My True Valentine

I wake up to a cold wintery Valentine’s Day morning. The snow is more than a foot high and I am wondering whether or not to go for a walk on the rail trail. My snowshoes are broken. The strap snapped in half and so walking in this amount of snow without them will be a workout indeed. Hmmm…I could use such a workout. I have been tempted by one too many chocolate hearts lately.

For now, though, I’ve decided to do something radical. I’ve decided to stop the decision making process. I don’t need to figure out if I have time for one more cup of coffee or if I want oatmeal or eggs for breakfast or whether or not to walk in the snow.

I have decided instead to just to sit in the quiet of this sacred morning moment and be with the one who loves me the most–to be with the one who loves me completely.

God.

It’s Valentine’s Day. And while hearts and chocolate and sappy sentiments of love are nice, I know in my life I want the real love that comes from above. The love that heals. The love that strengthens. The love that lifts you when you are down. The love of one who seeks justice for you when life is unfair. The love of one who advocates for you when your voice is not heard. The love of who make a way forward when there seems to be nothing but roadblocks set by hardened hearts. I want the one who sees you at your worst and still whispers to your troubled soul, “I am here. I love you always.”

I want, no I need, to be in the presence of God.

The other day I found myself writing to a friend telling her how tired I was. I had been working extra hours freelance writing, leaving little time for prayer. Before I realized it, these words were coming to the screen of the computer: I just want to make myself a cup of hot cocoa and read the Bible. I have actually been craving God’s word lately.

God’s word. That is a good thing to crave. And when your soul starts hungering for it, you know something is lacking. And so…

May this Valentine’s Day, you take a sacred moment to be with the one who loves you completely and unconditionally. May you take time to acknowledge this love in your life. And may you whisper the sweetest words God can ever hear from us: “I love you too.”

May you crave God as much as God craves for you.

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A perfect box of chocolates for an accidental country pastor to give her husband. 

 

 

The Junk Drawer

God spoke to me the other day.

Nope. I wasn’t standing on some mountaintop. Nor was I lying prostrate on the floor. I wasn’t even kneeling in the quiet of a church sanctuary. There were no candles flickering nor Gregorian chanting in the background setting the stage in which to hear the Divine One speak. There was nothing holy going on at all when God spoke to me…in my kitchen, while I was standing in front of the junk drawer.

You know the junk drawer. That drawer filled with items you don’t want to throw away because, hey, you just never know when you might need that lone screw that came from something you have yet to discovered is wobbly and missing a screw. And I wonder if that piece of candy is still good to eat?

God spoke to me the other day. In my kitchen at the junk drawer where squished and hidden in the back corner of the drawer I found a relic from a vacation bible school from years gone by.It was rubber bracelet with the message “Watch for God.”

Every year at vacation bible school, the program chosen for the children gave the option of ordering these bracelets. I was always supportive of spending the extra money on them because the message to watch for God was one I really wanted the children to be constantly reminded of.

The kids loved the bracelets and even after vacation bible school had faded into their memories, I would spot the children out and about on the football field, practicing the latest cheers, kicking a soccer ball, heading to school with backpacks burdening their little backs, wearing their “Watch for God” bracelets. Every now and then a child would see me and pause to wave, pointing at their bracelet before giving me a thumbs up. I would return the thumbs up with a huge smile on my face.

Yes, keep on watching for the God moments are all around. I once believed that. I probably still do. It just seems lately I feel my eyes are out of focused. It seems lately I can’t seem to see how beautiful life can be. I’m not talking about watching for the beauty on the surface of things. I’m talking about how I have forgotten to watch for the beauty in the midst of the ugly. Watch for the answers in the midst of tough questions. Watch for the strength to come in the moments of incredible weakness. Watch for God’s promise to take my measly loaf and fish and multiply them into a fulfilling feast. Watch for God to take hardened hearts and break them open.

Watch…for…God…I slipped the bracelet on my wrist. Thank goodness for junk drawers. For God spoke to me the other day. In  my kitchen. From the junk drawer.

God told me to watch. Watch for greater things are yet to come. img_2727-1

 

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.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

 

Day 6—A Heart Revealed  images

 

I just need a sign. Just one little sign. Please, God. I just need a sign.

That’s all I kept hearing from this woman who had seen her share of hardships. I could relate to her need to know that God was hearing her. There were many nights where I would fall on my knees in such pain over what seemed to be unanswered prayers that I, too, would shout to God, “Show me that you are there in my life!”

Oh how desperately I wanted signs from heaven as well.

But as I made my way through the tough wilderness I was in, I eventually came to realize what Elijah discovered that day on the side of the mountain after the wind, fire and earthquake all subsided. Elijah’s sign that God was there with him was found in the silences all around him. This woman, though, wasn’t ready for God to be in the silences around her.

So I sat with her and listened as she expressed her pleas for a sign from God. And I, as a pastor, found myself trying to redirect her gaze to seeing the angels—the ordinary men and women—who were already there in her life supporting her, loving her, praying for her and helping her. I guess in a way I was trying to soften the blow for her for not getting any sign from God. Perhaps in a way I didn’t want any responsibility for God’s failure in delivering a sign. Not that I have such power in what God does or doesn’t do. I know it sounds weird to even think God could fail because God NEVER FAILS us. But I think it was more I just didn’t want this woman’s faith to fail if the sign she wanted never came. And so I kept trying to redirect her eyes to all the angels in her life instead.

She took note of those angels, wiped her tears and said, “Thanks, but I still just want a sign.”

After she left I wondered if she would get what she was looking for. Perhaps there were many signs already on her path that she was for some reason blind to. I just wasn’t sure. I just didn’t know. I wondered. Was God hearing her?

The following morning I awoke to an email that my eyes couldn’t believe.

There on the screen was a note from this woman telling me, “My sign from God came! I can’t stop praising Him. Look what I saw in my yard this morning.”

Attached to the note was the picture of snow melting away and revealing the ground beneath. The snow, though, was melting in such a way that it formed a perfect heart on the ground.

God heard her prayer. She received her sign. For her prayer was for frozen hearts to melt and for love to come into her life.

Skeptics will say that a sign from God can be seen in anything, that is, if you are so desperate to see a sign from God. But this melting snow in the shape of heart was not a case of wanting to see something so badly that you could make nothing into something. This melting snow in the shape of heart was the sign from God this woman refused to stop believing would come.

I joined her that morning in praising and thanking God. And I learned my lesson. Never redirect eyes away from wanting to see a sign from God. Rather encourage those eyes that want to see God so badly. For God NEVER FAILS those who never stop seeking Him.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Open your eyes to the signs God puts in front of you. But more importantly open your hearts in believing that God will answer your prayers in the most amazing ways.

 

 

 

Day 11—The Prayer Tree

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 11

A silence fell upon the room. A request was made that no one really wanted to step up to and see through. A woman at my table waved to the waitress to order another glass of wine. A good diversion on her part, I thought, pondering whether I, as pastor, could order a glass of merlot with her. Hmm…better stick to my diet Coke. Others around me glanced down at the meeting agenda before them feigning interest in what was to be discussed next.

It was the first Wednesday of the month Chamber of Commerce meeting held in the village tavern, where one could get a really juicy mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with a side of some of the best onion rings I have ever tasted. Perhaps the promise of hamburgers and onion rings was the reason I became active in the Chamber of Commerce, as it was a great way of killing two birds with one stone. I was fulfilling the “being part of the community” part of being a pastor while satisfying my love for greasy pub food.

The room was still silent and for a second I found it amusing how the local business owners gathered for the meeting tried not to make eye contact with the Chamber president. The question he asked lingered like a low hanging cloud.

Who will take responsibility for decorating the gazebo on Main Street? Any takers? Any one?

More glasses of wine were ordered and eyes continued to divert eye contact with the one asking the question.

Before I knew it, my hand went up and I could hear my voice saying something my head really didn’t have time to think through carefully, “The little white church would love to decorate the gazebo.”

Smiles from the Chamber president came and sighs of relief were let out from others.

Did I really just volunteer the church to decorate the village gazebo?

We were already very busy with Advent Bible studies, after school programs for kids, a Christmas cookie sale, packing shoeboxes of toys for a mission project, a caroling dinner scheduled and, for the first time in the little white church’s history, two Christmas Eve services were being planned along with a new Christmas Day service. Of course, there were the Christmas Eve luminaries to also coordinate and put together. Now who was in charge of getting the kitty litter to fill the paper bags?

What in heaven’s name did I do?

God’s answer was to come.

For while having one more thing on the church calendar was not ideal, it turned out decorating the village gazebo was a blessing for both the church and the community it served, as it got us out of the confines of the sanctuary and into the heart of where people were—on Main Street, going about their day, making a trip to the bank, the hardware store, the wonderful little café with the best homemade chocolates and the consignment shop, etc.

In the midst of daily life in the village, the folks from the little white church were doing more than just stringing lights on a gazebo. They were shining their lights out to the community, showing they cared just as much as to what was happening on Main Street as what was happening within the four-walls of the church.

As we strung greenery and lights around the gazebo, villagers would stop to say hello and chat and, as I precariously balanced on a ladder to hang a red bow high up on one of the lampposts, I noticed something.

I noticed the beautiful steeple of the white church peeking over at me and realized how much of a beacon of hope the church has been for centuries to those who called this village home. It was then I knew we had to do more than just hang greenery and lights around the gazebo. And so with a fir tree stuck in a pot at the entrance of the gazebo in which the town dropped off earlier that morning, I came up with an idea. Or more like it, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart as to what to do.

The little white church would decorate the village tree with prayers, many prayers and blessings for neighbors and friends who loved their village dearly.  808_10151275465554650_1226466341_n

So one night we gathered the youth and the children of the church and with permanent markers in a variety of colors and weather resistant foam sheets, Christmas ornaments were created in the shapes of stars and crosses and hearts. Written upon them were our prayers for all in the village. When we were done, we put on our coats and made our way just up the street to the gazebo where we finished decorating.

Yes, the little white would love to decorate the gazebo, I volunteered, not knowing what I was getting our church into. But God knew exactly what we were to do.

We decorated the public tree with the promises of God for all to read and for all to remember that God had not forgotten the once thriving village that now struggled as so many little communities now struggle all throughout our country. God had not forgotten those who called the village home, sweet, home.

A few days before Christmas I was having the desire to have my mushroom and Swiss cheese burger complete with the best onion rings I have ever tasted. I just couldn’t wait till the January Chamber of Commerce meeting.

As I walked from the church to the tavern to pick up my order, I passed the gazebo and the prayer tree. There standing in front of the tree was an elderly lady with a little child. She was leaning down gently speaking to the child who I could hear, as I came closer, was asking about what the ornaments said. Each ornament the child pointed to, the woman read the prayer out loud.

It is an image I will forever hold in my heart for it was a moment when I experienced Christ’s church becoming once again a vibrant and vital witness out into the public, where our witness to God should be.

The woman noticed me staring at the beautiful scene she unknowingly gifted me with and she smiled and said, “This tree is such a blessing. God is indeed with us. God is good.”

I smiled in agreement and went on my way. I had a mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with the best onion rings I have ever tasted waiting for me at the tavern.

God is good. All the time.