New Year’s Eve at Old Stone Well Farm

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Lighting the Bayberry Candle

Here’s to a blessed new year! Join me in one of my traditions on this last day of the year — lighting a bayberry candle and spending quiet time with God.

I also want to take this time to thank you once again for being part of Old Stone Well Farm! I am looking forward to so many more God moments with you in 2022.

Blessings to you!

An Abundance of Love

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

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 and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 3:

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Sofie, the bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, stopped snoring. Without budging from the little nest she made out of my hand-stitched quilt that was sprawled out on the bed, she opened her eyes and stared at me. She was perplexed. The old dog couldn’t quite understand why I was jumping out of bed so quickly with excitement—and so early.

She lifted her head a bit as if to inquire, “Is it Christmas morning?” I assured her it wasn’t and not to worry. I leaned over and kissed her head and whispered, “I’ll let you know when there is a doggie treat under the tree for you.” She seemed to understand and cuddled deeper into the quilt and went right back to her snoring.

I, on the other hand, washed up, got dressed and ran downstairs with the speed of a five-year old running to that Christmas morning tree surrounded by presents.

No today wasn’t Christmas. Today was just another Saturday early in the season of Advent. Still I couldn’t shake this feeling that this day was going to be one graced with God’s loving touch. This day was going to be one of those “life back in the country” days in which moments to treasure come with a friendly wave of a car passing by. Moments to remember are often as simple as a hug and a quick chat with a friend in the post office.

Today was going to be one filled with simple abundance and moments to treasure. And it was going to begin with a tradition I had longed to experience once again—the little white church cookie walk.

I first heard of the “cookie walk” as a new pastor serving the church. Admittedly, I had to ask if I had heard correctly. “A cookie what? Walk?” I had no idea what to expect.

Christmas cookies to me were ones that you bought in a store—and usually bought last minute—because who ever had time to cook? I know I didn’t. But there we were gathered at a table meeting in a chilly chapel planning “a walk with cookies?”… “no pastor, a cookie walk” to raise money for the many mission projects being done in and throughout the community.

Who is baking what? How many of chocolate chip cookies should be made? What if we have too many chocolate chips? Is there such a thing as too many? Should there be raisins in the oatmeal? What about molasses crinkles? Does anyone even eat molasses crinkles anymore?

I raised my hand. “I do.”

The conversation continued.

We can have Millie bake those. She bakes the best molasses crinkles.

The morning of the walk I came early to the church and couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the chapel. Tables were overflowing with the most amazing homemade creations from the traditional gingerbread men to the intricate date-nut pinwheels. In between there were varieties of cookies to please every palate imaginable. And just enough chocolate chip cookies.

The cookies were sold by the pound and my instructions were to simply walk around and pick and choose what I wanted and put it on my plate. I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store…no, make that a kid let loose in a cookie store.

I walked around and filled my plate. And filled it some more. And filled it even more.

I didn’t notice the eyes of those watching me growing wider. Nor did I hear the chuckling from those seated by the scale that would weigh my plate. After hemming and hawing whether that one last cookie with a bright red cherry in the middle would topple over the pile on plate, I made the decision to place it on top ever so gently. The cookie tower didn’t come crashing down. Whew!

I then carefully balanced the mountain of cookies as I walked to the table for them to be weighed. The scale moved higher and higher till finally it was announced. Um, pastor, that will be $20. I began laughing, assuring all those gathered around me that I would indeed eat every last one all myself.

The little white church cookie walk.

It was today. A day  I just knew was going to be touched with God’s grace. It had been years since I last found my plate overflowing with cookies. Now I was back home. Back to the traditions that had found their way into my heart and refused to let go. Christmas had come early.

I got my plate once again and turned to tackle those tables filled with cookies. But before digging in, I paused and stared at the beautiful sight of cookies I remembered and longed to taste again.

Those in the chapel probably thought I was just standing there deciding where to begin. I wasn’t though. I was in prayer. For what I was staring at in front of me was not just an abundance of cookies. I was in the presence of an abundance of love. Love that baked those cookies. Love that was represented in treasured recipes handed down from generation to generation. The love of wanting to share with others, to help others and to be gathered together.

I paused at the tables and thought of the season of Advent we are in. A season of anticipating the birth of the Christ child and all that that child’s birth will mean in our lives. I thought about the simple gift of a child that God gave to us, a gift that came with an abundance love. The same love that was in that room. And with a silent “Amen” my prayer was over.

With the eyes widening of those gathered around me, the accidental country pastor began to fill her plate once again…and fill it some more…and more…and more…

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An abundance of love found at the little white church’s cookie walk.

Day 23—Be Near Me Lord Jesus

A Little White Church Christmas

As we approach Christmas Eve, hear the stories of God incarnate working in and among the people of the little white church nestled in a village in Upstate New York. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during Donna Frischknecht’s time serving as minister of a historic white clapboard church right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 23

It was my worst nightmare come true as a pastor. I woke up the Sunday morning before Christmas Eve with a queasy stomach and a pounding headache. I tried convincing myself it was probably the Chinese food I had the night before—darn my love of greasy egg rolls and fried wontons—but I knew I was only fooling myself. The 24-hour bug that was making its way through all the kids at the little white church had finally reached me.

“You don’t look so hot,” was my husband’s loving observation when I came down the stairs for breakfast.

“I don’t feel so hot,” was my meager reply.

I just had to get through the morning worship. So had a piece of toast and took a swig of some Pepto Bismal and off to church we drove.

“Please, Lord, let me just get through this morning,” was my prayer as my husband drove and I sat in the passenger seat trying my best to not let each curve he took upset my stomach more.

Luckily, the service for the morning was a new tradition for the little church. It was a variation on the traditional Lessons and Carols. I called it our “Lessons and Carols and Witnessing to the Light” as children would read the scripture lessons and several adults from the congregation would share their stories of God at work in their lives based on the scripture just read. And so I was off the hook for preaching.

“I can do this,” I kept telling myself. “Just greet people, say the opening prayer and wrap it up with a benediction.”

In addition to the lessons and the stories of faith, there was the reenactment of the nativity complete with children dressed as shepherds, sheep and angels. Oh, and the special treat that year would be a real baby Jesus! I had never been in a church where, come the month of December, there was an actual baby to play the starring role.

Holden was born that August and his sister, Ida, would be playing Mary and so chances were the baby “Jesus” wouldn’t cry with familiar arms holding him. Twenty-four hour bug or not, I wasn’t going to miss this. And so it began.

I said my opening prayer and took a seat in the pew so I could watch the nativity unfold. Unfortunately, the bug started to act up and I couldn’t really pay attention to anything that was going in that hour worship. All I knew is that I wanted to get home as quickly as I could.

The congregation knew their pastor looked a little green and they were all so understanding as I said a quick good-bye right after the benediction. But before leaving the sanctuary, my parents, who had driven up from New Jersey, said their quick good byes and put into my hands a bag with a gift that pushed my queasy stomach to its limits. In the bag was huge jar of pickled herring.

“Get me home now,” was all I could say to my husband after I graciously thanked my parents, and put the pickled herring in the back of the car.

We finally got home and I was down for the count. The bug had defeated me.

It was a grueling afternoon and early evening, but by the time the stars came out in the night sky, I was feeling a bit better physically; but not emotionally.

I was bummed out as I thought that morning’s worship service was a total flop. Yes, I was being hard on myself, but I continued to ask my husband the same questions over and over again.

“Did everything go well during worship?”

“Are you sure?”

“You’re not lying to me, are you?”

“Why are you asking me this? Everything went perfectly,” he said.

The fact was I really didn’t know how anything went because I was so out of it. I still doubted his reassurances and continued to feel glum.

I climbed back into bed now praying for strength to get through the two Christmas Eve services that were, yikes, in less than 24 hours.

Just as I fluffed my pillows to settle in for some more rest with a glass of flat ginger ale—I wasn’t ready for the pickled herring yet—the message alert on my phone went off. I leaned over to discover it was from one of the mothers at the little white church who was really enjoying her newfound passion for photography.

She had hoped I was feeling better and wanted to share all the pictures she took of that morning’s worship service.

I opened the file of pictures and began seeing my husband was not lying to me. Picture after picture told the story of a beautiful service that actually took place even though I was too sick to notice.

There were smiles from adults at the lectern sharing their stories of faith and smiles from those listening in the pews. There were the girls dressed as angels standing in the front of the church and there was the parade of shepherds with their sheep—and a cow thrown in there as well. There was even a bright gold star dancing around trying to show the shepherds the way to stable.

All of a sudden I began to realize God was at work that morning even though I was out of commission. It was then I understood what pastors told me when I became ordained.

“It’s never about you. It’s always about God working through you and the congregation. God always shows up and is fully present even during those times in life when you struggle to show up and be fully present to God.”

My finger kept sliding through the pictures of a Sunday before Christmas Eve worship service where God was fully present and working through all the faithful gathered that morning—fully present to Him.

Worship continued to God even though there was a picture of the pastor sitting in the pew looking a bit green.

My mood went from glum to happy and then happy to feeling completely blessed for the last picture I opened was the one that captured the Spirit at work the best.

There before my eyes was baby Jesus reaching up with his little hand to lovingly grab hold of Mary’s hair.

I didn’t notice that was happening at all that morning. But the smiles of the other children gathered around Mary and Jesus told me they noticed something special taking place.

And Mary’s face, played by big sister, Ida, said so much without saying a word. With her eyes closed behind the glasses she got that year (yes, Mary had glasses!) she bowed her head in prayer and smiled sweetly as the rest of the shepherds and angels and sheep and one cow and a dancing gold star began to sing, “Away in the Manger.”

All the while as the children sang baby Jesus held onto Mary who continued to be deep in prayer.

I stared at that picture. And stared some more.

How many times, I wondered, was Jesus reaching out his hand to me, gently tugging at either my heart or grabbing at my soul, to let me know in my time of prayer that he was indeed with me?

How many times has Jesus lovingly tugged at my hair to reassure me, “I got you and I will never let you go.”

That Sunday before Christmas Eve a pesky 24-hour bug taught me a beautiful lesson.

I learned God always shows up and is fully present to us, even when we ourselves are not fully present to God—no matter what the reason might be.

May this day before Christmas Eve you find your head bowed in prayer. And may you feel a gentle tug of God incarnate reaching out and holding on to you.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,

I ask Thee to stay,

close by me forever,

and love me,I pray. 

Ida