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.

 

My Husband the Logger

The hour-plus drive from the rolling green hills of Vermont was worth the steaming cup of coffee now nestled in the palm of my hands. I tried remembering the last time I had sipped something so robust and satisfying, but the memories were playing hide and seek with me. I soon tired of seeking and focused on the conversation coming from across the café table in the little upstate New York city known as Troy.

“So how did you do it? How did you find the faith?” she asked.

She was a new pastor friend I had made. And while she was a city pastor and I was a country one (by accident in my eyes, but not God’s), there was a commonality bringing us together. The most obvious was her upcoming marriage to a “local boy” who grew up in the same neck of the woods as my “local boy”—my husband, PJ.

How did you do it? How did you find the faith?

She was not asking for wedding advice. She was asking about my journey back home to Vermont which involved leaving a traditional pastorate in Maryland for a ministry still emerging.

How did I the faith to come back home without the certainty of steady income?

I sipped and let the most amazing cup of coffee that I have had in (darn, just how long has it been?) buy me some time.

I didn’t want my answer to be an insignificant commentary on “just have faith” or “simply believe.”

No. I had to find the right words for what God was doing was far from insignificant. This was more than just believing in the goodness of God’s provision. This was about allowing one’s self to be changed by God, to trust God in everything and to grow in the knowledge of God’s mysterious ways.

Taking a leap of faith, I have recently learned, was not about being awed that the prayer we say by rote about giving us our daily bread is in fact a promise we can count on. No, awe and thankfulness aside for the manna falling from heaven, leaps of faith are all about deepening one’s relationship to God. They are not about how to eventually fill one’s belly or line one’s pocket. They are about having more of God fill your life.

I had wanted to take another sip of that darn good coffee, but I put my cup down.  I could see the searching in her eyes. She had been harboring dreams of a new ministry which still had many details to be ironed out. The most pressing detail was how to earn a living at it. She was waiting for my answer.

“My husband is a logger now,” I heard myself saying.

She gave a quizzical look, wondering where I was going with this.

I wondered too. I tried to explain.

Last week, while on my prayer walk on the rail trail running behind my little old house in Vermont, I learned something about leaps of faith.

I was struggling with my husband’s recent decision to give up driving a truck. It was something he has done for years to earn an income, but it gave him no joy or fulfillment. In our six years of marriage, I have always yearned for him to find happiness in his work.

It was foreign for me to hear people complain about work for I have always followed my heart in terms of vocation. That search for being the person God intended me to be is what led us back to Vermont seven months ago.

Still, this move was about my call, my discernment, my fulfillment. PJ would be that steady paycheck. He would be the certainty in our uncertain future.

God, he can’t do this. Not now. How will we live? Why couldn’t he have waited till you showed me my next step, um, the next step that comes with a salary and health benefits. No, he can’t do this.

I walked on the trail longer than I usual. I guess I had a lot of instructions to give to God as to what our life was supposed to look like. And God, as God always does with my instructions, listened and chuckled and decided it was time to get my attention.

A strong breeze whipped up out of nowhere clearing the stagnant air of my fears and my ranting. The breeze was refreshing and soothing. I looked around and remembered Jesus’ words about worrying. Why do we do it? Look at the birds. Look at the flowers in the field. Look all around. Every little creature is cared for. Am I not one of God’s creatures too?

The breeze continued to minister to me. It was then I realized this move back home wasn’t about me. This move was about someone I loved dearly and his discovery of who God wanted him to be. This was about PJ’s vocation. His contentment and sense of joy.

My coffee sipping had to wait as I continued.

Leaps of faith aren’t always about seeing how God will provide daily bread for our tables. Leaps of faith aren’t even all about our personal dreams and desires. Our leaps could be God’s plan for the other leaps our loved ones are hesitant to take.

Leaps of faith are as mysterious as the God who pushes us to take them. But take them, we must.

“My husband is a logger now,” I concluded with a shrug.

My new friend nodded. We lifted our steaming cups of coffee and sipped in unison. Our holy silence carried on the conversation.

Later that day, my husband the logger came home with a belated anniversary gift and an early birthday present for me all rolled into one.

Two stumps to serve as seats for my rustic fire pit/cooking area I was creating to honor our home’s 18th century heritage.

My heart filled with joy.

They were all I wanted.

They were all I needed.

My husband is a logger now.

Just leap. Don’t worry about having enough faith.

Just leap. Don’t wonder if you have the strength.

Just leap. Don’t fret about daily bread.

Just leap. That’s all God is asking.

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The Accidental Country Pastor’s combination wedding anniversary and birthday present—       log stumps courtesy of her husband, the logger now. 

 

 

Phantom Pain

The pain was intense. Throbbing and shooting. Stars appeared before my eyes each time I drank a glass of cold water or sipped even lukewarm coffee.

“Not good,” I thought. “Nope, not good at all.”

A week had already gone by since my root canal—a procedure I thought would take away the tooth pain that originally sent me to the dentist.

Here it was, though, more than seven days later and the pain was worse than it was before. Of course, I did the very thing my husband told me not to do. I went onto the computer to self-diagnose.

“It says here…”

“Uh oh, the pain might be…”

“Yikes. Not good. Not good at all…”

My husband rolled his eyes and said something very sensible.

“Just go back to the dentist.”

And then added, “Instead of sitting here and worrying about something that is probably nothing.”

He was right. I was worrying about many somethings which were probably nothings at all. But the pain? There was no denying it was intense. It was real. And my worries? They were intense and real too.

Back to the dentist I went.

As I sat in the chair certain another root canal was in my near future, I told the man in the white coat swiveling on the little stool next to me, how I was feeling.

I was quite proud of my monologue, emphasizing the word “pain” at the right moments and describing colorfully the throbbing in the tooth.

My performance, however, of a country pastor with a serious tooth problem wasn’t as convincing as I thought as the dentist just nodded and smiled. Not one shred of concern showed on his face.

“Okay then, let’s see what’s going on,” he said.

A few jabs and pokes with the metal pick in his hand revealed some tender gums.

“How about here? Any pain?”

“Nope,” I gurgled with my mouth opened.

“Here?”

I gurgled a negative again.

The jabbing and poking stopped as quickly as it began.

I braced myself for the treatment I knew would come. After all, I read all about my problem on the Internet.

“You’re fine,” said the dentist. “Everything is fine.”

The puzzled look in my eyes, invited him to continue.

“You are having phantom pain. The nerves in your mouth haven’t caught up with your brain,” he said, adding quickly, “You’re not alone. This is more common than you think.”

“Really?” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed now at my dramatic monologue of the trials and tribulations of pain I had delivered just a few minutes before.

Phantom pain.

How strange it was that a pain that didn’t exist could be so real?

I couldn’t get this phenomenon out of my head. It lingered with me for days, haunting me like phantoms tend to do.

“But the pain is so real,” I tried explaining to my husband, who sat there smiling when he heard what he had already knew. That everything was fine.

Sure enough, once I knew the pain wasn’t real, that there wasn’t anything serious to worry about, it began to loosen its grip on me. Whatever shooting pain that did rear its ugly head, I could better handle it, for I knew it was nothing that could defeat me. It just wasn’t real.

The following day as I went on my customary morning walk on the rail trail, I still thought about phantoms. I thought about the one I had allowed to fester in my life as tooth pain. I thought about the phantoms we invite into our lives and allow to worry us, scare us and ultimately cause us unnecessary pain.

Phantoms that climb into our heads convincing us that the worse in life is going to happen. Doom and gloom will prevail. Nothing is going to get better. The pain in life is just going to keep stabbing your heart.

How many phantoms beyond the pain in my tooth, I wondered, have I allowed to weigh me down and discourage me? How many problems weren’t problems at all? How many hurts were non-existent? More importantly, where was my faith when these phantoms took hold of me?

“Lord, I believe. Now help my unbelief,” I whispered on the trail, echoing the sentiment of the man who reached out to Jesus for help and remembering, quite humbly, that sometimes believing in the power, healing, guidance and grace of Jesus doesn’t come easy. Especially when those darn phantoms seem so powerful and become so real in our lives.

But Jesus who calmed threatening seas with just a word, “Peace,” and who rid many a demon with an authoritative “be gone,” can and will take care of our pains.

With a word, with a cry, with a plea, with a sigh…we just need to remember to call on the sweetest name ever. To call upon Jesus. For he is real. Our phantoms are not.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Led by the Light

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 2:

The other night I asked my husband what his favorite Christmas song was. I did put a disclaimer stating it couldn’t have the words “snowman” or “reindeer” in it. He thought for a bit and smiled and said he wasn’t going to tell me because I wouldn’t put it in the category of Christmas, but rather in the season of Epiphany. I insisted he tell me.

Okay. I did bite my tongue and refrained from saying “We Three Kings” didn’t count as a Christmas song. He knew, though, what I was thinking and we both started laughing. He then asked me what my favorite song was. I really couldn’t tell him because I tend to like them all and what usually happens is each year one specific song will tug at my heart more than others, depending on where my heart is at that particular moment.

The song tugging at my heart this year? “O Holy Night.”

I had it playing in my car the other day as I made my way to the store. Now mind you, running to the store here in God’s country is not a quick trip. It’s over the river and through the woods and involves many curves and bends through valleys and hills. I was on my way to the store early in the morning as I had a full day of writing and ministry. I had just moved back home to the area and I was thinking about all the amazing God moments that had already happened in such a short time. How I ran into a pastor colleague of mine in the coffee shop and the warm hug he gave me was just what I needed. How another pastor friend I used to see at the gym years ago, spotted me in the store and told me of several ministries happening that I might get involved with. As we parted he said, “It’s good to have you back. This is definitely God’s mission field and God needs you here.”

And then there was this elderly couple who kept staring at me while in the post office finally came up to me to ask, “Weren’t you the pastor who visited our bee farm years ago?” I was. And I hugged the white-haired, grandmotherly woman with the most amazing blue eyes, tightly, as my way of thanking her for remembering me. As we hugged she said, “It’s good to have you home.”

A short visit to a bee farm so many years ago with people I only saw that one time…who would have thought they would remember?

“O Holy Night” was playing in my car as thought about all these connections being made. I drove. I thought. I listened. I watched. I watched the early morning sun rise up over the mountains, casting a heavenly glow on the frosted ground before. It was then the line that tugged at my heart came.

Led by the light of faith supremely beaming.

Led by the light. I was indeed led by the light so many years ago to come to rural America and make this place my home. It was a light that no one else could see, but I could. And I trusted enough to follow. And once again God’s light led me back home. The light of faith supremely beaming.

The sun rising over the mountains got brighter and as it did my joy grew greater. Yes, I know there will be challenges. There will be uncertainties. There will be struggles, grief, sickness in life. It will not always be rays of light shining of my path. But this I know. When you are led by the light, a light that no one else can see, you know all will be well. For you will find yourself exactly in the place you are supposed to be.

What hymn of faith is tugging at your heart this year?

 

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Led by the light…a country pastor finds her way back home, thanks to the light of faith beaming supremely. May this Advent season you trust God and be led by His light. 

The Big God Message in a Little ‘Dead’ Stick

I pulled up to the dirt driveway that was quickly becoming reclaimed by nature as the grass, now no longer being trampled daily by tires, was growing back.

I got out of the car. It felt good to stretch. It felt even better to see the Green Mountains greeting me on the driver’s side of the car. I gazed at them and smiled as I remembered how seeing them always gave me something to praise God for even on the days there seemed little to praise. It didn’t matter what kind of day I was having or whether it was sunny, raining or snowing. Whenever I got home from a long day of ministering out in the community, seeing that view always revived my soul. Nature was indeed God’s medicine for me.

I stretched some more and allowed my soul to revive. The drive from Maryland to Vermont was a long one, but one that was necessary if my husband and I were to check up on our little red house that had been on the real estate market for awhile.

As I made my way to the house, I did my usual assessment of its condition. More paint peeling from the clapboards. We’re going to have to take care of that sooner rather than later. What’s that? There seems to be s a wider gap in between the upstairs window and sill. We’re going to have to take care of that sooner rather than later too.

I continued my assessment as I made my way to the front door, taking note of the pang of sadness in my heart when I saw the realtor’s sign stuck in the front yard. I was secretly glad that no one had yet offered to buy our little house. And I think my husband was too.

My eyes went passed the sign and I was about to assess the old weathered picket to fence to see just how many pickets fell to the ground. But there weren’t any pieces of broken or rotted wood this time. Instead there was a rose bush filled with buds cascading up the side of the fence.

I dropped my bags and ran to the roses. I had to touch them. I had to smell them. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I never thought I would ever see this day. Roses!

Let me explain. When the roses first came to me they were little sticks with seemingly no life to them at all. I was shocked. I looked into the bag they travelled in hoping to find some clue as to why the online nursery I ordered them from sent me sticks instead of lush roses. Was this a mistake? An online scam?

I showed my husband the sticks and then showed him a print out of a picture of the roses I thought I had ordered.

He looked at the picture and began laughing. “Did you really expect to get five mature rosebushes for only $5.99? You got exactly what you paid for,” he said, reassuring me the sticks would eventually grow into the roses I had wanted.

We went outside and began putting the sticks into the dirt alongside the old weathered picket fence where I had envisioned beautiful roses climbing all over like in some fabled cottage in the English countryside.

As he made the hole in the ground and gently placed the stick, filling the dirt back in and then instructing me to pour what seemed to me to be way too much water, I kept sighing about how nothing would come of these “dead” sticks.

“Why are we wasting our time?” I kept asking. My husband just kept planting.

Later that week I shared my rosebush fiasco with Amy, a woman at the little white church who was beginning to help out more with our children’s ministries.

I lamented to her about how my husband insisted we plant these “sticks.” I made sure my story had just enough dramatic flair to it to make it entertaining. And entertained she was. Not, though, for my storytelling skills.

She was amused that sitting before her was a pastor who preached about all things being possible with God and, yet, when it came the promise of beautiful flowers coming from little sticks, my faith was seemingly lacking.

“It’s just like the ministry to the youth we are growing here. It might not seem like much, but in time, you will see something beautiful bloom,” she said.

In time…

That night I sat outside on the front step breathing in the smell of the freshly turned soil of the fields all around that would soon be planted with corn. I looked over at the fence and stared at those seemingly nothing sticks in the ground. It wasn’t just God’s ability to turn a stick into a beautiful rose I was questioning. It seemed lately my faith was seemingly lacking.

A year went by and life, as life does, threw a curve ball of sorts. An offer to pastor another church came and, after months of struggling with what to do, I found myself packing boxes to move.

The day the U-Haul came was a busy one, filled with many emotions that I had hoped I had stuffed securely into one of those boxes, for I just didn’t want to deal with them.

My husband and I were busy going back and forth into the house and out to the van. We had a productive rhythm going, that is, until I stopped right in my tracks. Something whispered in my heart to turn around and look at the old fence where dead sticks were once stuck into the ground. I put the box down on the grass and slowly walked over to the fence not exactly sure of what I expecting to see. Out of the five sticks that were planted, only one remained. And not only one remained, but there on its still seemingly dead stick of a body was a gift for me—one green leaf waving in the wind as if waving good bye, sending me off with a message, “…in time you will see God’s promises bloom—in time.”

All the pent up emotion I thought I had safely packed away and secured tightly with packing tape, came falling out of my heart. Hearing my sobs, my husband came rushing out of the house. I pointed to the little green leaf waving at me.

“Amy was right. Everything is just beginning to take root. I can’t leave my little rose bush.”

My husband comforted me with promises of visits back home. “But…but…but when the house sells, then what?” I protested. My husband comforted me some more with the reminder to worry about that when the time came. It never did come.

Time moved on with no offers to buy our house and so more visits to the house were planned. With each trip back yet another new green leaf on the rosebush was waiting to greet me with the same message it waved good bye to me with, “…in time you will see God’s promises bloom—in time.”

And now…roses, actual roses! IMG_2432

Like Simeon whose eyes had finally seen the long-awaited promise of the Christ Child that day in the temple, I, too, felt as if I had seen a long-awaited promise in the roses that were now filling a lush green bush that was once just a stick in the ground. I was seeing the promise of a hope that can never die when that hope is deeply rooted in God.

For God can take those seemingly dead sticks are in our lives and turn them into something beautiful. God can bring us back to life. Amy was right. In time…

“What are you doing?” my husband asked as he came from the car with the rest of the bags only to find me wrestling to take down the realtor’s “For Sale” sign that was jammed way down into the ground.

“Our roses are blooming.”

It was all I needed to say. And with that we tossed the “For Sale” sign away.

 

 

And Yet Another Friend…

I just heard that yet another friend, another woman with young children, has been told the news every woman fears.

You have breast cancer.

The shock, the grief, the numbness—the emotions are many and often they never come just one at a time. They often team up, mingling together, creating a hurricane force of dread capable of destroying any sense of hope. But before we scurry about trying to batten down the emotional hatches, we need to stand still before God. We need to feel the ground beneath our feet. We need to hug someone or simply hug ourselves. We need to take a deep breath.

Then with strength we didn’t know we had (but it is there, it’s always there with God) we stretch out our hands to grab hold of the truth that whatever storm is raging in our lives, be it the cancer storm, the depression storm, the storm of broken relationships or the storm of financial ruin, there is a peaceful calm. Meteorologists call that place the eye of the storm. I call it the peace of Christ.

When I was just out of college and trying to find my way in the world of magazine publishing, worrying if I would ever become an editor of a glossy magazine read by millions (it seems so silly now), I used to sing to myself some Christian song. I don’t even remember now who sang it or what. I haven’t heard it in many years, but the words went something like this, “Don’t give up, you’re on the brink of miracle. Don’t give in, God is all around.” And then there were words about the stormy seas being all around but God would lead us safely to the shores.

Not only would I sing the song to myself all throughout the day.  At night, as my worrying thoughts would keep me from falling asleep, I would  play the song on my bright yellow Walkman (I thought I was so hip with that Walkman). I would push the rewind and play button so often that eventually the ribbon on the tape cassette broke. I am really showing my age, aren’t I?

The rewind button in my mind has just just been pushed.  I can hear those encouraging words once again.

Don’t give up. You’re on the brink of a miracle. Don’t give in, God is all around. Don’t give into fear, think of things that are pure. And praise the Lord, your miracle is here. 

Yet another friend diagnosed with breast cancer…

Here’s to today that the Lord has given to us. We can breathe, we can pray, we can laugh. Let’s treasure the moments in this day.

For storms hit. All the time. But peace can always be ours.

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The sun’s light in the back fields of the Accidental Country Pastor’s home in Vermont is always a moment to pause and pray, thanking God for the promise of peace that passes all understanding. 

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.

This Way of Life Lenten Journey

A Little White Church Lenten Journey

When the cold of winter turns into the bleakness of mud season, hope is hard to find. Yet beneath the hard ground and in the midst of life’s muddiness, there is always new life waiting to bloom. 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 3: Go Now in Peace

There’s a song the little white church would sing every week at the very end of worship. It was called “Go Now in Peace.” I had never heard of this song before nor have I ever worshipped or worked in a church in which a choral benediction was sung. So the first time I experienced this choral benediction it was indeed quite memorable.

It was the Sunday I preached for the congregation as their prospective new minister. Boy was I nervous. Would they like me? Would they be pleased with my sermon? I knew it really wasn’t about me but about God’s Spirit at work leading us both to the right partnership, but still, you can’t stop that tape playing in your head that they are looking at you and not beyond to what God is leading them to. Anyway, I gave the blessing and as the music began to play for the choral benediction, I walked to the back of the sanctuary. That’s when it happened. A divine moment. I stood there the soon-to-be next minister of the little white church and I looked out at people that God was bringing into my life to lead and to learn from. I stood and listened to their voices sing a song I was not familiar with.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. God will be with you each hour of every day. Reach out to others…

I watched and listened to them sing this song that many knew by heart. And I wondered. How many really believed the words they were singing? Were they afraid? Did they know God was there each hour of every day? Were they reaching out to others?

I wondered about these people I had yet come to know, had yet to be there in their griefs, had yet to be their in their joys, had yet to journey with them in faith.

But as I listened I felt something there in the sanctuary. I felt a strange movement of the Spirit I had never felt before. It was as soft as breeze, but I realized then the Spirit was just beginning to move and among these people something powerful was going to emerge. Voices that were singing hesitantly were on the verge of singing boldly.

The vote to become the next pastor of the little white was unanimous and I walked back to the front of the sanctuary that God knew I—an avid lover of 18th architecture—would appreciate. I looked out at those gathered in the colonial era white wooden pews still with the doors attached and lifted my hands to give the blessing. As I did I felt that gentle breeze of the Spirit pick up a bit more.

“Go now in peace. Know He will guide you in all you do,” I said, borrowing from the choral benediction that was a little white church tradition.

Our ministry had began and as days turned into weeks that turned into months that turned into years, the Spirit’s breeze kept blowing and leading and waking hearts up. And then it happened.

One Sunday in Lent as the little white church sang their traditional choral benediction, I had yet another divine moment—a moment that almost brought tears to my eyes.

I heard their voices sing as I never heard before. This time I clearly heard voices that were stronger in aith and voices that were singing the words, “Reach out to others…” with conviction and passion. The words weren’t just words sung by rote. The words were being sung out of the experiences that we had together, experiences of growing in our faith together and experiences of really reaching out beyond our own doors and into the community. The words had come to life.

I stopped singing at one point and just stared at the cross on the communion table, listening to the strength and conviction that was coming out of the voices of the many men and women and children gathered for worship.

“God,” I said, “Can you hear them? Can you hear the belief in their voice? Can you hear the strength? Can you hear the love? Can you hear the determination to really reach out to others so all the world can see? God can you hear your children coming alive by your Spirit moving among them?”

I then lifted my eyes from the cross and looked over at all who were singing and noticed not only were their voices strong, but their faces were transformed. They were shining. Some people had their eyes closed, some had their eyes lifted up towards heaven and one man in my congregation did what he has done since the first day I came to the little white church. At the moment in the song when we sang, “God will be there, watching from above…” this man, in true devotion to God, always lifted his hands up towards heaven.

I carry this memory close to my heart because whenever I find myself wondering where God is or questioning the movement of the Spirit in my life because I haven’t felt any gentle breeze against my skin, I can close my eyes and go back to the little white church and hear the voices of God’s children sing.

I can remember how I was priviledged to see God’s Spirit breathing new life into tired bones and how words once sang by rote became words of transformation and new life.

God will be with you each hour of every day…

In this season of Lent, as we are invited to enter into the wilderness, let us not be afaid. Rather as we walk let us become aware of how closely God watches over us and how wonderfully God leads us. And may the song you sing along the way be sung with newfound strength, love and conviction.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. 


God will go with you each hour of every day. 


Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true. 


Know He will guide you in all you do. 


Go now in love, and show you believe. 


Reach out to others so all the world can see. 


God will be there watching from above.


Go now in peace, in faith, and in love.

 

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Is your walk with God drudgery? Are you tired? Are you wondering where is this power of the Spirit you hear about? Whatever you do, don’t stop walking. Don’t stop singing. Challenge yourself this day to take one more step in faith and take it without any fear, trusting God all the way. For God does go with you each hour of every day.