Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Crystal, the Angel
~from Jim King, cancer survivor
Last fall and winter I underwent cancer surgery, which was then followed by simultaneous radiation and chemo treatments.  On Mondays I received both treatments and then on Tuesday thru Friday just radiation.  As a few weeks passed and it became mid-December, I was having a very rough time on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Then one Monday at 9AM I received a call from an "angel", Crystal Downing-Swanton who herself was undergoing cancer treatments.  The call was to inquire as to how I was doing. We then spent over 15 minutes with Crystal telling me to let God take over and to rely on friends and family.  When I tried to ask of her state of affairs she just moved back to my situation.

I was so -- oh, I don’t know -- lifted up and I felt encouraged to go on.  We talked and I ended up saying this cancer is not going to win, I will beat it, but that is not the end of the story.  After another week of treatments and struggle, the very next Monday, again at 9AM, I got the call from Crystal. 

How did she manage to call me that morning??  Wow, here is someone who had been struggling with her own battle with cancer yet still always greeted folks with a smile and a hug, calling and helping me fight the fight.

Well, the afterstory is that Crystal has now gone on to become an Angel of God and I think that her time with me was merely her training session.  I think of her often and marvel at her spirit and devotion to God.

God bless Crystal the Angel. I am still amazed at her courage and willingness to reach out!

Monday, August 22, 2016

An Unlikely Encounter
~from Kathy Chambers
On a Wednesday in September 2005 a man told his daughter that he wished he knew someone who could give him first hand advice and information about a major health issue that he was facing. That very evening John and I attended a LIFT program at our church (something we rarely had the opportunity to do).  At dinner we chose to sit at a table with a young family that we did not know (again, unusual). The young mother shared that she was very concerned about her father who was starting cancer treatment in Florida the next day. John asked what type of cancer. She said “It's for a rare form of cancer that you’ve probably never heard of… tongue cancer.” John's immediate reply was "I had tongue cancer! In fact, Kathy and I both have had oral cancer!” We were all completely flabbergasted and sat in disbelief! She contacted her Dad that night and gave him our phone number. He called us minutes later. John and I each shared our stories and answered his questions. He said later that he was so comforted from just having spoken to us. That night we were able to calm his fears prior to beginning treatment and we continued to stay in touch throughout his experience. We were given the gift of a friendship that continues today.
Often when I need reassurance of God's presence in my life I will think of  the events that led to this unlikely encounter. I believe that we are meant to use our experiences in life to help others along the way. This experience continues to remind me of how God orchestrates our lives and uses us sometimes even when we least expect it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

When a Project Becomes a Ministry

~ from Dorothy Roderick

When Quilt Fellowship started making quilts for Habitat for Humanity, we believed we could make quilts faster than Habitat could build houses and we could provide a quilt to each Habitat family that moved into a house in Lake County.   We had the skill, the “stash” (fabric on hand), and the will to do this.  And that proved to be true to a certain point.  We would do this. 
A quilt consists of three layers:  the top, or decorative part, a center layer that provides the warmth, and the backing, or lining.  These layers are held together by thousands of stitches. Putting in those stitches was traditionally done by hand and it is an entirely different skill than piecing the top, but most important, it is very time consuming. In the twenty-first century, most of the finishing stitches are put in by machine—a very expensive machine. No one in our group has one. We know a lot of people who do have these machines called Long Arms, and they do this work as a business, meaning they get paid to do this work. 

Our plan was hitting a snag.  I would creep around asking friends who have Long Arms if they would please finish our quilts for us.  It was difficult for me to ask for help.  I felt I was begging. I felt that I didn’t have the upper hand.  I thought this diminished me.  
But the results were marvelous. There was great interest in helping Habitat. God gave me a new perspective:  I began to ask the Long Armers if they would help Habitat.  Now I ask then to join us in this ministry.  This is not Dorothy’s group or Dorothy’s project. The Lord showed me that providing encouragement to Habitat families is God’s work, not ours. When I finally saw Quilt Fellowship as a ministry and a calling, I realized God would provide all the help we needed.  The Long Armers were delighted to be invited to share the work.  I am humbled that God has invited me to share this work.

Now we tell people what we are doing and they provide all kinds of help.  We have received quantities of fabric, completed quilts, tops, and participation from people beyond the doors of this church.   We have been able to send quilts to disaster areas because people are generous with money for shipping.  God honors our service with blessing.  We have been changed .

Centering Prayer Ministry

Lori Sundberg Reflects on the Ministry
of Centering Prayer

The experience I wish to share with you today is about hearing and following a call.  What I have felt called to do is to show up here every week for an hour all year long, for 15 years, to make a space for myself and others, within the church, to pray without words.  Some weeks I show up and no one else is there.  It doesn’t matter.  I still do this.

My path began in my 20s when I felt a call to silence.  Meditation at the time seemed exotic and outside religion.  Then I shared an apartment with a friend who is Quaker and I learned about the use of silence in a Christian context.  Continuing my slow path, now in my mid 30s, I found a book that, for me, reconciled my need to recognize meditation as prayer.  I started practicing at home.  I found an organization online and a mentor locally.  I got Ron Miller to come out and talk about meditation as prayer.  Then I asked permission to start a group at the church.

The word “inspiration” has a lot more energy and immediacy in it than what I am describing.  For me, there was a call.  It was quiet but it did not go away.  There was a force like gravity that pulled lightly but insistently.  There was a path that evolved in front of me. 

Centering prayer does not have outcomes you can point to — like feeding the hungry or housing the homeless or evangelizing.  The purpose of my call is still somewhat mysterious to me.  For years, I thought evidence of the truth of my call would be in increasing attendance.  Now, I am somewhat satisfied that existence is value enough.  We have a very active church.  The existence of a centering prayer group, and now a beautiful spirituality room, is a counterweight to our need to always be busy and always prove ourselves worthy through our works or our words. 

If you want to be inspired, sometimes you need to listen with your heart.  Slow down enough to feel the gentle pull that is setting a direction for you.  Walk the path in front of you and trust you are in God’s hands. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Almost Heaven!

From Dean Starr -

Six years ago, I became a deacon at First Pres. I previously enjoyed being part of a care team for an elderly member of our congregation so I asked to serve in the Seniors ministry. I quickly had an opportunity to put my service to good use.

Deacon Chuck Clow and I volunteered to bring monthly home communion to a 97 year old member named Belva Forster. Whenever Chuck and I arrived at her home, this spry elderly lady greeted us at the door. Even though she was using a walker, Belva always greeted us with a very firm handshake and warm smile.  She always asked how we were. Before administering communion, we’d spend several minutes talking about her long and interesting life. 

Beautiful West Virginia - "Almost heaven!"

Belva described how she was born in West Virginia, and was very proud of that fact!! She married a businessman, and besides raising a son and daughter, had lived in many parts of the world. The one point she stressed to us repeatedly was that no matter where she was, her faith and love of the Lord never wavered. After visits, her daughter told us later how much Belva enjoyed and looked forward to our times. 

Ultimately Belva died at the ripe old age of 99.  I was honored to say a few words about our experiences. Listening as everyone spoke about her, I was moved to hear how much Belva truly looked forward to finally meeting the Lord. She left behind a large extended family and all of them spoke lovingly of the daughter of West Virginia. Belva loved the Lord and her native state, which reminded me of the line in John Denver's song...almost heaven, West Virginia!! Belva showed both of us what devotion and love of God truly meant, and her faith never wavered.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

God's Gardeners

From Amy Scovill -

When I met my husband, Ken, he was living with his grandparents and helping run a business that had become known as Scovill Brothers farm, a small farm that sold produce at a roadside stand near Lansing, Michigan.   His love of gardening and home-grown vegetables never waned.  Ken even planted some tomato plants in a small patch of dirt in front of the building where he worked in downtown Skokie. 

For many years, Ken volunteered at Mobile Food Pantry of our church and witnessed first-hand the poor quality of the produce that was available from the food bank.  Many hours were spent salvaging edible vegetables from those that were well past their prime.  

With some of God's Gardeners, Ken is pictured on the back row in green!

Three years ago when Ken and I decided to rent a plot for ourselves in the Libertyville Community gardens, we saw an opportunity to solve help the problem of the rotten produce.  We rented an extra 20 x 20 foot plot, and with a small but mighty crew of volunteers from First Pres endeavored to grow beans, onions, peppers and tomatoes for the guests of our Mobile Food Pantry.  By late summer, we had two bushels of beautiful, fresh tomatoes that were shared with people in need.  With that small gift a blessed partnership was born, and volunteers from First Presbyterian Church thereafter became known as God’s Gardeners.

God’s Gardeners and volunteers from other churches plant and nurture a 2 acre garden plot where we grow a variety of vegetables that can be harvested for distribution all season long.  In 2015, we provided more than 500 pounds of fresh, locally grown, pesticide-free produce to guests of our Mobile Food Pantry.  Today, with determination, faith in God, and some guidance from a certain guardian angel, we continue to be a blessing to those in need in our community.