Back Again

It’s been awhile since I have sat down at my old farm table to reflect on all the beautiful God moments I stumble upon in my daily walk as an accidental country pastor.

It’s been awhile because since taking a giant leap of faith last fall to move back home to Vermont—without a job and no clear sense of what God was calling me to do—I have been on a spiritual rollercoaster of sorts, strapped in for a ride that would take me slowly up and up and up to dizzying views of what can be only to have that view blurred by the sickening descent down to the realities of how exactly will my life play out.

Up and down. Down and up. Left turn. Right turn. Stop. Wait. Proceed. Not now. Go.

God, what are you up to?

I found myself taking refuge in my garden, quilting (my husband is wondering just how many quilts we need!) and going on daily prayer walks. I found myself being put in a place of retreat, withdrawing from not only the world, but myself. I found myself not eager to write, for I didn’t want to hear what it was my heart and soul was saying. The words—harsh or honest or inspiring and comforting—it didn’t matter, I just wanted all noise to be silenced.

As for my prayers on those solitary walks on overgrown paths of wildflowers, cat tails and a rabbit or two, they were not eloquent nor were they poetically rich with meaning. They were simplicity at its best. The prayers were just one name I shouted in my heart repeatedly. A name of a friend I couldn’t find anymore; a friend I felt I had lost.

“God. God. God…”

Early morning August 1. I sat in the vintage Queen Anne wing chair (made vintage by the claws of my cats) feeling anxious. I had one more dentist appointment scheduled to finally put an end to the summer-long saga of my root canal. I wasn’t anxious, though, of the crown I was about to get. If anything, that would be a piece of cake. I was anxious because the first time since leaping in faith into the unknown, I had no work lined up for the month. No freelance stories due. No preaching gigs. I was feeling lost. I was scared.

God, what are you up to?

I was about to do what I do best. Jump into something out of fear without thinking it through. I was going to see what part-time retail jobs were available in the nearest town to our little fledgling farm.

My husband, though, talked me out of it throwing back words I have thrown at him many times.

“Wait. Be still. Trust God.”

And so, I did.

I continued my search for my friend only to discover—once again—that God was always right there with me. God was never lost in my life. I was lost from God. My anxiousness to know the future and my fear of it, stole me away from my faithful friend.

I’m back now. Back at my farm table writing. I’m still a wee bit hesitant as to what my heart and soul will say to me in the words that will be pieced together into sentences. But this I know.

The God moments—those filled with divine light and those shrouded in holy darkness—are just too beautiful not to embrace, celebrate and share.

I’m back. The calendar is full, praise God. But beyond the scheduled days is a lesson I hope never to forget. That is, never fear and be anxious when life seems empty. Just wait. Be still. Retreat a little if you must. And trust with all your might. God is at work.

Postscript

On August 21, I was named the new interim editor of my denomination’s magazine, Presbyterians Today. Great is God’s faithfulness for my prayer since coming home to Vermont was to return to my editorial roots, while still serving God. And so, I am IMG_8527 (1)working in my 18th century home here in Vermont, sharing the amazing ways God is at work in our congregations and communities. I also continue to preach in the rural churches in the area. Thank you all for being on this journey with me.

The only sad news to report is that I might have to put getting goats on hold. Not enough time for now.

Phantom Pain

The pain was intense. Throbbing and shooting. Stars appeared before my eyes each time I drank a glass of cold water or sipped even lukewarm coffee.

“Not good,” I thought. “Nope, not good at all.”

A week had already gone by since my root canal—a procedure I thought would take away the tooth pain that originally sent me to the dentist.

Here it was, though, more than seven days later and the pain was worse than it was before. Of course, I did the very thing my husband told me not to do. I went onto the computer to self-diagnose.

“It says here…”

“Uh oh, the pain might be…”

“Yikes. Not good. Not good at all…”

My husband rolled his eyes and said something very sensible.

“Just go back to the dentist.”

And then added, “Instead of sitting here and worrying about something that is probably nothing.”

He was right. I was worrying about many somethings which were probably nothings at all. But the pain? There was no denying it was intense. It was real. And my worries? They were intense and real too.

Back to the dentist I went.

As I sat in the chair certain another root canal was in my near future, I told the man in the white coat swiveling on the little stool next to me, how I was feeling.

I was quite proud of my monologue, emphasizing the word “pain” at the right moments and describing colorfully the throbbing in the tooth.

My performance, however, of a country pastor with a serious tooth problem wasn’t as convincing as I thought as the dentist just nodded and smiled. Not one shred of concern showed on his face.

“Okay then, let’s see what’s going on,” he said.

A few jabs and pokes with the metal pick in his hand revealed some tender gums.

“How about here? Any pain?”

“Nope,” I gurgled with my mouth opened.

“Here?”

I gurgled a negative again.

The jabbing and poking stopped as quickly as it began.

I braced myself for the treatment I knew would come. After all, I read all about my problem on the Internet.

“You’re fine,” said the dentist. “Everything is fine.”

The puzzled look in my eyes, invited him to continue.

“You are having phantom pain. The nerves in your mouth haven’t caught up with your brain,” he said, adding quickly, “You’re not alone. This is more common than you think.”

“Really?” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed now at my dramatic monologue of the trials and tribulations of pain I had delivered just a few minutes before.

Phantom pain.

How strange it was that a pain that didn’t exist could be so real?

I couldn’t get this phenomenon out of my head. It lingered with me for days, haunting me like phantoms tend to do.

“But the pain is so real,” I tried explaining to my husband, who sat there smiling when he heard what he had already knew. That everything was fine.

Sure enough, once I knew the pain wasn’t real, that there wasn’t anything serious to worry about, it began to loosen its grip on me. Whatever shooting pain that did rear its ugly head, I could better handle it, for I knew it was nothing that could defeat me. It just wasn’t real.

The following day as I went on my customary morning walk on the rail trail, I still thought about phantoms. I thought about the one I had allowed to fester in my life as tooth pain. I thought about the phantoms we invite into our lives and allow to worry us, scare us and ultimately cause us unnecessary pain.

Phantoms that climb into our heads convincing us that the worse in life is going to happen. Doom and gloom will prevail. Nothing is going to get better. The pain in life is just going to keep stabbing your heart.

How many phantoms beyond the pain in my tooth, I wondered, have I allowed to weigh me down and discourage me? How many problems weren’t problems at all? How many hurts were non-existent? More importantly, where was my faith when these phantoms took hold of me?

“Lord, I believe. Now help my unbelief,” I whispered on the trail, echoing the sentiment of the man who reached out to Jesus for help and remembering, quite humbly, that sometimes believing in the power, healing, guidance and grace of Jesus doesn’t come easy. Especially when those darn phantoms seem so powerful and become so real in our lives.

But Jesus who calmed threatening seas with just a word, “Peace,” and who rid many a demon with an authoritative “be gone,” can and will take care of our pains.

With a word, with a cry, with a plea, with a sigh…we just need to remember to call on the sweetest name ever. To call upon Jesus. For he is real. Our phantoms are not.

 

 

Clean-Up Day at the Farm

 

Worship at the farm today has been postponed because there is something important to do. Not that coming together and worshipping God isn’t important. It is. Heck, it’s vital. Our worship is what grounds us. It reminds us of what we all too easily forget.

God is good at being God. We aren’t.

Today, though, there is something that needs to get done that goes beyond a video devotion to be posted online. It’s something I can no longer put off.

Today is clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm.

And as I pull on my mucks and throw on a much-needed ratty sweatshirt to chase away the early morning chill of this spring morning, I think about the overgrown weeds that have moved onto the farm these past three years that I have been gone.

They have laid down deep roots where, if my memory is correct, irises, daffodils, day lilies and lilies of the valley used to bloom around a huge stone imbedded in the ground.

Where have all the flowers gone?

Dressed and ready to battle, I look out at the weeds and overgrown grass as high as my knees. They look defiant standing there in the sun with just a hint of the stone’s head peeking out. I do believe they are mocking me and my weapon of choice—a rusty, old shovel that belonged to mom and her mom before.

I try not to show my doubt in my ability to battle with the weeds and the rest of the overgrowth containing flora I am unfamiliar with.

Please, Lord, let there be no snakes in the mix as well.

I have no idea what I am doing. Perhaps the weeds have heard through the grapevine (not that I have grapes!) that standing before them is no farmer or gardener.

Yet standing before them is a pastor and writer and wannabe farmer who is also armed with a steadfast belief if you put your heart to something and hang on to the truth that all things are possible with God, well, then all things will be possible.

For God knows we yearn to see those beaten down flowers under our weed-filled paths bloom again.

Yes, the weeds don’t look terrified that I am coming their way to relocate them to a nice pile in a gully beyond Sofie’s Hill. I march towards them nevertheless.

I dig in and begin pulling and tugging. I uproot and yank. I throw the shovel aside and engage in hand-to-hand combat. With both hands firmly grasped on a deceptively strong…I don’t even know what it is am grasping…I squat down to brace my body for this impromptu game of tug of war. The weed, or whatever it is, is winning. I dig my heels in more and refuse to give up. One more tug. I just need to hang on.

And the winner is? Not me. I sigh and decide that weed can stay put—for now.

I continue clearing out the area once full of beautiful flowers. As I work, I find the motions of weeding meditative. I begin sharing with God all the “weeds” I am allowing to overshadow the beauty in my life.

The weeds of worry about aging parents, an older disabled brother who will need looking after and a husband who is looking at career change just as I, too, am in the throes of vocational discernment, seeking to write and minister and not yet knowing how that is all going to play—or pay—out.

Fear of having our daily bread still exists even when God sends just enough manna for the day. No wonder God got frustrated with the Israelites who still wanted to hoard the divine provisions.

Please, Lord, don’t let me be the one to frustrate you, I whisper.

I plunge my mud-soaked glove into the thick of the weeds and grab with frustration at them. I feel for the bulbs that lie dormant all because they are being trampled upon. I feel for them because they—like me and like you—hold potential in making this world a beautiful place.

How many times have I felt my dreams being choked by weeds that have gotten out of control?

Weeds of bureaucracy, naysayers, those afraid of the new things God asks of us?

Create a new worshipping community at the farm?

Really?

Come back home to an area you once served?

Really?

Write and minister and raise cashmere goats and perhaps a sheep or two?

Really?

I begin a litany of naming the weeds in my life: “Can’t,” “Not allowed,” “Impossible,” “No,” “Financially not feasible,” “Crazy idea,” “Silly,” “Not our policy,” “Door closed,” “Not an option,” “No discussion.”

Sadly, I realize there are too many weeds to name. I realize, too, the names of my weeds are identical to the names of the weeds in Jesus’ time. Negative statements that keep bulbs from bringing forth potential. Weeds trying their best to choke the power of God.

And with each name I give the actual weeds in my garden, I prayerfully grab hold and spiritually rip them from the soil of my own heart. Soil in which God has mercifully and, at times, ruthlessly, tilled. Soil now primed for an incredible harvest.

Good bye “Can’t,” “Impossible,” “Not allowed,” “No discussion.”

And good riddance to you, “Door Closed” because, in case you have forgotten, Jesus, the Risen Savior, is an expert at walking through closed doors and startling all with his message, “Peace be with you.”

I take the last pile of weeds and hoist them into the wheelbarrow and turn back to the ground before me. I sit and pray.

God is good at being God.

There underneath where the weeds were I see fragile daffodils soak in the new-found warmth of sun finally hitting their limp leaves. Two sprigs of lily of the valley gasp for air. There are a few other non-weed looking green sprouts that I am not sure of, but this I know. They are filled with potential.

A new day has begun here at my fledgling farm.

I take the weeds overflowing the wheelbarrow and dump them in the gully behind the hill named after my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie. I feel I need to say a final blessing to them as if I officiating a graveside service.

Blessing the weeds?

While not quite my friends, they have taught me a lesson. They have taught me to persevere and do the hard work of living to my full potential. They  have reminded me that while there will always be weeds threatening to suffocate dreams, you must never give up. Yanking, tugging and uprooting are all part of living and are necessary to get to the beauty beneath the ugliness.

With a silent blessing said over the weeds, I turn back to the garden. The sky is blue, the hills and valley are finally turning green, and the weeds are gone—for now.

It’s clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm.

A day of sweat and hard work and wonderful worship.

May this day become your own spiritual clean-up day. A day to remove all that is choking the God potential within and keeping you from growing into the beautiful creation God has created you to be.

 

 

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Clean-up day at Old Stone Well Farm reveals new life waiting to burst forth now that the weeds are gone. 

 

A New Reality

The Easter claim is not about resuscitation but about a new reality in the world that is unrestrained by the force of fear.  Walter Brueggemann

A new reality.

It’s why I gave up the security of a steady paycheck and a regular preaching gig every Sunday morning down in Maryland.

It’s why I gave up the very things we are taught to make a priority in our lives and go after—income, pension, health insurance—so that we can purchase the things the world uses to define (and so often judge) us by.

I gave it all up so that I could step into a new reality in which God had been nudging me to step into for quite some time. The nudge was gentle at first, but anyone who has brushed off God’s nudge knows God is not easily brushed off. The nudge grew stronger, leading me to sleepless nights and divine dissatisfaction with a life that looked to be a blessed one on the surface.

The nudge finally became a holy kick in the #$% that set me on an uncertain future back in Vermont where the only thing I am certain of is this: God is on the brink of doing some amazing work in a place my heart embraces.

Great work in a place where I see abundance of the things that matter to God—an abundance of caring hearts, stubborn hope and a desire to live a life not defined by what the world says is life.

Rather to live a life where a good payday is one in which your ears heard the songs of the birds and your body stood still long enough to enjoy their angelic concert.

God is up to something big.

Those were the words I said to my parents the other day when I called them to say “hi” after spending a morning with a lean checkbook that once again, somehow, paid for our daily bread.

God is up to something big, a new reality that isn’t about breathing life into old ways of doing and being. God is revealing a new way to live, I said, more for my own benefit than to put at ease a parent’s worry about their daughter’s future.

Live simply. Live with love. Live in peace. Live knowing that while there are forces against you (there are always forces against us), not to be afraid. Rather, embrace it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. For God is in it all.

The thing is, new realities like this come with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions and a lot of opposition.

My Lenten journey this year has been an interesting one. It began with a quiet Ash Wednesday in which, sitting alone at my centuries old farm table that serves as my writing desk, I poured out the burnt palm ashes into an ice cream bowl and thoughtfully and prayerfully let my finger swirl around and around.

As I felt the grittiness of the ash against the smoothness of my skin, my thoughts went to all the foreheads I have made the sign of the cross on with the ash. Some with many wrinkles of wisdom won not so easily; while others still smooth with beautiful ignorance we call blissful at times. I thought of the sacred moment when after the cross was made, I would step back and see the person’s face fill with awe and mystery as if this smudge had somehow reached deep into their heart. And perhaps it did.

As my finger swirled, I felt an ache that this would be the first year I would not have any foreheads to smudge. I looked down at my blackened finger and gently made the sign of a cross on the top of my hand.

I whispered to my ache, “Remember from dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

In the silence of that second, my ache whispered back, “I remember.”

And so, my journey so far has been one in remembering who I am and to know that when all is said and done nothing matters in our fleeting lives except finding the courage to live into the new reality God presents. A reality that is not about resuscitation, but one that is about authentic new life.

It’s a reality, though, that is not easy.

The other day I sat down on the path I was walking on and hung my head down low. I was not physically tired, but spiritually exhausted.

Although the sun was shining, all I could feel was darkness encroaching. I touched the top of my hand where weeks ago the self-imposed gritty smudged cross stared back at me, begging me to remember.

Gingerly, I traced the lines of the now phantom symbol of hope. Over and over, I made the sign of the cross where hope first had to conquer betrayal, opposition, hurt, anger and darkness. Lots of darkness.

“A new reality unrestrained by the force of fear” is what theologian Walter Brueggemann says the Easter promise is all about.

The sad truth is, though, fear will always try to restrain the new thing God is doing. For we humans are a fearful sorry lot. We are so afraid when we cannot control our own lives, even more so when we cannot seem to control others. We are fearful when someone dares to upset the apple cart by suggesting that we do something never done before.

The other day I was talking to a friend I had reconnected with now that I had moved back home. We got to talking about God realities and the fear that thwarts them. As we talked she became quiet and thoughtful. Hesitant at first to share what had come to her, she blurted out her concern.

“Donna, your complete abandonment to follow God and blind trust you show, no matter what, well, it threatens others and will threaten any powers to be that you challenge,” she said, recognizing that often many will talk about doing something new with God, but few will see it through. She then smiled and said, “But keep on pursuing that new reality, for many have wanted to do what you are doing, but we have been afraid.”

To the world, I am example of someone who is crazy. Perhaps even a threat. After all, I am willing to enter tough places, give up all, to see something beautiful that so few go the distance to see. I live to see God redeem brokenness and create newness from rubble.

Sometimes I, myself, question my sanity especially when I get to the part of the journey I am on now. The part where dark, mean clouds of a world who opposes this reality are gathering on my path.

But then, I trace the phantom cross, the symbol of hope, that was on my hand weeks ago. I trace and I reach. I reach deep down in my soul, mustering up the courage to keep on going, for I know how gritty ash feels on the skin and I remember.

There’s a beautiful reality waiting to burst forth where God has placed me to serve.

I remember I am dust.

I remember, God is God. AR-302109909.jpg

Town Meeting Day in Vermont

It’s Town Meeting day here in Vermont. That time in early March where residents in sleepy hamlets and frozen-in-time villages throw on their barn boots and plod through the mud to get to schools and village offices to speak for against proposed budgets and prospective incoming clerks and supervisors, etc.

I have always been intrigued with Town Meeting day. Why call it a meeting when no one is “meeting” to discuss proposals? Those meetings have taken place—formally and informally—mainly informally in country general stores and of course, in post offices.

Still, Vermonters are meeting.

As I ran errands today that took me on windy back roads, I smiled at the official “Vote for…” signs. Signs written in marker on poster board stapled to a wooden stick. No glossy professional signs like I would see in Maryland where I spent some much-needed time in exile, learning better how to listen and trust God.

Simple signs, but not simple issues.

This year’s Town Meeting day is one that has the potential of changing a way of life so many seek out and desire for their families.

This year’s vote is about school choice in rural communities…well, more like, taking away school choice and merging into larger districts to save money and resources because as “officials” say (not quite sure who these officials are or think they are) rural communities can’t keep going the way they are going with numbers and money shrinking.

I saw the signs today, also written with a black marker on poster board, telling folks to vote no to mergers.

I wonder when the polls close tonight at 10 p.m. what tomorrow will bring?

While I am not able to predict the future, I have a feeling tomorrow will bring a change that many do not want.

So, I sit here as the sun goes down on Town Meeting day in Vermont and think about change—good change and not so good change. Change that challenges us to grow. Change that leads us on. Change that invites us to see just how God can indeed make all things new—whether we like it or not.

God can take dashed dreams, failed attempts, deflated hope and make something wonderful out of it all.

What we must do is trust God in all of life’s changes. Trust God when all seems lost. Trust that whether we win or lose, God is still working in redeeming our lives and our communities.

The other day as I moonlighted at the local paper, I got to interview a woman in one of Vermont’s picturesque hamlets that has been dotted with “No to school merger” signs.imgres

She is planning a pie for breakfast event this weekend. It’s a fundraiser for the library she oversees. After I asked her about what kind of pies would be served and how she came up with this novel idea, she added some very important information that I didn’t think to ask.

She said she schedules this event after the Town Meeting to bring the community together after a contentious vote.

She said it is a reminder that no matter what side folks are on, we are still to be a neighbor to one another. And what better way to remember that and to have fun than while gathering over homemade pies for breakfast?

In a way that Vermont hamlet captures the hope and redemption that I witness in the breaking of the Eucharist bread.

When I as a pastor say the words to all that this is Christ’s body broken for them, take, eat, remember…I am inviting all to remember how Jesus came to show us a better way, a different way forward, a way of loving even when disagreements arise.

No, there won’t be any Eucharist bread being broken at that event. But those Vermonters will still be doing something holy when they break apart the flaky pie crusts with their forks.  For in the breaking of the pie crusts, they are in fact inviting the spirit of unity to fill the room. And, I believe, the Spirit of God will be with them in a powerful and healing way.

It’s Town Meeting day in Vermont. A reminder that change can be hard, but why fear?

We serve a God who changes not. God’s love is steadfast. So is God’s promises for bright hope for tomorrow.

I think I will have some pie for breakfast this Saturday.

 

 

 

A Quick Thought for the Day

As I walked this morning on the rail trail, deep in my own thoughts about which way to go and how best to serve God, I was reminded that my thoughts needed to be on God and his guidance. After all, how many times has God’s loving words proven true when whispered in my heart: “I know the plans I have for you…”

So how was I reminded that my thoughts were misplaced?

Lost in my own darkness, I suddenly noticed a ray of light shining on my path. The sun had broken over the mountains. I stopped and smiled. I remembered a time long ago–so it seems–when the late February sun broke through the bleak of winter, making my heart fill with hope once again.

I was on a retreat just a week after my I buried my boyfriend. Still reeling from the shock of his accident and slowly coming to grips that he was gone, I heeded my friends’ advice to come on the retreat. I really just wanted to be alone. But I went, and spent time alone there in a crowd.

While others were gathered in prayer one afternoon, I snuck off to walk in the woods. The snow was still on the ground, although patches of brown peeked through here and there. I stopped to sit on a log. It was the perfect place to breakdown and weep. And so I broke and wept.

I felt alone, confused and so unsure of the future. What was next? What was I to do? My future looked so uncertain.

As my head hung low and the tears slowed their pace, I sat still and numb. My eyes were closed but suddenly I felt a strange warmth. It grew stronger. With my head still hanging low, I opened my eyes to see a ray of light streaming down upon the ground in front me. I looked up towards the sky and noticed the sun breaking through the clouds.

For I know the plans I have for you…I heard God whisper…

God is whispering the same promise still.IMG_4011.jpg

God’s light will always break through and shine. Always.

I continued to walk this time with thoughts on the goodness of God.

 

Morning Meditation

I sit here nursing my coffee which has grown cold. The old country kitchen has grown cold too. I noticed the reassuring humming of the furnace has gone off and for a moment I worry. Is is broken again? Do we have enough propane? A familiar fear seizes my body…what if we don’t have heat, what if the pipes freeze, what if…

The furnace begins humming again. Crisis averted. I am safe and secure. Again.

The morning sun is breaking over the mountains, sending warm rays across the old pine table I sit at. The light is brilliant and beautiful. And so I stop nursing my cold coffee and turn my face towards the window. I sit and mediate on God’s goodness.

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A time of morning meditation here at The Old Stone Well Farm. 

I have a roof over my head. Yes, it’s an old roof that will probably need repairs just as the old foundation will too, but it’s a place to call home nevertheless. I have cold coffee to nurse and the means of making another cup if I desire to do so. I have a furnace which is fickle at times and has cost me plenty in emergency calls lately, but it works and I am never without heat for long.

As I soak in the warmth of God’s blessings I begin to think about how I wish for the whole world to take time to turn their eyes towards the sun and soak in God’s warmth.

For we are living in crazy times when it seems no one is turning their eyes to God first. We are living in a time where arguments are plenty. The thing is I laugh because no one is ever going to win these arguments until the arguing stops and the compassionate listening begins.

I think about the fear of not having enough for one’s self which is behind these arguments. I, too, have had that fear. I think about how my husband and I work hard to make end’s meet and how, now having to pay for our own health care, is putting a huge strain on our budget. When my husband gets frustrated, I always chime in, “Yes, but we are managing. God is providing our daily bread.”

Daily bread.

There is indeed enough of it to go around. That is, if we decide to focus on God’s bountiful grace rather than our self-centered needs which only demands that the loaf gets bigger and bigger to satiate our appetites.

I have a lot of friends who voted for our current president back in the fall. They voted because they are tired of struggling to make ends meet. They want their country to be safe. They want a loaf of bread to put on their own table. I also have friends who have sizable loaves of bread for their table and they want to make sure it stays that way.

I understand. I want, need, adore and desire “bread” too.

But when I hear the the heated argument of how our tax dollars are going to help “others”immigrants, refugees and welfare recipients—I wonder how can we say we are followers of Christ? For aren’t we all the “other”?

Do we ever step back for a second and remember the many times God’s grace was shown to us by a stranger or a friend? Do we remember the times we were in need and a miracle of provision happened?

Christ. The son of God who came to serve, not be served. The one who put our well being in front of his own, taking his place on the cross for our sins. The suffering servant who showed us the way to greatness is the path of downward mobility.

Our Savior whose real miracle that day on the mountain was not multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish into food enough for thousands. The real miracle was that of one little boy in the presence of Jesus who looked down at his measly lunch and was moved enough to give what he had for others. That is what God smiled upon and blessed.

It is sometimes hard to feel compassion for others in need when we ourselves are struggling. When we begin to get territorial, though, when we begin to start every conversation with, “Well, what about my family?” then I fear we have forgotten why God sent his Son Jesus to us. For God so loved the world.

God still loves the world. God still loves us. And we are all in possession of two measly fish and one “seemingly not enough” loaf of bread. We have what we need and we always will. We need to let go of the fear and worry. We need to let go of the anger towards others who are asking for our grace and mercy and love.

We need to do so for when we stop loving the world as God so loves the world, we will always see our lives as lacking something rather than seeing our lives for how they really are: overflowing with blessings.

Thomas Merton once wrote that no person who ignores the rights and deeds of others can hope to walk in the light of contemplation, because their way has turned aside from the truth, from compassion and therefore from God.

The furnace has stopped its reassuring humming again. That’s okay.

I sit at this old pine table with my face towards the morning sun, soaking in the warmth of God’s grace, God’s love and God’s provision. My prayer is to want for others what I want as well. A simple loaf of bread on the table. And nothing more.

May that be your prayer as well.

I Believe

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “Miracle on 34th Street.” Not the remake or the colorized version, but the original 1947 classic starring a young Natalie Wood and an oh-so elegant Maureen O’Hara.

I love the movie for so many reasons.

Nostalgia is one of them. I used to watch it on an old TV complete with rabbit ears with my grandmother when staying at her house for one of my special “overnight with grandma” visits.

But the real reason I love the movie is because of its urging for us all to believe. Believe in the unbelievable. Believe when the world around you is saying your beliefs are unrealistic. Believe. Period.

There is one particular scene that has made an impression on me for all these years. It’s the one where little Natalie Wood is disappointed with her Christmas presents. Her doll just wasn’t enough. What she wanted was a house. A real one. Not a dollhouse. She wanted a house that she could call “home.”

So she sits in the back of the car feeling glum and she keeps whispering, “I believe. I believe. Yes. I believe.” She is saying it half-heartedly, but at least she is still saying it.

I have been in her shoes many times in life. Trying to hold on to belief when it seemed as if God just wasn’t listening to the desires of my heart. But I held on. I held on to God’s word that never will He leave me or forsake me. I held on to the belief that God knew the plans for my future.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

I dreamt of living in Manhattan and becoming a fashion editor.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

After challenges and moments when it looked as if I would never have a coveted “212” area code, it happened. And you are never going to guess where my first studio apartment was. It was on 34th Street.

The two Christmases I lived there, I would stare at the street sign on my way home from work at the magazine and stare at the “34th St.” and whisper to heaven, “I believe. Yes, I believe.”

Years went by and a soaring magazine career followed by a move cross-town to a one-bedroom apartment was not what I thought it would be. Something was tugging at my heart. Ministry. What? Yes, ministry. How was I to go to seminary, pay my bills, live? I believe.

I believe. Yes, I believe.

Years later, a theological degree was in my hand and a call to serve in rural Upstate New York was accepted. A few more years later, I met the love of my life after years of loneliness. And one Christmas Eve, as I looked around at the little white church I was serving, husband sitting in the pew, I realized I found what I was always searching for. Life lived authentically. Hugs followed worship, many coming with gifts such as molasses cookies and Coach Perry’s famous egg bake attached to them.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But then New Year’s Eve last year, after twists and turns in my life that led me to serving a church in Maryland, I found myself once again doing my best Natalie Wood.

I was glum. I was sad. I was wondering why God wasn’t hearing my desire to return home to Vermont. To return to being the accidental country pastor I had failed to treasure as much as I should have.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But how God? How was I to find my way home? When? How long? Are you even there listening to me God?

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe…

in God who is merciful and mighty.

I believe in God who is always leading us.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

It’s New Year’s Eve once again. I am sitting in the living room of my 18th century home in Vermont. I am back home. And I am beyond thankful. I am beyond grateful.

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The ornament I received from my mother-in-law this Christmas. It says it all. Believe!

The Vermont snow has fallen down on me like celebratory graffiti. The cows have moo’ed a chorus of “hallelujahs!” The morning sun coming up over the mountains have shone a spotlight onto my heart overflowing with love. Hugs have been received. Warm molasses cookies have been eaten. And Coach Perry’s famous egg bake has once again graced my breakfast table this Christmas morning.

My friends, we are meant to believe and never give up believing. We are meant to hold on to our belief in a great, big, loving God. We are meant to hold on to hope when all hope seems gone. We are meant to follow our hearts. We are meant to live authentically.

A new year is about to be here. And I am home. How, when, why? Not quite sure. But I am home. There are no half-hearted “I believes” this year. Rather my “I believes” are declarative statements coming from a heart that has experienced for itself the truth that grace is not earned. Grace is indeed an unexpected and undeserved gift that God gives just because God loves us so much.

So keep on believing. For God is real. God does hear. God is always in your lives leading you, nudging you, pushing you, shoving you towards the path that is the best for you.

Will you believe?  Really believe?

A New Year Blessing

Believe…

For the Light is now in the world.

Believe…

For Love is born in each of us.

Believe…

For the manger is full.

Emmanuel, God with us, is here for us.

Go and believe…

it is as the prophets said.

And may the blessing of God be with you this day and forevermore.

What I Really Need

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 6:

The bells clanked away as I made my way into the grocery store. There standing around the Salvation Army’s red kettle were a bunch of kids with their moms. I wasn’t sure if they were with one of the many churches in the little rural village or with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or perhaps the 4-H or FFA, that is Future Farmers of America, which many of the kids who once ran down to the little white church I pastored were active in. It didn’t matter. They were there giving their time on a week night to collect money for those who might not have enough to make the holiday a happy one. images-1

I smiled at them as I passed by with my cart, letting them know I would donate on my way.

“Promise?” one boy asked.

“Promise,” I answered.

With that promise made, I set out to get the groceries I needed—and only the groceries I needed. I vowed that I would not fill my cart up with impulse items like I tend to do. Just ask my husband. I am a sucker for anything labeled “limited time only.” Do I really need another box of pumpkin spice Cheerios? No. I don’t. But wait. What’s this? Egg nog flavored…step away from the shelf and keep on shopping.

Do I really need…

That question lingered in my head as I shopped. I thought about all I had. Yes, money was tight now that my husband and I had moved back home to Vermont. I gave up a steady paycheck and a church job with benefits, not easy to come by these days in any vocation, but especially in ministry. But the move back wasn’t about financial gain. It was about something even better. Spiritual gain. It was about living. Really living. Living simply. Living to enjoy the early morning sunrises. Living to be able to take a walk on the rail trail behind our little country home. Living to be able to raise chickens again. Living to be able to get back to ministering in an area where a helping hand to lift up those who are struggling with not having enough was needed. Spiritual gain that far outweighed any paycheck.

Somewhere along the way I had forgotten what real living was all about. Three years I was in exile of sorts. Living but not really. My faith was tested and I was often feeling more empty and hungry than fulfilled, even with all that I had. It was then I realized I had to fix my life. I had to once again remember what really mattered.

As I stood at the checkout line I could hear the bell ringers ringing those bells with much enthusiasm. I smiled and wondered how many cashiers on duty they were driving crazy?

I looked at the groceries riding down the conveyor belt to be rung up. I did a good job at sticking to my list. But how was I doing at the job in sticking to the other list?

The list of what I really needed? God and God alone.

The teens at the little white church were gathered in the chapel one weekday morning in Advent. We gathered to have breakfast together and to share God’s word with one another before going to school. Since it was Advent, the scripture I shared with them was of course about Jesus’ birth and what it meant to those who waited so long for hope to come into their lives. We talked and shared and then it happened. One girl, who was deep in thought, spoke up. And what she said I will always treasure.

Why is it that the focus on Christmas is about wanting so many things we don’t need? All that the people in Jesus’ time ever wanted was hope in their lives. And God delivered. We don’t seem to ask God for what we really need, do we?

I took my bags that were filled with just my daily bread and nothing more. And with the money spent on things I didn’t need, I fulfilled my promise to the little boy ringing the bell at the big red kettle.

“God bless you,” he said to me.

“God bless you,” I said back.

And as the clanging of the bells faded into the distant, I could hear something even more beautiful. I could hear God answering the prayers of those who were asking for what was needed the most. More faith, more trust, more God.