I Believe

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “Miracle on 34th Street.” Not the remake or the colorized version, but the original 1947 classic starring a young Natalie Wood and an oh-so elegant Maureen O’Hara.

I love the movie for so many reasons.

Nostalgia is one of them. I used to watch it on an old TV complete with rabbit ears with my grandmother when staying at her house for one of my special “overnight with grandma” visits.

But the real reason I love the movie is because of its urging for us all to believe. Believe in the unbelievable. Believe when the world around you is saying your beliefs are unrealistic. Believe. Period.

There is one particular scene that has made an impression on me for all these years. It’s the one where little Natalie Wood is disappointed with her Christmas presents. Her doll just wasn’t enough. What she wanted was a house. A real one. Not a dollhouse. She wanted a house that she could call “home.”

So she sits in the back of the car feeling glum and she keeps whispering, “I believe. I believe. Yes. I believe.” She is saying it half-heartedly, but at least she is still saying it.

I have been in her shoes many times in life. Trying to hold on to belief when it seemed as if God just wasn’t listening to the desires of my heart. But I held on. I held on to God’s word that never will He leave me or forsake me. I held on to the belief that God knew the plans for my future.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

I dreamt of living in Manhattan and becoming a fashion editor.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

After challenges and moments when it looked as if I would never have a coveted “212” area code, it happened. And you are never going to guess where my first studio apartment was. It was on 34th Street.

The two Christmases I lived there, I would stare at the street sign on my way home from work at the magazine and stare at the “34th St.” and whisper to heaven, “I believe. Yes, I believe.”

Years went by and a soaring magazine career followed by a move cross-town to a one-bedroom apartment was not what I thought it would be. Something was tugging at my heart. Ministry. What? Yes, ministry. How was I to go to seminary, pay my bills, live? I believe.

I believe. Yes, I believe.

Years later, a theological degree was in my hand and a call to serve in rural Upstate New York was accepted. A few more years later, I met the love of my life after years of loneliness. And one Christmas Eve, as I looked around at the little white church I was serving, husband sitting in the pew, I realized I found what I was always searching for. Life lived authentically. Hugs followed worship, many coming with gifts such as molasses cookies and Coach Perry’s famous egg bake attached to them.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But then New Year’s Eve last year, after twists and turns in my life that led me to serving a church in Maryland, I found myself once again doing my best Natalie Wood.

I was glum. I was sad. I was wondering why God wasn’t hearing my desire to return home to Vermont. To return to being the accidental country pastor I had failed to treasure as much as I should have.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

But how God? How was I to find my way home? When? How long? Are you even there listening to me God?

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe…

in God who is merciful and mighty.

I believe in God who is always leading us.

I believe. I believe. Yes, I believe.

It’s New Year’s Eve once again. I am sitting in the living room of my 18th century home in Vermont. I am back home. And I am beyond thankful. I am beyond grateful.

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The ornament I received from my mother-in-law this Christmas. It says it all. Believe!

The Vermont snow has fallen down on me like celebratory graffiti. The cows have moo’ed a chorus of “hallelujahs!” The morning sun coming up over the mountains have shone a spotlight onto my heart overflowing with love. Hugs have been received. Warm molasses cookies have been eaten. And Coach Perry’s famous egg bake has once again graced my breakfast table this Christmas morning.

My friends, we are meant to believe and never give up believing. We are meant to hold on to our belief in a great, big, loving God. We are meant to hold on to hope when all hope seems gone. We are meant to follow our hearts. We are meant to live authentically.

A new year is about to be here. And I am home. How, when, why? Not quite sure. But I am home. There are no half-hearted “I believes” this year. Rather my “I believes” are declarative statements coming from a heart that has experienced for itself the truth that grace is not earned. Grace is indeed an unexpected and undeserved gift that God gives just because God loves us so much.

So keep on believing. For God is real. God does hear. God is always in your lives leading you, nudging you, pushing you, shoving you towards the path that is the best for you.

Will you believe?  Really believe?

A New Year Blessing

Believe…

For the Light is now in the world.

Believe…

For Love is born in each of us.

Believe…

For the manger is full.

Emmanuel, God with us, is here for us.

Go and believe…

it is as the prophets said.

And may the blessing of God be with you this day and forevermore.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

It was early morning and as I laced up my sneakers I could hear my husband’s question coming from the kitchen.

“Where’re you going?”

“Out for a walk. Do you want to come?” I asked.

Sofie, the Bernese Mountain dog who had already begun panting from the heat building up, looked at me horrified as if to say, “Please mommy, don’t take mimages.jpge out in that humidity. My fur will frizz just as badly as your hair!”

With a pat on her head, I reassured her she could stay in front of the air conditioner. I would deal with my hair by throwing it up into a ponytail. Again, I asked the question. My husband sided with the panting dog.

“Okay. I’ll be back when I’m back.”

And with that, out the door I went.

Walking had always been a time for me to clear my head, lighten my burden, slow myself down and talk to God. Lately, though, I’ve noticed my walks haven’t been all that prayerful.

Was it the oppressive humidity that comes with living below the Mason Dixon line? Was it now having to walk busy suburban roads rather than the rural ones I had fallen in love with while serving as an accidental country pastor? Or was it because I had unwittingly invited a long lost, toxic friend to join me on my walks?

Yes, somewhere along the way I had welcomed back Miss Rushed And Frazzled—the part of me that takes away any peace that does exist. The part of me who plays a narrative in my head of all the things that need to get done and keeps on playing it like some one-hit wonder on my playlist that I can’t seem to delete.

Admittedly, there was a time when my walks were anything but prayerful. There was a time when I couldn’t even feel the ground beneath me because I was so caught up in clutter. Hmmm? Clutter? What exactly is the definition of that word? That’s right. Clutter—to fill with too many things. My life was filled with too many things and it was destroying the who God wanted me to be.

Then one sweltering summer afternoon, where the exhaust from the New York City buses mingled with perspiration from people packed onto the sidewalks like sardines, all that clutter fell away.

It was on the corner of 32nd Street and Park Avenue that I, for the first time in my life, felt the ground beneath my feet.

It was there my fast-paced walk came to an abrupt halt when a boyfriend, walking by my side, dared to stop mid-step. Before I could ask why, the boyfriend pointed to our shadows and held them with his eyes as if he was gazing upon a Paul Klee we had just seen earlier that day at the Metropolitan Art Museum.

“Look,” he said, embracing a beauty I was blind to—just as I was to the Paul Klee earlier that day. Personally, I prefer the folksy charm of Grandma Moses. But I digress.

I guess my obligatory, less than a second look didn’t convince him that I was in the moment with him. He insisted again that I look. I did my best, but I just couldn’t see what he was seeing. He was noticing us in a moment of time on a city sidewalk. And he took the time to honor that moment as if it was sacred.

There we were, standing still as a silent liturgy lifted to heaven as the city rushed on without us. A squeeze of my hand signaled to me the sacred moment was over and we could begin walking again. I noticed, though, I was pulling him along as his steps were still so slow and mindful.

“Now what?” I asked with as much patience I could muster. He stopped again.

“You don’t get it,” he said with sad puppy dog eyes.

No, I didn’t. And he was more than willing to fill me in on what I was missing.

It seems I was missing what a privilege it was for me to be able to walk. I was missing what it meant to actually feel the hard pavement underneath my feet and to be thankful for the shoes I had that protected my feet from the scorching heat of the pavement. I was missing that fact that each step taken in my life was a gift leading to something beautiful.

A step taken leads to a cool drink. A step taken leads to arms waiting to embrace us. A step taken leads to hearing a new voice, seeing a new place, experiencing a new experience. Without steps taken forward, you wind up nowhere. I was able to those steps. Be thankful for that, he said.

I didn’t understand, too, that life was like our shadows on the sidewalk, begging for us to notice and savor the moment we are in, for that moment will never be again. I didn’t get it. But he did.

He had spent time in the Peace Corps teaching English to children in Africa. It was there he began noticing for the first time the ground beneath his feet. He noticed how others didn’t have the ability to walk as he did. He noticed how others didn’t have shoes to protect their feet from the sun soaked, drought ridden ground. And it was there in Africa he stopped to marvel at the beauty of his shadow on the earth, for far too many of those children he taught would not have shadows to marvel at as their life was shortened by strife, poverty, war and hunger.

“Do you realize what a gift we have right now?” he asked, looking down at his feet. I stood there speechless. I never knew there was so much to be seen, experienced and celebrated in each step I took. I looked down and stared at my feet on the ground beneath me.

A squeeze of my hand nudged me to begin walking again. Right foot, left foot. My shadow walked with me—and I noticed.

Right foot, left foot. I noticed the pounding of the pavement on the sole of my shoe.

Right foot, left foot. I noticed the gift I had been given. I noticed the gifts that were waiting ahead of me.

Right foot, left foot. My steps were different. My steps were prayerful.

Now, many years later I stand on a noisy suburban road. I find myself stopping again. I need to notice my shadow. I need to marvel at the sacredness of the moment I am in, for aren’t all moments we have sacred?

I drink in the heavy morning air scented with car exhaust from the busy road near the house my husband and I rent, not as fresh as the air in our home in Vermont but at least not as pungent as the air that summer afternoon in Manhattan. It is air nevertheless that fills my lungs and for that I thank God.

Right foot, left foot. I am walking—prayerfully again.

Right foot, left foot. I am walking—with God again.

Right foot, left foot. I feel the ground beneath my feet—again.

Right foot. Left foot. I know each step forward will lead to something beautiful—again.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Day 8 and 9:  A Wind-Tunneled Walk 

It was a blustery morning where you could tell Old Man Winter was trying hard to hold on to his reign of cold and not give into spring’s warm days. The wind blew so sharply it felt as if little knives were cutting through my coat. It was then I remembered just how the avenues of Manhattan became wind tunnels this time of year. images

Back up at my little red house in Vermont, wind just blew, whipping through the valley with nothing to stop it. There weren’t any looming skyscrapers tunneling the wind as it was now being tunneled.

I burrowed by mitten-less hands deeper into my coat pockets. Why I thought it was going to be warmer in the city when I packed for the ministry seminar I was attending, I have no idea.

Clearly I wasn’t dressed for the elements, but I resolved to set forth on what was going to be a brutal walk ahead for I had someone important to meet here on the streets of Manhattan.

I had to meet me.

I had to meet up with the “who” I once was. More importantly, though, I had to remember who I was as God’s beloved and remember a divine guidance that never failed me.

My father always told me that sometimes in life we needed to take a step back in order to move forward. I had taken those steps back at times, but now it was time to look back—and remember. Thus, my walk began.

My first stop was to the building that gave me my entry into the magazine business. I stood on the corner looking at the impressive art deco skyscraper and remembered how many years ago I stood in the exact same place feeling awe that this was where God was leading me for an internship.

It was just days before Christmas and I couldn’t help but feel God was giving me one of the most incredible present—the start to my dream career.

After my interview I made my way to the bus terminal to head across the river back to New Jersey where I was I still living with my folks. When I walked through the door more than a warm dinner greeted me. I was also greeted with the news that the magazine had called back already. I had the job!

I could see then the beginning of a journey that wasn’t just about “career” but more about a journey of trusting God’s leading. You see prior to that first magazine interview as a college student, I sat in the cafeteria of the fashion school I was attending, reading the little Bible the Gideon group was handing out on the street corner earlier that fall. Specifically I read from Jeremiah, “for I know the plans I have for you…”

My eyes began to tear. Not from the biting wind, but from the joy that began warming me up as I stood remembering God’s provision and love.

I then walked over to Time Square and gazed at the next building where my editorial career really took off and where I would be for the next decade (of course, not in the same building as the magazine moved three more times due to being acquired by various other publishing companies).

I remembered how excited I was that early summer day as I took the escalator up to the mezzanine where then elevators would take me the rest of the way.

I was a bit early that morning and so I lingered in the lobby taking time to soak in the sights and sounds all around me and thought about what the future would reveal—all the glamorous parties, photo shoots and travels that were part of the associate fashion editor’s job duties.

I then remembered the words of a photographer colleague of mine who would accompany me on assignments at my previous job.

“Remember who you are. Don’t let this industry turn you into something you are not. Stay true to yourself.”

Hesitantly, I entered into the lobby again and I lingered a bit, soaking in the sights and sounds around me. I found my heart thanking God not just for the opportunities given to me, but for those He brought into my life with words of wisdom, like the wonderful words I held onto for all my time living and working in New York City, “Remember who you are.”

For me those words weren’t about remembering who “Donna” was. They were deeper for they echoed God’s words to the Israelites, reminding them in their journey that God was their God and they were His people. God was my God on my journey and I was His child.

I soon noticed the time and realized I had to hurry to get to the seminar I came to the city for. I made my way like I had always done before, walking in the direction of whatever traffic light told me that I could walk, thus, having to avoid standing still on any street corner.

As I snaked through the streets, I thought about how many times I was impatient with God’s red lights in my life. How many moments of growth and awesome God moments did I miss all because I was too impatient with the divine red light and opted to move forward with the light that told me to go now even though that “now” was not the right time or the right path?

While pondering this, I soon realized that my hurried steps were in sync with everyone else’s but, unlike my eyes, their eyes were avoiding any contact with others. I also noticed something that brought a huge smile to my face. Not only did my steps line up with those around me, but my black flats, black tights, black skirt, black coat, accented with one amazing accessory mind you—my Kate Spade bag—were in sync with all the young fashionistas scurrying to their offices.

With all the changes I noticed in myself and in the place that was once my home, it was good to know that some things (even if it was just the NYC fashion dress code) never changed!

I finally got to class and began thawing my frozen fingers with a steaming cup of coffee. Despite my physical discomfort, my wind-tunneled walk was worth it. I was glad I got to meet up with my former self and to remember how God has led me from city streets to rural fields, up escalators and elevators to the best steps ever taken—up the old wooden steps to the doors of a little white church.

Shortly after taking my seat, the instructor walked to the front of the room. I opened my notebook and took out my pen. Class was about to begin. The instructor spoke:

Today we are going to spend time exploring something important that we must not forget ever in ministry—in life. That is, our need to remember who we are as God’s beloved.

I put my pen down and sipped my coffee. No need to take notes. I’ve already aced this lesson. For on wind-tunneled New York City streets I met up with someone special. I met me—the who I was, the who I am and remembered the who I will always be. God’s beloved beautifully led now and always.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Talk a walk down memory lane and meet up with someone very important. You. God’s beloved. And reflect on all the beautiful ways God has led you.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Day 6 and 7: Divine Dissatisfaction 

I was struggling, but those standing with me at coffee hour after church had no clue of my struggle. To them, I had it all. I had my dream job as a magazine editor in Manhattan, which often meant missed dinners with friends as I was called away on business trips to Italy or Switzerland or Thailand or Africa—places where the fine jewelry industry housed designer ateliers and dirt speckled with diamonds and precious gemstones.

I had my dream apartment—no studio here, but an actual one-bedroom apartment with no need for a roommate—complete with a doorman and a convenient midtown location so going uptown or downtown to try a new city hotspot was not a pricey cab ride.

I had a boyfriend. And I had a cat. I had it all…so it seemed to others. But I was struggling. All that I had was, for some reason, not filling my heart with this sense of peace and contentment. It got to the point where I had to speak to someone about this. And so I spoke to the associate pastor of the Fifth Avenue church I was attending.

I pulled her aside in the room coffee hour was being held and dangled out to her in guarded and cryptic words my struggle, trying not to get to deep over coffee and cookies. I didn’t think I was making sense and soon thought this was not a good idea to speak to the pastor at this time, but she seemed interested. She even seemed to understand my guarded and cryptic words. Perhaps she was once where I am now, I thought. Suddenly my interest in her backstory was piqued. After I was done speaking she nodded her head as if reminiscing back to some page in her scrapbook of life and with a twinkle of excitement in her eye that I couldn’t understand she told me what was going on with me.

“You are experiencing divine dissatisfaction,” she said.

“What?” I asked, finding her apparent glee for this not-so-fun place I was in a bit unsettling.

“Dissatisfaction that is divine,” she said as if switching the order of the words spoken would give me my “Ah-ha!” moment. It didn’t.

“What?” I said again.

She took my hand and led me to her office where she invited me to sit down. This was no longer a passing conversation to be had in the corner of the room where coffee hour was being held.

As I sat down in the chair my reporter senses kicked in and I quickly took inventory of her office. Some of the best stories of the subjects I have interviewed came not from what they told me, but of the story the décor and trinkets and pictures in the office told. Her story was emerging and, unknowingly to me, so was mine.

Kim was her name and she was just a few years older than me. She was from down south and came to the big city to become a professional dancer. And dance she did, performing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. That explained to me why she had the lithe body of a dancer.

Dance and her African heritage blended beautifully and when she came to New York City she thought her heart would never stop dancing with joy for the answered prayers she had received.

One day, though, her heart stopped dancing with joy. The steps she took to the music were not feeling right. She struggled. Those around her had no idea. Her friends thought she had it all.

One morning as she walked to the dance theatre, she kept on walking. She found a bench in front of a bus stop and sat. Just then she took out the Bible that had been thrown into her backpack for quite some time and never taken out. Hesitantly she opened it and she began to seek God. As she sought God’s will she began to see God had another dream for her—to tell the world of God’s goodness as a pastor. To the surprise of her friends and family, she announced she was entering seminary. And here she was sitting before me in her black clerical robe with an African inspired stole that I now noticed had images of women dancing in the joy of the Spirit.

“You have a gift and a passion for communicating through the words you put down on paper,” she said. “Perhaps those words are not to be of jewelry anymore. Perhaps those words are to be of something more precious and more beautiful.”

“Divine dissatisfaction,” I whispered now understanding what she meant. She was speaking of a dissatisfaction that is often God’s way of getting our attention to the new things God has for us. For with God there are always new dreams to pursue.

I opened my bag and scrounged around deep to the bottom and pulled out my pocket Bible that I had always carried but never opened.

I opened it now, and the hands of a former dancer turned big city pastor and a soon to be former magazine editor turned accidental country pastor of a little white church clasped together tightly. Two women, two stories, two dreams realized and yet to realize…and we prayed.  We thanked God for those beautiful unsettling moments known as divine dissatisfaction in our lives, for they are the moments that lead us in becoming all we are meant to become.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Lent is the perfect season to explore the areas of dissatisfaction in your life. For perhaps it is a case of divine dissatisfaction and God is trying to awaken you to a new dream waiting for you.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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?