a yelp. The poor little thing was frantic. It was lost. It, too, was crying out to its absent parent, “Where are you?”

Kee kee run. Kee kee run. Kee kee run.

What the little turkey didn’t know was that a gathering of larger turkeys was just on the other side of a stone wall that was blocking its view.

I silently rooted for the young turkey to cry out even louder than it was. Cry out. You can do it. They will hear. Your loving parent is close by. Don’t give up. Not now. Cry out.

Kee kee run. Kee kee run.

Louder and louder the frantic little turkey cried out as if it heard me rooting it on.

Soon the older turkeys heard and made their way over to the little one crying, surrounding the one who was once lost. The little turkey calmed down. It was safe and secure again.

I turned back on my path and wondered about my kee kee run to God—that cry of a lost child frantically wanting to connect with its divine loving Parent.

I also cry and cry. I give God my best three short notes followed by a tearful yelp.

Where are you? Do you hear?

But until now, I never stopped to realize, that further down the path, just around a corner, over a looming tough hill, just out of sight behind a stone wall, God is there. God is indeed hearing my cries. God is making His way towards me. Soon, very soon, God will make His presence known, calming my frantic worry and bring beautiful peace to an uncertain path.

Kee kee run. Kee kee run.

The lost will be found. Always.

Kee kee run. Kee kee run.

God hears the cries of the faithful.

 

 

 

 

A Little White Church Maundy Thursday Reflection

I know you will make the right decision.

You have great faith.images-1.jpg

I looked at the text again. It was from an old friend whom I haven’t spoken to in a while. My first reaction was to scoff at her words. Me? Great faith? If only she knew of my struggles in that department lately, wondering where God was…wondering more as to what in heaven’s name was God up to.

My scoffing softened though. Tears soon came from my eyes dropping onto the screen of my iPhone blurring the message before me.

I’ve heard these words before.

Helen was her name. She was 92 years old when I came to the little white church. I remember her age well because on my first Sunday during announcements it was brought up that it was her birthday. I, being a brand new pastor, said with a smile, “Well, happy birthday, Helen!”

To which this petite, white haired woman replied, “What’s so good about it? I’m another year older!” Seminary never prepared me for this and so I stood there with a smile still on my face, praying for a quick quip or two to get us moving along in the service.

To say Helen had spunk would be an understatement, and I soon discovered she had more than just spunk. Helen had an amazing heart and a faith that was stronger than nails.

The family farm in which she was matriarch of for so many decades was on the winding country road to and from my first home, the primitive Colonial saltbox, to the little white church.

Late afternoons on my way home I would stop in to say hello. Walking through the mudroom where barn boots lined the wall, I would see her sitting at the kitchen table where in front of her was a large window giving her the most beautiful vistas of the farm. There we would sit and I would hear the most amazing stories of life back then. I would hear about how the farm dated back to the 1700s. I would hear about the frigid winter evening when her husband and her snuck off late into the night to go sledding as the children slept. And how one very icy hill turned out to be a mistake, as they crashed and got all mangled up.

“Not smart, but fun,” she would say.

I would hear all about the joys and challenges of farming, and I would hear all about her great love for the little white church and her hopes she had for it. Hopes for a bright future.

She cared deeply for her church family, as was evident in all the newsletters and bulletins from the little white church strewn on the kitchen table. She kept up to date with everything I was doing as pastor.

One spring day when the grass was just turning green and mud season was subsiding, we just sat at the kitchen table in silence. Both of us staring out of the window, watching the birds fluttering about for an afternoon snack in the many bird feeders Helen had hanging out in the yard.

“Helen,” I said quietly breaking the silence.

“Yes,” she replied just as quietly, with both of our eyes still staring at the birds before us.

“I can’t do this without you,” I said, referring to the high hopes she had for the little white church that I felt were weighing down on me as pastor. “I don’t have the strong faith you have, and so I am asking you to be my prayer warrior.”

Still looking out the window, her reply came. Short and sweet, with no further discussion or emotion or hugs of thanks.

“I can do that.”

Silence and then…

“But you don’t need me. God is with you.”

Truth was, I didn’t feel God was with me. I needed Helen’s strong faith to sustain me.

Spring turned to summer. Summer to fall. Fall to another winter. Time marched forward adding more life to the little white church and with it two more blessed years to Helen’s life. Until one morning in early summer when it became clear the song Helen would soon be hearing would not be from her beloved birds outside the big kitchen window, but rather from God’s heavenly chorus of angels.

I came to her bedside at the nursing home and sat there quietly. She opened her eyes and took my hand. In her labor state of passing from this world to the next, I leaned over to her and selfishly pleaded with her not to leave me. She was my prayer warrior. What would I do without her?

Helen, full of spunk even towards the end, grasped my hand tighter and said, “God is with you. You have strong faith.”

I gently leaned down and kissed her forehead and lifted a prayer of praise and thanks for God’s servant who had ran an incredible race. I didn’t want to say good bye and so I whispered to her, “See you later.”

I stood in the hall of the nursing home sobbing, trying hard to hold on to her words to me.

God is with you. You have strong faith.

Helen has been on my mind this week we call “Holy.” It’s a week in which we will walk with our Savior to the cross where death cannot be averted. Endings. Good byes. Failed hopes. Failed dreams. Everything and anything that tests our faith in a good and loving God will be taunting us from the cross. For there Jesus hangs and as he does we must believe God is still with us. We must have strong faith.

Strong faith in Jesus. The disciples’ prayer warrior.

Jesus. The one with spunk who challenged those in the world to think differently.

Jesus. Who broke bread with them before he died and asked for them to remember him. Remember the trust in God he lived by. Remember the power of prayer. Remember his promise to be with us always.

Helen, on her deathbed, was asking me to remember, too. To remember her faith came from her knowledge of a loving and gracious God. To remember that while my beloved prayer warrior was leaving me, I had something with me always. God.

If we can share in the bitter sting of betrayal guised in the breaking of bread with Jesus, go to the garden to plead for this cup to pass, walk to the cross and not flee as the clouds of despair and gloom set in, if we can do all this, if we can hold on and trust even when it seems we have no more trust to hold on to, then we too will know what Helen knew so well in life.

Your faith is strong.

For God is with you.

Now and forever.

Maundy Thursday Challenge: Take time today to be still before God. Listen to the birds. Feel the wind on your cheek. Gaze at the spring flowers. And know your faith is strong, even if it doesn’t feel that way. God has not abandoned you.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

 It was an early spring day. Mud season had arrived and the shining sun had yet to warm up the cold air outside. Coats and boots were still needed as I pulled mine off and settled into my church office.

I had a full day ahead of me and I had really wanted to write my inspiring message for the community Lenten lunch that was just a day away.

Hmmm…maybe I can find the God moment in mud season.

The knock on the door was a welcomed interruption. The invitation that came with the knock was even better. My Lenten message for tomorrow’s lunch would have to wait.

A woman from a neighboring church wanted to take me to see the Old First Church in Bennington, VT, which according to her was just “a hop, skip and a jump” across the New York State border.

I was looking forward to seeing this church as I heard it was famous for its soaring pulpit in which one would have to climb many steep steps to preach from. So on went my boots and coat and out we went.

Within a hop, skip and a jump we were at the church. It didn’t disappoint. There before me it stood in all of its 1762 Colonial architectural glory. It had the quintessential New England white clapboard similar to that of the little white church I served as well as doors on each of the pews.

I was enthralled, which really doesn’t take much to make that happen for me. Simply show me 18th century clapboard, wide plank floors, multi-paned windows, black wrought iron light fixtures, complete with a heavy dose of old musty wood smell, and I am in heaven! I explored the old church not yet knowing the God moment that was to come.

“Come on, let’s go out to the cemetery. There is something I want to show you,” the woman said, urging me on.

I wasn’t sure what was so exciting in the cemetery but I hurried along following her out onto the squishy grass and mud that led to many weathered headstones.

“There. Look. Bet you didn’t know Robert Frost was buried here?” she said pointing in front of me.

“Robert Frost? No way. Really?” I looked at the headstone with the poet’s name etched in it and whispered the line to his poem that was given to me just a year ago:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

I first came across Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” when, one summer, during my chaplaincy training at a hospital on Manhattan’s Upper West Side my supervisor shared it with me.

It was quite clear to him, as it was to me, that I was not being called to be a chaplain. Heck, I had spent the first few weeks of my hospital training just trying to get over my own white coat syndrome. And so these meetings with him touched on the nuts and bolts of praying for the sick and grieving and soon then became a conversation about the “Donna” God had knitted and woven in the womb and where was God calling that Donna to serve.

As the summer continued on I was soon sharing with my supervisor the dilemma I had. I was interviewing with two completely different churches. One that looked good on paper—great facilities for ministry, a staff, healthy budget—and the other, a rural church with an aging facility, no real staff to speak of and a budget in need of what I call a “loaves and fish” miracle. Of course, I was more interested in the church that looked good on paper. Who wouldn’t be?

Two roads diverged in a wood…

Each week as I discussed the possibilities with my supervisor, he listened intently, never offering any real guidance. Rather he asked questions, many questions, when all I wanted was for him to answer for me what to do and where to go.

Before I knew it, the summer was over. My chaplaincy training was complete, but the question of where I was heading next was still open ended.

I walked into my supervisor’s office for my last meeting in which he would share with me his evaluation that he had written up. I was ready for the typical “Donna’s empathy demonstrated in times of crisis was blah, blah, blah” and “Donna’s understanding of praying for the sick was blah, blah, blah.”

Instead, the evaluation was a heartfelt and inspiring affirmation of my call to ministry with an extra bonus—finally, his answer to my never-ending question of, “What am I doing, where am I going?”

He affirmed a ministry I didn’t even recognize as a ministry as he encouraged me to keep on writing. No matter how busy life as a parish pastor got—“keep on writing,” he typed in bold and underlined.

He also encouraged me to trust my heart to where it was leading me and to never be swayed by what others say or what popular opinion might be. Trust your heart, even when your heart leads you to places that do not make sense to anyone else. He then looked up from the written evaluation and, as if he was delivering a benediction, he sent me on my way with the words of Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

We said good-bye and soon thereafter I was saying hello to serve a little white church up north on the border of Vermont, where unbeknownst to me the roads Robert Frost himself traveled upon were just a hop, skip and a jump away.

I took the road that didn’t make sense to others but would be the road that would eventually lead to my future husband and where my heart would finally feel that longed for sense of home.

I stood at the headstone with Frost’s name staring back at me and in that moment I had the incredible sense of God’s loving guidance. I had a sense of who the Donna that God had knitted and formed in the womb was.

“Are you ready to go? It’s not as warm out as I thought,” my unofficial tour guide said.

I turned to follow her back to the car and as I walked the mud beneath me squished. I stopped and looked at the path in front of me. Two paths diverged: One that was not muddy and well travelled and the other that was slick and messy and squishy and to be avoided at all cost.

Guess which one I chose?

Squish. Squish. Squish.

I felt as if I was walking on holy ground. My boots were a mess but my heart was full. For as left Frost’s resting place I knew exactly what my supervisor was trying to tell me. Live authentically. Follow your heart for your heart will lead you to joy. Take the road less travelled, for when you do you will discover it makes all the difference in your life.

It’s a road filled with amazing God moments mingled in the mud.

I had my inspiring Lenten message for the community lunch.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Jesus says to us all, “Come and follow me.” Often that call asks us to embark on a road that is the one less traveled. Find the courage to travel it and know that it will make all the difference in your life. For, yes, God moments are found on that road.

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The muddy path leading to the rail trail behind the Accidental Country Pastor’s  little red house in Vermont. It’s a path that always brings to mind the words of Robert Frost about taking the road less traveled.