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.

Day 10—A Christmas Prayer For the Children

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 10

The other day while scrounging around a beat up cardboard box filled with Christmas ornaments and other miscellaneous seasonal trinkets, I stumbled upon something I had long forgotten.

In the bottom corner, wrinkled up and wedged between a musical snow globe and an iron Advent wreath candleholder, was a piece of paper with my very own scribbles on it. Was it the missing Christmas list I had searched for years ago? Was it a grocery list for the Christmas cookies that never did get baked one year? Or was it simply my random thoughts for a future Christmas Eve sermon?

It was none of the above.

On the tattered paper was my prayer for the children at the little white church that I had written many years ago on what was one lonely Christmas night.

My parents and brother had just left to return to New Jersey and so it was just Sully, my big fat cat, and myself. (This was early in my ministry when I was still living in my 1700’s Saltbox as a single girl who was just getting used to her new role as country pastor.)

The snow was gently falling and I had lit all the candles on the colonial sconces that graced the walls of the old house. I pulled the rickety rocker left behind in the house when I bought it up to the window and sat down and gazed at the sun setting quickly over the rolling hills that once used to see buffalo grazing on them. Yes, locals, upon hearing where I lived would say, “Oh, you’re right where the buffalo farm was!” Soon that vacant farm next to me would have new tenants in the coming year—alpacas.

As I stared out the window I reached for a pen and a piece of scrap paper that was sitting on top of the just-as-rickety-as-the-rocker pedestal table also left behind in the house when I bought it. It was then I began to write this Christmas prayer:

Kids at the White Church,

We have only begun our journey together but I want you to know that I already love each one of you dearly and I pray that you will come to know what I have come to know.

Jesus, the gift we celebrate at Christmas, is a gift not to be packed away with the rest of the Christmas ornaments. Jesus is a gift of love sent by God to you, who God loves so much.

I pray you come to know Jesus as your best friend as I have come to know him as. The friend who will be there for you always to celebrate the accomplishments to come in your lives, to ease the heartache that will come, to wipe away the tears that will also come and to keep lifting you up higher and higher whenever you fall—because that’s the kind of friend Jesus is.

And so my Christmas prayer is you will be best friends with Jesus. I will be praying hard for that to happen. But know this, the friendship is up to you to receive and to nurture.

So be open to all that God will do in your life and most of all trust with all your heart that God knows what God is doing, because I speak from experience, life can get pretty confusing at times.

Keep your hearts opened and most of all never doubt for one moment that you are loved beyond love and accepted for just as you are—because that’s the kind of friend Jesus is. He accepts us and forgives us, but he also wants to see us strive to do our best to glorify him. Doing our best doesn’t mean being better than others or excelling at some talent we have or being perfect. Doing our best means simply offering our best in whatever we do for him.

One of my favorite songs is “Little Drummer Boy,” the story of a poor boy who realized he didn’t have any special gift to give Jesus. All he had was his love for playing his drum. And so he began to play for God’s son. As the song goes, he played his best for him. When the drummer boy was done playing, something wonderful happened that we should all want to happen in our lives.

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Jesus smiled at the drummer boy.

And so as I sit here Christmas night I lift a prayer for you, the children who have come into my life at the little white church. I pray that you will someday experience the beauty of Jesus smiling at you just because you simply offered your best to him.

Blessings,

Pastor Donna

I am glad I found that long-forgotten Christmas prayer for the children, for it is a prayer that needs to be prayed for all our children—of all ages—this Christmastime.

Then he smiled at me.  Pa rum pum pum pum. 

May we give Christ our best for who doesn’t want to see a friend smiling back at us?

 

 

 

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 an accidental country pastor in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 1: Gathering the Evergreen

It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me. 
Hosea 14:8

The first Sunday in Advent was approaching and apprehension and excitement filled my heart. This wasn’t just any first Sunday in Advent. It was for me my first Sunday in Advent of my first church as a newly ordained pastor who would be lighting the first candle on the Advent wreath with my first ever congregation.

Whew! There were definitely a lot of “firsts” taking place in my life and taking place all at once it seemed, as this was also the first time I was some distance from my mom and dad. A twinge of homesickness struck as I realized an impromptu cup of coffee with them was not going to happen as it once did. I looked around at the boxes still to be unpacked in my new “home sweet home”—an antique saltbox dating back to 1760-something—and as I did, I began humming the Christmas classic, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

My trusty roommate, Sullivan, an elderly eighteen pound cat who had come to me as a kitten when I was still an editor living in Manhattan and who had not-so-patiently endured the long drive to his new country abode, jumped on top of the table where I worked on the worship bulletin and nuzzled his head against my hand.

Please have snow and mistletoe…

The good news was my new home already had snow as the day after the moving van unloaded my belongings white flakes had fallen, covering the world in a peaceful beauty that only newly fallen snow can do. And mistletoe? Well, that was also in abundance. All I had to do was walk into the woods and fields and rolling hills surrounding me to get myself some festive boughs of any and all kind.

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…

The first Sunday in Advent was approaching. Apprehension, excitement and a wee bit of homesickness filled my heart.

“Sully,” I said to my trusty feline companion. “I know just what we need.” On went my coat and my mittens and off I went to explore the woods and fields and rolling hills to gather greenery of all kinds to make an Advent wreath for my new home. This would ease my apprehension. This would take away the twinge of homesickness.

As a child, making the Advent wreath was a much-awaited tradition that came after the last of the Thanksgiving turkey was eaten. But being we lived in a congested area in New Jersey, we often had to go to a nursery and buy an armful of evergreen for our wreath. Here, though, in what was known by locals as “God’s country” there was evergreen to be had right at your fingertips.

The walk in God’s country turned out to be the healing balm I needed for as I walked in the crisp air and heard nothing but the crunching of snow beneath me, I was reminded of why we deck our homes with evergreen in this barren time of year.

For just as God reminded his prophet Hosea, God reminds us all that He is like an evergreen cypress or a flourishing juniper or a tall fir (depending on which Bible translation you read). Our faithfulness and our hope come from God and God alone. With each evergreen bough I placed in my arms, I held on to the truth that God’s great faithfulness had never failed me. Nor would it ever. This was going to be one very special Advent wreath that would get me through the many firsts happening in my life.

That night as I opened a can of soup for my dinner for one, I decided to prematurely light the first candle on my newly created Advent wreath. Perhaps I did so because I needed the promise of hope to shine now rather than to shine later. And so I lit the candle. Sully jumped up on to my lap and together we watched the one flame dance a dance of joy made ever more joyful with the drafts that blew through the many cracks and gaps in the windows of the old saltbox. As it danced, I wondered…

What would my first Sunday in Advent at the first church I was pastoring with my first congregation be like? What would the music be like? What would the attendance be? I wondered about those I would meet and come to know in the days and months and years to come. And all of a sudden, I wondered what would their Advent wreath be like? Would fake evergreen be used? Would there be no evergreen in favor of just a wrought iron ring?

My Sunday morning of firsts finally arrived. As I entered into the quiet sanctuary an hour before worship began, I noticed something that took away my apprehension and replaced my twinge of homesickness with the most reassuring “welcome home.” There before me was the church’s Advent wreath that looked oh so familiar. The wreath featured the same evergreen of every kind that I had just picked out in the woods, the fields and the hills of my new home. I soon learned that each year the wreath was made by the loving hands of those who knew what I had come to know—there is a healing balm out in the woods and hills and fields that God has blessed us with. And it is there in the simplicity of life, like gathering evergreen from your own backyard, that one can see more clearly that with God there is always an abundance of beauty to gaze upon, of daily bread to eat, and of grace to receive.

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The Advent wreath of evergreen collected from the woods and hills and fields all around the little white church. 

The first candle in Advent was lit on the first Sunday as an installed ordained pastor in the first church I was pastoring with my first ever faith family. And the candle danced with hope and with joy around a wreath of evergreen that reminded us all—God is like an evergreen cypress, a flourishing juniper…God’s faithfulness never ends.

May today you gather evergreen for your home and may it not be just some holiday decoration. May it be the reminder we need reminding of always—God is forever faithful.