Stumbling and Falling

January is in full swing and that means one thing. I feel I am coming down with the winter blahs. I know the symptoms well. No pep in my step, too many excuses to forego the salad for a big dish of macaroni and cheese and just an overall feeling of nothing going right. What exactly is the “right” I am talking about? Good question. Not sure. But that’s what happens when January is in full swing. Nothing seems “right.”

Yesterday I went for a walk on the farm in hopes of finding that “right.”  It was an aimless walk, one in which I couldn’t even feel the frozen ground beneath my feet. I didn’t even pay attention to the pockets of ice that were hidden beneath the leaves, leaves now revealed that the snow was gone. Sadly, the winter wonderland all around me had been replaced by shades of brown. I just wasn’t ready for what locals call the fifth season—mud season.

As I walked the stresses of my day joined me. They were not very good walking companions as they insisted on babbling, reminding me I was wasting my time on this walk. Get back to work. Get back to all the things you need to do. I finally gave and decided to head back to work. That’s when it happened. A patch of ice underneath the leaves sent me slipping and sliding. I couldn’t stay vertical any longer. Bang. Down I went. The fall was enough to get the tears flowing. No, I wasn’t hurt. I was just tired. I didn’t bother getting back up off the ground. Rather I allowed myself to remain crumbled on the ground…to sit, to cry, to just be. And it felt good.

I am not sure how long I stayed on the frozen ground with my tears, but sometime during what would have looked like a sad scene to a passerby something beautiful happened. My heart began to feel lighter. The babbling voices of my stresses began to silence themselves. I was no longer aimless. I knew exactly what the “right” was I wanted. I was getting “right” with God. I could feel the frozen ground beneath me and as my hand touched the brown leaves, I realized that hidden patch of ice was a blessing.

Richard Rohr once wrote that in the spiritual life we do not find something until we first lose it, ignore it and miss it. It is only in the search, in the falling, in the failing, do we realize how limited our plans are and how limitless God is. It is in those moments of defeat do we then truly see where our true victories await. In Christ alone.

It took a hard fall for me to feel again. It took stumbling to find my way back to God. It took falling first to be lifted back up.

May today you find the beauty in the stumbling and falling. May you know that with God finding ourselves on the ground is the exciting start to being lifted high.

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The beauty of the path we walk on often can be found when we stumble and fall on that path. A scene from my early morning walk on the rail trail behind The Old Stone Well Farm. 

Birch Trees in the Snow

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. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

The snow was the wet and heavy kind that made shoveling hard and trudging in it even harder. But trudge I did. I had resurrected an old habit of taking morning prayer walks, one that I had missed greatly in my time away from the home I loved. Oh I tried walking in other places, but I was no longer in the country and so the noise of traffic was always playing in the background.

Here, though, back home, there was nothing but silence mixed with the occasional moo of a distant cow. If you were really listening to the stillness, there were times you could hear the soft echo of the little village’s church bell chiming a melodious old hymn. And so I wasn’t going to let a little snow slow me down.

On went my boots and out the door I went. I passed by the old stone well as I made my way to the bottom of the steep hill. I decided to challenge myself to climb up in the deep snow, knowing my huffing and puffing would be rewarded by the most breathtaking view below me. I was not disappointed.

The valley below me looked like a jewelry box sprinkled with diamonds as the sun’s rays made the snow glisten and sparkle. I continued up and over to the rail trail behind the hill. That’s when the roadblocks hit.

Trees, many of them bowed down from the weight of the snow, blocked the path in front of me. I had a choice to turn back or to move forward. I was resolved in my mission to pray and walk. Onward it was.

I ducked under, hopped over and skirted around the white birch trees lying prostrate to the ground. I was growing tired and frustrated. My walk had become not only a physical obstacle but a spiritual one as well. I just couldn’t focus my thoughts on God when I had to focus on not getting whacked with an icy branch. I was about to turn back, until I had a thought.

As I stared at that sad fallen trees I wondered what would happen if I helped them up. Were they really down for the count? I decided to try.

I started with the smaller tree. With my fuzzy mittens on, I grabbed hold of the trunk and loosened the branches iced tightly to the ground. Swish. With great force and speed the tree sprung up. I moved on to the next tree. Then the next. I even tackled the larger trees, freeing them from their state of downtrodden-ness. Each one, with a little help, was soon back to standing tall.

My prayer walk had turn into a mission project. I was there to help the trees. And with each tree that bounced back up, I began to remembering the times in my life when someone noticed me down for the count and chose not to hop over me or skirt around me. Rather, with a compassionate hand they helped me to stand tall again. My walk was just about over.

I turned and looked back at the path now lined with graceful white birch, their limbs lifted high to the heavens in praise. It was a beautiful sight.

Christmas is almost near. And if you are wondering what is the perfect present to give loved ones—to give the world—I think a hand stretched out to help is perfect. For God gave us that exact gift on that holy night. And His hand has never stopped lifting us up.

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Sofie walks on the snow path, helping Pastor Donna lift up the bowed down birch trees.

 

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

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 4: Snowdrops

Why do I like the season of Lent so much? There are many reasons, among them are the lessons we can learn in this holy season in which we are asked to go counterculture and retreat from the blaring noise and fast pace of the world around us.

I especially like the lessons we learn when we are invited to walk the wilderness walk with Jesus at a time when going for an actual walk can be hard to do.

Depending on when Easter falls on the calendar (click here to read how that is figured out:http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/determining-easter-date.html) Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, can begin as early as February, just when winter is hitting its stride.

And so taking an actual walk out into the frigid cold of God’s country doesn’t sound fun, does it? But it was, especially when the slice of heaven I walked in was where the little white church I pastored called home—an idyllic setting in rural upstate New York on the border of Vermont.

It was there during many Lents that snow would pile up high and actually block a front door (as it did the first winter my husband and I settled into our Vermont home). The back porch exit wasn’t any better. When reconfiguring our picket fence that summer we inadvertently placed the gate door in the vicinity of where the tin roof hung over. You guessed it. Snow loves sliding off of tin roofs and so trying to access the gate that led to the driveway that led to our car was an adventure.

It was there in God’s country during the season of Lent that many times the ice proved to be champion over those ice gripper thingies (for lack of a better word). You know the things you slip over your shoes to prevent you from falling and sliding. Those ice gripper thingies were actually given to me as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift. I think I tried them once, preferring to amaze those on the street with my graceful moves as I fell to the ground.

And I am sure I shocked the locals when on one particularly frigid Lenten day, when the temperature was a negative 10, I popped in and out of the businesses on Main Street wearing my favorite weekday go-to dress—a cute wool navy blue number from the Gap—stockings to match, riding boots and a fashionable (translation: not warm at all) coat.

I had never experienced double-digit, negative temperatures before and so I didn’t realize how cold, cold could really get. All I remember from that Lenten day when I took my walk on Main Street was the stunned look on the owner’s face when I stopped into the fuel company housed in an old timber building right behind the dilapidated, yet showing good bones, train depot. He glanced up and down and asked, “Are you warm enough, pastor?” To which I said, “Not really.”

I love how Lent comes at a time when actually walking a wilderness walk comes with these blessed challenges of cold, ice and snow. These are challenges that urge me not to give up my walk for the comfort of a warm house or office or church. The harsh elements I venture out into reconnect me with the fact that life is not always easy or comfortable. That often God calls us into harsh elements so that we can train our eyes to see beyond winter’s gray days and look forward to the promise of spring.

For even when it seems the brown patch of frozen ground will never bring forth life again, all of sudden, when you least expect it—and when you need it the most—it appears. Hope in the way of tiny snowdrop sitting on the side of a hill, peeking up to the heavens as if to say to a world sitting in cold for far too long, “Rejoice! Our salvation is near!” Unknown

I love the lessons of Lent that come early on when winter refuses to release its grip on us. I love the lessons of holding on to hope when others say there is no hope to hold on to. I love the lessons of trusting God’s warming love that will not only incubates the seeds beneath the ground, but also incubate the heart that longs to love again.

I love that Lent invites us to walk the wilderness walk with Jesus at a time when actually walking can be a challenge. For it is on such walks we can truly see God—and, if we train our eyes of faith, we may just see a snowdrop singing its song of praise to its Creator.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Go for an actual walk today. Bundle up if it is cold, grab an umbrella if it is raining, but don’t let the elements deter you. Go out into God’s creation (be safe though!) and take note of the beauty all around.

 

 

Ash Wednesday

This Way of Life: 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.”

February 10 images

There I stood in the sanctuary, cold and alone, tired and a bit aggravated. It was Ash Wednesday and the little country churches in the rural area I was serving decided to pool their resources together and hold a combined Ash Wednesday service—of sorts.

I say of sorts because Ash Wednesday worship really wasn’t “our thing.” Or so I was told by one of the pastors who had a long tenure in the area. I guess she was right. After all, I could remember growing up and doing nothing for Ash Wednesday in my church.

For me Ash Wednesday was a Catholic thing where my friends would show up to school or an afternoon play date with strange smudges on their foreheads that I couldn’t decide if they were meant to be crosses or squashed bugs. When I asked my mom about the smudges she would say, “Oh, those are ashes. We don’t do that.”

So the Ash Wednesday service put together by the area churches would not be a traditional worship service, complete with worship bulletins, organ music, choirs singing, pastors preaching, etc. What would be offered to the community was an opportunity to have an interactive worship experience where activity stations would be set up to explore.

There would be an area for writing prayers to our service men and women and another area for making prayer beads. I can’t remember what the other activities were but I do remember volunteering for the station where the ashes would be received. Thus, how I found myself standing in a sanctuary of a neighboring church, cold and alone, tired and a big aggravated… because there were very few people showing up. The snow that fell outside didn’t help an already anticipated low attendance event.

“Why didn’t we just cancel tonight’s activity?” I thought. I was new to the area and so I was still not used to braving wintery elements that surprisingly kept very few folks at home in these parts of the woods. In fact, it seemed nothing was ever really cancelled due to a little—or a lot—of snow falling.

I stood there in the sanctuary waiting for foreheads to show up so that I could master the art of the perfectly shaped ash cross. When I became ordained I vowed I would not have my crosses looking like squashed bugs. (FYI…I have failed in the perfectly shaped cross department but I have excelled at squashed bugs.)

Sporadically, a few people trickled into where I stood and, given the informality of the imposition of ashes, they would linger afterwards and make small talk with me. I, of course, used this time to inquire how bad the weather was getting outside. Each report was not good. The snow had turned into ice and roads were getting tricky. My angst increased, but I tried to focus on my pastoral duty.

From dust you came, to dust you shall return…smudge finger in burnt palms and make a cross…darn, another squashed bug. The next one will be better. I promise.

In the background were the whispers from the few gathered about the icy roads.

How am I going to get home on these country roads that I still was not familiar with. Why didn’t I just stay home?

When it became apparent that no one else would be coming to this joint Ash Wednesday service of sorts, I quickly threw on my coat and said a rushed good bye to the other pastors. I just wanted to face the elements and get home safely.

Sure enough the front stone steps of the church were coated with ice and I slid right down, making me more anxious and frustrated.

I picked myself up and began making my way to my car not looking forward to having to scrape off an inch or so of ice. The hood to my coat was pulled down as far as it could go so as to block the pelting ice from face. The hood, though, blocked something else.

What I didn’t see was the gentleman standing by my car scraping the ice off of the windshield.

“Beautiful night, pastor, don’t you think?” he said, without a hint of sarcasm. He actually did think it was a beautiful night.

“Um, well, I guess. I’m not too happy with the ice or having to drive home in this,” I said, wondering if then he would confess that he really didn’t think this weather was beautiful at all. No confession came.

“Don’t fret. You’ll be just fine. Take it slow and trust God,” he said.

Trust God. I was in no mood for hearing my words thrown back at me.

“Yeah, I guess I can do that. You know you really didn’t have to do this for me. I mean, I do appreciate it, but why did you come out in this storm to clear off my car?” I asked, only then noticing this man wore no gloves and had only a thin jacket on.

Without stopping the ice scraping, he said, “You came out tonight for us, didn’t you? It’s the least I could do for you.”

I guess he noticed the surprised look on my face because he then said, “This is what we do for one another around here. This is our way of life.”

While I didn’t know him, he knew me. He knew I was the “new” pastor from the big city where this way of life, that is, life spent really caring for one another, was a rarity. He knew I didn’t understand yet the beauty of life in a small rural village. In time I would not only understand. I would come to treasure it.

All of sudden my anxiety of having to drive home faded away. My frustration with having to be at a service where hardly anyone showed up melted.

The windshield was free from ice. I was ready to go. As I leaned forward to shake this man’s hand, I noticed he didn’t have a black smudge on his forehead. He didn’t come out in this weather for the worship service “of sorts” we were having. He came out for another kind of service—the one that matters more than a smudge of ashes on one’s forehead. He came out for the ultimate service of helping someone else.

Ash Wednesday really isn’t our thing. I disagree. Ash Wednesday was indeed this little village’s “thing.” For I got to see a true worship service in action in the way of a stranger reaching out to me, the new pastor. I was going to like this way of life.

“This Way of Life” Lenten Challenge:

Seek to worship God out in your community by the acts of kindness you can do for others when they least expect them.