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

 

The Sheep and the Shepherd

 

The other morning, I went to visit my sheep. Well, they’re not exactly mine. They belong to the farm and nature center just up the road from me.

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Pastor Donna’s “foster” sheep that she often visits and talks to. Notice the stream of light shining down on one of them.

I’ve always wanted sheep. And goats. And chickens. And…

Well, the other morning I went to visit the sheep. They live in a place where my heart always finds peace after being torn and tattered by the world. It’s a place where I can take a deep breath in and allow my lungs to savor the clean air. It’s a place where the rolling hills and mountains make me want to do my best Julie Andrew’s impersonation where I run in an open field, spinning around with arms outstretched, singing, “The hills are alive…”

Being of Swiss heritage, this is something my family always does whenever we find ourselves in an open field surrounded by mountains. And now that I have put that song in your head, my apologies. Let me get back to the story at hand.

The other morning, I didn’t just go to visit them. I went to have a talk with them. I needed to know something. I needed to know how it was they could easily follow their master? How did they know that the one in charge of them was indeed caring for them? How did they not worry or fret or wander off to what might look like greener pastures?

How?

I needed to know, for lately I have been wondering how best to follow my Lord and Savior, my Shepherd. I wonder why I have been lured at times by seemingly greener pastures that have proven to be nothing but stale tasting artificial turf filled with empty calories? I hate empty calories.

How do I get back to the real stuff, the green pastures that are life giving and life renewing? How do I stop doubting my Shepherd’s great care of me? And how do I get back home to the fold, where my heart can always find peace in the midst of the storms?

How?

The sheep were very kind to me, entertaining my rambling questions as they tried to chew their breakfast. Every so often, one would look at me as if to say, “Continue on. I’m listening.” Other times, they would look at each other as if to say, “Are you going to answer her or do I have to?”

When I was done with my questions, I sat down in the grass and waited for one of them to answer. Nothing came. The sheep just kept chewing away at their breakfast. I had my breakfast with me too. A warm buttery, crumbly maple scone purchased at the quintessential Vermont country store that my husband and I loved to go. It was a place where the wooden floors gave their age away with each creak of the boards and where the sun streaming through the windows made the dust dance and sparkle in the streams of its rays.

A place where a warm hello always greeted you, followed by small talk about the weather and what kind of winter the Farmer’s Almanac was already predicting.

But I wasn’t hungry anymore for my maple scone. I was hungry for answers. I picked at the scone and as I did the frustration of the silence all around me brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps yet another day without answers was going to join in an already growing long line of days without answers.

I got up to leave. As I did, though, the littlest lamb came running over to me. Its bleating was urgent. It had something to say. It bleated some more and kept jerking its head toward the blue sky above. I heeded the little lamb’s instructions and looked up in the direction it was pointing. There overhead was a cloud whose formation had taken the shape of blobby looking heart.

Well, I’ll be…the little lamb gave me my answer.

How did they trust the One caring for them? How did they know to follow the One whose leading is always heading towards green pastures?

By not keeping their head hung down low with defeat and despair and doubt, but by always looking up. By knowing they are loved beyond love and that love is the only thing that keeps them, protects them, guides them, sustains them…it’s a love that promises to always bring you safely home.

I had a talk with my sheep the other day.

Turns out, our Shepherd was there as well.

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A Little White Church Advent—Day 2

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 2—A Light in the Chapel 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

There I stood at the kitchen counter not feeling too hungry for breakfast but knowing I had to have something in my stomach. So I reached for the fortune cookie leftover from the other night’s Chinese takeout and opened it. There is nothing better in the morning with coffee than a stale fortune cookie. As always, I read the fortune inside: Before you see the light, you have to deal with the darkness.

I smiled as I looked at the fortune, for these words are my sermon in life. They say every pastor has only one sermon, the one truth, the one belief, the one revelation of Emmanuel—God with us—that is preached throughout his or her life in many incarnations. Mine is how brilliant the darkness can be for only then can you see how dazzling God’s light really is.

Now I never realized my “light in the darkness” message was my life’s sermon until early in my call when the pastor I was interning for during my seminary days put me on the preaching schedule. I was excited to get my chance to preach again and I already had in my mind my sermon when the pastor interrupted my thoughts.

“And, Donna, with this sermon, please don’t talk about darkness. I am going to challenge you to preach something different,” he said, then filling me in on the one sermon all pastors have and how we need to be aware of expanding our repoitre. I guess he could see I wasn’t buying what he was saying and so he leaned back in his office chair and asked me, “What was the title of your very first sermon?”

I was found guilty of being a one-sermon pastor. I feebly replied, “It was ‘In Dark Times, God Does His Best Work.’’ My pastor smiled. Point made.

But I was now in the season of Advent and I had every right to preach about hoping for the light in the darkness. I mean, really, you can’t experience God’s great light until you take the tough journey through the darkness, for it is in that journey that we come to know God at his fullest. (There, you just got a taste of my “life sermon.”)

This fortune cookie, though, wasn’t just an Advent appropriate cookie meant for me to open. This fortune cookie was yet another reassurance from God to my restless heart that all will indeed be well for just a few days before I had a powerful reminder of the light that is to come in the darkness.

It was Sunday morning and, as usual, I got to the white clapboard church that has stood as a beacon of hope to the rural village since the 1700’s, early to spend some time in prayer and review my sermon.

Snow was falling ever so gently, draping the bare ground in a blanket of serenity. The church with its Christmas wreath on the old wooden door was the spitting image of a little white country church that was pictured once in a Colonial village Advent calendar I had as child. Imagine my awe to realize I was no longer opening up a paper door, but a real door to a real Colonial church.

But snow or Colonial church doors couldn’t ease my troubled heart. I didn’t sleep well the night before with so many thoughts racing through my head: the weeks to Christmas that were coming too fast and all the gifts still not bought, the end-of-year church budget and upcoming budget that needed to be squared away, the many new ministry opportunities I saw for the community that needed the time, treasure and talents from others in order to become a reality, the…well, the long list kept awake.

I walked up the snowy steps to the chapel where we gathered in the winter for heating the large historic sanctuary was very costly. I opened the door expecting to enter a cold, dark chapel. Instead, as I pushed the door open I noticed a small light shining in the darkness. The light was coming from a beautiful poster hanging on the wall that wasn’t there the week before.

The poster had a cluster of small stars that shone brightly in the dark chapel thanks to the battery pack that was incorporated into the cardboard. Big bold red letters read: “Don’t Despair.” Smaller letters in an elegant cursive, proclaimed the gospel truth that through the darkness comes great light.

I stood in the darkened chapel soaking in the light that came from that poster. Don’t despair.

I had forgotten my own preacher’s words to others. And yet there in the chapel was my reminder. I wiped the tears from my eyes for I felt God’s presence that I haven’t been feeling all too much with all the angst this time of year brings. I pulled up a chair and sat gazing at that message and enjoying the sparkling little white lights that were the stars. What made this poster even more meaningful was a woman in the congregation made it for me as an Advent gift.

It was later that morning, after coffee hour was finally winding down, that I had a chance to thank her. And after the thanks, came hugs and then tears and then the holy moment when we stood holding hands soaking in the words of truth together.

She told me she had written the words down for the poster while listening to my sermon the first Sunday of Advent. So there before me was my own words I had failed to hear for myself paraphrased on the poster.

Before you can see the light, you have to deal with the darkness.

I held the fortune from the cookie I was eating for breakfast in my hand.  I have seen the light even amidst the seemingly growing darkness of stress, doubt, tiredness: the light of that poster, the light of a caring congregation, the light of a family of faith I have watched each and every week get stronger and bolder in their mission to reach out to others, and, I have seen the light of God’s promise to keep illuminating the way for me—always.

Where is your light shining through the darkness? May today you recognize the many ways God is trying to shine on your path.

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