Miriam: Faith, Joy, Love, Friendship

Miriam: Faith, Joy, Love, Friendship

Hello Easter community!  My name is Sarah Lardy and I am a current freshman at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to go on the Arecibo, Puerto Rico mission trip and thought I’d share a way I saw God throughout the week.

I have been on five mission trips total, all through YouthWorks, so you could say I’m pretty familiar with the typical daily schedule of a mission trip. In general, days consist of an early morning breakfast, and devotions, then work sites from 9-3 (including lunch), and showers, dinner, and evening activities to fill the rest of the day. On this particular trip, work sites were shortened to 10-2, to allow for more time to experience the culture and community in which we served.

Sarah, Emma, and Courtney

Sarah, Emma, and Courtney

My group was sent to the Salvation Army to work with kids, however we learned the morning of day 1 that no kids showed up for kids club. Instead, we would be cleaning and painting the building.  Normally, I expect to be working for the solid four hours we’re at the site, with a lunch break sometime in the middle. However, we soon learned that this place was not like that.  Miriam, the woman in charge of our projects, often gathered us inside the building and talked to us for hours. She constantly told us to take breaks and slow down. It was a little weird for me to experience this as I was planning on working hard to make a difference; it was odd to just sit.  What I didn’t know, is we weren’t just sitting around, we were being exposed to God’s work.  We came to learn that Miriam is a strong woman of faith, and she uses that to carry her through each day. She was so grateful we were there to help; it didn’t matter how much we worked, even the smallest amount made her so happy. She spoke to us about how God has a plan for each of us and that it’s important to put our faith in Him. She spoke of how she turned her life to God and followed where he led, and encouraged us to do the same. The people at the Salvation Army even took a morning to pray for us and hold a mini-worship through which they praised God and sang. It’s through Miriam, and others at the Salvation Army how I really saw God that hot week in July.

Emma Wingad, Karina Johnson, Courtney , Miriam, Sarah Barber, Sarah Lardy in front of the Salvation Army building

Emma Wingad, Karina Johnson, Courtney Wolfe, Miriam, Sarah Barber, Sarah Lardy in front of the Salvation Army building

One of the biggest things I learned on the trip was not that hard work makes a difference.  Work certainly helps, but the connections you can make to others, the conversations and shared laughter, are what really make a difference.  One other way I saw God on the trip was simply in the majesty of the ocean.  We were able to visit the beach four times during the week, twice to swim and twice to have devotions and hang out.  Often, I found myself on the edge of the water, right where the waves lapped at the shoreline.  Looking out into the vast expanse of the sea, unable to see any land across the horizon, really made me feel miniscule in this huge world.  More importantly, I could feel God’s power over the waves, and it was simply incredible. Overall, mission trips were an integral part of my high school experience, and I’ll never forget the memories made and lessons learned during my weeks away.

Jesus is the Light of the World

Jesus is the Light of the World

Thank you and God Bless!

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Beautiful, Scary, Energizing Change

Prepared by Vision Board President Brad Van Horn

Change at Easter has been discussed many times but, it still seems appropriate to discuss the beautiful, scary, energizing, grievous, complex, and powerful changes that have happened – and are still happening – at Easter Lutheran Church.  Retirements, new pastoral calls, periods of hard-earned rest, tearful good-byes, and warm welcomes; we have seen them all!  Change is seldom easy!

Rubiks_cubeDuring a recent men’s leadership group meeting, the following was read from the book, “Leadership Prayers” by Richard Kriegbaum.  It is included in this devotion because we’ve seen so much complex change over the last few years at Easter and this really illustrates the challenges we have faced together. Kriegbaum writes, “In the guest bathroom of a friend’s home, I found no reading material, only a Rubik’s Cube. Pondering the challenges of leadership while fiddling with the plastic puzzle, I happened upon these lessons:

Some things cannot be changed. The center square determines what color each side of the cube must be.  Everything else about the cube can be changed in endless permutations, but the color of any one face is determined by the center.  Inherently optimistic, I assume I can accomplish whatever the organization needs, but I have always been blessed with a few faithful “reality therapists” who make sure we do not waste time and energy trying to do the impossible.

You can never change just one thing. The only way to move any square on any face of the cube is to move twelve squares all at once.  I may want to move one manager, rewrite one section of the plan, modify one advertising concept, drop one product line, add one new service, or relocate one branch office.  But every change has multiple results, planned and otherwise.

You have to give up what you have to get what you want. Getting one face of the cube all the same color is not too difficult, but progress beyond that point requires losing part of that beautifully complete face.  Most people fail the cube because they cannot destroy the first complete face they achieve.  They cling to the lovely but unfinished present and sacrifice the future.

This clever metaphor doesn’t judge change to be either good or bad, but if the goal is to complete the cube, change is necessary.  Beyond the old axiom of change is inevitable, the passage elegantly brings additional context to the nature of change that are not so intuitive, i.e.  ‘Some things cannot be changed,’ ‘You can never change just one thing,’ and ‘You have to give up what you have to get what you want.’”

As it was read, the images of change at Easter were flashing in my mind with all the progress and complexity.  And then a larger question came to mind: does this puzzle toy and the physics that govern it represent our spiritual lives?  Are we prepared to uphold our values every day and not allow them to be changed?

Do we recognize all the transformations in our lives when we make a change that accepts God?  Do we cling to the unfinished present and sacrifice our future in the eyes of God?

Dear Lord, help us to see the changes in our lives that would serve you.  Guide us to separate those things derived from your word that must not change, from those things that must change in order to accomplish your will.  Please help us find the courage to let go of our time, talent, and treasure to serve you and others in need so that we may build a future with you.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Christmas in October?

By Sara Currell

For to us a child is born,

   to us a son is given,

   and the government will be on his shoulders.

Isaiah 9:6a

You can see it in the stores this time of year.  Right next to the multiple aisles of Halloween paraphernalia are a couple rows of Christmas merchandise tucked in for good measure. Just in case, you – just – can’t – wait.  And how do you feel about Christmas music?  Some people listen to it all year long and just love it. Some reserve it for after Thanksgiving or when the snow starts to fly.

DSC_3353

At our house Christmas creeps into our lives during the summer. My husband Dan and I direct the Christmas Pageant at Easter Lutheran Church and planning starts early.  We talk about the script, the music and what we want to change for this year. I sometimes struggle to get into the Christmas spirit this early but God carries me along when the meetings start. I can hear the Christmas music in my head.

And he will be called

   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

  Isaiah 9:6b

By the time October rolls around planning, discussion and emails for the Christmas pageant are in full swing. I have about 10 emails in my inbox right now regarding the pageant and the 5th and 6th graders are starting to turn in their sign-up sheets for speaking parts. I can feel the excitement building and I know that rehearsals will start soon.  MaryJoseph1

Dan and I put a lot of time into thinking about how the scenes should look, how certain lines should sound and helping the kids portray the story in meaningful ways.  But it’s not just about the performance. It’s not just about what it looks like to the congregation. It’s about the kids and what they’re learning about the Christmas story for the first time. It’s about what they’re learning about Jesus for the first time. It’s about the new appreciation they have for Him and the plan of salvation God set into motion when Jesus was born on earth and laid in a lowly manger.

Of the greatness of his government and peace

   there will be no end.

Isaiah 9:7a

So, while the process of getting into the Christmas spirit starts for me in the summer and takes awhile for me to warm up to it’s not the process I’m interested in.  This is much like my faith.  I want my faith to go beyond the process – go beyond what I’m doing, when I’m going to church, what my life looks like as a Christian.  I want to go beyond the process of getting the pageant ready and speak to the hearts of the children in the pageant and the congregation that will see it in December.  I don’t want my faith to look like boxes I’m checking off so it looks like I’m getting ready for Jesus. I want both the pageant and my faith life to have heart.  I want to love Jesus and reflect Him to others because of what’s on the inside not what people see on the outside.

He will reign on David’s throne

   and over his kingdom,

    establishing and upholding it

   with justice and righteousness

   from that time on and forever.

Isaiah 9:7b

Come to the Christmas pageant on Sunday, December 13th at Easter by the Lake at 9:30 and 11:00am. See what God can do in the lives of children and their depiction of His Son’s birth. We hope you leave moved, inspired and maybe even learning something new that you didn’t know before.

Cast1 I’m getting used to Christmas in October. It’s an early reminder of what God has done for me and what He continues to do in the lives of others.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

   will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:7c

Lord, be with us and draw close to our hearts.  Let us stop focusing on the when and how of what’s happening; let us just focus on being close to You.   Amen

Sara Currell is a member of Easter Lutheran Church.  She loves teaching kids the Bible, singing and celebrating Christmas all year long.

Quilts

By Chris Cairo

My wife quilts. She has made each of our sons, and our nieces, quilts when they graduated high school, so they would have something to remind them of home when they went off to college.

I was reminded of quilts as my plane took off from the Minot ND airport recently. The farmland around Minot looks like one gigantic quilt; a patchwork of acres put together by farmers. Made by man.

Aerial view of Pennsylvania farmland --Photo courtesy of US Dept. of Agriculture

Aerial view of Pennsylvania farmland –Photo courtesy of US Dept. of Agriculture

But it doesn’t t take me long to remember, and realize, that the beauty of nature comes from God. Man tills the land and plants the seeds that grow into crops to feed others. But God created the first seeds. God created rain, and sunlight, without which crops could not grow.

Too often we think we accomplished something all by ourselves. We consider ourselves ‘self made’ men and women. But we forget that EVERYTHING comes from the Lord.

When I have a crisis of faith (and they do happen periodically), I look at nature, and walk backwards….that tree came from a seed, that God created, watered by rain that God created, nurtured by sunlight that God created….nature’s complexity, for me, is a constant reminder that we are not a random combination of atoms, but the work, the creation, of God.

There is no other explanation.

Reminds me, once again, of my favorite bible verse: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

You only have to pause, be still, and look at nature to be reminded of His presence.

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives.

A Funny Thing Happened on my Way to the Episcopal Church

By Ron Jackelen

As a “cradle Catholic”, I spent much of my adult years as an enthusiastic but somewhat skeptical member of that church. As a man who is a committed feminist, I found that there was a disconnect between my beliefs in the equality of women and the inability for Catholic women to be equal when it came to serving as ordained priests.

Last year I began yet another round of soul-searching about this issue. (This struggle has gone on multiple times over the years.) This time however, for whatever reason, I finally knew that my church home could no longer be the Catholic Church. It was time to stand up for what I believed. After determining that even this wonderful new pope, Pope Francis, considered the ordination of women to be “not an open question”, I knew it was time to find a religion and congregation that would better fit my beliefs.

I never had any issues with my local Catholic Church. That parish had no control over the rules made in Rome. Still, it was time for me to leave the parish that I had been an active member of for 30 years and the fellow parishioners who had meant so much to me.

I always assumed that when I did make the break that I would probably join a local Episcopal Church, since that church and the Catholic Church have much in common, even as the Episcopal Church is more progressive and allows the ordination of women as priests. I had actually bookmarked various Episcopal churches for review on the Internet. However, I had heard that ELCA Lutheran churches were also progressive when it came to the acceptance and full participation of both women and gay people. Although I was pretty sure that I would become Episcopalian, I figured I better take a quick look at the Lutheran Church…just to be sure.

Easter Lutheran on the Hill campusAn Internet search delivered me to various ELCA congregations, including Easter Lutheran Church. As I reviewed the website, I noticed that there was not just one woman pastor but two women pastors. And, one of those women was the senior pastor. Up until viewing the website, I only knew that Easter Lutheran Church was the church with the interesting name that I frequently passed on my way to the library in Eagan.

After attending multiple worship services at both campuses, I contacted the Easter Lutheran office and asked for an appointment with Pastor Kris, letting them know that I was a Catholic looking for a new church home. I figured that if you have questions, you may as well go to the top! For almost an hour, I peppered Pastor Kris with questions, trying to determine whether this congregation and the ELCA Lutheran Synod was the “real deal”. Her answers to my questions made me believe that this was the right church home for me.

After completing my Advent volunteer obligations at my Catholic parish, I transferred my allegiance and my heart to Easter Lutheran in January of this year. And, as an added bonus (and without any prodding from me) my wife, Michelle, joined me as a member at Easter Lutheran Church as well, after many years of her own estrangement from the Catholic Church.

I’m sure that most members of Easter Lutheran are used to all of this by now but when I first saw Pastor Kris preach or saw Pastor Sarah perform the breaking of the bread at the altar, I was absolutely astonished to see women in that role. Months later, I think I’m finally getting used to the wonderful sight of women (and men) equally leading both worship and the congregation.

Pastor Sarah ministering Holy Communion

I want you to know that Easter Lutheran turned out to be far more than just a congregation that affirmed the role of women in leadership. Equally as important I also found a congregation that truly believes that it has an obligation to the community around it, both near and far. In my original meeting with Pastor Kris, she spoke of the changes that were being made at that time to the Easter by the Lake building so that Easter Lutheran would be better prepared to reach out to the community. The Easter Lutheran vision statement says it so well, “We will actively strive to blur the lines between church and community…”

Wall at Easter Lutheran Church 2014

Easter Lutheran Church is a wonderful place, which Michelle and I hope will be our church home for the rest of our lives.

That’s the funny thing that happened on my way to the Episcopal Church… I found a Lutheran congregation that fits me perfectly! I guess you never know for sure where you’re going until you get there!

_____________________________________________________________________

Ron and Michelle Jackelen are enthusiastic new members of Easter Lutheran Church.

 

 

 

Perseverance

By Pastor Brandon Newton

Over 8,500 runners completed the Twin Cities Marathon this past weekend. I am in awe of their perseverance. I much prefer shorter runs and anything farther than five kilometers has my body gasping for air and my mind giving up. On October 11th, my sister will run the Chicago marathon.

My sister is an inspiration. She recently took up the challenge to run the marathon and is, by no means, a distance runner. I say this lovingly, remembering that the last marathon she ran was around ten years ago. However, she set a goal to run and has worked hard in training. I will also mention that in addition to her rigorous training she works far more hours a week than she gets credit for and dashes her two active sons to activities. I’m proud of her beyond words and wish I could be there to see her cross the finish line.

The marathon my sister ran around ten years ago. From L-R: Kelly Kohlhaas (family friend), Stacia Newton-Drover (my sister), me, and Chase Drover (Stacia's husband)

The marathon my sister ran around ten years ago. From L-R: Kelly Kohlhaas (family friend), Stacia Newton-Drover (my sister), me, and Chase Drover (Stacia’s husband)

Since I can’t be there to cheer her on, here is a poem about perseverance that I believe might apply to whatever race you are running in your own life:

 

“Don’t Quit”  

 

When things go wrong as they
Sometimes will;
When the road you’re trudging
Seems all uphill;
When funds are low and debts are high
And you want to smile but you have to sigh;
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must,
But don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us
Sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about when
They might have won
Had they stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the
Pace seems slow.
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the cloud of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far.
So stick to the fight when
You’re hardest hit.
It’s when things seem worst
You must not quit.

                           (Author unknown)

 

Pastor Brandon Newton is executive pastor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minnesota.  

How Sweet

Today’s reflection written by Chris Cairo: 

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….”

The first time I remember hearing these words was at my brothers funeral. I choked up as we sang this song then and don’t think I managed to finish singing it. Even today this song has the power to (figuratively) bring me to my knees. (And it should, for all of us.)

Do you know the words to this song?
How about just one word: Grace?
Do you know ‘Grace’, God’s grace?

Grace: (def) “unmerited favor”

God’s light shines on us, His love envelops us, even though we have done nothing to earn or deserve it. That’s God’s grace.

I can’t remember which of my boys was having a temper tantrum, but It was a full all out screaming, crying, kicking, thrashing tantrum….something had him mad, sad, and furious all at the same time. I remember picking him up and holding him tight. And the crying and screaming went on for awhile. And then the screaming turned to sobs, and finally, exhausted, he lay in my arms.

This is how I picture God’s grace with us…through everything we go through, good or bad, in sickness or in health, through all our frustrations, loneliness, through and despite all our sins, His arms are around us as we thrash about in life, holding us tight, restoring us to peace.
He is there for us always, even though we have done nothing to deserve Him or His love.
That, is Amazing Grace.

( Listen To Soweto Gospel Choir sing “Amazing Grace” on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoJz2SANTyo   )

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see. 

 

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives.