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 11: More Pictures To Come

 “I think I better backup my files,” I yelled from the dining room table to my husband who was busy feeding the dog in the kitchen. I could hear him whispering to Sofie, our Bernese Mountain dog, “I told your mommy she needed a new computer. Did she listen to me? Noooo.”

Yes, I should have listened to him because now my computer was really acting up, doing some kind of light show that I probably could have charged admission to see. It was that amazing in an artistic way, but not so good in a computer kind of way.

I took my external backup hard drive and connected it to the computer, praying it wasn’t too late to secure my documents. As I began the task of transferring them something caught my eye. A folder on the external hard drive named, “Church.”

I was curious to see what was in it. I opened the file and there before me were hundreds of pictures of many moments at the little white church. I had forgotten about these pictures and so I began scrolling through each and everyone. As I went from picture to picture the story of God working powerfully through God’s children flashed before me on the computer screen.

The story of hope realized as seen in the way of a very crowded chancel where many kids stood to sing for worship, a sight the little white church thought it would never see again. But there they were, not just singing. There were more pictures of them greeting people, reading scripture, playing the piano and, yes, even preaching.

Chris was entering the fifth grade when I jokingly asked him one Sunday if he wanted to preach for me. He diffused my joke with an eager and serious, “Yes. I would love to.”

And so one Sunday morning a few months later, Chris delivered a mature, beyond his years sermon of God working in his life. His picture brought me back to that day in which the ancient Hebrew texts came to life for us in the little white church. We had heard the stories of God calling little Samuel in the night and we had heard the opening of the prophet Jeremiah’s story in which Jeremiah tells God he can’t speak because he is only a boy. God disagrees and reminds Jeremiah that he can and will speak of God’s greatness and might.

There was Chris smiling in the picture. The picture, though, I wish I had of that day was the one of all the smiles and tears of those in the pews as they realized they were also capable of speaking of God’s greatness and might.

I clicked more pictures and more stories came.

There was the story of the warm fellowship emerging among the family of faith with old folks, young folks and children, crowding around a table filled with goodies during coffee hour. There they stood with arms hugging one another and kids smiling. What made this picture beautiful was it wasn’t taken at some special coffee hour. This picture was just your typical Sunday at the little white church for every week was a time lively fellowship.

For me as a pastor this time after the official worship hour was a time when true worship took place. It was a time when we talked about the scripture, we talked about those in our community needing help and we talked about one another’s needs for prayer. We talked, shared, listened and, most importantly, connected with one another. And in the midst of fruit juice and coffee and home baked cookies and cakes was a very special guest working the room. God’s Spirit was moving among the chatter and laughter and hugs and even the occasional tear.

I kept on clicking to the next picture, and then the next, then the next. There were many stories emerging, but the one story that came across the strongest surprised me. It was my story of who I was as a minister. For in those pictures I looked happy, even radiant. Some where, though, along the way in my walk to serve God, I had forgotten the joy I once felt even in the midst of challenges. I had forgotten the smiles that always came to my face when after crying tears of what seemed like defeat, God carried me on to victory.

I needed to see these pictures because lately whenever I caught my reflection all I saw staring back at me was someone I did not recognize. Where was my smile? Where was the radiance? But most of all where was that feeling deep down in my soul of knowing I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do?

I could remember many days walking to my car through the parking lot of the little white church thinking, “Wow. I can’t believe you called me to be a minister, God. Thank you. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” And that prayer of thanks was being lifted on some of the most trying days in ministry. Now, deep in my Lenten journey, I couldn’t remember the last time I said, “thank you, God.”

I called to my husband to stop feeding the dog and come see what I was seeing. “Look,” I said pointing to the computer screen. “Do you see that picture? Now look at this picture? Are you looking? Do you see?”

He looked and his eyes watered up.

“I see,” he said quietly, then adding a soft, “I remember.”

I closed the forgotten file on my external hard drive named “Church” and shut down the computer. As it hummed in a way a computer shouldn’t hum when shutting down, I sat and stared at the screen. The glowing screen faded slowly till all that was left staring back at me was the reflection of someone I didn’t recognize.

“I remember too,” I sighed.

Sometimes in life we stray of course, not paying attention to the blessings already around us. Maybe it’s not that we don’t pay attention. Maybe it’s more we take for granted what we have and lose sight of the need to nurture the blessings. Maybe sometimes in life we just need to look back at pictures to remember the things that brought us joy, that made us smile, that made us feel whole.

But this I know. God is never done with us. More pictures will come and with them more stories.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Be honest. When you catch your reflection do you recognize the person staring back at you? If not, what do you need to do to reconnect with who you used to be? And as you search, invite God into your heart to lead you back to joy.

 

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lent

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 5—Retreating

It’s the first Sunday in Lent and I find myself just wanting to curl up on the sofa with a good book or some knitting or quilting. I want to curl up and try to chase away thoughts of Sunday morning worship—those unrelenting thoughts of what worked and what didn’t work that keep playing over and over in my head.

Did I really say that when I was really trying to say this? Or why didn’t I go out of my way to say hello to that person who I saw heading out the door because something tugged at my heart to reach out to them? And why did I forget to lift this person during our prayer time?

I try to get all that happened during the worship hour out of my head because what happened or didn’t happen doesn’t really matter. What matters is how present I was to God who called me and how faithful I was in my witness to His love. That is what matters.

But the world has programmed us from an early age to believe that our worth is found in how well we perform, how educated, how pretty, how talented, how…the list goes on and on with all the “how’s” that are imposed—or self imposed—on us. We buy into that “grading” system to the point where we often become our own worst enemies and critique ourselves so harshly we forget we were wonderfully and beautifully made in God’s image.

This just doesn’t happen to pastors. It happens to us all for we all have that never-ending tape playing in our heads about things we could have done better.

And so the sofa cries out to me on this first Sunday in Lent for it is offering me a place to retreat from the world and, more so, a place to retreat from the expectations I place on myself. I just want to withdraw and stop the tape from playing in my head. I look at the book sitting on the coffee table for months, but I have no interest in opening it up to read. I pick up the material for my quilt, but I have no desire to stitch the block at this time. I look at over at the knitting needles sitting in the basket of yarn on the old dry sink. I don’t even bother to pick them up for all I know how to do is knit inconsistent, cock-eyed rows.

I sit on the sofa. It’s the first Sunday in Lent and I just want to curl up and retreat from the world and from myself. And so I decide to do nothing but sit and allow myself to feel God’s arms around me, hugging me back into a place of worthiness. I light a candle and I sit quietly watching the flame flicker.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Lent and I know I need to retreat when I begin to think my success as a pastor, as a person, as a wife, as a friends, is all based on things I can do, learn and improve upon. I know I need to run into the arms of God for it is only God working through me will I find the sense of worth and accomplishment I seek.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Spend Sunday afternoons in Lent on the sofa—or a favorite chair—or any place that you can find some rest—and allow yourself to retreat from the world and from yourself so that you can draw closer to God discover the beauty of true worth is found only in God.