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.

Love one another

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

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

O God of love:

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

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

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

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

Lord, have mercy on us. 

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

May your glory dawn upon us again.  Amen.

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.

Fix your eyes on Jesus

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

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

What a year!!

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

Planning music and youth choir activities has been challenging.

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

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

As chairperson, Joey Fisher had many obstacles to overcome.

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

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

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

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

Ugh – yet another obstacle!

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

Lives will be changed because of their perseverance!

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

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

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

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


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

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please know that you are Jesus’ beloved.

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

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

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus
Hymn 349
United Methodist Hymnal

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. 

We can’t lose

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

My community orchestra, the Mansfield Philharmonic, began rehearsing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in mid-July to start preparing for our re-opening concert in September.

I chose the symphony because it represents victory against struggle. However, I came to learn that my “victory pose” was premature.

Given the state of the COVID-19 variants, I had been fielding calls and texts from worried orchestra members for weeks, wondering if we’re going to do our September Beethoven concert as planned.

After being inspired by the outdoor concert I gave in Los Angeles two weeks ago, I finally had the answer I sought.

I took two hours to re-plan and spread the entire orchestra out over the entire chancel of First United Methodist Church Mansfield and into the rafters near the organ pipes.

I required everyone to wear masks, despite vaccination statuses.

Once everyone streamed into the sanctuary to start rehearsal, I finally gave my answer to the entire orchestra assembled:

“Several of you have texted, called and shared your concerns over the variants. I want to address that right now.
 
“We will have the concert as scheduled, as planned. The concert will continue, come hell or high water. We’re still having this concert. 

“If the church shuts us down because they don’t want outside activities in here due to the variant, there is a big parking lot right next to the sanctuary. We’ll set up a tent, and keep on pushing.
 
“Keep September 19 on your calendars and perish the thought of cancellation. Board members, if you want to have a meeting about any of this, put it on the agenda. We doin’ this.”


The thought of an outdoor concert strikes dread in many classical musicians because our instruments are designed for indoor use.

But given where we are, is it better to sit at home, bored and silent, or to play outdoors where it’s safer for human beings to gather? 

I chose to defiantly decide the show will go on because music is my ministry, and it cannot be silent.

Where do you see yourself in this story?

What is your “God put this in my bones; it must be heard” struggle?

In whatever it may be, remember that if you are working for God, you can’t lose, even if everything around you looks bleak. 

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