What’s Your Super Power?

I’m a sucker for Halloween. I’ve always been. Show me an old-fashioned jack o’lantern flickering with candlelight on an eerily still autumn evening, and I am bewitched. Walk through a blanket of fallen leaves, kicking up the golden and crimson carpet to make the crunching louder, and I am captivated. Give me a bowlful of candy corn (with some bite-sized peanut butter cups), and I am your friend for life. There’s just something about this ancient Celtic festival that captures my imagination.

So, when I found myself picking up a few household items at a discount store, I wasn’t surprised that I instinctively made my way to the store’s Halloween shop. As I walked up and down the aisles I couldn’t believe how much of a big business Halloween had become. When I was a child, costumes were made from pillowcases and sheets or bought at the local Woolworth’s. Those costumes came in a box complete with a plastic mask held on by an elastic band that if you pulled to tightly around your head, it would hurt. Let’s not forget, as well, the many stumbles and falls while trick or treating all because the mask would slide down or sideways, impairing one’s vision.

With each plastic skull, battery-operated pumpkin and motion-sensor bat I picked up, I reminisced about the good old days of Halloween when simplicity made it special.

I steered my cart around the corner only to discover something incredibly scary. A group of five-year-olds were in an excited frenzy grabbing for the costumes they wanted. While a few costumes were zombie and werewolf inspired, many were of superheroes. That’s when I overheard the salesperson, thrown into this chaos like bait to hungry sharks, ask one of the children what superpower they had.

The child was so animated in his reply I had to sneak a peek into the mom’s cart to see if he had already devoured a bag of candy. Nope. No sugar high. This was just the child’s normal behavior. Note to self: Say a prayer for his mother.

“I have the power of cutting people into two,” he screamed. I edged slowly away from the four-foot menace, but still close enough to hear his mom feebly scold him on how it wasn’t nice to hurt people. The boy came up with another answer.

“How about put them in a pit of snakes?”

Before his mother could answer, the sales associate intervened.

“What about having good superpowers?” she asked. She then shared with the little boy a long list of all the good he can do if he had superpowers. The boy, not quite on board with the notion of good superpowers, quietly considered what he heard. As he did, I walked away deep in my own thoughts.

We all have superpowers, don’t we? How often, though, do we use them? There’s the super power of prayer. Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find. Yet when was the last time we boldly came before God to ask, to seek or just to simply talk to our trusted, dependable and mighty friend?

There’s the super power of forgiveness, a power that heals broken relationships, families and communities. There’s the super power of love, which is one super power Jesus himself commanded us to use all the time. Love one another just as I have loved you, he said, before going to the cross for us. Then there is the super power of faith in God who has shown us countless times how God is one who keeps a promise. Are we forsaken? Alone? Hopeless? No, we aren’t because God said He would never leave us.

And yet, the world around us seems to be like that little boy who would rather use power to hurt rather than to heal. What if we were more like that sales associate, who I have sainted for her patience and wisdom with five-year-olds, urging our children to think of the help they can give others? What if this Halloween all the gore was replaced with good? What if there were more angels trick or treating than devils?

What if…

This Halloween, the little white church in the rural village I serve will once again have its front lawn lit with jack o’lanterns proclaiming a message of faith for trick or treaters to see. It’s a tradition I started years ago because I just don’t love the sight of glowering pumpkins. I love the sight of God’s word illuminating dark skies and filling His children with awe.

This year’s word shining out to the community is going to be simple — PEACE, a superpower we all have in superhero belts and one we need to share with others. For blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said.

What superpower will you use this Halloween?

12140905_10153697251219650_3369192927364125500_o

Pumpkins glowing with an inspirational message in front of the little white church. This year’s message will be “Peace.”

Prayer Pumpkins

I wonder how old the little boy is now? Let’s see. It’s been seven years since we started Pumpkinfest for God, which would mean…(counting the years on my fingers)…which would mean, yikes, it can’t be. He must be in high school now.

The years have gone by but much to my surprise and joy there in the yard of a once little boy was a huge selection of pumpkins, organized neatly by size, sitting in various corners of the yard. I have come to look forward to seeing this festive fall display on the winding country road that led one out of New York state and into Vermont and vice versa. The sight of all these homegrown pumpkins by one little boy was for me the official kick off to fall. I felt the same childlike excitement as I felt with Santa’s arrival at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which when I was a child ushered in the official start of Christmas. We all know nowadays Christmas comes way before the fall pumpkins. Don’t even get me going with whatever happened to Thanksgiving.

12063547_10153697251219650_3369192927364125500_n

Pumpkins shine forth an inspirational message on All Hallows Eve as a little rural church’s witnesses to the hundreds of trick or treaters.

Should I stop? I really don’t need any pumpkins for I was no longer the pastor of the little white church in which hosted Pumpkinfest for God.

Ah…Pumpkinfest for God. That was one of the many ideas that came to me on my habitual morning run on the treadmill at the gym. It was early on my ministry and the little rural village had the tradition of welcoming hundreds of trick-or-treaters. From the ghoulish to the cutest, children of all ages from surrounding villages came to Salem (not Massachusetts, but New York was the village I served in) for there was the guarantee of plenty of candy to be collected. The first year I was there we did what every other house or business did. We set up a table and made sure we had plenty of candy. The following year, though, I wanted to do more. I wanted our church to have more of a presence. I wanted us in some way to reach all these children—there were indeed hundreds—with some word of hope, some message of the good news, some non-threatening and definitely not in your face message that God is good all the time and Christ’s love is there for all.

There was a church down the block from us serving up hot dogs. That was their tradition. It was a good one for God does indeed feed not just the body but the soul as well. Then there was this trying-to-start-up-non-denominational church up the road who was against Halloween, but used this night in which hundreds of children descended upon the village to hand out religious tracts asking if they knew they were saved. With free hot dogs on one side of our church and religious tracts on the other, how could we be a light of Christ on All Hallows Eve?

Light. Pumpkins. Ever since I was a little girl I have adored jack o’lanterns. I looked forward to the day my parents took us kids pumpkin picking. And when Halloween drew near, we would line the kitchen table with newspaper and have a family pumpkin-carving party, which would end with a mess in the kitchen and all of us standing in the crisp night air admiring our lit creations.

What if we, the church, carved an inspirational message in the pumpkins, lined them up in front of our old historic building, right by the table in which we offered candy, and lit them up for all to see?

Pumpkinfest for God was born! The first year we posted the inspirational message on the bulletin board, one letter on one piece of construction paper, and asked folks to take one letter and carve it into a medium to large pumpkin and bring it back with a candle in it before dusk on the night of the festivities. Strong winds, however, blew that night and candles were being snuffed out. Fretting over this failure only lasted a second as a farmer quickly came to the rescue and showed up with a drill in one hand and white Christmas lights in the other.

Soon the Christmas lights were fed through the pumpkins and, thanks to a very long extension cord, the message illumined the darkening night.

The response was amazing as little children were drawn to the pumpkins. Those who couldn’t read would ask, “Mommy, what does that say?” Moms, who were surprised as to what they were seeing, leaned down to their child and told the good news, “Jesus lights the way.”

Soon Pumpkinfest for God became our church’s beloved tradition with every year a different message being lit up. One year, volunteers bought the pumpkins. Another year a local farm allowed us to glean the pumpkins from their fields. And yet another year, I stopped at this little boy’s home where the festive fall display had always caught my eye.

It was the year I challenged the church to stop thinking in terms of what can we get free from the community. Instead, to start thinking how the church can help local business owners who daily faced the heroic struggle of doing business in an area in which it seemed almost impossible.

So there I was ready to load up my car with 20 pumpkins and then some. Pumpkin by pumpkin I hoisted into the back of my Subaru, and as each was hoisted I lifted a prayer. I prayed for this little boy who grew these pumpkins year after year. I prayed for his family. I prayed for the youth group who was in charge of coming up with the inspirational message and the carving of the pumpkins that year. I prayed for the children who would be coming into our village. I prayed that in some way this message would indeed be the light for someone walking in darkness. I prayed for the little village I served asking God to bless it. Pumpkin by pumpkin a prayer was lifted.

I was ready to go. There was a problem though. No one was home and pumpkin purchases were made on the honor system. A little boy’s chicken scratched note read, “Leave the money in the metal box. Thank you.” The metal box had no lock on it, no slit in which to place the money securely into it. Nothing. I stood there with a crisp $100 bill, way more than what the total came to for the prices of these pumpkins were the best around. I hesitated leaving the money, but I couldn’t wait around. I looked at my watch and knew that soon the little boy would be home from school. So I took the chance. In went the $100 bill among the ones and fives and quarters that were already there. I smiled as I wondered what this little boy’s reaction would be when he saw that much money in his metal box.

It was then I prayed one more pumpkin prayer. It was a prayer of thanks that God had opened the hearts of our congregation to bless this little boy with such a generous gift of gratitude for the work he had done growing pumpkins. I thanked God for providing our church, which faced the same daily struggles as the businesses in the village faced, with means in which to do this wonderful act of generosity. I prayed a pumpkin prayer that day simply thanking God for the beauty of being connected to one another and the joy there is when we realize that connection and we help one another out.

One, two, three…yep, seven years have gone by since Pumpkinfest for God started. The little boy isn’t little anymore, but he is still growing the best pumpkins around. I looked at my watch. He is still in school. I slowed the car down. Should I stop?

I did. Pumpkin prayers were lifted once again. And a little boy who is not so little anymore had yet another surprise waiting for him in his now rusted metal box.