Heart Matters: “Hugs on Hope Street”

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“Your job focuses on families and steering the Christian
education program for children,” the minister said, reciting a job
description that quite honestly left me flat.

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Don’t get me wrong — I was excited and, yes, grateful for the
opportunity to work in ministry.

After all, hadn’t I been asking God to guide me out of my
12-year fashion editorial career and lead me to ways of using my
writing and marketing skills in ministry? Still, I couldn’t help
wondering…children? I was more interested in the elderly and
hospice work.

Then the words of my boyfriend, John, played in my head: “God’s
ways are not ours.” I accepted the children’s education director
position at my church, albeit with a lot of trepidation.

God’s ways are not ours…So true. I wiped away a tear as I
remembered how five months earlier, on Christmas Eve, I’d sat in
the sanctuary at the very church where I was now officially
employed, thanking God for how my life was coming together. John,
who’d taken a sabbatical from his career to travel the world, had
been home for the holidays and our relationship was strong. My
fledgling freelance business was moving in the right direction, and
soon-very soon-John would be home from his travels permanently.
Then I’d finally take the plunge, leave my corporate job, and
enroll in seminary. I’d stared at the altar cross with tears of
gratitude in my eyes. Thank you, God.

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And another prayer had come from nowhere into my mind. “God,” I’d
said aloud, “let me remember this moment of gratitude, for when the
dark times hit, I want to stay true to you.”

A month later John was killed in a Jeep accident in Africa.
Devastated, I remembered the altar cross and tried to cling tightly
to my Christmas Eve prayer.

The children proved to be the healing balm I needed. Their smiles
and laughter were contagious as we learned about Jesus. Their
innocent questions and awe at the world made me reconnect with my
childlike awe. Each time I felt a tug at my skirt and saw a pair of
wide eyes looking up at me or a voice calling me Pastor Donna, I
felt God’s grace that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And
I felt John close by saying, “It’s okay.”

Another Christmas Eve approached, only this time I was Pastor
Donna. I couldn’t help but look at the altar cross as I’d done the
previous year and thank God for all he’d done in my life, despite
the tragedy.

Still, there was a void in my heart. It was hard not to notice how
drastically my life had changed in the course of a year. That void
seemed to grow bigger, especially as Christmas neared.

One day, my heartache was almost overwhelming when 3-year-old
Nadia hopped in my lap. With a peck on my cheek, she squeezed my
hand and looked in the direction where I stared. Together we gazed
upon the cross.

A tear trickled down my cheek. But it wasn’t one of sadness — it
was one that comes from experiencing God’s grace. God saw what I
needed in that moment of quiet despair and he gave me a hug from
Nadia. It was the best Christmas gift ever.

None of the children know how they’ve helped me in my year of
living without John and in my transition into ministry…that is,
into children’s ministry.

I often entertain the crazy idea of writing a letter to each child
in my ministry, telling them how their hugs and hearts have healed
me. I imagine giving the letters to their parents for safekeeping
until the kids are old enough to understand. Instead, I simply
return their hugs. John was right: God’s ways aren’t ours. No –
they’re so much better if we just believe and trust.

By the way, the church where I get those healing hugs? It’s called
Emmanuel — which means “God with us,” and it’s on a street named
Hope.

Donna Frischknecht is a Christian education director in Ridgewood,
New Jersey.

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