Are you ready?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

So here we are. It’s almost Christmas Day.

Most of us have spent the last several weeks getting ready.

Maybe this year you purchased a real tree and spent time setting it up and decorating it.

Perhaps you are like others and retrieved the one kept in the box and set it up and decorated it.

We’ve bought gifts and wrapped them.

Well, Heather bought our gifts and wrapped them. I just signed the cards. She is much better at the gift thing. 

Did you attend or host a holiday party?

Did the family gather and celebrate early?

Did you send your cards and letters out far and wide?

These are all wonderful things to do with your family and friends.

Soon, we will gather in familiar places with familiar faces and celebrate with family, friends and neighbors.

Together, we will sing the familiar carols, we will light and hold our candles, and we will retell that age old story. 

Silent night, holy night,
wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born! 

It will be beautiful. I hope you take time to take it all in. 

But here’s the thing. 

For all our preparation and for all the beauty around us, I can’t help but wonder if there is something more.

Something we miss in all our planning and preparation. All our decorations and gift giving.

So much of what we spend time and energy and money on has little to do with that simple, yet provocative, age-old story we read together each year. 

A story so familiar we almost know it by heart. 

A story about Mary and Joseph, a relationship filled with hardship from the get-go.

Difficult decisions to be made against traditions that point them in opposite directions.

A story about shepherds in a field. And Angels from the realms of glory.

A story so layered by tradition and Christmas card images, so softened by our focus on glowing candles that its meaning and challenge get lost in the grandeur of our celebrations. 

We know the story, but maybe we miss the struggle and tension that truly make it wonderful and miraculous. The parts we don’t put in Christmas cards to family and friends.

Things like the stark contrast between the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and Jesus, the Son of God … born in Bethlehem … laid in a manger. 

Or King Herod, sitting on his throne in the palace, threatened by the prospect of a new king. 

Or the harrowing story of Mary and Joseph making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. 

And the Roman legions who patrolled the streets and countryside ‘imposing’ their peace. 

Meanwhile, the heavenly host sings a proclamation of peace on Earth, good will to all. 

As we hear the story, we are left to ask ourselves …  

What is this story really trying to say? 

Which side of the story will we choose as our own to guide and direct our living?

What does all this mean for us today? 

What does all this mean for you today … with the world as it is and your life as it is? 

If there’s something in this story about peace on Earth that weaves itself around some deep longing within you … 

if there’s something in this story about everyone, not just the rich and powerful, having a place …

and if there’s something that brings into focus how you imagine life and this world might be, should be … 

… then how are you getting ready for that kind of Christmas? 

There’s something in this story about God with us that rings true for me … that tugs at my spirit. 

God with us. Not over us. Not judging or condemning us. 

God with us in this wonderful, complex, sorrowful, joyful thing we call life. 

God with you and me. With us and them. 

God here. God now. 

Just as you are. Just as we are. Just as they are. 

The cards and gifts, the trees and parties, the time spent with family and friends are important, and those memories can last a lifetime.

But remember the story. The whole story. 

Christmas Day is almost here.

I pray that all of us can prepare for that kind of Christmas.  

Are you ready?


Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

On a local newscast last night, the anchor person said:

“It’s finally here! The season of graduations!”

I thought back on my graduations, my husband’s, my children’s and my mom’s graduations.

For our family, each graduation was a celebration of accomplishments with great anticipation and hopes yet to come.

Then I thought of all the students who have come through our First United Methodist Garland children’s and youth programs.

I am thankful for the privilege to work with so many wonderful students who have gone on to become doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, analysts, philanthropists, musicians and much more.

Each year, if seniors have been active throughout their high school years, I allow them to choose the choir tour destinations, Dessert Show themes, and most importantly, our theme verse or quote for the year.

I am so thankful for seniors who come to their year with anticipation and willingness to take leadership.

The younger youth appreciate when the older youth lovingly include them.

Together, we all grow in faith.

Madeline Watkins and Liberty Cowan are outstanding seniors. They take initiative, showing creativity and ingenuity.

Although Pure Joy! Youth Choir has been small this year, they are one of the most talented groups around!

I credit Madeline and Liberty for not only singing in tune, but also keeping our group in harmonious unity!

This year, they chose this quote as our theme:

“God can give you peace for the past, purpose for the present and hope for the future.”

There are many verses that support this quote.

Because Ascension Sunday is in one week, the passage brought to this reflection is John 14:25-27.

Before Jesus ascends, he assures his followers:

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”


Loving God, life keeps changing and sometimes that causes anxiety.

Thank you for the calm assurance that your peace can be in us.

Without fear, help us to bring peace and assurance to those around us.


Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Musician, poet, and essayist Carrie Newcomer penned a poem that has been ringing in my heart and mind these last few weeks.

It’s titled “Three Gratitudes.”

Here are a few lines:

‘Every night before I go to sleep 
I say out loud 
Three things that I am grateful for, 
All the significant, insignificant 
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life. 
It’s a small practice and humble, 
And yet, I find I sleep better 
Holding what lightens and softens my life 
Ever so briefly at the end of the day … 

… And after three things, 
More often than not, 
I get on a roll and just keep on going, 
I keep naming and listing, 

Until I lie grinning, 
Blankets pulled up to my chin, 
Awash with wonder 
At the sweetness of it all.” 

(From “A Permeable Life,” pp 9-10)

As I ponder what I am thankful for in my eight years at First United Methodist Church Garland, I find that I get on a roll like the poet describes.

My list keeps getting longer and longer, full of ordinary and extraordinary gratitudes. 

Here are just a few:

Music sung and played by kids, youth and adults that speaks to the soul and lifts the heart. 

Stained glass windows that wow the senses. 

Leadership who offered loving support during hard times. 

A wise, kind and amazing staff. 

Members who ‘show up,’ pitching in and taking care of whatever needs attention. 

Laughter in the office. 

Smiles in worship. 

And the list grows ever longer, until I am smiling with the wonder of it all. 

Thank you for being you.

It has been a blessing to be your pastor. 

Grief and joy

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Director of Children’s and Family Ministries

I was all ready to sit down and write this reflection, and then Patrick came in and asked if I had seen the news today.

I was going to sit down and invite us to reflect on what bring us joy.

And then we learned of war across the globe in Ukraine.

And it didn’t seem right to ignore it. I could not with peace turn away.

I wondered if there was a prayer, a poem, or a hymn that would be appropriate instead.

As I thought throughout the day, my spirit did not want to let go of thoughts of joy, even though there is great trouble in our world.

Then I realized, there is a prayer, song, and a poem. I heard it at the Pure Joy! Youth Choir Dessert Show last Sunday.

After intermission, Pure Joy! presented an artistic expression of the story of the people of God through their exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, through the generations, and their eventual return.

The story included songs of peace, wandering, grief, storms, joy, and the steadfastness of God.

It spoke of home, war, separation, identity, return, and love.

The story of the people of God as they were driven into exile by the Babylonians and their eventual return, in part, to Jerusalem with the prophets covers the breadth and depth of human experience and emotions.

The people of God experienced great loss and new comfort, destruction and rebuilding, separation and homebuilding.

And in it all, God was there. In it all, God is here.

So today we lift our prayers of both, of grief and of joy, of despair and of hope, of darkness and of light.

Lord in your goodness, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Old Faithful

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Director of Children’s and Family Ministries

“I have to go do my homework now.”

“What’s your homework?”

“I have to finish the treasurer’s report for the PTA meeting.

“And I need to write a reflection paper for church. I don’t know what I’ll write about yet. Do you have any ideas?”

“What’s a reflection paper?”

“Well, sometimes people write about a story or something they saw or a song and how it made them think about God.”

“Hmm… Write about Yellowstone! How God is like Old Faithful, springing up from the ground!”

Thank you God for the gift of our children.

Old Faithful as a metaphor for God. 

God is ever present in our world, bursting forth in mighty and magnificent ways.

Higher and more beautiful than we ever imagined.

Even when we think we remember from days of old, God continues to surprise and amaze.

God is faithful.

Sometimes we must be patient, waiting for that we yearn for, wondering if God hears our prayers.

And yet when we wait upon the Lord, our joy is complete.

God’s love runs deep, down into the core of creation. From God’s love, miraculous life wells forth.

God’s love takes many forms, some in amazing colors and forms, some pouring forth in abundance, others a gentle simmer, a wisp of a reminder.

Sometimes we encounter parts of this world that offend our sensitivities, but many times, underneath, are miracles of creation.

God’s love calls us back, draws us in, and restores our soul.

We sit in awe and cannot help but tell others of the wonders of God’s love.


It came upon a midnight clear

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

“Season of Hope!” is our advent theme this year.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my favorites. It’s an old black and white movie.

At the beginning of the movie, a senior angel is talking to a junior, telling him about George Bailey.

The scene is set with a star-lit sky.

Although it’s two stars blinking at each other, it is evident that angels are talking to each other.

Clarence is the junior. Here is a bit of the conversation: 

Senior Angel: A man down on earth needs our help. 

Clarence: Splendid. Is he sick? 

Senior Angel: No, worse. He’s discouraged. 

It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope. Life happens.

For young ones, it’s falling off a bike, making a poor grade, losing a game or parents divorcing.

For young adults, it is not getting a job, house, or family that was hoped for in younger years.

For older adults, it can be that things are changing – new technologies, kids moving away or age discrimination.

For all ages, it’s broken relationships, losing loved ones and unrest in the world.

You name yours. There are numerous reasons that we get discouraged and lose hope.

There are so many wonderful Christmas carols. We have so little time to sing them all.

Often times in our haste to sing them all, we only sing one or two verses of each.

Sometimes, however, the most significant verses are in the middle.
This is true in the song, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

For background, the Greek word for “angel” means “messenger.”

This song describes angel messengers coming throughout all times, bringing us the message of peace and love.

Three of the verses speak of world conditions.

But the third verse, which is most often omitted, says this: 

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
As many of you know, my father died the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

I grieve for myself, but mostly for my mom, who literally lost her life-long love.

I’m thankful for those of you who have modeled “good grieving.”

I recognize that you put your trust in our merciful Lord in times of both sorrow and joy.

I find it ironic that I can feel both joy/peace and sorrow/grief at the same time. 
As I “rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing,” these scriptures come to my mind:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
 and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
 and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
 they shall walk and not faint. 

– Isaiah 40:28-31

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

– Titus 3:4-5

Loving God, help me to take time to rest, to listen and to be renewed by your Holy

Help me to be the person you need me to be to bring peace on earth (or a least to those who are near me.)
May your hope be renewed this advent season.

Stop, watch the Giver at work

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Pastor for Children and Families

The colors are changing again.

Remember when we all went home in March 2020?

Everything stopped.

After a short while, we all went outside. Though activities in our world ceased, spring was coming.

Everywhere I turned, people were noticing the leaves growing day by day, the blossoms, and the colors.

We noticed that we were noticing!

One of my favorite parts of our year of school at home was daily time outside with my kids.

Nearly every day we would go outside for a walk or a bike ride or time in the yard.

I loved the time together and the time outdoors with the trees and the sky.

As time has gone by, things in our world have opened again.

Suddenly, the most I often see of a beautiful day is the sunshine coming in through the window, or perhaps a short walk to the bus stop.

How did I go back to old habits so quickly?

So I made this week different. I went on a field trip with my daughter’s school to the Outdoor Learning Center in Plano.

It was a gorgeous fall day. We spent the whole time intentionally looking at nature, asking questions, and wondering.

That time inspired me to go for a walk I hadn’t done in months in the park near our neighborhood, the one that goes through the woods near the creek.

I loved it so much that I invited a friend to join me the next day.

I don’t know how to make outdoors part of my new routine. I’m still figuring out this balance.

But what is important for me, what is essential is to stop, watch, and pay attention.

The colors are changing! The Giver of all good gifts is at work. The Creator is still creating. The Spirit is still moving.

I don’t want to miss it. I want to see the beautiful fall colors.

I want to listen to stories of families and friends around the feast.

I am ready for a season of getting ready for God’s gift of love to us.

The colors are changing again. Thanks be to God.

We can be joyful

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

How do you define a Joyful Life?

I look around and it saddens me to see so many people striving towards materialistic things.

Do we think that having more things and more money will bring us more Joy?

How many times do you catch yourself daydreaming about the things you wish you had?

Do we really need more things? In most cases, probably not.

I recently read an article in one of the blogs I subscribe to that speaks to this.

It suggests that by implementing six new habits into our routines we can open ourselves up to experiencing a more Joyful life.

I am not particularly hip on lists that offer a ‘one pill for everyone’ type of solution.

I did, however, find this list to be one that speaks to where I am.

Here is what they offer:

1) Start living with no regrets

One of the biggest reasons for feeling like you are living with an empty life is your unfulfilled wishes and long-held resentments.

Oftentimes, the saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.

Start doing things that you always wanted to do, tick them off your bucket-list, and start living a life with no regrets.

If you always wanted to be a chef, enroll yourself in a culinary course.

If you want to write a book, start writing it.

If someone has done bad to you, let them know how they made you feel about it and forgive them.

Life is all about savoring every moment and making the most of it.

2) Start looking out for your passion

There is no joy like working day in and day out on something you’re really passionate about.

Knowing that you are dedicating your life to something purposeful is a hard feeling to be expressed in words.

The thing about passion is that it makes your life both beautiful and worth living.

If you haven’t found your passion yet, it’s absolutely okay. Just keep looking for it and don’t settle.

Interestingly, some people have multiple passions, and if that’s the case with you, go after them and keep doing things that make you happy and your life better.

Share your passion with others and it just might be contagious.

3) Start spending some time in nature

People who feel a connection to nature and believe that nature is important to their lives are generally happier than those who don’t.

If you find it hard to believe this, there’s a scientific explanation.

It says that when we observe the beauty of nature, our bodies produce higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines that make our mood better.

You get a sense of calmness when you spend considerable time in green settings.

The fresh oxygen, beautiful mix of colors, and serenity can change your mood in an instant and boost your happiness levels.

4) Start looking after yourself

People often tend to forget that happiness starts from within.

Nothing in this world can make you happier if you are not happier from inside.

You must learn to look after yourself if you want to live a joyful life.

The first step is to start looking after your body. 

Apart from physical fitness, if you think you need to learn a specific skill to be better at something, go for it.

But don’t forget about your spiritual well-being.

Tend to your spiritual needs with as much vigor and gusto as you do your physical needs.

5) Start giving back to society

There is no more joy than knowing you have added value in someone else’s life – however large or small that contribution may be.

Giving back to society not only helps you to be generous and benevolent, but gives you a sense of purpose as well. 

It also makes you happier knowing that once you did something for others not just for yourself.

Helping others in any capacity makes us dutiful human beings and responsible individuals.

To quote Denzel Washington: 

“At the end of the day it’s not about what you have or what you’ve accomplished … 

“It’s all about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

6) Start investing in your growth, and the growth of those around you

The one thing that is strikingly similar among all joyful folks is that they are serious and dedicated about their growth – mental, physical, intellectual, and financial.

The very fact that you are trying to become better with every passing day helps you enjoy your life even more.

Start reading books and blogs, watch inspirational videos, read interviews, listen to podcasts.

Talk to people you admire and who inspire you about what makes them Joyful.

Even more important than your own growth is the growth of those around you.

You can be that person who inspires or motivates.

Don’t be afraid to invest time and energy into others and walk with them.

I know this is a lot of information and perhaps you are already doing some of these things.

If you are, I would encourage you to keep doing them and give it your all.

If you have read this list and are thinking, “These are things that make sense but I haven’t started them yet,” know that it is never too late.

No one can promise you that doing any of the things on this list will lead you to a more Joyful life.

I can promise you this, though. You will never know if you don’t try.

I choose to try.

I choose to try and make a difference in my life and the lives of those who surround me by striving towards Joy.

Serve, Give, Grow, Live, Lead.

Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

Special thanks to Sandeep Kashyap for this inspirational list.