A Poignant Start to Lent

IMG_9915The sanctuary was mostly quiet. Every now and then a hum, rattle and swoosh from the ancient heating system would interrupt the stillness. It was a welcomed noise as I was trying hard to keep the cavernous room at a toasty 60 degrees. After all, I didn’t want to sit all day with my coat and mittens on.

The “little white church” as locals fondly call us, was doing something different for Ash Wednesday. Rather than hold a worship service in the evening that hardly anyone would come to — in my time there as pastor, the Ash Wednesday service has boasted anywhere from a whopping six people to an unprecedented 28, and those numbers were with a combined service with sister churches — we were inviting people to drop in throughout the day.

We created an art gallery in the sanctuary and encouraged people to pray with the art before making their way to the front of the sanctuary where I waited with a blackened thumb ready once again to dip into the ash and proclaim the sobering reminder, “From dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

The people came — more than 28 — and I did my part, making the sign of the cross on foreheads that ranged from smooth and worry free to wrinkled and creased with burdens.

From dust we come, to dust we shall return.

There was a lull mid-afternoon and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the big yellow school buses rambling down the road. School was out. I would only have to sit in the sanctuary for a few more hours. It would be nice to get home to a hot bowl of soup and cuddle on the couch with my big old Bernese Mountain dog.

Just then I heard the creaking of the old floors. I didn’t to turn to look when people entered the holy silence, for I didn’t want to break the prayerfulness they were trying to embrace. And so, I would listen to the footsteps to see how close they were to me, so that I could stand up and take my place with the ashes.

The footsteps didn’t linger at any of the pictures. Rather they came quickly to where I sat. I was surprised when a teenaged girl dropped down next to me. She looked upset and there were tears beginning flow. I guess the blank look on my face gave it away that I had no idea what was happening beyond the peacefulness of the sanctuary walls.

“What kind of world do I have to live in?” she asked angrily.

In a way, I wish I didn’t ask what she was talking about for the words that came next filled me with anger and grief as well.

“There was another school shooting. This time in Florida. It is horrible. I am afraid,” she sobbed.

Sadly, I wasn’t shocked by the news she told me.

“There’s been a school shooting” has become an all-too familiar phrase, leaving many numb and worse yet, just accepting this as the new reality in which we live in.

I also knew what would next in my rural community. The heated debate on social media with those yelling that guns don’t kill —people do — and those yelling back that we need more gun control.

I also knew as a pastor of a rural community that I had to find a way to bridge these debates. I had to find a way to speak in a community that cherishes their right to have guns.

I looked at the sobbing teenager knowing, like many of her friends, she had a gun. For rural teens, hunting is rite of passage. Pictures of deer and bear they snag always appear on Facebook. And with the spring thaw, turkey season will bring a bunch of new social media posts.

Where will the two divides of anti-gun and pro-gun meet? For the debates are not stopping the killings.

I searched my heart for something pastoral to say to the sobbing teenager sitting next to me. I searched for words of hope to overcome fear. I searched to find a magical way to take away this girl’s brokenness. I searched, but came up empty.

I looked down at my sooty fingers that have been making crosses on foreheads all day and realized there was nothing I could say. I am not God. But God did send us a Savior, to be with us in times like these. To hold us when we are fainting and to comfort us when we are grieving.

God sent us a Savior who reminded us as he went to the cross, that this life is painful and not fair at times. But just when all seems lost, we are given hope. God defeated death. It doesn’t have the last word.

I looked down at my sooty fingers. With my tears joining her tears, I took her hand and with the ash made a sign of the cross on her palm.

From dust we are, to dust we shall return.

I then added, “And God is with us always.”

She closed her hand tightly, holding dearly to the promise of the cross now in her possession.

We did something different for Ash Wednesday. We opened the church for people to drop in when they wanted to throughout the day. Who knew that one broken teenager would seek the solace of the “little white church” in her time of grief?

God knew. And God knows how broken we all are. The question is, what will we do with that brokenness? And when will we go beyond just “thoughts and prayers?”

When will we understand that this life of faith calls for us to live out the faith, to find our voices to speak up and seek change.

To dust we shall return.

But before we do, God has work for us to do. Work in creating a better world for our children to live in. May our prayers be ones in which we ask God to lead us into action, to find ways to listen, understand and move forward in stopping the senseless violence.

 

 

A New Reality

The Easter claim is not about resuscitation but about a new reality in the world that is unrestrained by the force of fear.  Walter Brueggemann

A new reality.

It’s why I gave up the security of a steady paycheck and a regular preaching gig every Sunday morning down in Maryland.

It’s why I gave up the very things we are taught to make a priority in our lives and go after—income, pension, health insurance—so that we can purchase the things the world uses to define (and so often judge) us by.

I gave it all up so that I could step into a new reality in which God had been nudging me to step into for quite some time. The nudge was gentle at first, but anyone who has brushed off God’s nudge knows God is not easily brushed off. The nudge grew stronger, leading me to sleepless nights and divine dissatisfaction with a life that looked to be a blessed one on the surface.

The nudge finally became a holy kick in the #$% that set me on an uncertain future back in Vermont where the only thing I am certain of is this: God is on the brink of doing some amazing work in a place my heart embraces.

Great work in a place where I see abundance of the things that matter to God—an abundance of caring hearts, stubborn hope and a desire to live a life not defined by what the world says is life.

Rather to live a life where a good payday is one in which your ears heard the songs of the birds and your body stood still long enough to enjoy their angelic concert.

God is up to something big.

Those were the words I said to my parents the other day when I called them to say “hi” after spending a morning with a lean checkbook that once again, somehow, paid for our daily bread.

God is up to something big, a new reality that isn’t about breathing life into old ways of doing and being. God is revealing a new way to live, I said, more for my own benefit than to put at ease a parent’s worry about their daughter’s future.

Live simply. Live with love. Live in peace. Live knowing that while there are forces against you (there are always forces against us), not to be afraid. Rather, embrace it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. For God is in it all.

The thing is, new realities like this come with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions and a lot of opposition.

My Lenten journey this year has been an interesting one. It began with a quiet Ash Wednesday in which, sitting alone at my centuries old farm table that serves as my writing desk, I poured out the burnt palm ashes into an ice cream bowl and thoughtfully and prayerfully let my finger swirl around and around.

As I felt the grittiness of the ash against the smoothness of my skin, my thoughts went to all the foreheads I have made the sign of the cross on with the ash. Some with many wrinkles of wisdom won not so easily; while others still smooth with beautiful ignorance we call blissful at times. I thought of the sacred moment when after the cross was made, I would step back and see the person’s face fill with awe and mystery as if this smudge had somehow reached deep into their heart. And perhaps it did.

As my finger swirled, I felt an ache that this would be the first year I would not have any foreheads to smudge. I looked down at my blackened finger and gently made the sign of a cross on the top of my hand.

I whispered to my ache, “Remember from dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

In the silence of that second, my ache whispered back, “I remember.”

And so, my journey so far has been one in remembering who I am and to know that when all is said and done nothing matters in our fleeting lives except finding the courage to live into the new reality God presents. A reality that is not about resuscitation, but one that is about authentic new life.

It’s a reality, though, that is not easy.

The other day I sat down on the path I was walking on and hung my head down low. I was not physically tired, but spiritually exhausted.

Although the sun was shining, all I could feel was darkness encroaching. I touched the top of my hand where weeks ago the self-imposed gritty smudged cross stared back at me, begging me to remember.

Gingerly, I traced the lines of the now phantom symbol of hope. Over and over, I made the sign of the cross where hope first had to conquer betrayal, opposition, hurt, anger and darkness. Lots of darkness.

“A new reality unrestrained by the force of fear” is what theologian Walter Brueggemann says the Easter promise is all about.

The sad truth is, though, fear will always try to restrain the new thing God is doing. For we humans are a fearful sorry lot. We are so afraid when we cannot control our own lives, even more so when we cannot seem to control others. We are fearful when someone dares to upset the apple cart by suggesting that we do something never done before.

The other day I was talking to a friend I had reconnected with now that I had moved back home. We got to talking about God realities and the fear that thwarts them. As we talked she became quiet and thoughtful. Hesitant at first to share what had come to her, she blurted out her concern.

“Donna, your complete abandonment to follow God and blind trust you show, no matter what, well, it threatens others and will threaten any powers to be that you challenge,” she said, recognizing that often many will talk about doing something new with God, but few will see it through. She then smiled and said, “But keep on pursuing that new reality, for many have wanted to do what you are doing, but we have been afraid.”

To the world, I am example of someone who is crazy. Perhaps even a threat. After all, I am willing to enter tough places, give up all, to see something beautiful that so few go the distance to see. I live to see God redeem brokenness and create newness from rubble.

Sometimes I, myself, question my sanity especially when I get to the part of the journey I am on now. The part where dark, mean clouds of a world who opposes this reality are gathering on my path.

But then, I trace the phantom cross, the symbol of hope, that was on my hand weeks ago. I trace and I reach. I reach deep down in my soul, mustering up the courage to keep on going, for I know how gritty ash feels on the skin and I remember.

There’s a beautiful reality waiting to burst forth where God has placed me to serve.

I remember I am dust.

I remember, God is God. AR-302109909.jpg

Second Sunday in Lent

Let us worship together on this the second Sunday in Lent as you join me at one of my favorite places to sit and reflect here at the Old Stone Well Farm.

Enjoy and share with friends, for truly when two or more gathered, God is in the midst doing amazing things.

Now is the time to be bold in our faith and to reach out to one another in prayer.

Happy Lenten Journeying!

Pastor Donna 

 

 

Standing Up for My Rural Flock

I have friends who have been up in arms since Trump became president. They spend their time writing about the injustices and stupidity coming from our government. They spend time protesting and fighting for the rights of those Jesus calls in the Bible “the least of these.”

Most of these friends are fellow pastors who, like myself, know that, yes, we must fight for those being overlooked and treated unfairly. I see their passion and hear their anger and I pray.

Not for them to be victorious. I pray for justice for all to come…and for the scales to drop from all our eyes.

I am a country pastor. I came to this call quite accidentally. My Calvinist friends are quick to argue with me when I say this. They point out that nothing is accidental with God. True. Nothing is. But that still doesn’t mean we in our limited understanding of God’s crazy ways can comprehend all that God does. And so, I am an accidental country pastor.

I was called to a little white church years ago not realizing that this was more than a call to pastor a church. This was a call to start living again, to heal a broken heart and to allow God to reveal the who I really am.

I traded in my designer heels for a pair of good old barn boots. Mud season can be a real bitch in this part of the country. I admit, though, I have held on to my Kate Spade handbags. I am thinking that perhaps Miss Spade should make a line of rural handbags? Ones that complement the caked mud against black rubber…

Back to my point. I am a pastor serving rural America, an area in which prayed for someone like Trump to take office. An area where people feel his election is God’s grace being poured on the land—finally.

And I can see why they rejoice. I can see why they are turned off by clergy who they say are so “liberal” and don’t get it.

Maybe we clergy don’t truly get it?

I can see this because as I live and serve and pray for those who call little white churches, faded clapboard houses and sagging old red barns home, I hear their frustrations of being treated as “the least of these.” T

hey lament how they are overlooked by the decision makers in “the cities.” They don’t appreciate how those with higher education seem to talk down to those with a high school degree.

They are tired of the Roman Empire laughing at poor little Nazareth.

After all, can anything good come from Nazareth, the backwoods biblical village that Jesus hailed from?

We know the answer is yes. Something good did come from Nazareth.

The truth is this country is made up of many Nazarethes. And the people I have been called to shepherd have been tired for a very long time of being ignored, joked about and not treated fairly.

I moonlight as a reporter for a local paper. Just the other day in an editorial planning meeting, a colleague spoke about how a school in a village in the same county as which I serve God’s children has a big problem. They can’t get substitute teachers. No one wants to come.

You want me to go where? There? Where exactly is it? I think I heard there are rednecks in that area? My friend saw a few Confederate flags hanging from trailers. No, thank you. I don’t want to be there for the children who need a teacher.

It was the same for the little white church God called me to. Friends in Manhattan and north New Jersey where I then lived asked if I had this desire to preach to cows.

What’s up there for you? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Turns out there was something amazing in rural America for me. My relationship with God grew stronger as did my realization I had a passion to advocate for churches that no one seemed to know about or care about.

I thought about the school struggling to get substitutes. I thought about the churches struggling to get pastors who just weren’t just using them as a stepping stone to the next “bigger” church in their preaching career.

I thought back to a newspaper story I did in December where a man of a local American Legion explained why his colleagues were cutting ties with a larger national organization in their mission to collect Christmas toys for children. He said they collect so many toys but had to drive down to the “big city of Albany” to drop them off. And then, those in the city would decide what those in rural America needed.

“They don’t know our needs. We wanted our children to get what they deserve…more toys,” he said.

We want our children to get what they deserve…not just more toys. And so, the vote went to Trump because people were tired of not being heard. I’m not saying that this was the right vote or not. I’m just presenting the truth of what I see in my work as an accidental country pastor.

So, when I see protests and angry notes on Facebook from clergy friends about the unfairness of the actions coming out of Washington D.C. my heart cries. Yes, voices need to be heard. Definitely. We need to make sure the rights for all are protected and that new laws are made to help those who are in need. I’m not arguing against that.

But as pastors in the cities make their protest signs, I wish they would also pray for the little white churches in rural America who struggle to find shepherds. Pray for the schools who no one wants to teach in. Pray for the children who are in need, who seem to get overlooked. And I am not just talking about toys at Christmastime. Pray to understand why the country voted the way it did.

For the snide comment “can anything good come out of (insert a rural community)” has been heard for too long.

I know I am putting my heart out there and some might be angry with my words today. But I welcome all comments, even those who disagree with me. I just want to share and get a conversation going.

For when we don’t have the opportunity to talk to one another, we miss the opportunity to discern a new path that God is asking us to venture out on.

When we are prevented from talking to one another all because our differences are too great, then we thwart the work of the Spirit.

For our open and honest conversations, I believe, are indeed sacred offerings lifted to God.

Lenten Prayer for Today: Lord, I pray for all those who are feeling discarded and not heard. I pray for your Spirit to heal divisions. I pray for especially for all the churches, schools, businesses and household in rural areas who have felt rejected for far too long.

 

A picture of the little white church painted for me when I first came to rural America to serve God’s children. Life in the country may be different than the city, but we are all seeking the same thing: to be heard and loved, to know all of God’s children are worthy.

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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

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 the church home.

A Return to Happiness

The excitement was growing among those in the little white church as my wedding day drew closer. There were plans to spruce up the church, which included ordering new tablecloths for the time of refreshments and wedding cake to be served after the ceremony.

“What color should the tablecloths be, Pastor Donna?” was the question from the woman tasked with this very important mission she took seriously, coming into my office with swatches and suggestions. I really didn’t have a strong opinion of either cream or sage green and suggested to get the cloths that would work for future church events.

“What about flowers? You have to have flowers in the church?” asked another woman later that day.

I really had no strong opinions on flowers either.

“Whatever you have blooming in your garden by the time of the wedding would be beautiful,” I said.

I couldn’t think too much about tablecloths and flowers because at that moment I had a more pressing wedding detail to take care of which was irking me.

I had to find the perfect wedding invitation.

After many a late night of searching the Internet not finding exactly what I was looking for, I was getting a bit anxious. Cream or ivory? Matte or satin finish? Embossed or not?

The problem was I really had no idea what I had wanted in a wedding invitation.

Then one day, as I was putting away some books back onto the shelf in my office, a piece of scrap paper fell onto the floor. I looked down and staring up at me was the sketch of a lily of the valley done on a piece of notebook paper in blue ballpoint ink.

Lily of the valley had always been one of my favorite flowers—one of the first flowers of spring that has the most incredible perfume coming from its small white bell shaped petals. They used to grow under the forsythia bushes in the backyard of my childhood home. I would pick them and create little bridal bouquets for my Barbi dolls and dream of the day I would someday carry lily of valley in my own bouquet.

I picked up the paper and read the note on the back: “Remember, I found these in the snow. Love, Valerie.”

Valerie was an older woman at the church I attended in New York City who had seen her share of heartache in the game of love and in the game of life. She had always persevered, though, and as a result her trust in God was evident to all who came in contact with her. I was one of those lucky ones who had come in contact with her.

We had shared some of our struggles with waiting on God in a small group at a church retreat and it turns out we both had a lily of the valley story to tell.

Valerie remembered how one bitterly cold and snowy winter day, as she made her way through the city streets with a heavy heart and many questions about her future on her mind, she spotted a bunch of lily of the valleys peaking through the snow—snow that hid concrete underneath. How could this be? She walked closer and realized the flowers were plastic. Still it didn’t matter. The sign of hope in the snow was for her a reminder to hold on and to trust that God was leading her.

Mine was that these flowers were growing outside of my boyfriend’s mother’s apartment in Manhattan the weekend we went there to pack up her belongings after she quickly succumbed to cancer. And how, just three years later, after my that same boyfriend died in a jeep accident Africa, I found those flowers growing bountifully on the side of the new home I had just moved into.

The minister who listened to us share our stories fought back the tears in his eyes and smiled as he then shared something with us I didn’t know.

“The lily of the valley has often been portrayed in religious paintings. It symbolizes the promise that happiness will always return.”

I gazed at the sketch Valerie did for me so long ago and remembered the unrelenting years filled with my own waiting and heartache and wondering if God was hearing my cries or not. Of course, God was and now here I was in the midst of planning a long-hoped for wedding. I looked at the scrap paper and realized what my wedding invitations had to be.

I ran to the computer and logged on to a wedding invitation site that I had seen two months before. There on that site were wedding invitations that had embossed lily of the valleys on them. I wasn’t too sure about them at first glance. They were white vellum, which was a bit lighter and more delicate than the heavier card stock I had been looking at. But now I knew they were perfect. I proceeded to order the invitations.

I logged out of the computer and stared some more at Valerie’s sketch and thought about this wedding and the excitement that was building in the little white church.

I realized this wedding was more than just about Pastor Donna getting married—finally. This was about the miracle of love found—between my soon-to-be-husband and me, between a pastor and her congregation, between and congregation and its community—love found in God who had never stopped loving us.

There are miracles of love everyday for us to see. For me those miracles have come in the way of hearing about plastic lily of the valleys peeking up from the snow on a city street and then seeing hundreds of lily of the valleys in full bloom on the side of my house after praying to God for a sign that God was still there. Miracles of love have come in the way of seemingly mundane discussions on what color for tablecloths and what kind of flowers for the sanctuary. Miracles of love come from God in the most unexpected ways

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Sprigs of lily of the valley grace Pastor Donna’s bridal bouquet. A reminder of the miracle of love and God’s promise of the return to happiness.

I gently placed Valerie’s lily of the valley sketch back into a book, knowing someday when I needed to see it the most, it will once again miraculously fall gently out onto the floor. Until then, I remember. With God there is always a return to happiness.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Where are the miracles of love blooming this day in your life? Take note of them and remember to say “Thank you, God.”

 

 

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.

 

 

This Way of Life Lenten Journey

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.”

Day 3: Go Now in Peace

There’s a song the little white church would sing every week at the very end of worship. It was called “Go Now in Peace.” I had never heard of this song before nor have I ever worshipped or worked in a church in which a choral benediction was sung. So the first time I experienced this choral benediction it was indeed quite memorable.

It was the Sunday I preached for the congregation as their prospective new minister. Boy was I nervous. Would they like me? Would they be pleased with my sermon? I knew it really wasn’t about me but about God’s Spirit at work leading us both to the right partnership, but still, you can’t stop that tape playing in your head that they are looking at you and not beyond to what God is leading them to. Anyway, I gave the blessing and as the music began to play for the choral benediction, I walked to the back of the sanctuary. That’s when it happened. A divine moment. I stood there the soon-to-be next minister of the little white church and I looked out at people that God was bringing into my life to lead and to learn from. I stood and listened to their voices sing a song I was not familiar with.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. God will be with you each hour of every day. Reach out to others…

I watched and listened to them sing this song that many knew by heart. And I wondered. How many really believed the words they were singing? Were they afraid? Did they know God was there each hour of every day? Were they reaching out to others?

I wondered about these people I had yet come to know, had yet to be there in their griefs, had yet to be their in their joys, had yet to journey with them in faith.

But as I listened I felt something there in the sanctuary. I felt a strange movement of the Spirit I had never felt before. It was as soft as breeze, but I realized then the Spirit was just beginning to move and among these people something powerful was going to emerge. Voices that were singing hesitantly were on the verge of singing boldly.

The vote to become the next pastor of the little white was unanimous and I walked back to the front of the sanctuary that God knew I—an avid lover of 18th architecture—would appreciate. I looked out at those gathered in the colonial era white wooden pews still with the doors attached and lifted my hands to give the blessing. As I did I felt that gentle breeze of the Spirit pick up a bit more.

“Go now in peace. Know He will guide you in all you do,” I said, borrowing from the choral benediction that was a little white church tradition.

Our ministry had began and as days turned into weeks that turned into months that turned into years, the Spirit’s breeze kept blowing and leading and waking hearts up. And then it happened.

One Sunday in Lent as the little white church sang their traditional choral benediction, I had yet another divine moment—a moment that almost brought tears to my eyes.

I heard their voices sing as I never heard before. This time I clearly heard voices that were stronger in aith and voices that were singing the words, “Reach out to others…” with conviction and passion. The words weren’t just words sung by rote. The words were being sung out of the experiences that we had together, experiences of growing in our faith together and experiences of really reaching out beyond our own doors and into the community. The words had come to life.

I stopped singing at one point and just stared at the cross on the communion table, listening to the strength and conviction that was coming out of the voices of the many men and women and children gathered for worship.

“God,” I said, “Can you hear them? Can you hear the belief in their voice? Can you hear the strength? Can you hear the love? Can you hear the determination to really reach out to others so all the world can see? God can you hear your children coming alive by your Spirit moving among them?”

I then lifted my eyes from the cross and looked over at all who were singing and noticed not only were their voices strong, but their faces were transformed. They were shining. Some people had their eyes closed, some had their eyes lifted up towards heaven and one man in my congregation did what he has done since the first day I came to the little white church. At the moment in the song when we sang, “God will be there, watching from above…” this man, in true devotion to God, always lifted his hands up towards heaven.

I carry this memory close to my heart because whenever I find myself wondering where God is or questioning the movement of the Spirit in my life because I haven’t felt any gentle breeze against my skin, I can close my eyes and go back to the little white church and hear the voices of God’s children sing.

I can remember how I was priviledged to see God’s Spirit breathing new life into tired bones and how words once sang by rote became words of transformation and new life.

God will be with you each hour of every day…

In this season of Lent, as we are invited to enter into the wilderness, let us not be afaid. Rather as we walk let us become aware of how closely God watches over us and how wonderfully God leads us. And may the song you sing along the way be sung with newfound strength, love and conviction.

Go now in peace. Never be afraid. 


God will go with you each hour of every day. 


Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true. 


Know He will guide you in all you do. 


Go now in love, and show you believe. 


Reach out to others so all the world can see. 


God will be there watching from above.


Go now in peace, in faith, and in love.

 

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Is your walk with God drudgery? Are you tired? Are you wondering where is this power of the Spirit you hear about? Whatever you do, don’t stop walking. Don’t stop singing. Challenge yourself this day to take one more step in faith and take it without any fear, trusting God all the way. For God does go with you each hour of every day.