And the steeple bell rang …

Frank, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to gather at the church. Yes, I know this is the holiest of weeks. You are correct. Easter is coming. Yes, I know you miss your church. Yes, I know you will take precautions. Oh, you have a mask. That’s good. And hand sanitizer? That’s great, but we need to keep our distance. Yes, I know you understand that. Yes, I heard you. I know it’s Holy Week. But to come to the church to ring the bell …

I was about to launch into my public service announcement about the need to stay home, especially as the COVID-19 virus began making itself known to our rural community, but I was interrupted.

“Pastor, I don’t think you understand,” Frank sighed. He sounded as exacerbated as I was with our phone conversation. “I need to hear our church bell ring.”

He was right. I didn’t understand about the bell. What I did understand was the seriousness of the virus coming to our rural community. While the cases being reported were still low in comparison to much more populated areas, they were inching upward. I knew behind the reports of cases would be the reports of deaths.

COVID-19 in rural communities

COVID-19 is just as challenging and deadly in rural America as it is in our cities — something city dwellers escaping to their country homes fail to recognize. Those who live in rural areas contend with the lack of medical care. Many rural hospitals have closed down over the years, leaving the closest medical facility an hour or so away. On top of that, America’s rural population falls in the COVID-19 vulnerable category — 65 and older and many with health concerns.
Frank is one of the vulnerable who is the sole caretaker for someone at home who is even more vulnerable. Yet he needed to ring the bell. What I lacked in understanding, I made up for in hearing, as I heeded the urgency in his voice. No matter how much I was against it, I felt compelled to concede to his wishes.

I made the hour’s drive to unlock the doors of the little church I serve nestled in New York’s Adirondacks on the border of Vermont. When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw not just Frank’s car. There were others as well. Word got out that Frank was going to ring the bells and people came to hear. I feared what would happen next. They would get out of their cars intending to keep a safe distance from one another, and we all know how well that goes. Six feet quickly becomes a foot when the joy of seeing another takes hold.

As Frank made his way into the church, I jumped out of my car to control the “crowd.” It’s funny how four people constitutes a crowd these days. I remained as loving and as pastoral as I could as I reminded them to stay by their own cars.

Social gatherings part of rural fabric

For those who think rural America has it easier when it comes to social distancing, think again. Sure, we have wide open fields and mountain trails to roam. Our houses aren’t on top of one another and we can run to the farm up the road that has a fridge filled with goat cheese, fresh eggs and milk for sale.

The problem, though, with social distancing in rural America is not that we lack the physical space to spread out. The problem is that social distancing is not in our vocabulary. Rural America is a place where coming together isn’t an optional activity. It is a necessity. Coming together, being there in person for one another, holding a benefit dinner at the church, a bake sale at the school, a card game at the Grange or a good old-fashioned talent show at the old jailhouse that’s now a community center, is what rural living is all about. We don’t pull down the shade and turn off the lights when someone drops by unexpectedly. We just assume they will give quick tap on the door as they open it and walk in before being officially invited.

We don’t make excuses to get out of a dinner engagement. We find excuses for reasons to gather at the table to eat together.

Change is hard 

And church? Church is where most of my tiny, older congregation go to find respite and connect. They are not into Zoom meetings. Some are trying. They are not too keen on Facebook live streaming for worship. I have wanted to try it, but with so few on Facebook, I hesitate. It’s not a great ego booster having two people viewing you when your clergy friends have 150 or more tuning in. I know. God doesn’t like ego and having two people watching me lead worship shouldn’t matter, even if one of them is your mom. Thanks, Mom.

I have to admit a bit of envy when I hear my colleagues having success with digital church, but I still deal with lagging internet here in the sticks. I have to admit I feel a bit of peer pressure to get the cameras rolling to worship — lagging internet or not — not wanting to be left out of this new wave of evangelism that has been long overdue.

And dare I whisper out loud what I think many rural pastors want to say — I feel overlooked by the larger church who yet again doesn’t understand that ministry in rural America is different. I want to hear someone say that it’s okay to snail mail the worship bulletin. I want to read stories about how powerful the antiquated phone tree can be to connect with the congregation.

I just don’t want everyone to assume that rural America is keeping up with how the pandemic is changing church as we know it. Because for my congregation, church at this moment still means finding peace and solace in a sanctuary that has been home for generations. It is familiar. It is comforting. And they deeply miss being able to congregate there. They are grieving in so many ways.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote that “bells were the voice of the church.” Pastor Donna discovered just how true that was when her rural church rang the bells at the start of Holy Week.

Social distancing in rural America isn’t easy. It’s like herding cats, I mused, as I waited for the bell to chime. I guess I was so absorbed by the thought of herding cats that I didn’t notice what was happening in the parking lot. The chatter among the folks gathered was joyous and when I looked up from my own grim thoughts, I noticed smiles on the faces of those still adhering to my stern “stay by your own car” warning.

And when the bell finally rang … and rang … and rang, the chatter stopped. All eyes looked up to the steeple. With each peal, smiles grew. I swear I saw eyes gaze beyond the weathered steeple, searching the heavens — for what I’m not sure of? An answer from God? A sign all will be well? A cry for help tucked inside a heart that has never been let out till now.

Bells are the voice of the church

For centuries, church bells have played a prominent role in communities serving as timekeepers, marking the hour for work, prayer or for coming together. Hearing church bells can make us stop what we are doing, cease the talking, and lead us into a much-needed space to reflect, to become prayerful.

As Frank rang the bell, a cloud of prayerfulness descended upon the parking lot and for a moment it felt as if we were in this divine group hug — all four of us still standing six feet away from one another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote that “bells are the voice of the church.”

Could it be that our bell that rang was a voice telling not only us, but our surrounding community, that our church was alive and well? Could it be that the bell was a voice we needed to hear during Holy Week, pealing with hope and promise? Could it be that while our little church wasn’t Zooming or Facebooking or streaming online, we still had the ability to witness to God’s glory through our bell?

The ringing stopped. All that was left was a reverberating in my body. Folks got into their cars. Motors started up and one by one they went back home to shelter in place. I lingered, staring into the sky beyond the steeple. I never thought ringing the church bell could be so healing nor did I ever think that it would be a wonderful way to connect the congregation and the community.

Frank needed to hear the church bell ring. Those in the congregation needed to hear the “voice” of the church chime with its message of life and vitality. Frank was right. I didn’t understand. I do now.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today magazine. A former New York City editor, she now lives in Vermont where she is a part-time pastor of a church in Putnam, New York. When not trying to “herd cats” she shoots devotional videos at her home she calls “Old Stone Well Farm.” This article was featured on the Presbyterians Today’s blog.

After Sunday Thought… I See Failure; God Sees Success

Have you ever failed at something? Made a mistake? Messed up a project?

Of course you have. You’re only human. That’s why I loved yesterday’s scripture from Mark where Jesus returns to his hometown to preach only to find that he isn’t warmly welcomed. On the surface you can say that he was a big flop.

Soon after the synagogue debacle, though, we don’t see Jesus rethinking his life’s call, giving up on the mission of radical love and welcome. Rather, we see him move forward. This time, sending out his friends, two by two, to go to the towns and stay in homes to share the good news. And knowing that sometimes life brings rejection, he tells his friends, don’t let it get you down. You have something to offer. You have been called to do a job. You are part of God’s bigger plan. Just shake off the dust from your sandals and move on. There’s no time to waste; there are others to reach.

There really isn’t time to waste wallowing in our failure or rejection, for when something doesn’t go the way we had hoped or we don’t the results of our labor, it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could be God’s way of redirecting us — for example, those in the synagogue won’t receive you, then go out to those in the streets.

I have a chicken coop I’ve been trying to build for a year now. My father began the project last summer, but it was put on hold in the fall because of my indecisiveness as to how to side the walls. I wanted weathered barn boards, but they are wicked expensive to buy and I haven’t come across any old barns that have fallen down lately.

During this time of searching for siding alternatives, two major windstorms blew the coop over. By the second storm, I felt crushed thinking I would probably have to give up on the dream of having chickens. I really thought about dismantling the structure, but something urged me on. Once again, I cajoled my husband into helping me hoist the sad looking coop upright. And there it sits.

Somedays I stare out the kitchen window at this “failure” and I get down about it. Other days, though, I see these delays in finishing the coop as blessings because the reality is I  don’t have time to tend to chickens. The failed chicken coop is starting to look more like a rustic shed for my garden tools.

I have always joked in my life that if Plan A doesn’t work, I am okay because there was a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D. I vowed I would never fret until I got to Plan Z. Why? Because I have learned that God has a beautiful way of guiding us. All the times I thought I have failed, I actually found myself stepping onto a new and better path.

And here’s the other thing with “failure.” It really isn’t what it seems to be because God sees things differently. God, who is a redemptive God, can take a mess and bless it.

I overheard a conversation on a shuttle bus to the airport recently. A woman asked a man sitting next to her what he did for a living. He led Christian retreats at a conference center. The woman was excited because she had attended that center years ago. She then went on to tell how one speaker she heard changed her life forever. It led her to give her life to Christ, to go into Christian publishing to spread the good news and, subsequently, because of the path she was now on, her sister was so inspired that she became a missionary. The woman was quiet after sharing the story and then said, “Now that I think about it, that retreat saved me.”

I was startled when I saw the man getting teary-eyed and wondered what was going on? I soon found out as he replied, “I led that retreat and I thought it was the biggest failure of my life. I was so depressed afterwards and found myself rethinking everything.”

A failure isn’t a failure — with God. Just take a look at Jesus. It seemed to everyone — even his friends — that his ministry failed that day he was nailed to the cross. But it didn’t. It was just starting.

So the next time you think you really screwed up or feel you are a hopeless cause or start believing you have no worth at all in this world, think again. God sees things differently. God sees blessings in messes. God brings holy successes out of our human failures.

Now, shake off the dust. You have a beautiful life to live — and I have a chicken coop, um, I mean garden shed, to finish.

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Failures aren’t what they seem. Take for instance, my chicken coop. Blown over by high winds twice and still not finished, the delays have made me realize, I really don’t have time to raise chickens. I do, though, need a place to store my garden tools.

 

Best. Christmas. Ever…

So many families are disappointed that the snow has prevented loved ones from spending Christmas together. I admit, I am feeling a bit down in the dumps that my husband and I won’t be heading out to see my parents and brother. The roads are pretty bad…

Disappointment. It’s something we don’t like to talk about on Christmas Day, but it is often there lurking in a room filled with smiles and laughter. Children get disappointed if Santa forgot a toy on their list. We pastors get disappointed weather impacts our carefully planned worship services. Adults get disappointed if…well, I think we adults can finish that sentence in many ways.

And now this Christmas Day, Santa has delivered a big dose of disappointment for many…snow falling steadily and piling up quickly, leaving many to make those calls to loved ones, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be seeing you today.”

It is disappointing, but I can’t help but to see the God moment in this Christmas Day storm. Perhaps the changed plans, the unexpected stillness and the forced “slow down” is God’s invitation for us to enjoy a different kind of celebration — a Christmas Day not based on what has always been or one that carries the heavy burden of expectations, but one that is as holy as that very first Christmas when Christ was born. That day was filled with the unexpected “disappointments” that really were beautiful blessings. I mean, really, Mary must have been a bit disappointed that she had to deliver her child in a stable.

The snow is still falling. Every so often I can hear it slide off  the roof of our 18th century home. The snow pile against our front door is now 4 feet high. I can’t see Vermont’s lofty mountains from the kitchen window. They are hidden by a blanket of gray skies. I can’t even see my old stone well for which my little some-day farm is named after.

I can’t see much of anything. And that’s a good thing, I remind myself. For only God knows the plans God has for us. Faith in those God plans is trust game we must play. We need to see beyond the things we usually see or want to see, in order to truly see God.

That means this day, seeing beyond the disappointment of a Christmas Day snowstorm.

And so, I am loving the unexpected gift of peacefulness I unwrapped this morning as I stood outside feeling the gentle flakes fall on my face. I loved this gift so much I have yet to stop playing with it. In fact, the other gifts, the ones from a store, are still unopened under our Christmas tree. They can wait.

God’s gifts cannot.

The gift to see the world differently, the gift to let go of our expectations of what this day should be, the gift to let God’s healing love surround us in the guise of a snowstorm…these are the gifts to open.

Merry Christmas.

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Right Where You Are

The plane was relatively empty. I was relieved. The last thing I wanted was to be packed in tightly like a sardine. Or worst yet, have someone sitting next to me so that when I inadvertently brushed against the other’s arm while making sure my seatbelt was tight and secure, a conversation would begin—one that would last during take-off, cruising altitude and landing. I just wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

I was on a late flight and tired. My tiredness magnified by the fact that once I touched down I still had an hour-plus drive before I could finally crawl into bed.

I looked around the empty cabin. Yes, perhaps I could get some sleep.

I began to nuzzle against the window and closed my eyes. That’s when I heard the conversation. An older couple was arguing about where to sit. What alarmed me, though, was that their voices were too close to my row. I kept eyes closed and listened. They argued in the way that told me they have been married for many years. The exchange, more humorous than heated, finally ended with the wife plopping herself down in my once-spacious row. Her husband was the distance away that she wanted. He was across the aisle.

I tried hard not to make eye contact with her, but failed. With just one crack of my eye, she began talking.

Were you on a business trip? (My professional dress gave it away that I wasn’t on vacation.)

What do you do? (Ugh…that’s not an easy one to answer. Let’s see. I am a minister. A writer. I was serving a church in Maryland. I’m now back in Vermont where I am trying to be a farmer—well, in my dreams I am trying to be farmer. Truth is, I have one little garden that is struggling and a half-finished chicken coop.)

Yes, all of this came pouring out of my mouth and as I did I could hear my husband’s advice, “You don’t have to tell your life story to a stranger.”

The minister/writer vocation fascinated this woman and spurred on more conversation. She wanted to know everything. And so, I told her. I told her about my call into ministry that led me out of Manhattan where I was editor of a fine jewelry magazine. I told her about seminary and my first call to a little white church in rural upstate New York. I told her about meeting my husband in that rural community. I told her about my dreams to have a farm, to be back writing and to be serving once again in a country church.

And before I knew it, I told her my confession.

“I’m not sure about anything anymore, really. I find myself wondering what God is up to,” I said with a shrug and a smile, adding, “Is it crazy to like wearing heels and, also love wearing barn boots?”

The cabin had grown dark. Only the reading lights overhead from a few seats could be seen. The woman didn’t answer back to my confession. That disturbed me. Throughout the two-hour flight she was quick with the replies. In fact, much to the chagrin of the person in the seat in front of us, she never seemed to once come up for air. She was blessed with a gift for conversation. images

She was quiet now and her gaze shifted from me to the window. I followed her eyes to see what she was mesmerizing her. All this time talking, we hadn’t noticed the full moon in the sky. This wasn’t just any full moon though. This moon was a deep, glowing orange. And from our vantage point in the sky, it looked as if we could reach out and touch it.

We stared and marveled at it, agreeing that we have never seen anything so beautiful.

Silence finally fell on Row 16.

Silence…till the woman, who I now see as one of those angels in disguise Hebrews mentions, gently took my hand and whispered, “You are right where God wants you to be.”

As the moonbeams illuminated the houses and little specks of cars below on the ground, I realized she was right. Life wasn’t as muddled as I thought it was. I just had to get above the confusion and focus my thoughts on things above—God.

For God has a plan. God always does.

We are each where God wants us to be.

 

Into the Woods

I sit here in my home office, freshly stenciled with 18th century historically correct stencil patterns I received as a birthday present. The reds and mustards and sage green flourishes and swirls warm the cream colored walls, whispering to me of bygone era when life seemed easier.

I look down at the chipped and scratched wood that is the top of my writing desk. The deep patina of wood glows from the beeswax candle I have lit. The desk was never intended to hold the computer of a writer-turned-pastor musing about adapting to life in rural America.

Still, the table salvaged from a Vermont farmhouse does a wonderful job holding my computer, putting up with the tapping of keys when once it used to feel the rolling of a pastry pin.

I breathe in deeply and release. Peace is in this room. Peace—and a whole lot of gratitude for where God has led me and where God is still leading.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at a ceremony to dedicate the near completion of a replica of the cabin in which Henry David Thoreau made famous in his book, “Walden.”

The Merck Farm and Forest Center, just up the road from me here in Vermont, has been working on the cabin since last November.

Folks from all over, both local and as far as the “big” city of New York, have come up to learn about how to make shingles, lay floors, etc.

As I ponder what I will say at the dedication, I think about the many hands that have been a part of making this replica cabin. I think about how this project was more than just a chance to learn some carpentry skills. This project for many has been a chance to reconnect with a dream hidden deep inside their hearts for too long.

The dream to live simply.

We all have that dream to some extent. Yet, after wistfully wishing for only one peg to hang up the day’s clothes, we tend to slip back into the mad dash to work hard to acquire more. We need…we want…we must…and the little hamsters spin frantically around and around on the wheel.

Back in the 1800’s, Thoreau noticed many of his friends in Massachusetts society circles spinning like hamsters on a wheel. And it wasn’t for him. He, instead, held a treasured dream in his heart that guided how he lived his life. The dream to live authentically and to live simply. Thoreau knew there was “more” to acquire in life. There were more birds’ songs to hear, more rustling of trees to listen to, more stillness to obtain.

“I rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet cushion,” Thoreau wrote.

I, too, have longed for a pumpkin seat rather than a velvet cushion. And, in a way, God has heard my desires and answered them beautifully.  My Colonial stenciled home office, with windows that don’t shut properly and sloping floors bring joy to my heart.

My old wooden table in which I write at, nicked and scratched with years of use, and if you pull at the drawer, the knob is sure to always come off, is priceless treasure that might look like junk to others.

Pumpkins seats abound in my little home, and they are more attractive to me than velvet cushions.

Still I find myself falling victim to the “we must acquire more” syndrome.

Much to the chagrin of my husband, my latest acquisition of china has arrived from Ebay. I just couldn’t resist the vintage blue and white English village scenes and floral borders painted on the delicate porcelain.

“How many dishes do we need?” my husband asked, laughter heard underneath his exasperation.

He is right. We don’t need any more fine china. It’s just the two of us and often our meals are eaten out of Chinese food cartons.

Still…I needed, wanted, desired more plates and teacups.

While I know the antidote for “more syndrome” is more prayer to God who promises us our daily bread and more focus on Jesus who told us not to worry about things, I am not sure if we are ever fully cured of wanting, needing, desiring more.

Perhaps living simply is a conscious choice we need to make every day? Perhaps the cure isn’t supposed to come easy? Perhaps the struggle to have and not have is one that helps us learn more about ourselves—our weaknesses, our holes in our hearts we are trying fill with things, our priorities and how much we really do need God in our lives to lean on. For it is only God that can fill the empty storehouses of our souls.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the dedication of the Henry David Thoreau replica cabin. I will be sharing how Thoreau has impacted my writing, my ministry and how I have sought to live.

And I will begin by echoing the words of Thoreau who once wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I will speak how I too came “into the woods” of rural ministry, stepping into the unknown, fronting the human worries of divine daily bread, wishing to live the authentic me God has made me to be, so that when my time came to die, I could say I have truly lived.

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My Husband the Logger

The hour-plus drive from the rolling green hills of Vermont was worth the steaming cup of coffee now nestled in the palm of my hands. I tried remembering the last time I had sipped something so robust and satisfying, but the memories were playing hide and seek with me. I soon tired of seeking and focused on the conversation coming from across the café table in the little upstate New York city known as Troy.

“So how did you do it? How did you find the faith?” she asked.

She was a new pastor friend I had made. And while she was a city pastor and I was a country one (by accident in my eyes, but not God’s), there was a commonality bringing us together. The most obvious was her upcoming marriage to a “local boy” who grew up in the same neck of the woods as my “local boy”—my husband, PJ.

How did you do it? How did you find the faith?

She was not asking for wedding advice. She was asking about my journey back home to Vermont which involved leaving a traditional pastorate in Maryland for a ministry still emerging.

How did I the faith to come back home without the certainty of steady income?

I sipped and let the most amazing cup of coffee that I have had in (darn, just how long has it been?) buy me some time.

I didn’t want my answer to be an insignificant commentary on “just have faith” or “simply believe.”

No. I had to find the right words for what God was doing was far from insignificant. This was more than just believing in the goodness of God’s provision. This was about allowing one’s self to be changed by God, to trust God in everything and to grow in the knowledge of God’s mysterious ways.

Taking a leap of faith, I have recently learned, was not about being awed that the prayer we say by rote about giving us our daily bread is in fact a promise we can count on. No, awe and thankfulness aside for the manna falling from heaven, leaps of faith are all about deepening one’s relationship to God. They are not about how to eventually fill one’s belly or line one’s pocket. They are about having more of God fill your life.

I had wanted to take another sip of that darn good coffee, but I put my cup down.  I could see the searching in her eyes. She had been harboring dreams of a new ministry which still had many details to be ironed out. The most pressing detail was how to earn a living at it. She was waiting for my answer.

“My husband is a logger now,” I heard myself saying.

She gave a quizzical look, wondering where I was going with this.

I wondered too. I tried to explain.

Last week, while on my prayer walk on the rail trail running behind my little old house in Vermont, I learned something about leaps of faith.

I was struggling with my husband’s recent decision to give up driving a truck. It was something he has done for years to earn an income, but it gave him no joy or fulfillment. In our six years of marriage, I have always yearned for him to find happiness in his work.

It was foreign for me to hear people complain about work for I have always followed my heart in terms of vocation. That search for being the person God intended me to be is what led us back to Vermont seven months ago.

Still, this move was about my call, my discernment, my fulfillment. PJ would be that steady paycheck. He would be the certainty in our uncertain future.

God, he can’t do this. Not now. How will we live? Why couldn’t he have waited till you showed me my next step, um, the next step that comes with a salary and health benefits. No, he can’t do this.

I walked on the trail longer than I usual. I guess I had a lot of instructions to give to God as to what our life was supposed to look like. And God, as God always does with my instructions, listened and chuckled and decided it was time to get my attention.

A strong breeze whipped up out of nowhere clearing the stagnant air of my fears and my ranting. The breeze was refreshing and soothing. I looked around and remembered Jesus’ words about worrying. Why do we do it? Look at the birds. Look at the flowers in the field. Look all around. Every little creature is cared for. Am I not one of God’s creatures too?

The breeze continued to minister to me. It was then I realized this move back home wasn’t about me. This move was about someone I loved dearly and his discovery of who God wanted him to be. This was about PJ’s vocation. His contentment and sense of joy.

My coffee sipping had to wait as I continued.

Leaps of faith aren’t always about seeing how God will provide daily bread for our tables. Leaps of faith aren’t even all about our personal dreams and desires. Our leaps could be God’s plan for the other leaps our loved ones are hesitant to take.

Leaps of faith are as mysterious as the God who pushes us to take them. But take them, we must.

“My husband is a logger now,” I concluded with a shrug.

My new friend nodded. We lifted our steaming cups of coffee and sipped in unison. Our holy silence carried on the conversation.

Later that day, my husband the logger came home with a belated anniversary gift and an early birthday present for me all rolled into one.

Two stumps to serve as seats for my rustic fire pit/cooking area I was creating to honor our home’s 18th century heritage.

My heart filled with joy.

They were all I wanted.

They were all I needed.

My husband is a logger now.

Just leap. Don’t worry about having enough faith.

Just leap. Don’t wonder if you have the strength.

Just leap. Don’t fret about daily bread.

Just leap. That’s all God is asking.

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The Accidental Country Pastor’s combination wedding anniversary and birthday present—       log stumps courtesy of her husband, the logger now. 

 

 

The Irises Return

This morning on the farm I had a beautiful surprise waiting to greet me. Beyond the old house where I had recently tackled the grass and weeds that were standing at more than four feet tall, covering a large rock, I noticed something pale yellow waving in the gentle breeze.

I had just woken up and was still a bit groggy after what was a long day of clergy meetings the day before. Groggy or not, I could fill my head already spinning with the tasks I needed to get done. There were calls to make, freelance stories to write, worship to plan, a chapter or two in my book to write…oh, yes, that’s right. There was also a vet appointment to make for Sofie, whose wet nose nuzzling against me was my gentle reminder to add her to the “to-do” list.

Still what was waving at me?

I rubbed my eyes and squinted a bit more. It couldn’t be? Could it? I didn’t bother throwing on my mucks and quickly walked to the site of what I had hoped to be a new flower garden sometime this summer.

I should have taken off my socks, I thought, as the wet grass from the recent heavy rains soaked through the cotton quickly. My feet were soon cold, wet and muddy. I didn’t care. I had to see what this pale-yellow blotch was which, as I drew closer, seemed to be dancing with joy at the new day that had begun.

As I got closer I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The pale-yellow dancer was in fact some old friends I thought were long gone. They were my irises I had once loved.

Seven years ago, when I bought “the oldest house in Rupert, Vermont,” there had been beautiful flowers around the big rock.

As the seasons went by, though, the flowers never came back. I figured it was just my brown thumb that chased them away. It had happened before in other old houses I have lived in. One spring the flowers were there and the next they disappeared. My luck with flowers had become a joke among family and friends.

“The flowers probably heard about your gardening reputation and packed their bags and moved away,” they would tease.

And so, I had given up all hope that I would ever see those irises again.

But now here they were.

A surprise resurrection of sorts that had me wondering if I should turn around to see if there were any divine messengers waiting to tell me more good news as there were when the women came to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning, experiencing for themselves a surprise resurrection.

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The irises at Stone Well Farm have come back home. 

I didn’t need to turn around. My good news was right before my eyes. My old friends waving at me—they were my divine messengers telling me of a hope that can bloom when you least expect it to.

The irises were back home and beautiful as ever and grateful to be feeling the warm sun on their petals once again.

The amazing part of their return was that I didn’t do a thorough job in clearing out the tall grass and weeds that had choked them for so long. Still, what I had cleared out was enough.

I had in a way created a space, no matter how tiny, for God’s grace to poke through. A space for something wonderful to come back to life. A space for beauty to enter my world again.

Imagine.

If a flower, thought to be long gone and choked by weeds, could come back with just a little bit of space provided for it, what God could do in our lives if we cleared a bit of space for grace to enter in?

My grogginess wore off and the spinning in my head ceased. All the tasks awaiting me could wait a bit more. I had a reunion to enjoy with my irises. With soggy, muddy socks on my feet I sat on top of the old stone well and smiled at the pale-yellow irises. And together we enjoyed the warmth of God’s grace in the little bit of space that had been created.

Ten Years Later

This Sunday’s “Worship at Old Stone Well Farm” will be delayed as I will be getting up really early to make the drive from Vermont to New Jersey to worship with those who ten years ago nurtured me into this crazy life known as “ministry.”

Yes, I am going “home” to the church where as a seminary student I spent many times wondering where it would be God would send me to proclaim the good news. Little did I know then how many twists and turns would be waiting for me. How many highs and lows. But most of all, how my prayers would have been answered in the most amazing ways when God led me to a little rural church in upstate New York where just over the border my dream farm would be waiting for me.

Going home can be emotional.

For going home—be it physically going to a place you once knew or perhaps just visiting in one’s mind—is a time to remember who you were, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a time to remember how far you’ve come. It’s a time to pause and reflect on all that God has done in your life. It’s a time to take a deep breath, assess and realize something we often forget in our constant running forward, to get somewhere, anywhere. That is, life is good.  Always. Because God is good. Always.

Yes, I’m going home to a church who nurtured me, who knew me when…

There will be dear friends to hug again and tears to shed over those who are no longer there. We will sing the songs of faith, join our voices in prayer and break the bread and share the cup. We will be in God’s house—together again.

And in the sacred moments of our time together, I will find the time to pause, look out into the congregation and whisper to God words I know I need to whisper more of.

Thank you, God…for who I was…for who you are leading me to be…for this crazy life of ministry…for a church family who knew me when…for the chance to go back home, if even just for a day.

May today you take time and reflect on all God has done and is doing for you.

Blessings, Pastor Donna 

 

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Ten years ago I was ordained here at South Presbyterian Church, Bergenfield, NJ. Words can’t express how grateful I am to be preaching there again.