This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called the church home.

A Return to Happiness

The excitement was growing among those in the little white church as my wedding day drew closer. There were plans to spruce up the church, which included ordering new tablecloths for the time of refreshments and wedding cake to be served after the ceremony.

“What color should the tablecloths be, Pastor Donna?” was the question from the woman tasked with this very important mission she took seriously, coming into my office with swatches and suggestions. I really didn’t have a strong opinion of either cream or sage green and suggested to get the cloths that would work for future church events.

“What about flowers? You have to have flowers in the church?” asked another woman later that day.

I really had no strong opinions on flowers either.

“Whatever you have blooming in your garden by the time of the wedding would be beautiful,” I said.

I couldn’t think too much about tablecloths and flowers because at that moment I had a more pressing wedding detail to take care of which was irking me.

I had to find the perfect wedding invitation.

After many a late night of searching the Internet not finding exactly what I was looking for, I was getting a bit anxious. Cream or ivory? Matte or satin finish? Embossed or not?

The problem was I really had no idea what I had wanted in a wedding invitation.

Then one day, as I was putting away some books back onto the shelf in my office, a piece of scrap paper fell onto the floor. I looked down and staring up at me was the sketch of a lily of the valley done on a piece of notebook paper in blue ballpoint ink.

Lily of the valley had always been one of my favorite flowers—one of the first flowers of spring that has the most incredible perfume coming from its small white bell shaped petals. They used to grow under the forsythia bushes in the backyard of my childhood home. I would pick them and create little bridal bouquets for my Barbi dolls and dream of the day I would someday carry lily of valley in my own bouquet.

I picked up the paper and read the note on the back: “Remember, I found these in the snow. Love, Valerie.”

Valerie was an older woman at the church I attended in New York City who had seen her share of heartache in the game of love and in the game of life. She had always persevered, though, and as a result her trust in God was evident to all who came in contact with her. I was one of those lucky ones who had come in contact with her.

We had shared some of our struggles with waiting on God in a small group at a church retreat and it turns out we both had a lily of the valley story to tell.

Valerie remembered how one bitterly cold and snowy winter day, as she made her way through the city streets with a heavy heart and many questions about her future on her mind, she spotted a bunch of lily of the valleys peaking through the snow—snow that hid concrete underneath. How could this be? She walked closer and realized the flowers were plastic. Still it didn’t matter. The sign of hope in the snow was for her a reminder to hold on and to trust that God was leading her.

Mine was that these flowers were growing outside of my boyfriend’s mother’s apartment in Manhattan the weekend we went there to pack up her belongings after she quickly succumbed to cancer. And how, just three years later, after my that same boyfriend died in a jeep accident Africa, I found those flowers growing bountifully on the side of the new home I had just moved into.

The minister who listened to us share our stories fought back the tears in his eyes and smiled as he then shared something with us I didn’t know.

“The lily of the valley has often been portrayed in religious paintings. It symbolizes the promise that happiness will always return.”

I gazed at the sketch Valerie did for me so long ago and remembered the unrelenting years filled with my own waiting and heartache and wondering if God was hearing my cries or not. Of course, God was and now here I was in the midst of planning a long-hoped for wedding. I looked at the scrap paper and realized what my wedding invitations had to be.

I ran to the computer and logged on to a wedding invitation site that I had seen two months before. There on that site were wedding invitations that had embossed lily of the valleys on them. I wasn’t too sure about them at first glance. They were white vellum, which was a bit lighter and more delicate than the heavier card stock I had been looking at. But now I knew they were perfect. I proceeded to order the invitations.

I logged out of the computer and stared some more at Valerie’s sketch and thought about this wedding and the excitement that was building in the little white church.

I realized this wedding was more than just about Pastor Donna getting married—finally. This was about the miracle of love found—between my soon-to-be-husband and me, between a pastor and her congregation, between and congregation and its community—love found in God who had never stopped loving us.

There are miracles of love everyday for us to see. For me those miracles have come in the way of hearing about plastic lily of the valleys peeking up from the snow on a city street and then seeing hundreds of lily of the valleys in full bloom on the side of my house after praying to God for a sign that God was still there. Miracles of love have come in the way of seemingly mundane discussions on what color for tablecloths and what kind of flowers for the sanctuary. Miracles of love come from God in the most unexpected ways


Sprigs of lily of the valley grace Pastor Donna’s bridal bouquet. A reminder of the miracle of love and God’s promise of the return to happiness.

I gently placed Valerie’s lily of the valley sketch back into a book, knowing someday when I needed to see it the most, it will once again miraculously fall gently out onto the floor. Until then, I remember. With God there is always a return to happiness.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Where are the miracles of love blooming this day in your life? Take note of them and remember to say “Thank you, God.”



This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

 Day 11: More Pictures To Come

 “I think I better backup my files,” I yelled from the dining room table to my husband who was busy feeding the dog in the kitchen. I could hear him whispering to Sofie, our Bernese Mountain dog, “I told your mommy she needed a new computer. Did she listen to me? Noooo.”

Yes, I should have listened to him because now my computer was really acting up, doing some kind of light show that I probably could have charged admission to see. It was that amazing in an artistic way, but not so good in a computer kind of way.

I took my external backup hard drive and connected it to the computer, praying it wasn’t too late to secure my documents. As I began the task of transferring them something caught my eye. A folder on the external hard drive named, “Church.”

I was curious to see what was in it. I opened the file and there before me were hundreds of pictures of many moments at the little white church. I had forgotten about these pictures and so I began scrolling through each and everyone. As I went from picture to picture the story of God working powerfully through God’s children flashed before me on the computer screen.

The story of hope realized as seen in the way of a very crowded chancel where many kids stood to sing for worship, a sight the little white church thought it would never see again. But there they were, not just singing. There were more pictures of them greeting people, reading scripture, playing the piano and, yes, even preaching.

Chris was entering the fifth grade when I jokingly asked him one Sunday if he wanted to preach for me. He diffused my joke with an eager and serious, “Yes. I would love to.”

And so one Sunday morning a few months later, Chris delivered a mature, beyond his years sermon of God working in his life. His picture brought me back to that day in which the ancient Hebrew texts came to life for us in the little white church. We had heard the stories of God calling little Samuel in the night and we had heard the opening of the prophet Jeremiah’s story in which Jeremiah tells God he can’t speak because he is only a boy. God disagrees and reminds Jeremiah that he can and will speak of God’s greatness and might.

There was Chris smiling in the picture. The picture, though, I wish I had of that day was the one of all the smiles and tears of those in the pews as they realized they were also capable of speaking of God’s greatness and might.

I clicked more pictures and more stories came.

There was the story of the warm fellowship emerging among the family of faith with old folks, young folks and children, crowding around a table filled with goodies during coffee hour. There they stood with arms hugging one another and kids smiling. What made this picture beautiful was it wasn’t taken at some special coffee hour. This picture was just your typical Sunday at the little white church for every week was a time lively fellowship.

For me as a pastor this time after the official worship hour was a time when true worship took place. It was a time when we talked about the scripture, we talked about those in our community needing help and we talked about one another’s needs for prayer. We talked, shared, listened and, most importantly, connected with one another. And in the midst of fruit juice and coffee and home baked cookies and cakes was a very special guest working the room. God’s Spirit was moving among the chatter and laughter and hugs and even the occasional tear.

I kept on clicking to the next picture, and then the next, then the next. There were many stories emerging, but the one story that came across the strongest surprised me. It was my story of who I was as a minister. For in those pictures I looked happy, even radiant. Some where, though, along the way in my walk to serve God, I had forgotten the joy I once felt even in the midst of challenges. I had forgotten the smiles that always came to my face when after crying tears of what seemed like defeat, God carried me on to victory.

I needed to see these pictures because lately whenever I caught my reflection all I saw staring back at me was someone I did not recognize. Where was my smile? Where was the radiance? But most of all where was that feeling deep down in my soul of knowing I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do?

I could remember many days walking to my car through the parking lot of the little white church thinking, “Wow. I can’t believe you called me to be a minister, God. Thank you. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” And that prayer of thanks was being lifted on some of the most trying days in ministry. Now, deep in my Lenten journey, I couldn’t remember the last time I said, “thank you, God.”

I called to my husband to stop feeding the dog and come see what I was seeing. “Look,” I said pointing to the computer screen. “Do you see that picture? Now look at this picture? Are you looking? Do you see?”

He looked and his eyes watered up.

“I see,” he said quietly, then adding a soft, “I remember.”

I closed the forgotten file on my external hard drive named “Church” and shut down the computer. As it hummed in a way a computer shouldn’t hum when shutting down, I sat and stared at the screen. The glowing screen faded slowly till all that was left staring back at me was the reflection of someone I didn’t recognize.

“I remember too,” I sighed.

Sometimes in life we stray of course, not paying attention to the blessings already around us. Maybe it’s not that we don’t pay attention. Maybe it’s more we take for granted what we have and lose sight of the need to nurture the blessings. Maybe sometimes in life we just need to look back at pictures to remember the things that brought us joy, that made us smile, that made us feel whole.

But this I know. God is never done with us. More pictures will come and with them more stories.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Be honest. When you catch your reflection do you recognize the person staring back at you? If not, what do you need to do to reconnect with who you used to be? And as you search, invite God into your heart to lead you back to joy.


This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Sabbath Rest—A Prayer for You

Lent is a 40-day journey that takes us to the cross of Good Friday. But did you know Sundays are not counted in the 40 days? That’s because Sunday represents a “mini-Easter,” reminding us that we worship on Sunday because it was the first day of the week in which the Risen Lord appeared to the women at the tomb. Thus, early in our worshipping history Sunday was often referred to as Resurrection Day.

And so on our Little White Church Lenten Journey, I want to use these Sundays in Lent as a time to break from the traditional reflections and share with you prayers that I have found meaningful. The one featured today is extra special to me for it is a prayer written by a dear saint I met at the little white church I served. images-1

This prayer came to me one especially trying day in ministry. At first when I saw the email, in which it was sent, I misread it. I read it as if this email was asking for prayer. That’s how my minister brain works—always assuming I’m being called on to pray for others. But as I read it more closely I realized that wasn’t the case. Rather, someone was offering a prayer for me. What made the prayer even more meaningful was this woman, who was new to our family of faith, took the time to write it herself.

And so on an especially trying day in ministry I was reminded I don’t carry the burdens alone—I had a family of faith who were there to carry the burden, lighten the load and share the glorious work of building God’s kingdom together.

Through my tears I read the prayer staring at me on the computer screen, which was lighting up the darkened living room in which I sat. But it was more than just the glow of the computer screen lighting up the room. It was the light of Christ shining from her words that were lighting the darkness on my path.

This prayer was—and still is to me—a powerful testimony to how God’s Spirit was awakening the men and woman of the little white church to new possibilities of being Christ to one another.

And so I share “A Prayer for You,” named after what was in the subject line of the email I opened one night in which I stood in the need of prayer. May this be your prayer as well.

Lenten Blessings,

Pastor Donna aka The Accidental Country Pastor

 Dear Lord, I thank You for this day. I thank You for my being able to wake once again, to see and to hear this morning. I’m blessed because You are a forgiving God and an understanding God. You have done so much for me

and You continue to bless me. Please forgive me every day for anything I have done, said or thought that was not pleasing to you, and I ask now for Your forgiveness.

Please keep me safe from all danger and harm. Help me to start this day with a new attitude and plenty of gratitude. Let me make the best of each and every day to clear my mind so that I can hear from You. Please broaden my mind that I can accept all things. Let me not whine and whimper over things I have no control over.

Let me continue to see sin through God’s eyes and acknowledge it as evil. And when I sin, let me repent, and confess with my mouth my wrongdoing, and receive Your forgiveness. And when this world closes in on me, let me remember Jesus’ example -to slip away and find a quiet place to pray. It’s the best response when I’m pushed beyond my limits. Continue to use me to do Your will. Continue to bless me that I may be a blessing to others.

Keep me strong that I may help the weak. Keep me uplifted that I may have words of encouragement for others. I pray for those that are lost and can’t find their way. I pray for those that are misjudged and misunderstood. I pray for those who don’t know You intimately. I pray for those that don’t believe. But I thank you are in my heart and that I do believe. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

Day 10: Tending to Our Hardwired Souls

“How do you know Freddie?” Pete asked as I went about my early Sunday morning ritual of chasing away pre-preaching jitters by straightening hymnals, removing scrap paper from pews and setting up the lectern with sermon notes and announcement reminders.

Pete was the local Catholic who lived down the street from the little white church and his early Sunday morning visits became a standing date that I looked forward to. It was a time to catch up with what was happening in the little village, laugh and share our stories of faith (both high and low), all before the official worship hour would begin, with me putting on my clergy robe and him leaving to go up the road to be with his Catholic brothers and sisters.

“Who?” I asked as began setting up the props needed for that morning’s children message—trick candles that can’t be blown out and water on the side in case of fire. The kids of the little white church are going to love this!

“I don’t know a Freddie.”

“Yes you do. I read your sermon online and you mentioned him,” Pete insisted.

Now I was really confused. I thought back to the sermon and realized Pete was talking about Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, theologian and writer of more than 30 books, one of which I had taken a quote from to illustrate a sermon point.

Shocked that Pete knew this pastor/writer that I had only encountered during my time studying at Princeton Seminary, it was now my turn to question him.

“Are you talking about Frederick Buechner? If so, how do you know him, and know him as ‘Freddie’?”

Turns out Pete’s dad was an electrician and Pete, who used to help his dad out, remembered doing a job at Frederick Buechner’s home which was just “up the road, heading out of the village towards Vermont, over the mountain.”

I was stunned with awe and excitement.

“Wait, the road heading out of New York State towards Vermont, then over the mountain? That one? That’s where I live!”

“Yep. You didn’t know Freddie’s your neighbor?”

I couldn’t believe that an author/pastor/theologian whose books were on my very shelves in the “oldest house in Rupert” as the locals referred to the house my husband and I bought, lived in the same neck of the woods I had come to live—and love.

“Wow, so you know Frederick as ‘Freddie’,” I uttered again. Life in a rural village never ceases to amaze.

Later that day as I sat on the porch of our little red Vermont home, still feeling this awe that Pete knew “Freddie”, I got to thinking about all the other creative people who called this part of the world home.

There was an author of several books about dogs, in which a movie was actually filmed years ago starring Jeff Bridges (Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm). He lived up the road on the outskirts of the village in which the little white church stood.

On the outskirts a bit farther up the road, heading north, was a noted chef from Manhattan who resided in my ultimate dream home—a period correct 1700’s home complete with a pond, goats and sheep.

Other neighbors surrounding me included an artisanal cheese maker, a rug creator, an angora yarn designer, a metalsmith, a glass designer, a painter and a freelance writer whom actually worked at the same New York City publishing company I worked for and who remembered me, as I had the office down the hall from her. She was now living this rural way of life as well.

All these creative types living in an area that to me, when I was interviewing with the little white church, was just some unknown speck on the map.

As I gazed out at the beauty that I had the privilege of calling my backyard, I suddenly realized it was no mistake all these creative people lived here. If anything it made complete sense to me, for it was here God’s creation as untouched by developers, no housing developments or malls marred the majestic landscape. Creation’s colors were still pure for there were no streetlights overpowering the stars’ lights and creation’s song could still be heard for there was no noisy traffic to contend with. It was here creative souls could find inspiration each and every day, for inspiration dawned right along with the sun’s rays each and every day.

I knew then it was no mistake God called me here for I remembered a piece of advice a pastor friend gave to me as I began discerning God’s call in my life.

Knowing that I was coming into ministry as a writer, she urged me to never forget that creative part of me. She told me how important it would be for me to always be mindful to tending my soul for it was God who had hardwired my soul to the things that would ultimately bring me joy—and life.

“Be aware of the things that awaken and inspire you, for the day-to-day business of the church will quickly make you forget the who you are that God made you to be.” Her advice is true for all, not just those called into ordained ministry.

No. It was no mistake for me to become an “accidental” country pastor. It was God leading me first out of suburbia and then out of the city to the place where God knew my soul would be forever nurtured and awakened to new inspirations dawning right before my very eyes each and every day.

God has hardwired all of our souls with that which gives us joy and a sense of fulfillment. The trick is for us to be aware of that hardwiring and be mindful of the need to nurture our souls, unlocking that joy and sense of fulfillment by being in the places where we can breathe a sigh of contentment and realize we are where God intended us to be.

For my sister, her joy is at the ocean. That’s why she will be moving out of suburban New Jersey to finally live the Floridian life she and her husband have always dreamed of. A friend who still lives in Manhattan does so—even though other friends, like me—have moved away, because that is where she finds her soul awakened to God. And yet another friend is at home in a housing development in the suburbs, enjoying the bliss of living her authentic life.

For me, the pastor, the writer, the wife, the daughter, the friend, the child of God…my soul finds rest in a place where the rising sun coming up over Vermont’s Green Mountains greets me with inspiration each day. (I wonder if Freddie gazes at the same sunrise as well and is inspired?)

I got up off the porch swing and went inside. I had a call to make.

“Hi Mom! Hi Dad! You’re never going to believe what Pete told me today? Guess who lives up the road from me…”


The view of the rising sun as seen by Pastor Donna on top of the hill behind her little red house in Vermont…just down the road from Freddie. 

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Reflect on where it is in your life that soul comes alive with joy, with inspiration…and where it ultimately finds rest in God? 

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Day 8 and 9:  A Wind-Tunneled Walk 

It was a blustery morning where you could tell Old Man Winter was trying hard to hold on to his reign of cold and not give into spring’s warm days. The wind blew so sharply it felt as if little knives were cutting through my coat. It was then I remembered just how the avenues of Manhattan became wind tunnels this time of year. images

Back up at my little red house in Vermont, wind just blew, whipping through the valley with nothing to stop it. There weren’t any looming skyscrapers tunneling the wind as it was now being tunneled.

I burrowed by mitten-less hands deeper into my coat pockets. Why I thought it was going to be warmer in the city when I packed for the ministry seminar I was attending, I have no idea.

Clearly I wasn’t dressed for the elements, but I resolved to set forth on what was going to be a brutal walk ahead for I had someone important to meet here on the streets of Manhattan.

I had to meet me.

I had to meet up with the “who” I once was. More importantly, though, I had to remember who I was as God’s beloved and remember a divine guidance that never failed me.

My father always told me that sometimes in life we needed to take a step back in order to move forward. I had taken those steps back at times, but now it was time to look back—and remember. Thus, my walk began.

My first stop was to the building that gave me my entry into the magazine business. I stood on the corner looking at the impressive art deco skyscraper and remembered how many years ago I stood in the exact same place feeling awe that this was where God was leading me for an internship.

It was just days before Christmas and I couldn’t help but feel God was giving me one of the most incredible present—the start to my dream career.

After my interview I made my way to the bus terminal to head across the river back to New Jersey where I was I still living with my folks. When I walked through the door more than a warm dinner greeted me. I was also greeted with the news that the magazine had called back already. I had the job!

I could see then the beginning of a journey that wasn’t just about “career” but more about a journey of trusting God’s leading. You see prior to that first magazine interview as a college student, I sat in the cafeteria of the fashion school I was attending, reading the little Bible the Gideon group was handing out on the street corner earlier that fall. Specifically I read from Jeremiah, “for I know the plans I have for you…”

My eyes began to tear. Not from the biting wind, but from the joy that began warming me up as I stood remembering God’s provision and love.

I then walked over to Time Square and gazed at the next building where my editorial career really took off and where I would be for the next decade (of course, not in the same building as the magazine moved three more times due to being acquired by various other publishing companies).

I remembered how excited I was that early summer day as I took the escalator up to the mezzanine where then elevators would take me the rest of the way.

I was a bit early that morning and so I lingered in the lobby taking time to soak in the sights and sounds all around me and thought about what the future would reveal—all the glamorous parties, photo shoots and travels that were part of the associate fashion editor’s job duties.

I then remembered the words of a photographer colleague of mine who would accompany me on assignments at my previous job.

“Remember who you are. Don’t let this industry turn you into something you are not. Stay true to yourself.”

Hesitantly, I entered into the lobby again and I lingered a bit, soaking in the sights and sounds around me. I found my heart thanking God not just for the opportunities given to me, but for those He brought into my life with words of wisdom, like the wonderful words I held onto for all my time living and working in New York City, “Remember who you are.”

For me those words weren’t about remembering who “Donna” was. They were deeper for they echoed God’s words to the Israelites, reminding them in their journey that God was their God and they were His people. God was my God on my journey and I was His child.

I soon noticed the time and realized I had to hurry to get to the seminar I came to the city for. I made my way like I had always done before, walking in the direction of whatever traffic light told me that I could walk, thus, having to avoid standing still on any street corner.

As I snaked through the streets, I thought about how many times I was impatient with God’s red lights in my life. How many moments of growth and awesome God moments did I miss all because I was too impatient with the divine red light and opted to move forward with the light that told me to go now even though that “now” was not the right time or the right path?

While pondering this, I soon realized that my hurried steps were in sync with everyone else’s but, unlike my eyes, their eyes were avoiding any contact with others. I also noticed something that brought a huge smile to my face. Not only did my steps line up with those around me, but my black flats, black tights, black skirt, black coat, accented with one amazing accessory mind you—my Kate Spade bag—were in sync with all the young fashionistas scurrying to their offices.

With all the changes I noticed in myself and in the place that was once my home, it was good to know that some things (even if it was just the NYC fashion dress code) never changed!

I finally got to class and began thawing my frozen fingers with a steaming cup of coffee. Despite my physical discomfort, my wind-tunneled walk was worth it. I was glad I got to meet up with my former self and to remember how God has led me from city streets to rural fields, up escalators and elevators to the best steps ever taken—up the old wooden steps to the doors of a little white church.

Shortly after taking my seat, the instructor walked to the front of the room. I opened my notebook and took out my pen. Class was about to begin. The instructor spoke:

Today we are going to spend time exploring something important that we must not forget ever in ministry—in life. That is, our need to remember who we are as God’s beloved.

I put my pen down and sipped my coffee. No need to take notes. I’ve already aced this lesson. For on wind-tunneled New York City streets I met up with someone special. I met me—the who I was, the who I am and remembered the who I will always be. God’s beloved beautifully led now and always.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Talk a walk down memory lane and meet up with someone very important. You. God’s beloved. And reflect on all the beautiful ways God has led you.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Day 6 and 7: Divine Dissatisfaction 

I was struggling, but those standing with me at coffee hour after church had no clue of my struggle. To them, I had it all. I had my dream job as a magazine editor in Manhattan, which often meant missed dinners with friends as I was called away on business trips to Italy or Switzerland or Thailand or Africa—places where the fine jewelry industry housed designer ateliers and dirt speckled with diamonds and precious gemstones.

I had my dream apartment—no studio here, but an actual one-bedroom apartment with no need for a roommate—complete with a doorman and a convenient midtown location so going uptown or downtown to try a new city hotspot was not a pricey cab ride.

I had a boyfriend. And I had a cat. I had it all…so it seemed to others. But I was struggling. All that I had was, for some reason, not filling my heart with this sense of peace and contentment. It got to the point where I had to speak to someone about this. And so I spoke to the associate pastor of the Fifth Avenue church I was attending.

I pulled her aside in the room coffee hour was being held and dangled out to her in guarded and cryptic words my struggle, trying not to get to deep over coffee and cookies. I didn’t think I was making sense and soon thought this was not a good idea to speak to the pastor at this time, but she seemed interested. She even seemed to understand my guarded and cryptic words. Perhaps she was once where I am now, I thought. Suddenly my interest in her backstory was piqued. After I was done speaking she nodded her head as if reminiscing back to some page in her scrapbook of life and with a twinkle of excitement in her eye that I couldn’t understand she told me what was going on with me.

“You are experiencing divine dissatisfaction,” she said.

“What?” I asked, finding her apparent glee for this not-so-fun place I was in a bit unsettling.

“Dissatisfaction that is divine,” she said as if switching the order of the words spoken would give me my “Ah-ha!” moment. It didn’t.

“What?” I said again.

She took my hand and led me to her office where she invited me to sit down. This was no longer a passing conversation to be had in the corner of the room where coffee hour was being held.

As I sat down in the chair my reporter senses kicked in and I quickly took inventory of her office. Some of the best stories of the subjects I have interviewed came not from what they told me, but of the story the décor and trinkets and pictures in the office told. Her story was emerging and, unknowingly to me, so was mine.

Kim was her name and she was just a few years older than me. She was from down south and came to the big city to become a professional dancer. And dance she did, performing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. That explained to me why she had the lithe body of a dancer.

Dance and her African heritage blended beautifully and when she came to New York City she thought her heart would never stop dancing with joy for the answered prayers she had received.

One day, though, her heart stopped dancing with joy. The steps she took to the music were not feeling right. She struggled. Those around her had no idea. Her friends thought she had it all.

One morning as she walked to the dance theatre, she kept on walking. She found a bench in front of a bus stop and sat. Just then she took out the Bible that had been thrown into her backpack for quite some time and never taken out. Hesitantly she opened it and she began to seek God. As she sought God’s will she began to see God had another dream for her—to tell the world of God’s goodness as a pastor. To the surprise of her friends and family, she announced she was entering seminary. And here she was sitting before me in her black clerical robe with an African inspired stole that I now noticed had images of women dancing in the joy of the Spirit.

“You have a gift and a passion for communicating through the words you put down on paper,” she said. “Perhaps those words are not to be of jewelry anymore. Perhaps those words are to be of something more precious and more beautiful.”

“Divine dissatisfaction,” I whispered now understanding what she meant. She was speaking of a dissatisfaction that is often God’s way of getting our attention to the new things God has for us. For with God there are always new dreams to pursue.

I opened my bag and scrounged around deep to the bottom and pulled out my pocket Bible that I had always carried but never opened.

I opened it now, and the hands of a former dancer turned big city pastor and a soon to be former magazine editor turned accidental country pastor of a little white church clasped together tightly. Two women, two stories, two dreams realized and yet to realize…and we prayed.  We thanked God for those beautiful unsettling moments known as divine dissatisfaction in our lives, for they are the moments that lead us in becoming all we are meant to become.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Lent is the perfect season to explore the areas of dissatisfaction in your life. For perhaps it is a case of divine dissatisfaction and God is trying to awaken you to a new dream waiting for you.





This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey


Day 6—A Heart Revealed  images


I just need a sign. Just one little sign. Please, God. I just need a sign.

That’s all I kept hearing from this woman who had seen her share of hardships. I could relate to her need to know that God was hearing her. There were many nights where I would fall on my knees in such pain over what seemed to be unanswered prayers that I, too, would shout to God, “Show me that you are there in my life!”

Oh how desperately I wanted signs from heaven as well.

But as I made my way through the tough wilderness I was in, I eventually came to realize what Elijah discovered that day on the side of the mountain after the wind, fire and earthquake all subsided. Elijah’s sign that God was there with him was found in the silences all around him. This woman, though, wasn’t ready for God to be in the silences around her.

So I sat with her and listened as she expressed her pleas for a sign from God. And I, as a pastor, found myself trying to redirect her gaze to seeing the angels—the ordinary men and women—who were already there in her life supporting her, loving her, praying for her and helping her. I guess in a way I was trying to soften the blow for her for not getting any sign from God. Perhaps in a way I didn’t want any responsibility for God’s failure in delivering a sign. Not that I have such power in what God does or doesn’t do. I know it sounds weird to even think God could fail because God NEVER FAILS us. But I think it was more I just didn’t want this woman’s faith to fail if the sign she wanted never came. And so I kept trying to redirect her eyes to all the angels in her life instead.

She took note of those angels, wiped her tears and said, “Thanks, but I still just want a sign.”

After she left I wondered if she would get what she was looking for. Perhaps there were many signs already on her path that she was for some reason blind to. I just wasn’t sure. I just didn’t know. I wondered. Was God hearing her?

The following morning I awoke to an email that my eyes couldn’t believe.

There on the screen was a note from this woman telling me, “My sign from God came! I can’t stop praising Him. Look what I saw in my yard this morning.”

Attached to the note was the picture of snow melting away and revealing the ground beneath. The snow, though, was melting in such a way that it formed a perfect heart on the ground.

God heard her prayer. She received her sign. For her prayer was for frozen hearts to melt and for love to come into her life.

Skeptics will say that a sign from God can be seen in anything, that is, if you are so desperate to see a sign from God. But this melting snow in the shape of heart was not a case of wanting to see something so badly that you could make nothing into something. This melting snow in the shape of heart was the sign from God this woman refused to stop believing would come.

I joined her that morning in praising and thanking God. And I learned my lesson. Never redirect eyes away from wanting to see a sign from God. Rather encourage those eyes that want to see God so badly. For God NEVER FAILS those who never stop seeking Him.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Open your eyes to the signs God puts in front of you. But more importantly open your hearts in believing that God will answer your prayers in the most amazing ways.




This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lent

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

Day 5—Retreating

It’s the first Sunday in Lent and I find myself just wanting to curl up on the sofa with a good book or some knitting or quilting. I want to curl up and try to chase away thoughts of Sunday morning worship—those unrelenting thoughts of what worked and what didn’t work that keep playing over and over in my head.

Did I really say that when I was really trying to say this? Or why didn’t I go out of my way to say hello to that person who I saw heading out the door because something tugged at my heart to reach out to them? And why did I forget to lift this person during our prayer time?

I try to get all that happened during the worship hour out of my head because what happened or didn’t happen doesn’t really matter. What matters is how present I was to God who called me and how faithful I was in my witness to His love. That is what matters.

But the world has programmed us from an early age to believe that our worth is found in how well we perform, how educated, how pretty, how talented, how…the list goes on and on with all the “how’s” that are imposed—or self imposed—on us. We buy into that “grading” system to the point where we often become our own worst enemies and critique ourselves so harshly we forget we were wonderfully and beautifully made in God’s image.

This just doesn’t happen to pastors. It happens to us all for we all have that never-ending tape playing in our heads about things we could have done better.

And so the sofa cries out to me on this first Sunday in Lent for it is offering me a place to retreat from the world and, more so, a place to retreat from the expectations I place on myself. I just want to withdraw and stop the tape from playing in my head. I look at the book sitting on the coffee table for months, but I have no interest in opening it up to read. I pick up the material for my quilt, but I have no desire to stitch the block at this time. I look at over at the knitting needles sitting in the basket of yarn on the old dry sink. I don’t even bother to pick them up for all I know how to do is knit inconsistent, cock-eyed rows.

I sit on the sofa. It’s the first Sunday in Lent and I just want to curl up and retreat from the world and from myself. And so I decide to do nothing but sit and allow myself to feel God’s arms around me, hugging me back into a place of worthiness. I light a candle and I sit quietly watching the flame flicker.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Lent and I know I need to retreat when I begin to think my success as a pastor, as a person, as a wife, as a friends, is all based on things I can do, learn and improve upon. I know I need to run into the arms of God for it is only God working through me will I find the sense of worth and accomplishment I seek.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Spend Sunday afternoons in Lent on the sofa—or a favorite chair—or any place that you can find some rest—and allow yourself to retreat from the world and from yourself so that you can draw closer to God discover the beauty of true worth is found only in God.


This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

Day 4: Snowdrops

Why do I like the season of Lent so much? There are many reasons, among them are the lessons we can learn in this holy season in which we are asked to go counterculture and retreat from the blaring noise and fast pace of the world around us.

I especially like the lessons we learn when we are invited to walk the wilderness walk with Jesus at a time when going for an actual walk can be hard to do.

Depending on when Easter falls on the calendar (click here to read how that is figured out: Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, can begin as early as February, just when winter is hitting its stride.

And so taking an actual walk out into the frigid cold of God’s country doesn’t sound fun, does it? But it was, especially when the slice of heaven I walked in was where the little white church I pastored called home—an idyllic setting in rural upstate New York on the border of Vermont.

It was there during many Lents that snow would pile up high and actually block a front door (as it did the first winter my husband and I settled into our Vermont home). The back porch exit wasn’t any better. When reconfiguring our picket fence that summer we inadvertently placed the gate door in the vicinity of where the tin roof hung over. You guessed it. Snow loves sliding off of tin roofs and so trying to access the gate that led to the driveway that led to our car was an adventure.

It was there in God’s country during the season of Lent that many times the ice proved to be champion over those ice gripper thingies (for lack of a better word). You know the things you slip over your shoes to prevent you from falling and sliding. Those ice gripper thingies were actually given to me as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift. I think I tried them once, preferring to amaze those on the street with my graceful moves as I fell to the ground.

And I am sure I shocked the locals when on one particularly frigid Lenten day, when the temperature was a negative 10, I popped in and out of the businesses on Main Street wearing my favorite weekday go-to dress—a cute wool navy blue number from the Gap—stockings to match, riding boots and a fashionable (translation: not warm at all) coat.

I had never experienced double-digit, negative temperatures before and so I didn’t realize how cold, cold could really get. All I remember from that Lenten day when I took my walk on Main Street was the stunned look on the owner’s face when I stopped into the fuel company housed in an old timber building right behind the dilapidated, yet showing good bones, train depot. He glanced up and down and asked, “Are you warm enough, pastor?” To which I said, “Not really.”

I love how Lent comes at a time when actually walking a wilderness walk comes with these blessed challenges of cold, ice and snow. These are challenges that urge me not to give up my walk for the comfort of a warm house or office or church. The harsh elements I venture out into reconnect me with the fact that life is not always easy or comfortable. That often God calls us into harsh elements so that we can train our eyes to see beyond winter’s gray days and look forward to the promise of spring.

For even when it seems the brown patch of frozen ground will never bring forth life again, all of sudden, when you least expect it—and when you need it the most—it appears. Hope in the way of tiny snowdrop sitting on the side of a hill, peeking up to the heavens as if to say to a world sitting in cold for far too long, “Rejoice! Our salvation is near!” Unknown

I love the lessons of Lent that come early on when winter refuses to release its grip on us. I love the lessons of holding on to hope when others say there is no hope to hold on to. I love the lessons of trusting God’s warming love that will not only incubates the seeds beneath the ground, but also incubate the heart that longs to love again.

I love that Lent invites us to walk the wilderness walk with Jesus at a time when actually walking can be a challenge. For it is on such walks we can truly see God—and, if we train our eyes of faith, we may just see a snowdrop singing its song of praise to its Creator.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Go for an actual walk today. Bundle up if it is cold, grab an umbrella if it is raining, but don’t let the elements deter you. Go out into God’s creation (be safe though!) and take note of the beauty all around.



This Way of Life Lenten Journey

A Little White Church Lenten Journey

When the cold of winter turns into the bleakness of mud season, hope is hard to find. Yet beneath the hard ground and in the midst of life’s muddiness, there is always new life waiting to bloom. Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

Day 3: Go Now in Peace

There’s a song the little white church would sing every week at the very end of worship. It was called “Go Now in Peace.” I had never heard of this song before nor have I ever worshipped or worked in a church in which a choral benediction was sung. So the first time I experienced this choral benediction it was indeed quite memorable.

It was the Sunday I preached for the congregation as their prospective new minister. Boy was I nervous. Would they like me? Would they be pleased with my sermon? I knew it really wasn’t about me but about God’s Spirit at work leading us both to the right partnership, but still, you can’t stop that tape playing in your head that they are looking at you and not beyond to what God is leading them to. Anyway, I gave the blessing and as the music began to play for the choral benediction, I walked to the back of the sanctuary. That’s when it happened. A divine moment. I stood there the soon-to-be next minister of the little white church and I looked out at people that God was bringing into my life to lead and to learn from. I stood and listened to their voices sing a song I was not familiar with.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. God will be with you each hour of every day. Reach out to others…

I watched and listened to them sing this song that many knew by heart. And I wondered. How many really believed the words they were singing? Were they afraid? Did they know God was there each hour of every day? Were they reaching out to others?

I wondered about these people I had yet come to know, had yet to be there in their griefs, had yet to be their in their joys, had yet to journey with them in faith.

But as I listened I felt something there in the sanctuary. I felt a strange movement of the Spirit I had never felt before. It was as soft as breeze, but I realized then the Spirit was just beginning to move and among these people something powerful was going to emerge. Voices that were singing hesitantly were on the verge of singing boldly.

The vote to become the next pastor of the little white was unanimous and I walked back to the front of the sanctuary that God knew I—an avid lover of 18th architecture—would appreciate. I looked out at those gathered in the colonial era white wooden pews still with the doors attached and lifted my hands to give the blessing. As I did I felt that gentle breeze of the Spirit pick up a bit more.

“Go now in peace. Know He will guide you in all you do,” I said, borrowing from the choral benediction that was a little white church tradition.

Our ministry had began and as days turned into weeks that turned into months that turned into years, the Spirit’s breeze kept blowing and leading and waking hearts up. And then it happened.

One Sunday in Lent as the little white church sang their traditional choral benediction, I had yet another divine moment—a moment that almost brought tears to my eyes.

I heard their voices sing as I never heard before. This time I clearly heard voices that were stronger in aith and voices that were singing the words, “Reach out to others…” with conviction and passion. The words weren’t just words sung by rote. The words were being sung out of the experiences that we had together, experiences of growing in our faith together and experiences of really reaching out beyond our own doors and into the community. The words had come to life.

I stopped singing at one point and just stared at the cross on the communion table, listening to the strength and conviction that was coming out of the voices of the many men and women and children gathered for worship.

“God,” I said, “Can you hear them? Can you hear the belief in their voice? Can you hear the strength? Can you hear the love? Can you hear the determination to really reach out to others so all the world can see? God can you hear your children coming alive by your Spirit moving among them?”

I then lifted my eyes from the cross and looked over at all who were singing and noticed not only were their voices strong, but their faces were transformed. They were shining. Some people had their eyes closed, some had their eyes lifted up towards heaven and one man in my congregation did what he has done since the first day I came to the little white church. At the moment in the song when we sang, “God will be there, watching from above…” this man, in true devotion to God, always lifted his hands up towards heaven.

I carry this memory close to my heart because whenever I find myself wondering where God is or questioning the movement of the Spirit in my life because I haven’t felt any gentle breeze against my skin, I can close my eyes and go back to the little white church and hear the voices of God’s children sing.

I can remember how I was priviledged to see God’s Spirit breathing new life into tired bones and how words once sang by rote became words of transformation and new life.

God will be with you each hour of every day…

In this season of Lent, as we are invited to enter into the wilderness, let us not be afaid. Rather as we walk let us become aware of how closely God watches over us and how wonderfully God leads us. And may the song you sing along the way be sung with newfound strength, love and conviction.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. 

God will go with you each hour of every day. 

Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true. 

Know He will guide you in all you do. 

Go now in love, and show you believe. 

Reach out to others so all the world can see. 

God will be there watching from above.

Go now in peace, in faith, and in love.


This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Is your walk with God drudgery? Are you tired? Are you wondering where is this power of the Spirit you hear about? Whatever you do, don’t stop walking. Don’t stop singing. Challenge yourself this day to take one more step in faith and take it without any fear, trusting God all the way. For God does go with you each hour of every day.