Into the Deep End of Gladness

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner

Not sure why I wrote this quote in my journal. It wasn’t as if I’ve never heard it before. I had. Many times over. There I was, though, scribbling it down as if the words were brand-spanking new to ears I thought were deaf by now to such pithy quotes. The longer you’re in ministry the longer the list of these quotes seems to get.

I scribbled and reread it. Then I underlined “deep gladness” and read it some more. Next, I circled “deep hunger” and read it yet again. Then “God,” “call,” “meet.” The words were taking on an exciting new life. The speaker at the clergy conference I was attending continued as I gazed down at the fresh ink marks made on the soft gray lines of the bright white journal paper.

“If you don’t know where your deep gladness is—find it,” he commanded, emphasizing “find it” with enough power and punch to get his point across.

It was then my pen jumped at his command and began dancing across the page of my journal. Like the Bible story about the writing on the wall mysteriously appearing in the courts before King Belshazzar that mesmerized me as a child I, too, looked at the words before me wanting to know what they meant, for it was a message I didn’t quite understand or, better yet, didn’t trust to be true.

The mysterious words were, “I do know.”

Really? I do know where my deep gladness has the ability of meeting the world’s hunger?

I thought some more about the divine message that I could no longer ignore—or even erase from my journal. Darn. I knew I should have written this down in pencil! But the truth was let loose.

I did know where my deep gladness was. I knew, but some where and some how I had let life get in the way. How strange it is that the things we need to do in order to “live” are often the very things robbing us of deep gladness? If only we were more aware of that which makes the heart leap for joy would we then start seeing God’s kingdom becoming a beautiful reality in our midst.

This is especially true of our faith communities where, in sacred spaces and on holy ground, time and energy is spent trying to solve the problems of low attendance and little money. Focus on what is thought to give new life, though, actually thwarts the new life Jesus is offering. What is all too soon forgotten is revival begins first by reconnecting with one’s deep gladness. And this deep gladness is always accompanied with the gifts, talents, resources, energy, etc., needed to satiate a hungering world.

Yes, the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Find that deep gladness now, for the world is indeed hungering.


Deep gladness is found out in God’s big backyard where the accidental country pastor’s passion for rural ministry meets the hungering needs of small churches.

Hot Coco, Cherry Jam and Bread

Aunt Sofie is not expected to make it through the night.

It’s strange how a few words spoken in just seconds have the ability to linger in your heart. But linger they do. Just as the smoky residue from the burnt bacon I attempted to cook for breakfast that morning continues choking my lungs, I can’t stop this sadness within from suffocating me.

I am sad for my father’s older sister that her time has come to close her eyes to the beauty of the Swiss Alps she had called home for more than eight decades. I am sad to think she will no longer pick cherries from the trees I once helped her pick from when I was child visiting my dad’s family in Switzerland.

Nothing tasted as good as the tartness of her jam spread abundantly on thick, crusty bread served up with a side of hot coco. Even in the summer hot chocolate was the drink served to us kids, and this wasn’t the packets of Swiss Miss I was used to. This hot coco was the real deal, made with milk from the herd of Brown Swiss who munched on grass and wildflowers in the field. As the drink cooled, the milk would curdle on top creating a slippery film of creamy sweetness you could peel off and eat.images

If you really wanted to fit into the Swiss side of the family, you would dunk the crusty bread into the chocolate elixir, allowing it to get soaked just enough to make it moist yet not to the point where it would fall into the bottom of your mug. The “who can dunk the bread the longest into the hot coco without having it disintegrate into pieces” became a game for my brother and sister and I that summer.

I pick up the roll on my lunch plate. I dunk it into my tepid coffee. Kerplunk. Game over. I had once again dunked too long. I stare into the mug. I can’t breathe. I am suffocating. Suffocating with sadness over the loss of my Aunt Sofie and what it represents.

Her death is not just the passing of yet another one of my father’s many siblings. Her death widens the ever-growing gap between me and my Swiss heritage and adds to a worry I have held since my teen years—what will happen to my connection to family when my father is gone? I never was good at mastering languages and so my meager attempt at learning the Swiss German dialect spoken by my family failed many years ago. And so I am sad about losing a family that I have never really known except through the all too few visits made and the all too few stories my dad has shared with me.

Whether we like them or not, family is important. Family gives us a sense of belonging and an understanding of who we are. As I get older I have come to respect that truth. I have also come to understand why it is that Vermont is and will forever be home to me. For whenever I see the clouds hanging low over the hills and valleys, whenever I hear the cows moo, whenever I hike high into the Green Mountains, whenever I pick cherries or strawberries, whenever I wake up to the early autumn surprise of seeing snow sprinkled on the top of the mountains like powdered sugar on a donut, I feel a powerful sense of belonging and I feel connected to those whose eyes are the same blue as mine.

We will never truly understand who we are, where home is or what makes our hearts come alive with great joy, until we come to know those we are a part of.

And so as each elderly aunt and uncle closes their eyes to the Alps before them, I feel the urgency all the more to keep my eyes opened, to see the many blessings of family before me and to surround myself with that which says “home.”

I feel the responsibility to preserve legacies—even if the legacy is simply the game of dunking bread slathered with cherry jam into a cup of hot coco. It’s something. It’s a start.


The Hallowed Halls of ‘Back Then’

It’s a humid and gloomy afternoon. The kind of afternoon in which you just want to sleep away, but I don’t dare pull the covers over my head. I have a sermon to write, to which I’m failing miserably at.

It seems my mind has a mind of its own. It doesn’t want to help me out in coming up with any eloquent prose on the significance of Jesus casting out many demons plaguing a man.I keep wondering why Jesus just didn’t vanquish the demons? Instead, he relocated them to live in a bunch of unsuspecting pigs who were, up to that point, enjoying life—as much as a pig can enjoy life before becoming a slab of bacon.

Can I really write a sermon sympathizing with the pigs? Probably not. I do love bacon. So I say to my mind, “Take me where you want to go.” It does so happily, taking me away from the here and now and into the hallowed halls of “back then,” where memories have the power to either sadden or gladden. I anticipate both happening. For the back then I go to is a country wedding taking place in a little white church five years ago this week.

I can see the sun shining brightly behind the soaring white steeple. Its rays have chased away all of the drizzle-filled clouds that had me, the bride-to-be, biting my manicured nails.

I can see the sanctuary graced with flowers from the gardens of all the dear women who insisted that flowers were needed in each of the windowsills of the old church. Right before the organ begins the first notes to the bridal procession, I smile with approval at one of the white-haired ladies smiling back at me.

This was one occasion I was glad she didn’t listen to me when I said we didn’t need flowers in the sanctuary. We did need them. I needed them. For they weren’t flowers bought from a florist, arranged in a stiff, artificial way. They were flowers collected with love from local fields and hills and gardens, gathered in bunches and placed in vases that have been hanging around the church for countless years. I bet those vases were happy to be out of the cupboards and once again part of a memory-making day.

I can see the many flower girls. They are a picture of perfection with their floral wreaths in their hair and their cream colored dresses tied with champagne-colored sashes. Perfection is fleeting though. Soon shoes come off, sashes untie and floral wreaths wilt as the girls play outside on the church lawn. In these hallowed halls of “back then” I spot a picture and stop and stare. Some of the girls are sitting on the wooden rail, with dirty bare feet telling of one fun afternoon. There’s that gladness mixed with sadness, as time has turned these girls into young ladies. That means, I too, have grown older.

I can see the tables in fellowship hall filled with homemade treats that would put to shame feasts typical at an Amish barn raising. I can see my mom and dad beaming with joy. I can see my husband’s parents smiling, with a tear or two. I can see the family of faith gathered who that day became more of a family than I had ever realized. I can see my sister and my new teenage daughter standing together as bridesmaids, bonding over all the stress I put them through in finding the right shade of antique pink for their dresses. And I can see the man God had waiting for me through all those years of heartache and loneliness. There he is standing at the front of the church, my friend, my partner, my love, waiting to begin life together.

I can see it all. And if I allow myself to enter more deeply into the hallowed halls of “back then,” I don’t only see. I can smell those flowers collected with lots of love. I can hear the flower girls laughing on the lawn of the church. I can feel my father’s hand as I grabbed it tightly to walk down the aisle with him. I can taste the rich vanilla in the wedding cake baked by a friend from a neighboring church. I can feel the hugs of all those who have journeyed with me. I can hear God whispering a promise I had often been deaf to.

I am with you…always.

I drift back to the gloomy here and now. I am gladdened and saddened. Where have the five years gone? I wonder about decisions made. Things I could have done differently and should have done differently. Words that should have been said and should have never been said. Dreams still being dreamed and hopes still being hoped. Home still waiting to wrap its arms around me and my husband.

My mind is not quite ready to focus on Jesus, demons or pigs, so I linger a bit more in the hallowed halls of back then, realizing I do so not to live in the past. I do so in order to gain strength for the future, to remember God who has done so much for me is not yet done with me. It’s to help me hear God’s whispered promise of being with me that I need to hear especially on these gloomy here and now kind of days.


A picture from the hallowed halls of “back then”…a country wedding in a little white church, where flower girls played all afternoon on the church lawn.



After 2 A.M.

Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.

The song’s lyrics on the radio leaped out at me. “That singer is right,” I said to my husband, whose eyes were fixated on the road leading us back home to the slumbering bucolic hills and valleys of Vermont. “Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.”

My husband looked at me strangely, wondering where I’ve been that I had never heard what turned out to be a popular old saying that he knew quite well.

Less than 48 hours later, the saying I had just become acquainted with had sadly been verified. The news broke a peaceful Sunday morning into a million shattering sharp pieces.

2:09 a.m.—A man armed with an assault rifle entered an Orlando night club. Shots fired. 50 reported dead. 50 more injured.

Nope, nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. Or for that matter, nothing good happens at 9:30 a.m. as we saw in an elementary school in Connecticut; or 9:25 p.m. when news of shooting in Parisian restaurant came our way; or 8 p.m. when we learned of the carnage happening at a Bible study in a Charleston, S.C. church.

I don’t need to go on any further because I’ve made my point. And, anyway, I have to stop for my stomach is getting queasy and my eyes are filling with familiar tears that I have cried one too many times in one too many cases for one too many senseless killings. Nothing good ever happens…at any given time these days, so it seems.

Shortly after news of Orlando seeped into our quiet Sundays, I read a posting on social media blasting the lack of outcry over the lives lost in the dreadful after 2 a.m. hours of the morning. The person cried that the lack of attention given was because those gathered were gathered in a gay nightclub. I’m not discounting that there is some truth to that. But I did disagree with this person because perhaps the lack of outcry was not due to sexual orientation.

Perhaps many were not being vocal because such news has become all too common. Dare I say that we are slowly becoming desensitized to it all. Yes, there is a feeling of anger, of outrage, of fear, of sadness, of confusion. In the midst of all these emotions, though, no one has really addressed or unpacked the most dangerous of all emotions: helplessness, which leads to the No. 1 killer of hope in the world—complacency. And so, silence begins to happen as we sit and wonder, “What can I really do?” and “Does my voice even matter?”

As I skimmed the reactions on social media, I found myself getting perturbed at the postings calling for “prayer for the victims.” And I, a pastor, cringed at the news of prayer vigils popping up all over the place. It’s not that I’m against prayer nor has all of this violence in the world turned me into an atheist.

Prayer can and will change all circumstances. Prayer is not something we turn to only AFTER a tragedy strikes.

Where are the prayers that need to be said for a broken world before the brokenness decides to rear its ugly head in some catastrophic way?

Where are the weekly gatherings in which God’s children listen to the whispers of holy instructions that speak of loving one another and forgiving completely?

Where is our commitment to pray to God for help, wisdom and the strength to be the blessed peacemakers in this world?

Where are the prayer circles that gather before tragedy strikes, thus, making prayer vigils obsolete?

Every Sunday night a dedicated few would gather for prayer in the chapel of the little white church I served. There we would sit. In the heat of summer, the door would be open allowing a breeze to blow through along with the black flies. In the cold of winter, we would keep our coats on for we wanted to be good stewards of the building and keep the church’s heating costs down.

Sometimes we just sat awkwardly in silence. Sometimes we named a concern. Sometimes we prayed for others. Sometimes we even prayed for ourselves. But all the time, no matter what was said or not said, we left renewed with hope. We left in awe with gift of feeling the presence of God.

Did these prayer circles change our church? Yes, they did.

Did they change the community? I think so.

Did they change the world? Some people would say no, they didn’t. But they changed each one who attended. And that change, no matter how insignificant it might seem, is the change that will ultimately change the world. One person, one heart, one prayer at a time, that’s how a seemingly invisible God becomes visible to others.

And that’s where we have to start. Because nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.—or 9:30 a.m. or 9:25 p.m. or 8 p.m. There’s a world growing darker with hate. Tragedies will occur anytime, anywhere. We, though, don’t have to let helplessness turn into complacency. We have a choice.

We can continue to gather in prayer vigils after the darkness has covered us, or we can turn to God before our times of trouble. We can pray, encircled together, for love to win and for peace to shine brighter than any darkness.

It’s time for more prayer circles and fewer prayer vigils.

Blessed be those who mourn this day, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4


The “little white church” where Sunday prayer circles did have the power to change the world—opening one heart to God’s Spirit at a time.