Little Things Matter

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It’s the little things that matter the most. We have heard this saying before, but how often do we do those little things for others? Better yet, when was the last time you were the recipient of a “little thing”?

I didn’t realize how long it has been since I have been the recipient of one of those meaningful little things, until today. Before I share with you, a little background here.

It’s been a long, hard winter for me. I’m not just talking about how the ice, snow and cold have been holding my dear little community in Vermont hostage. It’s been long, hard winter in many ways beyond seasonal weather patterns.

The upheaval and uncertainties of a yearlong pandemic have been tiring and unsettling. Is it just me or have you also missed being able to see the smile of a stranger that you pass by on the street? I have always been one to nod and smile, but with mask wearing those smiles are gone. I miss them. I miss how a simple exchange of smiles could be a healing balm for your soul.

If the pandemic wasn’t enough, I have found all of the political banter and political correctness tiresome. I pray that my liberal friends won’t attack me for that sentence. But I can’t be alone in feeling this way, can I? I can’t be alone in feeling that whatever I say or do, it just isn’t right. I can’t be alone in my hesitancy to share how I feel for fear I will be labeled, misunderstood or unfriended. I find myself wondering if in the conversations for justice, if anyone will ever acknowledge that there is the danger of exhaustion and in that exhaustion comes exasperation and in that exasperation comes the very real desire of just giving up and walking away from trying to make the world a better place.

I know I have reached my limit — and broken down in tears out of sheer exhaustion and exasperation — when the Scottish bakery I have ordered from to receive scones and meat pies announced that its hot cross buns would no longer feature a cross made of icing on top of them. Out of respect for those who are not Christian, the cross has been removed from the bun. If you do want a cross, the company is more than happy to include a recipe card with your order as to how to make the icing and put the cross on the bun yourself. I have no words. I am dumbfounded. I am tired. Who would have thought a hot cross bun would push me to the point of enough?

It’s the little things …

I sit here pondering when I should be working. I don’t have the luxury for this. I need to be productive. But here I am pondering how I have chosen two careers/callings in life where I risk criticism for the things I say, do and write. I have chosen livelihoods that bring me to the frontlines of having to deal with navigating pandemics, talking justice and discerning the effects of a bakery’s decision to remove an icing cross from its seasonal buns that have been a tradition in many households, like mine, during Lent.

As a writer, the inner most parts of my heart find their way into words and are then sent out into the universe to be read, embraced, misunderstood, challenged, etc. It is an extremely vulnerable position to put yourself in, especially when lamenting about hot cross buns.

And then, on top of that, I said “yes” to the call of being a minister. I don’t even know where to begin describing what leading God’s children is often like. Think unruly sheep, Moses in the wilderness (worship around a golden calf, whining about the dinner menu that features only manna), etc. There are blessings, too. But they are far and few between. Rather, you hear more about how you have failed as a pastor because you didn’t offer a Zoom Bible story time for children, even though your congregation has no children at all. Not to mention, even if we did, children, I believe are overloaded with Zoom offerings and should really be outside in nature rather than in front of a screen.

Don’t misunderstand. I love what God has called me to. I am in awe that I have been tapped to use my love for writing to point us to the divine, to give God the glory, to tell the stories of Jesus’ redemption in our lives. It’s just many days your vulnerability is abused. Many days the sheep bite. Many days it seems the only letters people take time to write are the ones highlighting what they disliked or disagree with. And then there comes the day when the confectionary cross is removed from your hot cross bun.

So when I get a picture of a Presbyterians Today reader so excited to get the magazine that I edit, well, it is like a God hug. It is a thoughtful act that brings with it the warmth needed to begin melting my long, hard winter. It might seem insignificant, but it’s not.

Keris Dahlkamp, a youth director in a Presbyterian church in California, and Amy Young, hold up the magazine I edit. They were excited to get the issue and shared that excitement with me.

Yes, it’s the little things that matter the most. What little thing have you done today that might just mean the world to someone? Let me know. I will enjoy hearing from you as I nibble on a bun that can still be called a hot cross bun.

I still prefer my hot cross buns with an icing cross on top of them.

Our Shakespeare Moment

I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. It wasn’t because I was just so comfortable that I wanted to remain put a bit longer. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to disturb my two cats who found their way upstairs and decided to purr contently in the mess of blankets that I burrowed into more deeply on this chilly spring morning. It wasn’t because I really needed the extra rest. It wasn’t any of this. shakespeare-books
I couldn’t get out of bed this morning because I was scared of the news this day would bring. I was feeling helpless that I couldn’t do anything for others in this time of pandemic, except isolate myself from them. And, I was feeling a deep mourning that I never expected to feel. I was mourning the loss of my creativity.
Since the virus known as COVID-19 entered our lives, I have not been able to concentrate on reading, praying and worst of all, writing. And I feel lost. Words have always been my closet friends — there for me when I grieved, when I rejoiced, when I needed to vent, when I needed to speak up for justice, to get a point across or to comfort others. But now my “friends” have decided to social distance themselves from me.
This should be my moment to shine, shouldn’t it? To be a voice of hope and faith — of certainty in God’s goodness — in this time of uncertainty. It has been said that during times of crisis in history — even plagues— that great literary works have been written and songs composed. Artists were changed by the crisis — moved, touched and ultimately inspired.
Take for example, William Shakespeare.
At the end of the 16th century, a plague forced the closing of all theaters in London, similar to the lights currently going black on New York’s Broadway. Not being able to produce plays, Shakespeare turned to poetry. When theaters reopened, Shakespeare was back to writing his plays. But in the summer of 1606, at the very height of a successful theatrical season that included productions of King Lear and Macbeth, the flag was lowered at the Globe theater. The doors were locked. London was locking down as the plague had returned. It was a devastating time of uncertainty — and of death. Yet, Shakespeare biographers purport that this time shaped the future writings of this great literary genius in amazing ways. The death, the devastation, the darkness deepened his views of the world around him, added richness to his words.
I wonder, is this our time to be changed — to go deeper than we have ever gone before in how we understand the world, humanity, life, love and death? Is this time of social uprooting due to a virus named COVID-19 not just a temporary inconvenience, but a time to plant new roots in richer soil? To not be afraid to change direction and to go from plays to poetry; from traditional Sunday worship to video devotionals; to go from what we thought we should do to what we always dreamt of doing?
Could it be that our change in our daily routines — not being able to go to the office, or the gym or church as we once did — is pointing us to a new life that is less busy and less stressed?
Is this the much needed, and long overdue, moment to have our priorities called into question? Did we get fooled into a sense of security because our financial portfolios were doing well? Did we really understand the problems in our society what were kept in the shadows of our own contentment, our own needs, our own wants?
Perhaps this is our Shakespeare moment in which we have been invited to finally see the world for what it is — broken, hurting and unjust for many. Perhaps this is our Shakespeare moment not necessarily to have our creativity soar to new heights so that our words and ideas take centerstage for worldly accolades, but to step back and allow death, devastation and darkness the opportunity to deepen our worldview, our faith, our lives — no matter how painful or uncomfortable that will be.
Perhaps this is our Shakespeare moment in which when this crisis passes — and it will — a new richness will bless our lives. Richness beyond material things. Richness of resiliency. Richness of rest. Richness of rejoicing. Richness that comes when we lean fearlessly into the words spoken at the start of the Lenten season that from dust we come and to dust we return.
I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. I was feeling overwhelmed. My inner Shakespeare just didn’t want to pick up the quill to write. And that’s okay. This is not a time to shine. This is a time to ponder, a time to pray, a time to prepare for the great works that are to come from a crisis that is changing my heart — and yours.

Donna Frischknecht is editor of Presbyterians Today magazine. She is also a part-time rural pastor serving a congregation in upstate New York on the border of Vermont. 

 

Back Again

It’s been awhile since I have sat down at my old farm table to reflect on all the beautiful God moments I stumble upon in my daily walk as an accidental country pastor.

It’s been awhile because since taking a giant leap of faith last fall to move back home to Vermont—without a job and no clear sense of what God was calling me to do—I have been on a spiritual rollercoaster of sorts, strapped in for a ride that would take me slowly up and up and up to dizzying views of what can be only to have that view blurred by the sickening descent down to the realities of how exactly will my life play out.

Up and down. Down and up. Left turn. Right turn. Stop. Wait. Proceed. Not now. Go.

God, what are you up to?

I found myself taking refuge in my garden, quilting (my husband is wondering just how many quilts we need!) and going on daily prayer walks. I found myself being put in a place of retreat, withdrawing from not only the world, but myself. I found myself not eager to write, for I didn’t want to hear what it was my heart and soul was saying. The words—harsh or honest or inspiring and comforting—it didn’t matter, I just wanted all noise to be silenced.

As for my prayers on those solitary walks on overgrown paths of wildflowers, cat tails and a rabbit or two, they were not eloquent nor were they poetically rich with meaning. They were simplicity at its best. The prayers were just one name I shouted in my heart repeatedly. A name of a friend I couldn’t find anymore; a friend I felt I had lost.

“God. God. God…”

Early morning August 1. I sat in the vintage Queen Anne wing chair (made vintage by the claws of my cats) feeling anxious. I had one more dentist appointment scheduled to finally put an end to the summer-long saga of my root canal. I wasn’t anxious, though, of the crown I was about to get. If anything, that would be a piece of cake. I was anxious because the first time since leaping in faith into the unknown, I had no work lined up for the month. No freelance stories due. No preaching gigs. I was feeling lost. I was scared.

God, what are you up to?

I was about to do what I do best. Jump into something out of fear without thinking it through. I was going to see what part-time retail jobs were available in the nearest town to our little fledgling farm.

My husband, though, talked me out of it throwing back words I have thrown at him many times.

“Wait. Be still. Trust God.”

And so, I did.

I continued my search for my friend only to discover—once again—that God was always right there with me. God was never lost in my life. I was lost from God. My anxiousness to know the future and my fear of it, stole me away from my faithful friend.

I’m back now. Back at my farm table writing. I’m still a wee bit hesitant as to what my heart and soul will say to me in the words that will be pieced together into sentences. But this I know.

The God moments—those filled with divine light and those shrouded in holy darkness—are just too beautiful not to embrace, celebrate and share.

I’m back. The calendar is full, praise God. But beyond the scheduled days is a lesson I hope never to forget. That is, never fear and be anxious when life seems empty. Just wait. Be still. Retreat a little if you must. And trust with all your might. God is at work.

Postscript

On August 21, I was named the new interim editor of my denomination’s magazine, Presbyterians Today. Great is God’s faithfulness for my prayer since coming home to Vermont was to return to my editorial roots, while still serving God. And so, I am IMG_8527 (1)working in my 18th century home here in Vermont, sharing the amazing ways God is at work in our congregations and communities. I also continue to preach in the rural churches in the area. Thank you all for being on this journey with me.

The only sad news to report is that I might have to put getting goats on hold. Not enough time for now.

Hold Loosely

I remember back in my reporter days for a business magazine hearing from a sales motivational coach who said at the beginning of his presentation that if you walked away with only one nugget of wisdom, he had done his job. Just one nugget. That’s all it took to not only make his talk worthwhile financially, but worthwhile in terms of making your business better.

That advice changed my life as I have always remembered it didn’t do you any good getting bogged down with lists of tips or bullet pointed must do’s in order to change your life for the better. All it took was one nugget—received and then acted upon.

Such a nugget recently came my way and it has made a wonderful impact on my life. Early this summer I was attending a writing symposium at Princeton Theological Seminary. I was gathered in a group of advanced writers who had the opportunity to hone our craft, share our prose and talk one-on-one with a former pastor-turned mother-turned published author of teen devotionals and other such books.

One afternoon, as we were gathered in small groups practicing and perfecting our elevator pitches to be used someday on potential book agents, the former pastor-turned mother-turned published author offered some sound advice. She said when writing a sermon, a daily reflection for a devotional, a scene to a mystery novel, whatever it is you’re writing, don’t ever be tied down to the words or ideas you are so in love with.

You might have a vision of where you want your story to go, but many times the story will have a life of its own. Let your story live. Be brutal and pry yourself away from that too long paragraph, that extra descriptive scene, that conversation between two characters that doesn’t move the story forward. Yes, you might think it is the most brilliant thing you have ever written, but holding tightly to your words doesn’t make for a delightful read. Hold loosely the words you write, she said. Cut and paste and put aside. You might eventually include what was cut. Or you might use those words in a different way. Or you might come to see they weren’t as great as you thought them to be.

It’s all okay. Hold loosely.images.jpg

Out of all the nuggets of wisdom gathered at that conference, her nugget is the one I keep hearing and applying  beyond my writing. For how many times do we find ourselves holding on to something we are so enthralled by but it isn’t moving our story forward? How many times do we refuse to edit out something that isn’t good for us? How many times do we cling tightly to something that has died a long time ago? Isn’t it true we tend to stay too long on the battlefield, bloodied and beaten down, never realizing the skirmish has long been over?

While the preacher side of me always gravitates to the message that there’s always hope for tomorrow and that God can revive all that is lagging, there’s also the reality that a seed must first die before bringing forth new life. We are to hold on to hope, but our hope is in the promise of resurrection. And resurrection cannot happen without the holding loosely—and the eventual letting go—that death asks of us.

Hold loosely—to your words.

Hold loosely—to your ideas.

Hold loosely—to your future plans.

Hold loosely—to even those you love and things you love.

Cut and paste and put aside. The story of your life will be brilliant. Just let God offer His revisions.

Into the Deep End of Gladness

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner

Not sure why I wrote this quote in my journal. It wasn’t as if I’ve never heard it before. I had. Many times over. There I was, though, scribbling it down as if the words were brand-spanking new to ears I thought were deaf by now to such pithy quotes. The longer you’re in ministry the longer the list of these quotes seems to get.

I scribbled and reread it. Then I underlined “deep gladness” and read it some more. Next, I circled “deep hunger” and read it yet again. Then “God,” “call,” “meet.” The words were taking on an exciting new life. The speaker at the clergy conference I was attending continued as I gazed down at the fresh ink marks made on the soft gray lines of the bright white journal paper.

“If you don’t know where your deep gladness is—find it,” he commanded, emphasizing “find it” with enough power and punch to get his point across.

It was then my pen jumped at his command and began dancing across the page of my journal. Like the Bible story about the writing on the wall mysteriously appearing in the courts before King Belshazzar that mesmerized me as a child I, too, looked at the words before me wanting to know what they meant, for it was a message I didn’t quite understand or, better yet, didn’t trust to be true.

The mysterious words were, “I do know.”

Really? I do know where my deep gladness has the ability of meeting the world’s hunger?

I thought some more about the divine message that I could no longer ignore—or even erase from my journal. Darn. I knew I should have written this down in pencil! But the truth was let loose.

I did know where my deep gladness was. I knew, but some where and some how I had let life get in the way. How strange it is that the things we need to do in order to “live” are often the very things robbing us of deep gladness? If only we were more aware of that which makes the heart leap for joy would we then start seeing God’s kingdom becoming a beautiful reality in our midst.

This is especially true of our faith communities where, in sacred spaces and on holy ground, time and energy is spent trying to solve the problems of low attendance and little money. Focus on what is thought to give new life, though, actually thwarts the new life Jesus is offering. What is all too soon forgotten is revival begins first by reconnecting with one’s deep gladness. And this deep gladness is always accompanied with the gifts, talents, resources, energy, etc., needed to satiate a hungering world.

Yes, the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Find that deep gladness now, for the world is indeed hungering.

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Deep gladness is found out in God’s big backyard where the accidental country pastor’s passion for rural ministry meets the hungering needs of small churches.