Pastor Sally Devotional 12/2

Dear friends,

 

Tuesday night my dad called and said we needed to take my mother to the Emergency Room.  She was so weak she couldn’t get up from a chair or stand on her feet.  I hurried over to Hubbard Hill and gathered my parents in the car and headed for Elkhart General.  When we arrived at the ER, I was worried.  The waiting room was packed – only one chair left, and we were in a line waiting to get checked in.  We waited 30 minutes to reach the front of the line and by this time, the line behind us was out the door.  Fortunately for mom, they realized immediately that something was seriously wrong and took her right back to triage.  There they discovered she had a very high fever, and we were ushered to one of the very few ER rooms left.  The staff also immediately sent my dad home once they realized a 91 year old man was sitting in a room full of sick people waiting for results on his wife.  (I stayed with my mother who, by the way, is much improved and expected perhaps in a day or two.)

 

I want to tell you that the staff at our city hospital have been terrific.  They have been kind, patient and attentive to my mother while trying to manage an overcrowded ER.  There were no beds on the nursing floors available for my mother until today (48 hours after our arrival.)  In the meantime, they have cared for her while attending to other emergencies and more patients than there were beds.  Last night the patients were sleeping on gurneys in the hallways.  I have also noted that the medical staff in the ER take the concern about Covid very seriously.  They wear N95 masks, double masks, masks coupled with face shields and sometimes masks covered with those space like helmets with the oxygen tubes down the back.  I haven’t seen anyone with a mask under their nose or around their chin. 

 

For many of us Covid seems a bit unreal when the sun is shining and there is hardly a mask in sight in our businesses around Elkhart.  If you want to see the real toll of Covid in our town, you should stop by the ER and see the courage, compassion, dedication and weariness of our front line medical workers.  We called them heroes early on in the pandemic.  They are heroes still, even when we are too tired of the pandemic to notice they are still fighting this deadly microscopic enemy in one patient at a time.

 

Here’s a scripture for the medical staff at our hospitals:

Do not fear, for I am with you;

    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  (Is. 41: 10)

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally Devotional 11/23

Dear friends,

 

I am very much looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.  Most of my immediate family will all be joining Mike and me at our house.  We are hosting, and I think I have the menu planned.  Because most of my family comes from afar, I do most of the cooking.  It is a labor of love for me to cook this dinner, particularly because my various family members all have particular ideas about what Thanksgiving dinner should include. 

 

For my mother, Thanksgiving must include her traditional bread stuffing cooked “in the bird.”  Thanksgiving is not right if there are nuts or raisins or dried fruit in it.  It has to be her recipe of bread, celery and onions!  My husband doesn’t like the stuffing cooked “in the bird” so I’ll also cook some in an oven pan for Mike.  My father always wants something with apples.  This year we’ll have an apple pie.  Austin and Alicia are vegetarian, so they don’t eat turkey.  I’ll make salmon for them.  Austin also really likes mashed potatoes but he’s agreed we can make roasted potatoes so his brother Terry will eat them.  Terry doesn’t like mashed potatoes.  I’ll also roast Brussel sprouts for Terry who wants some kind of plain vegetables.  No Jell-O salads or casseroles for Terry, although I will include a gelatin salad with cool whip for my mother – another must for Thanksgiving dinner.  My brother Dean doesn’t really care what’s cooked for Thanksgiving dinner as long as there is a lot of food.  He eats enough for three people.  Whew!  Thanksgiving is a matter of balancing needs in my house.

 

I was thinking about this today as I was pondering the rising Covid case numbers in Elkhart County.  On both Sunday and Monday of this week I’ve been in conversations with various members of our church who wanted to talk about what the church should be doing about the rising case numbers.  Not too surprising the suggestions were in stark contrast with one another on both days.  It occurred to me afterward that I am also trying to balance needs at the church these days.  And of course, it’s not just me.  There is a team of people who meet monthly to talk about what we might do, can do, and should do.  Then their recommendations go to Session where we talk about it all over again.  It’s not a simple process, and I’m sorry to say that there do not seem to be simple solutions.  We keep working away at it, trying to keep people safe and trying to do what we can to return to “normal” as much as possible. 

 

What pleases me these days is the gentleness with which the suggestions come.  I know lots of people have strong opinions these days, but the people in the Elkhart church usually speak with respect and listen attentively to other opinions.  Thank you so much for this!  Paul writes in Philippians 4:4-5, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”  These are words to live by.  The Lord is near to us when we are joyful, hopeful and gentle with one another.  Let’s keep it up!

 

Blessings on your Thanksgiving gatherings as you celebrate with loved ones and probably do a little balancing of needs in your own families.  May love be all around you.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Sally Devotional 11/16

Dear friends,

 

I was remembering today the early days of my marriage.  Shortly after our wedding, Mike and I moved back to Princeton complete our final year of seminary as married students.  We piled up a small U haul van and drove across country with our book, a kitchen table, a few pots and pans, a single rocking chair, and our waterbed (those were the days!)  Our new neighbors poured out of their apartments to welcome us and carry in our few things.  Then one of them advised us there were a few used couches sitting on top of the trash dumpsters if we wanted one.  They were left over from the students who had moved out the previous week.  We found a couch that was suitable and I covered it with a bedspread I found at the dollar store.  Those were simpler days.  We studied and worked and learned to cook with beans.  We entertained ourselves with shared suppers with friends, walks, and euchre games.

 

I was looking around my house today as I was remembering and marveling at all that we have these days.  We have a warm and cozy home, two cars, real furniture, a fully stocked kitchen, a savings account, three sons and two grandchildren… and we still have lots of books!  I am blessed.  I feel grateful. 

 

I’m studying a passage in Deuteronomy this week in anticipation of the sermon on Thanksgiving Sunday next week.  It’s all about remembering the faithfulness of God.  I am tempted daily to get bogged down with the bad news in our world.  I won’t rehearse it here.  You know all about the bad news that clamors for our attention daily.  Today I am remembering the journey with my Lord and I am feeling blessed.

 

Peace,

Pastor Sally



Pastor Sally Devotional 11/9

Dear friends,

 

I don’t think I’ve introduced you to Abby yet.  Abby is the little dog in this picture.  She is my parent’s dog and now lives at our house and goes for occasional visits to see my parents who are at Hubbard Hill.

 

Abby is a Corgi/ Terrier mix, so she’s full of energy and has a protective streak in her.  Here you see her barking at the other dog in the back of my curio cabinet.  Actually it is just her reflection in the mirror but she is really telling that other dog off!  You can see Theo in the background watching her as if to say, “You ridiculous little dog barking at your reflection as if it’s a real dog!”

 

It occurs to me today that we often bark about ridiculous things that probably do not deserve the attention we give them.  Particularly I think we are given to barking at each other these days.  A lot of us are on a short fuse after 20 months of pandemic.  Things irritate us quickly and we go off on a rant barking at a neighbor or the cashier at the grocery or a family member.  Some of us even bark at the newscasters on the TV or the radio.  Or we bark at a post online.  Or we may be too polite to bark out loud but if someone could hear the thoughts in our heads, they might be quite surprised at our ridiculous barking.  Such a state of aggravation is not good for any of us.

 

So when you are next inclined to “bark your head off” or somebody else’s head off… I recommend taking a breathe and counting your blessings, particularly the blessing of the presence of God.  The Lord is near!  Here’s how Paul puts it in the letter to the Philippians:

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 4: 4-7)

 

It seems to me that Paul is wise.  Prayer, petition and thanksgiving while we present our requests to God is a much better plan that barking at each other.  May God’s peace be with you today.

 

Warmly,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally Devotional 10/20

Dear friends,

 

I read a delightful news article today about a four-year-old in New Zealand who called the police dispatch (our equivalent of 911) to tell them he had some really cool toys.  He invited the dispatcher to come over to see them!  Now first of all… isn’t it a great thing to have a little child believe he is lucky to have the toys he has and to want to share those toys?  At this point in the story, mom discovered what her child was doing, apologized and ended the call.  But this is where the story gets good.  The dispatcher, apparently charmed by the small boy put out a request for an officer to respond, stating: “There is a four-year-old there who is wanting to show police their toys, over.”  Constable Kirk jumped on the request and said he would go see the child and his toys.    The Constable did indeed confirm the little boy had some “really cool toys.”  Then he invited the child to see the inside of his police car and showed him the blue flashing lights.  He concluded his visit with a little educational chat with the boy and his parents about using the emergency phone number only for emergencies. 

 

I really enjoyed reading this story for all sorts of reasons. First, I love to see a grateful and generous child.  Second, I love it when adults take kids seriously and treat them with respect and kindness.  Actually, I love to see respect and kindness at any age.  The apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  (Eph. 4:32)  It’s such good advice!

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally

p.s.  If you want to read the full news story, here’s the link: https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/20/asia/police-new-zealand-toys-int-scli/index.html

 



Pastor Sally Devotional 10/13

Dear friends,

 

My husband and I sometimes feel a little stretched with the added blessing of assisting my elderly parents who have recently moved into Hubbard Hill.  Some days there are just a few too many things for the day.  Yesterday Mike sent me a prayer.  I thought I’d share it with you.

 

With the ebb, with the flow 

of sea and tide, 

teach me thy patience. 

Teach me that as it was, 

as it is, as it shall be  

evermore, 

are all an ebb and flow 

of thy grace. 

With the ebb, with the flow, 

of earth and sea, 

remind me, O Thou Triune,  

that Thy grace has no need of hurry.  

With the ebb, with the flow,  

so shall it be  

evermore. 

 

I am reminded that God’s grace is plentiful in every day and God’s time is enough for all that needs attention.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally Devotional 10/7

Dear friends,

 

Many, many years ago I worked at A&W as a waitress – not a carhop, but a waitress.  Same root beer and hot dog menu but inside a cheap dining room.  There was a woman who came into the dining room every once in a while who was a “difficult” customer.  She never left a tip and complained about everything.  The older waitresses told me there was no pleasing her, and they no longer tried.  I decided I would give it go anyway.  I was friendly and courteous.  I brought her the salad before her dinner as requested.  I swapped out her shrimp dinner because it was too cold.  I filled and refilled and filled again her coffee cup.  She blew smoke in my face and called me repeatedly to her table for more ketchup or cream or a clean fork because she had dropped hers on the floor.  (I think she did it on purpose.) When she left, she left me a tip… five pennies at the bottom of her ash trash which was filled with ashes and a little of her coffee so it was a soupy mess.  I didn’t thank her for coming.  The older waitresses were right.  There was no pleasing her.

 

Earlier this week, I stopped by the sanctuary of our church in the early morning for a moment of prayer.  I was in a grumpy mood and was complaining to the Lord about everything that was not to my liking. Suddenly I recalled the woman in the restaurant from years ago.  The focus of my prayer was a list of complaints and requests for better service.  I was more respectful than the woman who tormented the waitresses at A&W, but there was no denying that my words were disagreeable.  I had not taken the time to thank God for the wonderful people and gifts in my life or the answers to prayer that had brought blessing to me.  I was focused on the half a glass… or maybe the ¼ of a glass that I perceived to be empty instead of the 3/4s of the glass that was full of blessing  I paused in stunned silence for a moment at the revelation and immediately began to list my blessings and to express gratitude to God.

 

Paul writes in Philippians 4:6, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”    So often in our prayers we make our requests known (lots of them) but forget to thank God for answered prayer and for the multiple blessings many of which were never even requested.  God sees what we need and provides without a request and often without any thanks.  Parents do this for their children every day. 

 

I hope you will take a moment to count your blessings today and to give thanks to the one who gives you every breath and life in abundance.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally Devotional 10/4

Dear friends,

 

At the end of Men’s Bible Study this morning Jim Rasp reminded the men and me that today is the 35th anniversary of my ordination, and he and the men joined in expressing thanks for my 35 years of ministry.  It’s actually the second time I’ve been reminded of this anniversary in the last week.  Last Sunday the Bridge congregation also honored my 35 years of ministry in conjunction with pastor appreciation week.  I hadn’t really been paying much attention to the number of years.  I usually do note my anniversary on World Communion Sunday, but it’s usually a private recognition made with thanksgiving.  But 35 years is a long time and so I have been reflecting on my years of ministry today.

 

I was ordained on World Communion Sunday, October 6, 1986.  I chose World Communion Sunday because communion has always been very important to me.  It was during a communion service at camp in the summer of 1973 that I had an experience of God that would completely reshape my life.  So it was important to me to celebrate communion at my ordination service where I could be, for the first time, the pastor offering the prayers and breaking the bread.  It was a very holy moment for me.

 

I have served six congregation in my 35 years of ministry in Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan, and Indiana.  Jim actually compared me to the apostle Paul this morning who also traveled about in his ministry and influenced many different churches – many more than I and with much greater effect.  Still, I thought it an interesting comparison, mostly because Paul often had mixed results when he went to a new calling.  Sometimes the effect of his ministry wasn’t seen until later. 

 

I also have had mixed results in ministry.  Sometimes I have felt like I had terrific success and sometimes I have been disappointed.  One of my great joys and sorrows was in my second call in Gloucester Township, New Jersey where my husband and I started a new church.  It was an incredibly wonderful and stressful experience.  There were great highs like the first Sunday when over 220 people showed up for worship, or the day we chartered the new church or the Grand Opening of our new building.  There were also terrific lows when attendance dropped so low we worried we would not be able to pay the bills for the church.  In the end we left a thriving congregation of about 300 attendees in a new building and felt like we had succeeded.  But the congregation struggled after we left and closed its doors about 20 years later.  It was at that point that I began to ask, “What does it really mean to succeed in ministry?”

 

Over the course of these 35 years, I have decided that most churches vacillate between two definitions of success.  The first and most common definition has to do with institutional success.  Is the church as an institution growing and thriving?  Is it getting stronger in ministry?  This has always been important to me.  I’ve always wanted to leave a church stronger than when I came to it.  I think most ministers have this desire.  This is why I felt so good about leaving our new church in New Jersey in such a strong position where there had been no church previously.  The end of its ministry 20 years later was such a sadness to me, but led me to consider that there is a different measure of “success” in ministry.  That measure has to do with spiritual growth.  Even as the church in New Jersey closed, I knew there were many, many people who had embraced God’s life within them and had been nurture in faith, who carried that faith to new places.  It has been my joy to hear from many of them over the years and to rejoice in their ministries in new congregations.  The church did not die.  It scattered.

 

These days I try to hold both understandings of success as I work for God in Elkhart.  I know institutional success is important because this church wants to leave a legacy of Christian faith with a Presbyterian expression in Elkhart for the future.  It’s a uniquely lovely expression of Christian faith in Elkhart – progression, open, inquisitive, generous, and deeply loving.  I share the desire in Elkhart to strengthen the institution of this church so it will have a promising future.  At the same time I am deeply aware that the most crucial work we do in the church has to do with the interior life of faith.  I hope my ministry will leave our people encouraged, hopeful, strengthened in faith in God, comforted and passionate to serve God in a variety of ways.  My particular passion is that children and young people among us will find a faith that will stick with them through adulthood and into their old age when they are nurturing their own grandchildren in the faith.  It’s a passion I have held for 35 years or more.

 

Thank you to all of you who have wished me well in the last few days and have caused me to reflect with joy on 35 good years of being God’s servant.  I still love being a Presbyterian minister and it is a special joy to be at First Presbyterian in Elkhart. 

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally

 

p.s.  The picture of Mike and me is from the summer of 1986 shortly before I was ordained.  Gotta love the hairdo!



Pastor Sally Devotional 9/30

Dear friends,

 

Tuesday night I was moderating a brief called zoom Session meeting which was interrupted for the last five minutes by my howling basset hound, Theo.  The howling was repeated and persistent and had the elders snickering by the end of the meeting.  Once I turned off the meeting, I stood up to attend to my crying dog and happened to notice he was outside looking up at me in my second story window from where I run my zoom meetings.  Theo was looking directly into my face and howling for all he was worth.  I thought to myself, “Poor thing!  He’s so lonely for my attention he went outside to howl at my window!”  

 

I hurried down to give him some much needed attention only to realize loneliness was not the problem.  It turned out he was trapped!  We have recently fenced off the back yard because it has been reseeded, and we don’t want the dogs trampling the new growth.  It’s fenced in two sections and Theo had managed to get in to the smaller section but couldn’t figure out how to get out.  I’m afraid I laughed out loud at his dilemma and then quickly made an opening so he could go free.

 

How often we get ourselves caught in a set of circumstances or a situation in which we feel trapped.  I find in such situations that a good howling to the Lord is well worth the effort.  Not only do I feel better for the catharsis, but often the Lord comes to my rescue.  It’s not usually miraculous.  The rescue comes in a new way to thing about things, or a solution I hadn’t thought of.  I suppose some might say it’s just my creativity puzzling things together, but I thank the Lord never the less.  I figure any creativity I have is a gift of God, and I find it difficult to measure where my efforts end and the Spirit intervene. 

 

The writer of proverbs says,

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge him,

    and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally Devotional 9/28

Dear friends,

This is a favorite prayer of mine which comes from the Northumbria community in England.  It’s a good prayer for the end of a long day.

Lord, You have always given

bread for the coming day;

and though I am poor,

today I believe.

 

Lord, You have always given

strength for the coming day;

and though I am weak,

today I believe.

 

Lord, You have always given

peace for the coming day;

and though of anxious heart,

today I believe.

 

Lord, You have always kept

me safe in trials;

and now, tried as I am,

today I believe.

 

Lord, You have always marked

the road for the coming day;

and though it may be hidden,

today I believe.

 

Lord, You have always lightened

this darkness of mine;

and though the night is here,

today I believe.

 

Lord, You have always spoken

when time was ripe;

and though you be silent now,

today I believe.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



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