An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey
Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways.
It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth…
The drive to his house was tricky. He lived out on the back roads that snaked up and around hills that quickly grew into mountains the longer you drove. The afternoon sun was setting fast making the iced over dirt roads feel like a child’s slip and slide. I was second-guessing my decision to do this interview for the newspaper in person. I could have just called the “artist in the back woods” who wanted to share with others his newest sculpture. Nothing I could do now. I had committed to going in person and in person I would go.
As I drove I thought about the questions I would ask for my story. They were your typical “who, what, when, where and why” questions one learns early on in journalism. But being I was an editor-turn-minister-turn editor and minister-again—life is certainly an adventure with God—I had another question lingering in my heart.
How does this glorify God? I wasn’t talking about the art created by the “artist in the back woods.” I was questioning myself. How was my part-time reporting job glorifying God? I was a pastor, yes, a pastor without a church right now and wondered was I wasting my time writing for the paper? I had taken my ordination vows nine years ago. I vowed to proclaim the good news, to comfort God’s children, to be God’s instrument of peace.
But I didn’t have a church yet. Several calls had come in, but something made me say “no.” What was that about? What did God have up God’s sleeve for this accidental country pastor? Was I called back home just to drive on snow-covered dirt roads to interview artists?
I pulled up to the house and the artist greeted me. Much to my surprise he was no artist at all. He was a retired corrections officer who began welding metal two years ago. I felt my heart sink as the story I had imagined began fading away. Before I could gather my thoughts as to how to salvage my trip out here, the bomb dropped totally obliterating any shred of story I thought I had. The piece of art he had made could not be revealed yet as planned. The business that had commissioned it wanted its revealing to be a surprise at a gala not to take place till the spring. I was disappointed but tried not to show it.
As I went to leave, something tugged at me to stop putting my reporter’s notebook away. Something tugged at me to stay. To talk. To find out the real story.
The man was older than I had expected considering when I had called him I could hear a toddler in the background. I noticed something else about him. He was hunched over a bit. Not the hunch over from arthritis or a back injury. This hunch was one from brokenness. I knew that hunch well. I’ve seen it in others. I’ve seen it in myself. His eyes too were pretending to be happy but I could see beyond the act.
As he led me into the garage that was his workshop he began to talk about his latest project that I couldn’t write about. I steered the conversation away from that and asked him point blank, “How did a corrections officer with no design training or schooling get into this?”
“My son,” he said, hunching over more. “My son died two years ago. He was only 24. We don’t know what happened. He just began having seizures.”
My son…he said again as if to summon him from beyond.
“He was the artist,” the grieving father explained. “We used to come into this garage all the time. I would help him and watch him. At times I would tinker with the metal too. My son said I had talent. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe until after he died.”
Turns out the only solace he was able to find in his grief was being in this workshop, picking up the blowtorch his son once held and continuing making the art his son once made. I listened and silently prayed for him, wondering when to reveal that standing before him was not just a reporter. Standing before him was a pastor whose own heart knew the pain of losing someone much loved. Standing in his workshop was a pastor who knew how out of death comes the promise of new life, that in our grief we can choose to crumble or to carry on and live out the dreams and passions that our loved ones saw in us.
For me it was a boyfriend who was killed years ago in a jeep accident. He knew of my struggle to leave my magazine job in Manhattan. It was his death that spurred me on to live…to live the plans God had for me. It was because of him that I was now standing here with this retired corrections officer turned artist.
“Wow. I am so sorry. I have no idea why I am telling you all of this. I don’t talk about this to anyone. I really didn’t plan on sharing this with you,” the father said. “It’s just. I don’t know. I don’t want you to think I am crazy. It’s just there’s something about you that made me want to tell you my story.”
It was then I told him my story. I told him I knew a thing or two about loss. I also knew a thing or two about God’s redemptive grace in the midst of that loss. There as the sun went down on a cold December day, just days before Christmas, in a workshop filled with the presence of his son, an accidental artist stood in prayer with an accidental country pastor. Together we shared. Together we cried. Together we reached out to God to heal hearts that grieved.
It was time to go. I put away my reporter’s notebook and as we shook hands good bye, the father held on to my hand thanking me for coming to him.
“Again, I don’t want to sound crazy, but I really feel you were an angel sent to me. I really think you were meant to be here. I can’t thank you enough. Merry Christmas,” he said. His hunch straightened a bit.
I honestly don’t remember what I said in reply. I was too in awe of God at work in that little workshop. But this I know. I had my story, but not for the newspaper. I had my story to be told at another time for another person. But more importantly I had my answer as to how my reporting job was glorifying God.
God’s good news is better distributed when we actually dare to venture out onto snow-covered back roads. For it is there God leads us to those who never enter into a church building, those who really need to hear the good news of a Son born into a world full of hurt and grief.
Those people, like this man, who pastors often never meet because we stay in the church sitting comfortably in offices with coffee made, a secretary at the front ready to greet those who expect miracles to happen during “pastor’s office hours.”
I realized too that there are so many who need to hear about God’s Son, whose beautiful infant cry, we celebrate at Christmas. God’s Son who would cry for us once again. The “It is finished!” cry coming from the cross, telling us that God’s promise to love us always, no matter what, was accomplished. God’s redeeming love is here, now and always.
Christmas is near.
What back roads is God leading you on? Can you hear that cry? Can you remember and trust always that God is with you, even when all you can hear is your own crying?
Can you see that there are always angels bending near the earth…and that often we ourselves are those angels. Trust God’s leading this day and forever more.