Simply Grateful

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, May 31, 2020

By: Tracy Harvey

Like many, my heart has been heavy over the past few months, as it has been easy to focus on all that has been lost. As a journalist, however, it has also reminded me what has been gained.

About one month into the pandemic, I interviewed a kind, 90-year-old woman named Pauline Mitchell, who had survived the Coronavirus. She had contracted the illness at a rehabilitation center in Henrico County. “Has it been difficult being alone, isolated from family and other residents while battling this illness?” I asked her. Her lighthearted answer surprised me and reminded me of something my late grandmother would have said. “You cannot go through life feeling sorry for yourself, worrying about what’s going to happen to you. You just do the best you can.” She spoke about the love of family and the wonderful and supportive nursing staff that was taking such good care of her.

My conversation that day with Pauline stuck with me. Just as my two other interviews with COVID-19 survivors did.

They were simply grateful.

Despite isolation, uncertainty, and absolutely terrifying circumstances, the experience only left them with more peace in their hearts. “I wake up and realize I’m alive,” said Thomas Bryan, a 50-year-old father of two who became critically ill with the virus after traveling to San Francisco in mid-March. “I would encourage people to be patient, to love each other, and focus on being grateful for who and what they have in their lives.”

I truly believe God puts difficulties in our path, not to hurt us, but to remind us what is really important. I think a cancer diagnosis and a high-risk pregnancy in 2014 certainly changed my life. A few years later, heartbreak somehow eventually led to even deeper gratitude.

I have learned, through prayer and listening to the stories of others, that there is a connection between gratitude and joy. Author Brené Brown writes that “happiness is connected to the circumstances in your life, but joy is a step beyond happiness. Joy fills you with light, hope, and love. Joy is what happens when you realize how good things really are.”

Feeling grateful isn’t always our first response to suffering and it’s certainly not an instinctive emotion. It comes with practice, prayer, and reflection. But most of all it comes through love. Loving ourselves and loving others.
I knew when I was 12 years old that I wanted to be a journalist because I wanted to share inspiring stories. I wanted people to hear about the good in the world, despite all of its hardships.

Many of the people I’ve interviewed over the past twenty years have left an indelible impression on me, just like 90-year-old Pauline Mitchell. She helped ease some of my own sadness by reaffirming what I know in my heart to be true. It’s only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness, will we discover the infinite power of our light.

This Church Holds a Special Place in my Heart

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, May 17, 2020

By: Harrison Holmes, is a Class of 2020 Senior at Freeman High School. He will be attending Virginia Tech in the Fall.

Hi, my name is Harrison Holmes and I joined St. Mary’s in 2013. When I joined, I was 11 years old, immature, and very against leaving my previous church, as all my friends were there. I think at one point I was pleading with my mom in tears to not switch churches. However, over the years I fell in love with this church and the community that coexists within.

This began in Mrs. [Mary] Campbell’s Sunday School class learning about Moses, Abraham, and the rest of the Bible stories. If anyone does not know, Mrs. Campbell is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. I credit her in helping me comprehend this faith at such a young age.

After I aged out of Mrs. Campbell’s class, I moved into the youth program. Unfortunately, at the time there wasn’t much of a program or a system for the older kids at church. Ironically, this is where most of my experiences and memories come from. During my second year in the youth program, St. Mary’s hired a bearded fellow by the name of Matt Rawls to become the new Director of Youth Ministries. Matt helped transform the youth program into something special. No longer was the youth building only used for Sunday classes, but rather game nights, themed parties, and sleepovers started occurring there.

However, during this time my faith became a bit uneasy. I think throughout every journey in faith there’s always a part where you question certain aspects. I was experiencing a bit of this and Matt helped to change that mindset. When I got to confirmation, he reorganized the class into more of a discussion and pulled in aspects that appealed to everyone. This helped me relate to him in which helped me better understand what he was teaching.

After confirmation, I continued into the High School youth group. It wasn’t a very big class as there were only about 10 people that showed up regularly. However, my time spent with this group was easily my favorite and most eye-opening. When Matt set up the mission trip to South Dakota I didn’t realize how important it would be to my faith. That week in South Dakota was an experience I will never forget. It was crazy to see another culture and escape the suburban bubble I had been accustomed too. That trip showed me how much we take for granted and how much we need to continue to help and support those who are less fortunate than us.

I have enjoyed spending a good part of my childhood at this church and I will always relish the memories I have made with this community. From getting attacked by kids with water-balloons in South Dakota to almost running out of gas in the middle of the pacific highway; this church holds a special place in my heart and anyone that grows up in this community can relate to that feeling.

Love Your Neighbor

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, May 10, 2020

By: Meg Zehmer, Early Childhood Educator and Parent Coach

From a very early age, the well- known verse, “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39) has held special meaning for me. I remain unsure if it is the joy which I derive from helping others or the emphasis on neighbor which reminds me of Mr. Rogers.

On a daily basis, words such as pandemic, leveling the curve, sheltering in place, social distancing and uncharted territory bombard us. Our world has changed dramatically in a very short period of time! Numerous times a day, we are reminded this is an unprecedented time. It is becoming increasingly evident we must change our paradigms and adjust to a new normal.

Prior to COVID-19, I never could have imagined teaching four-years-olds remotely! Initially, my thoughts revolved around how twenty-seven little girls could realistically get their social and emotional needs met through distance learning. How would they understand why schools were closed? What would their reaction be when they realized they would be completing the remainder of their JK year at home without their teachers? More importantly, how would they process their feelings? My mind raced as I wondered what I could do or say to reassure them during this challenging time. Almost immediately, my thoughts quickly turned to Mr. Rogers. If he were still living, what would he say and do given this situation? When he was a young boy and saw scary things on the news, his mother would say: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” This was the advice I desperately needed!

Next, my thoughts shifted to my faith. Feeling scared and uncertain, I closed my eyes to pray. Psalm 27:1 came to mind: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life.”

Knowing God would provide me with the strength I needed to handle this situation provided me with peace. Armed with advice from Mr. Rogers and comforted by Psalm 27, I was ready!

I wasted little time connecting electronically with my students. After reading “Its ok not to be ok” by Todd Parr, I reminded them the importance of sharing their feelings when unsure, upset, and afraid. Next, I told them to “look for the helpers” which include their parents, family members, teachers, friends, and ministers. Young children naturally love to “help” and you can imagine their excitement when I reminded them that they, too, could be helpers in their homes and neighborhoods. In fact, I challenged them to do so.

This pandemic provides us with the perfect opportunity to love our neighbors. Without a doubt, this sentiment is long overdue and could not be more timely! How can we demonstrate this love and ensure it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood for others? Have you loved your neighbor today?

The Door is Open to Reshape our Future…

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, May 3, 2020

By: Wayne Dementi

We last met as a congregation in the church on Sunday, March 8. It was in the ensuing week that the world around us came to a staggering halt.

In our parish community we connected through technology as we continued our journey through Lent into Holy Week. We heard Christian Clergy around the world observe that what we were experiencing with Coronavirus was very similar to what was experienced during Holy Week itself – described as separation, uncertainty, and fear.

It is becoming clear that this “staggering halt” gives us an opportunity that we have never had before – the door is open to reshape our future together. This opportunity is evident in all aspects of our lives, and it certainly presents itself to life at St. Mary’s, too. Practically everything we practice is up for a fresh approach. I am reminded of our most generally accepted avenues of service: mission, ministry, worship, discipleship, and fellowship.

COVID-19 has affected each and every one of those areas. We have the challenge, and joy, of exploring how each of these might look in the future of St. Mary’s.

What now?

If our recent COVID-19 experience during Holy Week 2020 resembled the scriptural account, I wondered if the Gospel readings for the weeks after Easter offer some insight. What did they do? Here are some key words, and phrases, that caught my eye from each reading leading up to Pentecost:

+ John 20: 19-31 – “As the Father has sent me, I send you.”
+ Luke 24: 13-35 – “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon.”
+ John 10: 1-10 – “The sheep will follow the shepherd ‘because they know his voice.’”
+ John 14: 1-14 – “The one who believes in me will also do the work that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these.”
+ John 14: 15-21 – “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”
+ John 17: 1-11 – “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Indeed, we are in a period of reflection now, similar to the days and weeks following Easter in the scripture. We are strengthened by the insights offered by the Gospel during the period we are in now. We are ZOOMING and we are working hard. Through it all, though, we are also realizing that we have the unique opportunity of listening for God’s call in revealing our new life together in His Glory.

A Stranger along the Road

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, April 26, 2020

By: David May, Rector

What’s next? When does this end?! What is life going to be like afterwards? We’re all asking these questions and I don’t think there’s one person who knows the answers. This uncertainty is taking a toll on people. One of the ways you can hear that is just how exhausted people feel. I think there are lots of reasons for this. But one of the primary ones is just the plain old stress everyone is feeling. We’re all making this up as we go along without quite knowing when we can find new patterns and a new normal that will begin to ease the stress of the uncertainty we’re all living in.

We’re exhausted because of the emotional ups and downs everyone is experiencing. By the way, if you think everyone is doing just fine except you – let me be the first to disabuse you of that! Everyone is doing the best they can, but everyone is feeling this – often deeply. There is grief and loss and fear in all of us. It’s hard not to project negatively into the future because of the uncertainty.

Which brings us to this luminous, strange, breath-taking reading we have from the gospel according to Luke this morning. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and read it now before you go any further with this reflection. The reading is Luke chapter 24 verses 13 through 35. It’s often called the Emmaus Road story and it tells another story from that first Easter Day. Two of Jesus’s disciples had left Jerusalem for the town of Emmaus about seven miles away. We don’t know why they were going to Emmaus. I’ve always sort of thought that they just needed to get out of town, get away. When Jesus was executed, everything that they had hoped for had been taken away. They had followed him and watched the world turn to love because of him. But now that was over. Grief and loss and fear were all piled on top of each other.

But along the way, something happened. A stranger met them. As they walked along together, they told him about all they had lost including the hope that God was changing the world through Jesus. Then the stranger reminds them that God’s story always means that love will sacrifice itself, pour itself out, to save God’s people. Which helped them to remember what they knew was true but thought they had lost.

Then we hear some of the most beloved words in all of Holy Scripture. When the two disciples reach their destination and the stranger seems to be walking on, they say, ‘Stay with us….’ He does and comes into their home, sits at the table, takes the bread and blesses and breaks it. They see that they are with the Lord. They know it is Jesus. And then, he is gone from them.

It is natural to be exhausted by the ‘chances and changes’ of this world we are in. It is natural to be exhausted by stress and worry and fear. It is natural to even lose hope, and just ‘get out of town’ if not physically then emotionally and spiritually. But we serve the One whose love for all of us has changed the world and who we will run into ‘on the way,’ in all those ways that we know when our hearts are kindled again with his Gospel. And when we say, ‘stay with us,’ he will.