In the Upper Room for Friday, February 3, 2017, there is a thought for the day that reminds me of "First Church."

It was about a small church that was approached by a school nurse.  She asked if the church would be able to provide backpacks, filled with food items for a few local schools, to send home each Friday with students who would likely have nothing to eat on the weekend.

Just like our Congregation, this congregation responded with donations of food and money to fill the backpacks each week.

Through this Ministry we see scripture being fulfilled.  Jesus said that those who are faithful in the little things will also be faithful in the big things, and scripture reassures us that God will provide. When we respond each time God calls us we learn that a little faith can open doors for God to show His awesome power.

May God continue to bless all the Faithful Donors at "First Church."

Blessings to all;

Bill Shaw

Moment By Moment

Moment by Moment                    February 2016 by Jean Miller

When I was a child of seven or eight, back when the dinosaurs roamed, I remember having a carefree uncomplicated life.  When I played, my only thought was on whatever game, adventure or pastime my brother and I had decided to do that day. I was not a fussy eater; so when I ate, I really enjoyed and thought just about the food and maybe if there was enough for seconds; but that was it. When I was not active, I enjoyed books and drawing and imagining all kinds of things.  Life was not complicated. 

Looking back I realize that each thing I did, I did with complete abandon to that pursuit.  Social media, as we know it, didn't exist.  We had a television with three channels, a radio, and a record player.  The phone was installed a couple of years later. ..a standard black wall phone, rotary dial with a party line, which we shared with seven other families. Our ring was two long rings and two short rings.  There was nothing to prevent any, or all, of the other seven families from listening in on one another's phone calls. ..and they did.  I guess you could say it was my first introduction to social media.  But we weren't allowed to use the phone much and we didn't.  It never proved to be much of a distraction.    

As I grew up, the simplicity of my youth became displaced with school, marriage, motherhood, work and so many other things that filled each day. They left little time to just be.   There never seemed to be time to live in the moment.  Yet, looking back, that is really all there was time for.    

With the approach of the Lenten season, when so many of us are focused on making personal changes to prepare ourselves for Easter, I thought it would be beneficial to make mindfulness my Lenten focus.

“How to Sit” and “How to Eat” are the titles of two small books I recently read by the Buddhist Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. While seemingly simple in their content, they contain profound wisdom delivered in easy to digest mini-chapters.

The focus on of these books is mindfulness, specifically while sitting and eating . . . something we all do.  To be mindful means to stop our busy brains and focus just on what we are doing at any given moment; not forcing anything, just being present in each moment and each breath.  The writer suggests that we begin our meals by sitting with awareness, by breathing and by emptying our minds to focus completely on our food.  

He recommends that we first sit with awareness of the comfort and support that our seat provides us. 

The next step is to stop thinking and breathe. "It takes only a moment to take a mindful in-breath and out-breath before you eat. Bring the mind back to the body. 

Your body is always available for you."  "Breathe in such a way that you are nourished.  You are nourished by your breathing and you nourish other people with your practice of breathing. We nourish one another."  

The third step is to empty our minds and focus completely on the food.  Look at an apple or ear of corn or string bean.  The soil, the sky, the sun and the rain are in that apple or corn or string bean.  The loving labor of the farmer, those who picked the food and those who brought it to your market are also in that food.  "When you put a single grain of rice into your mouth, you are putting the whole universe into your mouth. This is possible when you stop your thinking." 

I have discovered that I am not very mindful about my sitting or the food I prepare or eat.  While my food is generally healthy, breakfast is rushed, lunch at work includes multi-tasking, and dinner often includes conversation about negative things, worries, concerns or the to-do lists.  Emptying our thoughts and becoming mindful is definitely a practice that takes practice.   But, even a few moments of mindfulness are healthy and beneficial. I am making infinitely small baby steps.  

So for Lent, I have planned an exercise in mindfulness for myself.  I will repeat this exercise weekly.    I plan to sit quietly, cover my eyes with a soft cloth (all the better to focus with) and eat an apple in silence.

I will notice the shape and texture of the apple in my hand and I will smell its aroma.  I will feel the apple against my lips and teeth as I enjoy the crunch of my first bite. I will chew and try and feel the sun and rain, the earth, the sky and even the sturdy tree branch where the apple grew. I may even be able to feel the bees that pollinated the apple blossom and the birds that nested in the apple branch.  I want to chew that apple and be grateful for all the loving care and hard work that went into bringing it to my table.   I will practice mindfulness, if only for a few minutes. Perhaps I will encounter the universe in that apple.perhaps I will encounter God.


Jean Miller

Spring 2015

Spring ….2015

Spring arrived last evening along with new snow. ….soft, full flakes that quickly covered everything.  The ground only recently revealed itself from under its thick winter cloak in anticipation of spring's arrival. It was a slow, shy emergence; one that occurred after days of warm afternoons and sunny skies.  One day a small swathe of ground appeared, and then a little and a little more each day until the winter-worn earth revealed itself in expectation of spring.  Now, all is covered again in a beautiful, quiet white robe. … and it continues to snow.   Although cleverly disguised as winter, spring arrived as promised…. quietly last evening, without the fanfare of crocus or snowdrop or pussy willow.  

Spring is an elegant green lady who gently awakens the slumbering earth and initiates growth and hope.  Spring is God's feminine Spirit … a sign of God's promise.  New green shoots popping up from the ground, the mellow aroma of newly turned earth, the round swell of tree buds getting ready to bloom and bear, the rich hum of bees gathering spring nectar and pollen.  Spring is color and fragrance and form and song.   Spring has arrived; and beneath the falling snow, the promise has begun.  

As I write this, the snow has stopped and the sun has emerged once again, ready to melt the snow and warm the ground for the big reveal.  If you go outside and quiet yourself, you will feel the hum of the earth waking up. It is barely a whisper, a vibration; but it will continue to grow.  

Spring arrived last evening…. God's promises are sure.  

Genesis 8: 22

"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."  

Song of Solomon 2: 11-12

"For behold the winter is past. The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtle dove has been heard on the land." 

Jean Miller


Leap of Faith

I experienced my first zip line recently at The Brownstone Quarry Adventure park in Portland, CT.  For those of you who don't know what a zip line is; it is an aerial cable suspended on an incline. To use a zip line, a person is strapped into a harness, which is then attached with a large clip called a carbine to a pulley on the cable.  The person on the zip line then steps out or off a platform or starting point into mid air and moves rapidly down the incline while suspended on the pulley. Sounds like fun, right?

Along with many activities,the Brownstone Quarry has many different zip lines. The highest and longest line is 115 feet off a sheer cliff. It is the only line which is accessible by trail. All others are accessed by climbing rock faces, rope ladders, bridges, etc. each with varying degrees of difficulty.  The first zip line I tried was certainly not the highest. That came later.  But, climbing up the rope bridge to get to the launching tower, made me soon realized that the bravado of my youth was just that...part of my youth.  

From an extremely young age, my brother and I fearlessly climbed a tall pine tree that grew just outside our kitchen. We would climb to the very top where the branches thinned and the tree swayed. The height was never an issue. In fact it was part of the fun. Looking back it always amazed me that my mother never cautioned us about falling. She just had faith that we could do it.  Her bigger concern always seemed to be the enevitble pine pitch that got all over our clothes and was nearly impossible to wash out. But oh how we loved to climb and we did it often... with great abandon.

Well, it has been a lot of years since I climbed that tree.  While I'm quite comfortable climbing an extension ladder to paint or work on the roof of our home, I found myself feeling drained and curiously shaky as I climbed closer to the staging area.  Before I actually reached the platform,I asked the young man waiting with the harnesses, "Why don't you have any stairs to get to these things?"  He smiled and patiently answered that they didn't want to make things too easy. They wanted to challenge people.  As I stepped onto the staging area, he took one look at me and said, "First time?" I confirmed what, I'm sure, was painfully obvious. 

He hooked up and adjusted my harness and reaffirmed how safe the equipment was.   As I looked toward the edge of the platform where I would soon step off, the safety of the harness was not on my mind. This particular zip line started by stepping off a platform and sailing out over the cliff jumpers, the adjacent lifeguard stand and some other land forms before stretching out over the water. I was beginning to think that this was not such a good idea...and it had been mine!   

I knew I had to move, but at that moment, my legs seemed disconnected from my brain. I also knew that the only other way out was back down the rope bridge. I glanced back and  saw my family members laughing and chatting patiently together as they waited behind me for their turn to climb up.....

Quitting has never been my style so I turned toward the platform edge, took two steps and launched myself out into the  air. As I left the platform, I heard the young man behind me say, "Just remember to breath." What wisdom! 

There was a brief moment of complete helplessness without anything under my feet before the pulley accepted my weight and I felt supported by the harness. It was a moment of complete surrender..... like a leap of faith! The next moment, I was sailing freely through the air! I laughed, gave a quick "thumbs up" to my family and just enjoyed the sensations of zipping through the air suspended, yet fully supported. It was fantastic! The lesson: if I had not been willing to step off that platform, I would have missed everything! 

Our faith journey can be like that. Sometimes God calls us to step out of our comfort zone. He brings us to the precipice of something new and we are sometimes reluctant to move out into unfamiliar territory, into uncharted areas where we no longer feel safe and grounded; but God does not ask us to do this alone. He is asking us to take a leap of faith....with Him.  That's what a leap of faith is.....stepping out into the unknown without necessarily knowing where we are going or how we will get there, but with the sure belief that we are safe in God's hands. 

The next time God calls you to step out into the unknown, do not hesitate. Take that leap of faith. You can be sure that God is not only waiting at the end of the line; He will be along for the ride! Oh, and remember...... just breathe.

Hebrews 11:1

Faith is the substance of things hopped for. The evidence of things not seen.

Romans 8:24

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

Jean Miller 

Signs & Wonders

Looking out my window the other day, I could see that most of the snow had finally melted. The yard looked brown and a bit tattered. An old blue knit cap, some buttons and other remnants of my snowmen lay scattered on the wet grass.  The trees where the deer had come to munch all winter were barren twigs.  Late winter…almost spring. Everything seemed all shades of brown and gray.   Friends had mentioned that their daffodils, snow drops and crocus were already popping their green leaves out of the ground.  I had no such signs in my yard. Where was my green?   That was the sign I was looking for.   My bulbs were resting comfortably underground beneath a blanket of snow until just a few days ago.  Green…. I just wanted to see some green to confirm that spring was coming.  

Dear God, “Please give me a sign”.  That was my prayer. But, what I was really asking was, “God, please give me the exact sign that I’m looking for… the sign I think I need.

And yet, as I thought about it, and contemplated Lent and Easter with its message of rebirth and the correlation of spring and the earth’s rebirth, I realized that I had overlooked many signs.  

Hadn’t I heard the beautiful sound of geese calling and encouraging one another as they flew north recently?  Had I not seen a small flock of robins arrive amid the snow at my work last week?  Wasn’t it staying lighter, longer, each day? Weren’t all my spring gardening catalogues covered with pictures of plump tomatoes and brightly colored nasturtiums?  Didn’t I remark to someone just yesterday that the buds on the magnolia trees were already getting fatter in preparation of their blooming…their birth?  Had I not smelled the sweet vapor of my neighbor’s outdoor syrup pot as he boiled sap, which began flowing in his maple trees with the first warm days that broke the winter freeze?  And after hours of boiling, could anything be more representative of spring than the sweet taste of warm, fresh maple syrup? 

Even with howling winds and temperatures well below freezing, I realized that I was surrounded with signs and wonders….  Miracles really.  

The Bible often uses the words signs and wonders in place of the word miracle.  And not all miracles are as dramatic as water turned into wine or burning bushes left undamaged.    

God offers us signs and wonders….miracles, all the time.   We sometimes fail to recognize them because they come disguised as ordinary, perhaps even odd moments that we shrug off or neglect to notice all together: the book that falls off the shelf at our feet; a friend or note that arrives with a thought or prayer that particularly speaks to where we are emotionally at that time; we randomly open a Bible to a passage that provides an answer to a question or situation tugging at the heart;  we find a leaf or feather where we did not expect it or a coin under the sofa cushion where we vacuumed only yesterday; an absolutely perfect snowflake lands on our mitten and doesn’t melt right away as expected letting us examine its unique beauty.  The number of signs is as vast as God’s creation.   

But because my expectation and focus were on that one particular sign, I almost overlooked the many miracles that all my other senses had revealed.  I almost missed all the other signs that already affirmed God’s promise of rebirth…. for the earth, for each of us.  And in my heart, I have the promise that the greening of spring will come…in God’s time. 

God had once again gently reminded me that I cannot let my own limited view narrow my expectations.  God is larger than our imagination.  Doesn’t that fact just make you smile?  If we only look for what we want to see, or expect to see, we can easily miss what the Universe might be sharing.  

I believe the message is to be open then to everything around you.  Be present to each moment.  Living in the present is especially challenging, but especially rewarding because it helps us to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually available to recognize, receive and respond to God’s signs and wonders….God’s miracles.  

Jean Miller

Giving Faith a Second Chance

I was reading a blog the other day and came across a story, which rang true with me because I had a very similar experience. 

My husband and I frequent a local chain restaurant. We have eaten there for years with great satisfaction. We go there because it is close by, its clean, the people are welcoming, friendly, they provide good service, we like the food and the prices are reasonable.  

About a month ago we had three encounters in a row in which the food and service were less than expected.  On the first occasion it was something minor and I can’t even remember what it was.  On the second occasion, the waitress forgot to put in an appetizer order.  We didn’t notice until the meal came. I mentioned it to the waitress. She apologized and she asked if we wanted it then. We said, “No,” and that was that.  The manager came by and offered us the appetizer at no cost.   “to go” when we were done.  I didn’t think we needed the rich appetizer at that point, so we declined the offer.   We were not charged for the item, of course, and it was waiting “to go”  at the conclusion of our meal anyway.  

On the third occasion the entrée I ordered arrived and was so far too salty for me to enjoy. I ate a small amount and simply set the plate aside. I was not upset by this.  In fairness, I thought perhaps some of the problem was my sensitivity to salt since I use almost none.   I had other things to eat that I liked, so I continued eating other items.   The waitress came along, and noticed that the plate was largely untouched.  I explained that it was too salty for me.  She offered to replace it with another item, but we were well into the meal and I really was OK with simply forgoing that item.  The next thing I knew, the manger was at my side apologizing and offering to deduct the cost of that dish from our bill.  I told her it was absolutely not necessary, that the dish was simply not to my taste and those things happen.  The manager insisted that the cost of the meal be deducted from the bill.  She then returned with a gift card for a free appetizer in the future.  

Now I know there are people who make a habit of having “problems” in restaurants just so they can have their bills reduced or receive free extras; but I am not one of those people. I didn’t like creating a scene and began to fear that the folks in this restaurant would see me as one of those difficult people. I imagined that I’d be arriving and they would be thinking, “Oh my God, here’s the lady who always has issues with her food.  What will it be today?”  

On the way home, my husband quietly suggested that we seemed to be having a bad run and perhaps we should not go back to that restaurant for a while.  God bless him; for I had been secretly thinking the same thing.  

The point I would like to make is that similar things happen within the church.  People have successful histories within the church. They are involved and busy, sometimes for generations. … and then a bad experience causes them to leave or stay away. .. to break relationship. They perceive one thing or one incident to be so hurtful or egregious that it trumps years of good and positive experiences.  We know the reasons: Someone said something that seemed insensitive.  A change occurred or something happened that someone didn’t like.  Someone had an idea or said something that no one agreed with.   Someone felt excluded from something.  Someone didn’t follow through on something.  The reasons people stay away are many and varied.  I have done that very thing myself.

Looking back, I now realize that when I broke away from the church for a while, my focus was on myself and not on God.  I was not surrendering myself to God and trusting Him to show me the way.  My own belief that I had great faith, my ego, prevented me from actually living in faith.  At the time, I was only acting for myself. I spoke about my anger to people not involved in the church.  I was not looking for resolution. I was trying to justify my position.  I foolishly acted as if it was just about me. I had separated myself from God, and  in doing so, my actions negatively impacted my whole family, including my church family. 

Living in faith means letting God lead.  It means being open to a God who promises to never leave us, who is closer than our very breath.  It also means trusting and being confident, in faith, that God know what He’s doing!  It really means letting go and letting God.  That is the challenge!

So many times in church, we let little things take our eyes off the goals God places before us.  Calling ourselves a church family suggests we’re all loving and nice to one another all the time.  I don’t know  too many families where that always happens.  Like our own families, people in churches say and do things that hurt one another’s feelings. The important thing is that with God’s help, we forgive, and  hopefully, forget.  We move on. We grow. We understand that we are a unique unit.  We need one another.  We are related. God has brought us together for a reason. We cannot give up on that.

Last Thursday my husband and I were taking two of our grandkids out to dinner. Everyone had additional plans that evening so we wanted something with good food, close by that wouldn’t take too long.  We ended up in our local favorite that we had agreed to avoid for a while. The food, the service, everything was good and the company was outstanding.  The laughter and good time we shared together were a blessing, one that we might have missed had we gone somewhere else.

Jean Miller

Out of My Mind

Lent is almost here.  It usually does not affect us like Christmas and Easter.  Lent is one of the important seasons in the church year, but not one of the most popular.  Lent (the word means "lengthen," referring to the longer days after winter) begins on Ash Wednesday.  It is often a service of ashes on the forehead, the repentance of sins and many other somber thoughts.  Some people still think they should "give something up" and look like they are wasting away.  Lent is not one of our favorite times of the year.

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