Why I’m going to Puerto Rico

I’m going to Puerto Rico on a mission trip because I am tired of yelling at the radio. Daily news reports pour in that break my heart and add to my despair. A feeling of helplessness creeps over me as I wonder what I can do about the deplorable conditions that God’s children dwell in, near and far. Rage fills me as I hear politicians ignore issues like climate change and gun violence. My heart breaks when I hear stories of children separated from their parents and reports describing the impossibility of reuniting families again. I am brought to tears when I try to imagine never seeing my children again and I wonder at the resilience of these families who desperately seek safety and security. Our church has a fund to help refugees but it sits idle as our country has drastically reduced the number of people who can seek asylum here in the richest country on earth.

There seems to be two options – give up or roll up my sleeves. Why bother to fight when it seems clear that my tiny efforts will have little effect on misguided leaders who have both power and an apparently endless platform with which to share their hate-filled views.

But I believe in a God of hope. I believe in resurrection. I have spent my ministry proclaiming new life that appears in the most unlikely places. So despair really isn’t an option. I believe that the God who created the universe takes even the smallest offerings and magnifies them with the power of renewal.

So I’m going to Puerto Rico to help re-build homes destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2018. I was appalled by our government’s apparent nonchalance and lack of compassion in the wake of such devastating loss. Lives and property were ruined. Together with my husband and daughter, I will be joining a group from North Dakota to participate in UCC Disaster Relief efforts.

I would be the first to admit that my house-building skills are limited at best. Carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing are not listed on my resume. But I believe that showing up makes a difference. Offering our hands and our hearts to people who feel forgotten and overlooked matters. Plus, I can clean, shovel, and rake with the best of them.

Puerto Rico isn’t the only place that needs a helping hand, of course. You don’t need to leave your hometown in order to make a difference. Do what you can, where you can. Do that small thing. Be kind. Pay it forward. Make a phone call, send a text, pay a visit. Get involved. Contact any church or non-profit and they will be thrilled to have another set of helping hands.

Yelling at the radio, I have learned from experience, doesn’t benefit me or anybody else. Getting involved does.  Actions combined with prayer will counteract the damage being done by so many. I trust that God’s love will prevail.

What does love look like?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Valentine’s Day. While some people revel in the opportunity to share cards, chocolates, and messages of love, others have only scorn for this made-up holiday that benefits Hallmark, florists, and restaurants. Some would rather avoid the day altogether rather than face a bitter reminder of what has been lost or is missing from their lives.

            Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love. But it doesn’t have to be about hearts, flowers, and grand romantic gestures. Love comes in many forms. It would be too bad if we missed love simply because it arrives in unexpected ways.  It might be a good time to ask – what does love look like?

I think love looks like

  • My husband checking the tire pressure on my car in the cold and dark before he heads off to work.
  • My parents calling me on January 17th to sing “happy ordination day” (to the tune of “Happy Birthday”). They remember every year.
  • Receiving a card from my mother. Her formerly lovely handwriting has turned into a barely legible scrawl, a combined result of near-blindness and severe arthritis. The card tells me of the time and effort it took to complete that task and I feel loved, even before I open it.
  • A text from a friend or family member with a simple heart.
  • A friend, upon leaving a meeting to discover a blinding snow squall, who insists on driving in front of me (nervous snow driver) all the way to my home to be sure I am safe.
  • Finding a note on my desk, “This place is a true blessing. My heart is filled with love.”
  • Discovering a drawing pushed under my door with the words, “Paster Sue, your the best.” Spelling doesn’t count in love notes.

What does love look like in your life? Is it a phone call? Chores done without reminders? Taking out the trash or scraping your windshield or sharing a cup of coffee? Maybe it’s the person who welcomes you with a smile or moves over so you can join the conversation.

            It may not immediately shout “love” to you. But it’s all about recognizing gifts we are offered in so many ways.

Let’s not miss love when it arrives without a bow or a heart. Let’s be open to the many ways that love can be passed on, revealed, and celebrated.

How will you share love today?

Gary O: Voice of Putnam

            If you want to meet someone who loves their job, talk with Gary Osbrey. “Gary O,” as he has been known since high school, is co-owner (with his wife Karen) of WINY, the radio station in the heart of Putnam. On the morning I spoke with him, Gary was brimming with excitement. “I just flipped the switch,” he said excitedly, “We’re now broadcasting on FM as well!”  It was fabulous news for this hard working disc jockey who had always dreamed of owning a radio station.

            The pieces of Gary’s life seemed to have come together to lead him to this time and place. Growing up in Coventry RI meant that he was able to attend the only high school in the state with a student-run radio station. Getting a job at WINY (which he imagined would be a short-term experience) introduced him to the attractive station secretary, Karen. They married in 1987. All along, his goal was to own a radio station before he turned forty. On May 31, 2001, just months before that milestone birthday, that dream became a reality.

When Gary reflects on the path that led him here, he shakes his head in wonder at what he describes as the blessings of his life. 

            “I never have to hit the snooze button,” Gary confided, “I’m always glad to come to work.” He’s at his desk by 5:15 a.m. every morning, ready to greet early-morning listeners with a full range of news, sports, and updates on local events. The purpose of a local radio station, Gary says, is to provide news and information and to promote and celebrate the community.

Gary accomplishes that with his enthusiasm and welcoming spirit. His morning talk show is always booked with people eager to share their news. On any given morning, a listener can tune in to high school students describing sports, music, and arts, representatives from the hospital talking about health campaigns, religious communities sharing upcoming events, or politicians outlining legislation that will impact northeastern Connecticut. Life moves at a breathtaking pace as WINY fosters a sense of community in the Quiet Corner.

Gary’s influence and enthusiasm doesn’t stop at his office door. He is a visionary who can help others imagine the possibilities of new ideas. Not everyone who visits Disney World immediately thinks of Putnam CT, but Gary did. Disney’s Light Parade inspired Gary to introduce the idea of the Dazzle Light Parade to his small town. Now seemingly an institution in Putnam on the weekend following Thanksgiving, the idea was initially met with skepticism. Who would want a parade in chilly November? Gary’s perseverance led to the first parade in 2002, when 65 groups and organizations lit up the streets as they walked by appreciative crowds. In 2018 there were 145 entries in what is now a cherished holiday tradition.

That same ability to envision something new led to Gary’s suggestion of the Putnam River Fires. Some folks might have been discouraged when that idea was tabled year after year by town leaders. Not Gary. Finally, as part of Putnam’s 150th anniversary in 2005, the first River Fire glowed on the Quinebaug and drew crowds to the river for music and entertainment. Another beloved tradition was born.

When someone tries to compliment Gary on his accomplishments, he brushes that off saying, “You think I’m busy?  You ought to see my wife!” And it’s true – Karen is involved in multiple community organizations and events, determined to improve the lives of people in Putnam and the surrounding area. Among her many responsibilities, she is the president of the Putnam Arts Council, a member of the Quinebaug Valley Community College Foundation, and president of the Putnam Building Committee which will oversee the construction of the new town hall and library.

This hard-working, dedicated couple recognizes the need to also take care of themselves. Sunday evening dinners are a priority as they carve out time in their busy schedules to reconnect and plan for the upcoming week. An annual “winter hibernation” getaway weekend provides much-needed down time as they unplug and unwind. They seem to realize that the only way they can keep doing the work they love is if they take care of themselves and each other.

“All I want is to live a purposeful life,” Gary explains. This includes quieter activities that also offer a profound impact. Look for him at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings at the Main Street Grill for Bible study and reflection. This group, which is open to anyone who wants to show up, asks the question, “Where have you seen and experienced God this week?” Together they marvel at how God’s love and guidance weaves in and through their lives.

Through his faith, hard work, and dedication, Gary Osbrey enriches the lives of people in northeastern Connecticut.

You can listen to WINY at 1350 AM and 97.1 FM.

“Excitement” – Part One

On Epiphany Sunday I received my star word – “excitement.”  Everyone in our congregation is invited to reflect on one of 150 words. During the coming year we can ponder what God might be saying to us. How will God’s light be reflected through this simple paper star and how will it encourage us to be more aware of God’s presence in our lives?

I have an entire year to consider what the word “excitement” might be inviting me to do, learn, and experience. I have to admit, I was thrilled when I flipped the star over and “excitement” appeared. Even as a pastor in a small town in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut, it seems to me that the possibilities are endless.  I’m being invited to experience excitement! It may not be heart-pounding, dare-devil activities. I’m not sure sky diving is in my immediate future. But I can choose and seek things that make me laugh or bring me joy. I can take time to discover what brings a smile to my face and offers me a sense of satisfaction and that feeling of  “I’m glad I did that.” 

So far I have tried “bumper boats” (if you’ve never heard of it, I recommend it!  I couldn’t stop laughing!), I helped host a benefit concert in our sanctuary, and attended a talk about bald eagles in Connecticut followed by a thrilling walk where an eagle flew right by us! Last weekend my husband and I ventured out for a frosty walk at our local park and watched the ice fishermen bundled up in the cold. I have to admit, my adventurous spirit stopped at the shoreline, so I didn’t join them out on the ice, but I loved walking through the quiet woods and listening to the dramatic cracking and creaking of the ice responding to sunlight and temperature changes.

Since we worship a Creator with unlimited imagination, I’m looking forward to what the year will hold. Here’s to new adventures!

As fun as that is, I’m not sure that God means to be my tour guide through an endless array of new experiences. This word could also be inviting me to explore the excitement of learning new things. I have set myself a goal to learn more about racism – what it is and how it affects people. I think this will be “exciting” because it will expand my mind and introduce new ideas and thoughts. I suspect it will also be challenging because there is much I do not know; I anticipate that it will be humbling and eye-opening. It can be good to learn just how much I have to learn.

I have not accomplished as much in this part of my “excitement.” So far I signed up for a discussion group about the book Waking up White by Debby Irving which promises to be enlightening. I watched the movie “Green Book,” which I highly recommend; it is both entertaining and educational. Once again, I was astounded by how much of our own country’s history I do not know.

I have a whole year to enjoy “excitement” in whatever form it comes to me. I believe God is always inviting us to be more aware – aware of blessings, of God’s presence, of what we have yet to learn.  I’ll let you know how it’s going.

And – if you have a star word, I’d love to hear what it has meant to you so far this year.

If you would like a star word, just let me know and I’ll send you one.

What does the church do?

“What does your church do, anyway?” It wasn’t a snide comment or a rude question, but an honest inquiry from someone who isn’t involved in a faith community and can’t really see any particular reason to bother.

It did make me think.  Especially since this coming Sunday we will be holding our annual congregational meeting, a time when we review not just logistical questions about budget and building upkeep, but take some moments to ponder – what did our congregation do this past year? What have we accomplished? What difference have we made?  Because really – if we can’t answer those questions, then what are we all about?

I tried to frame my answer in a way this person would appreciate. But where to start? Should I describe our showcase event, our Fourth of July Jamboree when hundreds of people gather on our common for music, fellowship, and old-fashioned fun? Or should I describe more serious efforts like supplying food, clothing, toiletries, and gift cards to the homeless and domestic violence shelters as well as to local families.

Should I talk about our public ministries like weekly worship that offers inspiration and fellowship or is our behind-the-scenes work more important? How do we measure the importance of visiting the sick, praying with and for the dying, and offering comfort to the lonely and mourning?

What is it that we do?  Is anyone grading us or keeping track of our actions? If they are, would they like to know about the school backpacks that are filled and delivered in September or presents that are carefully chosen and wrapped at Christmas time or perhaps the Easter baskets that overflow with bounty and compassion? Or would they be more interested in meals and cards delivered to the homebound or the efforts of our children and youth as they rake leaves and help with home repairs.

During the season of Epiphany we are encouraged to take our Christmas gift – the love and compassion of God – and share it with everyone we meet. Don’t, Jesus instructs us, hide your light but let it shine so that God’s glory and love may be experienced and felt. That’s our job. That’s what we are meant to be about.

Do we do it perfectly? No. There is always more to do and there are endless needs that go unmet. But we try to live out God’s commandment to love our neighbor. We endeavor to make a difference in our neighborhood and across the globe.

Perhaps our primary call – the purpose of the church – is to make God’s love visible and to remind people that God is near. “Emmanuel” isn’t just a pretty word for Advent. It means “God with us” and that means in the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives. The church – each one of us – is called to echo the joy of the angels who said, “Behold!” Behold – God is with us. Our actions should reflect that good news every day.

Daily Appreciations

What if we noticed the small things in our lives that lift our spirits and make us smile? What if we didn’t allow those moments to slip us by, but instead took time to pause, appreciate, and give thanks. I wonder if we would become more aware of the blessings in our lives.

Here are some small things that brighten my days:  

Our local creamery. Not only can I get fresh milk (and chocolate milk!), yogurt, and meat, but it tickles me that there is a drive-through. I haven’t used it personally, but I have vivid memories of being a young mother with three little ones. The thought of having to unbuckle car seats, search for kicked-off shoes, and zipping up coats even one more time was enough to make me skip an errand or two. I love that tired parents, busy teenagers, and any weary traveler can just pull up to the window and fill their order. Every time I see the sign, it makes me smile.  So I pause. Appreciate. And give thanks.

A warm pool on a cold day. There is something a bit decadent about enjoying the warm air and refreshing water inside while gazing at the wintery scene outside. I love to swim and am grateful for the beautiful pool that is close enough for me to enjoy several times each week. I try not to take it for granted, so I pause. Appreciate. And give thanks.

Fruit-flavored water. This little treat is available whenever I go swimming. Yes, it’s a small pleasure, but how lovely to have fresh-tasting, cool water prepared for my refreshment. Before I drink, I pause. Appreciate. And give thanks.

Pretty candles. Short winter days call for additional light. And how much better it is when those lights sparkle and cast a beautiful glow. This candle is from the very special wedding I attended, so they offer an additional meaning. When I light a candle, it causes me to slow down and gives me the chance to pause so I can appreciate its uplifting light. And I give thanks.

Warm boots. “Walking in a winter wonderland” only sounds like fun in a song. The reality is usually cold legs and icy toes. When my thoughtful husband gave me these boots for Christmas, I knew that cold mornings would be transformed for me. When I I slip them on, I pause and appreciate their warmth and comfort.  And I give thanks.  

Cup of tea. Just the process of preparing tea can calm me down. Heat the water, choose the flavor, pour the water, wait as it steeps, and then pour and enjoy.  Ahhh… it is an invitation to pause and appreciate. And then to give thanks.

            Each day provides opportunities to bask, even briefly, in appreciation and to offer thanks. It’s easy to overlook simple pleasures as we rush from one moment to the next. Instead, let’s pause long enough to notice. Let’s take a moment to appreciate. And then let us give thanks.

A very special wedding

Sarah and Jordan were married on Saturday. It was a celebration of love, of course, but not just the romantic love between two people. This wedding celebrated the hopes, dreams, prayers, and hard work of countless people who made this special day possible.

Both Sarah and Jordan have Down Syndrome. Over the years they have confronted obstacles, setbacks, doubters, folks unable to recognize their worth, and some people who were just plain mean. It isn’t easy being “other” in our society. But they also had parents, family, and friends who believed in them and who consistently wanted the very best for them. Their wedding was a celebration of the power of love to transform lives.

Their wedding celebrated the tenacity of love. At this wedding we honored the hardworking love that gets up with dogged determination after every disappointment and challenge. We celebrated the parents who dared to dream that this day would someday come and whose fierce determination refused to give up on their beloved children. Parenting is never for the faint of heart; parenting a child with special needs demands an additional amount of fortitude. This wedding recognized that.

It also rejoiced in the strength of family and friends who formed a safe community where the unique gifts of Sarah and Jordan could be lifted up. It was also a tribute to all the dedicated teachers, coaches, trainers, and aides and assistants who worked on behalf of Sarah and Jordan and countless others so that they can live the very best life they can.

Sarah and Jordan’s wedding reminded us that the world is a better place when people choose to love one another. We are made richer by their example of their love, acceptance, and devotion. The joy and tender care they share with one another offers hope to a world that is too often callous and indifferent.

Over the years, many people informed Sarah and Jordan that their capabilities were limited and their future was dim. Thank God they had the wisdom to block out the negative voices and ignore the naysayers. This wedding celebrated God’s unlimited vision of each one of us. It was a reminder that we are all more capable, more amazing, and more filled with possibility than any of us realize. It was invitation to look beyond the obvious with a willingness to be surprised by what is actually possible.

Sarah and Jordan got married and it was a memorable occasion. That day showed us all what joy looks like. May God bless them on their journey and may we all be inspired to share and show love as boldly as they do.