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

 “The best gifts come from the heart, not the store.”

For some folks, they spent their Thanksgiving waiting in line to be the first to get the great holiday deals. For others it was capturing the online bargains. And then, there are those who have spent several months strategizing and accumulating their gift list bit by bit. If you haven’t done any of those things, and are wondering what you are going to do, there is good news! There are some things that take zero money, but are priceless. If you are still looking for something to give to those who matter most to you, consider a few of these timeless gifts. These items are within the reach of all of us, and not only do they benefit those around us, but most are a gift to ourselves as well.
-Being on time
-Having passion for what you do
-Being flexible in your approach
-A positive attitude
-Doing something extra
-Being prepared
-Giving your time
-Being kind
-Being patient
-A handwritten note
-Gratitude
-A phone call
-A smile
-A hug
-Random act of kindness
-A listening ear
-Showing compassion
Best of all, no waiting in line, no looking for parking and always available and in stock!  And if you are shopping for children, keep this in mind – the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report a few years ago saying that simple toys hold the most benefits for children. They warn parents against filling their toy box with flashing lights and gadgets. The report is called “Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era”. It offers guidance for parents on what toys will most benefit their children’s development. The report focuses on children from birth through school age.  “The best toys are those that support parents and children playing, pretending, and interacting together,” stated Alan Mendelsohn, MD, FAAP, in the AAP’s press release. Mendelsohn is a co-author of the report and associate professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Population Health at NYU Langone Health. According to Mendelsohn, digital toys don’t provide the same benefits. Although media-based toys, like videos, computer programs, and books with voice-recorded reading, make claims to be interactive and educationally beneficial, the AAP says that these claims are unsupported.  Remember to give your child the best gift of all – your time, love and attention.

Merry Christmas! 

Continuing an Attitude of Gratitude Beyond November

    It is vital for our spiritual and mental health to pause, reflect and give thanks (and not just on the 4th Thursday of November). Here are some reminders on why and how we can have an attitude of gratitude.
-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. According to one report, “People are 25 percent happier and more energetic if they keep gratitude journals, have 20 percent less envy and resentment, sleep 10 percent longer each night and wake up 15 percent more refreshed, exercise 33 percent more, and show a 10 percent drop in blood pressure compared to persons who are not keeping these journals.”
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. This might seem like the training wheels of gratitude, but it can be quite helpful. We tend to take things for granted. Worse, we tend to take God for granted. 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.” And simply seeing friends and loved ones can remind us to be grateful. The point is to do whatever helps us recognize and appreciate our many blessings.
Take time to count your blessings and name them one by one. You will be thankful that you did.
Giving thanks for each of you,
Karen

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re age 40 or older, join the millions of women who get mammograms on a regular basis. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month educates women about the importance of early detection. More and more women are getting mammograms to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. As a result, breast cancer deaths are on the decline. Encourage the women in your life to get mammograms on a regular basis. Since the program began in 1985, mammography rates have more than doubled for women age 50 and older and breast cancer deaths have declined.
This is exciting progress, but there are still women who do not take advantage of early detection at all and others who do not get screening mammograms and clinical breast exams at regular intervals.
According to the experts, if all women age 40 and older took advantage of early detection methods – mammography plus clinical breast exam – breast cancer death rates would drop much further, up to 30 percent. The key to mammography screening is that it be done routinely – once is not enough. So if you are a woman age 40 or over, get tested, and if you are not, tell them women in your life that it is important.

September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance

The September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance is the culmination of efforts originally launched in 2002 by the 9/11 nonprofit MyGoodDeed with wide support by the 9/11 community and leading national service organizations. This effort first established the inspiring tradition of engaging in charitable service on 9/11 as an annual and forward-looking tribute to the 9/11 victims, survivors, and those who rose up in service in response to the attacks.
In 2009, Congress designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance under bipartisan federal law, and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with helping to support this effort across the country.
On the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Americans will unite in service in the same remarkable way that so many came together following the attacks.
As in years past, it is anticipated that there will be service and remembrance activities in all 50 states, at which there will be opportunities for hundreds of thousands of volunteers to paint and refurbish homes, run food drives, spruce up schools, reclaim neighborhoods, and support and honor veterans, soldiers, military families, and first responders.
I would encourage you to make time to give of your self in service to others on 9/11 and remember those who perished that day. And then in the spirit of faithfulness and humility, make selfless service a year-round habit, as we seek to follow in Christ’s steps.

Blessings,
Karen

Make time to Connect and Communicate

Life can be hectic, and we can become distracted by many things – including those very things that are designed to “simply” our lives, i.e. electronic devices. Despite the fact that society has advanced, making time to communicate with others is still as essential now as it was 2,000 years ago. As summer winds down and children are heading back to school, and families get back to routines, it is important to make maintaining good communication a priority. With slight wording modifications, these questions can work with children of all ages, and with some adaptation, can also be appropriate for conversation with a spouse or another adult family member.

1.    Tell me about a moment today when you felt excited about what you were learning.
2.    Think about what you learned and did in school today. What’s something you’d like to know more about? What’s a question you have that came from your learning today?
3.    Were there any times today when you felt disrespected by anyone? Tell me about those moments.
4.    Were there times today when you felt that one of your classmates demonstrated care for you?
5.    Were there any moments today when you felt proud of yourself?
6.    Tell me about a conversation you had with a classmate or friend that you enjoyed.
7.    What was challenging about your day?
8.    What do you appreciate about your day?
9.    What did you learn about yourself today?
10.    What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
11.    Is there a question you wish I’d ask you about your day?
Take time to turn off electronic devices and have a conversation with those around you. It will be good for you (& them). It is a great opportunity to learn something about your family and friends, and about yourself. And remember to talk with God as well. God is listening and wants to offer each of us hope, joy and peace.

July Pastor Article

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
The Fourth of July—also known as Independence Day or July 4th—has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. From 1776 to the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.
On July 4 we celebrate our independence as a nation. We make a point to remember and let others know that we celebrate our freedom. The passage from Galatians reminds us of our freedom in Christ. No longer slaves to the law, but free in the Spirit.
The apostle Paul reminds us that we are no longer slaves but children of God because of Jesus Christ. A child is a word that describes the relationship. We are in a free relationship with Christ. We are heirs to the inheritance of God’s kingdom. We are on the receiving end, not the taking end. This is the good news of the gospel. Eugene Peterson writes: “Receive is a freedom word. Take is not. To receive is to accept what the divine provides for us. To take is to plunder whatever is not nailed down. To receive is to do what children do in the family. To take is to do what pirates do on the high seas … The difference between receiving and taking is deeply interior. It has to do with disposition of spirit, an act of faith, an openness to God. Outwardly similar, even identical, physical actions constitute both taking and receiving … But the similarities are all on the surface; by observing context and continuities we can easily distinguish taking, with all its ambitious assertion and prideful aggrandizement, from receiving, with all its grateful acceptance and humble receptivity.”
Let us celebrate this month our independence as a nation, but more importantly, may we receive the freedom and grace given to us by God. May we use our freedom wisely to promote the well-being of all God’s children, and to be good stewards of God’s creation.
Happy Independence,
Karen

Plan Time for R & R

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” – Genesis 2: 2-3
“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” -Mark 6: 30-32 We can find several examples in scripture where God has sanctioned recreation; there is no need to feel guilty for times focused on enjoyment—this is part of God’s plan. (Yay!) And besides being part of a divine plan, recreation/vacation/ relaxation is good for your health! It has been reported that chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way. Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely, and depressed. So, each of us needs a constructive, positive way to deal with stress, whether it be exercise, a hobby, or just some “R & R.” In addition to having some routine way to deal with stress, vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We emerge from a “successful” vacation (not the National Lampoon style vacation) feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to go on a trip, a “staycation” where you don’t venture further than your state, town or city, or even neighborhood, can also be relaxing and rejuvenating if it helps you to “take a break” from your normal routine and get a new perspective. So, as we enjoy the summer days of more sunshine and breaks from school and routines, make sure to plan opportunities for fun, relaxation and recreation. You will be glad you did.

Enjoying fun in the sun,

Karen

Celebrating Life’s Heroes

The traditional definition of a “hero” is someone who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Many of the people listed below have been “frontline workers” during the pandemic and definitely warrant our admiration and appreciation. We are grateful for their service, compassion and care.

 

During the month of May there are “Appreciation Days” that have been set aside to celebrate, give thanks and recognition to these individuals.

  • National Police Week & Police Officers’ Memorial Day
  • National Nurses Day
  • National Teachers’ Day
  • School Nurses Day
  • Military Spouse’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • Armed Forces Day
  • National Waiters and Waitresses Day
  • Memorial Day

 

If we use this list as a starting point for showing appreciation to these various people that we know and encounter, then we are on our way to being more appreciative. An “attitude of gratitude” can brighten the day for those we thank, and it changes our outlook on life as well. Make a point to say thank you to these “superstars” and show your appreciation to those who have made a positive difference in our lives. And, while you are at it, be sure to give thanks to God for all that God has done.

Following God’s Map with Patience & Perseverance

The irate employee stomps into the payroll office and shouts, “There’s been a terrible mistake! My paycheck is a dollar short this week! I demand to know why, and what you’re going to do about it!” The payroll employee looks up from his ledger and says calmly, “I see here that we paid you a surplus of a dollar last week. I don’t recall you complaining about the mistake we made then.” The employee says, “Well, an occasional mistake I can overlook, but not TWO in a row!” The Lenten season is a time to reflect that we have all made mistakes, and we are fortunate that God has forgiven us for two, three, 203, etc…….through confession and repentance we can receive that love and grace that has the power to renew and sustain. A grace so amazing that it can be difficult to comprehend.
The old fable imagines a handful of blind men positioned around an elephant. After taking a moment to explore with their hands the beast before them, each is asked to describe the elephant. Since one has the trunk, another has the tail, another a tusk, and so on, however, they come up with very different descriptions of what an elephant is like.

The fable may be used for all sorts of mischief, of course, but it does provide a helpful image: namely, that some truths are larger and more complex than any one person can fully understand or adequately describe. So it is with God’s love. While it may be overwhelming, God loves each of us where we are at in life, who we are right now, and wants to work with each of us to be the best we can be. The Lenten season provides us the opportunity for reflection, renewal and re-directing our lives to be in tune with God’s mission and purpose. As we approach Holy Week and Easter morning, take the time to draw closer to God and to get headed in the right direction.

On the Lenten journey,
Karen