What you think will happen

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Have you ever played golf? See if this sounds familiar:

The pin is only 94 yards away.

You grab your pitching wedge.

Looking at the green, you line up your shot and step up to the ball.

As you settle in for the shot, you take a deep breath.

You transfer your weight slightly to your front foot as you begin your swing.

CRACK!!

You hit the ball and it flies in an almost prefect arc.

As it approaches the green you hold your breath.

The ball hits the green, takes two bounces and drops right into the cup for that elusive eagle! 

That’s what the mind creates as the perfect shot.

That’s what we convince ourselves will happen. We really do think it will happen that way.

What really happens is more like this. 

You are 94 yards away from the pin.

You grab your 9 iron because you know you probably aren’t going to make it there today with your pitching wedge. 

You line up the shot and swing.

Maybe you hit the ball. If you do, you probably hit it wrong.

it sails way left or way right and bounces off three or four trees before landing somewhere you’ll never find it. 
 
What we think will happen versus what actually happens. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.

It’s interesting though that when it comes to other people or other things I can usually predict what will happen.

It usually turns out not too far off what actually happens.

But when it comes to me and things I do, it often turns out differently that what I expected. 
 
I started thinking about the ministry of Jesus, and how people who witnessed the miracles or heard him explain things most likely had no idea what was happening.

Whatever they thought was going to happen, Jesus usually did it differently.

Whatever the expectation, it usually happened in a very unexpected way.

I love that about Jesus. I love that his ministry was never what was expected.

For me, that’s one of the reasons why his ministry was so powerful, and continues to amaze me today.
 
Perhaps one of the reasons people aren’t hearing our message of love and grace as well as they should is because we aren’t allowing ourselves to be surprised.

Maybe we should indulge a little in what we think CAN happen and get excited again.

I love talking to people who are excited about things.

Even if I don’t understand or don’t agree with whatever they are excited about, I still love the fact that they are excited.
 
Jesus crafted his responses to those who doubted in a way that was unexpected, and performed miracles that often turned out completely different than the way people thought they would.
 
I hope and pray that you are surprised this week, and that your relationship with Jesus gives you a sense of excitement.

Maybe this week things can turn out the way we think they will.

But won’t it be incredible if they don’t? 

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.

Hope remains

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Our Lenten pilgrimage has taken us to Jerusalem. We’ve followed Jesus as he entered the city on a donkey. We’ve heard the cries of “Hosanna!” We’ve felt the expectations of the crowds in our bones; felt the swell of our own expectations in our hearts.
 
“Will God finally get rid of the Romans? Will Jesus finally ascend the kingly throne of David? Will this be the time when God makes everything right?”
 
Time seems to have slowed. Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover and share the Seder feast. Surely, the story of liberation from oppression and slavery will cease to be just a story – it will be reality!
 
Today, though, all those expectations are dashed in cruel fashion. The world crumbles as Jesus dies. The unimaginable takes place before our very eyes, and the scene is horrible beyond imagining.

“Where is God?” the disciples must have wondered … shouted … sobbed. It’s not supposed to end like this!
 
At times of horrible loss and crisis, hope seems to disappear.
 
Yet it is in such desperate times when hope throws us a lifeline. When all seems lost, hope remains.
 
“Hope is what is left when your worst fears have been realized and you are no longer optimistic about the future. Hope is what comes with a broken heart willing to be mended.” (Quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Advent).
 
We modern-day pilgrims are living through what some have called the “Great Unraveling.” Our days are filled with pandemic, war, hostile division.
 
But hope remains. It’s a slender, shining thread we hold onto this Good Friday. God will show up. Our hope is not in vain.

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)

God’s got this

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Steven Charleston, a retired Episcopal bishop and spiritual elder in the Choctaw Nation, asked a question over social media awhile back that has had me musing and pondering ever since.

He asked: “If you got your 15 minutes of fame, which today would probably be closer to your 15 seconds of fame, and you could use those seconds to share one message with the world, what would you say? What do you think humankind needs to hear the most?”

Given a 15-second global microphone, Bishop Charleston would say: “do not give in to fear. I think fear is at the root, the deep root, of what is driving our battered world. If we can diminish fear, we can increase hope.”

I think the bishop is on to something.

The biblical witness offers God’s words to “not be afraid” in many places (Psalm 27:1 and Isaiah 12:2 are two examples among many); Jesus spent a lot of time asking his disciples to have faith and not be afraid (Matthew 10:31 and Luke 12:32 are two beautiful passages).

We have a lot to be afraid of, don’t we?

A pandemic that just won’t calm down; escalating climate change; a deeply divided nation; denominational and congregational change; change with a capital “C,” period.
 
So many cultural forces pander to our fears, making us feel unprepared or ashamed (or both) if we don’t hedge against the worst, building fortresses to try to keep the thing we’re afraid of out, or at least at bay.
 
But there’s this thing about fear.

When we are really afraid, we retract, coil up, tighten.

Fear can literally restrict our breathing.

When we give in to fear, it compromises our faith and our ability to trust that God’s got this.
 
Through the power of the Spirit, we can handle anything the world throws at us.

We may not like what the world is throwing at us, but the Holy Spirit helps us to stand firm, breathing the God-given free air of grace and abundance.
 
Trusting in God’s presence doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer; the witness of God-in-Christ tells us we will indeed suffer.

But in the midst of hardship and suffering, God is with us, providing a way through the sea, a way through the fire, a way through the desert.
 

Surely it is God who saves me;
I will trust, and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
And he will be my savior.
Isaiah 12:2 RSV


My friends, God is with us in this very moment, and in each and every moment.
 
So wear your mask, and take care of our children and vulnerable adults by doing so.

God is with us.

Alive and well

On March 11, 2020, more than 1,000 people in 40 states had been infected with COVID-19.

At least 31 had already died.

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, bluntly warned:

“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”

The next day, March 12, Dallas County declared a health emergency. 

A few short hours before, our Pure Joy! Youth Choir returned from a Spring Break tour of St. Louis.

Garland and other area school districts declared a second week of Spring Break as they scrambled to assess the situation and figure out what to do next.

Bishop Mike McKee sent a letter instructing all United Methodist churches in the North Texas Conference to cease in-person worship, presumably for no more than a few weeks.

On March 13, the staff of First United Methodist Garland met via Zoom to brainstorm what to do and how to worship.

Just over a year later, there have been more than 30 million cases and 550,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Worldwide, there have been nearly 123 million cases and more than 2.7 million deaths. 

As widespread vaccination escalates, there is hope on the horizon.

But we are a long way from ‘back to normal.’

Some churches have reopened to limited in-person worship. 

For reasons of safety and based on the guidelines of Dallas County Health and Human Services, First United Methodist Garland has not.

Our building remains closed.

But God’s church is alive and well, because we are the church

And God continues to work through us in spite of the pandemic. 

God has a plan for us. 

With God’s guidance and grace, we have learned to worship online. 

This has enabled us to remain connected, albeit virtually, as a community of believers.

And it has positioned us for the future of God’s church.

Online worship won’t go away when we return to our sanctuary. 

It will continue to be offered for those who feel safer and more comfortable remaining at home.

And for those now geographically distant but still desiring a spiritual connection with their home church.

And perhaps most importantly, for that seeker who may find through us an avenue to a new or renewed relationship with God.

We’ve kept other ministries alive online as well. Sunday School. Chancel, Pure Joy! Youth and Children’s Choirs. First Youth fellowship. Even Vacation Bible School and Night in Bethlehem. 

We’ve held online Bible studies and book studies. 

Senior Pastor Rev. Valarie Englert has provided a weekly opportunity to center, meditate and Breathe

And we’ve tried to do our part in combating racism and promoting inclusion through a series of online Conversations About Race.

Our staff and laity have gone out of their way to keep in close touch with our members in spite of social distancing, providing food, pastoral care and other support as needed. 

In spite of the pandemic, God has also led us to remain in mission as well. 

We may not be hammering nails, repairing homes or installing grab bars. 

But we are collecting and contributing food to Good Samaritans of Garland, and helping the Garland Retired School Personnel do the same.

We’ve continued our quarterly commitment to providing Breakfast @ Austin Street.

We provided a socially-distanced distribution point for The Reindeer Project, continuing to help Garland area families in need with gifts and food to ensure a merry Christmas for their children. 

And when an unprecedented, freezing winter storm sent hundreds of our less fortunate neighbors scurrying for shelter, we did our part through donations of time, money and food to the Garland Overnight Warming Station (GLOWS). 

COVID-19 may have slowed us.

COVID-19 may have changed the way we do things. 

But COVID-19 has not stopped us.

It has not stopped God’s church.

It has not stopped God’s plan for us.

We are alive and well! 

Thanks and praise be to God! Amen! 

A prayer for the struggling soul

Each week as we begin our ministry staff meeting, Senior Pastor Valarie Englert asks us, “How’s your soul?”

I missed this week’s meeting because I was helping move my 86-year-old mother into an assisted living facility.

But if I had been there to respond, my answer would have been – and still is – that my soul is struggling.

Struggling with guilt over not being able to adequately care for my mom.

Struggling with finding any semblance of a safe, normal work and personal life in the middle of a pandemic now at 10 months and counting.

Struggling to recognize and understand a country torn asunder by continuing, systemic racial strife.

Struggling to comprehend what I’m watching as a mob carrying American and “Jesus” flags storms and vandalizes the very seat of our democracy, with several people losing their lives in the process.

Struggling with what to do, knowing full well the answer – pray.

But what should I pray?

Throughout my church and spiritual life, I’ve known some very powerful prayer warriors. Living saints who knew exactly what words to pray and when to pray them.

And even though I know God listens regardless, I’ve always been jealous of their ability to pray so eloquently.

With that in mind, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to pray.

I may have found them this morning.

In “A Prayer for the Struggling Soul,” Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer Jolene Underwood offers comforting words for seeking God’s blessings in times of struggle, and scriptures assuring us of God’s grace.

I share them here with the knowledge that I’m not the only one struggling, and with the hope that you might find them comforting as well.

God bless …

A Blessing For the Turn of the Year

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

“… blessings enable us to perceive the ways the sacred inhabits the ordinary, impressing upon us that every moment and each place lies within the circle of God’s care.” 

– Jan Richardson

The year ends, another begins;
but the weariness has sunk into the bones; weight gathers weight, sighs deepen, eyes and hearts yearn for light.

This blessing is for that weight,
those sighs,
those searching eyes and hearts.

This blessing asks to crawl in beside, offering the promise that Dawn will appear – a pinprick of Light in the darkness.


It is already there, the Light:
and this blessing will bear us on,
urging us to remember:
“Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made…
through him all things were made …”

We are one with this Light,
weariness, sighs, and all.
 
Remember:
carry this with you,
this blessing for the turn of the year.

God waits with us

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

This has been a year like no other. Not only for me, not only for you, but for the entire world.

We have all been in a state of suspension since early this year.

Waiting, watching and wondering what comes next.

I look back to March and here is what I remember.

I remember waiting for Bee, my oldest child, to return from choir tour.

The Pure Joy! Youth Choir went to St. Louis this year and they were returning by train.

I waited and wondered if any of our youth would catch the new coronavirus on this trip.

They shut down the trains two days later. 

I remember when the decision came to close our church.

I waited and wondered how long this would last and what it would mean for our congregation.

We planned and prepared, but none of us imagined it would be December and we would still be waiting.

I look back to this summer and here is what I remember.

I remember waiting and wondering if our Bridgeport Junior and Senior High trips would be postponed, reduced in size or canceled altogether.

Would our mission trip to the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Louisiana be canceled?

All three were canceled, with Bridgeport offering only virtual curriculum. 

I remember waiting each week to see if our First Youth summer activities would go on or be canceled.

We did not meet.

I look back to this Fall and Winter and here is what I remember.

I remember waiting each month for word from Dallas County and our bishop on when we could gather again for in-person worship.

Waiting each day to see what would come next. 

I remember waiting and wondering who would be elected president of the United States.

I remember waiting to see what a virtual Night in Bethlehem would look like. 

I remember waiting. 

I felt like all this waiting was causing me to stay in one place too long.

It was almost as though I was standing in quicksand or a bog that had reached up a twisted root of some unseen tree and snared my ankles.

I felt like I was sinking. 

I found myself not waiting anymore.

It wasn’t necessarily that I had given up. It was just that I didn’t really see the point of waiting anymore.

I accepted where we are in the world and resigned myself to the knowledge that whatever was going on was bigger than me, and that all of this waiting was just causing me anxiety and stress.

So I quit waiting and started moving toward the future.

I started moving past all of this.

I started wondering what things will be like when the pandemic, the election, the struggles and the civil unrest settle.

I wanted to just get moving again. To leave all this behind and quit waiting.

Then I remembered something Pastor Caroline Noll taught me.

She taught me about the “U.”

Do you remember the U?

It is the journey we take in life and our faith that leads to transformation through our experiences by embracing that part that is difficult and hard.

It is the realization that God is with us at the bottom of the U.

The bottom of the U is an uncomfortable place to be and can be extremely difficult for some.

But transformation happens there. God shows up. 

Sometimes I forget that God shows up.

Just like in Bethlehem, God shows up in unexpected ways.

I was so focused on things that didn’t happen that I stopped focusing on things that were happening.

Our online worship is reaching people we have never met that have been waiting to find a church home.

Our online Sunday School gatherings are giving our congregation the opportunity to see each other every week regardless of where they are in the world.

Some of these members have been waiting for months to see each other because of medical conditions or living circumstances.

Our children are able to sing together.

Our youth are able to journey together in fellowship and discussion.

Our ministries of outreach are still reaching people who have been waiting for help.

God shows up. God always shows up.

Advent is all about waiting.

The world was waiting for God and God showed up in the form of a child.

Nothing was ever the same again.

When we follow the ministry of Jesus we see things play out in ways the world did not expect.

The world had become so bogged down and stuck in the waiting that it wasn’t prepared when God showed up.

If you are like me and find yourself uncomfortable with the waiting, remember those in the world around you who are also waiting.

How can we reach them? How is God calling us to show up?

The world waited and God showed up in a child.

We wait now, together, and my friends, God is here waiting with us.

So we wait

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Were you one of the millions of people watching the election results this past Tuesday night?

Were you surprised that we didn’t have a clear winner that evening?

Are you surprised that as of this morning, we still haven’t had an official winner declared for the office of President of the United States?

My friends, the statement “It’s 2020” applies here.

We say that now whenever something happens that is unusual, unplanned, or seems to affect everyone all at once.

This year has been one of firsts for all of humanity in many regards.

It has been a year filled with uncertainty and the inability to plan ahead. At least it has for me.

Many of you know that I am indeed a planner. All of the events for First Youth this year were planned in 2019.

Of course with the pandemic almost all of those plans fell through or had to be radically changed.

So here we are in November.

Halloween has passed. Thanksgiving is coming.

I waited patiently for Halloween to see how many kids would actually knock on my door this year.

The bell rang seven times. Then it was over.

I have to be honest and tell you that I really didn’t feel anything once it was gone and over with.

Nor was I upset that the bell only rang seven times.

I felt a slight twinge of sadness for the little ones who were denied the opportunity to go out and celebrate the holiday with friends and family.

But at the end of the day I was actually glad more people weren’t out. It meant many chose to stay home and stay safe.

It’s 2020. 

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

Usually by now we have had conversations about whose house we celebrate at this year, the menu, what time we are eating, who is bringing what … you know, all the normal stuff that families do to get ready to gather for a holiday.

This year is different. We are just now talking about it at my house.

Determining whether we will gather with a lot of family is difficult this year. Do we risk it? Who is going to wear a mask and who isn’t? Will anyone be sick?

I am not really worried about the menu or whose house we will be at.

I am now wondering if we will know who the President will be by then. Surely we will … right?

It’s 2020. 

Christmas is coming!!! Christmas is coming!!!

I am one of those dads who waits until AFTER Thanksgiving to put up any Christmas decorations.

This year, I found myself hunting for the Christmas boxes yesterday in the garage.

I am thinking we will have ours up by the end of next week. That will be a first for me.

I am feeling uncertain and would like to surround myself with a little joy and happiness.

Hard not to be joyful during Christmas.

The music, the trees, the lights, the nativity set.

We get to celebrate the biggest thing to happen to humanity…the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

So move over Thanksgiving, Christmas is coming early at my house this year.

It’s 2020. 

Right now I find it difficult to navigate social media without getting angry or frustrated.

I find it increasingly difficult to watch the news and try to wade through what is accurate and what is not.

I am realizing that not everyone is seeing what I am seeing or hearing what I am hearing, and that makes it difficult to have meaningful and transformative conversations.

I am not sure if any of you are having the same problems or feelings right now.

If you are, then like me, you find yourself once again waiting.

Waiting for the chaos to settle.

Waiting for love to replace the hate filled speech and actions of those around us.

Waiting for discernment and wisdom to replace ignorance and selfish ambition.

We wait.

The whole world waited over 2000 years ago, when God chose to be among us in human form through Jesus the Christ.

A new way, a new beginning, a new wisdom was shared with us and transformation began.

Through his suffering and death, that transformation is still happening.

We struggle to see transformation right now because our eyes are focused on worldly things.

These things have distracted us and distanced us from being in relationship with one another and with God.

We recently discussed the word HOPE in First Youth during one of our virtual lessons.

I reminded them that we can have hope because we have made it through dark times before.

Every one of us, at some point in our lives, has been through a trauma or situation that we could refer to as “dark times.”

Some of us have been through these times more often than others.

But one thing remains true for all of us … we are still here.

If you are reading this, then you made it through.

It may not have turned out the way you hoped. You may not have gotten the results you wanted.

Things are most certainly different because of it. But you made it through.

And we will make it through 2020. Things may not turn out the way you hoped. You may not get what you wanted. Things will definitely be different.

God is transforming the world. We are being transformed.

God is with us, always. Now and forever. So have hope.

The light is going to turn green and we are all going to go through the intersection.

We have no idea what that road looks like right now, but we will navigate it together and God will be with us.

We just have to wait.

I think I am going to dig out the Christmas boxes today.

Maybe the neighbors won’t be too upset if I hang the outside lights up next week.

Guess I will have to wait and see.

Blessings and the Peace of Christ be with each of you.

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