A prayer for those who have become hashtags

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

O God, Almighty and merciful,
Who heals the broken-hearted,
and turns the sadness of the sorrowful to joy:

Let your goodness be upon all that you have made.

Remember with compassion those who are this day
Destitute, homeless, or forgotten by humanity.

Bless the poor and down-trodden.

Uplift those who are cast down.

Mightily befriend innocent sufferers,
And lift them from their sorrows,
Sanctifying and preserving them.

Cheer with hope all discouraged people,
And by your grace renew them.

Though trouble comes from every side,
Let them not fall into distress.

Though injustice runs amok,
Let them not be dismayed.

For you are the One who lifts the poor from the dust,
And who tramples the power of the mighty.

Grant this prayer, O Lord,
Through Him who became poor and cast down,
And Who rose and calls the downtrodden to rise with him:

Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

May Breonna Taylor’s memory be more than a hashtag,
And may we die to injustice, and rise to new life.
Based on a collect from the Book of Common Prayer, 1952

Why pray?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Working in Youth Ministry I often get asked this question:

“Why do I need to pray?”

Have you ever asked this question? I don’t believe there’s a perfect answer for everyone, but I do believe there are some universal truths about prayer. 

I pray because it makes me feel closer to God…

When we are intentional about our time in prayer, we begin to open a line of communication between ourselves and God.

Prayer is a perfect opportunity to explore our hearts, share everything with God, and begin relieving ourselves of things that may be weighing us down.

When we allow ourselves time to reflect and to deal with those things causing us stress, anxiety and emotional distress, we allow God to work from the inside out.

Leaving things unresolved can make it difficult for us to be honest, let down and vulnerable, sometimes causing our prayers to be distracted.

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
   and I will tell what he has done for me.
I cried aloud to him,
   and he was extolled with my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
   the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
   he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God,
   because he has not rejected my prayer
   or removed his steadfast love from me.

– Psalm 66:16-20

“Prayer lets me focus on someone other than me,
but I feel like I am being blessed too…”

Do we focus on God every day? I know this is a struggle for me.

In times like now, I struggle to focus on just about everything. This includes focusing on God.

I realize our routines are no longer … well, routine.

We can find ourselves filling our days with worry and anxiety about things yet to come, whose results are unknown.

When we allow ourselves to be weighed down and burdened with the unknown, we can find ourselves forgetting to set aside time to focus on God.

When we pray, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to center our soul and find that small still voice that says, “You are mine, and I am here with you.”

Prayer can unlock us. Prayer refocuses us on God and not on ourselves.

When we pray, we stop believing we’re the only ones capable of solving our problems. We can be honest with the one who loves us regardless of what we have done.

“I believe in the power of prayer and that it can transform…”

Have you ever had someone tell you they are praying for you?

Have you ever told someone else you are praying for them?

When I was a child, I remember my grandmother telling me every time she saw me, “I am praying for you every day that God will hold you.”

It gave me a sense of peace, even though I really didn’t understand why at the time.

In the darkest of times we, as the body of Christ, gather together to pray. Each of us praying in our own words and in our own way.

Praying that God will change the situation, or praying that those affected will know peace and love.

We pray for transformation. But we ourselves are transformed by prayer.

When we are praying for peace or strength for those we love, we often feel strengthened or at peace ourselves.

This is truly part of the magnificence of prayer.

Prayer is personal. Prayer is powerful.

I pray that each of you are blessed in some way today because each of you are a blessing.

Zoom Choir

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

Pardon my train of thought –
Try a Google search on the benefits of choral singing. There are numerous articles!

Here are six points made by one article: (Choral singing)

  • Strengthens feeling of togetherness
  • Regulates heart rate.
  • Reduces stress levels and depression.
  • Improves symptoms of Parkinson’s and lung disease.
  • Improves feeling of social well-being.
  • Increases life expectancy (possibly)

These benefits are both physical and emotional. This article didn’t mention the spiritual implications.

As a choral conductor, I want to make our virtual choir practices as ‘real’ as possible so that we can reap the true benefits of singing together.

A saying from the ancient Greeks states:

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Choral musicians can really identify with that statement. I can sing in my home, but it is just not the same as breathing and singing with my people.

For our virtual worship, I have lovingly renamed our church choir ‘Zoom Choir.’

Slowly but surely, we are getting the hang of ‘Zooming.’

Thanks to Greg Platt’s audio mixer, each of us is able to clearly hear our music over Zoom. Participants listen with their head phones on their computers and record themselves singing with their smart phones. Then they send me their recordings.

(I put the audio together. It is more difficult than one might think.)

When you see our Zoom choir sing during virtual worship, I am showing the Zoom video with the ‘put together’ voice recording.

One of the reasons I do it this way is to remind us that although we are separate, we are together.

With Zoom Choir, we are able to have people from all over, singing where they live. We are able to breathe and sing together.

Zoom Choir rehearsals remind me of a business plan called “Distributed Workforce.” I learned about this in TED Talk by Matt Mullenweg.

The plan is that each employee is to work from their own location. Matt is deliberate in NOT using the word ‘remote’ because every location and person is important. 

Each worker brings a different understanding of the culture, people and day-to-day life around them.

This style of business network reminds me of a net, which reminds me of Jesus calling to Peter and Andrew:

“Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Each of us are called to be ambassadors of Christ’s love no matter where we are.

When we ‘gather’ as a church (whether in the building or virtually,) we present ourselves before God and are reminded both who we are and whose we are.

Then, with confidence, we are to go spread the love in Christ Jesus.

There is a lot more that I could write on this subject, but you would be sitting there reading.

Instead, get up and go share the love of Christ with someone.

PS – You are invited to come to ZOOM CHOIR! (Email office@fumcgarland.org for an invitation.)

Where is the blessing?

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

I feel like I’m finally coming off this constant background hum of a low-grade depression that has bedeviled me since March. Six months.

I’m not going to mince words. This was a rough spring and summer for me.

Six months without concerts, in-person church service, our wonderful Chancel Choir, the talented Pure Joy! Youth Choir, or a congregation to lead in rousing hymns of the faith has affected my psyche more than I ever admitted publicly.

Furthermore, recording for church online worship affected me just as much, as I’m uber-perfectionist, camera shy, and I have a long-standing phobia against recording.

(I’m more of a “you have to be there” artist.)

To top it off, I’ve had to take news and social media in highly regulated doses because it’s just too much.

For me, this has been one long, never-ending night.

Listening around the community, it’s clear I’m not alone.

Every single one of you has a similar tale of struggle, and how this period has forced you to do things that you didn’t have to, or want to, do before.

For some of us, it goes even deeper, as the ‘loss’ is physical as well as spiritual and emotional.

I take heart in this passage from Psalm 30:5: 

… weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. 

One thing that has begun to quicken my soul day-to-day is the question, “Where is the blessing in this day?” I ask myself that, among other questions internally.

These questions allow me to see past the outward dourness and the social instability, and I begin to accept the fact that God’s ‘morning’ may not look like the morning I want or envision.

For example, I hate recording. But what are the benefits of this process? I have begun to discover some of them.

One is that I get to interact with you in real-time during the prelude and postlude of our online worship, instead of hoping and praying while I’m playing that you like what I do. From this, I get to know what you like, what you’re feeling, and which pieces/songs to shelve away.

In the end, I’m confident we will reopen, life will move on, and there will be plenty of outward expressions of joy.

In the meantime, I’m learning to embrace the small joys and to take pleasure in them.

What have I got to lose?

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

– Matthew 16:24

My message this past Sunday – “More Than Just a Checklist” – was a capstone to our recently-completed worship series on the “3 Simple Rules” of the Methodist movement.

The text – Matthew 16:21-26 – shared how Jesus prepared his disciples for his suffering, crucifixion and raising from the dead.

How these things were necessary.

And how they, too, would need to “take up their cross” and follow him.

To lose their lives for his sake in order to find them. 

In spite of a deadly pandemic, racial strife and polarized politics, we live privileged lives in comparison to most.

Especially those of us who are white. 

So today, I ask all of us to consider: 

How am I taking up my cross this week? 

What privilege am I prepared to lose to gain life in Christ? 

What am I nailing to my cross?

What have I got to lose?

An invitation

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Pastor for Children and Families

I have a vague memory of taking the SAT on a Saturday at Richardson High School.

Mostly I remember the hallway. Tan linoleum floor. Lockers and fluorescent lights.

There were quite a few students from my own school there that day, and we poured out of the various classroom doorways after the verbal portion of the test at the end of the day.

“Oh my goodness! I’ve never even heard of some of those words!” we exclaimed. “Draconian? What in the world is draconian?”

I don’t recall her exact words, but I do remember my childhood friend, Shelly, very nonchalantly rattling off the definition as if was a word 17-year-olds used regularly.

Not this 17-year-old.

When I went home, my mom of course knew what it was. And then later that week, the news anchor had the gall to use the word on the evening news!

Suddenly, the word was everywhere.

Have you had that experience?

You learn a new word or idea or thought, and suddenly you hear it and see it everywhere!

The book you’ve been enjoying or the TV show you’ve been binge watching suddenly has an anecdote or quote for every conversation!

The words and thoughts that fill our minds and our time are coincidentally and amazingly suited for each occasion we encounter.

But it’s not coincidence, is it?

The things we surround ourselves with, spend time with, they matter.

They shape us and mold us. Words, songs, shows, people, places.

They become a part of us, sometimes by invitation and with awareness, but always permeating.

So what does this have to do with the gospel? Is this just some moralistic lesson to do good?

I believe it’s an invitation. Not from me, but from our creator God who has hope and faith and love in us and for us.

God who came in Jesus to love us fully and show us the way. The Holy Spirit who prompts us with this invitation all the time, everywhere.

An invitation to take the time to stay in love with God because you are loved by God.

To spend time in prayer, whether that’s breathing or silence or reading or speaking or writing or singing!

To worship, online, in your homes, in creation.

To connect with those in your world who see you in part as God sees you, and who encourage you and listen to you as you do for them.

To read the words of scripture that you might encounter the living Word.

God is with us. We are not alone. May you see and know God’s presence everywhere.

Staying in love with God

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Yesterday we completed a three-part worship series on the “3 Simple Rules” of the Methodist movement with a discussion of the third rule – “Stay in Love with God.”

Here are a few ways you might consider putting that rule into practice this week:

Works of Piety
– Search the scriptures

  • ask questions of it
  • wonder about a passage that puzzles you
  • memorize a Psalm
  • read the daily lectionary

– Attend virtual worship this coming Sunday

– Share the Love Feast (since we can’t gather physically for communion)

– Spend just five minutes in silent prayer

– Fast for a day or a portion of a day, or choose something to fast from for a day, like social media, the news, screens, etc.

Works of Mercy
– Gather school supplies for donation to Freeman Elementary

– Purchase food items for donation to Austin Street Center

– Learn more about anti-racism

– Check on a neighbor

– Record yourself reading a children’s book for our Learning Academy kids

Back-to-school blessings

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

At the end of the first day of fourth grade, the school bus dropped me off in front of my family’s home.

My mother greeted me at the front door and asked, “Well, how was the first day of school?” 

Beaming, I replied, “It was great! And my teacher didn’t yell at me for talking one single time!”

(A frequent comment brought up at parent teacher conferences was that the teacher often saw just the back of my head; I often would be turned around, talking to the student behind me.)

My parents had transferred me to a new school the summer before my fourth grade year.

Later, I learned that my parents chose to participate in a school district option called a ‘majority-to-minority transfer.’

I was one of eight white students in the majority African-American Harlem Elementary School.

Our principal, Mr. Colquitt, was an innovative educator, implementing an open classroom model that emphasized self-paced learning.

It was the best school year of my life.

My teacher, Mrs. Jennings, understood and encouraged me, and I thrived in the environment.

I also developed friendships with kids who were different from me, instilling in me a lifelong desire to enter into and nurture relationships with others from diverse backgrounds.

At its best, school is a place where we learn not just subject content, but can learn about our own selves and who we want to become.

We are nurtured by teachers who not only help us get ready for tests, but who assure us that we matter as human beings.

At the beginning of this new school year, with all of its risks, uncertainties, and anxieties, my hope is that each and every student and educator may know that they matter to us.

My prayer is that they remain well and safe.

And never forget that you are a blessing.

Learning to love yourself

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

My position here at First United Methodist Garland puts me in direct contact with teenagers and young adults.

This has afforded me the opportunity to hear firsthand what it is like growing up in the world we live in now.

Teenagers and young adults are trying to figure out a lot of things in their lives. Things like who am I, what will I do for a career, what are my passions, what is my political affiliation, do I believe in God?

These are just a few of the numerous questions these young people are struggling to answer.

In the midst of this struggle, our high school age young people are struggling with preparing for college and graduation, getting good grades, getting scholarships to be able to go to college in the first place, and extra-curricular activities while juggling family and friends.

Our college age young people are struggling with preparing to go out into the work force, finding employment, finding suitable living arrangements, maybe a first apartment or first house, relationships, church and family.

Many of them are so overwhelmed by all the pressures and challenges they face that some become depressed and withdrawn because they feel they simply cannot accomplish all of it and that makes them worthless.

Social media does not help.

All of your accomplishments, and sadly, all of your failures are broadcast for the world to see, instantly.

You cannot hide and often times you cannot even control what is being put out there for the world to see.

People hide behind a computer and lash out and hurl insults and say things they would never say to your face, because there are often no consequences to them.

There are consequences to those whom it is about.

These actions can lead to a feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing.

Ultimately this can lead our young people to a dark place where they find it difficult, if not impossible to love themselves for who they are because they don’t feel they are worthy of love.

I want to be clear here by acknowledging that this is not a problem specific to just young people. All of these things can happen to people of all ages.

If a person is being torn down on social media, told they aren’t OK by mainstream media and the people they know, and they cannot be accepted for who they are by their church, their families and their community, then they are at risk for becoming depressed and full of self-hate.

Most of us may not even realize that we may know someone who is suffering like this.

Sometimes people who are suffering like this often find ways to love other people, find ways to put on a happy face, but struggle with loving themselves.

This has to change.

Every person is worthy of love. Every person is made to love and be loved.

We have been talking about “Love Stories” in our current worship series. There have been strong and convicting messages given by staff and laity alike in different ways throughout this series.

However, I would like to offer a few things to consider that were offered to me by someone struggling with depression, self-hate and addiction.

Here is what they had to share:

“‘Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye,’ a quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

To me this means that we aren’t always able to see what our heart sees.

We who suffer are so blinded by chaos and pain that our heart can’t seem to love.

It’s not that we can’t love you, it’s that we can’t love ourselves.

People tell us we are worthless, we are ugly, we are this or that … we are shamed for being who we are.

You hear it enough, you see it enough and you believe it. It becomes your truth, your reality. And it sucks.

You don’t understand why you are crying, or why you want to cut yourself, or why you want to get high.

You just do it. It is the only thing you control so you do it. You learn to hate yourself.

That is how I lived my life for 13 years.

I attempted suicide twice. The scars are evident and painful to see, especially when I see other people staring at them.

I think, “Are they judging me right now?” And I start to feel the old feelings creep up.

While I was in rehab five years ago I met someone who shared her stepladder with me.

It went like this: 

Step 1 – Know and accept who you are right now – the good, the bad and the ugly.

This step is about revisiting who we are and seeking what is true, even when it is challenging.

Step 2 – Have something worth striving for.

I moved beyond striving for just a better relationship with someone in my family and really thought about something I needed to have.

I landed on God oddly enough. Didn’t really expect that.

I just knew that in order for me to move to a place of self-love I had to realize that I was worthy of love, and who loves me no matter what … God does.

Step 3 – Take action toward you.

Be intentional every day to silence the voices that drag you down and listen to the voice inside.

You are worthy, you are beautiful, you are loved.

Just like the negative stuff, you hear it enough you begin to believe it. Only this time it is truth.

Step 4 –Let go of the outcome.

Learning to realize that you don’t get to control the outcome of everything in your life can be very freeing.

You can’t control what someone else says, but you can control whether you listen to it and believe it.

You can’t control what someone else thinks of you, but you can control how you present yourself to them.

Might sound silly and simple but you have to let go of everything and trust that God walks with you all the time.

You are going to stumble; you are going to fall. But you will also have someone there to pick you up.

I am worthy, I am beautiful and I am loved. Always.”

In a world where we struggle with so much, it is not too difficult to see why our young people are so much at risk.

I am sharing this story with you today in hopes that each of you will take some time in the very near future to be intentional with your relationships, especially with those who live with you and those you dearly love.

The mask of happiness is often just that, a mask.

Dare to ask the tough questions.

Be bold enough to show someone you love them, no matter what.

You might just be the link in the chain that they have been waiting for.

God shows us unconditional love each and every day. And that my friends is a blessing worth sharing.

You are worthy, you are beautiful and yes, you are loved.

Tell someone else the same.

Für Elise

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

For this reflection, I figured I’d allow music to spread beauty, love and peace in a time of inquietude and angst.

At first, I thought of recording and submitting some smart hymn arrangements my composer friends sent me.

However, something in my spirit kept bringing me to this oldest of chestnuts in my repertoire: Beethoven’s Für Elise.

I haven’t played it, much less looked at it, since I was about 9 or 10.

At the same time, I have this feeling, or this inkling, that it will minister unto someone’s soul in a timely way.

I sincerely pray that this small token will bring brighten your day, even if briefly.

Be blessed.

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