How Do You Spend Your Soul?

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called “The Best Yes”, written by Lisa Terkeurst.  She writes about the difference between saying yes to everybody around you and saying yes to God – the difference between trying to please those around us and truly trying to love those around us, with a Christ-like love.

A chapter that really resonated with me was entitled, “Overwhelmed Schedule, Underwhelmed Soul”. In this chapter, Terkeurst talks about how too often we overbook ourselves to the point of not being able to really invest in anything we’ve committed to. We aren’t able to sit and savor time with those we love because we are worried about being late to our next engagement. We aren’t able to utilize the gifts and talents that God has given us because we are concerned with trying to present ourselves in a way that pleases them. We aren’t able to listen because we are thinking about what we will say next. After bouncing from commitment to commitment each day, we end up feeling poured out rather than filled up. Terkeurst puts it: “Remember the decisions you make determine the schedule you keep. The schedule you keep determines the life you live. And how you live your life determines how you spend your soul.”

Have you ever felt that way? How do you spend your soul? 

 

Positives

I must confess that in our current world context it is sometimes hard to think of positives.

So it was very nice recently to hear some good news from a person who has struggled for quite a while to find a job and has finally found one. This particular person reentered the job market after a lapse of 15 years. Why so long? Because he had been taking care of his ailing mother for those 15 years.

As he was talking with me about this he said, “I had to do everything for my mother. It was hard. Every day I had things I had to do for her to take care of her hygiene and other needs. I don’t regret a moment of it, because I think it was what God wanted me to do.”

Touched by what he told me, I simply added, “Well, it was a beautiful gift of love you gave to your mother! I am sure she deeply appreciated your love and care.”

He smiled.

Jesus once said, “Truly, I say to you, just as you did it to one of least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Affectionately,

Bob

Church School at FCC

    We are so excited about the start of Church School this fall at FCC! We have had so many excited, enthusiastic, eager children worshiping with us these past few weeks!

    I recently read that about 75% of Americans would consider themselves Christians.  Additionally, 80% of those people choose to follow Jesus before they even leave 6th grade! If I am doing the math correctly, that means that about 60 out of every 100 people decide to follow Christ before they even reach high school!

    Church School is so important in the lives of these kids. We want church school to be a place where kids feel loved and valued – where they experience the light of Christ each week. 

    Recently, our congregation filled out surveys about the strengths of our Church School program and any changes they would like to see. From these results, we’ve come up with a “Mission Statement” for our Church School program.

At FCC, we want our church school to be a place where:

-kids feel safe and loved

-families deepen their relationships with God and with one another

-kids experience the joy of Christ through fun, engaging lessons

-all people are given opportunities to worship God through music, serving others, and learning about         their identity as Christians.

    Through this mission statement, we hope to make decisions that will help our Children establish and develop a meaningful relationship with Christ.  Thank you all for being a part of this growth!

-Sarah Chaffee, Director of Christian Education

Before I die I want to…

The chalkboard walls loom high on state st, in front of our main entrance to our church. The walls demands our attention be averted from our daily grind of schedules and to-dos; of classes and work, exams and deadlines, children and budgets, and you wanted us to exercise when? In the midst of the rat race we are asked to consider what really matters. Life and death matters. In all the to-dos that crowd our lists, what is most important to do before we die? 

The answers on the boards are inspiring. I want to love my body. I want to tell my brother I’m sorry. I want to save a life. I want to be a mom. 

I try to remember what chapter of life I was in as an undergrad and what I might have written on the wall. Probably something like, I want to earn a PhD or I want to live in a big city. Neither happened. And yet my answers today would be completely different. The beauty of our location and the inter-generational nature of the church is that we share in all life chapters. We can glean the wisdom and dreams from this wall as we consider our own purposes and how we are living them out. 

If you haven’t yet walked in front of our church on state st. I urge you to do so. And as you walk, ask yourself, what is it i want to do before I die? We have been blessed with the gift of life and time, and that is not a blessing to be taken lightly. May you make the most of the life God has granted. Step off the treadmill just for 2 minutes and think bigger. I think you’ll be glad you did.  

Darcy Crain-Polly
Associate Minister, FCC

Kick-Off Sunday

I love the fall season! I love cooler temperatures, leaves changing colors, and local farmer markets filled with fresh vegetables and fruits…And, of course, I love football! In particular, I love living near the Big House where I can hear the animated sounds of the marching band on football days and the roar of cheering fans as they nudge the Maize and Blue on to another victory. Go Blue!

I think this is why some years ago we decided to title the first Sunday after Labor Day weekend, “Kick-Off Sunday,” which this year falls on Sunday, September 11. On Kick-Off Sunday, we will be kicking off a brand new programming year (Please check out our website for more details: www.fccannarbor.org) and resuming our full Sunday worship schedule (9 a.m. Pilgrim Hall Service, 9:30 a.m. Douglas Chapel 15-Minute Communion Service, and 10 a.m. Sanctuary Worship Service). On top of that, we will be kicking-off with a grand party following the 10 a.m. service, outside, on the Betsy Barbour dormitory side of the church…with sloppy joes and draft root beer, face-painting and a clown making balloon animals for kids, and a variety of ministry displays by our small groups, program committees, and boards.

It is going to be a very fun day at FCC this Sunday, so I hope you will come and join us, and be a part of the FCC team! Please remember: “Whatever Your Story, You Are Welcome Here!” We mean it.

Best….Bob Livingston

Unnoticed Gifts

Recently, my husband and I were hiking one of the trails at Pinckney State Park. As we walked along, I looked at my feet and the path ahead of me, making sure not to trip or stumble. We walked and talked and, as my husband is in his first year of his medical residency, we soaked up the quality time we were getting to enjoy.

As we were walking along, my husband commented on all of the sounds around us. It struck me, because I hadn’t given a single thought to those sounds. As soon as he made this comment though, it was as if it all came alive and I heard what he was talking about. Birds singing, a stream trickling over rocks, wind through the leaves – it was beautiful and spoke to a place deep within me. So, how had I not even noticed it before?

So often I get focused on tasks, on what I am doing or where I am going, that I don’t pause to notice all that God is doing around me. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we are surrounded by God’s undeniable goodness – yet so often it goes unnoticed. Our society is one that values productivity and efficiency – getting as much done as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, being in that mindset leaves no time to pause and accept the gifts that God has left for us all throughout our day. The gift of the warm sunshine on your face, or the gift of hearing the laughter of children. The gifts of quiet in the morning before anybody else is awake, or the gift of excitement and anticipation for an upcoming event. So much of what we experience is truly a gift from our Heavenly Father, yet so much of it gets overlooked.

Since the hike, I’ve been trying to do a better job of pausing to really experience all that God has for me in each moment. I get distracted and wrapped up in my to-do list and constantly have to turn my mind back to appreciating His gifts. What else could be more important than accepting a gift from the maker of the universe? How blessed are we that we daily get to be the recipients of something so wonderful? My prayer is that we can take time to appreciate these gifts more each day.

-Sarah Chaffee, Director of Christian Education

Sounds of church

I had the last Sunday off. Pastors don’t get many of these, and this particular Sunday off I was not traveling or far from home. In fact, I was prepping for a five year olds birthday bash so if ever there was a time I needed church it was now. Off I went to my neighborhood church. I sat there, in the pew, no knowing a single person in the room, and smiling like an idiot. I was so dang happy to be in church.  The ritual of folks greeting one another while the pianist played some brilliant prelude that probably only 15% of the people really sit and listen to but that 100% of the people would miss if it weren’t there. The service began with an announcement about an event they were having for young families in the community and how people need to sign up and help. Doing something way bigger than what you can do on your own for no other purpose than to be kind and welcoming in your neighborhood. I’m in. 

The first song began and I tell you I almost wept (okay, maybe a couple tears slipped out) at the pure joy of being able to be vulnerable and worship the God to whom I have devoted my life to serving. I wasn’t up front, with potential eyes on me, thinking about what I was going to say or do next. I was simply singing and worshiping and receiving the spirit which I have apparently been stiff arming lately. I sat back down and continued to smile like an idiot. 

Further in the service I experienced my favorite sound of church. It happens in communities that still use glass communion cups. It is amplified depending on the cathedral vault of the sanctuary ceiling. Well, lucky for me this church had both going for it. We finished drinking of the cup and there was this communal clinking of small cups being placed in wooden circular cut outs. It is the sound of a community which has shared a sacrament. It is the sound of a people being sent out to live into the covenant which Jesus proclaimed. It is a loud communal clinking and it was one my favorite sounds in the whole world. 

I walked forth from that worship feeling as if I had experienced something tangible. I walked to the parking lot feeling a new sense of peace. My troubles were not solved, but I did not feel so alone in solving them either. The echo of a community worth of clinking, was still ringing in my ears.

Ah, the sounds of church. 

-Darcy Crain-Polly
Associate Minister 

Serendipity

My wife, Laura, and I had the good fortune of being able to travel west to Montana in July and enjoy the amazing beauty of Glacier National Park where we have come to love the wildness and magnificence of the mountains and forests. It was wonderful trip.

On one particularly rainy day, Laura and I decided to travel from the east side of Glacier Park to the west side of Glacier Park to pick up a few things we needed. We decided to travel to west via Route 2, just south of the Park, and return by way of the Going to the Sun Road, a gorgeous road that winds its way through the middle of the park. On our way over, as we were driving through a very steeply forested hills, I caught a movement coming toward the left side of our car. I quickly braked and then, to my great surprise, saw a beautiful young female wolf slow down and move around the back of our car, across the road, and down into the forest on the other side. I could hardly believe my eyes!

When I recovered from the shock of seeing a wolf in the wilderness, I noticed a small pickup truck behind me had stopped as well….So I drove on to a pull-off area a short way up the highway to let the pickup truck pass by. When I did, the pickup truck also pulled off and pulled up beside me. There was a young Native American man driving the truck who rolled down his window…as I did ours…and said to us, “I’m so glad you pulled off the road so we can share this moment with one another!” With that, we proceeded to talk about our experience of seeing the wolf, how unusual it was to see a wolf, especially in the daytime, and what the symbol of the wolf means in Native American spirituality. The young man told us he was leaving for a 4-day personal retreat and that seeing the wolf was a special sign to him.

When we were back on the road again, Laura and I talked about how serendipitous and meaningful it was to share the wolf moment with this total stranger. We were aware of how the brief sharing and telling of the story together connected us to one another in a significant way which made the wolf experience even more real and more significant. It was a special time.

Reflecting on this now, I think being part of a community, in particular a church community, does this for us. It gives us a place where our common story is told and shared, and thus made more real and significant.

Blessings….Bob Livingston

Trust

The last year has been a year of uncertainty for us.  Interviews for different residency programs started in October.   My husband traveled to many different cities, figuring out what a life in that program – a life in that city – might look like for us.  As we narrowed down his top choices, I visited several places.  Again, trying to figure out what a life in that city would hold.  It was not until the end of March that we found out where life would take us next, where God would take us next.  Once we knew that we would be moving to Ann Arbor, more uncertainty followed.  Where would we live? What would my job be like? Will we make friends?  How will we get there? It was time to make plans, but we wanted to do that faithfully, taking steps that would glorify God.  We prayed a lot and tried to figure out what trust really meant.

What I’ve learned is that trust is deeply tied to surrender.  Surrendering control. Surrendering my own ideas of what my life should look like. Surrendering my desires to know what lies ahead.  It has been more than just trusting that God has a plan for my life. It has been believing in my core that God will work for my good – in the big events and the little details – and that he will provide. 

This year I tried to do my part. We toured the city and looked for houses and I applied for jobs. However, once I felt that I had done all I could, I had to practice surrender. Every day I had to practice surrender, trusting that God would provide for us.  I’ve had to admit to myself that God really does know better than I do and He will take care of me.

Since we’ve been here, I’ve been able to see God’s faithfulness in so many ways.  We are living in a home that we love and I ended up here at First Congregational Church. I find it funny and ironic that when I worked to surrender my plans to God, he placed me in His house, serving His people, for His glory every day. 

Sometimes when we grasp so tightly to our own desires, we miss out on opportunities that God has waiting for us.  We don’t leave room for his grace or the fullness of life he has in store for us.  The maker of the heavens wants to hold us in his hands and take us through this life, we just have to surrender and trust that he will be faithful and provide. 

Photojournalism Exhibit at FCC

the gaze

The gaze. It is the gaze of generation of young people who have witnessed the systemic injustice, the heartbreak, the abuse, and the neglect that children have endured. This gaze is not a gaze of hopelessness. These people, arm and arm, have not given into despair. They have met the harsh reality that the solution isn’t easy. Love and kindness alone cannot fix the decades of oppression. They are heartbroken. They will never be the same. But arm in arm they realize that realities like this are just, that realities. With each shoulder, they sense responsibility. They are not responsible to save the child they fell in love with that week, as much as they may feel that burden. They are responsible for remembering. They are responsible for advocating. They are responsible for being bigger than the petty competitions, materialism, or self-absorption for which we are tempted. And we accept the responsibility. Will you join us?

This is one of the 11 photos and narratives our youth mission team has posted as part of our Pine Ridge photojournalism exhibit which opens today, Friday. Take a break from the heat and booths to come inside our church art gallery and hear the stories of the children and culture who have forever changed our lives. Youth and leaders will host the gallery from 11 am – 2 pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Hope to see you there! 

Darcy Crain-Polly