Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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!”

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handsoffaith

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.

Embracing Uncertainty

Posted: October 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

Julie

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?

Julie

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

megan

 

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.

Julie

“If people don’t know I’m Christian by my actions, then I am doing something wrong”, I told my daughter, Brie during a conversation this week about what it means to be a Christian.  “How will they know?  she replied.  “People other than Christians are kind, caring, and respectful to other people.  How will they know it is because you are a Christian?” This had me stuck.  I often am quiet about the fact that I am a Christian and this had been a painful, internal struggle for years.  What keeps me quiet in my faith?  The fact that those who are loud about their faith, especially in the public media, do not represent what I believe it means to me to be a Christian.  They often share messages of judgment, righteous anger, and excluding other people.  This is contrary to how I see faith and this is especially strong after the recent sermons by our pastors about not judging others and offering forgiveness to those that have hurt us.  But my quietness about my faith denies people an opportunity to see God through those that see him differently.  If I am still in my faith, how can I show others about a God that loves us, that shows us grace, and that wants a relationship with us no matter where we are? I’m trying to give voice to my faith.  It is uncomfortable, like I’m wearing clothes after a pizza and ice cream binge.  Everything feels confining.  But I’m beginning to realize that I honor my own faith and my relationship with God when I put my faith into words, not just into action.

So the question I often ponder and offer to you is what are some ways for you to give voice to your faith?

Today, our family bids farewell to an institution that’s been a part of our lives for almost 9 years. Today is Scarlett’s last day at the Angel Academy, a day care center/preschool that has taught and looked after our daughters for their whole lives. The Angel Academy is closing in a few weeks, since its host congregation is changing locations and will no longer have space for the day care. It’s going to be hard for us to say goodbye to the people and place that have cared for our children for so many years.

 

I remember the first time I took Sierra there, a 7-pound pipsqueak in the infant room. I was sure this tiny baby would cry the whole day. She didn’t. She was cared for well. I’ll remember chuckling as my children chastised me over the years for saying the words “stupid” and “butt,” because those were “bad words” at school. I’ll remember hearing “I’m Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee,” and “Jesus Loves Me” sung over and over after school. We’ll always have the handprint crafts they brought home to us. I’ll remember how Scarlett, at 3-years-old, declared that her school friend Ayden was her boyfriend. Today we say goodbye and thank you to the Angel Academy, because they helped shape our children, and the things they learned and the memories we have, will last forever.

 

This is the time of year when we see a lot of things coming to an end, and a lot of new things beginning. Winter has finally come to an end, trees that were budding just a few weeks ago now have leaves, our spring flowers are giving way to the flowers of summer. And students are preparing to transition from one level to another. And some are graduating, in Commencement ceremonies. “Commencement” doesn’t mean, “The End,” but rather, “The Beginning.” Because when one facet of our lives draws to a close, a new part begins. Life is full of endings and new beginnings. Even when we’re done graduating, we all experience “commencements” in life – new jobs, new homes, having children and grandchildren, new opportunities, new relationships, and retirement. Scarlett is already looking forward to her new beginnings – the new schools she’ll attend, the new friends she’ll meet, the new adventures she’ll have. Saying goodbye and moving forward isn’t always easy, but as we make transitions, we remember that our God is a God of new life, who goes with us, blessing our journey and making all things new.

Pastor Jennifer

 

I number of years ago I heard this phrase, and it has stuck with me – EGO = Edging God Out.

There are many times in all of our lives when we think we know best – we think we have the one and only answer – we think we know the right direction to go. And quite often, this really is our ego getting in the way. As humans we often want to be right, because it avoids embarrassment and having to say we were wrong. And yes, I am as guilty as that as anyone.

I told this story in a sermon a number of years ago, but it illustrates the point well.

It was my first Sunday at my first call, and one of the teenage girls walked up to me and said, “We are going on a trip in the summer. Everything is planned, and you are coming with us.” What else could I say but, okay, what are we doing. The plan was to go to Glacier National Park, go whitewater rafting, and then head to an Indian Reservation to paint a church and teach VBS

It was a long drive, the kids got rowdy, and soon the teasing began. After first pit stop, the cars divided up by gender, the girls in two cars, boys in the other two. Well, we made it to Glacier and had a lot of fun rafting. When we finished on the water, we started to head to my friend’s church that we were staying at for the night. We stopped for gas, and I did something I shouldn’t have.

One of the ladies driving a van full of girls asked me – Do you want a map?

I turned to her, and in my most defiant voice said – I don’t need a map, I know where I am going.

Oops!

So we started out, and yes, I made a wrong turn. I even knew it was a wrong turn about five miles down the road, but did I admit it, NO! EGO

I kept going, hoping that there would be a turn somewhere I could take to get back on the right road. Plus, the boys in my car said – you can’t let the women see you were wrong.

We wound up in the middle a cow pasture.

So, I turned around and started down another road. Then, here comes the girls lead van. As it passes by I notice there is a note in window. It said – We are women, we have a map, follow us!

Ego – it gets in the way sometimes, and when it does, we get lost and need that guidance to get back on the right path. It is not always easy to ask for help, but we need to because we are not perfect, we do make mistakes, and we need others to support, care for, and guide us at times.

May all of us have the courage to ask for help when we need it, and may our ego’s take a backseat to God’s will for us.

Memories from Pastor Erik

Posted: May 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

wastebasket

There are nights when I suffer from insomnia. During these times I try to make sure I do not disturb anyone else in the family, so I sneak out into the living room and turn on the TV. Often I watch shows that I have recorded, but occasionally I will find a rerun of a show I like and watch it.

Earlier I had a night like this and was flipping channels until I came to the show “House.” The episode I was watching had to do with a man who was dying and the disease he had was untreatable. He was losing the ability to breath, his muscles were collapsing, and he wanted to be out of pain.

In watching the show my mind immediately went back to my dad.

Five years ago in July my dad passed away after a battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It is a nasty disease that eats away at a person’s body until they can no longer use their muscles at all. Dad battled this disease for 18 months, and finally passed away in his sleep on a Wednesday morning.

There have been times since his death that I have caught myself picking up the phone to call him, or turning on the computer to send him an e-mail. Then I catch myself and remember that I cannot do that anymore. I find myself watching a movie, like “Field of Dreams,” and missing the times we shared playing catch in the backyard. I find myself missing all those things that we used to do, and the pain of the loss comes back.

Dad was a vibrant man, full of life, who loved a good laugh and conversation over a cup of coffee. I think of all the gifts that he gave to me, and am quite sad that Sierra will not remember him, and Scarlett will have never met him. So I have to keep telling stories, sharing the memories of him, with them.

I have come to think of memories in two different ways. The first is the joyful reflections of the past – the events, people, and times shared. These are the good memories, and bring tears of joy to our eyes because of the good times and bring tears of sadness because we cannot share those times anymore.

Then there are the memories that keep us in the past. We are so stuck in what used-to-be that we miss what is happening today. These are the times that we cannot move forward because the memories keep us so tied to the past that we cannot live in the present or see the future.

As children of God, we are blessed in knowing that this life is not the end, there is that promise of the resurrection, the promise that we will see and celebrate with those loved ones who have gone before us. It does not mean that there will not be sadness or pain in this life – there will be and all of us know that because we have lived it. It means that the pain and sadness are temporary, and that God’s grace and love will overpower any struggle or pain we are facing today.

So today, as I reflect on the memories of dad, I am reminded to be a storyteller. To tell of the time dad coached my baseball team and saw me hit my first homerun. To tell of the hiking adventures and trips to the mountains. To tell of the first job my sister and I ever had – cleaning his office building, and he helped us find the wastebaskets.

I am also reminded to tell the story that never ends – the story of hope, healing, and new life that comes in Christ. The story that death is not eternal, but God’s love and grace is. To tell the story of stones that have been rolled away and tombs that have been emptied. For this memory, this promise, is the one that holds onto us when we cannot make it on our own. It is the story of God’s love for his children.

bballhoop

I was a kindergartener, walking to school on a spring day with my cousin Julie. On a corner, there was a landscaping rock with plants growing out of it. I had never seen anything like it before, so Julie and I stopped and bent over to look at the leaves. Immediately the owner of the property threw open her front door, stuck her head out the door and shouted, “If you kids touch that, I’m gonna call the police!” As a shy, sensitive 6-year-old, I started crying and ran away.  I felt like a criminal for being a curious kid who was simply looking at her rock. I always resented that the woman didn’t even ask or try to understand what we might be doing, before she jumped to judgment and accusation.

I see interesting things from my office window. It overlooks the church parking lot, dumpsters, and the garage. People constantly walk and drive through the parking lot. I overhear strange conversations and see some things I’d rather not see – heated arguments, littering, kids treating church property like toys, and worse. Seeing some not-so-nice things happen out my window has made me overly vigilant.

Since we’ve got a basketball hoop on the garage, neighbor kids often play basketball outside my window. Yesterday, a couple kids came to play basketball.  But soon, the boy started to try to climb on the dumpster, then tried climbing the doorframes of the garage. I watched for a minute and got angry. I get tired of people disrespecting other people’s property. I opened my window to yell at him. But in a split second, I was brought back to that spring day years ago. That woman hadn’t asked what I was doing. She hadn’t put herself in my little shoes to wonder what was going through my head. She just decided I was a bad kid and yelled. And that’s what I was about to do. But before I could open my mouth, I watched the boy pull something white out of his pocket. He had brought a net for our bare basketball hoop. He wasn’t trying to damage our property.  He was simply trying to find a way to hang the net, to enhance our property for others to use. So after I smiled to myself, I walked outside and said, “Hey! Need a ladder?” The boy jumped in surprise, then smiled back, and said, “Yeah!” As I held the ladder and he climbed to the top, I was thankful that I was able to be a part of hanging the net, rather than just shouting out the window. It’s a small thing, but the whole experience reminded me that when we take time to understand others with compassion, we may become inspired by people who we never expected to meet, and we, in turn, may become blessings to others.

Pastor Jennifer