What’s Your Super Power?

I’m a sucker for Halloween. I’ve always been. Show me an old-fashioned jack o’lantern flickering with candlelight on an eerily still autumn evening, and I am bewitched. Walk through a blanket of fallen leaves, kicking up the golden and crimson carpet to make the crunching louder, and I am captivated. Give me a bowlful of candy corn (with some bite-sized peanut butter cups), and I am your friend for life. There’s just something about this ancient Celtic festival that captures my imagination.

So, when I found myself picking up a few household items at a discount store, I wasn’t surprised that I instinctively made my way to the store’s Halloween shop. As I walked up and down the aisles I couldn’t believe how much of a big business Halloween had become. When I was a child, costumes were made from pillowcases and sheets or bought at the local Woolworth’s. Those costumes came in a box complete with a plastic mask held on by an elastic band that if you pulled to tightly around your head, it would hurt. Let’s not forget, as well, the many stumbles and falls while trick or treating all because the mask would slide down or sideways, impairing one’s vision.

With each plastic skull, battery-operated pumpkin and motion-sensor bat I picked up, I reminisced about the good old days of Halloween when simplicity made it special.

I steered my cart around the corner only to discover something incredibly scary. A group of five-year-olds were in an excited frenzy grabbing for the costumes they wanted. While a few costumes were zombie and werewolf inspired, many were of superheroes. That’s when I overheard the salesperson, thrown into this chaos like bait to hungry sharks, ask one of the children what superpower they had.

The child was so animated in his reply I had to sneak a peek into the mom’s cart to see if he had already devoured a bag of candy. Nope. No sugar high. This was just the child’s normal behavior. Note to self: Say a prayer for his mother.

“I have the power of cutting people into two,” he screamed. I edged slowly away from the four-foot menace, but still close enough to hear his mom feebly scold him on how it wasn’t nice to hurt people. The boy came up with another answer.

“How about put them in a pit of snakes?”

Before his mother could answer, the sales associate intervened.

“What about having good superpowers?” she asked. She then shared with the little boy a long list of all the good he can do if he had superpowers. The boy, not quite on board with the notion of good superpowers, quietly considered what he heard. As he did, I walked away deep in my own thoughts.

We all have superpowers, don’t we? How often, though, do we use them? There’s the super power of prayer. Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find. Yet when was the last time we boldly came before God to ask, to seek or just to simply talk to our trusted, dependable and mighty friend?

There’s the super power of forgiveness, a power that heals broken relationships, families and communities. There’s the super power of love, which is one super power Jesus himself commanded us to use all the time. Love one another just as I have loved you, he said, before going to the cross for us. Then there is the super power of faith in God who has shown us countless times how God is one who keeps a promise. Are we forsaken? Alone? Hopeless? No, we aren’t because God said He would never leave us.

And yet, the world around us seems to be like that little boy who would rather use power to hurt rather than to heal. What if we were more like that sales associate, who I have sainted for her patience and wisdom with five-year-olds, urging our children to think of the help they can give others? What if this Halloween all the gore was replaced with good? What if there were more angels trick or treating than devils?

What if…

This Halloween, the little white church in the rural village I serve will once again have its front lawn lit with jack o’lanterns proclaiming a message of faith for trick or treaters to see. It’s a tradition I started years ago because I just don’t love the sight of glowering pumpkins. I love the sight of God’s word illuminating dark skies and filling His children with awe.

This year’s word shining out to the community is going to be simple — PEACE, a superpower we all have in superhero belts and one we need to share with others. For blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said.

What superpower will you use this Halloween?


Pumpkins glowing with an inspirational message in front of the little white church. This year’s message will be “Peace.”

Weathered Wood and Coming Home

The little village was just beginning to come to life on what was a picture perfect Fourth of July. As I pulled into the parking lot of the little white church I noticed a few early birds had already claimed their spot on the parade route. At least they had nice weather in which to wait in, I thought.

I, myself, took a deep breath in as I got out of the car and allowed my eyes to linger up at the blue skies. I couldn’t remember a more beautiful holiday than this.

The clear skies and cool temps were ideal for the “big” parade—big meaning lots of firetrucks, a few pickup trucks and tractors transformed into floats thanks to the invention of crepe paper and balloons and one band and a group of bagpipers joining the teens which made up the high school band.

Still it was “big” in terms of the hearts who marched out of love for country, love for village, love for tradition, love for one another. My own heart filled with a love I thought I would never feel again.

A love for a home that I never expected to find, then lose, and then, by the grace of God, find again.

Many times, I had pulled into this parking lot when I was the little white church’s pastor and many times I would stop before heading inside to gaze at the weathered clapboards. And many times, I would look beyond the weathered wood and see what other eyes could not.

I would see a vision of hope.

I gazed again. And there it was. Hope shining back at me.

Just then my friend who was going to join me in watching the big parade pulled into the parking lot. I could hear the engine shutting down, the clicking of her seat belt, the slam of the car door and the beep of the car being locked. Soon she was standing by me, gazing too at the weathered wood.

“It needs a lot of work,” she said.

“Yep, it does,” I nodded.

“It’s a big structure,” she said.

“Yep, it is,” I nodded.

As we scanned the expanse of the slate roof, I described to her how the roof was being supported by the most incredible hand hewn beams that a building inspector once showed me many years ago while climbing high into the old rafters on a hot, humid summer day, making the old wood smell even more pronounced.

“Hmmm…” she said and that was all.


She sensed I didn’t want this sacred moment of gazing at weathered wood broken by the not so sacred discussion of painting and slate repair costs.

Instead she said, “You’re home, aren’t you?”


Weathered wood stands as a testimony not only to time, but to God’s grace and our faith in future.

I nodded a short “yep” not wanting the tears of gratitude to start falling.

“I’ve always had this vision….” and then I began sharing the hope I saw in the weathered wood.

Hope that withstood the storms of life and the harsh elements of setbacks and trials. Hope in which was asked to lay dormant many a winter waiting and waiting and waiting for spring’s rebirth to come again.

“I’ve always had this vision…” my parking lot sermonizing was over.

My friend kept staring at the church. I couldn’t tell if she now saw my weathered wood vision.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

She saw.

As we walked up street (as my husband, the local boy, would say, always leaving out the “the” that I would put in when indicating I was going “up the street”), I silently prayed for more eyes to see the beauty—and the hope—in weathered wood.

For it’s there. Always. With faith, we can and will see God’s beauty.


What I Really Need

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

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 and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 6:

The bells clanked away as I made my way into the grocery store. There standing around the Salvation Army’s red kettle were a bunch of kids with their moms. I wasn’t sure if they were with one of the many churches in the little rural village or with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or perhaps the 4-H or FFA, that is Future Farmers of America, which many of the kids who once ran down to the little white church I pastored were active in. It didn’t matter. They were there giving their time on a week night to collect money for those who might not have enough to make the holiday a happy one. images-1

I smiled at them as I passed by with my cart, letting them know I would donate on my way.

“Promise?” one boy asked.

“Promise,” I answered.

With that promise made, I set out to get the groceries I needed—and only the groceries I needed. I vowed that I would not fill my cart up with impulse items like I tend to do. Just ask my husband. I am a sucker for anything labeled “limited time only.” Do I really need another box of pumpkin spice Cheerios? No. I don’t. But wait. What’s this? Egg nog flavored…step away from the shelf and keep on shopping.

Do I really need…

That question lingered in my head as I shopped. I thought about all I had. Yes, money was tight now that my husband and I had moved back home to Vermont. I gave up a steady paycheck and a church job with benefits, not easy to come by these days in any vocation, but especially in ministry. But the move back wasn’t about financial gain. It was about something even better. Spiritual gain. It was about living. Really living. Living simply. Living to enjoy the early morning sunrises. Living to be able to take a walk on the rail trail behind our little country home. Living to be able to raise chickens again. Living to be able to get back to ministering in an area where a helping hand to lift up those who are struggling with not having enough was needed. Spiritual gain that far outweighed any paycheck.

Somewhere along the way I had forgotten what real living was all about. Three years I was in exile of sorts. Living but not really. My faith was tested and I was often feeling more empty and hungry than fulfilled, even with all that I had. It was then I realized I had to fix my life. I had to once again remember what really mattered.

As I stood at the checkout line I could hear the bell ringers ringing those bells with much enthusiasm. I smiled and wondered how many cashiers on duty they were driving crazy?

I looked at the groceries riding down the conveyor belt to be rung up. I did a good job at sticking to my list. But how was I doing at the job in sticking to the other list?

The list of what I really needed? God and God alone.

The teens at the little white church were gathered in the chapel one weekday morning in Advent. We gathered to have breakfast together and to share God’s word with one another before going to school. Since it was Advent, the scripture I shared with them was of course about Jesus’ birth and what it meant to those who waited so long for hope to come into their lives. We talked and shared and then it happened. One girl, who was deep in thought, spoke up. And what she said I will always treasure.

Why is it that the focus on Christmas is about wanting so many things we don’t need? All that the people in Jesus’ time ever wanted was hope in their lives. And God delivered. We don’t seem to ask God for what we really need, do we?

I took my bags that were filled with just my daily bread and nothing more. And with the money spent on things I didn’t need, I fulfilled my promise to the little boy ringing the bell at the big red kettle.

“God bless you,” he said to me.

“God bless you,” I said back.

And as the clanging of the bells faded into the distant, I could hear something even more beautiful. I could hear God answering the prayers of those who were asking for what was needed the most. More faith, more trust, more God.




Those in Exile

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

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 and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 1:

O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

Advent is a season that begins in a puzzling way for our culture. It begins not with the festive “ho, ho, ho’s” and bright twinkling lights. Advent begins with the dark still hovering over the land, with people yearning to see light.

It’s a season that begins with the invitation for us to listen to the voices of those in exile. To really listen to the mournful voices who cry out to God to be delivered from suffering. The voices who beg to be heard. The voices who simply want to be “home.”

We’re in a season where that ache to be home is very real for so many. The ache could be the desire to be physically home. My sister knows that ache. She and her husband moved to Florida a few weeks ago and are having to live in an extended-stay motel as the completion date of their house has been delayed. Her hope to have been in their new home for Christmas will probably not happen this year.

The joy of beginning a new chapter is not quite what she had envisioned. She had envisioned a glistening Christmas tree standing in her very own living room. But here she is. Right now. Not home. Yet.

Then there is the ache that I think is the more common this time of year. One we know all too well, especially as we get older. The ache to return to the home of one’s childhood. There you can once again smell the warm sugar cookies mom is taking out of the oven. You can see dad teetering on the ladder positioning the faded plastic reindeer just right. You can see the faces of all you love gathered at the dinner table. Their faces are glowing in the light of the candles on the Advent wreath.

We’re in the season of Advent and it’s a time to take note of those who long to be home. It’s time to hear their voices and offer them a listening ear, an understanding heart, the patience of a saint to perhaps listen to a story of Christmas past you have heard many times before. It’s time to offer a tissue to catch the tear from the eye of a friend who longs for a loved one who has gone home.

Advent is about the promise that is coming. The promise that no matter what exile you find yourself in there will be rejoicing again. The light of Christ will break through the darkness.

I know a little a bit about being in exile.

This time last year I was longing to be home again in Vermont. I knew God had a plan for me. I knew God had ministry for me to do back home. I knew it. But God knew I also had some things to learn while away from home. I needed once again to trust in the darkness. I needed to wait for the rejoicing to come. I needed to continue loving God, worshipping God, seeking God, even when it seemed God had checked me off the “nice” list and was making sure I wouldn’t get my Christmas wish list fulfilled.

I was tempted to give up, give in. There were days in which I had to face the reality that perhaps I couldn’t go back home. Then, as it was to the children of Israel so long ago, their time of waiting ended. It was time to go home. God heard in the most unexpected ways and God led me back.

And here I now sit back at my farm table writing, in my role as “an accidental country pastor,” traveling country roads dotted with cows and back to the way of life that those in the little white church I once pastored invited me to be part of—a life filled with an unwavering hope in the future, no matter how dark the days get, because they have seen how God has never let the down.

As we begin our Advent journey, may you remember that God never lets you down either. God always hears the cries of those in exile and leads us back to the place in which we will once again find ourselves rejoicing.

Scripture to Reflect On

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called:  The Lord Our Righteous Savior.


A candle of hope burns on the sill of my kitchen window. 

Day 23—Be Near Me Lord Jesus

A Little White Church Christmas

As we approach Christmas Eve, hear the stories of God incarnate working in and among the people of the little white church nestled in a village in Upstate New York. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during Donna Frischknecht’s time serving as minister of a historic white clapboard church right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 23

It was my worst nightmare come true as a pastor. I woke up the Sunday morning before Christmas Eve with a queasy stomach and a pounding headache. I tried convincing myself it was probably the Chinese food I had the night before—darn my love of greasy egg rolls and fried wontons—but I knew I was only fooling myself. The 24-hour bug that was making its way through all the kids at the little white church had finally reached me.

“You don’t look so hot,” was my husband’s loving observation when I came down the stairs for breakfast.

“I don’t feel so hot,” was my meager reply.

I just had to get through the morning worship. So had a piece of toast and took a swig of some Pepto Bismal and off to church we drove.

“Please, Lord, let me just get through this morning,” was my prayer as my husband drove and I sat in the passenger seat trying my best to not let each curve he took upset my stomach more.

Luckily, the service for the morning was a new tradition for the little church. It was a variation on the traditional Lessons and Carols. I called it our “Lessons and Carols and Witnessing to the Light” as children would read the scripture lessons and several adults from the congregation would share their stories of God at work in their lives based on the scripture just read. And so I was off the hook for preaching.

“I can do this,” I kept telling myself. “Just greet people, say the opening prayer and wrap it up with a benediction.”

In addition to the lessons and the stories of faith, there was the reenactment of the nativity complete with children dressed as shepherds, sheep and angels. Oh, and the special treat that year would be a real baby Jesus! I had never been in a church where, come the month of December, there was an actual baby to play the starring role.

Holden was born that August and his sister, Ida, would be playing Mary and so chances were the baby “Jesus” wouldn’t cry with familiar arms holding him. Twenty-four hour bug or not, I wasn’t going to miss this. And so it began.

I said my opening prayer and took a seat in the pew so I could watch the nativity unfold. Unfortunately, the bug started to act up and I couldn’t really pay attention to anything that was going in that hour worship. All I knew is that I wanted to get home as quickly as I could.

The congregation knew their pastor looked a little green and they were all so understanding as I said a quick good-bye right after the benediction. But before leaving the sanctuary, my parents, who had driven up from New Jersey, said their quick good byes and put into my hands a bag with a gift that pushed my queasy stomach to its limits. In the bag was huge jar of pickled herring.

“Get me home now,” was all I could say to my husband after I graciously thanked my parents, and put the pickled herring in the back of the car.

We finally got home and I was down for the count. The bug had defeated me.

It was a grueling afternoon and early evening, but by the time the stars came out in the night sky, I was feeling a bit better physically; but not emotionally.

I was bummed out as I thought that morning’s worship service was a total flop. Yes, I was being hard on myself, but I continued to ask my husband the same questions over and over again.

“Did everything go well during worship?”

“Are you sure?”

“You’re not lying to me, are you?”

“Why are you asking me this? Everything went perfectly,” he said.

The fact was I really didn’t know how anything went because I was so out of it. I still doubted his reassurances and continued to feel glum.

I climbed back into bed now praying for strength to get through the two Christmas Eve services that were, yikes, in less than 24 hours.

Just as I fluffed my pillows to settle in for some more rest with a glass of flat ginger ale—I wasn’t ready for the pickled herring yet—the message alert on my phone went off. I leaned over to discover it was from one of the mothers at the little white church who was really enjoying her newfound passion for photography.

She had hoped I was feeling better and wanted to share all the pictures she took of that morning’s worship service.

I opened the file of pictures and began seeing my husband was not lying to me. Picture after picture told the story of a beautiful service that actually took place even though I was too sick to notice.

There were smiles from adults at the lectern sharing their stories of faith and smiles from those listening in the pews. There were the girls dressed as angels standing in the front of the church and there was the parade of shepherds with their sheep—and a cow thrown in there as well. There was even a bright gold star dancing around trying to show the shepherds the way to stable.

All of a sudden I began to realize God was at work that morning even though I was out of commission. It was then I understood what pastors told me when I became ordained.

“It’s never about you. It’s always about God working through you and the congregation. God always shows up and is fully present even during those times in life when you struggle to show up and be fully present to God.”

My finger kept sliding through the pictures of a Sunday before Christmas Eve worship service where God was fully present and working through all the faithful gathered that morning—fully present to Him.

Worship continued to God even though there was a picture of the pastor sitting in the pew looking a bit green.

My mood went from glum to happy and then happy to feeling completely blessed for the last picture I opened was the one that captured the Spirit at work the best.

There before my eyes was baby Jesus reaching up with his little hand to lovingly grab hold of Mary’s hair.

I didn’t notice that was happening at all that morning. But the smiles of the other children gathered around Mary and Jesus told me they noticed something special taking place.

And Mary’s face, played by big sister, Ida, said so much without saying a word. With her eyes closed behind the glasses she got that year (yes, Mary had glasses!) she bowed her head in prayer and smiled sweetly as the rest of the shepherds and angels and sheep and one cow and a dancing gold star began to sing, “Away in the Manger.”

All the while as the children sang baby Jesus held onto Mary who continued to be deep in prayer.

I stared at that picture. And stared some more.

How many times, I wondered, was Jesus reaching out his hand to me, gently tugging at either my heart or grabbing at my soul, to let me know in my time of prayer that he was indeed with me?

How many times has Jesus lovingly tugged at my hair to reassure me, “I got you and I will never let you go.”

That Sunday before Christmas Eve a pesky 24-hour bug taught me a beautiful lesson.

I learned God always shows up and is fully present to us, even when we ourselves are not fully present to God—no matter what the reason might be.

May this day before Christmas Eve you find your head bowed in prayer. And may you feel a gentle tug of God incarnate reaching out and holding on to you.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,

I ask Thee to stay,

close by me forever,

and love me,I pray. 





Day 22—Truly He Taught Us

A Little White Church Christmas

As we approach Christmas Eve, hear the stories of God incarnate working in and among the people of the little white church nestled in a village in Upstate New York. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during Donna Frischknecht’s time serving as minister of a historic white clapboard church right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 22

We love because God first loved us.  1 John 4:19

 The lights had just been dimmed a bit more in the sanctuary of the little white church. With my sermon now over, we were making our way through the order of worship, getting ever so closer to the candlelight singing of “Silent Night.” Before that moment, though, there was the soloist who would sing “O Holy Night.”images

I had asked our pianist’s son to be present with us on Christmas Eve to sing this beloved song. I was so happy when he agreed for while he was just out of high school he had a voice that I would place in the same category of Pavarotti. Yes, his voice was that good.

In a way his singing would be a gift to me as it provided what I would call more breathing room in the order of worship for the Holy Spirit to move among us. It was a space for grace in which I as a pastor could sit back and reflect on the words I had just preached. And, hopefully, it would be a space for grace for those in the pews to also reflect on God’s word proclaimed.

And so the last word of my sermon was spoken and I sat back down in the official looking “pastor’s chair” with its ornately carved wooden legs and armrests complete with a regal velvet seat.

The anticipation of the night heightened. Our pianist struck the first ivory key and her son hit the first perfect note.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.

Within seconds I felt as if I was being transported to that actual night when something so indescribable and so life changing happened. I could imagine the awe, the beauty, the joy…

Indescribable. Life changing. Wait. I didn’t have to imagine. That was happening right here, right now, I realized.

In the past year of ministry together I had many indescribable moments of lives being changed not by the latest church fads or prepackage programs on how to grow your church or lead a successful stewardship campaign. I could tell of many indescribable moments of lives being changed through times of more praying, times of more trusting and times of keeping our eyes on Jesus rather than the stormy waves all around us. No, I didn’t have to imagine something indescribable as God awakening His children. I could see it.

The young Pavarotti from rural America continued hitting perfect note after perfect note.

In all our trials, born to be our friend.

Ah, those pesky trials. There were those as well. Every church has them but just recently I had begun to see the blessings born out of trials. God does do His best work in dark times, I mused, as I thought about how God protected this little white church through showers, squalls and storms. And the storms were weathered due to the fact that deeper friendships were being forged with Jesus through coming together for more prayer, study and times of serving.

The singing continued to gift us all…

Truly He taught us to love one another.

Love. Just the other day a woman from the congregation gave me a Christmas card. It was an adorable bear dressed as an angel smiling and bringing good tidings of joy with the scripture message written beneath, “We love because God first loved us.”

I took notice of that card more than I usually would take notice because I found it interesting the scripture was from 1 John. I had never seen that before on a Christmas card. Usually Isaiah’s words of a “son has been given unto us…and his name shall be…” or the angels’ song of “glory to God in the highest” find their way onto a greeting card. Not this card. This was reminding us of why we love—because God first loved us.

Truly He taught us to love one another.

Love. That’s what it comes down to, I said to myself silently. Jesus had taught us how to love one another and while it seems hard at times or perhaps many times, love really is the glue that holds all things together.

I remember as I was moving up to serve this little village I was given words of advice. First, everyone was related in some way or another, so be careful about what you say about anyone.

I looked down at my engagement ring and wedding band and swirled the white gold and diamonds around my finger. I was now part of the being related to someone in the little village I served as pastor. It was just six months before on a beautiful June morning the “pastor from the city” married the “local boy.” It was a community-wide celebration of answered prayers—and 17 flower girls, all from the village, who were excited that Pastor Donna was finally getting married.

Secondly, I was told the good news about life in a little village was everyone knew you. The bad news was everyone knew you.

Good and bad, people knew what was going on in your life, which at times I had learned could get complicated, tricky or just plain contentious. And yet I had also learned that no matter what differences people had or what long-time grudges were held, when a person was in need, differences and grudges were put aside and love, no matter how difficult to show, was shown.

That was new to me. Growing up in a more congested area, people were quicker to forget you or less likely to help you. But in a little village, there was this overriding sense that no matter what, we were all in this life together.

Truly, the people of the little white church taught me what it meant to love one another. For it was these people I was brought to shepherd who instead shepherd me in the way of forgiveness and by doing so helped me to experience the healing grace it brings.

Churches, I realized, are like families. There will be squabbles and downright disagreements. Sides might be taken and the ties that bind might fray, but in a rural village and church, the frays very rarely snap completely apart.

That night, as the young Pavarotti sang, the lesson of love continued as the Spirit worked among all, opening hearts ever more wider to one another.

I looked out at the congregation and it seemed to me they, too, were being transported to their own indescribable life changing moments God has blessed them with.

It was indeed a holy night.