Friday, August 25, 2017

When God Purposes


When God Purposes
The Very Rev. Sarah Bronos

            The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Maitland, Florida sits on a beautiful piece of property with green space, shade trees, a chapel, church, parish hall, and a campus with four other buildings.
            Nearly seven years ago, during my vestry interview to be considered as rector of Good Shepherd, I commented that I truly believed that the Lord purposed something for the property that would benefit those outside the church community.  I also said that the theme of education kept coming to the forefront of my mind during my prayer time. 
            A couple of years later after I became the rector at Good Shepherd, I met Gale, who handed me a book written by her daughter and granddaughter.  She said, "I just had to come and give you this."  The title of the book is I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice.  This book changed the focus of my prayers from education in general - to Christian education for special-needs children.  It is a powerful writing that contains wonderful poetry written by a nonverbal autistic child. 
            When I introduced the possibility of a Christian school for special-needs children on our campus, many parishioners were supportive, but there was not enough interest to explore further.  Yet, I kept it in my prayers.  Sometime later, a visitor asked about renting space for a special-needs school.  However, she was not interested in a relationship between the church and the school, or in having a chapel service for the children - something for which I had been praying.
            Last March, a woman drove onto campus and asked, "Do you have space to rent a Christian not-for-profit school for special-needs children?"  She was the mother of one of the students at Celandine Life Preparatory Academy.  She added, "We need to relocate the school. As I drove by here on the way home, I felt compelled to come in and ask."  Shortly thereafter, I received a call saying they weren't interested after all.  Since this had seemed like such a right fit, that evening, I prayed. "Lord, if this is of you, then close every other door that they try and walk through, and bring them here."
            A month later, I received another call from them asking if I would still be willing to meet.  It seemed that nothing they had looked at was acceptable.
            Interestingly, a few months earlier, we had been short-staffed, and I asked for volunteers to help out in the office.  One of my parishioners, Mark, who had taken early retirement as a school superintendent from New York, answered our call.  He was working on another project for us when Kristin and Margarita (the school owner and the administrator) arrived for the meeting.  I asked Mark to sit in.
            I stated up front, "I am not interested in a straight rental situation.  What I would love is a relationship between the school and the parish family."  It was a Holy-Spirit filled moment; we all felt this relationship was of the Lord.  It also became very clear during the conversation that I didn't understand how a school operated."  But Mark did.  I asked him to take over the lead on the discussions.
            I shared our conversation with the vestry, and they were 100 percent in agreement to move ahead. A proposed rental agreement was drawn up.  The vestry approved it. Then Kristin stepped out in faith to finalize the lease.  The school then requested permission from the City of Maitland for a zoning change.
            The date set for the zoning meeting was going to be the day school was to begin.  There were many challenging hurdles ahead.  A property boundary survey was needed. ADA compliance requirements needed to be met which included the construction of a concrete walkway and a railing, and the installation of a fire alarm system.
            This was to be an expensive undertaking, but we again stepped out in faith.  The congregation was extraordinarily generous.  After making the down payment for the fire alarm installation, work began.  We still needed money to pay the balance when the work was finished.  And, we still needed a lot of money to cover everything required for zoning approval.  One parishioner, Scott, volunteered to write a grant application in spite of the fact the deadline was so close.  And God provided! We were awarded $25,000 through the Congregation Development Commission Grant.
            Meanwhile, we also had to clear out the two buildings to be leased.  Many faithful parishioners helped.  Kristen also needed to remodel the two buildings.  It was a very busy summer for many people.  We prayed fervently throughout the exhausting zoning process. Even though one zoning board member was against the change, the city council ended up voting unanimously to grant it.  On August 15, 2016, Celandine opened its doors on our campus with 38 beautiful children, ages 7-21.
            The program for the older children includes life-preparation skills.  Our campus provides them a stress-free place for learning these skills. They are being taught how to clean, to set tables, and to plant gardens. It is such a blessing to see children moving from one building to another during the day.
            In our earlier conversations, the school representatives asked if I would be willing to have a weekly children's chapel - another answer to prayer! Some students are even being trained as acolytes and ushers.  What a joy it is to share the love of Christ with them.  Grateful parents tell us, "The chapel services are so wonderful for the kids!  We don't have words to describe how good it is for them."
            One parent wrote thanking us for giving Celandine Life Prep Academy the opportunity to have the school at our location.  She expressed how wonderful the school and their staff are.  She was joyful that for the first time her son said that he wants to go back to school, because he misses his friends and the teachers.  She is relieved that he feels so safe and welcome; that he is understood and his needs are being met.   She is very happy, thankful, and proud to be a part of this community. 

            When God purposes and we wait on Him in prayer as well as step out in faith, a two-way blessing always unfolds.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Lord and Giver of Life


The Lord and Giver of Life
Elizabeth Gardner

            My relationship with the Lord is a very close one.  Throughout the years, he has given me wondrous amounts of comfort, strength, and joy.  When I go to the altar in church to receive the sacraments of bread and wine, I rejoice in His sacrifice for me and feel a special nearness to Him.  I am refreshed!
            One Sunday morning a year ago I was feeling particularly sad and worried about my brother George.  He had shared with me that his abdominal aneurysm had grown over the past year, and his doctors stressed that he should have immediate surgery.  George had sought out a vascular surgeon who had gotten the hard facts about his condition.  However, my brother decided not to have the invasive operation.  Knowing this was making me extremely fearful for my beloved brother.
            As I entered into our 10:30 service at Good Shepherd, I immediately fell into prayer asking our Lord for His guidance.  When it came time to go to the communion rail, I stood reverently there with my hands held out in the form of a cross.  Once the priest put the small wafer (bread) into my hand, I said softly, "George, this is your Jesus."  I wasn't aware of anything else until the chalice of wine was offered to me.  It was as though time had stopped between my receiving the two.  I knew something unusual had happened, but what?  I now feel it was a time when God was performing a merciful act for my brother, of which I was unaware.
            That was a year ago.  My brother is still here even though he still has that aneurysm.  And he is proceeding to live each day to the fullest.
            I do not know what the future holds for my brother.  But I do know God has His Hand on his life.  Indeed He is the Lord and Giver of Life!

            

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Light Shines Brightly


The Light Shines Brightly
John Kutzuba

            Forty-eight hours after my fourth chemotherapy infusion, I felt all was well: no side effects - no change in my energy level. Sleep came quickly on Saturday evening as I lay down for the night.  However, something happened during that night.  I awoke perspiring, yet I felt freezing cold. My mind raced back to the chemo. I thought this must be the cumulative effects of the treatments and that they were now taking their toll on my body. A quick fix was an added blanket and comforter so that I could sleep until morning - or so I thought. I did not realize that this would be one of the last real time recollections I would have for the next 36 hours!
           On Sunday morning my wife tried to wake me after 11:00 a.m., since I had been sleeping for nearly 13 hours. Patricia could not wake me! In a panic, she ran to a neighbor for help. Thankfully our neighbors were able to wake me.  After seeing my condition, they quickly ordered me to go to the hospital. I was seen immediately and admitted with severe sepsis and pneumonia. The ER physician told Patricia that I was in grave condition; he didn't know if I would live. My prognosis was not good!  I have no memory of the ER or being moved to a hospital room.
            Sometime during that Sunday night an event occurred that I will never forget. My eyes were closed; a cloudy sky appeared.  From behind a cloud on the left came a bright light - a very, very bright light! It was burning through the cloud and becoming even brighter. "NO, NO," I said to myself. "This can't be THE LIGHT!"  [In the past I have heard about people having near-death experiences seeing a light that guided them into heaven.  I felt that I was not ready to make this journey at this time.]  I opened my eyes and saw the ceiling in the hospital room. It seemed to be a million miles away compared to the clouds and the light. I felt I could reach out and touch the clouds. Once again I closed my eyes only to see the bright light. I watched as the clouds were again being consumed by the light. The light seemed to be getting brighter and closer to me. Suddenly a darker cloud appeared from the right and started to move across the light. The light still was successful in penetrating through the clouds. Then suddenly another cloud, and then more clouds covered the light until it was gone. All that was left was a black sky which is what I normally see when I close my eyes.            
            Since having this experience, I have no doubt that I survived that night due to God's listening to the faithful prayers from family and friends, and from Reverend Carl and my church family at St. John's. I am now at peace with myself. I feel calmer dealing with the "Daily Bumps in the Road of Life" and with my continuing cancer treatment.  I am comforted knowing The Light is there.  I feel in touch with God, and I pray for peace and health for others - not just for myself.


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Journey Forward Requires Looking Backwards


The Journey Forward Requires Looking Backwards
The Rev. Cameron MacMillan

            The importance of remembrance is a theme found in the earliest pages of Holy Scripture. In Exodus when God frees the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, he doesn’t tell them to simply get up and go. He commands them to celebrate a ritual meal which is to be continued annually as a remembrance of not only their freedom from captivity, but also of the God who liberates. One of the purposes of this call to remembrance is to pass on the story of God’s faithfulness to future generations. It reminds God’s people to whom they belong. The Israelites are told that when their children ask about Passover’s meaning, they are to use the opportunity to explain how God liberated their people from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:26-27). Even now the purpose of remembering is to celebrate the
ever-present reality of God’s goodness and action in our lives. Central to the Christian life is the sacrament of Holy Eucharist in which we remember our own liberation from sin and death through the sacrifice of Christ.  This communion sacrament which is mysteriously and mystically made is celebrated every Sunday morning on altars around the world.
             As a Christian, it is my duty to remember God’s activity in my own life. As a teenager, I rejected my parents’ Christian faith and sought to live after my own sinful desires. On my 18th birthday in January, I was with some friends one evening on my way to a party in Michigan when my car hit some ice on an on-ramp and spun out of control, smashing into the median twice. The car was totaled - wheels were broken off the axle, airbags burst out from the steering wheel and the glovebox.  Miraculously, none of us was seriously injured. A car stopped on the other side of the freeway and out stepped a young gentleman who came over to check on us. I will never forget the first words out of his mouth. “I have to tell you guys, I am a Christian. I just watched your accident happen,
and I believe God saved your life. It is a miracle that you are walking away from this.”
            At the time, it meant little to me. I was shaken up and wasn’t paying close attention. But those words stuck with me. Later, I found out that my mother had awoken about the time of my accident, feeling compelled to pray for me.
            Not until years later did I make a decision to follow Jesus. It was only then that I could look back and remember how God had miraculously intervened to spare my life. He could have let me die that night in a state of unbelief. But the Lord had other plans. Who would’ve thought that such a young hooligan would ever become a priest?!  It is almost laughable!
            I try to make a practice of occasionally remembering that night, of reflecting on God’s mercy towards a sinner like me. I was rejecting him, but the Hound of Heaven was on my trail.  Just as God chose to free the Israelites not because of anything they had accomplished, but because he loved them faithfully (Deuteronomy 7:6-8), He also chose to keep me around for his own sovereign purposes.
            Now, when I struggle to feel God’s presence or to sense his purpose for my life, I remember that cold, dark night in which the light of Christ burst out from heaven and

liberated me from death. In this act of remembrance, I take heart that God is guiding every step of my journey. Now that I am a father as well as an ordained priest, I know that this is a story I will tell to future generations.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Summoned to Prayer


Summoned to Prayer
Gordon Sims

            My day normally starts at 4 a.m., but on this special Friday I awoke abruptly at 3:30 a.m.! After making coffee I opened the window to let the cool air inside.  When I did so, I noticed the exceptional brightness of the moon lighting up the darkness. I went outside. Suddenly I started to think about 91 year old Ethel, a longtime and very active parishioner in my church.  After many months of illness and numerous hospital stays, it was felt that she was nearing her end on earth. Yet, it was at this exact time I felt a special urgency to pray for her.  I then came back inside.
            As I rode into work on my motorcycle, Ethel remained foremost in my thoughts and prayers.  As I continued on my way, I passed by our church and the old home where she used to live.  My thoughts were still only about her. Not focusing on my driving while riding on my motorcycle was an extremely dangerous thing to be doing.  It was as though I was on “Auto Pilot” getting to work  - as I continued praying for her. 
            When I got to work Terri, my wife, texted me this message, “Ethel entered peacefully into the nearer presence of our Lord this morning at 3:45 a.m.
            How amazing that I awoke earlier than usual this morning when her very death would have been about to occur!  Was it a coincidence that I had felt compelled to pray for her and felt close to her spirit?  Could it have been the Holy Spirit alerting me to pray for Ethel? I did listen and am happy that I may have played a part in praying my friend into heaven.
            Praying is something I do frequently.  I rely on communicating with God.  But never have I felt as summoned to prayer at a special time as I did on this particular morning.

            Through this experience, I realize more clearly the meaning behind the scripture, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints."  (Ps 116:15).

Friday, July 21, 2017

Making it Through


Making It Through
Evelyn Falco

            The Lord has been with me through three losses which greatly impacted my life.  Faith in the Lord has helped me to overcome hurt, disappointment, and the feeling of failure.
            One such ordeal was when my three grandchildren were taken away from me.
They had been living with me because their father was in prison and their mother had died after battling breast cancer.  I had a notarized power of attorney legalizing my care for them.
            One morning after I sent them off to school, their mother's sister (their aunt) and her fiancĂ© went to court and obtained an ex-parte court order that stated I was an unfit grandmother which was very untrue.  The judge granted them custody and gave them a court order allowing them to take them out of school with a sheriff's escort.  The school had to release them.  This aunt had only known the older of the three children - a girl 14 years old who refused to go with them so she was returned to me. I was unable to even say good-bye to the other two before they were taken to live in Louisiana.  I cried and prayed day in and day out seeking the Lord's help.
            I travelled back and forth between Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana to be able to see the children.  I spent lots of money on traveling, lawyers, courts, and counseling.  I felt so helpless, so useless, like I was a failure. I thought I would lose my mind and, perhaps, not be able to endure it.  I would give all my problems to God, but then I would take them back.  I did this many times.  Finally I asked God, "Why me?"  and I heard his answer, "Why not you?"  I had forgotten He was still present.  I started to realize God was in the midst of what was going on and knew what was going to happen before I did.  I began to realize the truth that this was the way because He had allowed it.  I was able to stop the tears when I recognized that God had me in His hands.  I have not seen or heard from my grandchildren in almost 9 years, but I know that God keeps them safe and sound.  And they will find me when God says it's time.
            My second trial came when my longtime and dear friend was snatched away from me.  After my husband had died and Otis had divorced his wife, we began to communicate often with one another.   He lived in Charleston, South Carolina and I lived in Winter Park, Florida.  I would visit him there from time to time.  Although neither one of us had any desire to get married, we were friends for many years.  In time he began to show signs of dementia. I was able to help him keep track of his business affairs.  He actually even mentioned the possibility of marriage at that time.  His daughter became fearful that her father would be giving me too much control over his life.  For this reason, she formulated a plan to keep us from being in contact with one another.  She took his cellphone away - telling him he had lost it.  She then sent him to live with people in New York who were strangers to him.  He was, however, able to sneak out and call me.  We both missed the companionship we had shared for so long.  Once he even ran away for days, but, Praise God, he was found!  He loved the Lord with all his heart, and he had remained in His care.  After all this, I came to realize that God was still in charge no matter how hurt or disappointed I was.  I began to feel the Lord's presence - knowing he was still with me.  I went through and conquered this storm with the help of God once again.
            The third and last episode was very different.  I now trusted right away in God providing needed strength and His knowing the plans for me.  I no longer asked why.  Due to financial problems, I had to leave my home of 25 years.  However, having to relocate was hard since I had felt very secure and comfortable with my life the way it was.  Even so, I passed through this happening without falling apart - believing it was all for good even if I did not understand.  I have since come to recognize that God did not say yes to this, but did let it happen - because it was a different life I was to live.  I had to give up some independence in order to become more humble as we are supposed to be.  Since my relocation, I am now aware that there was a good purpose in all of this. 
            These occurrences in my life have helped me to learn these lessons.
            Put God first in your life and do not lean unto your own understanding.

            Trust in the Lord always.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Love They Neighbor


Love Thy Neighbor
Ann Cooper

            About 10 years ago I moved from Florida to Tennessee.  My home is now located on Christmasville Road, next door to my daughter. I did not get to know the neighbor on the other side of me right away. 
            We finally met one day when we both went to our mailboxes located along the roadside next to each other. Evelyn was a tall, slender lady - immaculately groomed who appeared to be in her 70s.  She told me she would have visited me sooner but was afraid of my two, big dogs.  I assured her they were very friendly.  She then became a frequent and welcomed visitor in my home.
            As we got to know each other, I learned that she had grown up in a coal mining town in West Virginia and that she didn't have much of an opportunity for getting a formal education.   In fact she had only learned to read simple things - just enough to get by.  Evelyn also explained she suffered a partial hearing loss as a child which had made learning difficult for her.  In addition, hearing words indistinctly had caused her to pronounce them incorrectly.  However, over time, she learned to read lips a bit. Evelyn told me that she had never lost the great desire to read on a higher level.
            As for myself, I had been fortunate enough to receive a college education.  The ability to read and write has given me so much joy in life.  However, in my early 80s, I was declared legally blind.  This makes reading and writing very difficult for me, and I even have to use special magnifiers.
            The more that I began to know Evelyn, I wondered, "Is there some way - even with my limitations - that I can help my neighbor read on a higher level?"  Evelyn and I talked about it and decided we'd find some way to read together.  I accessed Evelyn's skill by listening to her read. I discovered that she had difficulty reading multi-syllable words and Biblical names.
            Together we made a plan.  We decided to pick out some reading materials.  She would read as far as she could.  Then she would stop and spell out the word she didn't know.  I would divide the word into syllables, pronounce it, and then define it for her.  And away we would go.  Each day we'd read from daily devotionals and the Bible.  Evelyn likes Amish novels, and I enjoy history books and mysteries, so sometimes we'd read from them as well.  In addition to these, we would read our mail.
            We have helped each other in this way for over three years. Evelyn is now at the point where she can read almost everything on her own; I am no longer able to read because of my failing eyesight.  She now reads to me, and we continue to share this daily bond with one another.

            Evelyn and I both thank God each day for the gift we have been able to give to each other.