Weathered Wood and Coming Home

The little village was just beginning to come to life on what was a picture perfect Fourth of July. As I pulled into the parking lot of the little white church I noticed a few early birds had already claimed their spot on the parade route. At least they had nice weather in which to wait in, I thought.

I, myself, took a deep breath in as I got out of the car and allowed my eyes to linger up at the blue skies. I couldn’t remember a more beautiful holiday than this.

The clear skies and cool temps were ideal for the “big” parade—big meaning lots of firetrucks, a few pickup trucks and tractors transformed into floats thanks to the invention of crepe paper and balloons and one band and a group of bagpipers joining the teens which made up the high school band.

Still it was “big” in terms of the hearts who marched out of love for country, love for village, love for tradition, love for one another. My own heart filled with a love I thought I would never feel again.

A love for a home that I never expected to find, then lose, and then, by the grace of God, find again.

Many times, I had pulled into this parking lot when I was the little white church’s pastor and many times I would stop before heading inside to gaze at the weathered clapboards. And many times, I would look beyond the weathered wood and see what other eyes could not.

I would see a vision of hope.

I gazed again. And there it was. Hope shining back at me.

Just then my friend who was going to join me in watching the big parade pulled into the parking lot. I could hear the engine shutting down, the clicking of her seat belt, the slam of the car door and the beep of the car being locked. Soon she was standing by me, gazing too at the weathered wood.

“It needs a lot of work,” she said.

“Yep, it does,” I nodded.

“It’s a big structure,” she said.

“Yep, it is,” I nodded.

As we scanned the expanse of the slate roof, I described to her how the roof was being supported by the most incredible hand hewn beams that a building inspector once showed me many years ago while climbing high into the old rafters on a hot, humid summer day, making the old wood smell even more pronounced.

“Hmmm…” she said and that was all.

“Hmmm…”

She sensed I didn’t want this sacred moment of gazing at weathered wood broken by the not so sacred discussion of painting and slate repair costs.

Instead she said, “You’re home, aren’t you?”

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Weathered wood stands as a testimony not only to time, but to God’s grace and our faith in future.

I nodded a short “yep” not wanting the tears of gratitude to start falling.

“I’ve always had this vision….” and then I began sharing the hope I saw in the weathered wood.

Hope that withstood the storms of life and the harsh elements of setbacks and trials. Hope in which was asked to lay dormant many a winter waiting and waiting and waiting for spring’s rebirth to come again.

“I’ve always had this vision…” my parking lot sermonizing was over.

My friend kept staring at the church. I couldn’t tell if she now saw my weathered wood vision.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

She saw.

As we walked up street (as my husband, the local boy, would say, always leaving out the “the” that I would put in when indicating I was going “up the street”), I silently prayed for more eyes to see the beauty—and the hope—in weathered wood.

For it’s there. Always. With faith, we can and will see God’s beauty.

 

Christmas Eve at Old Stone Well Farm

The Accidental Country Pastor shares a Christmas Eve tradition out on the rail trail of her home in Vermont. May you listen attentively to the angels’ song in your life and may on this holy night you hear God’s whisper to you, “Christ is born. Emmanuel. God with you.”

Many blessings and a Merry Christmas!

Pastor Donna 

(P.S. On the video I mention Frederick Buechner, who lives up the road from me in Vermont. Well, I guess I have Christmas “brain” for I shared a phrase with you that wasn’t quite right. Buechner once wrote about seeing with the eyes of the heart, not listening with the ears of the heart. I wanted to set the record straight. But whether you see or listen, the message is the same…be attentive and always ready to greet the newborn King into your lives…and I kind of like the ears with the heart, too. )

 

And here’s the wreath on the cows’ gate.

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What I Really Need

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. 

Advent Day 6:

The bells clanked away as I made my way into the grocery store. There standing around the Salvation Army’s red kettle were a bunch of kids with their moms. I wasn’t sure if they were with one of the many churches in the little rural village or with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or perhaps the 4-H or FFA, that is Future Farmers of America, which many of the kids who once ran down to the little white church I pastored were active in. It didn’t matter. They were there giving their time on a week night to collect money for those who might not have enough to make the holiday a happy one. images-1

I smiled at them as I passed by with my cart, letting them know I would donate on my way.

“Promise?” one boy asked.

“Promise,” I answered.

With that promise made, I set out to get the groceries I needed—and only the groceries I needed. I vowed that I would not fill my cart up with impulse items like I tend to do. Just ask my husband. I am a sucker for anything labeled “limited time only.” Do I really need another box of pumpkin spice Cheerios? No. I don’t. But wait. What’s this? Egg nog flavored…step away from the shelf and keep on shopping.

Do I really need…

That question lingered in my head as I shopped. I thought about all I had. Yes, money was tight now that my husband and I had moved back home to Vermont. I gave up a steady paycheck and a church job with benefits, not easy to come by these days in any vocation, but especially in ministry. But the move back wasn’t about financial gain. It was about something even better. Spiritual gain. It was about living. Really living. Living simply. Living to enjoy the early morning sunrises. Living to be able to take a walk on the rail trail behind our little country home. Living to be able to raise chickens again. Living to be able to get back to ministering in an area where a helping hand to lift up those who are struggling with not having enough was needed. Spiritual gain that far outweighed any paycheck.

Somewhere along the way I had forgotten what real living was all about. Three years I was in exile of sorts. Living but not really. My faith was tested and I was often feeling more empty and hungry than fulfilled, even with all that I had. It was then I realized I had to fix my life. I had to once again remember what really mattered.

As I stood at the checkout line I could hear the bell ringers ringing those bells with much enthusiasm. I smiled and wondered how many cashiers on duty they were driving crazy?

I looked at the groceries riding down the conveyor belt to be rung up. I did a good job at sticking to my list. But how was I doing at the job in sticking to the other list?

The list of what I really needed? God and God alone.

The teens at the little white church were gathered in the chapel one weekday morning in Advent. We gathered to have breakfast together and to share God’s word with one another before going to school. Since it was Advent, the scripture I shared with them was of course about Jesus’ birth and what it meant to those who waited so long for hope to come into their lives. We talked and shared and then it happened. One girl, who was deep in thought, spoke up. And what she said I will always treasure.

Why is it that the focus on Christmas is about wanting so many things we don’t need? All that the people in Jesus’ time ever wanted was hope in their lives. And God delivered. We don’t seem to ask God for what we really need, do we?

I took my bags that were filled with just my daily bread and nothing more. And with the money spent on things I didn’t need, I fulfilled my promise to the little boy ringing the bell at the big red kettle.

“God bless you,” he said to me.

“God bless you,” I said back.

And as the clanging of the bells faded into the distant, I could hear something even more beautiful. I could hear God answering the prayers of those who were asking for what was needed the most. More faith, more trust, more God.

 

 

 

An Abundance of Love

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. 

Advent Day 3:

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Sofie, the bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, stopped snoring. Without budging from the little nest she made out of my hand-stitched quilt that was sprawled out on the bed, she opened her eyes and stared at me. She was perplexed. The old dog couldn’t quite understand why I was jumping out of bed so quickly with excitement—and so early.

She lifted her head a bit as if to inquire, “Is it Christmas morning?” I assured her it wasn’t and not to worry. I leaned over and kissed her head and whispered, “I’ll let you know when there is a doggie treat under the tree for you.” She seemed to understand and cuddled deeper into the quilt and went right back to her snoring.

I, on the other hand, washed up, got dressed and ran downstairs with the speed of a five-year old running to that Christmas morning tree surrounded by presents.

No today wasn’t Christmas. Today was just another Saturday early in the season of Advent. Still I couldn’t shake this feeling that this day was going to be one graced with God’s loving touch. This day was going to be one of those “life back in the country” days in which moments to treasure come with a friendly wave of a car passing by. Moments to remember are often as simple as a hug and a quick chat with a friend in the post office.

Today was going to be one filled with simple abundance and moments to treasure. And it was going to begin with a tradition I had longed to experience once again—the little white church cookie walk.

I first heard of the “cookie walk” as a new pastor serving the church. Admittedly, I had to ask if I had heard correctly. “A cookie what? Walk?” I had no idea what to expect.

Christmas cookies to me were ones that you bought in a store—and usually bought last minute—because who ever had time to cook? I know I didn’t. But there we were gathered at a table meeting in a chilly chapel planning “a walk with cookies?”… “no pastor, a cookie walk” to raise money for the many mission projects being done in and throughout the community.

Who is baking what? How many of chocolate chip cookies should be made? What if we have too many chocolate chips? Is there such a thing as too many? Should there be raisins in the oatmeal? What about molasses crinkles? Does anyone even eat molasses crinkles anymore?

I raised my hand. “I do.”

The conversation continued.

We can have Millie bake those. She bakes the best molasses crinkles.

The morning of the walk I came early to the church and couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the chapel. Tables were overflowing with the most amazing homemade creations from the traditional gingerbread men to the intricate date-nut pinwheels. In between there were varieties of cookies to please every palate imaginable. And just enough chocolate chip cookies.

The cookies were sold by the pound and my instructions were to simply walk around and pick and choose what I wanted and put it on my plate. I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store…no, make that a kid let loose in a cookie store.

I walked around and filled my plate. And filled it some more. And filled it even more.

I didn’t notice the eyes of those watching me growing wider. Nor did I hear the chuckling from those seated by the scale that would weigh my plate. After hemming and hawing whether that one last cookie with a bright red cherry in the middle would topple over the pile on plate, I made the decision to place it on top ever so gently. The cookie tower didn’t come crashing down. Whew!

I then carefully balanced the mountain of cookies as I walked to the table for them to be weighed. The scale moved higher and higher till finally it was announced. Um, pastor, that will be $20. I began laughing, assuring all those gathered around me that I would indeed eat every last one all myself.

The little white church cookie walk.

It was today. A day  I just knew was going to be touched with God’s grace. It had been years since I last found my plate overflowing with cookies. Now I was back home. Back to the traditions that had found their way into my heart and refused to let go. Christmas had come early.

I got my plate once again and turned to tackle those tables filled with cookies. But before digging in, I paused and stared at the beautiful sight of cookies I remembered and longed to taste again.

Those in the chapel probably thought I was just standing there deciding where to begin. I wasn’t though. I was in prayer. For what I was staring at in front of me was not just an abundance of cookies. I was in the presence of an abundance of love. Love that baked those cookies. Love that was represented in treasured recipes handed down from generation to generation. The love of wanting to share with others, to help others and to be gathered together.

I paused at the tables and thought of the season of Advent we are in. A season of anticipating the birth of the Christ child and all that that child’s birth will mean in our lives. I thought about the simple gift of a child that God gave to us, a gift that came with an abundance love. The same love that was in that room. And with a silent “Amen” my prayer was over.

With the eyes widening of those gathered around me, the accidental country pastor began to fill her plate once again…and fill it some more…and more…and more…

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An abundance of love found at the little white church’s cookie walk.

It’s All Good

It’s November which means everyone on social media is writing about all the things they are grateful for. Now I am not a cynical person and I will admit it is refreshing to see positive affirmations being sent out into the universe rather than gripes. Lord knows we really need hope for our tomorrows. (Need I remind you our nation’s election is just around the corner.) But I will admit I have always (to some extent) wondered why don’t we ever express our gratitude each and every day? Why relegate thanks to the month in which we celebrate a day of giving thanks?

Why can’t we be grateful all the time? Because there really is something to praise God for all the time. There is. I know that for a fact.

I sit here this morning looking out my kitchen window of my little old house in Vermont. Locals call it the oldest house in the hamlet, which brings a big smile to my face because I adore old houses and I am grateful for them even when the plumbing fails and the roof leaks.

I sit here after a long three-year journey of sorts has ended. It was a journey which led me on winding roads to other places, filled with many twists and turns, potholes and challenges, dark times and cloudy days.

Three years ago, I made a decision to leave a place where I knew in my heart was home and where God had originally called me to serve. But temptation to see other places took hold of me. Perhaps there was greener grass and larger pastures that were even better than the grass and pastures in Vermont?

The day my husband and I were leaving Vermont, I remember gazing at the Green Mountains that were quickly becoming little hills fading into the background as the car drove on, and I heard myself say, “I am really going to miss that view.” And I did.

Three years I wrestled with God. I grappled with God. I asked God, where was he in my life?  Silence…so it seemed to my ears that were not ready to listen.  I even wondered if God really wanted me in ministry. Who was I? Why didn’t things work out? And where were the green pastures that were healing balm to my soul and spirit?

Three years of being away from home in foreign places (no, nothing exotic, they were all located in the United States, but still felt foreign to me), and I finally realized I was in way living in exile. And like God’s children who found themselves away from home, they were in exile for reason. They had lessons to learn. They had to learn to put God first. To trust God always. To love and live no matter where life took them. They had to find the joy of the Lord even when they didn’t find green pastures. They had to learn, like I had to learn, to give thanks and be grateful in all circumstances. For God is still our loving God in all circumstances.

It was during this time in my life that a woman from the community who heard about “the new pastor,” came by the church to give me a gift. Now she didn’t know me. She didn’t know my struggles. She didn’t know that I was a Vermonter living in exile. All she knew is she wanted to meet me and give me a gift. There in the package was a coffee mug with the words, “It’s all good” on it. I smiled and realized it was all good—exile or not—because of God who is always with me.

And so my time in “exile” was a turned into a time of growing stronger in faith, learning more about God’s mysterious ways and trusting God—and drinking a lot of coffee from that mug. Little by little, day by day, as I fixed my eyes on God life became beautiful again and I began to see how God was indeed using me and leading me.

Now in this month of November in which we will gather with loved ones in our homes and pause just long enough to think about all we have, I find myself home. Truly home. Not just in my beloved Vermont house with green grass and beautiful pastures that heal my soul and spirit. I find myself at home in a way I have never felt before. I find myself at home with God. Content, renewed, refreshed and committed to singing God’s praises and sharing the good news with all. I find myself knowing now the importance of being grateful in all circumstances and giving thanks each and every day I have breath in which to give thanks. I know the beauty that comes to your life and the life of others around you when you give thanks even when there seems to be nothing to be thankful for. For I am thankful—even now as I look at all the moving boxes that need to be unpacked and wonder why the water pipe is making that strange noise. Yes, it’s all good. God is with me.

What about you? Where are you in your life? Are there greener pastures tempting you? Are there moving boxes to pack or unpack? Are there water pipes making strange noises? Can you be thankful this day and every day?

You can. Because it is indeed all good.

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The Accidental Country Pastor is home again in Vermont. Watch for more writings on all the beautiful God moments in rural America and coming soon video devotions. 

 

 

Show Me the Way

I wish God would just show me…

the way, the answers, the reasons why things happen the way things happen.

I wish God would just show me.

If you have ever screamed, lamented, whispered or pleaded this sentiment I am here to tell you right now to do something very important. Trust that God is showing you the answers you yearn for. But just don’t trust. COMPLETELY trust God right now in this very moment.

I know it’s not easy at times to do so. Heck, I know it’s not easy many times in our lives to trust God, but trust is the very thing God asks of us. And I have come to believe that a trusting heart is what brings a loving smile onto God’s face. Now who wouldn’t want to make God smile?

Years ago, when graduating seminary and beginning my search for a church to serve, I found myself being courted by two completely different churches in two completely different areas of the country—one rural; the other not rural at all. My heart was set on the not rural at all church. Turns out I wasn’t alone. The church had many applicants to choose from. I made the cut and was in the top five of candidates chosen.

When I finally interviewed at the church something strange happened. I didn’t “feel” it. I just couldn’t see myself there. I fought that feeling as this was the church everyone wanted. What was wrong with me that I wasn’t wanting it? A few days later my bags were packed and I went to the rural church to interview. I went just for the fun of it. Something to do. A new place to see. When I interviewed at that church, something strange happened as well. I felt it. I could see myself there. I fought the feeling as this was a rural church. Who would want to go there?

I wish God would just show me…

I fought all desire to keep pursuing the job that looked good to the world and I did my best to trust God and soon found myself an accidental country pastor who fell in love with a way of life and people that I never knew I could love so much. This isn’t the end of the story.

Just recently I found myself in the area of the other not so rural church that I thought I wanted to be at. I never thought I would be in that vicinity again, but there I was. As I drove, my fingers clenched the steering wheel tightly as I tried to maneuver through traffic that felt like a Daytona racing track. Cars were weaving in and out of the many lanes and trucks zoomed past me. As I got closer to my destination I noticed it was filled with one housing development after another. The developments were given bucolic names such as “Whispering Farms” and “Old Orchard Lanes.” They were anything but bucolic and much to my disappointment there were no farmlands or orchards to see.

It was then I remembered my plea to God to show me the way so many years ago when presented with two different ways of life. I trusted God completely with the way that didn’t make sense. And now years later, God was showing me the beauty of His leading. I was given a glimpse of what my life could have been. God was showing me His plans in making me an accidental country pastor. (Well, not accidental in God’s eyes!) God was giving me a gift to understand better who I really was.

I turned the car around. It was time to head home, back to that way of life I never knew I could love so much.

I wish God would just show me.

May this be the day you put a huge loving smile onto God’s face. May this be the day you completely trust God. For God will show you…the way, the answers, the reasons for why things happen the way they do.

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On the way home to the accidental country pastor’s house. 

 

Defeating the Loud Mouths

Lately, I’ve been slacking in reading my Bible daily. It was a commitment I renewed back in the spring while attending a clergy conference. It was there in the peaceful wooded surroundings of the retreat center, where black snakes would rustle leaves and birds would chirp in harmony, I joined my colleagues in shedding our often misguided busyness of pastoring and got back to what really mattered—listening to what it was God wanted of us. Part of that listening was opening up God’s word, not for Bible study or sermon prep, but for preparation of daily living. So open up I did and the words of life gave me life.

Never grow weary in doing good. Galatians 6:9

I know the plans I have for you. Jeremiah 29:11

Patiently I waited for the Lord…and he turned to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5

By the time I boarded the plane to return to “the real world,” I knew the name on the boarding pass was the same but the person holding it—me—was different. New vision, new ideas, new hopes, new sense of call were all jam packed into my already jam packed bag. I buckled myself in and my spirits soared along with the ascending plane as now had a new awareness of how over the years I had inadvertently allowed the “loud mouths” in my life to push aside the gifts God had given me for ministry.

I’m not talking about people. These “loud mouths” are the things we find ourselves doing and being consumed and misled by in thinking that they are what will actually save our struggling churches (and/or our struggling lives). When really God has already saved us. All we need to do is tap into the gifts and be true to those gifts given, for those are the very things that fill us with energy and passion and joy for life. The “who” we are in terms of the “what” we bring into life are the very things that not only build up the kingdom of God, but give us life abundant.IMG_6566 copy

I wonder how many God moments have been passed up all because our very limited human voices of reason (this can’t be done, this should be done, etc.) have been way too loud?

When will it be when God’s voice is THE voice thundering above all others, setting right what is wrong, opening hearts clouded by other viewpoints, drowning out selfish agendas for selfless missions?

Two months have gone since I left the snakes rustling the leaves and the birds chirping in harmony, and my troubled heart has told me something is not right. I have slipped. I have again allowed my own personal “loud mouths” to impose a to-do list on me that is not soul-quenching.

So this morning, I did it. I opened up God’s word, and God didn’t let me down. By the time I sipped the last of my coffee, I was “me” again. Only better. I was the me God had called me to be. New vision. New hopes. New awareness. New goals. New challenges to those goals. It’s all good, because God is good.

Have you opened up God’s word today? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to quiet the “loud mouths” in your life and to know God is still God and has not given up on the who you are meant to be.

You know me inside and out, you hold me together,

you never fail to stand me tall in your presence so that I can look you in the eye.

Blessed God…always, always…always.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

(Psalm 41:12-13, The Message)

Salon Theology 101

I love getting my hair cut. Not because it always feels great to have the split ends removed and to have an inch or so trimmed off, giving my hair my bounce and body. (Okay, I am beginning to sound like a commercial for hair products!)images.jpg

I love getting my hair cut because of the conversations I have with my hairdresser—conversations that go beyond what conditioner to use or how to tame frizz. The conversations we have are conversations we all should be having. They are the conversations about life, love and faith. They are conversations about what it is that makes us who we are. Yesterday I had one such conversation with my hairdresser.

As her scissors worked their magic we got to talking about respect, more like the lack of respect we see towards one another. We got to talking about how no one is addressed anymore as Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. Rather first name basis is now a thing for strangers and casual acquaintances alike. We then went on to share experiences in schools and churches where often titles as Dr., Prof., Rev. and Pastor aren’t used much either.

Perhaps that is why I have such a fondness for rural ministry as it seems in such a setting there are still remnants of a time gone by where folks are still addressed as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., and Prof. I recall many times an adult correcting a child that I was not “Donna” but “Pastor Donna.” At first I was surprised at the correction as I have never seen that happen till serving a little rural church in upstate New York. It was refreshing. But lately, we got to wondering what happened to the use of such identifiers.

Now this conversation wasn’t a gripe session. Far from it. This conversation was more in line of two people trying to make sense of the horrific violence in our world without having to speak of such violence, because how much more can our broken hearts take by once again trying to discern the shootings that have taken more black lives. Yes, I am making the point that these men were of color. Because if we just say “lives” and if we argue against the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, stating that “ALL” lives matter, then we are not being realistic as to how great the problem of race still is in our country. We are fooling ourselves in thinking we have nothing to do with it.

I don’t know. Maybe it was easier for us to speak in code and focus on the umbrella topic of “respect” then having to really dive deeply into the ugly, harsh realities of our world. But maybe we have to dive deep into the muck before we can even think about bopping our heads up to the safe, serene surface we so desperately seek.

It was then my hairdresser said, “How do we expect people to respect one another when we don’t even respect ourselves?”

I had to pause and ponder. She was on to something here. Could it be humanity’s brokenness has gotten to the point where we are lashing out at one another? Could it be the stressors of living are finally making us snap? Could it be we are so unhappy with ourselves that the only way to have some sort of pleasure is to look at another as lesser than and to treat another as lesser than?

I’m not sure. I’m just sharing the thoughts I’m encountering as I dive into the muck, hoping to learn something that will bring me back to the clear, serene surface.

My hairdresser’s words stayed with me much longer than the smooth, blowout I left the salon with. As my hair quickly reverted to its natural state of waves and frizz, I wondered what did God have to say about “respect”?

Remembering a question from my ordination exams long ago which asked about the role of authority, respect, treating one another, etc., I knew to begin my search by turning to 1 Peter. And there it was (the following are excerpts from 1 Peter 2, as presented in The Message):

Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God.

Respect for others.

Respect for self.

Respect in general.

It seems to me that it begins with us first respecting God. It seems to me we need to remember the earliest command in the Mosaic law in which Jesus highlighted beautifully how it is lived out when he told the parable of The Good Samaritan.

It goes something like this:

A lawyer knowing the Mosaic law intimately asks Jesus, “Teacher (notice, the respectful title given to Jesus), what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus reminded him of the law, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

Notice the “love yourself” thing that is linked to the love your neighbor thing.

But then the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

Could it be the lawyer knows he is guilty of not loving everyone? Could it be he is hoping Jesus will say specifically who you can and cannot love and still be good with God?

It’s a good question that I am going to let linger there without an answer. You ponder it. But before you do, first ask yourself the respect question.

For my hairdresser was on to something when she asked, “How can we respect others when we don’t even respect ourselves?”

Well, thanks for entertaining my thoughts for today. I have another hair appointment in six weeks. So stay tuned for more Salon Theology 101.

Postscript

This was written before the news of the shootings in Dallas that have left five police officers dead. Prayers for all who mourn this day. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

 

 

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

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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. 

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.