I Believe

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “Miracle on 34th Street.” Not the remake or the colorized version, but the original 1947 classic starring a young Natalie Wood and an oh-so elegant Maureen O’Hara.

I love the movie for so many reasons.

Nostalgia is one of them. I used to watch it on an old TV complete with rabbit ears with my grandmother when staying at her house for one of my special “overnight with grandma” visits.

But the real reason I love the movie is because of its urging for us all to believe. Believe in the unbelievable. Believe when the world around you is saying your beliefs are unrealistic. Believe. Period.

There is one particular scene that has made an impression on me for all these years. It’s the one where little Natalie Wood is disappointed with her Christmas presents. Her doll just wasn’t enough. What she wanted was a house. A real one. Not a dollhouse. She wanted a house that she could call “home.”

So she sits in the back of the car feeling glum and she keeps whispering, “I believe. I believe. Yes. I believe.” She is saying it half-heartedly, but at least she is still saying it.

I have been in her shoes many times in life. Trying to hold on to belief when it seemed as if God just wasn’t listening to the desires of my heart. But I held on. I held on to God’s word that never will He leave me or forsake me. I held on to the belief that God knew the plans for my future.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

I dreamt of living in Manhattan and becoming a fashion editor.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

After challenges and moments when it looked as if I would never have a coveted “212” area code, it happened. And you are never going to guess where my first studio apartment was. It was on 34th Street.

The two Christmases I lived there, I would stare at the street sign on my way home from work at the magazine and stare at the “34th St.” and whisper to heaven, “I believe. Yes, I believe.”

Years went by and a soaring magazine career followed by a move cross-town to a one-bedroom apartment was not what I thought it would be. Something was tugging at my heart. Ministry. What? Yes, ministry. How was I to go to seminary, pay my bills, live? I believe.

I believe. Yes, I believe.

Years later, a theological degree was in my hand and a call to serve in rural Upstate New York was accepted. A few more years later, I met the love of my life after years of loneliness. And one Christmas Eve, as I looked around at the little white church I was serving, husband sitting in the pew, I realized I found what I was always searching for. Life lived authentically. Hugs followed worship, many coming with gifts such as molasses cookies and Coach Perry’s famous egg bake attached to them.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But then New Year’s Eve last year, after twists and turns in my life that led me to serving a church in Maryland, I found myself once again doing my best Natalie Wood.

I was glum. I was sad. I was wondering why God wasn’t hearing my desire to return home to Vermont. To return to being the accidental country pastor I had failed to treasure as much as I should have.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But how God? How was I to find my way home? When? How long? Are you even there listening to me God?

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe…

in God who is merciful and mighty.

I believe in God who is always leading us.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

It’s New Year’s Eve once again. I am sitting in the living room of my 18th century home in Vermont. I am back home. And I am beyond thankful. I am beyond grateful.

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The ornament I received from my mother-in-law this Christmas. It says it all. Believe!

The Vermont snow has fallen down on me like celebratory graffiti. The cows have moo’ed a chorus of “hallelujahs!” The morning sun coming up over the mountains have shone a spotlight onto my heart overflowing with love. Hugs have been received. Warm molasses cookies have been eaten. And Coach Perry’s famous egg bake has once again graced my breakfast table this Christmas morning.

My friends, we are meant to believe and never give up believing. We are meant to hold on to our belief in a great, big, loving God. We are meant to hold on to hope when all hope seems gone. We are meant to follow our hearts. We are meant to live authentically.

A new year is about to be here. And I am home. How, when, why? Not quite sure. But I am home. There are no half-hearted “I believes” this year. Rather my “I believes” are declarative statements coming from a heart that has experienced for itself the truth that grace is not earned. Grace is indeed an unexpected and undeserved gift that God gives just because God loves us so much.

So keep on believing. For God is real. God does hear. God is always in your lives leading you, nudging you, pushing you, shoving you towards the path that is the best for you.

Will you believe?  Really believe?

A New Year Blessing

Believe…

For the Light is now in the world.

Believe…

For Love is born in each of us.

Believe…

For the manger is full.

Emmanuel, God with us, is here for us.

Go and believe…

it is as the prophets said.

And may the blessing of God be with you this day and forevermore.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Day 8 and 9:  A Wind-Tunneled Walk 

It was a blustery morning where you could tell Old Man Winter was trying hard to hold on to his reign of cold and not give into spring’s warm days. The wind blew so sharply it felt as if little knives were cutting through my coat. It was then I remembered just how the avenues of Manhattan became wind tunnels this time of year. images

Back up at my little red house in Vermont, wind just blew, whipping through the valley with nothing to stop it. There weren’t any looming skyscrapers tunneling the wind as it was now being tunneled.

I burrowed by mitten-less hands deeper into my coat pockets. Why I thought it was going to be warmer in the city when I packed for the ministry seminar I was attending, I have no idea.

Clearly I wasn’t dressed for the elements, but I resolved to set forth on what was going to be a brutal walk ahead for I had someone important to meet here on the streets of Manhattan.

I had to meet me.

I had to meet up with the “who” I once was. More importantly, though, I had to remember who I was as God’s beloved and remember a divine guidance that never failed me.

My father always told me that sometimes in life we needed to take a step back in order to move forward. I had taken those steps back at times, but now it was time to look back—and remember. Thus, my walk began.

My first stop was to the building that gave me my entry into the magazine business. I stood on the corner looking at the impressive art deco skyscraper and remembered how many years ago I stood in the exact same place feeling awe that this was where God was leading me for an internship.

It was just days before Christmas and I couldn’t help but feel God was giving me one of the most incredible present—the start to my dream career.

After my interview I made my way to the bus terminal to head across the river back to New Jersey where I was I still living with my folks. When I walked through the door more than a warm dinner greeted me. I was also greeted with the news that the magazine had called back already. I had the job!

I could see then the beginning of a journey that wasn’t just about “career” but more about a journey of trusting God’s leading. You see prior to that first magazine interview as a college student, I sat in the cafeteria of the fashion school I was attending, reading the little Bible the Gideon group was handing out on the street corner earlier that fall. Specifically I read from Jeremiah, “for I know the plans I have for you…”

My eyes began to tear. Not from the biting wind, but from the joy that began warming me up as I stood remembering God’s provision and love.

I then walked over to Time Square and gazed at the next building where my editorial career really took off and where I would be for the next decade (of course, not in the same building as the magazine moved three more times due to being acquired by various other publishing companies).

I remembered how excited I was that early summer day as I took the escalator up to the mezzanine where then elevators would take me the rest of the way.

I was a bit early that morning and so I lingered in the lobby taking time to soak in the sights and sounds all around me and thought about what the future would reveal—all the glamorous parties, photo shoots and travels that were part of the associate fashion editor’s job duties.

I then remembered the words of a photographer colleague of mine who would accompany me on assignments at my previous job.

“Remember who you are. Don’t let this industry turn you into something you are not. Stay true to yourself.”

Hesitantly, I entered into the lobby again and I lingered a bit, soaking in the sights and sounds around me. I found my heart thanking God not just for the opportunities given to me, but for those He brought into my life with words of wisdom, like the wonderful words I held onto for all my time living and working in New York City, “Remember who you are.”

For me those words weren’t about remembering who “Donna” was. They were deeper for they echoed God’s words to the Israelites, reminding them in their journey that God was their God and they were His people. God was my God on my journey and I was His child.

I soon noticed the time and realized I had to hurry to get to the seminar I came to the city for. I made my way like I had always done before, walking in the direction of whatever traffic light told me that I could walk, thus, having to avoid standing still on any street corner.

As I snaked through the streets, I thought about how many times I was impatient with God’s red lights in my life. How many moments of growth and awesome God moments did I miss all because I was too impatient with the divine red light and opted to move forward with the light that told me to go now even though that “now” was not the right time or the right path?

While pondering this, I soon realized that my hurried steps were in sync with everyone else’s but, unlike my eyes, their eyes were avoiding any contact with others. I also noticed something that brought a huge smile to my face. Not only did my steps line up with those around me, but my black flats, black tights, black skirt, black coat, accented with one amazing accessory mind you—my Kate Spade bag—were in sync with all the young fashionistas scurrying to their offices.

With all the changes I noticed in myself and in the place that was once my home, it was good to know that some things (even if it was just the NYC fashion dress code) never changed!

I finally got to class and began thawing my frozen fingers with a steaming cup of coffee. Despite my physical discomfort, my wind-tunneled walk was worth it. I was glad I got to meet up with my former self and to remember how God has led me from city streets to rural fields, up escalators and elevators to the best steps ever taken—up the old wooden steps to the doors of a little white church.

Shortly after taking my seat, the instructor walked to the front of the room. I opened my notebook and took out my pen. Class was about to begin. The instructor spoke:

Today we are going to spend time exploring something important that we must not forget ever in ministry—in life. That is, our need to remember who we are as God’s beloved.

I put my pen down and sipped my coffee. No need to take notes. I’ve already aced this lesson. For on wind-tunneled New York City streets I met up with someone special. I met me—the who I was, the who I am and remembered the who I will always be. God’s beloved beautifully led now and always.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Talk a walk down memory lane and meet up with someone very important. You. God’s beloved. And reflect on all the beautiful ways God has led you.

Day 17—Mason Jar Gifts

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 17

I had just settled into my old colonial Saltbox and, in a few days, I would be celebrating my first Christmas Eve service at the little white church. I couldn’t wait to see the luminaries leading up to its wreathed-covered doors, to deliver the message of hope entering in to the world and to see the 18th century sanctuary washed in candlelight as I sang “Silent Night” with all those gathered.

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In just a few days, Christmas would be here.

For now, though, I had a rare night to myself and so I decided to turn on my little TV. That wasn’t as easy as it sounded because to get good reception (I just didn’t want pay for a satellite dish or cable), I had to position the TV in a certain angle in front of the window in the living room facing the east cornfield, and so on and so on.

After playing with the rabbit ears on the TV, I managed to get my one and only station. It seemed my rare night to myself would be spent watching the 1964 Christmas classic of my childhood, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

I settled into the pile of comforters on the wide plank floor that served as my only place to sit as I had yet to figure out what kind of couch to buy that would fit through the narrow front door of the old house. The sofa I moved with now called the garage home. I wrapped the comforters around me as if I was in a cocoon and began watching. I was half amused and half sentimental when the snowman a.k.a. Burl Ives, who was narrating the story of this special little reindeer, began singing “Silver and Gold.”

Silver and gold, silver and gold, everyone wishes for silver and gold…

All of a sudden I was transported back in time when I would have easily agreed with the singing snowman. Everyone wishes for silver and gold, don’t they? I know I did.

I was a young editor in Manhattan and for me there was no better place to be at Christmastime than in the city. The season was ushered in with grand style. There was the giant snowflake hanging above the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. There was the Christmas tree in Harry Winston strung with garland made of precious jewels. There was the big tree in Rockefeller Center, which I always thought looked smaller in person than it did on TV. There was the iconic red bow wrapped around Cartier’s façade, while just a few blocks up the avenue Tiffany’s famous window displays dazzled all those passing by.

I’ll admit it. Upon first seeing Tiffany’s windows, I had an Audrey Hepburn moment, finding myself gazing longingly at the windows just as her Holly Golightly character did in the opening of the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Not only were there silver and gold displays on the avenues of the city. There were many a silver and gold trinket making their way across my desk. As an editor of a jewelry magazine this was a time of year when the public relations departments of top designers, jewelry associations and major retailers, made sure we editors were on their gift giving list.

The typically annoying squeak of the mail cart coming down the hall to my office became music to my ears as I wondered what would be dropped on desk today.

Silver and gold, silver and gold, everyone wishes for silver and gold.

Ooh, what beautiful little gold star earrings. They are going to be perfect to wear on Christmas Day.

Silver and gold, silver and gold…

This silver pendant is going to look so cute with that dress I just bought.

Silver and gold, silver and gold…

And so went my Christmas season as I rushed home with my packages and placed them underneath the pathetic little tree in my apartment that I had pay way too much for.

Burl Ives continued singing to me from the TV positioned in such a way by the window facing the east cornfield. I looked over at my not so pathetic Christmas tree that did not come with an outrageous Manhattan price. Trees were definitely more reasonably priced here in “the country.”

Underneath the tree I realized I had something better than the silver and gold trinkets once given to me in another lifetime. There under the tree placed on top of an old quilt I used as a tree skirt, were precious gifts, shining and sparkling with love, all homemade from the hearts of those who wanted to say they were glad I was with them as their pastor.

There were mason jar gifts of a wide variety of homemade jams and pickles and chutneys. There were homemade chocolates wrapped in simple paper decorated with a jingle bell tied onto a string. There was homemade goat’s milk soap wrapped in burlap.

And, there was a decorative wooden plate hand painted by a member of the little white church with a Christmas scene that would come to life for me in just a few days. It was of the little white church nestled in snow with warm glowing light coming from its windows and opened doors as people made their way inside to worship Christ the newborn king.

I unwrapped myself out of my comforter cocoon and turned off the TV. Sorry, Burl Ives, but not everyone wishes for silver and gold. I have come to realize the thing we all wish for, whether we say it out loud or long for it quietly in our hearts, is to have the gift of love in our lives—a gift that comes wrapped in the most unassuming way, like burlap, paper, string…and, yes, even mason jars.

Come to think to of it, the greatest gift of love I have ever received came wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Didn’t it come to you that way, too?