Graduations

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

On a local newscast last night, the anchor person said:

“It’s finally here! The season of graduations!”

I thought back on my graduations, my husband’s, my children’s and my mom’s graduations.

For our family, each graduation was a celebration of accomplishments with great anticipation and hopes yet to come.

Then I thought of all the students who have come through our First United Methodist Garland children’s and youth programs.

I am thankful for the privilege to work with so many wonderful students who have gone on to become doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, analysts, philanthropists, musicians and much more.

Each year, if seniors have been active throughout their high school years, I allow them to choose the choir tour destinations, Dessert Show themes, and most importantly, our theme verse or quote for the year.

I am so thankful for seniors who come to their year with anticipation and willingness to take leadership.

The younger youth appreciate when the older youth lovingly include them.

Together, we all grow in faith.

Madeline Watkins and Liberty Cowan are outstanding seniors. They take initiative, showing creativity and ingenuity.

Although Pure Joy! Youth Choir has been small this year, they are one of the most talented groups around!

I credit Madeline and Liberty for not only singing in tune, but also keeping our group in harmonious unity!

This year, they chose this quote as our theme:

“God can give you peace for the past, purpose for the present and hope for the future.”

There are many verses that support this quote.

Because Ascension Sunday is in one week, the passage brought to this reflection is John 14:25-27.

Before Jesus ascends, he assures his followers:

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Prayer:

Loving God, life keeps changing and sometimes that causes anxiety.

Thank you for the calm assurance that your peace can be in us.

Without fear, help us to bring peace and assurance to those around us.

Gratitudes

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Musician, poet, and essayist Carrie Newcomer penned a poem that has been ringing in my heart and mind these last few weeks.

It’s titled “Three Gratitudes.”

Here are a few lines:

‘Every night before I go to sleep 
I say out loud 
Three things that I am grateful for, 
All the significant, insignificant 
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life. 
It’s a small practice and humble, 
And yet, I find I sleep better 
Holding what lightens and softens my life 
Ever so briefly at the end of the day … 

… And after three things, 
More often than not, 
I get on a roll and just keep on going, 
I keep naming and listing, 

Until I lie grinning, 
Blankets pulled up to my chin, 
Awash with wonder 
At the sweetness of it all.” 

(From “A Permeable Life,” pp 9-10)

As I ponder what I am thankful for in my eight years at First United Methodist Church Garland, I find that I get on a roll like the poet describes.

My list keeps getting longer and longer, full of ordinary and extraordinary gratitudes. 

Here are just a few:

Music sung and played by kids, youth and adults that speaks to the soul and lifts the heart. 

Stained glass windows that wow the senses. 

Leadership who offered loving support during hard times. 

A wise, kind and amazing staff. 

Members who ‘show up,’ pitching in and taking care of whatever needs attention. 

Laughter in the office. 

Smiles in worship. 

And the list grows ever longer, until I am smiling with the wonder of it all. 

Thank you for being you.

It has been a blessing to be your pastor. 

Being a blessing

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

I will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491 as piano soloist with the Garland Symphony Orchestra on Friday, May 13 at 7:30pm. 

To get ready for this concert, I will be in a series of intense rehearsals beginning this coming Tuesday evening.

It will cumulate in three separate performances in Arlington, Garland and Irving on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, respectively. 

I owe this special guest artist residency to one persistent and determined Donna Bentley, who tirelessly advocated for me over many years with the Garland Symphony’s music director, Robert Carter Austin, alongside her husband Gary. 

She asked me back in 2014 to send her my resume and some materials.

It wouldn’t be until 2017 that Maestro Austin could come to one of my solo recitals to hear me play.

In 2020, he got in touch with me, made the formal invitation to solo with his orchestra, and we began to discuss repertoire.

The contracts were issued, negotiated and signed in 2021, and now the concert happens in 2022. 

This is as much Donna’s concert as it is mine, thanks to her investing in this engagement over eight years, especially as for most of these years it never looked like this was going to happen. 

What Donna did for me is in keeping with the spirit and essence of our congregation: generosity, service and being a blessing.

Whether it’s hosting ChamberWorks, spearheading Running for Clean Water, Night in Bethlehem, helping Freeman Elementary, or showing up to a concert series to listen to virtually unknown artists play and sing their hearts out, I cannot think of a group of people that endeavors to walk in the light and to show love more than First United Methodist Church Garland. 

Thank you for being a blessing in my life, church family.

May the Lord sustain us all as we continue to serve and work through long-term projects in order to help others and show us that our efforts are not in vain. 

Looking up

Mark Buford, Director of Communications

Sorry I’m late. 

This past Friday was my turn to provide First Reflections, but I didn’t feel like writing.

I was angry with God.

On Wednesday, my wife Marcy and I found out that Murphy, our mixed-breed rescue dog and loving companion of 12 years, had a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Short of chemotherapy or other ridiculously expensive forms of therapy, none of which guaranteed an extension of life or freedom from pain, there was nothing we could do for her.

And I was angry with God.

We made an appointment to have her euthanized this morning, but she took a turn for the worse on Friday.

So we had her put down that evening to make sure she didn’t suffer.

And I was angry with God.

For the past couple of days, I fought back tears as we put away her toys, her leash, her sweater and her raincoat.

I fought back tears as fur she shed around the house and other little things reminded me of her.

And I was angry with God.

Only today did it dawn on me that my anger was unjustified. 

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 

– Ecclesiastes 3:19-20


Humans and animals. We all live. We all die. And we are all gifts to one another from God.

Murphy loved Marcy and I unconditionally, just as God loves us unconditionally.

Murphy was a gift of love to us from God, and I will be eternally grateful for the time we had together.

In Wendy Francisco’s beautiful GoD and DoG, she says: 

I look up and I see God. I look down and see my dog.

Today, I’m looking up and seeing them both. 

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.

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. 

Amen. 

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

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

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.)
 
Blessing:
May your hope be renewed this advent season.

No complaints

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

I miss Aunt Michelle. 

She was one of the wonderful women that became my family when I married.

We were together at family gatherings, shopping adventures, and she and her family were the only family near us when we lived in Houston.

They took us to eat at some of their favorite restaurants.

One of her favorite adjectives was the word ‘delicious,’ and she was hands down the smartest person in any room.

She died too young after multiple occurrences of breast cancer.

When it was time for her funeral, I stayed home with our oldest, who was still a baby at the time, and Patrick drove many hours across the state with family to attend the service.

He told me about it when he came home.

What I remember to this day was that people talked about how she never complained.

I thought, they are right! I never once heard her complain  About anything. Ever.  

I don’t think I’m called to be Aunt Michelle. We are each fearfully and wonderfully made. I am called, though, to honor her life.

I am invited to learn and grow from her. I am thankful for her witness that inspires me to do better. 

I am thankful for her life and for the nudge I feel when I start to descend the slippery slope of complaining. 

I remember her life, and in that moment I remember so much that I have to be thankful for.  

When the grocery store has stopped carrying my favorite brand, I am thankful for the abundance of food we have in our home. 

When technology won’t play my TV show, I am thankful for leisure time. 

When it rains and soaks our shoes, I am thankful for shelter. 

When the laundry piles up, I am thankful we have more than one set of clothes. 

When I am self-conscious of the medical scars on my skin, I am thankful for access to healthcare. 

When one season ends, I am thankful for the new season that begins. 

When I am uncertain about the future, I am thankful for God who is always present. 

There are times of grief, sadness, anger. We are called to speak up against evil, injustice and oppression. 

These words are also needed to move toward transformation. There is a time for these words. 

On this day, however, I remember Aunt Michelle who reminds me to look for the delicious moments of life, give thanks for them, and enjoy them. 

They are gifts from God.  

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Simply because God loves us

My wife Marcy and I are blessed.

Our home came through last week’s historic winter storm with relatively minor damage from a water leak.

We have electricity. We have heat.

And our insurance company found us a hotel for a few days while we were without water.

We and our immediate family members are, thus far at least, COVID-free.

We’ve had our first vaccinations and expect to get our second in the next week or so.

My mother has had both, and she seems happy, healthy and safe since she moved into a senior living facility in January. 

I’m still employed. Marcy is still providing piano lessons, some in person, some online.

We’ve had unexpected expenses, but we’re managing without going too much further into debt.

Yes, we are blessed. But not for these reasons.

To say we are blessed because of our good fortune implies that those less fortunate are not.

And I don’t believe that’s the case.

No, we’re blessed – all of us are blessed – because God loves us.

That was true before the pandemic. That was true before the storm. And it continues to be true. 

Because God gave his only Son for us.

Because God’s grace is available and free, regardless of our faults. Regardless of our iniquities.

Simply because God loves us.

In all of our trials and tribulations, in all of our fortune and misfortune, may God continue to bless us all.

Thanks be to God!

Amen! 

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