A Quick Thought for the Day

As I walked this morning on the rail trail, deep in my own thoughts about which way to go and how best to serve God, I was reminded that my thoughts needed to be on God and his guidance. After all, how many times has God’s loving words proven true when whispered in my heart: “I know the plans I have for you…”

So how was I reminded that my thoughts were misplaced?

Lost in my own darkness, I suddenly noticed a ray of light shining on my path. The sun had broken over the mountains. I stopped and smiled. I remembered a time long ago–so it seems–when the late February sun broke through the bleak of winter, making my heart fill with hope once again.

I was on a retreat just a week after my I buried my boyfriend. Still reeling from the shock of his accident and slowly coming to grips that he was gone, I heeded my friends’ advice to come on the retreat. I really just wanted to be alone. But I went, and spent time alone there in a crowd.

While others were gathered in prayer one afternoon, I snuck off to walk in the woods. The snow was still on the ground, although patches of brown peeked through here and there. I stopped to sit on a log. It was the perfect place to breakdown and weep. And so I broke and wept.

I felt alone, confused and so unsure of the future. What was next? What was I to do? My future looked so uncertain.

As my head hung low and the tears slowed their pace, I sat still and numb. My eyes were closed but suddenly I felt a strange warmth. It grew stronger. With my head still hanging low, I opened my eyes to see a ray of light streaming down upon the ground in front me. I looked up towards the sky and noticed the sun breaking through the clouds.

For I know the plans I have for you…I heard God whisper…

God is whispering the same promise still.IMG_4011.jpg

God’s light will always break through and shine. Always.

I continued to walk this time with thoughts on the goodness of God.

 

My Someday Farm

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Sofie, Pastor Donna’s bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, sits on top of the hill, taking in the view of the accidental country pastor’s someday farm. 

Morning had broken. I threw on my Mucks and barn coat and, with a steaming mug of coffee in hand, went out into the crisp air to start the day with my version of a breakfast for champions—a hearty prayer walk.

Who needs Wheaties when God can nourish you?

The sun was breaking through the fog hanging low in the valley and the wind was shooing away the last remaining clouds trying their best to conceal the Green Mountains of Vermont.

I let out a sigh of contentment. This scene always brought joy to my heart, taking me back to a long-ago visit to my father’s homeland of Switzerland.

It was there a young girl with golden pigtails held her dad’s hand as they walked the hills blanketed with so many wildflowers that not a patch of green grass could be seen.

It was there a young girl would sense already in her life the awe of God’s hand at work in nature, watching as the billowy clouds wrapped around the mountains that seemed to embrace the quintessential Swiss homestead with mystery and grandeur.

It was there a young girl, full of big dreams for the tomorrows yet come, said to her father, “Someday I’m going to have a farm just like this.”

My breakfast of champions—my prayer walk—came to a stop as I noticed I was not alone. The shadow of that young girl with the golden pigtails was walking with me. I stopped and stared and heard my father’s voice as clear as if he was now standing right beside me.

“Someday you will. I’m sure of it.”

That’s what he said so long ago to that young girl with big dreams, big hopes, big prayers.

Some how. Some way. Someday….

Was now.

For some where along the way, without even realizing it, God had been answering me. I was now standing smack in the middle of my someday farm. Sure, to others all they would see were acres of nothing. But my eyes, finally opened to what was possible in the midst of impossibilities, saw it.

I could see the barns that yet stood. The coop yet built. The pond yet to be dug out of the forever wet and marshy piece of land that was such an eyesore to me. I could see the fruit trees not yet planted. The garden not yet tilled. They were all there. I finally saw a young girl’s dreams, hopes, prayers, being answered.

How many times, though, had I walked this walk and never once realized my some days were always right there waiting for me to act on?

I reached my hand towards my shadowy companion, hoping in some miraculous way I could touch not only the hand of that young girl I once knew, but reconnect with her awe in God who embraces us always with his mystery and grandeur. Perhaps if I could hold that young girl’s hand, the one with the golden pig tails, grown up fear and skepticism would give way to childlike trust and faith.

I reached but couldn’t grab. The past is elusive. So instead I reached my hand towards heaven to grab hold of the beautiful here and now God was revealing.

What are the someday prayers and the someday dreams you’ve prayed and dreamt? Could they perhaps be right in front you waiting for you to finally see?

Some how. Some way. Someday…

Is now.

For our Father’s voice whispers to the heart that dreams big, hopes big, prays big, “Someday you will. I’m sure of it.”

Day 16—God Knows the Plan

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 16

Her life seemed to be one struggle after another, with never a moment to catch her breath and process all that was going on. Nagging health issues and mounting bills added to the stress of this newly single mom.

She had the faith of the most battle ready prayer warrior, but even such a warrior stands in the need of intercessions to God from time to time. She was now standing before me, in desperate need of prayer.

I had just come back from a pastoral visit that not only had me physically drained, but emotionally drained as well as I realized one of the saints of the little white church was soon to get his crown of gold. It’s hard being a pastor who falls in love with one’s church for love always comes with heartache.

With the recent visit on my mind I opened the door to the chapel that served as the main gathering hall for all our functions from chicken and biscuit dinners to vacation bible school to Bible studies to just simply hanging out sharing our stories of faith over one of my infamously high octane cups of coffee. Seriously, we’re talking strong coffee to the point I didn’t take offense when the dear souls who accepted a cup from me would go to the kitchen faucet and add a bit of tap water to temper it a bit.

While I was surprised to see her standing there, her eyes told me she was relieved and grateful to see me.

“Pastor Donna,” was all she could get out before sobbing. I had no idea what had happened, but managed to get bits and pieces from her in between the sobs. She had been very close to her breaking point but now the season of “be of good cheer” made her finally break.

“I can’t do it anymore. I just don’t understand why God is not showing me the way. Why, Pastor Donna, why isn’t God answering me?” she yelled with painful defeat in her voice.

Did I mention loving those in your church always breaks your heart? Well, my heart broke for this mother and I never felt so useless as in that moment when I stood there with her in the chapel not knowing how to answer her because from where I stood I had to agree with her. God just didn’t seem to be giving any answers.

I am not sure how it happened, but in an instant I took her hand and told her to come with me into the sanctuary for some time of prayer.

In retrospect, I like give credit to the Holy Spirit nudging me to do this because the Spirit just couldn’t stand watching me be useless any longer. So into the sanctuary we went.

The large room with its 18th century wooden pews that still had its period correct doors on each pew was frigid to the point you could see your breath crystalize in the air. The sanctuary was very expensive to heat in the winter and so the thermostat was kept on the lowest setting—basically “off.”

While it was extremely cold, we both went to the front of the church, by passing the pews, and opting for the simplicity of falling on our knees before God.

Once there, tears fell, sobs came and petitions were lifted to the highest of heaven. I prayed and cried for her heartache. She prayed and cried in return. Back and forth and back again, prayers were being said, when finally our two voices melded together into one prayer that was lifted to God.

I am not sure how long we stayed there on our knees praying but my toes were quite numb from the cold as were my fingers. Still, in spite of the cold, after we were done praying we continued to sit on the floor in a silence that made you realize there was something holy in the moment.

“God is answering you,” I finally whispered.

She simply nodded her head in agreement.

“You know, I have always held on to what God said to Jeremiah about knowing the plans He had for him. Plans for a future full of hope,” I said.

She simply nodded her head in agreement again.

“Did I ever tell you my Jeremiah moment?”

She shook her no.

“During seminary I hit rock bottom, just so frustrated with what seemed to be God giving me the cold shoulder.”

She turned to face me, clearly interested in what I had to say.

“Well, I had no idea how I was going to pay for seminary or keep on top of my mortgage payment. As if that wasn’t enough I was alone, no significant other, except my cat…” (I got her to laugh at that.)

“And,” I added, “I had no idea where I was going to wind up after I graduated seminary.”

I continued with my story telling her about how God wasn’t sharing one part of His plan for me. Or so it seemed. Then came the gift of a little white church. No, not the church she and I were sitting in the sanctuary of.

This white church was a Christmas present from my brother. It was my freshman year in seminary and my brother presented me a large box that had me a bit perplexed. I couldn’t even imagine what it was? Definitely not the standard gift card I had come to expect.

I ripped open the wrapping paper swirled with candy canes and snowmen and pushed aside the tissue paper to find inside a wooden New England style little white church. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen. My ooh’s and ah’s, though, didn’t relay what I was feeling in my heart. For as soon as I saw the little white church, I all of a sudden had this certainty that I was going to be okay. God was leading me even though I had no idea where I was going.

“That’s when I came across the Jeremiah passage about God knowing the plans He had for us, plans for a future full of hope,” I said, explaining how for the next three years of seminary I would mediate on that scripture daily while smiling and staring at the little white church that now sat on a drop leaf table in my living room.

Before I could continue on making the point that God had a plan of great hope for her future as well, she smiled and said, “And now you have your real little white church. Now you have us.”

For I know the plans I have for you.

Christmas is a time of year that can bring many of us to our breaking points. But it also a time of year to remember the silences of God are not what they seem for God is never silent.

God is always at work preparing for us a future full of hope. Sometimes that reminder comes in an impromptu prayer meeting on bended knees in a very frigid sanctuary. And sometimes that reminder comes in the way of a little wooden white church that filled me with unwarranted hope some three years before the actual little white church came into my life and filled me with hope realized.

Postscript

 A few months ago I received a letter from this woman telling me I was right about that Jeremiah passage. Her future, she is now seeing, is indeed God led and one full of hope. She also let me know that when she finally made the decision to join the little white church, when asked to share a scripture that reflected her faith journey, she shared with her faith family the one I shared with her years before:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11

“I thought you would want to know that, Pastor Donna. Thank you,” she wrote.

I am glad to know.

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My little white church given to me by my brother as a Christmas present three years before receiving God’s Christmas present—a real little white church to serve in rural upstate New York.