A Poignant Start to Lent

IMG_9915The sanctuary was mostly quiet. Every now and then a hum, rattle and swoosh from the ancient heating system would interrupt the stillness. It was a welcomed noise as I was trying hard to keep the cavernous room at a toasty 60 degrees. After all, I didn’t want to sit all day with my coat and mittens on.

The “little white church” as locals fondly call us, was doing something different for Ash Wednesday. Rather than hold a worship service in the evening that hardly anyone would come to — in my time there as pastor, the Ash Wednesday service has boasted anywhere from a whopping six people to an unprecedented 28, and those numbers were with a combined service with sister churches — we were inviting people to drop in throughout the day.

We created an art gallery in the sanctuary and encouraged people to pray with the art before making their way to the front of the sanctuary where I waited with a blackened thumb ready once again to dip into the ash and proclaim the sobering reminder, “From dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

The people came — more than 28 — and I did my part, making the sign of the cross on foreheads that ranged from smooth and worry free to wrinkled and creased with burdens.

From dust we come, to dust we shall return.

There was a lull mid-afternoon and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the big yellow school buses rambling down the road. School was out. I would only have to sit in the sanctuary for a few more hours. It would be nice to get home to a hot bowl of soup and cuddle on the couch with my big old Bernese Mountain dog.

Just then I heard the creaking of the old floors. I didn’t to turn to look when people entered the holy silence, for I didn’t want to break the prayerfulness they were trying to embrace. And so, I would listen to the footsteps to see how close they were to me, so that I could stand up and take my place with the ashes.

The footsteps didn’t linger at any of the pictures. Rather they came quickly to where I sat. I was surprised when a teenaged girl dropped down next to me. She looked upset and there were tears beginning flow. I guess the blank look on my face gave it away that I had no idea what was happening beyond the peacefulness of the sanctuary walls.

“What kind of world do I have to live in?” she asked angrily.

In a way, I wish I didn’t ask what she was talking about for the words that came next filled me with anger and grief as well.

“There was another school shooting. This time in Florida. It is horrible. I am afraid,” she sobbed.

Sadly, I wasn’t shocked by the news she told me.

“There’s been a school shooting” has become an all-too familiar phrase, leaving many numb and worse yet, just accepting this as the new reality in which we live in.

I also knew what would next in my rural community. The heated debate on social media with those yelling that guns don’t kill —people do — and those yelling back that we need more gun control.

I also knew as a pastor of a rural community that I had to find a way to bridge these debates. I had to find a way to speak in a community that cherishes their right to have guns.

I looked at the sobbing teenager knowing, like many of her friends, she had a gun. For rural teens, hunting is rite of passage. Pictures of deer and bear they snag always appear on Facebook. And with the spring thaw, turkey season will bring a bunch of new social media posts.

Where will the two divides of anti-gun and pro-gun meet? For the debates are not stopping the killings.

I searched my heart for something pastoral to say to the sobbing teenager sitting next to me. I searched for words of hope to overcome fear. I searched to find a magical way to take away this girl’s brokenness. I searched, but came up empty.

I looked down at my sooty fingers that have been making crosses on foreheads all day and realized there was nothing I could say. I am not God. But God did send us a Savior, to be with us in times like these. To hold us when we are fainting and to comfort us when we are grieving.

God sent us a Savior who reminded us as he went to the cross, that this life is painful and not fair at times. But just when all seems lost, we are given hope. God defeated death. It doesn’t have the last word.

I looked down at my sooty fingers. With my tears joining her tears, I took her hand and with the ash made a sign of the cross on her palm.

From dust we are, to dust we shall return.

I then added, “And God is with us always.”

She closed her hand tightly, holding dearly to the promise of the cross now in her possession.

We did something different for Ash Wednesday. We opened the church for people to drop in when they wanted to throughout the day. Who knew that one broken teenager would seek the solace of the “little white church” in her time of grief?

God knew. And God knows how broken we all are. The question is, what will we do with that brokenness? And when will we go beyond just “thoughts and prayers?”

When will we understand that this life of faith calls for us to live out the faith, to find our voices to speak up and seek change.

To dust we shall return.

But before we do, God has work for us to do. Work in creating a better world for our children to live in. May our prayers be ones in which we ask God to lead us into action, to find ways to listen, understand and move forward in stopping the senseless violence.



Hoof Prints

Holy Week is here and I find myself walking more slowly and feeling more deeply. The world around me hasn’t acknowledged the significance of these trying days we are meant to go through before getting to the glorious promise of Easter.

No one has mentioned Maundy Thursday or even Good Friday. No one is speaking of the cross that Jesus faced for us. No one is stopping to reflect and ask a question I find myself asking: “Am I really living as someone who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ?”

Am I living a life of grace and thanks?

Am I living?


The world around me is acting as if this week is business as usual. Nothing is different. Nothing is changing. Nothing is gained. Nothing is lost.

Yet from where I sit, it seems all this nothingness mingles with a lot of empty busyness.

Work, life, petty annoyances, irksome worries, decisions as to what to have for dinner mixed with trips to the store for more jelly beans for Easter Sunday and then another load of laundry thrown into the washing machine—all create an alternate universe that fools us into thinking we are getting somewhere.

It fools us into thinking we are living.

I went for a walk tonight on the rail trail behind my old little house in the valley. I left my sweet Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, behind for the warm weather here in Vermont has made the trail a hotbed for pesky ticks. Sofie’s thick black fur seems to be a magnet for them.

And so, I walked a lonely walk without my four-legged friend.

The night seemed so quiet without her. It’s funny how you get used to another presence with you on a well-worn path. Since I didn’t have a bumbling dog occupying my attention, I could notice little details on the path.

I noticed hoof prints in the dirt.

The impressions were deep and distinct. I took note of how far down the path they went and decided to follow them, being very careful not to step on them as I didn’t want to erase their presence from the path.

I walked alongside them and thought of the hoof prints the donkey left on the path as it carried Jesus into Jerusalem on the day we observe as Palm Sunday.

Jerusalem. The holy city. The place where Jesus’ triumphal entry would spiral downward quickly to death on cross in just a few short days. There would be an altercation in the temple. Some tables overthrown.

Then the Passover meal shared with friends in an upper room. Feet would be washed. A new mandate given to love one another.

Then a betrayal by a friend followed by an anguished, seemingly unanswered prayer for trouble to be averted, capped off with an arrest. A trial, a guilty as charged edict (guilty of what, being the King of Jews?) and then crucifixion. Tears and wailing by the faithful few, emphasis on few, who stayed with Jesus at Golgotha.

And then that horrible day after someone dies. You might know what I am talking about. That first day without your beloved when you don’t even feel your tears because you are just so numb with shock and grief. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. You can’t imagine life without…

Then something surprising happens.

Amidst unfathomable loss, hope breaks through with the first rays of dawn, revealing an empty tomb and, with it, the promise that death never has the last word. Never. Jesus stands there extending a nail scarred hand to the brokenhearted and offers life anew, life again.

I stooped down and gently traced the hoof print in the dirt. As I did, the birds ceased their singing. The peepers hushed their peeping. I traced it over and over and thought about this week. A week I walk more slowly and feel more deeply.

Hoof prints…imgres

We don’t get to the glory of Easter until we trod the lonely path with our Savior.

Hoof prints…

We don’t get to grace unless we dare to follow the hoof prints leading us into Jerusalem.

Hoof prints…

We don’t truly live as one who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ until we decide to replace all the nothingness filled with plenty of busyness with the commitment to stand at the foot of the cross.

Hoof prints…

We need to weep—really weep—for the darkness in ourselves that sought to extinguish a light so brilliant, we feared it.

Hoof prints…

We need to remember that we don’t get very far walking on paths we decide to walk on.

Hoof prints…

We must follow Jesus’ path. All the way.

Hoof prints…they were left in the dirt so many years ago by a humble animal who carried salvation on its back. Many probably didn’t even notice where the hoof prints led. And those who did? Did they follow?

Would I?

Would you?

A New Reality

The Easter claim is not about resuscitation but about a new reality in the world that is unrestrained by the force of fear.  Walter Brueggemann

A new reality.

It’s why I gave up the security of a steady paycheck and a regular preaching gig every Sunday morning down in Maryland.

It’s why I gave up the very things we are taught to make a priority in our lives and go after—income, pension, health insurance—so that we can purchase the things the world uses to define (and so often judge) us by.

I gave it all up so that I could step into a new reality in which God had been nudging me to step into for quite some time. The nudge was gentle at first, but anyone who has brushed off God’s nudge knows God is not easily brushed off. The nudge grew stronger, leading me to sleepless nights and divine dissatisfaction with a life that looked to be a blessed one on the surface.

The nudge finally became a holy kick in the #$% that set me on an uncertain future back in Vermont where the only thing I am certain of is this: God is on the brink of doing some amazing work in a place my heart embraces.

Great work in a place where I see abundance of the things that matter to God—an abundance of caring hearts, stubborn hope and a desire to live a life not defined by what the world says is life.

Rather to live a life where a good payday is one in which your ears heard the songs of the birds and your body stood still long enough to enjoy their angelic concert.

God is up to something big.

Those were the words I said to my parents the other day when I called them to say “hi” after spending a morning with a lean checkbook that once again, somehow, paid for our daily bread.

God is up to something big, a new reality that isn’t about breathing life into old ways of doing and being. God is revealing a new way to live, I said, more for my own benefit than to put at ease a parent’s worry about their daughter’s future.

Live simply. Live with love. Live in peace. Live knowing that while there are forces against you (there are always forces against us), not to be afraid. Rather, embrace it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. For God is in it all.

The thing is, new realities like this come with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions and a lot of opposition.

My Lenten journey this year has been an interesting one. It began with a quiet Ash Wednesday in which, sitting alone at my centuries old farm table that serves as my writing desk, I poured out the burnt palm ashes into an ice cream bowl and thoughtfully and prayerfully let my finger swirl around and around.

As I felt the grittiness of the ash against the smoothness of my skin, my thoughts went to all the foreheads I have made the sign of the cross on with the ash. Some with many wrinkles of wisdom won not so easily; while others still smooth with beautiful ignorance we call blissful at times. I thought of the sacred moment when after the cross was made, I would step back and see the person’s face fill with awe and mystery as if this smudge had somehow reached deep into their heart. And perhaps it did.

As my finger swirled, I felt an ache that this would be the first year I would not have any foreheads to smudge. I looked down at my blackened finger and gently made the sign of a cross on the top of my hand.

I whispered to my ache, “Remember from dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

In the silence of that second, my ache whispered back, “I remember.”

And so, my journey so far has been one in remembering who I am and to know that when all is said and done nothing matters in our fleeting lives except finding the courage to live into the new reality God presents. A reality that is not about resuscitation, but one that is about authentic new life.

It’s a reality, though, that is not easy.

The other day I sat down on the path I was walking on and hung my head down low. I was not physically tired, but spiritually exhausted.

Although the sun was shining, all I could feel was darkness encroaching. I touched the top of my hand where weeks ago the self-imposed gritty smudged cross stared back at me, begging me to remember.

Gingerly, I traced the lines of the now phantom symbol of hope. Over and over, I made the sign of the cross where hope first had to conquer betrayal, opposition, hurt, anger and darkness. Lots of darkness.

“A new reality unrestrained by the force of fear” is what theologian Walter Brueggemann says the Easter promise is all about.

The sad truth is, though, fear will always try to restrain the new thing God is doing. For we humans are a fearful sorry lot. We are so afraid when we cannot control our own lives, even more so when we cannot seem to control others. We are fearful when someone dares to upset the apple cart by suggesting that we do something never done before.

The other day I was talking to a friend I had reconnected with now that I had moved back home. We got to talking about God realities and the fear that thwarts them. As we talked she became quiet and thoughtful. Hesitant at first to share what had come to her, she blurted out her concern.

“Donna, your complete abandonment to follow God and blind trust you show, no matter what, well, it threatens others and will threaten any powers to be that you challenge,” she said, recognizing that often many will talk about doing something new with God, but few will see it through. She then smiled and said, “But keep on pursuing that new reality, for many have wanted to do what you are doing, but we have been afraid.”

To the world, I am example of someone who is crazy. Perhaps even a threat. After all, I am willing to enter tough places, give up all, to see something beautiful that so few go the distance to see. I live to see God redeem brokenness and create newness from rubble.

Sometimes I, myself, question my sanity especially when I get to the part of the journey I am on now. The part where dark, mean clouds of a world who opposes this reality are gathering on my path.

But then, I trace the phantom cross, the symbol of hope, that was on my hand weeks ago. I trace and I reach. I reach deep down in my soul, mustering up the courage to keep on going, for I know how gritty ash feels on the skin and I remember.

There’s a beautiful reality waiting to burst forth where God has placed me to serve.

I remember I am dust.

I remember, God is God. AR-302109909.jpg

Stay Out of It

Stay out of it…

That was the advice from my mom the other night as we talked politics.

Just stay out of it. Don’t get involved, etc., etc., etc. Let the women march. Let others say what they want on social media. Let folks in the backwoods of Vermont fire off their guns in celebration of the recent inauguration.

Now my mom is not one to step aside from righting a wrong. Growing up she was always the one supporting me to write a letter to the school board if I, as a student, saw something wrong. Speak up and act to change things, rather than complain about things. That was her motto.

No, my mom doesn’t step aside from righting a wrong easily. So, her advice to me the other night I realized was one of motherly concern for her daughter. Her daughter whose first career was that of journalist and whose second incarnation in life is that of pastor.

Journalist plus pastor equals trouble at times for both callings are spurred on by a passion for truth telling and for a desire for advocating for the underdog.

“But mom, I can’t just stay out of it,” I said quietly. “To do so would be going against everything I am.”

More importantly, to stay out of things, to keep silent, to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, whatever body part you want to use as a metaphor, to do any such thing is going against all Jesus is. Jesus whose inauguration speech in Luke’s gospel, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, outlined his policies: proclaim freedom for the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, set the oppressed free. There was no mention of building walls, but rather building bridges of love so that all could cross over each other’s “side” and finally understand one another and begin working together to make a better life for all.

Frederick Buechner, a writer and theologian who lives just up the windy mountain road from me here in Vermont, once said when Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he wasn’t telling us to love them in a “cozy, emotional” way. On the contrary, Jesus, said Buechner, is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our well-being to that end.

Do I want more job opportunities for those I love here in rural America? Yes. Do I want relief from the burgeoning medical insurance my husband and I pay each month, a payment that is so high, provides so little in return and means we must dip into our savings to help pay for it? Yes. Do I want a better country, a better world, a better future? Yes, yes and yes. But not at the expense of others.

For if I forget there are indeed “others” also trying to live and build a good life, then what kind of person am I?

To stay out of what is happening nowadays is to be like all those in the crowds who followed Jesus but didn’t go all the way to the cross with him for fear of jeopardizing their comfortable lives by upsetting the powers to be or even worse, upsetting friends and loved ones.

I sit here in the home that I have cried to God to return to. God turned to me and heard my cry. And for that I will be forever grateful. I sit here in my 18th century home with the wide plank floors that slope and stare out the window at the snow covered Green Mountains of Vermont so thankful to be brought back to an area in which fills my heart and connects me ever more closely to the divine.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be a reporter once again and for the opportunities to continue being an accidental country pastor as well.

My heart is full, but heavy as well. It is concerned. I can’t pretend all is well with the world, just because all is well here on my little fledgling farm.

There is work to be done. There is good news to proclaim. And that good news is not going to be easy to proclaim.

Then again, it never was.



The old stone well covered in snow is a beautiful sight here on the farm. But as the accidental country pastor reflects today’s news headlines, there is the realization that there is work to be done beyond the farm. 

Angels Bending Near

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.images.jpg

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.

Day 11—The Prayer Tree

A Little White Church Advent

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. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 11

A silence fell upon the room. A request was made that no one really wanted to step up to and see through. A woman at my table waved to the waitress to order another glass of wine. A good diversion on her part, I thought, pondering whether I, as pastor, could order a glass of merlot with her. Hmm…better stick to my diet Coke. Others around me glanced down at the meeting agenda before them feigning interest in what was to be discussed next.

It was the first Wednesday of the month Chamber of Commerce meeting held in the village tavern, where one could get a really juicy mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with a side of some of the best onion rings I have ever tasted. Perhaps the promise of hamburgers and onion rings was the reason I became active in the Chamber of Commerce, as it was a great way of killing two birds with one stone. I was fulfilling the “being part of the community” part of being a pastor while satisfying my love for greasy pub food.

The room was still silent and for a second I found it amusing how the local business owners gathered for the meeting tried not to make eye contact with the Chamber president. The question he asked lingered like a low hanging cloud.

Who will take responsibility for decorating the gazebo on Main Street? Any takers? Any one?

More glasses of wine were ordered and eyes continued to divert eye contact with the one asking the question.

Before I knew it, my hand went up and I could hear my voice saying something my head really didn’t have time to think through carefully, “The little white church would love to decorate the gazebo.”

Smiles from the Chamber president came and sighs of relief were let out from others.

Did I really just volunteer the church to decorate the village gazebo?

We were already very busy with Advent Bible studies, after school programs for kids, a Christmas cookie sale, packing shoeboxes of toys for a mission project, a caroling dinner scheduled and, for the first time in the little white church’s history, two Christmas Eve services were being planned along with a new Christmas Day service. Of course, there were the Christmas Eve luminaries to also coordinate and put together. Now who was in charge of getting the kitty litter to fill the paper bags?

What in heaven’s name did I do?

God’s answer was to come.

For while having one more thing on the church calendar was not ideal, it turned out decorating the village gazebo was a blessing for both the church and the community it served, as it got us out of the confines of the sanctuary and into the heart of where people were—on Main Street, going about their day, making a trip to the bank, the hardware store, the wonderful little café with the best homemade chocolates and the consignment shop, etc.

In the midst of daily life in the village, the folks from the little white church were doing more than just stringing lights on a gazebo. They were shining their lights out to the community, showing they cared just as much as to what was happening on Main Street as what was happening within the four-walls of the church.

As we strung greenery and lights around the gazebo, villagers would stop to say hello and chat and, as I precariously balanced on a ladder to hang a red bow high up on one of the lampposts, I noticed something.

I noticed the beautiful steeple of the white church peeking over at me and realized how much of a beacon of hope the church has been for centuries to those who called this village home. It was then I knew we had to do more than just hang greenery and lights around the gazebo. And so with a fir tree stuck in a pot at the entrance of the gazebo in which the town dropped off earlier that morning, I came up with an idea. Or more like it, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart as to what to do.

The little white church would decorate the village tree with prayers, many prayers and blessings for neighbors and friends who loved their village dearly.  808_10151275465554650_1226466341_n

So one night we gathered the youth and the children of the church and with permanent markers in a variety of colors and weather resistant foam sheets, Christmas ornaments were created in the shapes of stars and crosses and hearts. Written upon them were our prayers for all in the village. When we were done, we put on our coats and made our way just up the street to the gazebo where we finished decorating.

Yes, the little white would love to decorate the gazebo, I volunteered, not knowing what I was getting our church into. But God knew exactly what we were to do.

We decorated the public tree with the promises of God for all to read and for all to remember that God had not forgotten the once thriving village that now struggled as so many little communities now struggle all throughout our country. God had not forgotten those who called the village home, sweet, home.

A few days before Christmas I was having the desire to have my mushroom and Swiss cheese burger complete with the best onion rings I have ever tasted. I just couldn’t wait till the January Chamber of Commerce meeting.

As I walked from the church to the tavern to pick up my order, I passed the gazebo and the prayer tree. There standing in front of the tree was an elderly lady with a little child. She was leaning down gently speaking to the child who I could hear, as I came closer, was asking about what the ornaments said. Each ornament the child pointed to, the woman read the prayer out loud.

It is an image I will forever hold in my heart for it was a moment when I experienced Christ’s church becoming once again a vibrant and vital witness out into the public, where our witness to God should be.

The woman noticed me staring at the beautiful scene she unknowingly gifted me with and she smiled and said, “This tree is such a blessing. God is indeed with us. God is good.”

I smiled in agreement and went on my way. I had a mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with the best onion rings I have ever tasted waiting for me at the tavern.

God is good. All the time.