Barn Raisers

My mother has a fascination for lighthouses and very old cemeteries. I, on the other hand, love the old barns of New England. There’s just something about faded red clapboards that draw me in. Perhaps its because these clapboards tell the story of not just how the harsh winters and scorching summers have worn away at their paint.

These barns, if one listens carefully, tell the important story of weathering life’s unruly elements. For inside the post and beams, often notched, pegged and dovetailed together with gripped by calloused hands, are many tales of when farm animals filled the stalls, hay reached high into the rafters and grain overflowed in bins; and when animals, hay and grain were scarce.

The cool, dank smell of earthen floors and the musty sting of aging wood, speak to me of a time when people really valued being part of a community and cared about the abundance and/or the scarcity within one’s barn—for by caring about one’s barn, you were caring about one’s livelihood, one’s happiness, one’s heart.

I think of the barn raisings still taking place in Amish communities today. Men come with their tools eager and willing to help a neighbor. Women spread out the tables with what seems to be a never-ending supply of home baked goods, relishes, jams, fried chicken, ham loaf and, of course, snickerdoodle cookies and shoo-fly pies. But those are the Amish. We are what they call the “English” and such gatherings don’t happen among us anymore which is a shame, for we are missing out on more than just ham loaf.

Yes, these barns are telling me story of how we ought to live in community with one another. They tell me that even though I am a horrible cook and many times my stab at shoo fly pie is a complete flop (I am not sure how I can still mess up such a simple concoction of molasses, brown sugar and a crumb topping), I should still find time to invite friend, family and foe to my table to sit and not just break bread together, but to sit and share our lives together.

For storms of all kinds do their best to weather the clapboards of our hearts. But if we stay connected to what’s really important—to one another—we will find ourselves standing tall like those barns, telling stories that will be our testimony to a God who leads us through all seasons.

Just this morning as I pondered storms, seasons, old barns, true friends and even foes (yet to become friends) in my life, I came across this quote in a magazine I was reading. The author wrote, “We don’t need barns full of stuff, we need people to hear our story in its rawest form and who still see us as a beautiful soul no matter how much ugly we’ve experienced or felt or even been. We need people to share our story and advocate for us, to vouch for us, to support us when standing alone isn’t possible.”

I have stood alone in life and wondered where and who my advocates were. I have known the grace of someone coming alongside of me to listen and understand me and, I have had the grace and compassion to be that support to someone standing alone as well.

I knew a woman who had on her property an old Scottish bank barn. The beams, the carpentry, the dug out basement for keeping potatoes and other garden goodies fresh even in the winters, all captivated me. But she was selling the place. She was moving. She needed a fresh start. She needed community. She had served her country and had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, thus, making it hard for others to really understand her tough exterior and, often at times, argumentative nature. She longed for a chance, but few gave it to her.

I chose to stay by her side, trying to advocate for her when others wouldn’t. I stood with her even when it was hard to do so. I stood and took the hurtful words that would sometimes come my way. I stood and by doing so I was there to catch her pent up tears when she finally felt safe enough to let them fall. images-2

We have long since lost contact with one another, but at times I find myself driving by her home and her Scottish bank barn and wondering how she is doing. I pray that she has found people to continue sharing her story with and people who will not be so quick to write her off, but who stand with her long enough to see the beauty of the weathered clapboards that are barely holding her fragile heart together.

I love old the old barns of New England. I love them because they tell me a story of how we all have such clapboards barely holding our fragile hearts together. They remind me that there was a time when community was there, showing the love of Christ towards one another—a love that does amazing restoration work. (Maybe that is why I had my wedding reception in an old Vermont barn?)images-1.jpg

Barns give me hope that such love in community can still exist today.

We just have to relearn to be those barn raisers of yesteryear.

And Yet Another Friend…

I just heard that yet another friend, another woman with young children, has been told the news every woman fears.

You have breast cancer.

The shock, the grief, the numbness—the emotions are many and often they never come just one at a time. They often team up, mingling together, creating a hurricane force of dread capable of destroying any sense of hope. But before we scurry about trying to batten down the emotional hatches, we need to stand still before God. We need to feel the ground beneath our feet. We need to hug someone or simply hug ourselves. We need to take a deep breath.

Then with strength we didn’t know we had (but it is there, it’s always there with God) we stretch out our hands to grab hold of the truth that whatever storm is raging in our lives, be it the cancer storm, the depression storm, the storm of broken relationships or the storm of financial ruin, there is a peaceful calm. Meteorologists call that place the eye of the storm. I call it the peace of Christ.

When I was just out of college and trying to find my way in the world of magazine publishing, worrying if I would ever become an editor of a glossy magazine read by millions (it seems so silly now), I used to sing to myself some Christian song. I don’t even remember now who sang it or what. I haven’t heard it in many years, but the words went something like this, “Don’t give up, you’re on the brink of miracle. Don’t give in, God is all around.” And then there were words about the stormy seas being all around but God would lead us safely to the shores.

Not only would I sing the song to myself all throughout the day.  At night, as my worrying thoughts would keep me from falling asleep, I would  play the song on my bright yellow Walkman (I thought I was so hip with that Walkman). I would push the rewind and play button so often that eventually the ribbon on the tape cassette broke. I am really showing my age, aren’t I?

The rewind button in my mind has just just been pushed.  I can hear those encouraging words once again.

Don’t give up. You’re on the brink of a miracle. Don’t give in, God is all around. Don’t give into fear, think of things that are pure. And praise the Lord, your miracle is here. 

Yet another friend diagnosed with breast cancer…

Here’s to today that the Lord has given to us. We can breathe, we can pray, we can laugh. Let’s treasure the moments in this day.

For storms hit. All the time. But peace can always be ours.

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The sun’s light in the back fields of the Accidental Country Pastor’s home in Vermont is always a moment to pause and pray, thanking God for the promise of peace that passes all understanding. 

Day 13—The Christmas Rainbow

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 13

Rainbow watchers.

I had a lot of them at the little white church I served—men and women who after a storm would search the sky for the brilliant rays of red, orange, green, yellow and blue.images

And once the rays were found, I would get text messages with pictures and comments such as, “God’s promises arching over us” or “God smiling down upon us.”

I’ll admit it. I became one of those “rainbow watchers.” I just couldn’t help it because the rainbows in that part of the country were some of the best ever.

Perhaps it was the vast expanse of hills and valleys all around us that made the rainbows seem closer to us than they really were. Or maybe the air was a bit cleaner as there was not that many cars giving off fumes or factories poisoning the air and so we could see God’s palette of colors even better.

Whatever it was, every time it stormed I, too, searched the skies for God’s message of hope to come after the storm was over.

One memorable rainbow came one summer evening. A vacation bible school meeting had just ended with more time taken than usual to pray for the children God would send to us. This time of prayer continued in the parking lot when a few of us, still lingering about, felt the Spirit move and so we prayed some more. (I believe we can never have enough prayer and, boy, was it a blessing to serve a community where impromptu church parking lot prayers happened more than the usual church parking lot squabbles in which churches are notoriously known for.)

So we prayed some more for God’s Spirit to pour out upon us so that we could be used as instruments for reaching the children in our midst.

On my drive home a storm had rolled in quickly and before I could even search the sky for a rainbow, the message alert on my phone dinged. There on my screen was a picture of not just one rainbow, but two rainbows, side-by-side, arching over what looked to be directly above our little white church.

The rainbow was also rare in the way that it was a complete bow, not just part of a bow. It was a leprechaun’s dream rainbow as it clearly had a beginning and an end that one could imagine led to that fabled pot of gold.

The message underneath the picture read, “Look at this, Pastor Donna! God’s reassurance that He has heard our prayers!” It certainly was a blessed reassurance that God was hearing us. And vacation bible school saw many kids attend and learn about Jesus.

Summer turned to fall and fall turned to winter and the rainbow sightings grew fewer and fewer as the season changed.

By the time Christmas approached I wasn’t gazing too much up at the sky searching for rainbows. After all, who finds them in the winter? I never did. No, there would no more rainbow reassurances from God in these wintery skies.

“But, God,” I whispered, “I could REALLY use some reassurance that you are here.”

It was December 21, 2012 and I had a huge weight on my shoulders. In three days I would be preaching about the gift of a Savior born to us and yet I just couldn’t get my mind off of the children who were killed just a week before in a school shooting in Connecticut.

What would I say about the holy night in which God came to us in flesh when lately it seemed as if God incarnate was as fabled as the leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? In just three days I had to preach about hope born again in our lives.

And so on December 21 I was driving to the grocery store to pick up some items for the caroling dinner the little white church was hosting that night. I was feeling a bit stressed as I wasn’t able to wash my hair or have a hot cup of coffee or enjoy the lights on my Christmas tree because an early morning rainstorm blew through the area. In its path it left behind broken tree limbs and no electricity.

My attitude was not great at all. Not only could I not have a shower and a cup of coffee, I had wanted to write my Christmas Eve sermon, but I had, yet again, forgotten to charge my laptop and so I was even without that.

As I drove the winding road I noticed something beyond the valley arching over a quintessential New England red barn.

A rainbow? This time of year? So close to Christmas?

It was indeed. Its beautiful arches hovered over the land and the colors rivaled even the most precious of stones that I have held in my hands as a young jewelry editor in Manhattan.

I pulled the car over so that I could call my mom. I just had to share the news about this incredible rainbow!

My mom answered the phone but before I could even tell her the reason I was calling she rushed me off the phone with the quickest of explanations. At that very moment the rainbow appeared, my mom was watching on the TV the moment of silence and the ringing of the bells for the children and teachers killed a week before in Connecticut.

I hung up the phone and stared at the rainbow. I looked at the clock in the car. It was exactly the time in which the shooting took the lives of these innocent people, and now here before me was a sign of God’s reassurance that hope does come after the storms are over.

I had my Christmas Eve message:

Years ago God’s announcement of hope breaking into our lives came with the appearance of a brilliant star in the East. The star of Bethlehem, pointing brilliantly to the one who would bring light to our darkened world—pointing to the Christ Child.

I’ve always stared up at the sky on this holy night, wishing that I could somehow be granted a glimpse of such a sign of reassurance that God is still at work in our lives. And I know many of you are looking this day for such a sign. If only we could see that star or see something to know that all will be well.

But, my friends, God is still reassuring us that He has not become to deaf to our cries. Some of you saw that incredible rainbow three days ago. I saw it, too. But what you might not have realized is that rainbow appeared in the sky at the very moment our nation paused in silence to pray for and remember those lost in the evil that struck the school in Connecticut. For those who say God has forgotten us, I say, open your eyes and open your heart. Believe. For a rare Christmas rainbow appeared right before us—God’s reassurance that hope will always break through as it did this night so long ago. God is still speaking in the brilliance of a star, a cry of a newborn baby in a manger, in the songs of the angels, and, in a rare Christmas rainbow.

May you leave here tonight reassured you do not leave alone. God is with you, as promised.

I still find myself every now and then watching for rainbows after a storm. But what I look for even more are signs of God’s reassurances that I have learned come in the most unexpected ways—just like that rainbow days before Christmas.