A Little White Church Good Friday Reflection

It was a powerful night for those gathered at the little white church to do something different for Maundy Thursday. They gathered in the fellowship hall, better known as Mackenzie Chapel, named so after the man whose grim looking picture, hanging on its walls, had caused many a child to ask, “Pastor Donna, are his eyes following us?”

Of course, they were teasing me claiming that the famous friendly ghost that haunted the school came down the street for an occasional visit to the church. There was plenty of hallowed ground in the little village with a Revolutionary War cemetery greeting visitors upon their arrival as well as stories of which old house was indeed an underground railroad stop.

But on this holy night an intimate group gathered in the chapel for something different: a quiet candlelight supper to recall the Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples on the night of his betrayal and arrest.

It was powerful as we gathered and got to better understand the symbolism in the items on the traditional Seder plate and how Jesus was about to add a layer of new meaning to what was with what was about to be.

The bitter herbs of tears shed long ago in Egypt foreshadowing the bitter tears that would be shed at the foot of the cross. The lamb sacrificed for the meal foreshadowing THE lamb to be slaughtered. The last cup of Passover wine now the cup of the new covenant poured out in Jesus’ blood—there was a strong sense of the Spirit moving among those at the table who came seeking deeper meaning and deeper understanding. We were not just on hallowed ground. We were standing on holy ground. Together. And there were angles all around.

As was recorded in scripture, we then, too, sang a hymn after supper and made our way outdoors. The sweet smell of a spring night was strong. The daffodils and hyacinths from Easters past, planted by the white picket fence of the church’s parking lot, were in full bloom. A bird fluttered by and in the silence of the circle we made a little girl couldn’t contain her excitement any longer.

“Mommy, listen to the peepers!”

The beauty of God’s creation was all around us and yet we were outside to remember the agony of Jesus who, in night air similar to ours, prayed to his Father to take this cup of suffering away.

With the chorus of peepers in the background, I read the words I knew those in the circle have whispered or pleaded or cried out many times before. I read the words that were at times in my life all too familiar.

“Father, please let this cup of suffering pass. But not according to my will, but your will be done.”

The words wafted into the air. We closed in prayer. The stars appeared.

I will always remember that night for those gathered at the little white church because it was a night in which they dared to do something different in terms of worshipping God. To do something different not to attract more people, but do something different that was born out of the desire to have a deeper and quieter prayer experience on such a holy night.

It was a powerful night.

But how many powerful nights like that have we missed all because we went along with the crowd and didn’t listen to how our Spirits needed to be fed?

I have come realize more and more the worse thing we can do individually or collectively is squash the Spirit of God by not listening to what the Spirit is calling us to do—even if it means doing something different, even for just this one time.

And so as I stare at today’s wooden cross in a time of prayer on this Good Friday, I remember one powerful night at the little white church. I remember a little girl’s excitement at the peepers. I remember the incredible sense that we were together standing in the presence of the Holy One. I remember our prayers. But most of all I remember the divine silence.

I look at the cross of Good Friday and I remember my need to be true to God and be who God is asking me to be. I realize, too, for God to truly work through me, I need to do something very important.images-1.jpg

I need to nail to the cross my fears and doubts and insecurities. I need to leave behind that little voice that says, “You can’t do…” this or that.

For isn’t the cross our reminder of ALL God CAN do?

On this Good Friday I remember one powerful night at the little white church that changed me, shaped me and inspired me.

It is now time for me to once again be changed, shaped and inspired. It’s time to let go of the darkness that led to goodness being nailed to a cross. It’s time to be led by God’s Spirit into a new day filled with light and love.

Good Friday Reminder:  Until the joy of Easter morning comes, be still and know that God, even in darkness, is still God. 

A Little White Church Maundy Thursday Reflection

I know you will make the right decision.

You have great faith.images-1.jpg

I looked at the text again. It was from an old friend whom I haven’t spoken to in a while. My first reaction was to scoff at her words. Me? Great faith? If only she knew of my struggles in that department lately, wondering where God was…wondering more as to what in heaven’s name was God up to.

My scoffing softened though. Tears soon came from my eyes dropping onto the screen of my iPhone blurring the message before me.

I’ve heard these words before.

Helen was her name. She was 92 years old when I came to the little white church. I remember her age well because on my first Sunday during announcements it was brought up that it was her birthday. I, being a brand new pastor, said with a smile, “Well, happy birthday, Helen!”

To which this petite, white haired woman replied, “What’s so good about it? I’m another year older!” Seminary never prepared me for this and so I stood there with a smile still on my face, praying for a quick quip or two to get us moving along in the service.

To say Helen had spunk would be an understatement, and I soon discovered she had more than just spunk. Helen had an amazing heart and a faith that was stronger than nails.

The family farm in which she was matriarch of for so many decades was on the winding country road to and from my first home, the primitive Colonial saltbox, to the little white church.

Late afternoons on my way home I would stop in to say hello. Walking through the mudroom where barn boots lined the wall, I would see her sitting at the kitchen table where in front of her was a large window giving her the most beautiful vistas of the farm. There we would sit and I would hear the most amazing stories of life back then. I would hear about how the farm dated back to the 1700s. I would hear about the frigid winter evening when her husband and her snuck off late into the night to go sledding as the children slept. And how one very icy hill turned out to be a mistake, as they crashed and got all mangled up.

“Not smart, but fun,” she would say.

I would hear all about the joys and challenges of farming, and I would hear all about her great love for the little white church and her hopes she had for it. Hopes for a bright future.

She cared deeply for her church family, as was evident in all the newsletters and bulletins from the little white church strewn on the kitchen table. She kept up to date with everything I was doing as pastor.

One spring day when the grass was just turning green and mud season was subsiding, we just sat at the kitchen table in silence. Both of us staring out of the window, watching the birds fluttering about for an afternoon snack in the many bird feeders Helen had hanging out in the yard.

“Helen,” I said quietly breaking the silence.

“Yes,” she replied just as quietly, with both of our eyes still staring at the birds before us.

“I can’t do this without you,” I said, referring to the high hopes she had for the little white church that I felt were weighing down on me as pastor. “I don’t have the strong faith you have, and so I am asking you to be my prayer warrior.”

Still looking out the window, her reply came. Short and sweet, with no further discussion or emotion or hugs of thanks.

“I can do that.”

Silence and then…

“But you don’t need me. God is with you.”

Truth was, I didn’t feel God was with me. I needed Helen’s strong faith to sustain me.

Spring turned to summer. Summer to fall. Fall to another winter. Time marched forward adding more life to the little white church and with it two more blessed years to Helen’s life. Until one morning in early summer when it became clear the song Helen would soon be hearing would not be from her beloved birds outside the big kitchen window, but rather from God’s heavenly chorus of angels.

I came to her bedside at the nursing home and sat there quietly. She opened her eyes and took my hand. In her labor state of passing from this world to the next, I leaned over to her and selfishly pleaded with her not to leave me. She was my prayer warrior. What would I do without her?

Helen, full of spunk even towards the end, grasped my hand tighter and said, “God is with you. You have strong faith.”

I gently leaned down and kissed her forehead and lifted a prayer of praise and thanks for God’s servant who had ran an incredible race. I didn’t want to say good bye and so I whispered to her, “See you later.”

I stood in the hall of the nursing home sobbing, trying hard to hold on to her words to me.

God is with you. You have strong faith.

Helen has been on my mind this week we call “Holy.” It’s a week in which we will walk with our Savior to the cross where death cannot be averted. Endings. Good byes. Failed hopes. Failed dreams. Everything and anything that tests our faith in a good and loving God will be taunting us from the cross. For there Jesus hangs and as he does we must believe God is still with us. We must have strong faith.

Strong faith in Jesus. The disciples’ prayer warrior.

Jesus. The one with spunk who challenged those in the world to think differently.

Jesus. Who broke bread with them before he died and asked for them to remember him. Remember the trust in God he lived by. Remember the power of prayer. Remember his promise to be with us always.

Helen, on her deathbed, was asking me to remember, too. To remember her faith came from her knowledge of a loving and gracious God. To remember that while my beloved prayer warrior was leaving me, I had something with me always. God.

If we can share in the bitter sting of betrayal guised in the breaking of bread with Jesus, go to the garden to plead for this cup to pass, walk to the cross and not flee as the clouds of despair and gloom set in, if we can do all this, if we can hold on and trust even when it seems we have no more trust to hold on to, then we too will know what Helen knew so well in life.

Your faith is strong.

For God is with you.

Now and forever.

Maundy Thursday Challenge: Take time today to be still before God. Listen to the birds. Feel the wind on your cheek. Gaze at the spring flowers. And know your faith is strong, even if it doesn’t feel that way. God has not abandoned you.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

A Shamrock Surprise

It’s been one of those days where everything seems to be getting done at a snail’s pace. There are things weighing on my heart, matters swirling in my head and, of course, stuff on my plate calling for my attention. Extra strong coffee isn’t breaking through this haze nor is the over the counter medicine helping to remedy the sniffles and coughs from allergies that appear along with the buds on the trees.

Between the sniffling and coughing and replying to emails and planning Holy Week worship, I wonder: Why can’t the peace of God, which passes all understanding, be something that never leaves us? Why is peace so fleeting?

I have moments where I feel God’s presence. These moments often come when I am walking up to the top of Sofie’s Hill, named so for my Bernese Mountain dog who, in her younger years would run so quickly up the grassy slope to this beautiful spot where one can drink in the views of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

There we sit together, me in deep prayer; Sofie in…perhaps deep prayer, but I think her thoughts are more about the biscuit she will soon get that is still sitting in the pocket of my sweatshirt.

But then it happens.

As soon as I descend from that mountain top (more like hilltop) high, the peace evaporates as I begin thinking less about God and more about the day’s agenda before me.

Peace evaporates when I forget God knows my agenda better than I do.

Peace evaporates when I forget God has the answers to the questions and the solutions to the problems.

Peace evaporates when I insist on focusing on the weeds around me rather than seeing the beautiful new life sprouting forth out of adversity.

The peace I long for is not steadfast because I am not steadfast in my trust of God. Thankfully, though, God is steadfast and always trying to remind me in many ways that He is there even when I am not.

I got a beautiful reminder of that this morning.

I noticed the Christmas cactus on my desk was looking a little shabby. Luckily this cactus is a hearty, low maintenance kind of a plant suited for someone like me with a brown thumb. Still, as hearty as it is, even I knew it needed some TLC.

As I parted its wilting leaves in order to get the water directly into the soil, I noticed something hidden underneath. There sprouting forth was not just one but two clovers. Their three heart-shaped leaves quickly brought to mind the legend of St. Patrick and how he used the clover (or shamrock) to teach about the trinity with each leaf representing Father, Son and Holy Spirit.imgres

I couldn’t believe my eyes that underneath what seemed to be dying leaves were these clovers growing. What I saw staring back at me was God’s way of saying to me, “I am here, even when you can’t see or understand. I am here.”

That’s when it happened.

Peace washed me over as I realized what I might see on the surface is not what God sees. That always there is hope growing in the midst of what seems hopeless. There is always an answer and always a solution. God is always there and the peace I long for is always there too.

I just need to clear the negativity and the gunk I allow to weigh me down in life so that what is revealed is the beauty of God—the blessed trinity—always there in my life.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: If peace seems fleeting in your life, take a step back and re-examine your life. Is God in all things or not?

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

A Gift from the Creator

“My tree is bleeding.”images

Looking back, I now see what a strange announcement I made to the men and women gathered one morning at the little white church for a time of prayer and study.

But I was perplexed as to why streams of liquid were pouring from the ancient, twisted and gnarled tree that stood in front of an equally ancient and lopsided Colonial saltbox that I called home.

“Your tree is doing what?” they asked, doing their best to hide their knowing smiles and not laugh at the city girl who had traded in her heels for Mucks to become their country pastor.

“It’s bleeding,” I said again, this time with some more drama to make them understand the seriousness of my problem. “I think something is really wrong with it. I always thought it looked dead, now its oozing. Does anyone know who I can call to have it cut down?”

“Don’t you dare cut it down,” came the stern command from an elderly lady whose cantankerous spirit was something I actually got a kick out of as she often reminded me of my own grandmother at times.


Yes, I dared to say “but” to her, knowing very well there was no winning an argument with her ever.

“Don’t give me those ‘buts’. You folks from down state just can’t see when you are giving a blessing. That’s your problem. You just can’t see when you are given a gift from the Creator,” she snapped.

“But…my tree IS BLEEDING.”

Yes, I dared to say “but” to her again. And I paid the price.

She shook her head in exasperation at we folk from down state and finally spelled it out for me.

“Pastor, that’s maple sap dripping from your tree. Now can we move on to Bible study? I have a hair appointment I need to get to.”

And with that, we moved on to our lesson at hand.

I, though, I couldn’t stop thinking of the valuable lesson I had just learned. Here I was so quick to see something out of the ordinary as a problem in my life. Something didn’t look right and so in my cynical city nature I just assumed it wasn’t right, never once thinking that the “problem” before me was really a gift from the Creator.

How many other “not right” things in my life did I fail to see for what they really were? Gifts from above. Gifts inviting me see with new eyes, hear with new ears, feel with a new heart—one hopefully beating more in line with God’s heart.

It was maple sugaring season and for those in the little white church it was a wonderful time of year that not only brought hope of warm days with it, but ushered in flurry of fellowshipping as there were maple syrup breakfasts to attend at all the sugar houses that dotted the pastoral landscape.

It was a time of year where the sweet smelling smoke from the wood fires needed to boil down the sap would warm up the “spring is coming” air even more.

It was the time of year when sun grew stronger warming up veins in a tree, allowing then for sap, beautiful sap, to flow freely and abundantly and eventually becoming sweet blessings for others to enjoy.

I came home later that day and looked at my bleeding tree. I touched the sap flowing down its ancient bark and tasted it. It didn’t have any flavor yet. I was told that would come with more boiling over hot fires. Creating sweet syrup was a process. One that took much work and patience.

The elderly woman at Bible study was right. I had a gift from the Creator. Not just maple sap that could be tapped for syrup. I had gift of realizing we all need maple sugaring seasons in our lives.

We need those seasons in which God’s love thaws our hearts so that finally blessings can flow from us and into the world around us.

I miss that tree. I miss it a lot.

But what I miss more are the lessons I learned from those in the little white church. They are the ones who patiently taught me to see the gifts of the Creator I was often blind to.

The gifts in a bleeding tree, in an overflowing brook, in a brutal snowstorm, in a fox ravaged chicken coop…in a broken heart, a failed project, a dark night of the soul…they taught this city-turned-country pastor by showing me whatever comes your way, greet it as a gift from above.

Blessings don’t flow from a heart frozen to the God possibilities. Blessings flow when hearts are thawed by God’s love.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: It’s maple sugaring season. Examine your hearts to see if God’s warm love is flowing freely from you.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

 It was an early spring day. Mud season had arrived and the shining sun had yet to warm up the cold air outside. Coats and boots were still needed as I pulled mine off and settled into my church office.

I had a full day ahead of me and I had really wanted to write my inspiring message for the community Lenten lunch that was just a day away.

Hmmm…maybe I can find the God moment in mud season.

The knock on the door was a welcomed interruption. The invitation that came with the knock was even better. My Lenten message for tomorrow’s lunch would have to wait.

A woman from a neighboring church wanted to take me to see the Old First Church in Bennington, VT, which according to her was just “a hop, skip and a jump” across the New York State border.

I was looking forward to seeing this church as I heard it was famous for its soaring pulpit in which one would have to climb many steep steps to preach from. So on went my boots and coat and out we went.

Within a hop, skip and a jump we were at the church. It didn’t disappoint. There before me it stood in all of its 1762 Colonial architectural glory. It had the quintessential New England white clapboard similar to that of the little white church I served as well as doors on each of the pews.

I was enthralled, which really doesn’t take much to make that happen for me. Simply show me 18th century clapboard, wide plank floors, multi-paned windows, black wrought iron light fixtures, complete with a heavy dose of old musty wood smell, and I am in heaven! I explored the old church not yet knowing the God moment that was to come.

“Come on, let’s go out to the cemetery. There is something I want to show you,” the woman said, urging me on.

I wasn’t sure what was so exciting in the cemetery but I hurried along following her out onto the squishy grass and mud that led to many weathered headstones.

“There. Look. Bet you didn’t know Robert Frost was buried here?” she said pointing in front of me.

“Robert Frost? No way. Really?” I looked at the headstone with the poet’s name etched in it and whispered the line to his poem that was given to me just a year ago:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

I first came across Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” when, one summer, during my chaplaincy training at a hospital on Manhattan’s Upper West Side my supervisor shared it with me.

It was quite clear to him, as it was to me, that I was not being called to be a chaplain. Heck, I had spent the first few weeks of my hospital training just trying to get over my own white coat syndrome. And so these meetings with him touched on the nuts and bolts of praying for the sick and grieving and soon then became a conversation about the “Donna” God had knitted and woven in the womb and where was God calling that Donna to serve.

As the summer continued on I was soon sharing with my supervisor the dilemma I had. I was interviewing with two completely different churches. One that looked good on paper—great facilities for ministry, a staff, healthy budget—and the other, a rural church with an aging facility, no real staff to speak of and a budget in need of what I call a “loaves and fish” miracle. Of course, I was more interested in the church that looked good on paper. Who wouldn’t be?

Two roads diverged in a wood…

Each week as I discussed the possibilities with my supervisor, he listened intently, never offering any real guidance. Rather he asked questions, many questions, when all I wanted was for him to answer for me what to do and where to go.

Before I knew it, the summer was over. My chaplaincy training was complete, but the question of where I was heading next was still open ended.

I walked into my supervisor’s office for my last meeting in which he would share with me his evaluation that he had written up. I was ready for the typical “Donna’s empathy demonstrated in times of crisis was blah, blah, blah” and “Donna’s understanding of praying for the sick was blah, blah, blah.”

Instead, the evaluation was a heartfelt and inspiring affirmation of my call to ministry with an extra bonus—finally, his answer to my never-ending question of, “What am I doing, where am I going?”

He affirmed a ministry I didn’t even recognize as a ministry as he encouraged me to keep on writing. No matter how busy life as a parish pastor got—“keep on writing,” he typed in bold and underlined.

He also encouraged me to trust my heart to where it was leading me and to never be swayed by what others say or what popular opinion might be. Trust your heart, even when your heart leads you to places that do not make sense to anyone else. He then looked up from the written evaluation and, as if he was delivering a benediction, he sent me on my way with the words of Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

We said good-bye and soon thereafter I was saying hello to serve a little white church up north on the border of Vermont, where unbeknownst to me the roads Robert Frost himself traveled upon were just a hop, skip and a jump away.

I took the road that didn’t make sense to others but would be the road that would eventually lead to my future husband and where my heart would finally feel that longed for sense of home.

I stood at the headstone with Frost’s name staring back at me and in that moment I had the incredible sense of God’s loving guidance. I had a sense of who the Donna that God had knitted and formed in the womb was.

“Are you ready to go? It’s not as warm out as I thought,” my unofficial tour guide said.

I turned to follow her back to the car and as I walked the mud beneath me squished. I stopped and looked at the path in front of me. Two paths diverged: One that was not muddy and well travelled and the other that was slick and messy and squishy and to be avoided at all cost.

Guess which one I chose?

Squish. Squish. Squish.

I felt as if I was walking on holy ground. My boots were a mess but my heart was full. For as left Frost’s resting place I knew exactly what my supervisor was trying to tell me. Live authentically. Follow your heart for your heart will lead you to joy. Take the road less travelled, for when you do you will discover it makes all the difference in your life.

It’s a road filled with amazing God moments mingled in the mud.

I had my inspiring Lenten message for the community lunch.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Jesus says to us all, “Come and follow me.” Often that call asks us to embark on a road that is the one less traveled. Find the courage to travel it and know that it will make all the difference in your life. For, yes, God moments are found on that road.


The muddy path leading to the rail trail behind the Accidental Country Pastor’s  little red house in Vermont. It’s a path that always brings to mind the words of Robert Frost about taking the road less traveled.