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

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

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

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 visiting 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. Currently, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday in most Western churches, though the Eastern Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches begin Lent on Monday.

As our world faces many challenges, including hunger, homelessness, drug addiction, war, political divisiveness, disease and overall despair, make an extra effort this Lenten season to spend time in prayer and reflection. Be disciplined in offering prayers for those around you, those across the globe, those your encounter in your daily activities. When and where you can, be generous with your time and resources. In all things, be thankful for God’s grace and goodness.

Show Love

When we think of the month of February, we often think of Valentine’s Day and think of hearts, roses and candy. According to historical sources, the roots of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is unclear, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Regardless of what February 14 signifies for you, I would encourage you to go beyond the “Hallmark” marketing to find ways every day to show love, kindness, compassion and encouragement to those around you. What are you doing to show love as Paul wrote about it to the Corinthians? A love that is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not proud, not self-seeking, slow to anger, keeps no record of wrongs, love that protects, hopes and perseveres. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 again, and read it not as a romantic vow, but as a Christian mandate for our every day lives. Go forth and show love in all that you say and do.