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Thankfully, saving lives

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

Excitement – Worry – Anticipation – all these thoughts are going through the minds of those who have planned or are participating in Running 4 Clean Water tomorrow (4917 Duck Creek Drive, Garland, TX US 75043). 

This year there have been some obstacles in planning.

But the outcome for the 2022 Running 4 Clean Water 5K is already successful.

Looking back through the years, we have always had setbacks in planning and carrying out the race.

But somehow each year seems to be as successful or better than the last.

I am so thankful for those leaders who persevere through all the meetings, planning, calling and fulfilling every last detail of the race (Willie Kamara, Nancy Sherlin, James Welker, Joey and Cindy Fisher).

I’m thankful for all those generous sponsors who see the vision.

I’m thankful for the City of Garland, which helps with the course.

I’m thankful for the volunteers, runners and walkers who make the 5K happen.

I’m thankful for Seven Hills Global Outreach and Zion Ministries.

I’m thankful for those who continue to pray for the work of our church.

I love to see how the Holy Spirit works despite our humanness! 

Lives are being saved

As a musician, I have lots of projects (musicals, dessert shows, KAMP, choir tours, cantatas, choir projects during COVID) that take a lot of teamwork to fulfill.

Through each endeavor, my faith grows because I give both myself and the project over to God.

So today, here is a prayer for this project – for the Running 4 Clean Water 5K/1 Mile Fun Run. 

Loving God, thank you for the opportunity to gather as a community to participate in Running 4 Clean Water.

May our words and actions honor you.

Please give each participant, whether runner or volunteer, strength to finish the task set before them.

May we be kept safe and without injury.

Let this course be a reminder of our faith walk.

“Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

May this year’s Running 4 Clean Water bring glory to your name as we give ourselves to you.

May those in Sierra Leone be blessed to do your good work through water and the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Wait on the Lord

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

It is no longer a state secret that I injured both of my hands in August and early September, which forced a wave of recital and concert cancellations in September and October. 

What isn’t as well known is that this past Tuesday, I finally regained full use of my hands.

I know this because I practiced for four hours without realizing it – something I haven’t done since early August. 

Unlike past incidents like tendinitis or simple overuse, this injurious bout took forever to heal – and involved two hands instead of one.

I was beginning to wonder if I was going to follow in the path of so many forgotten pianists of years’ past, whose careers died prematurely because they got injured and never fully healed.

Thanks to your prayers, God extended grace and mercy in my case.

Amid this ordeal, I discovered that I could still manage the harpsichord.

With my quill-plucking keyboard, I kept my soul nourished with a renewed relationship to the music of J. S. Bach.

As a result, I’m sharing some of this music in my upcoming recital – paying it forward, as we could all use some soul-healing in these trying times. 

In scripture, we are exhorted to “wait on the Lord” quite often, in various contexts.

I will honestly attest that this ‘wait’ for the Great Physician was not fun, and at times I felt overlooked. 

But in this, I learned that it is OK to ask for prayers; it is OK to ask for help; it is OK for the show to wait for a performer’s healing. 

Above all, I learned that it is incredibly important to guard one’s mind and heart – critical to this is to surround oneself with a loving and supportive community. 

Right now, nothing gives me greater joy than to report back to you that all is well. And I’m good to go, once more.

Thank you for your prayers.

True north

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

The theme verse for Pure Joy! Youth Choir this year is Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the spirit! 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

There is no law against such things.


This verse is part of a chapter that describes living “by the spirit.”

Those living by the spirit will reflect not only one, but all the fruit of the spirit described in this verse.

“Woah!” one may say. “That’s a lot of work.”

Our focus is not making sure we ‘do’ all the fruit. As Christians, our single focus is following the Holy Spirit.

Basically, our job is to trust in God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. God’s work handles the rest (the fruit in us.)

John 29:28-29 best describes it: 

Then they said to him (Jesus), “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 

One of the songs the youth are learning is called True North, by a worship band from Northern Ireland band called Rend Collective. 

Here are the abbreviated lyrics: 
 
Oh, You are my true north
I will follow You into the dark.
I will follow You with all my heart.

I will not let the darkness steal the joy within my soul
I will not let my circumstance become my compass, no
I will not let the fears of life and sorrows of this world
Dictate to me how I should feel
For You are my true north.

I will not let my failures turn into the curse of shame
I will not walk beneath the clouds that taunt me and condemn
For I will stand on solid ground the shadow of Your love
Forgiven, changed, a heart renamed
For You are my true north, everybody sing

Oh, You are my true north.
I will follow You into the dark.
I will follow You with all my heart.

One of the students asked, “What is ‘true north,”

I gave a brief definition. But the question caused me to look it up! (Thank you, Google.)

There is the ‘magnetic’ north and the ‘true’ north. (How scientists figure this out is another discussion.)

This is what I learned:

  1. The magnetic field of the earth changes. Therefore, if you only use a compass, you can be misled and get lost on the way to your destination. 
  2. To reach your desired destination, use the compass plus a ‘magnetic declination’ equation for the location (latitude.)

So how does this relate?

Basically, representing the ‘magnetic field’ – our emotions, world attitudes, cultural norms, religious rules and other voices can dictate our action. Following those guidelines, we miss the mark.

However, by seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, our ‘magnetic declination,’ God’s kingdom can come on earth as it is in heaven.

The decision to follow the Holy Spirit is not a ‘one and done’ thing.

Trusting and believing is daily work, a daily decision.

“I will trust God today.”

The purpose of church community is to support each other in our daily decision of not what to do, but who to follow.

Miracles like Running 4 Clean WaterGood Samaritans of GarlandGLOWS (Garland Overnight Warming Shelter) and the support of knowing that you are loved will emerge. 

Individuals and the church will bear fruit!

What do you do?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

ne of the top three questions I get all the time is this: 

“What do you do?” 

This question often comes up when discussing my employment and where I work. 

I used to tell people, “I work for the church.” That was it. 

I said this because, when you tell people, “I am the Director of Student Ministries at First United Methodist Church Garland,” their response is usually something like, “Oh, so you are a pastor?” 

Then I have to explain that I am not a pastor, since I am not ordained. 

Which often leads to a discussion about the difference between a pastor and a minister and why that matters. 

Much easier to say, “I work for the church.” 

Truth is, if you are reading this, you probably also work for the church.

When we join the church, we take vows that state we will support our church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. 

But I am not sure I like the phrase “working for the church.”

When I think about the way that sounds, to me, it sounds like I am working for a place.

I guess it might be better to say, “working in the church?” 

But then what does that mean? Still sounds like I am working for someone or for an entity. 

I don’t work for either. I work for God. It really is that simple.

I do not work at First United Methodist Garland because of the entity, its people, or how much I get paid. 

I work here because I work for God. I feel called to ministry in a way that allows me to serve and utilize my gifts. 

In the last year and half, I haven’t been happy about needing to use ALL of my gifts. 

I didn’t realize when I left maintenance to work in ministry that I would be working maintenance as part of the ministry.

That is a real wordy way of saying I didn’t leave maintenance to go work maintenance. Yet here I am. 

Was I bitter? Yep. Was I frustrated? You bet. 

But I realize that this is all part of the ministry I am called to do.

I vowed to serve with my gifts. That means all the gifts I possess that God can use.

I don’t get to pick and choose. Lord knows I have tried. Let me assure you, that typically does not work out well in the end. 

So why am I telling you this? And what is the point? 

We all are called to serve God with our gifts. What is your gift?

Can you sing? There is a robe and folder with your name on it waiting for you.

Are you artistic? We have plenty of ideas for newsletters, posters and media that could use a professional touch. 

Do you like to get your hands dirty?

Come help me in the elevator pit one day cleaning out debris and oil. 

Push a broom, vacuum a room or two. Work in the flower beds. Clean a few glass doors or windows. 

Maybe physical isn’t your thing. But everyone can serve God.

Your gift may be the gift of prayer.

Your gift may be, well, gifts. Perhaps you have been blessed and are in the position to bless others financially. 

We are called to serve. We vow to serve. We are built to serve. 

I need to get over myself sometimes and realize that, even though I may not like it, I am good at fixing stuff.

And if that is where God needs me, then I should probably listen and get to work.

It is all part of the ministry. 

I hope and pray that all of you continue to find ways to be part of the ministry. 

When words don’t come

Mark Buford, Director of Communications

Sometimes, the words just don’t come.

That’s a problem when it’s your turn to share a reflection.

And that’s when I’m reminded that listening is just as important as sharing.

So I listened.

Or more accurately, I read. 

Colossians 3:1-11, to be precise.

One of the scriptures for this Sunday’s worship service at First United Methodist Garland.

And it was the last few words that caught my attention … Christ is all in all

This reminds me of a song I used to sing back in my praise band days – You Are My All in All.

(Nichole Nordeman sings it far better!) 

You are my strength
when I am weak,
You are the treasure
that I seek,
You are my all in all.


In these times of inflation and poverty and hunger and racism and political bickering and COVID and monkeypox and on and on and on, I am weak. 

When I fall down
You pick me up, 
When I am dry
You fill my cup, 
You are my all in all. 


Thankfully, I have a Savior who loves and watches over me to help me cope. 

Jesus, Lamb of God, 
Worthy is your name. 
Jesus, Lamb of God, 
Worthy is your name. 


Amen. 

Is God noisy?

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

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 

– 1 Kings 19:11-12 NKJV


This past Wednesday morning began as every other since July 11: a walk along a noisy and crowded Flushing, Queens, New York sidewalk to the subway station, hoping and praying that an express train to Manhattan (Times Square/42nd Street) would be available. 

However, a question randomly popped in my head.

“If humans are made in the image and likeness of God, is God noisy?” 

I answered myself, “Well, God is hugely into music, just like us.

“He likes to hear choirs sing His praises. Even the heavenly bodies in the galaxy make sounds!

“And Jesus got killed for the noise He made while on Earth. Of course, God isn’t necessarily quiet.” 

Later that day, after rehearsal, I decided to get some dinner before going to the piano practice studios near Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan. 

On a street corner near Penn Station (34th Street and 7th Avenue), I heard an accompaniment track playing the hymn tune HENDON, which is commonly sung to the text Take My Life and Let it Be

In the near deafening noise that is lower Manhattan, I could faintly hear the song, and I started singing it out loud as I walked to the restaurant.

After dinner, I took the train up to Lincoln Center.

Because I was uncharacteristically early to my appointment, I sat in a park near the Tony Plaza. 

A clock struck 7:00pm, and then I faintly heard synthetic church bells playing the iconic hymn Abide With Me.

As I was enjoying and soon about to sing along, a drumline marched down the street and completely drowned out this prayerful hymn. 

I had a realization I felt impressed to share:

God chooses not to compete with our noise. 

In fact, our being silent in His presence is one of the humblest acts we can perform. 

It is our way of acknowledging that God’s “noise” is more important than our own. 

Then I asked myself, “Do I keep myself too busy to allow the voice of God to be heard?

“Is my mind too polluted with the philosophies of this world to allow God to reveal to me what He wants me to see?”

I don’t know, but this past Wednesday in New York City gave me much to consider. 

A morning prayer

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.

Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

– An Order for Morning Praise and Prayer, United Methodist Hymnal, 876

I love this prayer because it reminds me that every day God is working out God’s purpose.

It also reminds me that we all need to be a part of God’s work every day. 

Sometimes when praying, my prayers sound like a task list for what I want God to do.

It’s almost as if I’m saying “my will be done,” instead of “thy will be done.” 

A few weeks ago, we sang the hymn Open My Eyes that I May See. 

This is a wonderful morning prayer! I hope you will pray it with me this morning. 

Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; 

place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine! 

Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;  

and while the wavenotes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine! 

Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; 

open my heart and let me prepare love with they children thus to share. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine! 

Amen. 

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.