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Relationships that change lives

null             12,000 children are in foster care in North Carolina. 

I don't know about you, but numbers like that make  me feel powerless.  It is overwhelming to think of the ocean of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs that 12,000 children who have suffered enough trauma that they have been placed into foster care would have.  What in the world can we do to help? 

This week a group of ladies from Harrisburg UMC took a day trip up to the Winston Salem campus of Crossnore School and Children's Home .  With campus' in Crossnore,NC and Winston Salem, the mission of Crossnore School & Children’s Home is to grow healthy futures for children and families by providing a Christian sanctuary of hope and healing.  Crossnore offers a holistic model of care that nurtures children in mind, body and spirit.  Every child has a large support team that includes house parents, a social worker, therapist, case manager, and guardian ad litem to that work together for the vers best outcome for each child.  As I listened to our host share about the mission and work of Crossnore, what moved me most was the committment to relationship buliding as the foundation of their work to help children in need.  Children at Crossnore live in homes with 9 other children with house parents who work 7 days on and 7 days off to provide more stablity and consistency.  I think about how important stability at home was for me and is for my own children and the effort it takes to earn and keep trust in a family and I know the Crossnore's model is a powerful one.  We were created by God for relationships and it is within healthy relatiohships (with God, with ourselves, and with others) that we thrive and grow as God intended.  The 130 children at both campus' of Crossnore today represent just 1% of the children foster care in NC, but that 1% is recieving the very best care based in relationships that will, we pray, change their lives and in turn the world they live in.  We can be part of that ministry with our prayers and our material support; it may not seem like much, but every 1% counts.  What power there is relationships where we grow together in faith, love and service that honors the call of Jesus!

Pastor Toni Ruth



Back to School

nullA little girl named Ivey changed my life.  I met her in Kindergarten; she was 5, I was 30.  I had volunteered to be a mentor through Communities in School in my county and was assigned to be Ivey’s tutor.  I remember meeting this precious girl with wispy blond curls and a sweet, shy face.  The first year we spent together she didn’t talk much, in fact many days when I arrived I was told she was out sick again.  By the end of Kindergarten, I came to understand that constant ear infections and poor health care meant she had trouble hearing and thus trouble reading.  We hung in there together and by the end of the year she managed some small smiles when I came to see her.

In 1st Grade I learned she often slept in class because nights at home could be unpredictable.  In 2nd Grade I met her great-grandmother who sacrificed much to raise Ivey and her siblings.  By that year we’d gotten to be good friends, Ivey and me.  We’d hold hands and count by two walking to the library for tutoring every week…2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12…” What comes next Mrs. Toni Ruth?”  I worried for Ivey.  I worried for her home life, challenging like so many kids in our world.  I worried for her in school, she needed so much more than one teacher with 25 kids to manage could meet.  That summer she came to VBS at our church.  What fun to watch her sing of God’s love with my own daughter!

In 3rd grade we still counted by two’s.  The first EOG’s loomed and I wondered what would happen if Ivey didn’t pass.  We read and talked, and did math and laughed.   She took up residence in my heart and I knew she trusted me.  Before those dreaded EOG’s I bought her a card that had a bracelet that said, “I believe in you.”  Her face glowed when she put it on; it was as though it wasn’t something she often heard about herself. I committed to say it more often. 

In 4th grade her teachers told me she was getting extra help.  Our game of counting by 2’s all the way to the library always brought a smile.  We talked more about life and hopes and dreams, music and which boys were cute.  She loved to read, especially biographies.  We had our picture taken together for a public service announcement in the paper about Communities in Schools.  When I look at it now I see the shine of the tears in my eyes.  The photographer had asked what we meant to each other and I’ll always remember the way she looked at me and smiled right before they took the picture – still the shy girl with wispy curls but now with growing confidence. 

5th grade DARE Graduation came along.  She was really proud of what she was learning about making good choices.  She asked if I would come to see her get her certificate.  “Of course” I said, oblivious to the reality that this was the sort of event parents would come to.  I met her mother for the first time.  She was younger than me, trying to do the right thing, her love for Ivey and Ivey’s for her was palpable even though they’d spent long stretches of time apart.  8, 10, 12, 14,16…conversations began to be about middle school and friendships and what she dreamed for the future.  And then we found our we’d be moving, telling her was harder than telling my congregation.  In 6 years together the love I felt was real and it mattered so much!

Ivey is starting her senior year in high school in a few weeks.  I wish I could say that we’re still in touch, but time and distance (and teenage years) proved a bigger obstacle than I’d have thought.  But I think of her often.  Does she remember me?  Did the seeds planted grow in her as they’ve grown in me?  What does she dream today and where will her dreams take her? 

While I can’t speak for her, I know for certain I am different because of Ivey.  I drive past Pitts School Road Elementary where our church has a partnership and I wonder about the kids like Ivey that need someone to keep patiently counting by 2’s, someone to listen and offer stability, someone to say, “I believe in you.”   I think about how 30 minutes once a week cost me so little, offered Ivey great hope, and changed me so much.  And I wonder, is there room enough in our hearts to welcome the Ivey’s in our community who just need someone to show up for them.  It’s back to school time.  I think I’m ready for kindergarten again.  Are you? 


The Christmas I remember most...

This is a tough question for me. Christmas has always been a go, go, go time in my life, especially when your parents are divorced and remarried! Most Christmas’ seemed to be making sure we saw all of the families, which for me and my sister was doubled. My fondest Christmas memories as a child come from before my parents split up. I remember being at my grandmother’s house, with my aunt, uncle, cousin, and great aunt. It was nothing special, except for the fact our family felt whole and close. It was warm and full of love. I loved the smells the came from the kitchen. Playing with all her old school wind up Santas that rode their tricycles across the kitchen floor. We would always eat a large meal then of course there was present time, which one of the kids could wait for!

                I miss those days. I look back and think about all the lessons I learned from Christmas. I learned about the importance of family and being together. I learned that Christmas is not about the gifts, even though as a child they are fun, even if it is a box of socks you will never wear! Christmas is about celebrating life and love. As I grew older and discovered the real magic of Christmas, that God wanted us to understand what real love was, He sent His Son Jesus to paint a masterpiece of what love could really be. He meant for us to live and love one another in fantastic ways, the way He loves us. Christmas should be more than just the hurry up from one place to another, and blowing the bank on gifts. It should be something that celebrates the divine coming into our world that brings that hope. Love, and joy that changes the face of human kind.

                I miss my childhood Christmas’, and at the same time I am so excited about the next Christmas! I am excited because once again I get to remember Christmas’ past, but also get to be a part of creating a new Christmas present, where I can once again feel that love of friends and family, and where I can love others just as I was loved as a kid. I get to be a part of a new Christmas story every year. The question is, what kind of story will I help to create this year???

Merry Christmas!!
Pastor Richard

I'll never forget the Christmas that...(part 2)

Getting sick at Christmas is the worst. 

A week or so before Christmas in 1992 (my sophomore year), I felt a cold coming on. Sore throat, stuffy nose, sinus headache. Nothing to worry about - it felt like a normal cold that typically passes in a day or two. Around day 3, I started running a fever (ugh) and had to miss my mid-terms at school (cool!)...and then things got real. 

By the time my parents took me to the doctor, I had developed a sinus infection, tonsilitis, and bronchitis. I was a little better by the time Christmas Eve rolled around and I was able to go with my family to my dad's parents' house for dinner and presents. The fever was gone but my throat still felt like I had gargled with broken glass and barb wire. Undeterred, I piled my plate high with my Maw-maw's best food. I grimaced through every delicious bite, but it was worth it.

Why do I tell you all of this? 

Sometimes things at Christmas don't go the way we want them to go. We plan, we anticipate, we carefully choose gifts and wrap them beautifully (at least, some of us wrap beautifully). Even with all of that effort, somebody gets sick and somebody else is not happy with their present and something gets overcooked and another family member starts arguing over dinner about whatever and, well, you get the idea. Our expectations get thwarted and Christmas becomes a stressful ordeal, not at all like the Christmas scenes we get on the Hallmark Channel. And if we spend the season of Advent working and planning and preparing only to see those plans and preparations falter, even partially, it can leave us feeling drained, frustrated, even hurt. 

It might be helpful for us to be reminded every year that Christmas is not about us. It's not about our plans or expectations. It's not about the perfect gift or the perfect meal or the perfect decorations. Those things can be fun and certainly time spent with family and friends is meaningful and important. But Christmas is about God's great love for us, made human and real for us in the birth of Jesus. Remembering that the truth behind all of our cultural Christmas 'stuff' is about God becoming like us in order to redeem us might help us better handle the stuff that doesn't go right - whether it's being sick, dealing with annoying family members, feeling stressed, or struggling with grief and sadness.  

And like me on that Christmas Eve in '92 with my sore throat and my plate piled high with turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy, we can celebrate and give thanks anyway, even if it's not what we planned and it doesn't make the discomfort disappear completely.  

I'll never forget the Christmas that...

The Holiday season is fraught with mixed emotions for many of us, even if we don’t talk about it much.  There are sorrows, disappointments, frustrations, past hurts present for us along with the joy, peace, hope and love of the season.  For me the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a real challenge because I lost my father 3 weeks before Christmas in 1980.  I am not alone here, many of you have lost loved ones at this time of year as well.  If you have not, I am sure many of you find your grief around who is not at the table heightened at “the most wonderful time of the year.”   I could share with you my best Christmas’ ever but I think I’d rather share about the Christmas I spent part of the morning alone in the garage sitting on the bed of the truck crying.  

It was 2014, one of the harder years of my life that included laying to rest 2/5th of my aunts and uncles.  I had labored furiously in the weeks leading up to Christmas to make sure I planned the best worship services that would not disappoint and to ensure that all our loved ones received the best present- something that showed love, thought, and intentionality.   Christmas Eve was lovely and holy and Christmas morning was full of the joy and smiles of my beloveds.  So, why was I crying on the bed of the truck?  Earrings.  No joke.  My husband bought me a lovely pair of earrings that were not my most favorite style and I ended up outside in an attempt to hide my disappointment and tears from him.    

As I sat there alone in the cold composing myself and reflecting I thought, “Surely this can’t be about earrings?”  What was going on that made me so upset?  Why was I letting petty little things irritate me? Here’s what I figured out: I’m always disappointed because no one can get me what I most want for Christmas.  An end to grief does not come wrapped in a pretty box.  The person missing at the table cannot be replaced at a sale on Black Friday.  No gift anyone can give me can make up for the losses.  So, this commercialized version of Christmas, the one that starts Black Friday and ends as soon as the gifts are unwrapped on Christmas will always disappoint. 

The good news for me and you is that there is another thing going on in the same time period as commercial Christmas, we call it Advent.  Advent is a time of spiritual preparation.  It is a time of reflection, repentance, examination, and perspective changing.  Advent is less financially costly but more spiritually costly.  It is less shiny and more still and reflective.  It has gifts to be sure, but they are nothing like the other gifts most of us are buying this time of year.  Peace, love, hope, joy…the only real antidotes to disconnection, isolation, grief, and despair…these gifts of the true Christmas do not disappoint us.  Sitting on the bed of the truck I realized I’d been preparing for the wrong Christmas.  Toiling and spinning did not get me what I most longed for because it can’t be hustled, bought, or put on Santa’s list.  What I most needed could only be received in rest and return to God.  There on the bed of the truck I received what I needed – reminder I was not alone, hope is real, and God has not abandoned us. 

It is so very easy to get caught up in the swirl of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas rather than easing into the invitation to preparing for Jesus’ Advent among us.  It is hard to change the family traditions and the impulse to meet everyone’s expectations and get the perfect gift.  And yet, for me and for many of you, the only way to meet the reality of the sorrow we feel in this season of lights is to change our focus and remember that Jesus came to meet us in our suffering and fill it with his presence.  If you find yourself where I was in 2014 (and still find myself some days) may I invite you to speak it, share it, take it to the Lord in prayer, make room for reflection, cease your toil and spin and meet God who has been waiting for you.  He was waiting for me on the bed of that truck in 2014 and it was the best gift I got that Christmas.  I pray I’ll never forget it.  

Growing Together...

Millimeter by millimeter, month by month, one attempt after another…eventually I could reach it.

I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember when I could finally touch the top of the doorframe leading out of the living room of the house I grew up in. Along with a column of pencil marks on that same doorframe indicating my height on each birthday, it was noticeable evidence of my growth. The smudges on that doorframe and several others in that house that accumulated over the years also gave testimony to the continued growth (and the seemingly constant dirty hands) of a young kid.

For our bodies as well as our souls, growth is a slow process. On a day-to-day basis, it's almost unnoticeable. Even so, one day you can't reach the doorframe and one day you can jump up and touch it. And when you see the results of that growth, it's exhilarating and joyful!

Over the next year, we will be going on a journey together through the Christian year. You are invited to walk with us as we dive deep into God's Word, meet together in small groups to share about how God at work in our lives, and worship with us as we move together in the rhythm of the Christian year.

To get started, check out Scripture texts and devotions leading up to the first Sunday of Advent.

Starting on January 1, we encourage you to use the lectionary-based daily devotions found in The Upper Room DisciplinesWe also have copies available here at the church for $10. 

Throughout the year, be on the lookout for opportunities to grow in faith, love, and service through small groups, worship, fellowship, and mission opportunities. We are so excited about what God has in store for us and for our church in the coming year - join us as we grow together in faith, love, and service!