Lenten Theme – “Wandering Heart”

Like many of us, Peter has a wandering heart. His journey is not polished, or linear, or perfect, but he is always tethered to the love of God. When you look closely at Peter’s story, you find Jesus at each step along the way—offering him abundance, catching him when he begins to sink, challenging him when he stands in the way, washing his feet, predicting his betrayal, and offering him agapē love. This Lent, we’re joining Peter in figuring out faith. We’re not idolizing or vilifying him; instead, we’re hoping to wander alongside him, open to what we might learn about Jesus (and ourselves) by stepping in his shoes. Come along this Lent as we strengthen our faith in the footsteps of Peter following Christ.

Resolve to Do All the Good You Can

It is a popular tradition for people to make New Year’s resolutions to start the year, with the hope of keeping their promises and making changes happen. This practice can be traced back for centuries when people made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. According to some sources, the Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. At “watchnight” services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making resolutions to be more devoted in the new year.
Surveys show that these were the Top Resolutions that people made to start 2023:
•    Exercise more.
•    Eat healthier.
•    Lose weight.
•    Save more money.
•    Spend more time with family and friends.
•    Spend less time on social media.
•    Reduce stress on the job.
•    Reduce spending on living expenses.

As we get ready to start 2024, what will you resolve to do? What commitment will you make to be the best “you” and to making a positive difference in the world? Consider strengthening your relationship with God; showing care and gratitude for your family and friends, and then extending hospitality and compassion to all God’s people. May God give you wisdom and encouragement to make the most of the new year.
Happy New Year,
Karen

What Can We Give?

One of the questions often heard in the days following Christmas is “did you get everything you wanted?” First and foremost, it is important to remember that it is not our birthday. We are celebrating the birthday of Christ. While there is significance and importance to demonstrating our love and admiration for friends and family during the holidays, and there is joy in exchanging gifts, it is also good to do so with purpose and intention. What matters are those things you can’t buy – time spent with family and friends; experiences shared; kindness; love; patience; compassion; tolerance; sharing; service to others; making a difference. I encourage you to invest your time and energy in those gifts that don’t break, rust, become outdated or need to be returned – it will pay great dividends to you and your loved ones.
And during this time of the year that can be stressful and overwhelming, gratitude never grows old, and it shouldn’t be tossed out with the turkey leftovers. Before we get drawn into the holiday mindset of “what am I going to get?” let’s take a moment to give thanks for what we have been given, and give thanks to God and the people around you.
•    Gratitude helps us stay in the present. When we’re focused on things we can give thanks for today, we’re not living in the past or worried about the future.
•    Gratitude helps us avoid negative thinking, which when left unchecked, leads to negative emotions. You can’t be grateful and envious at the same time.
•    Gratitude increases our resistance to stress. Grateful people tend to bounce back more quickly from adversity.
•    Gratitude increases our sense of self-worth. Grateful people recognize the contributions others have made to their lives, and this transforms the way they see themselves.
•    Three ways to cultivate gratitude
•    1. Keep a gratitude journal.
•    2. Count your blessings on a regular basis. Similar to keeping a gratitude journal, without writing everything down. This can be done in the morning, in the evening, and all throughout the day. It’s the application of the “give thanks in everything” verse.
•    3. Use visual reminders.  Simple reminders, like putting Scripture verses in places we’ll regularly see them, can prompt us to be grateful. Some people like to drop notes of gratitude in a “gratitude jar.” The point is to do whatever helps us recognize and appreciate our many blessings.
In remembering God’s grace given to us through Christ, may you find much to be thankful for. Wishing you a blessed holiday season and a joyous Christmas.
Karen

Opening Doors

When I was contacted by the Pastoral Search Committee of First Christian Church nearly 31 years ago, it was after they had selected my resume as someone that they wanted to interview. The selection process was a bit different, in that the chair of the search committee decided to cover the names and gender of the candidates, and ask the committee to make a selection not knowing any specifics about the individual. The purpose of this was to overcome hesitation to consider any female candidates. Following the committee’s decision to proceed with an interview, and ultimately to recommend me to the Board and to the congregation, there were those individuals that said that they would leave the church if a woman was hired. Some did leave. Others stayed and eventually changed their minds. The resistance was rooted in a belief that “scripture” said that women shouldn’t be pastors, or at least not teaching or leading a congregation. For some the thought was “maybe they could be youth pastors or Christian Education leaders, but no lead pastors.” I have always been confident in my calling from God to be ordained and lead a congregation, and continue to stand ready to answer any questions that might arise regarding my gender. While looking back on how the search committee brought my name forward, we might chuckle and think that we have come a long way. But the task to be open and affirming of ALL God’s people is an on-going work in progress for each of us. Not only has scripture been used to exclude women, but it has too often been used to justify hostility and exclusion towards the socially marginalized, including people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. As Christians we are to inspire faith, hope and love, and we begin to do that when we open the door, and our hearts, to all God’s children and love them as God loves them.

Just as people have asked me how I can “justify” being a woman pastor when their reading of the bible tells them otherwise, I believe that through conversation and questions we can all learn what the scriptures do and don’t say about one another.  I encourage you to attend the panel discussion we are co-hosting with the United Methodist Church on November 9, and I would also hope that if you have questions, ask them.  May we strive to demonstrate in words and action that we value the uniqueness of all God’s people and affirm the worth and dignity of all.

Blessings,

Karen

Resilience for the Long Haul

The holidays have begun…..yes, I said it. Halloween is just around the corner and stores have begun to put out the Christmas decor. Before we turn the page on the calendar, plan now how you are going to “pace yourself” and take care of yourself as life picks up pace and demands on your time, energy and pocketbook increase.  Here are some important tips on how to care for yourself and be resilient.
•    Turn off the TV and get off of social media.  (Yes, that is what I said) What you read on social media isn’t always reality and we can’t allow other people’s opinions to shape our opinion of others or ourselves. If you want to be on social media for entertainment or to keep in touch with family and friends, don’t read stuff that will stress you out.
•    Exercise – Just 20-30 minutes a day of aerobic activity like walking, biking or swimming will make a huge difference in how you feel. Exercising will help you stay healthy too, and keep up your physical stamina.
•    Get more sleep – Lack of sleep results in decreased alertness, impaired task performance and poor decision making. Instead of trying to get more sleep each night, think about getting more sleep each week. Getting 49 or more hours of sleep a week will make you feel better and others will notice it.
•    Be proactive in your time management. Get together with your family and plan how you want to spend your week. Then write that on a calendar and follow that plan regardless of how you feel.  People say “if I only felt better I’d do that.”   But the truth is that if you do something, you’ll feel better and not miss out on opportunities.
•    Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings. Participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Eat a healthy diet. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing, prayer or journaling.
•    Get connected. Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad. Establish other important connections by volunteering. Spend time in prayer and reflection to strengthen your relationship with God.
•    Make every day meaningful. Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
•    Learn from experience. Think of how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through rough times.
•    Remain hopeful. You can’t change the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
•    Be proactive. Don’t ignore your problems. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan, and take action. There are resources available. Feel free to ask for guidance and referrals.
Take good care and Merry Christmas, I mean, Happy Halloween, Karen

How to Be a Giant on the Inside

Since Mattea has graduated from Humboldt State, I have not had the opportunity to drive north and see the majestic California redwoods, but they are still one of my favorite places in the Golden State. Even if you have never stood among the redwoods, imagine this, redwood trees are so tall that, standing on the forest floor, you can’t see to the tops. The enormity of these great trees emerges partly from the particulars of life in California– the ocean currents and our famous fog. The trees thrive because they have learned to adapt to strong winds, cold weather and fog. In other words, they have found a way to make challenges become a benefit to them. Redwoods evolved the ability to tap into fog, absorbing some of its moisture through their leaves and funneling more to their roots. The California giants found a way to make “rough weather” be an advantage and a source of growth. When we can learn from our challenges or missteps, we can grow as well.
In addition, it turns out that redwood trees evolved a second trait that, like their ability to absorb water from fog, allows them to thrive as huge trees: Redwoods are extraordinarily good at not dying. It seems that while some other towering tree species invest in growing very fast, redwoods invest in defense: pest-resistant heartwood, fire resistant bark, and an impressive ability to re-grow damaged trunks and branches. Scientists have found that it is incredibly difficult to kill a redwood because they are so resilient in bouncing back from “damage.” The slow growth of the redwood has shown that patience and persistence can pay off. They have demonstrated that even moderate or slow growth can add up over time. The redwoods have shown that they are good at survival. Even with current climate change issues, the redwoods are demonstrating once again that they can find a way to adapt to change and thrive. The trees have been supplementing a decrease in fog with the increase in pollution – they have substituted carbon dioxide for a loss in water. It appears that the same resilience that has allowed the redwoods and sequoias to grow so tall seems to be helping them cope with climate change. Again, these awe-inspiring giants demonstrate for us that our ability to adapt to change and grow from our setbacks can impact our future. Patience and perseverance, along with God’s gracious presence, can make us giant on the inside.

Be strong & blessed,
Karen

To read more go to FirstChristianGlendora.org

The Things We Learned in Kindergarten

Author and educator Robert Fulghum summarized the simple lessons of life in books and lectures when he told us that “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. Many of those simple realities we have found to be true again and again. And aren’t there days when it would be great to be 5 years old again even for just an hour? Think how nice it would be to have the unbridled freedom to laugh a lot and cry a lot, think what a better world it would be if all of us could have milk and cookies about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down and curl up with our blankies for a nap (and, if you still do that as an adult, that is okay).
As the new school year starts this month, I think some of Fulghum’s reflections on kindergarten warrant repeating. Here are a few life lessons that are true whether you are 5 years or 55 years young:
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
2. Put things back where you found them.
4. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
5. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
6. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
7. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
8. Live a balanced life.
9. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
10. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
11. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
12. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.

 ― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Remember to enjoy each day. Eat some cookies. Take a nap or two. Remember to play fair and be nice. Share, do your work and don’t be tardy.
Karen

Keeping a Holy Lent

The word “Lent” comes from a word meaning “spring” and “long,” an apparent reference to the lengthening of the days of spring. Lent is the season preceding Easter, a season for self-discipline and renewal. Its tradition goes back to the early days of the Christian church, beginning in the first century as an observance lasting forty hours, roughly the amount of time Jesus was believed to have laid in the tomb. In later years, the duration of the season was extended to six days called Holy Week. A custom arose about that time among those able to visit Jerusalem of visits to various sites associated with the life and ministry of Jesus. It was to be a time of fasting and self-denial, symbolic of Jesus own suffering and death. This visiting of significant sites also led to the Stations of the Cross for the Roman Catholic Church.  In later centuries, the duration of Lent was again extended, this time to 36 days, apparently a tithing of the number of days in the year. Still later, four more days were added, the numeral four being significant as symbolic of the number forty, that number often symbolizing a long time, or even endless time. It especially calls to mind the forty days and nights that Jesus is said to have spent in the wilderness, a time of testing and temptation prior to the start of his ministry. Sundays are not included in the numbering of the days of Lent, because Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus and Lent recognizes the events leading up to the resurrection. For this reason we refer to the Sundays in Lent rather than the Sundays of Lent.
The Lenten season began with Ash Wednesday on February 22 and continues through Holy Week.  I would encourage you to keep a holy Lent through prayer, reflection, study, service and giving. Engage in the spiritual practice of seeking – with honest and faithful questions as your guide. My hope and prayer for you is that this holy season will be a time for you to commit yourself to spiritual renewal and growth. Like the flowers that bloom in spring, may your spiritual life blossom with new life and growth.

Blessings,
Karen

Seeking: Honest questions for deeper faith

Our theme for this Lenten season will be “Seeking”, and is centered on a series of questions that I hope will lead you to a deeper faith, a new beginning, a restoration and a wider grace. Our questions won’t necessarily lead to answers, but they can help us find clarity and a new perspective.  Like the characters in our Lenten scriptures, we are also seeking many things; clarity, connection, wonder, justice, balance.  We are seeking our calling, the sacred, and how to live as a disciple of Christ. Throughout the uncertainty and turbulence of the last few years, many of us have asked questions about our lives and our faith. I hope that during the Lenten season you can be reflective and unpack some of the questions in your life. Throughout the season, I hope that you will ask yourself: What am I seeking? What is God seeking? This Lent I invite you to engage in the spiritual  practice of seeking. Stay curious and open. I hope that you will find a safe place to explore and dream, and be drawn more deeply into the fullness of life, and into God’s love and grace. To help you on the journey, there will be Lenten devotional books available as well as devotional cards and a self-reflection tool.
The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday, February 22 and extends until Easter. I look forward to all that our searching will reveal.

Paying It Forward

A few years ago, ABC World News ran the story of a surprise reunion. A young man, 22 year old Joseph Bitetto, had decided to dedicate his life to helping others. On the day he was set to graduate and become one of FDNY’s newest EMTs, he got the joyful surprise of his life when he came face to face with a hero he had met years ago. In 1996, Joseph’s mother, pregnant with Joseph, had to call 911. Only 28 weeks into her pregnancy, she had gone into labor early. She was forced to deliver Joseph in her home, and both of their lives were in danger. Thanks to the heroic actions of the NYPD and FDNY personnel that arrived at their home, both mother and son were saved. Joseph was in an incubator for over a month, but he grew strong and healthy. At Joseph’s graduation ceremony to become an EMT, as a surprise for Joseph and his family, was the EMT who saved Joseph and his mother. Joseph, now 22 years later, wearing the same uniform of the  man who saved his life, was able to meet and thank Howard Blanck.(Howard now works as a detective for NYPD).
Joseph Bitetto was thankful for how his life, and that of his mother, had been saved by first responders and he wanted to “pay it forward” by choosing the same profession. He decided that he wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
There are days when it would appear that the world needs a bit more encouragement and inspiration. On those days (and every day), remember that we have chosen to follow in the footsteps of Jesus the Christ. Even the smallest act of kindness and compassion can help change a life. Sometimes it may be sharing your resources and talents with others; other times it may be that advice or encouraging word that turns around a life. Whatever it might be, know that whether you see the end results or not, you have made the world a better place.  As we enter 2023, may you resolve to “pay it forward” in gratitude for the saving grace of God.
Blessings for the New Year,
Karen