Wait on the Lord

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

It is no longer a state secret that I injured both of my hands in August and early September, which forced a wave of recital and concert cancellations in September and October. 

What isn’t as well known is that this past Tuesday, I finally regained full use of my hands.

I know this because I practiced for four hours without realizing it – something I haven’t done since early August. 

Unlike past incidents like tendinitis or simple overuse, this injurious bout took forever to heal – and involved two hands instead of one.

I was beginning to wonder if I was going to follow in the path of so many forgotten pianists of years’ past, whose careers died prematurely because they got injured and never fully healed.

Thanks to your prayers, God extended grace and mercy in my case.

Amid this ordeal, I discovered that I could still manage the harpsichord.

With my quill-plucking keyboard, I kept my soul nourished with a renewed relationship to the music of J. S. Bach.

As a result, I’m sharing some of this music in my upcoming recital – paying it forward, as we could all use some soul-healing in these trying times. 

In scripture, we are exhorted to “wait on the Lord” quite often, in various contexts.

I will honestly attest that this ‘wait’ for the Great Physician was not fun, and at times I felt overlooked. 

But in this, I learned that it is OK to ask for prayers; it is OK to ask for help; it is OK for the show to wait for a performer’s healing. 

Above all, I learned that it is incredibly important to guard one’s mind and heart – critical to this is to surround oneself with a loving and supportive community. 

Right now, nothing gives me greater joy than to report back to you that all is well. And I’m good to go, once more.

Thank you for your prayers.

Through faith

… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 

– Galatians 3:26 NRSV

I am a child of God through faith. So says the scripture.

Not sure I always believed that, but I do now.

Throughout my 67-plus years on this earth, I have had good times and bad. Blessings and challenges.

The good times, the blessings, I’m convinced are not of my own doing, but of God’s mercy and grace.

The bad times, the challenges, God has been right there with me, seeing me through.

I know this through faith.

Faith sustains me in good times and bad … because I am a child of God. 

None of this can be considered earth-shattering revelation.

Believers have known for years. Faithful readers of the Bible have known for years.

I was reminded of this as I read Galatians 3:25-28, the text of this coming Sunday morning’s message, “Children of God,” from Rev. Caroline Noll, our Associate Pastor and Pastor for Children and Families.

And as I pondered this simple yet profound idea, a song came to mind. A favorite, but one I hadn’t heard or thought about for years.

The song – I Am a Friend of God by Israel Houghton – reminds me that I am not only a child of God, but a friend as well.

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 

– John 15:15 NRSV

I am a child of God. I am a friend of God. He calls me friend.

And I know this, through faith. 

Alive and well

On March 11, 2020, more than 1,000 people in 40 states had been infected with COVID-19.

At least 31 had already died.

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, bluntly warned:

“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”

The next day, March 12, Dallas County declared a health emergency. 

A few short hours before, our Pure Joy! Youth Choir returned from a Spring Break tour of St. Louis.

Garland and other area school districts declared a second week of Spring Break as they scrambled to assess the situation and figure out what to do next.

Bishop Mike McKee sent a letter instructing all United Methodist churches in the North Texas Conference to cease in-person worship, presumably for no more than a few weeks.

On March 13, the staff of First United Methodist Garland met via Zoom to brainstorm what to do and how to worship.

Just over a year later, there have been more than 30 million cases and 550,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Worldwide, there have been nearly 123 million cases and more than 2.7 million deaths. 

As widespread vaccination escalates, there is hope on the horizon.

But we are a long way from ‘back to normal.’

Some churches have reopened to limited in-person worship. 

For reasons of safety and based on the guidelines of Dallas County Health and Human Services, First United Methodist Garland has not.

Our building remains closed.

But God’s church is alive and well, because we are the church

And God continues to work through us in spite of the pandemic. 

God has a plan for us. 

With God’s guidance and grace, we have learned to worship online. 

This has enabled us to remain connected, albeit virtually, as a community of believers.

And it has positioned us for the future of God’s church.

Online worship won’t go away when we return to our sanctuary. 

It will continue to be offered for those who feel safer and more comfortable remaining at home.

And for those now geographically distant but still desiring a spiritual connection with their home church.

And perhaps most importantly, for that seeker who may find through us an avenue to a new or renewed relationship with God.

We’ve kept other ministries alive online as well. Sunday School. Chancel, Pure Joy! Youth and Children’s Choirs. First Youth fellowship. Even Vacation Bible School and Night in Bethlehem. 

We’ve held online Bible studies and book studies. 

Senior Pastor Rev. Valarie Englert has provided a weekly opportunity to center, meditate and Breathe

And we’ve tried to do our part in combating racism and promoting inclusion through a series of online Conversations About Race.

Our staff and laity have gone out of their way to keep in close touch with our members in spite of social distancing, providing food, pastoral care and other support as needed. 

In spite of the pandemic, God has also led us to remain in mission as well. 

We may not be hammering nails, repairing homes or installing grab bars. 

But we are collecting and contributing food to Good Samaritans of Garland, and helping the Garland Retired School Personnel do the same.

We’ve continued our quarterly commitment to providing Breakfast @ Austin Street.

We provided a socially-distanced distribution point for The Reindeer Project, continuing to help Garland area families in need with gifts and food to ensure a merry Christmas for their children. 

And when an unprecedented, freezing winter storm sent hundreds of our less fortunate neighbors scurrying for shelter, we did our part through donations of time, money and food to the Garland Overnight Warming Station (GLOWS). 

COVID-19 may have slowed us.

COVID-19 may have changed the way we do things. 

But COVID-19 has not stopped us.

It has not stopped God’s church.

It has not stopped God’s plan for us.

We are alive and well! 

Thanks and praise be to God! Amen! 

Simply because God loves us

My wife Marcy and I are blessed.

Our home came through last week’s historic winter storm with relatively minor damage from a water leak.

We have electricity. We have heat.

And our insurance company found us a hotel for a few days while we were without water.

We and our immediate family members are, thus far at least, COVID-free.

We’ve had our first vaccinations and expect to get our second in the next week or so.

My mother has had both, and she seems happy, healthy and safe since she moved into a senior living facility in January. 

I’m still employed. Marcy is still providing piano lessons, some in person, some online.

We’ve had unexpected expenses, but we’re managing without going too much further into debt.

Yes, we are blessed. But not for these reasons.

To say we are blessed because of our good fortune implies that those less fortunate are not.

And I don’t believe that’s the case.

No, we’re blessed – all of us are blessed – because God loves us.

That was true before the pandemic. That was true before the storm. And it continues to be true. 

Because God gave his only Son for us.

Because God’s grace is available and free, regardless of our faults. Regardless of our iniquities.

Simply because God loves us.

In all of our trials and tribulations, in all of our fortune and misfortune, may God continue to bless us all.

Thanks be to God!


Unraveling our inner knots

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, the sun is peeking out and icicles are growing longer and longer, dripping as they grow.

A thaw is coming – and a most welcome one.

After a week of being frozen in, many without power, some of us suffering tremendous loss, it is a glorious blessing to see sunlight, and to look forward to a warmer week ahead.

Our whole state – many states – have been knotted up with the cold.

No mail. Bare shelves at the grocery store (the few that have been open).

Slick roads. Canceled vaccination appointments.

Boil water orders. Burst pipes. Blackouts.

And a pandemic on top of all that.

A tightly woven knot of severe external circumstances.

As a result, many of us are experiencing tightly woven “knots” in our insides as well.

Worry. Concern. Anxiety.

A sense of feeling helpless in the face of such circumstances.

Fear that we might just unravel and come undone.

Enter in the season of Lent – a gift of a season in which we can let the unraveling begin in the light of God’s grace.

We can pick at our “inner knots,” so to speak – the bundle of emotions, past traumas, failures – and allow a bit of light in, and let the Holy Spirit pick at those knots with us.

When that “Gracelight” enters in, we can give ourselves over to the assurance that we are children of God, blessed by the Spirit.

Those inner knots can take up a lot of space and energy within us; they are good at blocking that Gracelight out.

When the light begins to seep in, we can move more assuredly into the deep knowledge that as we walk the road to the Cross with Jesus, we will emerge on the other side in the light of Resurrection.

Completely unraveled from who and what we were before, and forged into a new people from whom Love and Gracelight shine forth.

Let the unraveling begin.

A prayer for the struggling soul

Each week as we begin our ministry staff meeting, Senior Pastor Valarie Englert asks us, “How’s your soul?”

I missed this week’s meeting because I was helping move my 86-year-old mother into an assisted living facility.

But if I had been there to respond, my answer would have been – and still is – that my soul is struggling.

Struggling with guilt over not being able to adequately care for my mom.

Struggling with finding any semblance of a safe, normal work and personal life in the middle of a pandemic now at 10 months and counting.

Struggling to recognize and understand a country torn asunder by continuing, systemic racial strife.

Struggling to comprehend what I’m watching as a mob carrying American and “Jesus” flags storms and vandalizes the very seat of our democracy, with several people losing their lives in the process.

Struggling with what to do, knowing full well the answer – pray.

But what should I pray?

Throughout my church and spiritual life, I’ve known some very powerful prayer warriors. Living saints who knew exactly what words to pray and when to pray them.

And even though I know God listens regardless, I’ve always been jealous of their ability to pray so eloquently.

With that in mind, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to pray.

I may have found them this morning.

In “A Prayer for the Struggling Soul,” Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer Jolene Underwood offers comforting words for seeking God’s blessings in times of struggle, and scriptures assuring us of God’s grace.

I share them here with the knowledge that I’m not the only one struggling, and with the hope that you might find them comforting as well.

God bless …

As the deer

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

In the daily lectionary this week, one of the morning Psalms (there are two morning Psalms and two evening Psalms for each day) was a particularly beautiful one, Psalm 42.

It begins:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

These opening verses may be familiar to you; they are the words to a hymn that our congregation has sung many times, and it is a favorite of many (me included).

As I read these words this week, I let the psalmist speak for me:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?

The seemingly endless pandemic, the state of our country and the divisions that have opened into chasms have made my soul very thirsty for God and for the divine healing presence.

One of the great beauties of scripture is that it can speak for us when we struggle for words, when it becomes difficult to describe the turmoil rumbling around in our very bodies, when the future seems so cloudy and uncertain.

I am grateful for the words of the psalmist.

Then I encountered verse 4:

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival … 

…and all of the sadness of the last six months washed over me in an instant.

miss terribly gathering in our sanctuary every week.

I miss the sharing of Holy Communion, the singing of hymns, the shared, spoken-aloud prayer concerns.

I miss seeing you all face-to-face each Sunday morning, and the warm greetings of folks I pass in the hallway as I speed toward the sacristy to don my robe and stole with fellow worship leaders.

I miss those few moments on the chancel as I await the start of the prelude.

I miss the way the light comes through the stained glass windows just so, and the gathering of our children with Pastor Caroline on the chancel steps.

I miss the singing, bell playing, and uke strumming of all of our choirs.

I miss so much, and I know you do, too.

Yet even in the midst of such sudden, unimaginable change, we manage to come together every week to worship virtually.

There is a sense of togetherness as the worship service streams over our devices.

It must be a God-thing, because I cannot imagine anyone or anything but God’s Spirit who is able to infuse cyberspace with a sense of the Holy.

I am thankful that the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness, no matter what:

Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. 

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

This, too, shall pass. All of this. The pandemic. The strife. The deep divide.

And God is with us, and will remain with us and all creation for eternity.

The love of our God in Christ will pull us ever deeper into the very heart of God’s Kingdom – we just need to say “yes” and allow God to have God’s own loving, grace-filled way.

In God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, our souls rest, and our thirst is quenched.

May God’s peace be with you today, tomorrow and every day.

Honoring my mother

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

– Exodus 20:12

Indulge me, if you will, in a bit of selfish and personal reflection.

God has given me much for which to be thankful in my nearly 66 years on this earth. Nothing more so than my beautiful mother.

Mary Eudella Remscheid. She goes by Eudella, or Grandma Della to the grandkids.

A mere 20-years old when I was born, she was the oldest of three sisters. So my grandfather threatened to throw me out the window if I was a girl. Mom responded by having three boys!

Not quite 11 years after I was born, my dad was killed in an auto accident on an icy road one winter morning on the way to work, leaving my brave mother to raise three boys on her own.

And she did so fearlessly.

After Dad died, we moved from Haysville (a Wichita, Kansas suburb) to Pittsburg, Kansas to be near our grandparents and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

It wasn’t long after that when Mom, not wanting us to miss out on anything for lack of a father, did what most of our relatives told her was unthinkable. She embarked with her three boys on a road trip vacation to California and Disneyland.

We didn’t miss out. Then or any other time as we were growing up, thanks largely to the love and unselfishness of my mom. 

Now 85, Mom is preparing for another long road trip with me. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be flying to Florida and driving back with her as she comes to live with my wife Marcy and me.

Mom’s not quite as fearless or independent as she used to be. And she needs more help these days than she would ever care to admit.

As many who have been through the experience of caring for an older relative can no doubt attest, it will not be easy introducing another person – even a loved one – into our daily lives.

And she has a dog!

Tiger will be joining the Buford menagerie, which already features a dog and a cat. (I fear Murphy and Sophie will not be pleased.)

But Mom set a wonderful example of love and courage in addressing head on the challenge of raising three boys on her own. Can I do less in return in her time of need? 

Can I love and honor my mother as she loved and honored me? 

Marcy has certainly stepped up to the plate and accepted the challenge, which is significant since she’ll be the one spending the most time with Mom while I’m at work during the week. Her example of courage and love is no less great than Mom’s in raising my brothers and me.

I pray that I’m up to the task. That I can live up to their example.

And that God will bestow upon me courage and strength. The same courage and the strength he gave Mom 56 years ago. 

Grace in the snow

Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

This past week, I did a concert tour of Toronto and its suburbs. I played Beethoven’s piano quintet arrangement of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 with the Odin String Quartet.

The Odin group is one of Canada’s leading string quartets. The three concerts were well received and all looked great.

After the tour was done, I was whisked across Ontario into Quebec, where I was to meet the leadership of the Society for the Study and Performance of Haitian Music in Montreal.

When I got to Montreal, suddenly things went sour.

Due to the fact that the snow on the ground was up to my knee, I decided to take an Uber to my Airbnb instead of the subway.

The Uber driver arrives, has the address in his GPS, helpfully loads my heavy and bulky luggage into his small trunk, and off we went. Or so I thought.

His GPS led him to a street that had the same name as the street on which the Airbnb is located, but it was on the wrong block (and wrong side of town).

He turned onto the street and stopped the car before he completed the turn. He said, “You’re here.” I said, “This isn’t right.”

We argued. He got out of the car as we argued, opened my door and told me to get out. I stepped out and we animatedly yelled about the fact that his GPS was wrong, and that he should use his eyes to see that we were not in the right place.

As I’m gesturing to the addresses on the duplexes, he went to his trunk, yanked my bag and threw it into the snow on the sidewalk. Perplexed, I froze at the continued lack of professionalism.

He commanded me in his thick, French-accented English to “walk down to the end of the block. The house is there.”

Before I could get my tote bag with my music scores and airline information, he drove off down the snow-covered street.

(I might add that we were being cursed out in French because we were blocking the street and another car wanted to pass through.)

Because music scores are quite expensive, I tried to call him directly through the Uber app. Unfortunately, my phone battery died.

Stranded in a residential neighborhood, I walked around, dragging this dead weight called my luggage through high snow in hopes of finding an open business so that I could at least find an electrical outlet.

Eventually, I found a place – fittingly, a private music and arts school. I walked up the stairs, went into the lobby, charged my phone and tried the Uber app again. I got in touch with the driver and we exchanged information.

At the same time I called a second driver, so that I could hopefully find this mysterious Airbnb. When he pulled up, I decided to vent to him in French, and I implored him to really be human and help me instead of trying to rely on GPS.

To my surprise, this man, whose app told him that the ride was cheap because the location was only 100m away, shut off his Uber device, turned off his GPS and instead pulled up a map to figure out where I was really supposed to be.

He asked me to call my Airbnb host and get directions from him. I told him that it would be easier if the two of them talked (as they’re both native French speakers and both live in Montreal). He obliged. Samir got me home.

Later that evening, I took a third Uber to the swank restaurant Chez L’évêque, where I dined with the president of the Haitian Music Society.

During this time, the first Uber driver, who still had my tote bag, finally replied to my many text messages and said that he was going to give me the bag “now” instead of in the morning. But he wanted $30 cash for the trip.

After dinner, I excused myself to walk in the snow, find an ATM machine and clear my head. In the quiet and bitter cold, I could hear “grace and mercy” swirling through my head.

So when I finally met up with the Uber driver, I chose to extend the grace that God gives me, despite the fact that he was incredibly disrespectful to me. So I gave him $40. He didn’t say thank you for the extra money, either. 

Were my actions Godlike? Perhaps.

I had two options: take the bag, curse him out and throw some punches, or take the bag, give him money and wish him a nice life.

I chose to reflect my faith, the Fruit of the Spirit, and not my carnal feelings.

Not surprisingly, this is what God probably goes through when we, his people, continually disrespect him and don’t extend gratitude to him for the blessings he extends to us.

There is another application of grace in this story: Samir, the second Uber driver.

Judging by his tall height, looks and non-standard accent in French, he’s likely Lebanese.

Given my American accent (US-Lebanese relations are complicated on a good day), my utter confusion and the fact that the real location was much further than what Uber was going to pay him for the trip, he had absolutely no incentive to help me.

Had not Samir not saved me, I would still be aimlessly wandering the streets of Montreal in distress. I praise God for the grace of this Good Samaritan.

Given our rebellious nature, God has no incentive to serve us or to help us. Yet he does it all the time.

From the air we breathe, to the sun that shines, all the way up to sending Jesus to be our light, God’s grace is all around us.

Without it, we would be forever lost. If God can be gracious and merciful towards us, we must learn to be the same towards each other.

I learned about how grace works in real life the hard way this past weekend. I hope the next lesson isn’t as harrowing.

As it is written: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God’s outrageous grace

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

I have heard numerous explanations of grace. Many have been helpful and well thought out. Some have not.

The hardest thing to do is explain something about faith or God to someone who doesn’t believe in either.

Try explaining grace to an atheist.

Try explaining God’s abundant and available grace to someone who has felt only pain, suffering, hatred and abuse.

As Christians we often struggle to find the right words or the right thing to do in the midst of trials and tribulations. This can be true in both our lives and the lives of those we care about.

When the darkness threatens to drown us, it is most difficult to see the light.

It is still there. It always has been. We will see it again. But that doesn’t help us when the darkness is heaviest.

We often cry out, “Where are you God? How can you let this happen to me?” 

Where is the grace God offers at that moment?

Daniel Montgomery says this about grace:

“God’s love for us is shown through outrageous grace.

Outrageous grace isn’t a favor we can achieve by being good; it’s the gift we receive by being a child of God.

Outrageous grace is God’s goodness that comes looking for you when often times we have nothing but contempt, anger and doubt of God to offer in return.

It’s a farmer paying a full day’s wages to a crew of what we call ‘deadbeat’ day laborers with only a single hour punched on their time cards (Matthew 20:1-16).

It’s a man marrying an abandoned woman and then refusing to forsake his covenant with her when she turns out to be unfaithful. (Ezekiel 16:8-63; Hosea 1:1-3:5).

It’s the insanity of a shepherd who puts ninety-nine sheep at risk to rescue the single lamb that strays from the rest of the flock (Luke 15:1-7).

It’s the love of a father who hands over his finest rings and robes to a young man who has squandered his inheritance on drunken binges with his fair-weather friends (Luke 15:11-32).

It’s one-way love that calls us not because we’ve been good but because God has chosen us and made us God’s own.

And now God is chasing us to the ends of the earth to keep us as his children, and nothing will ever stop that.

But here’s what’s amazing about God’s outrageous grace: This isn’t merely what God the Father would do; it’s what God did do.

God could have chosen to save anyone, everyone, or no one from Adam’s fallen race.

But what God did was to choose a multi-hued multitude of ‘someones,’ and – whether you are drowning in the darkness or basking in the light – one of those “someones” is you.

God in Christ has declared, ‘I could have chosen anyone in the whole world as my child, and I chose you.’ 

No matter what you say or do, neither my love nor my choice will ever change.”

That’s grace that’s truly amazing.”

I can’t really explain how amazing and outrageous God’s grace is any better than Daniel Montgomery did.

I still struggle to explain grace to people. Christians, non-Christians, adults, teens, children … grace is difficult to explain, especially when you are “going through it.” (A phrase I hear a lot with our youth).

But I do know this. God’s outrageous grace is real. God’s love is overwhelming.

I will keep looking for a good way to explain grace to people.

In the meantime, know that God’s outrageous grace is yours. Reach out and claim it.