What A Blessing – Jack Emerich

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

After asking several times about what if anything OSLC might do on behalf of our fire victims, Mary Ann Ewing and her daughter Evelyn, Pastor Erik said, “run with it!” So DeAnne and I went to work. She created a poster with the needs Mary Ann supplied to her, then we went to work. The choir was apprised of the needs and shown the list. They took many of the slips off the poster to gather for her. Within days we were receiving items for her new place of living. Then, the congregation as a whole was aware of the need and more things were brought in for her. Almost everything was donated to her. The one remaining item is an exercise bike. Her daughter, with cerebral palsy, and Mary Ann with her replaced knee are to be exercising in this gentle way. This is still a need.

And most recently, several of us were asking for monetary donations for her so she could replace her van that had conked out. On the 18th of December I was alerted to the need for $300 to cover expenses of her grant to replace the van. The money was needed by December 22nd. With a friend she had found a car in Janesville, hence the emergency and need for funds. I talked with her and said that I would see  what I could do. I had permission to talk to people individually for donations. Again, I began with the choir. They responded generously. Then it was speaking with people on Sunday morning. The response was overwhelming. God has created a caring community at OSLC. By the time I left after the first service I had met Mary Ann’s goal plus a bit of surplus.

She shed tears of joy when I brought it to her Sunday afternoon (after the Packer victory). The support and generosity of the faith community accomplished this goal. I was pleased to “have run with it!”


It was a Sunday morning in September, and Bob and I had just finished serving breakfast on the final morning for the Hands of Faith families we hosted that week.  The week had gone well; four families got along fine; no drama; no conflicts.  I was saying the good byes and wishing them well as they were getting ready to leave.  So it came as a surprise when one mom came up, said thank you, and gave me a hug; her teenage daughter followed suit.  They both admitted they didn’t want to go to the next church, that they liked it here and they had had fun.  I didn’t see it coming.  It was like I hit a brick wall.  I had no idea of the impact we, my volunteers, had on these guests this week.  And at that moment it made me realize that Our Savior’s volunteers have continued to have a positive impact on so many of the guests we have hosted over the years.

These guests are people like you and me or someone we know.  The dad gets injured on the job and the paychecks stop; their employer downsizes and they lose their job.  They are families living paycheck to paycheck, and they are one paycheck away from losing everything.

Or they are separated from their husbands and have no means to continue living in their current home.  Our Savior’s is that safe harbor where we provide a warm meal and a temporary place to rest their heads at night.

There are success stories with these families we house.  With this last visit in September, one dad had just gotten a full-time job with benefits starting the night they left Our Savior’s.  It won’t be long before he and his family will be able to leave the program.

A family we hosted in July is now out of the program; the mom is relieved and excited.  She and her two children have a one-bedroom apartment in the church neighborhood.  You could just tell a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.  It is just one bedroom, but observing the mom I could sense that it seemed like a mansion.  And the kids are doing great in school.  This is a mom, separated from her husband, who lost her home, her car, her at-home job.

This same family was walking past the church in September, saw the Hands of Faith van in the parking lot, and stopped to see if I was there.  Luckily I was.  I was greeted (by name) with hugs and excitement from all three.  This is the family who was invited to visit a pig farm because of James’ genuine interest in baby pigs.  Jane had never extended an invitation like that in all her years helping with the Hands of Faith program.  James and Mersadiez asked about Jane, they asked about Marlis, they asked about Steve.  They remembered them all by name.  It was this family who also said at the end of their week with us that they didn’t want to leave, that they wanted to stay here.

These families didn’t want to leave Our Savior’s; they wanted to stay with us; they had fun during their visit with us.  Did we do anything special, out of the ordinary?  I would say no we didn’t.  We were just the kind-hearted, giving people that we are, and we simply extended that generosity to our guests.

These two recent families are a testament of the impact the volunteers here at Our Savior’s have on them.  I’m sure not one of my Hands of Faith volunteers would say that they did something special for these families.  But don’t underestimate the impact you have on these guests.  I have the privilege to see what our volunteers do.

I see a volunteer who made a roast beef dinner with homemade rolls and homemade ice cream.  It was a feast to our families, who made countless trips back for seconds and thirds.  I see volunteers who brought a dessert and a birthday candle so a guest could celebrate her 16th birthday with strangers in the basement of a church.  I see a volunteer getting on the floor helping put a US map puzzle together with a fourth grader, giving her a heads-up on the states and capitals.  I see the volunteer who engages the kids and parents with a board game.  I see the volunteer who brings her own crafts so the guests can make a necklace or trinket that they get to keep.  I see the volunteer who brings in supplies so the kids can make Mother’s Day cards and see the excitement when they hand it to their mom.

I see the volunteer who engages each child in conversation, building up their self-confidence, offering positive reinforcement.  I see the volunteer who gives piggyback rides to the kids as though they are his own.  I see the volunteer who will go out and buy a water-proof mattress pad because we have a bed wetter.  I see the volunteer who will help put together every puzzle we have and the volunteer who reads story after story.  I see the volunteer who listens to the mom who needs to talk, to release the fear, the uncertainty, the embarrassment in her life right now.  I see the mom who wipes away tears as she shares her story of how she got to this place in her life and how it has changed her life as she talks with a college student who is writing a paper on homelessness.

So on their final Sunday morning with us, as they strip the sheets from the 3-inch cot mattress and pack all their belongings in a garbage bag, these families will be fine.  People are resilient; these temporary obstacles in their life will make them stronger.

So do we make an impact on these families?  You bet we do!  Ask the families who want to stay here at Our Savior’s another week.  Ask the 8- and 9-year old who can remember our volunteers by name two months after leaving here.  Ask the little 3-year old who grabs your hand as you walk down the hallway.  It’s always the little things that we as volunteers don’t think anything about; but to someone else, it might be the kind words you said, the hug you gave, the interaction you had, the act of kindness you made, that will carry these families on.  We may not realize the impact we have made on so many of the people we serve in the Hands of Faith program.  But do know, that we do make a difference.

Every time Our Savior’s hosts Hands of Faith, I submit a thank you to my volunteers in the weekly bulletin and the Messenger.  I am so proud of my volunteers who time after time give up their time to help those in need.  So thank you again to my volunteers, my veteran seasoned ones as well as my new ones, who continue to support this important ministry.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning and I was running just a few minutes late for church. As I arrived at Our Savior’s, I walked up the front steps and found the doors to be locked. I checked my watch, which seemed a little odd since it was 11:05 a.m. Well, the full parking lot was encouraging as I walked to the parking lot entrance. I expected to hear the opening hymn or a praise song upon walking in the sanctuary door, but there were two rows of people in the aisle moving towards the front. Baffled, I stood there for a moment, wondering if the service was ending. And then I realized they were approaching the front rail for holy communion. oops! Talk about timing. I stood there with a smile as I realized the summer schedule began and was pretty sure that everyone could see the invisible layer of egg that was on my face too.

Well, as is always the case at Our Savior’s, the congregation was gracious. I shared with a few individuals in line what happened and was met with a knowing smile of grace and gentleness. They didn’t tell me to turn around and walk out the door, that I missed the proper ingredients of worship to approach the Lord’s Table. They didn’t greet me with judgment, as if I had missed the mark in some way, they responded with empathy. It was only later on the drive home that I realized by leaping into the line midstream that I missed the opportunity to share in the sung Creed. I missed the opportunity to raise my voice in the Lord’s Prayer with the faithful who were gathered in the pews that morning. I missed the words of blessing and invitation to come to the table. Despite all of those things, I found myself included in the Savior’s gestures of grace as always on Sunday morning – in the bread and wine – but also with the faithful attenders who greeted me in line. I’m not even sure that they noticed the invisible layer of egg on my face.

The Road to Emmaus story in Luke is by far among my favorites of the Easter narratives. It’s beautiful in so many ways. The transparency of the two disciples along the road is one thing that I appreciate. And I love the playfulness of Jesus in his relationship with them. Even though they missed the mark in understanding what he taught them so often in their shared time together, he met them on that road with gentleness and love. They were mourning his absence while he was there the entire time, unknown to them, until he broke bread with them. As their eyes were opened, and Jesus vanished from their presence, they were filled with joy, confidence and urged to “go and tell” about this mysterious visitor that graced their path.

I’m grateful for the mysterious ways the Savior meets us at the table. I’m grateful for the Lord’s graciousness with the disciples on the path that day so many years ago. And I’m grateful for the disciples of Our Savior’s who met me on the path to holy communion on Sunday morning. God’s grace still humbles me each time it seeps into my soul. May the same be true for you, as grace envelopes your being – in times when you miss the mark, or in other moments when you are in stride with life, with God and those around you. Peace of Christ to you.

– Mary Bielke    

Embracing Uncertainty

Posted: October 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


Yesterday was such a beautiful autumn day and I embraced the day by going for a bike ride. I am just learning the bike trails around my new home in Machesney Park and came upon a fork in the trail. One path took me in a direction I had already traveled and one took me to places unknown. I decided to travel the familiar path and justified it in my own mind because daylight was waning and I might not want to get lost as a lone cyclist in the dark. But as I finished my trek toward home, I thought the decision was a great metaphor for life. I pondered how easy it is to travel the familiar rather than reaching out sometimes for new adventures. I thought about all the times I had faced uncertainty…waiting for results of cancer tests, waiting to see the outcome of a troubled relationship, waiting… How do I handle uncertainty? Often I talk to family and friends and express all the fear, doubt, and gratitude that come with uncertainty. Often I talk to God, who I know sees all of me, my strengths, my weaknesses, my fears, my joys. For many years, I had a prayer framed on my desk at the office that I would reflect upon during times I felt unsure of things in life. From the book, “Embracing Uncertainty” by Susan Jeffers, the prayer reads,
Dear God, I trust that no matter what happens in my life, it is for my highest good. And no matter what happens in the life of those I love, it is for their highest good. From all things you put before us, we shall become stronger and more loving people. I am grateful for all the beauty and opportunity you put into my life. And in all that I do, I shall seek to be a channel for your love. Amen
This prayer reminds that God is with me in moments of uncertainty and I can trust in that, even if I can’t feel that closeness during those uncertain moments. God has taught me that he will always be there because he has always been there for me; even if I tried to push him away in those uncertain moments. How great is our God!
So I ask you, what piece of uncertainty can you hand over to God today?

Embracing the moment

Posted: September 10, 2013 in Faith, Family, Grace, Humor
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The following is a post from Pr. Erik’s blog from over a year ago.

Scarlett, our youngest, has now gotten into the habit of waking up well before 6am and deciding that she is no longer tired and that it is time to get dad up. The mornings have become fairly predictable.

5:30 Scarlett is at her doorway yelling for dad (not mom, but dad)

5:35 Dad gets Scarlett back in bed, telling her it is too early to get up

5:45 Scarlett is at the door again, I not tired, she says

5:46 Dad is in bed with Scarlett trying to get her back to sleep

5:47 Scarlett starts poking dad, and the next 15 minutes are trying to get her to stop

6:05 Dad gives up, takes Scarlett to the bathroom and down to watch TV, trying to keep her quiet so the rest of the house can sleep

I finally got to the stage where I have stopped fighting her on this. I still try to get her to stay in bed until at least 6, but when she comes down stairs I decided to turn this into daddy/Scarlett time. So we cuddle in the chair, watch some cartoons and joke around with each other.

Once I made that change, from fighting it to embracing it, my morning got a lot less stressful and I started to enjoy my time with her in the mornings so much more.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would still love for her to sleep an extra hour or so every morning, but as long as she is up, I am going to make the best of it.

So what are some areas in your life where you learned to embrace the issue rather than fight against it?

The Valley

Posted: September 6, 2013 in Faith, Family, Grace, Life
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Recently I was reminded about a time when I was sitting with a lady in the hospital as she was struggling with the diagnosis that she was going to die soon, her disease was terminal.  As we talked she said, “There is one thing I know as I enter this last leg of my journey, I am not traveling alone.”

We hear that promise throughout scripture, especially in Psalm 23, and we are reminded that as we journey into what may seem as the darkest parts of our lives, even as we journey to death, we are not alone.  God has promised to light the way for us, and he sent his Son to show how death and darkness have no power over us.

This is the light of God, that his light is never extinguished, and our journeys will only bring us to a greater light, an eternal light, blessed with all the love that God can shower upon us.


Posted: September 4, 2013 in Faith, Grace
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Scarlett, like many children, needs a nightlight in her room. But being the girl she is, one night light is not enough. She needs two (it would be more if we let her, but we don’t want the place light up like a runway at night). So when she goes to bed, she makes sure to tell us to leave the hall light on, then checks that both nightlights are plugged in and ready to go.

Light represents safety for her. When the light is on, there is she is more comfortable and the darkness is not as scary. When looking at life through the eyes of a child, it is no wonder that the light/darkness images appear in the gospels as much as they do. Darkness is the scary stuff in life – evil, chaos, frightening things – and light is the good stuff – hope, peace the presence of God.

We all go through times of darkness in our lives. We walk through those “darkest valleys” often fearing what may be lurking out there and where we may be going.

But we have the ultimate nightlight in our lives as well. That wonderful, never-ending presence of God who brings the light of his presence, grace, and love to us in amazing ways. Sometimes our darkenss may be shattered by a call from someone unexpected; sometimes it may be broken by the loving touch of a friend; and sometimes it may disappear with a God moment either big or small that tells us that God is right here, with us now, and blessing us with what we need to make it every day.

So may you see that sliver of light shining in your life. May your darkness give way to the light of God. And may you always be blessed with the knowledge that you are loved, cared for and needed by the one who created all and loves you to the end.


The headlines seem to scream with tales of tragedy and trauma.  Sometimes it is hard to avoid being sucked into the muck of it all.  As a therapist, I am often challenged by my patients to explain God’s role in the pain and despair of human existence.  They often seek an explanation that has God and suffering tied up in a neat, little theological package.  Words of wisdom elude me.  I can only say that suffering is a part of the human experience and that we cannot get distance from suffering by thinking it away.  We must walk through the grief that comes into our life and not around it.

When my parents died under a Shakespearean turn of events, I felt like my world was falling apart.  But I knew that I had to allow myself to feel the grief, and share it with people who were safe and comforting.  I had to walk through it.  So where does God come in?  No matter what causes suffering in my life, I know that God walks with me if I allow him to.  Sometimes in my desolation, I have pushed God away from me.  I have stomped my feet like a churlish child with God.  But I know in my heart, He is always there; loving me unconditionally.  So you see my view of God is not of a puppeteer who is managing life’s events, but of a companion who is always with me.  This means that when the headlines stir my compassion for those who are suffering, I ask God in prayer to let those people know he is present and that they never walk alone.  This view of God means that I strive to be the person who is safe and comforting when someone is in pain.  I endeavor to be a child of God, but also a face of God for them.

Who in your life needs to feel the love and companionship of God and how can you be the face of God for them?

Connections by Megan Nelson

Posted: July 12, 2013 in Uncategorized



I sometimes feel as though it is hard for me to connect with others. I don’t know the latest musicians. I’ve never been able to quote lines from movies. I watch TV shows AFTER they’ve gone off air (I “discovered” The West Wing only two years ago and now think it’s the best show ever). I don’t know any sports stats. The list of what I don’t know can go on and on . . .
But what I do know is books. I LOVE to read. I’ve been an avid reader since my very first Baby-Sitters Club book back in 3rd grade. When I’m reading I feel connections with the characters. Sometimes I envy them, or understand them, or dislike them. But I always feel a connection. I also feel a connection with “real” people as I discuss these books. I love to know what they liked about a book, or why they didn’t like a book. I enjoy dissecting a book with others to discover hidden meanings and I love recommending books and having books recommended to me. Books are one of the biggest ways I connect with others.
One of the best books through which we can form connections is the Bible. I have had the privilege of reading through the Bible twice: once in a required Intro to Bible course in college and the other time as a 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge. Both times, I felt so connected to God as I was reading through the scriptures. Here I was able to reflect upon my faith and what it means to live out my life according to the Word. It’s surprising which verses jumped out at me and which questions formed as I was reading through the text. But the biggest surprise was not only the connection I made with God, but the connection I made with “real” people as I was reading the Bible. My husband and I had meaningful conversations and questioned each other. I talked to other people about what I had read and asked for their insight and views on the text. I tried to better follow and reflect upon the Word in my daily relationships with others. One verse that I have always found comforting is John 14: 27. “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you.” Throughout my daily interactions with people, I try to bring God’s peace to others and allow other people to shed peace to me.
I encourage all of you, cyber-people: the next time you need to feel connected, grab your Bible. Spend a few minutes reading the scripture — it doesn’t have to be long. What I can promise you is that you will feel a connection. You’ll feel a connection with God, and you can take that feeling and help it connect you to others.
May God’s love always be with you and may you grow in your relationship with Him and others.


Posted: June 23, 2013 in Faith, Family, Grace, Life
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Okay, I will admit it – there are times I get depressed. There are times I feel down and the happiness and joy of life seems to be missing. There are also times that I am passive about trying to feel better, just waiting for someone or something to come by and pick me up.


I read a quote from Joyce Meyer today – Stop giving others the job of making you happy.


Too often, I think, we are passive when it comes to joy and happiness. Too often we expect others to come to our rescue and make things better. When, instead, we need to take the step forward ourselves. We need to do something a little different, look at life from a  different perspective, and realize that they joy, the happiness, the blessings of life are there and have been there the entire time.


So now, when I get in a funk and feel a little down, I take a look at my girls (like in the picture above) and my wife and my friends and my life and see all of the blessings that I have been blessed with. I also physically move myself to another place to get a new perspective and I don’t rely on others to make me happy.


So today, what are you going to do to see the joy in life?