Sometimes a light surprises

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

“Liminal space” is a popular phrase lately.

When I looked it up, this is the description I found: 

The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word ‘limen,’ which means threshold. To be in a liminal space means to be on the precipice of something new but not quite there yet. You can be in a liminal space physically, emotionally, or metaphorically. Being in a liminal space can be incredibly uncomfortable for most people. 

My life is that kind of place right now. I’m thankful that there is a different kind of liminal space.

Godly Play describes a place like this for the prophet:

“When God comes so close to them and they come so close to God, that they know what is most important …”

We, too, can come close to God and find healing and understanding.

Hymn writer William Cowper describes this space well: 

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while she sings: 
It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings. 
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again 
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain. 

In holy contemplation, we sweetly then pursue 
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new. 
Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say, 
E’en let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may: 

It can bring with it nothing but he will bear us through: 
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people too: 
Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed; 
And he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread. 

Though vine nor fig-tree neither their wonted fruit should bear, 
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks, nor herds be there, 
Yet, God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice; 
For, while in him confiding, I cannot but rejoice. 

I hope you can find space for gratitude, trust, healing and rejoicing.

Old Faithful

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Director of Children’s and Family Ministries

“I have to go do my homework now.”

“What’s your homework?”

“I have to finish the treasurer’s report for the PTA meeting.

“And I need to write a reflection paper for church. I don’t know what I’ll write about yet. Do you have any ideas?”

“What’s a reflection paper?”

“Well, sometimes people write about a story or something they saw or a song and how it made them think about God.”

“Hmm… Write about Yellowstone! How God is like Old Faithful, springing up from the ground!”

Thank you God for the gift of our children.

Old Faithful as a metaphor for God. 

God is ever present in our world, bursting forth in mighty and magnificent ways.

Higher and more beautiful than we ever imagined.

Even when we think we remember from days of old, God continues to surprise and amaze.

God is faithful.

Sometimes we must be patient, waiting for that we yearn for, wondering if God hears our prayers.

And yet when we wait upon the Lord, our joy is complete.

God’s love runs deep, down into the core of creation. From God’s love, miraculous life wells forth.

God’s love takes many forms, some in amazing colors and forms, some pouring forth in abundance, others a gentle simmer, a wisp of a reminder.

Sometimes we encounter parts of this world that offend our sensitivities, but many times, underneath, are miracles of creation.

God’s love calls us back, draws us in, and restores our soul.

We sit in awe and cannot help but tell others of the wonders of God’s love.


Love one another

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
From verse 3, “O Holy Night”

O God of love:

On this day of Epiphany, we recall the story of travelers from the East
            who experienced the light of your glory –
            glory shining forth from a baby’s face,
            God-with-us in a most surprising way.

Truly, you came to the world – to us – in that baby to teach us to love one another,
            and to walk in the way of peace.

But our confession, dear God, is that we still struggle
to walk in your way of peace and love.
The Epiphany of your glory is hidden from our view,
            the path of peace and love is cloudy. 

We are mired in doubt and fear, division and blame.
Our lives are marked with a cautious distrust and avoidance of the other. 

Lord, have mercy on us. 

Clear our vision,
            make our hearts soft,
                        may our hands reach out in an offering of care,
                                    our feet firm on the path of peace.

May your glory dawn upon us again.  Amen.

A prayer for 2022

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

If 2020 was a year we just felt glad to survive, 2021 was the year that war and strife invaded every corner of our lives. 

Like 2020, 2021 began with a sense of hope, only for it to dash away. 

All around us, pitched anger and discontent became the norm.

It seems as though we have entered a sustained season of rioting mixed with fatigue.

This was a difficult year for everyone. 

As a result, I have decided to leave my New Year’s party hat in the closet, and to eschew making any New Year’s Resolutions. 

Instead, I am trying something different.

Knowing that 2022 might look like 2021, which itself was a reaction to 2020, which began in 2019 and has roots in the past, I’m closing out this year, and opening the new year, with prayer: 

May God will show us how to be a light in a fallen world; 

May God refill our souls with a fresh helping of grace, patience, love, and esteeming others better than ourselves; 

May God help us keep our lamps trimmed and burning as we await the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, for He is coming soon. 


What are we waiting for?

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Our wait is almost over.

In our worship services tonight, and in congregations all over the globe, the faithful will gather and light the Christ candle and sing of Christ’s birth.

We have spent four weeks preparing, attending to spiritual disciplines both communal and individual to make room in our hearts for the birth of Mary and Joseph’s baby.

We’ve decked the halls, sent holiday cards, prepared for gift exchanges.

Some are preparing for travel to see loved ones for the first time in many months.

In the home I share with my spouse, we have marked the waiting time with lighting our own Advent candles on Sunday evenings.

Each day, I attach a little Velcro figure to a cloth Advent calendar depicting the nativity with all the characters (the animals are my personal favorites – there’s even a cat at the manger).

On this day, there is only one more candle to light – the Christ candle.

There is only one more little Velcro figure to attach to the cloth Advent calendar – that of the baby Jesus.

The story of Christmas tells us that our waiting has not been in vain.

We have faithfully prepared, and we will enter the season of joy that follows.

God has taken on flesh, and dwells among us, “full of wisdom and truth.”

It is curious, though. We already know the end of this story.

Jesus will be born, ready or not. And there is grace in that.

But there’s also a potential trap.

We can be fooled into thinking that the efforts around our preparation and waiting produce something.

Plainly described, we perform X number of actions during this season of preparation, and at the end Y happens – the birth of the babe.

Maybe we can flip this formula on its head:

What if God is the one doing the waiting?

… waiting on us to trust the unbounded grace God offers – no matter what we do

… waiting on us to love who and what God loves

… waiting on us to hear the divine “yes:” “You are mine, and I love you. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can change that”

… waiting on us to deeply understand that our hearts are already ready to receive God-in-Christ. Our hearts (and our entire beings) are created by a loving Creator. There’s already a God-shaped space in our hearts (with special thanks to St. Augustine for that insight).

May this Christmas be our season of joy, of grace, of mercy, of a communal “yes.”

What are we waiting for?

It came upon a midnight clear

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

“Season of Hope!” is our advent theme this year.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my favorites. It’s an old black and white movie.

At the beginning of the movie, a senior angel is talking to a junior, telling him about George Bailey.

The scene is set with a star-lit sky.

Although it’s two stars blinking at each other, it is evident that angels are talking to each other.

Clarence is the junior. Here is a bit of the conversation: 

Senior Angel: A man down on earth needs our help. 

Clarence: Splendid. Is he sick? 

Senior Angel: No, worse. He’s discouraged. 

It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope. Life happens.

For young ones, it’s falling off a bike, making a poor grade, losing a game or parents divorcing.

For young adults, it is not getting a job, house, or family that was hoped for in younger years.

For older adults, it can be that things are changing – new technologies, kids moving away or age discrimination.

For all ages, it’s broken relationships, losing loved ones and unrest in the world.

You name yours. There are numerous reasons that we get discouraged and lose hope.

There are so many wonderful Christmas carols. We have so little time to sing them all.

Often times in our haste to sing them all, we only sing one or two verses of each.

Sometimes, however, the most significant verses are in the middle.
This is true in the song, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

For background, the Greek word for “angel” means “messenger.”

This song describes angel messengers coming throughout all times, bringing us the message of peace and love.

Three of the verses speak of world conditions.

But the third verse, which is most often omitted, says this: 

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
As many of you know, my father died the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

I grieve for myself, but mostly for my mom, who literally lost her life-long love.

I’m thankful for those of you who have modeled “good grieving.”

I recognize that you put your trust in our merciful Lord in times of both sorrow and joy.

I find it ironic that I can feel both joy/peace and sorrow/grief at the same time. 
As I “rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing,” these scriptures come to my mind:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
 and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
 and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
 they shall walk and not faint. 

– Isaiah 40:28-31

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

– Titus 3:4-5

Loving God, help me to take time to rest, to listen and to be renewed by your Holy

Help me to be the person you need me to be to bring peace on earth (or a least to those who are near me.)
May your hope be renewed this advent season.

Be glad and rejoice

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Do not fear, o soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! 

Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green … 

O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God … 

– Joel 2:21-23a NRSV

The prophet Joel sang these words for the people of Israel in the midst of a calamity. 

The land and crops had been utterly destroyed by a locust plague. 

The people were hungry, as were the animals. 

The very soil was damaged and tired. 
And yet the prophet called the people to rejoice because the Holy One was in their midst, even in the face of suffering. 

Their privation would not last forever. 

My hope is that wherever you are, you are surrounded by loving family and friends, and that your heart sings with praise. 
But some days are harder than others, more tender, more poignant, because life happens.

Circumstances change. 

We, too, experience hardship as the people of Israel did. 
May I suggest a simple exercise that might lift your heart? 

Find a pen or pencil and some paper, and consider these questions for just a few minutes.

Jot down what comes to mind. 

  • Can you name three holiday memories? Any holiday will do. 
  • What might you be looking forward to? Just three things. Doesn’t have to be anything momentous – looking forward to a cup of afternoon tea or morning coffee counts. 
  • What three things/people/places/happenings can you name that you’re grateful for? 

I wonder what arises as you take a look at your list: a smile? A deeper breath?

Space around your heart? A lifting of your spirit? 

So often it’s the little things that can turn our negativity to praise, our sadness to thanksgiving. 

And God is in the midst of it all. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Stop, watch the Giver at work

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

The colors are changing again.

Remember when we all went home in March 2020?

Everything stopped.

After a short while, we all went outside. Though activities in our world ceased, spring was coming.

Everywhere I turned, people were noticing the leaves growing day by day, the blossoms, and the colors.

We noticed that we were noticing!

One of my favorite parts of our year of school at home was daily time outside with my kids.

Nearly every day we would go outside for a walk or a bike ride or time in the yard.

I loved the time together and the time outdoors with the trees and the sky.

As time has gone by, things in our world have opened again.

Suddenly, the most I often see of a beautiful day is the sunshine coming in through the window, or perhaps a short walk to the bus stop.

How did I go back to old habits so quickly?

So I made this week different. I went on a field trip with my daughter’s school to the Outdoor Learning Center in Plano.

It was a gorgeous fall day. We spent the whole time intentionally looking at nature, asking questions, and wondering.

That time inspired me to go for a walk I hadn’t done in months in the park near our neighborhood, the one that goes through the woods near the creek.

I loved it so much that I invited a friend to join me the next day.

I don’t know how to make outdoors part of my new routine. I’m still figuring out this balance.

But what is important for me, what is essential is to stop, watch, and pay attention.

The colors are changing! The Giver of all good gifts is at work. The Creator is still creating. The Spirit is still moving.

I don’t want to miss it. I want to see the beautiful fall colors.

I want to listen to stories of families and friends around the feast.

I am ready for a season of getting ready for God’s gift of love to us.

The colors are changing again. Thanks be to God.

A word of Thanksgiving

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Each November in America, we celebrate Thanksgiving.

What I want to talk about today is not the holiday itself, but the word “thanksgiving.” 

This word simply means: giving thanks. 

This is something we are told we should do on a regular basis, both in the secular and non-secular worlds.

When we pray, we give thanks. When someone does something nice for us, we say thank you.

How many of you have ever gone to the mailbox and found a card from someone that you weren’t expecting? You opened it and found that someone simply wanted to send a thank you card.

This is common practice when receiving a gift, for example.

I remember when we were having our wedding showers, having to sit down and write all the thank you cards.

(Well, Heather wrote all the cards. But I helped seal the envelopes, so I did do something.) 
If you are a child of the digital age, then answer this:

Have you ever opened your inbox and discovered that someone sent you a random meme or GIF to simply say “Thanks?” 
It gives you a feeling of joy, contentment or happiness.

Maybe you think, “Wow, they care enough to actually think of me.” 
My family and I have received numerous thank you cards over the years from church members and leaders at various times.

Each time it is unexpected and each time it makes our day a little brighter.
When was the last time you thanked someone?

For me, it has been a while. So this is my letter of thanksgiving. 
I want to thank each of you who pray for me and for my family.

I want to thank all of you who continue to pray for our church, for our church members, and for our church leaders.

Prayer is such an important part of our spiritual journey, and I truly believe it makes a difference.

It is a way we can plug in and stay connected to God and to one another.
I want to thank all of you who have not given up.

It is hard to have hope in the midst of chaos and turbulence.

The pandemic is still hitting many of us hard.

Normal is no longer, and the future for some looks very uncertain.

Change comes quickly now and sometimes without warning.

Our church has not been untouched.

So to all of you who continue to look to the future in your own personal lives and the life of this church, I thank you.
Words cannot express the thanks and gratitude reserved for all of you who have and continue to step up to serve.

When things are uncertain and our fear or anger consumes us, it is easy to turn and walk away.

It is easy to think that things will be different somewhere else, and that the problems can be left behind.

The reality for some is that the problems will follow us.

So in the face of fear or anger, we have to make a choice.

To those of you who choose to serve and ask “How can I help, where can I serve?,” know that I and the staff here at First United Methodist Garland are forever grateful, and see hope in you and the future of this church. 
Sometimes we simply need a reminder that we should be more thankful.

I got mine recently.

If you want to know the story, I would encourage you to come ask me.

I will happily tell you the tale in hopes it can provide you with hope and a smile. 
We have a lot to be thankful for, my friends.

I encourage you to let those around you know just how thankful you are for them.

You may not get another chance.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV)

Fix your eyes on Jesus

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

Wow! Can you believe that we are at the end of October?

What a year!!

We couldn’t wait for 2020 to be over, and then 2021 has been a bit difficult, too.

Planning music and youth choir activities has been challenging.

Sometimes the obstacles and uncertainty seem to overwhelm and distract me from doing the things I need to be doing.

As many of you are aware, we just finished this year’s Running 4 Clean Water 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run.

As chairperson, Joey Fisher had many obstacles to overcome.

Originally scheduled for April 2020, the event was rescheduled because of the ‘COVID lockdown.’

With the uncertainty of the situation, even the new dates had to be postponed twice. Finally, the October 2021 date was locked in!

We were set to hold the run at the Duck Creek Green Belt in South Garland.

About six weeks before the race, Joey and Cindy went to scout out the course and – BOOM – a massive section of the route including a bridge was under construction.

Ugh – yet another obstacle!

Obviously, Joey and Cindy led the committee through the obstacles and race was successful, raising more than $10,500!

Lives will be changed because of their perseverance!

(Thanks, Joey and Cindy!)
Considering the race and the upcoming All Saints’ Day holiday on November 1, this scripture passage from Hebrews comes to mind: 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) 

There is a lot packed into these verses and that book of the Bible!

For this reflection, I am focusing on the phrase fixing our eyes on Jesus.
I am so thankful for those who have gone before me, teaching me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus’ way.

I am thankful for those of you who encourage each other, overcoming the obstacles that hinder God’s kingdom on earth.

I am thankful that Jesus sees each of us and is not distracted.

Jesus sees who we were, who we are and who we are becoming.

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in shame, guilt, grudges or just the business of life, we can’t move forward.

Please know that you are Jesus’ beloved.

Keeping that in mind, take one step at a time, knowing that God is with you each step of the way.

You will persevere! You will finish the race!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, 
look full in his wonderful face, 
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace. 

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus
Hymn 349
United Methodist Hymnal

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