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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.

The same big sky

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

I love taking pictures of clouds in the sky.

I don’t know when this fascination of mine started, but I really enjoy all the different ways that clouds form in the sky.

And it isn’t just the clouds.

The way the sun dances across them and reflects different colors and different times in the day can be mesmerizing.

I have taken pictures of sunsets and sunrises that have colors in the clouds and sky that seem impossible.

I have also taken pictures of storm clouds that look like they were going to flatten the entire city.

Awe inspiring. Breathtaking. Beautiful. These are the words that come to mind when I look back on the pictures.

I realize that saying something cliché right now like “we are looking at the same bright sun in the same big sky right now, even though we are 1,000 miles apart” would be just that, cliché.

I mean, come on, if we are 1,000 miles apart, we may be looking at the same sun, but we are definitely looking at a different part of the that “same big sky”.

Still, it does seem to make us feel more connected to each other to think that way.

The truth is. we are connected, and that is one reason why I love the United Methodist Church so much.

We are connected to one another because we are part of the same big tent that allows us to serve and journey together, even though we don’t agree on how to do that.

It is heartbreaking to me to know that there are those who have decided that the tent just isn’t big enough anymore, and that the connection isn’t what it is about.

Not true for me, not true.

God’s tent is always big enough for everyone. Our tent is big enough for everyone.

We just must get over ourselves and realize that it is big enough and start welcoming everyone in.

I think if everyone just stopped and admired the beauty of the clouds every once in a while and realized we are under the same big sky, things might be a little better.

It doesn’t matter how big things seem to be, be humbled by looking up and realize the beauty of what is around us and what we are a part of.

We are all truly connected in so many ways The clouds in the sky remind me of that almost every day.

My prayer is that you can find that something that reminds you as well.

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.

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. 

Sometimes you need to go around

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

You find yourself standing in front of the tallest wall you have ever seen.

You were told by everyone around you that you needed to scale this wall and perch yourself on top of the highest point so that you can see what is on the other side.

The wall has some places here and there that you could possibly fit your hands and feet into.

There also seem to be some large cracks that look like you could really get a great hold on to pull yourself up.

You take a deep breath and start to climb.

Quickly, your body reminds you that you aren’t as young as you used to be, or that you are not in the shape you thought you were.

Probably should’ve used that gym membership you’ve been paying for but never actually use.

You climb back down.

Each time you try to climb, every place you put your hands and feet, it all seems to be too much.

Each time you tire quickly and must come back down.

You almost slip and fall so many times you’ve lost count.

Struggle as you might you just can’t seem to get there.

You begin to wonder and dream about the sights on the other side of the wall.

What will the world look like?

How much beauty are you missing because you can’t see what is there?

Is there a large lake or perhaps a beautiful frozen glacier that seems frozen in time?

You try again. No luck.

You are drenched in sweat and your muscles ache.

Your body is yelling at you to stop and rest.

But everyone told you that you HAD to get to the top, that what lies beyond the wall is something that MUST be seen.

How long would you try to climb?

How long would you push yourself past the point of exhaustion?

Wait! Did you bother to look to either side?

The wall doesn’t go on forever. If you walk a ways you can simply go around.

So you walk.

The walk seems to take forever but eventually you can see the end of the wall.

Your pace quickens.

Even though your lungs start to burn from the effort and your already shaky legs are about to give out, you find yourself inspired and full of hope because there it is!

The end of the wall.

You slowly and cautiously creep around the corner to view what is beyond the wall.

I find that there are many times I feel as though I am climbing that wall.

What I have to remind myself is that there are other ways of getting where I need to go.

The walk that I am on is not one that I journey alone.

I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who mentor me, guide me, and encourage me.

But most importantly, I walk with Jesus. I never walk alone.

The walk may be longer than expected and it might seem like it will never end.

But it will, eventually.

We don’t always need to climb the wall. Sometimes we just need to walk around it.

My prayer for you today is that you won’t walk alone.

That you will look to either side of you and recognize the cloud of witnesses that walk with you.

If you don’t see them, don’t look up at the wall.

Instead, look deep inside and know that you don’t ever walk alone.

Blessings.

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. 

A prayer for fathers and equality

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

Dear Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the fathers in our lives: biological and otherwise. 

We thank you for the wisdom they taught us, the protection they provided us. 

We thank you for the leadership they provided when we needed it. 

Please continue to bless the father figures who surround us with love, encouragement, and support. 

We pray that more men seek to follow you and obey your will, for in doing so it will strengthen our society. 

Further, Father God, we pray for our nation on this Juneteenth holiday, as it has yet to overcome the legacy of slavery and segregation. 

We implore your Spirit to move the hearts of men towards reparations. 

We remind you of the words you gave to Amos: let your righteous justice flow like a mighty stream. 

Please move this nation to rectify inequality in all forms.

In Jesus’ name, 

Amen

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.

Lifting the Cup

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:25-26

In the key Scripture for this collection, we hear that the Psalmist will lift the cup of Salvation as an expression of gratitude for blessings from God.

That image reminded me of the first time I led a Love Feast at our church family camping outing.

It was Sunday morning, and we were grubby and tired.

It took a while to gather all the kids (and adults!) for the worship service that would close our weekend.

Our pastor visited the day before, but no one thought to bring “official” communion elements – so he prayed over a couple of juice pouches and a handful of hamburger buns.

But remarkably – when the time came to have the simple laity-led form of the Lord’s Supper – as I talked about these everyday items being “set aside” and becoming more than they were before – all the fidgeting stopped.

It was one of the most meaningful worship experiences I have ever had.

After worship closed, the kids joined me in returning the elements to the Earth and the birds.

None of the poking and pushing from earlier, they too were transformed.

Prayer: Father God, help me to remember that I have also been consecrated. Like the buns and juice, I am transformed. Remind me and use me. Amen.

Jack Kincaid, Canmore, Alberta


A daily Lenten devotional reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew to inspire help sharing nourishing food with neighbors in need. 

Every $1 donated provides more than 40 servings to those in greatest need. A donation of $47 for the 47 days in Lent provides more than 1,880 servings. 

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors!