Two hundred thirteen

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Two hundred thirteen.

Two hundred thirteen mass shootings have taken place in the United States (gunviolencearchive.org) as of Wednesday, May 25, 2022. 

A mass shooting is classified as any shooting where four or more individuals are killed during one event in one or multiple locations. 

This means that as I sit at my desk on Wednesday, at least 452 individuals have lost their lives in mass shootings. 

Twenty-one of those lives were lost on Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

I am a father of two children. One who is 16-years old and the other is 13-years old. 

I cannot comprehend the emotional turmoil that a parent goes through if they lose their child in this manner. 

I do not dare to let my heart imagine the suffering and anguish that a parent feels when they lose their child. 

If I do, I become inconsolable. I become consumed with anger and frustration because these things are preventable. 

Did you know that according to worldpopulationreview.com, there have been 288 school shootings in the United States? 

In comparison, there have only been 44 school shootings in all other countries combined. 

How is this possible? Why is this happening? Where are we failing? 

I will not stand on a soapbox and make this political. This is not about politics.

This is about a crisis. A REAL crisis.

Our fathers and mothers, our aunts and uncles, our nieces and nephews, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our neighbors, our spouses and our children are dying … and it is preventable. 

The negative stigma surrounding mental health is still very much an issue today. 

Individuals who commit these acts are not okay. Something is going on in their lives that leads them down a road ultimately terminated in death. 

In many cases there are signs that are missed by those who are around them. 

In many cases they did not tell anyone they weren’t okay. 

We as a people have to push for awareness and make sure everyone knows it is okay to not be okay. 

See something, say something. 

If you think something is not right, it is better to ask and say something and everything actually be okay than to say nothing and something tragic happens. 

We all have a part. We all are empowered to do something

Be brave and courageous, be willing to be vulnerable. 

Ask for help. Ask if everything is okay. 

It is one of ways that change can happen. 

These things are preventable. 

During times like this, when I am filled with anger and frustration, I struggle to hear what God is calling me to do because I want justice, and I want it right now. 

I want change, and I want it right now. 

I am sad. I am angry. I am frustrated. 

I do not want to live in fear that my children may not come home. 

I weep. I mourn. I hurt. 

And God weeps with me. 

This was not the plan. This is not what God envisioned for us.

But here we are. And God is with us also.

Even if we cannot see or hear God’s voice. Even if we cannot feel God’s presence.

God is still with us, and will remain so.

We are told in scripture that God is always with us, and nothing will ever separate us from that great and abundant love.

We are also told that life will present us with toil and turmoil, despair and death.

The challenge we all face every day is leaning into the love that God has for us and patiently waiting to hear the voice and feel the presence that we long for. 

My spirit aches, and my heart is broken. 

So all I can do today is pray. 

Pray that my anger will turn to compassion. 

Pray that my frustration will turn to action. 

Pray that my sorrow will turn to hope. 

Pray that my fear will turn to courage. 

Pray that the families of these children and adults will find comfort and strength in the abundance of God’s love.

Pray that they be surrounded by those who will carry them, mourn with them.

Pray for the face of God to shine upon them. 

Two hundred thirteen.

Pray we can change this number. 

May the peace and love of God be with each of you this day. 

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.

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.

Amen.

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.

Getting ready

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

This week in children’s Sunday School, we are telling the story of “The Ark and the Tent.” 

It is a favorite story of our children that you can read in full in Exodus 25-31.

For those who may not be familiar with us, our curriculum is based on Godly Play, which makes use of simple, imaginative props to help our children not only ‘learn’ but also ‘experience’ the stories of the Bible. 

For “The Ark and the Tent,” we use a ‘desert bag,’ and how can you not love running your hands through a bag full of sand?

We build the tent out of many different, interlocking pieces of wood, a builder’s and puzzler’s delight.

We also use a basket of artifacts, the sacred pieces that go in and around the tent in the tabernacle, plus the many layers of roof.

So many pieces come together to help the people of God get ready.

I remember one of the first years we shared these stories with our children, we also shared them with any adults who wanted to come on Wednesday evenings.

The adults could have their own time of learning and reflection, and see this transformative way of storytelling and work.

I was the door person for this story and was able to listen and observe as the storyteller carefully added piece after piece, building the tent, adding more and more to help the people of God get ready.

At the end of the story we wondered, thought, and considered.

An adult exclaimed, “Why do they need so much to get ready?”

Why do we need so much to get ready for something like worship, or time with God, or drawing near to God?

It seems the opposite of what the people of God have been learning in the desert all these years, that God is not just here or there, but that all of God is everywhere.

So if God is so near, I wonder what is the purpose of such care in getting ready?

When else do we take this time to prepare?

A wedding. A new baby. Going to college. An important interview. A memorial service.

Perhaps we take the time when we recognize something important is going to happen.

We still tell the story of “The Ark and the Tent.” Maybe God is inviting us to get ready.

I wonder what kind of transformation is about to happen?

Let us draw near to the presence of God, and may we be ready for the future God holds.

Through faith

… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 

– Galatians 3:26 NRSV


I am a child of God through faith. So says the scripture.

Not sure I always believed that, but I do now.

Throughout my 67-plus years on this earth, I have had good times and bad. Blessings and challenges.

The good times, the blessings, I’m convinced are not of my own doing, but of God’s mercy and grace.

The bad times, the challenges, God has been right there with me, seeing me through.

I know this through faith.

Faith sustains me in good times and bad … because I am a child of God. 

None of this can be considered earth-shattering revelation.

Believers have known for years. Faithful readers of the Bible have known for years.

I was reminded of this as I read Galatians 3:25-28, the text of this coming Sunday morning’s message, “Children of God,” from Rev. Caroline Noll, our Associate Pastor and Pastor for Children and Families.

And as I pondered this simple yet profound idea, a song came to mind. A favorite, but one I hadn’t heard or thought about for years.

The song – I Am a Friend of God by Israel Houghton – reminds me that I am not only a child of God, but a friend as well.

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 

– John 15:15 NRSV


I am a child of God. I am a friend of God. He calls me friend.

And I know this, through faith. 

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

Listening to God is not always audible

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

The desert us a dangerous place. 

“There is no food or water there. People can die in the desert.

“When the wind blows, the shape of the desert changes. You can lose your way.

“The sun is so hot that people wear many clothes to keep the sun from burning their skin.

“When the wind blows, the sand stings your face and hands. People need protection from the blowing sand.

“At night, it is cold, and you need many clothes to keep warm.

“The desert is a dangerous place. People do not go there unless they have to.”

This is the opening statement to several of the Godly Play stories.

First United Methodist Church Garland recently hosted Core Training for Godly Play.

I attended. Although I don’t have the privilege of teaching on the 2nd floor, as a member/staff, I like to know what/why something is going on in the church.

As a choir director, I tell my people, ‘It’s not only important to know your part, but what you are a part of.”

One of the reasons I am convinced that Godly Play is probably the best curriculum for kids is that it teaches kids to listen for God’s voice.

My heart is full knowing that God is working in and with each of us.

I’m thankful for [Pastor] Caroline [Noll] and all the 2nd floor personnel who are teaching our kids to listen for God’s counseling.

I would love to tell you about my experiences in the desert (in my soul) and how listening (not always audible) for God’s guidance, led me through.

Have you been to the desert? Let’s share!

Dr. Suess has a book titled, Ohthe Places Youll Go

Listening (not always audible) and trusting our God who is love, can lead you to a beautiful life.

This is what we at First United Methodist Garland teach.

This poem by Williams Cowper (pronounced “Cooper,”) expresses my heart overflowing: 

Sometimes a light surprises the child of God who sings:

the light of one who rises with gentle, healing wings.

When comforts are declining, God grants the soul again

a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation with joy, we shall pursue

the theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.

Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say,

let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but God will bear us through.

Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe the people, too.

Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed:

the one who feeds the ravens will give the children bread.

Though vine and fig tree neither their yearly fruit should bear,

though all the fields should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there,

yet God, the same abiding, through praise shall tune my voice,

for while in love confiding I cannot but rejoice.

And my tree is still up

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

The seasons are changing.

A new year. A new president. New vaccines.

Christmas has come and gone.

And Epiphany.

And we’re planning for Lent.

And my tree is still up.

The ornaments are packed up.

The nativities have been wrapped up.

The snowmen and penguins and stockings are boxed up.

But the tree remains.

It is currently covered in handmade paper snowflakes.

I expect come February it will be adorned with paper hearts.

Because my kids remembered a story.

I told them about a colleague of mine, the minister of music at the church where I served in the Houston area many years ago, who one year left her tree up the whole year.

With all that was going on in her life, in the church, and with family, she just never got around to taking it down after Christmas.

And then it was Easter.

And then it was summer.

And then she thought, well, by the time I take it down now I’ll just be putting it right back up!

So she left it up. The whole year.

My kids remembered. They begged. Please! Can we leave the tree up!

I guess if there was ever a season to make joyful memories, this is it.

So now that I have this tree in my living room, I wonder…

Well, I wonder how I’m going to dust it.

I wonder if my neighbors will be curious.

I wonder if it will bring joy to my children, excited at creating new decorations throughout the year. 

I wonder how often it will bring to mind other stories of those early days in Houston.

Stories of friends, of nurture, of beginnings.

I wonder if it might be a symbol of steadiness in our lives that seem to change by the week, by the day, sometimes by the hour.

I wonder how often we will tell each other that the evergreen in our midst reminds us of an even greater everlasting life, centered in Christ, the Christ-mas tree now in the center of every season.

I wonder what other practices we have and will discover to center ourselves, to ground ourselves, to stay rooted to who we are and who we were created to be.

I wonder how often it will make us smile.

I wonder what new stories will be born of this story.

The seasons are changing.

The story continues.

The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

Thanks be to God.

Christmas treasures

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

I finally brought out all the Christmas boxes today.

Not that they’ve all been unpacked, but I did pull them out of the closet, staged and ready to go.

The tree went up the day before Thanksgiving this year, but it stayed bare for several days.

Tonight we finished hanging the first box of ornaments, some of our favorites that I got when the kids were tiny.

Then I opened a second box that has many things I remember from my childhood.

I slowly unwrapped each item, found a place on the bookshelf for the angels and sheep, and tied the handmade ornaments on the tree.

A couple of the handmade ornaments were falling apart.

I found the craft glue and tried to fix them.

We’ll see in the morning whether I was successful or whether they will go back in the box.

I watched my kids handling all the decorations.

They are old enough to know how to be careful, but sometimes accidents do happen, and some items are just old.

Part of me cringed as I watched them, fearful that things would break, but I didn’t interfere.

I didn’t interfere because I remember being allowed to tie the handmade ornaments on the tree as a child (after I was “allowed” to iron the ribbons).

I remember sitting with my mom unwrapping the tissue-packed nativity.

I remember untangling strings of lights with my dad.

I remember crowding around the tree with my brother finding where our favorite ornaments were hung.

So the kids rearranged the nativity.

They hung ornaments on the tree, even the fragile ones.

And the collection of nutcrackers were lip syncing Christmas carols.

Will these treasures eventually fall apart? Of course.

But the deeper work will remain. The work of sharing story, time and love together.

It is the same with our faith.

Our journey with God is not something to be kept away for safe-keeping.

Our faith is meant to be interacted with, used, be part of our life.

It is meant to be shared with others, to bring joy, to share story, to bring hope, to remind us who we are.

Let’s be bold and get our faith out of the box!

It might get some wear along the way, but oh the shared stories, the new memories, the bold work, the ties formed.

It’s what we’re meant for.

It’s what we’re made for.

You are blessed to be a blessing.

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