Best. Christmas. Ever…

So many families are disappointed that the snow has prevented loved ones from spending Christmas together. I admit, I am feeling a bit down in the dumps that my husband and I won’t be heading out to see my parents and brother. The roads are pretty bad…

Disappointment. It’s something we don’t like to talk about on Christmas Day, but it is often there lurking in a room filled with smiles and laughter. Children get disappointed if Santa forgot a toy on their list. We pastors get disappointed weather impacts our carefully planned worship services. Adults get disappointed if…well, I think we adults can finish that sentence in many ways.

And now this Christmas Day, Santa has delivered a big dose of disappointment for many…snow falling steadily and piling up quickly, leaving many to make those calls to loved ones, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be seeing you today.”

It is disappointing, but I can’t help but to see the God moment in this Christmas Day storm. Perhaps the changed plans, the unexpected stillness and the forced “slow down” is God’s invitation for us to enjoy a different kind of celebration — a Christmas Day not based on what has always been or one that carries the heavy burden of expectations, but one that is as holy as that very first Christmas when Christ was born. That day was filled with the unexpected “disappointments” that really were beautiful blessings. I mean, really, Mary must have been a bit disappointed that she had to deliver her child in a stable.

The snow is still falling. Every so often I can hear it slide off  the roof of our 18th century home. The snow pile against our front door is now 4 feet high. I can’t see Vermont’s lofty mountains from the kitchen window. They are hidden by a blanket of gray skies. I can’t even see my old stone well for which my little some-day farm is named after.

I can’t see much of anything. And that’s a good thing, I remind myself. For only God knows the plans God has for us. Faith in those God plans is trust game we must play. We need to see beyond the things we usually see or want to see, in order to truly see God.

That means this day, seeing beyond the disappointment of a Christmas Day snowstorm.

And so, I am loving the unexpected gift of peacefulness I unwrapped this morning as I stood outside feeling the gentle flakes fall on my face. I loved this gift so much I have yet to stop playing with it. In fact, the other gifts, the ones from a store, are still unopened under our Christmas tree. They can wait.

God’s gifts cannot.

The gift to see the world differently, the gift to let go of our expectations of what this day should be, the gift to let God’s healing love surround us in the guise of a snowstorm…these are the gifts to open.

Merry Christmas.

IMG_5700 (1)

Christmas Eve at Old Stone Well Farm

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

Many blessings and a Merry Christmas!

Pastor Donna 

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

 

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

img_3601

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

A Gift from the Creator

“My tree is bleeding.”images

Looking back, I now see what a strange announcement I made to the men and women gathered one morning at the little white church for a time of prayer and study.

But I was perplexed as to why streams of liquid were pouring from the ancient, twisted and gnarled tree that stood in front of an equally ancient and lopsided Colonial saltbox that I called home.

“Your tree is doing what?” they asked, doing their best to hide their knowing smiles and not laugh at the city girl who had traded in her heels for Mucks to become their country pastor.

“It’s bleeding,” I said again, this time with some more drama to make them understand the seriousness of my problem. “I think something is really wrong with it. I always thought it looked dead, now its oozing. Does anyone know who I can call to have it cut down?”

“Don’t you dare cut it down,” came the stern command from an elderly lady whose cantankerous spirit was something I actually got a kick out of as she often reminded me of my own grandmother at times.

“But…”

Yes, I dared to say “but” to her, knowing very well there was no winning an argument with her ever.

“Don’t give me those ‘buts’. You folks from down state just can’t see when you are giving a blessing. That’s your problem. You just can’t see when you are given a gift from the Creator,” she snapped.

“But…my tree IS BLEEDING.”

Yes, I dared to say “but” to her again. And I paid the price.

She shook her head in exasperation at we folk from down state and finally spelled it out for me.

“Pastor, that’s maple sap dripping from your tree. Now can we move on to Bible study? I have a hair appointment I need to get to.”

And with that, we moved on to our lesson at hand.

I, though, I couldn’t stop thinking of the valuable lesson I had just learned. Here I was so quick to see something out of the ordinary as a problem in my life. Something didn’t look right and so in my cynical city nature I just assumed it wasn’t right, never once thinking that the “problem” before me was really a gift from the Creator.

How many other “not right” things in my life did I fail to see for what they really were? Gifts from above. Gifts inviting me see with new eyes, hear with new ears, feel with a new heart—one hopefully beating more in line with God’s heart.

It was maple sugaring season and for those in the little white church it was a wonderful time of year that not only brought hope of warm days with it, but ushered in flurry of fellowshipping as there were maple syrup breakfasts to attend at all the sugar houses that dotted the pastoral landscape.

It was a time of year where the sweet smelling smoke from the wood fires needed to boil down the sap would warm up the “spring is coming” air even more.

It was the time of year when sun grew stronger warming up veins in a tree, allowing then for sap, beautiful sap, to flow freely and abundantly and eventually becoming sweet blessings for others to enjoy.

I came home later that day and looked at my bleeding tree. I touched the sap flowing down its ancient bark and tasted it. It didn’t have any flavor yet. I was told that would come with more boiling over hot fires. Creating sweet syrup was a process. One that took much work and patience.

The elderly woman at Bible study was right. I had a gift from the Creator. Not just maple sap that could be tapped for syrup. I had gift of realizing we all need maple sugaring seasons in our lives.

We need those seasons in which God’s love thaws our hearts so that finally blessings can flow from us and into the world around us.

I miss that tree. I miss it a lot.

But what I miss more are the lessons I learned from those in the little white church. They are the ones who patiently taught me to see the gifts of the Creator I was often blind to.

The gifts in a bleeding tree, in an overflowing brook, in a brutal snowstorm, in a fox ravaged chicken coop…in a broken heart, a failed project, a dark night of the soul…they taught this city-turned-country pastor by showing me whatever comes your way, greet it as a gift from above.

Blessings don’t flow from a heart frozen to the God possibilities. Blessings flow when hearts are thawed by God’s love.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: It’s maple sugaring season. Examine your hearts to see if God’s warm love is flowing freely from you.

Day 19—Holy Silences

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 19

What did I love most about being an accidental country pastor?

Many things, but if I had to mention one it would be the holy silences I often found myself immersed in during the season of Advent and Christmas.

Silences?images

Holy?

In the season of Christmas?

I know, I know. You’re probably wondering what in heaven’s name am I talking about, especially now in this the final mad dash to the BIG DAY, when there are very few moments of silence to be had.

Christmas music plays nonstop in the background of malls and grocery stores, reminding you to hurry and shop for time is a wasting. Then there are the churches with their cantatas and choral societies with their concerts tugging at your time. Let’s not forget schools as well have their schedules of winter concerts to attend. On top of all the noise of musical offerings filling up the Christmas airwaves, there is the chatter of all the Christmas parties, both work and family, edging out any opportunity for a moment of holy silence.

And yet my time at the little white church there was always the beauty of the holy silences of Christmas all around me that I treasured.

There was the holy silence in the early morning walk to the chicken coop to say good morning to Drumstick, BBQ, Red, Chick, Sam and Fido. Don’t ask. The kids at the church named my chickens for me.

There was something so healing to my soul to greet my feathered friends and give them fresh water and then peek inside the coop to see what gifts they had waiting for me.

In that quiet moment, all anxious thoughts as to what to preach Christmas Eve melted away into a peaceful assurance that the words would indeed come.

While the coop was a ways from the house and not equipped with any electric, thus, my daily routine of chipping out the ice in their water dish and replenishing it with fresh water, I never minded the walk even in many feet of snow to trudge through.

When I was done tending to them, I would turn back towards the house only to notice how beautifully the sun was coming up over the field. Many times I would find myself standing there in the snow besides the coop not believing God had actually given me this life.

There I stood in holy silence, interrupted only by an occasional cluck, cluck from Drumstick—or Fido—they both sounded the same. There I stood allowing the holy silence to fill my heart with a song of never-ending praise that began my day in the most perfect way.

There was also the holy silence of the season of just sitting on the back porch in the late afternoon before dinner was ready and then heading out to my nighttime commitments at the church.

I would sit on the porch swing and look up at the tree line on the hills of the property. As the sun was setting its beams would peek through the bare trees in such a way that it always formed the image of a cross.

I tried as often as I could to make sure I was sitting on the porch swing at just the right time so I could be blessed by the sun’s gift of an illumined cross appearing, reminding me once again, the best gifts are not from a store. The best gifts are the ones God gives to us that are all around us.

I would swing gently back and forth. No Christmas music, no chatter, not even the sound of car going by…just a sweet stillness and a cross to mediate on.

And then there was my most favorite holy silence. The one that came on Christmas Eve when I would enter into the sanctuary of the little white church yet to be filled with holiday worshippers. With only the light of the setting sun coming through the multi-paned clear windows, I would stop and stare at the beauty of a heavenly warmth washing over the sanctuary’s colonial décor of cheerful yellow walls and wooden pews painted white.

The strong smell of evergreen wafted in the room as there was always a big tree given to the church by a local farm. The holy silence of an empty sanctuary before the doors would open for Christmas Eve worship was for me my time of worship. My time to be still before God and to receive the gift of His blessed presence.

Holy silences are important in our lives. They are especially important at Christmastime for it is in the quiet moments when we finally stop “doing” Christmas that we actual begin to experience Christ with us. And that’s what Christmas is really all about.

And yet we feel there is still have so much to do to make Christmas what we think it should be. Here’s a gentle reality check if your Christmas list still has many items yet to be crossed off.

Jesus came that Christmas so long ago into a world that was not quite ready for him. Mary and Joseph were making a road trip to Bethlehem, thinking they probably would have time to get that darn census taking care of before Mary gave birth. But the baby came before Mary and Joseph were ready. There was no room at the inn. There weren’t any baby clothes or blankets or crib waiting. It’s safe to say there were items left undone on Mary’s list at that first Christmas.

And besides a heavenly host of angels and some shepherds swinging by to see baby Jesus, the world didn’t really do anything extraordinary for our Savior’s birth. Jesus came into a world that was simply going about its business.

We need to remember the lesson in that. So often we look for God in the extraordinary moments of life when in fact God is right there in all the mundane routines—and unfinished tasks—of life. And sometimes the best realization of Emmanuel, God with us, happens when we simply stop running around and allow the holy silences to speak to us.

As the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” sings “how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” we are reminded the wondrous gift is still given in the silences we need to either seek or carve out in a busy, loud world.

So if you are looking to create a magical Christmas, start with the holy silences.

I am enjoying one right now as I sit here and type and listen to nothing but a soft snore coming from my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog, Sofie, who is sleeping in the glow of nothing but the Christmas tree lights on in my living room.

I know this holy silence will not last. I have things on my Christmas list still to check off, but I am not going to stress over it. For now I have been given the gift of God’s presence and in this, my holy silence, I whisper my thank you to God.

The countdown to Christmas has begun and with it comes a flurry of last minute items to attend to, but try to make it a priority to create or find some holy silences.

For while the wondrous gift is given in silence, it is also in the holy silences the wondrous gift is truly received.

 

 

Day 18—Wide Eyes and Wonderment

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 18

“How many children do you expect will be at the caroling dinner?” my mom asked, not once, not twice, but a number of times throughout our phone call.

“I’m not sure,” I answered, not once, not twice, but a number of times. I tried not to show my agitation, but I really wasn’t planning on the little white church’s caroling dinner to be a big production. I had envisioned just a low-key night together to share a favorite casserole or dessert and sing some Christmas songs. All I wanted was a simple night of holiday togetherness.

And so the conversation with my mom went as such:

Me:      Why do you want to know how many kids will be at the caroling dinner?

Mom:  Your father just bought a Santa suit.

Me:      What?!

Mom:  You heard me correctly. A Santa suit, and I have to say, he makes a convincing Santa.

Me:      Where does dad plan on wearing this Santa suit?

Mom:  At the caroling dinner.

Me:      What?! (My parents lived more than three hours away from the little white church and so to drive all that distance for some potluck cuisine and off-key singing was dismaying.)

Mom:  We want to surprise the children with a visit from Santa.

Me:      What?!

Mom:  And Santa has to have gifts in his big old sack.

Me:      (Stunned silence on the phone.)

Mom:  So…how many boys do you expect? How many girls? Oh, and can you give me an idea of the age range, so I can get gifts they will like.

10671327_10152967795089650_3579565950656473532_n-1

My dad getting ready in my office the year he played Santa for the children at the little white church.

The little white church’s caroling dinner was turning into a big production. Still, even though I had more on my plate to plan, I couldn’t begrudge my parents the delight they were getting from being part of the Christmas celebrations at a church, while quite a distance away from them, was fast-becoming their family of faith. There was no denying, too, my mom sounded really excited to be buying gifts for what would be a handful of children.

Perhaps it was because there were no grandchildren in our family that made my mom interested in showering the children at the church with gifts. I had always wrestled with God as to why I never had the opportunity to have children of my own. Now, though, as pastor of the little white church, I was blessed with many children to love and nurture in the faith. Slowly I processed the pain in my own life and realized the healing and wholeness of God’s plan for my life.

The night of the caroling dinner came and it was turning out to be a beautiful, low-key night, in spite of the extra Santa event that was to take place.

The casseroles came in and were set out. Folks gathered around the table. I said a blessing over the food. Bread was broken. Laughs were shared. And throughout the night, as my mom and dad sat at the table smiling with the secret they had for the children, I kept saying to the kids, “Do you hear that?”

They would all get quiet trying to hear what I was hearing.

“Do you hear it?” I asked again. They all began to squeal, “What, Pastor Donna?”

“Bells. I hear reindeer bells. I think Santa is in our village tonight,” I said.

The older kids gave me “are you kidding me?” looks, while the younger children’s eyes grew wide with excitement and awe. One little boy in particular seemed very intrigued with these mysterious reindeer bells only I was hearing.

All throughout the dinner I would interrupt the children’s chatter and laughter with an impromptu, “Do you hear it? I just heard the bells again!”

Older kids’ eyes rolled growing tired of the “joke.” But little eyes grew wider and wider.

It was time for me to gather the children and begin reading the nativity story. That was my father’s cue to sneak out the chapel door and go outside to the sanctuary door that I had unlocked for him. He would have to walk through the cold and dark sanctuary to get to my office, which sat off the side of chancel. My dad, once transformed as Santa, would then go back outside and jingle the bells he had with him. That would be my cue to say to the children once again, “Do you hear that? I hear reindeer bells. I think Santa’s here.”

The Santa plan went perfectly. At the end of our discussion about the holy night in which Jesus was born, the soft jingle of bells could be heard approaching the chapel door.

“Do you hear that?” I said.

The kids heard, but instead of jumping and running to the door, they looked stunned. I wasn’t expecting that look.

The door burst open and in came my father, um, I mean, in came Santa with his “ho-ho-ho” said in an accent revealing perhaps Santa was from Switzerland and not the North Pole after all.

As the kids clamored around Santa, I noticed once again that one little boy who throughout the night seemed particularly in awe by the prospect Santa might be close by. By now, he was in an extreme state of excitement that he couldn’t even talk. He kept staring at Santa and waving his hands excitedly. And his eyes? They were the widest I have ever seen and they shone with joy beyond joy.

I was mesmerized by his reaction to the point I almost began crying. I could relate to his excitement for I remember a time years ago early in my call to ministry that many times I was left speechless and in awe by how God was working in my life. Many times my eyes would grow wider and wider and shone with joy beyond joy with the God moments happening right in front of me. I looked at the little boy and I looked at the children surrounding Santa and prayed that someday they would have their own wide-eye, joy-beyond-joy God moments.

For now, though, it was clearly a Santa moment and I had to quickly jump in and play Santa’s helper as some of the children were picking up on Santa’s accent and beginning to question where in the North Pole Santa really came from?

12061_404768876268196_16960063_n

Santa and Pastor handing out the gifts at the caroling dinner.

“Santa, let me do some of the talking,” I said to my dad with big smile.

Together we helped hand out the gifts and as I did so I looked up to see my mom at the table, her eyes were wide as well, wide with love and joy and glistening a bit with perhaps a tear or two as she watched the excitement of the children getting their gifts.

Santa soon had to leave and the children said good-bye, not one of them noticing that my dad was not at the table all this time. It was time to sing carols and perhaps it was just my imagination, but the songs seemed to be sung with more meaning and emotion.

When the last dish was cleaned and the lights of the chapel went out, I walked my parents to their car for their long drive back to New Jersey. In the snow covered parking lot, I thanked them both for the gift they gave the children that night. I thanked them for the gift they gave me, the gift of being such supportive parents, willing to go out of their way to make this a memorable night for the children.

We talked a bit more not really wanting to say good-bye, but it was getting late and it was very cold. So with a hug and a kiss, we parted ways.

“This is Christmas,” I thought as I drove home. The magic in the air, the giving freely of our time to the children, the generous spirit to buy all those gifts, but most of all, the remembering we should always keep our ears attuned not to reindeer bells in the crisp winter air, but to a more beautiful sound that is always there.

We should be listening to God’s whisper of love to us—a love, if we are open to it, will make our eyes grow wider and wider with wonderment and fill us with joy beyond joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

images

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6—The Gift of a Silent Night

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.

4_silentnight_jackdornothingDecember 6

Bible study had wrapped up for the night and as I walked out the church parking lot with the others I couldn’t help but to notice how beautiful the night was. The stars were bright and hung so low it seemed you could actually reach out and grab one. The wintery air, while brutally cold, was still refreshing and I made sure to take a few extra breaths before getting into the car.

Winter was always my favorite season and this, my first winter up north, was indeed one amazing blessing to me. Everything from the bright stars to the crisp air to the crunch of the snow beneath my feet just seemed to be special presents from above.

Once in the car, I turned on the heat and then the radio before pulling out of the church driveway to head home.

As I drove the desolate country roads home, the magic of the night continued when I noticed the sight of some stray cows making their way across the field to join the rest of their bovine family who were already in the barn settling in for the night.

Suddenly “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright” which was now playing on the radio, took on a new and deeper meaning for me.

As a little girl the words to this Christmas hymn were just that: words. Words that told of some elusive night that one could really only sing about, but very rarely would be able to fully experience.

Silent night, holy night was a fantasy. I grew up in a less than silent suburb where the New York City skyline was in our backyard. Streetlights dimmed the starlight and traffic whizzing by made nights far from holy. And so this dear-to-my-heart Christmas hymn that my father used to sing in his native Swiss German while we lit our family Advent wreath, was right up there with my favorite fairytale—nice to hear, but don’t expect it to come true.

That is, until now. For on my drive home from Bible study I was the recipient of a silent and holy night. The realization was too great for me to comprehend, and an overwhelming sense of God’s grace filled me with awe.

When I finally pulled up to my 18th century Saltbox with only candles flickering in the windows to greet me, all I could do was turn off the car engine, the lights, the heat and the radio and sit in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t get out of the car. I didn’t want to. I wanted to hold on ever so tightly to the silence and holiness that had engulfed me. For all was a beautiful calm and all was brilliantly bright. God’s confirmation that I was right where I was supposed to be was filling my heart.

Earlier that night at Bible study we talked about the gifts God wants to give to us in this holy season. Gifts that are not store bought but rather gifts that come from a heavenly storehouse. The gifts from God to us, God’s beloved, that are meant to bless us and to fill our hearts with joy. Gifts of grace to the one who stands in need of a second chance. Gifts of forgiveness to the one who has crossed a line and who has hurt someone they love. Gifts of healing to the body riddled with disease. Gifts of hugs to the one who is lonely. Gifts of smiles to the one who can’t seem to find anything to smile about. Gifts of a silent and holy night to the one who needed to know God was indeed with her.

I knew I had to eventually get out of the car. But before doing so, I whispered my “thank you” to God and then I made a promise. I promised to always keep my heart opened to receiving the real gifts of Christmas.

And so may this Advent you promise to do the same. Be alert to the real gifts being given to you that are not from a store, but rather come from God’s divine storehouse. And may you find yourself discovering the beauty of a silent and holy night. For it does exist. It is not some fairytale. God is always with us.