Donna Cronk / New Castle Courier-Times photo // Karen and Eric Haler are interviewed by CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland in their New Castle home Tuesday. The 700 Club is doing extensive interviews for an upcoming segment on the Halers' son, Joel, and what is credited as nothing less than a miracle that he is walking.
Note: I wrote the following article on deadline for the New Castle Courier-Times Tuesday. It appears in today's newspaper.
The C-T has previously written about Joel's sudden healing. This time, I was invited into the home of his parents, Eric and Karen Haler, to watch the taping by the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club program which airs internationally.
It was a treat to sit a few feet away from the taping and take notes on what unfolded in the interview. It's a much simpler process than one might imagine.
From CBN were the producer / interviewer Shannon Woodland and two technical professionals who handled lighting and sound. A few large lights were placed in the room as what you might find in a professional photography studio. Sound equipment was put in place, including small microphones on the Halers. The technical twosome stood in the back of the room with cameras.
Shannon, wearing casual jeans, boots and sweater, and holding a coffee cup throughout the segment, sat in front of the Halers, who were seated on chairs from their home in the middle of the living room.
The producer had no problem with me covering the session, I just couldn't take photos during the interview. I took them during equipment checks moments before the taping.
CBN had been in Indy Monday as the producer vetted the story, and had been to interview Joel, who now lives in California. Today Shannon is interviewing the young boy mentioned in the story.
Meanwhile, I had an email out to Joel with a list of questions for the story, and got some photos from his folks to use right before deadline. You never know when you put together a story if there will be space for one, two or several photos so you have to be ready, complete with captions.
The CBN staff and the Halers were all great to work with and I am grateful for the experience with "big-platform" faith-based media. Shannon wanted to read my story when it was printed and I had an email from her first thing this morning that she thought it was well done.
As a small-town reporter / editor, you never know what stories might fall into your lap. It's one reason I have always loved what I do.
Halers recall 'day of great joy'
By DONNA CRONK
As a college athlete, 2012 New Castle High School graduate Joel Haler was in great physical shape. Yet he suddenly found his legs totally paralyzed one October day in 2013.
Doctors and rounds of testing yielded no apparent medical reason for the paralysis. True, he has degenerative disc disease, diagnosed at age 14, and heard a pop in his back before the paralysis. But those things did not explain to medical professionals why he suddenly could not move or feel his legs.
Yet three months later, on Jan. 23, he woke up, felt excruciating pain run through his legs, and then, he could walk again.
Joel’s story has been told in The Courier-Times as well as in big-media platforms such as Inside Edition and Guideposts magazine. On Tuesday, the internationally-viewed Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) arrived in New Castle to unpack the story with Joel’s parents, Karen and Eric Haler, and his brother, Abraham. A sister, Rebekah, was unable to be there.
CBN 700 Club Producer Shannon Woodland interviewed Joel separately as he is pursuing a master’s degree in divinity at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California.
Joel offered an update on how he's doing. These days, he’s feeling “perfectly normal and thriving.” When asked how his sudden ability to walk again changed him, Joel said, “It has shaped my worldview into the reality that Jesus is the center of it all. He wants to heal people today and he’s looking for ordinary people to take a risk for him. It has catapulted me into full-time ministry to see his kingdom here.”
Tuesday morning, the CBN producer and two technical professionals set up a remote-location studio in the Halers’ New Castle living room and taped the family’s story. The Halers were asked to speak about Joel’s life before the ordeal. They detailed how their son was never “the best” basketball player, but he had a strong work ethic and drive to always get better. In fact, he holds the state’s third-place all-time record for best 3-point percentage.
At 14, he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and often had back pain but worked through it. A scholarship took him to Hope College in Michigan and things were going well until the family got a call that October day of his sophomore year.
Joel told his father that he had heard a loud pop while exercising . Then came tingling toes and leg pain. An MRI found nothing wrong. But the next morning, his legs were completely paralyzed.
A physical therapist friend expressed real concern for Joel. Eric decided to go get his boy. When Joel’s friends placed his wheelchair in the truck for the ride back to New Castle, Eric recalled with tears, “His legs were dangling. That’s when it hit hard for me.”
Joel spent 11 days in the hospital where doctors had no explanation for why he couldn’t walk. But Eric recalls his son’s faith that he would walk again. He left college and moved back in with his folks, dependent on a wheelchair. His mother could see he was not himself.
“I could just tell it was eating at him,” she said.
The producer said Joel told her in an interview, '“He just gave it to God. Jesus came in and really did a major work.”'
“His faith was going to a whole new level,” Eric added.
Karen said she always believed her son would walk again, but didn’t want his expectations to be shattered. “We’ve seen prayers answered the way we would not want them to be answered,” she said.
Then some mysterious things happened. Joel had a dream that involved a calendar with J23 on it. A little boy at New Covenant Church where Eric is pastor, told Joel on a Sunday morning he would walk on a Thursday. Eric dreamed that he was on the phone getting Joel admitted to a rehab center when in the dream, Joel walked out of his bedroom.
Then, in the early morning of Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, Joel woke up to severe pain in his legs. Moments later, he was able to walk. Just like that. He got up, made coffee and went to stand in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom. His mother thought it was his brother Abraham, but got a surprise when she heard, “It’s me, Joel.”
The family members burst out of their beds and started hugging, celebrating and crying in awe.
“That was a day of great joy,” Eric said.
Joel has walked ever since.
“There are many people that have reached out to me explaining to me that my story has brought them hope, filled them with joy and allowed them to be touched by the love of Jesus,” Joel said.
He was able to return to college and graduated in 2017 with a major in communications and minor in leadership.
Eric said the healing has demonstrated God’s goodness, adding, "God is still alive and he does great things.”
The 700 Club piece, which will air at an undetermined time within weeks, is the latest in the media attention and speaking opportunities Joel’s experience has generated. He said it has been thrilling to see God move through his story and see people healed, find hope, “and experience a joy that only comes from him.”
It's a snowy Saturday in that no-man's land between Christmas and New Year's. I think of this week as an extended snow day.
Historically, it's a hard time to get hold of people for feature stories. Government entities take a break, and lots of people are off work due to end-of-year vacation time or their workplaces are closed.
It's kind of nice; a break in the action before Tuesday arrives and we're thrust, ready or not, into a new working year.
I like today. It's 1:30 p.m. and I'm still in my pajamas! It's cold and snowy outside and other than taking the dog out, there is no reason to leave the house. There's no reason, even, to put on real clothes, but I may. Or I may not.
What I will do when I finish this final 2017 post is to clock some time for my newspaper job. Several January projects involve getting a head start, and permission to work on the clock from home for a few hours will help me greet Tuesday better prepared to tackle January.
I don't do politics on social media. Sometimes I have to hog-tie my fingers, but I don't go there. I don't argue or preach or add to the divisiveness I see and feel around me. I have many friends and family, not to mention readers, acquaintances and colleagues whom I love, admire, respect and maybe even on occasion simply tolerate, who disagree mightily on such topics.
In the online political realm, I am Switzerland.
What I will share is my Christian faith in the Living Trinity, the three-in-one of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the only hope for humanity.
When I review 2017, I think of moments. There is my career high of covering the presidential inauguration and women's march from the aspect of what it was like to be there. It was an intense few days full of experiences, then back to the hotel to write and transmit everything to quite a few Hoosier newspapers. I will treasure the experience for the rest of my life.
I am grateful for yet another year of this ride as a regional author. To every book club, social or literary club, church banquet and program organizer, library staffer and author fair organizer who sought me out in some way, I am in debt. Going into each year, I think perhaps the ride is about over. So far, the surprise is that it hasn't been. So if you need a program or presentation or speaker, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many friends and author friends to thank for your help. I think of how Janis Thornton showed up at the Fishers Library last March simply to support me in my program on self-publishing, and how she would like to work with me further in developing a workshop-styled program on the topic. That same night, son Sam and DIL Allison surprised me by arriving at the end of the program to help me carry everything to the car and deliver a refreshing hot tea!
I think of Sandy Moore and our mutual support society with marketing ideas and cluing each other in on opportunities. There is Annette Goggin who I only got to know through the author ride, but who I think of as a friend and admire greatly. Plus, I am grateful for her asking me to her old-fashioned hymn sing! I loved it! (Let's do it again?)
I thank those -- and I'm thinking of writer friend Cheryl Bennett -- who posted reviews of my second book on Goodreads and Amazon. And I am grateful for the number of people I don't know whose reviews pop up.
Oh, the list above goes on and on to include, but not limited to Mary Wilkinson, my bestie Gay Kirkton, her parents, my boss Katie Clontz, and I know I am in trouble because I'm leaving out some people but I'm trying to hurry this along!
Other precious moments include the trip Gay and I took to Galena, Illinois, and to Miss Effie's flower farm near Donahue, Iowa, and the new friend I have now in Cathy, the entrepreneur and Gay's college friend who founded the flower farm and crafts-filled Summer Kitchen there.
I think of walking with John and Debby Williams and loved ones in their fight against Cystic Fibrosis.
I am surrounded by inspiring, creative, resourceful, fierce, sweet, empowered, wonderful women!
Brian and I took a pretty-much perfect trip to D.C. in September and by writing ahead for tickets and clearance, got insider looks inside The White House, Congress, Capitol, Pentagon and FBI Building. The Newseum was outstanding, as was hearing a lecture in the Supreme Court courtroom.
I'm so grateful to Kids at Heart Publisher Shelley Davis for accepting my books into her bookshop at the Warm Glow Candle Co. complex.
I'm grateful to my husband for his love and support. Grateful to spend time with extended family -- wonderful trips visiting Tim and Jeannie in Liberty, Brian's annual trip to see his brother and SIL Steve and Linda in Florida, hosting a master's degree grad party for our DIL Allison, attending a great-niece's wedding and a great-great niece's birthday party. I think of seeing our friend Coach Rick's football team, Trine University, win a playoff game in its undefeated-season year.
I think of the Midlife Mom sisters of Ovid Community Church, and the Bible Study Fellowship folks who help guide as the Holy Scriptures come alive to me each time I'm in them. I. think of my sons Sam and Ben and wonderful daughter-in-law Allison. Oh, and I'm grateful that Brian's McClellan clan continues to get together every Fourth of July weekend and for cousin Beth for starting a periodic cousins get-together.
I think of everyone who said yes when I asked if I could write about some aspect of their lives. I think of Steve Dicken, the English teacher I wish I had had in school, and of whom I am proud to have as a writing colleague now. I think of our dear friend Barb Clark. I think of my encourager and confidante Debbie McCray.
I have probably left out so much about this year that brought joy and sweetness. Life is short. We have to embrace every opportunity, love one another, care about one another. And if you are a writer, you probably have to write about it all.
I plan to keep doing just that. So bring it on! 2018, what do you have for me? Thank you God, for another year on this planet!
Happy New Year to you, whomever and wherever you are reading this.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, located five miles from Jerusalem. The church was built centuries ago on top of the traditionally recognized site of where baby Jesus was born. Currently, between 25,000 and 35,000 (I've seen both figures) live in Bethlehem. One source said at the time of Christ's birth, 1,000 or fewer residents lived there.
As a little girl going to Christmas pageant practice at the Brownsville United Methodist Church, I saw the evening lights across the Whitewater River and imagined the town as what Bethlehem might be like. After all, this was the smallest "town" I knew. And in my childhood mind, I knew that Jesus was born in a little town.
O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger were two of the most popular songs we’d learn for the pageant.
Never could I have imagined in a million years that I would one day visit Bethlehem, let alone see the very site where Jesus was born. Spoiler alert: Today it is not a manger scene.
You were expecting a manger? Well, the site that once held the best-known manger, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph was honored by placement of a church over it in the 4th century. It’s a complicated story to explain centuries of conflict and destruction, not even to mention the three denominations that share the church: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Armenian Orthodox.
Here’s one story though. Legend has it that invading Persians destroyed all Christian churches and monasteries in 614. But not this one. Why? A painting depicted the Nativity scene we would recognize today – complete with three wise men. The artist dressed the wise men in Persian clothing. The invaders honored the Persian-appearing wise men by preserving the church.
From childhood Sunday school on through midlife, both formally and informally, I attended studies having to do with the Bible.
At the Brownsville United Methodist Church, the children's teachers read Bible stories, illustrating them with paper biblical figures clinging to felt boards.
When I got older there were groups where attendees breathlessly shared their biblical views, sometimes without, it seemed, the actual input of scripture.
My bookshelves have a number of volumes by authors who offered spiritual thoughts and interpretations.
Although a Christian believer, I found that none of these books or studies offered the kind of direct biblical study I longed for. They centered more on contemporary people's views and ideas, not necessarily those formed from a direct, deep look into the Word of God. I wanted to hear from Him.
I realized, shamefully, that I was biblically illiterate.
Eight years ago, my friend Terri, a member of my church life group, sent an email asking if friends were interested in attending Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). I'm pretty sure she had asked the year before, and maybe even the year before that, but for some reason, the term "BSF" had never registered with me. Now I think it's because for whatever reason, I wasn't ready for it.
But that year, I was ready. I have remained so ever since. In fact, BSF resumes for a new year of study on Monday night and I feel as I did when I was a schoolgirl looking forward to meeting my class for the first time in elementary school. I bought a fresh notebook and binder and am ready to get started!
While BSF is an international study, with more than 2,000 classes and groups in more than 40 countries, where I live we are fortunate to have two classes nearby. There's a day class in New Castle, and an evening one in Middletown. Terri and friends attend the evening class in Middletown, and that is what works for me too. But if you prefer day, there's one Tuesday in New Castle.
In the first year I enrolled, we studied the book of Isaiah.
Since that first year, which runs September through the first week of May, with several weeks off around Christmas and a week's spring break, our studies have been: Acts of the Apostles (the book of Acts); Genesis; Matthew; The Life of Moses (Exodus); Revelation and John. On Monday, we'll be in Romans.
Just because we are officially studying a single book of the Bible for the curriculum year, don't think that's the end of it. Each study takes us to cross-references and the harmony of the Gospel all over the New and Old Testaments.
Here's how it works, in a nutshell. The total attendance (a few hundred women on Monday nights in Middletown) are divided into small groups and each group has a group leader.
The group leader reads the questions from the lesson that the group members completed on their own during the course of the previous week. Members are encouraged to share the answers they found in the Bible. The discussion is fast-paced. Thoughts are condensed and there is no time to get off-subject.
Group members are encouraged to share prayer requests. Each group leader handles this differently from going around the room and verbally sharing to requests submitted in advance and summarized and distributed for the week. We pray, then head off to the evening lecture, joining all the small groups.
Now armed with the lesson we worked on individually the previous week, and after listening to our group members' thoughts on the lesson, we hear our Teaching Leader Jodie Pyle, lecture on the same material. As we leave for the evening, each is given a new lesson. This lesson contains notes and summary on thoughts and varying scholarly views of BSF biblical consultants on what we just studied, and a new lesson to complete over the week's new material. And so it goes, on through our year's material.
While I had a hunger to study God's Word in a more direct, methodical way going into BSF eight years ago, I can tell you that the more I study, the more I hunger for His Word and His message for my life.
The Bible is everything! It is the history of the story of man, and of the continuous mess mankind gets himself into. It's the living Word of God, and of how He planned from before the creation of the world to solve this mess personally in each of our lives through His Son, the Savior Jesus Christ, and corporately, also through Christ, for all eternity. It's also wisdom, peace, challenge, grace, prophecy, and so much more.
It's all quite a story.
Yes indeed, it's a page-turner.
This year we'll be in the book of Romans. In my area, here's how you can get involved. There are also BSF classes regionally in Richmond and Marion, Indiana. Check the website, www.bsfinternational.org to learn about opportunities elsewhere.
If you have any questions I could answer as a now long-term BSFer (how quickly these years have progressed from novice!) please ask and I'd be happy to answer to the best of my ability. (Email: email@example.com).
What better use of your time, and mine, than to study the love letter, instruction book, life manual and the afterlife benefits sent to us from the God of the Universe? I can't think of one. Join us.
In Middletown, Indiana:
Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) women's Bible study begins at 6:55 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11 at the Middletown Church of the Nazarene, 698 N. 5th St. With the exception of the first night, weekly meetings end at 8:25 p.m. Anyone wishing to sign up can register that night in a welcome class. Register any school-age children as well. For information, contact Celeste Bramlett at 765-524-2326.
In New Castle, Indiana:
In New Castle, BSF starts at 9:10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12 at First Baptist Church, 709 S. Memorial Drive. Women may register that morning, as well. For information, contact Iris Pederson, 765-533-3374 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
BSF is an international, non-denominational Bible study. There is no charge to participate. #wearebsf.
"And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
– Matthew 10:42: English Standard Holy Bible
It was a brief announcement that I typed into the newspaper’s events section.
Just a line or two saying that Registered Nurse Pat Cronk would give a diabetes education program today at Ebenezer Presbyterian, a sweet old country church deep in the countryside. I emailed that I’d like to attend the fellowship gathering to write about the program for the next her magazine for women.
Pat’s husband, Pastor Alan McCraine, said that would be great.
The program was interesting, informative, and the story will appear in the magazine, as planned.
But what I didn’t anticipate was an unrelated personal challenge. Alan said he is encouraging churchgoers to offer a “cup of cold water” in the name of Jesus, to – someone. In fact, members are urged to dig into their pockets at the end of the day and save the dimes to donate back to the Cup of Cold Water Fund so this project continues.
He figures the “cups” or in today’s application of the term, portable, plastic bottles of water, cost a dime apiece. The fund will replenish the bottles.
Alan urged everyone attending today’s community-outreach program to grab a bottle of water and accept his challenge to find someone to share it with in the next week, and offer it on behalf of the Lord.
So I did. As I drove home from work today, I eyed the water bottle in my cup holder. It looked like any other bottle I might have on hand in that very spot. But this one is different.
It’s for someone else.
I’m on alert for that someone, and in keeping whatever appointment God has for me in the days to come to share the water. I’ll let you know what unfolds.
Have you ever accepted a challenge such as this?
Want to share what happened?
In one way, it's hard to believe the Midlife Moms have been together for ten-and-a-half years. In another way, haven't we known each other forever? It's true that as an adult, a decade passes quickly. Just imagine: If we had started first grade together, we'd be halfway through high school junior year.
Yes, by now we all know each other and our casts of characters pretty well.
While we haven't seen each other through elementary school, first dates, and proms, we've lived a lot of life together this past decade, whispered a good many prayers for each other and our life circumstances, laughed at a lot of silliness, cried some tears, studied the Bible, taken on projects, and eaten some fantastic food.
We are a life group at Ovid Community Church. We do life together. And I thank the Good Lord that it works, that as group co-founder Delaine Wooden says, "We're more than a group. We're friends."
One of my favorite weekends of the year took place last weekend. Terri generously shares her beautiful lake home and water toys with us several times a year, times we have always referred to as retreats.
But of all the lovely weekends reminiscent of girlhood sleepovers, the summer ones are my favorite. You can't beat the ever-changing blues of the sky and water, along with the wind on our faces as we push through the water on Terri's boat, with the warm breeze brushing back our hair. We play in the water like the young dolphins we are not.
Sunday mornings we have a special Bible study out on the water. And in between, we feast on the bountiful menus that come together so easily with a crew of seasoned moms who know their way around the kitchen. We listen to each other's insights and tell stories.
For one summer weekend a year, we haven't a care in the world. Thank you Father for this refreshment. Thank you Terri for being the best hostess ever, and thank you to each of my MLM sistas, past and present, and Lord willing, future.
It's traditional that before we head back to our regular lives, we take some photos. Terri has a stack of pictures depicting lake memories from our ten years at Cordry Lake.
Above is one on the deck from last weekend. Some of the girls mentioned their lack of make-up and abundance of lake hair. They don't know they are beautiful. Inside and out.
A magnet from Terri's fridge. I'd have to agree.
This weekend I was awestruck anew by the incredible variety, color, nutrition, and beauty -- not even to mention creativity -- of God's food supply.
Friday night on the boat we enjoyed a picnic-type meal of Sharon's homemade ham salad sandwiches, artisan chips and dip, and Donna Shields' cole slaw, along with Delaine's summer Greek vegetable salad of tomatoes, corn, cukes, and herbs. It all hit the spot!
Then, because sometimes we bring so much delicious food, and have to hurry up and eat one meal so we can get to the next, we decided this weekend to do a daily brunch and dinner -- a two-meal day. Terri whipped up the above breakfast skillet with yellow squash, mushrooms, eggs and cheese. Fantastic.
Karen prepared this wonderful vegetable lasagne:
It was delicious, as was Delaine's fried zucchini with Parm and bread crumbs.
By the way, we have a signature scripture passage. Here's the NIV, Hebrews 10:23-25:
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Not a bad motto for doing life together. Happy first ten years, my sistas.
It's uncanny. And has been for a while now.
Whether I'm driving to work on Ind. 38, trying to get through town once I get to New Castle, or whether I'm trying to get, well, just about anywhere from my home, I'm met with signs warning: ROAD CLOSED or DETOUR AHEAD.
Sections of roads on both sides of our subdivision have been closed, and another common route not far away is blocked as well.
But it's not just around here. Reroutes and stalled traffic seem to be a part of wherever it is I'm headed.
I'm not going to tell you that I enjoy being rerouted, adding extra miles on my tires, or time to my commutes and errands. I will, however, tell you that I had epiphany.
Sometimes in life, things have to get downright messy before they get better. Roads are a perfect example. It occurred to me that I should be grateful that I am witnessing tax money serve us all through road improvements. Soon the potholes, narrow lanes, and decaying bridges will be replaced with smooth travel, wider lanes, and safe, strong bridges.
"No pain, no gain" applies to travel as well as personal fitness.
I'm curious. Do you experience detours and travel reroutes in your world? Do tell.
The other day I was thinking about life’s blessings, challenges, and worries. I suppose most of our days' thoughts could be summarized in those three categories.
I remembered a long-ago “joy journal” I kept for a while, a New Year’s resolution to daily record one positive observation, happening or thought. I had no idea what happened to it.
We’re getting some new furniture, so two nights ago I cleaned out a bedside-table drawer stuffed with greeting cards, notes, and letters. Among the correspondence was a small notebook. I didn’t recognize it at first. But then I read the title page.
The opening entry was on the first day of 2002. We had returned from seeing in the new year with our friends, Rick and Gay Kirkton. My entry:
Heated bed pad. Warm, comfortable, and something I didn’t know existed until we slept in Kirktons’ bed last night. I kept waking up in the night thinking, Ahh … this is great.
Also that month:
No cavities! In fact, no cavities for the boys, either, and no charge as cleanings / check-ups are covered. The boys have never had a cavity. Good dental care pays off.
Then one on finding a blessing in the midst of something hard:
David’s surgery today for throat cancer appears successful. Praise for the doctors.
And later, one for something simple:
For the warmth of my nice ear muffs from Galyan’s.
Here's one for recognizing privileges in the obvious, but often overlooked:
For all the luxuries that seem like our lifestyle: oil changes at Walmart, eating out, automatic washers and dryers, dishwashers, microwaves. Our days are blessed by these things we take for granted.
I feel grateful and cheered re-reading these simple – and complex – joys. I don’t know why I stopped making entries.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pick up this small joy journal and begin again daily recording life’s blessings. I’ll do one a day. Although each day has so many when you think about it. And if you don't think about it, give it a try. I dare you.
I’m reminded of the beautiful old hymn, Count Your Blessings.
I spent a portion of the last two nights going through the drawer's paper greetings, taking time to look at each one closely. The two who send the most, both over the course of the years and layers of paper, and now, are Gay Kirkton, and our daughter-in-law Allison. Coming in third is a stash from Cheryl Bennett.
Some are stacks of birthday greetings for Brian from his former staff and students. Some are notes from people I can't place, who were perhaps in our life for a short season or reason, and wedding invites to marriages both sturdy and no longer united. The paperwork with only signatures got tossed. Those with personal notes are kept, amounting to about half the stash.
Email and Facebook have been hard on the stationery and card industry, but it’s still a joy to get a thank-you note in the mail, or a funny birthday card hand-picked and signed with a note, such as a few prizes sent to Brian from his brother, Steve. So here’s an entry for today, the first of my rekindled commitment:
Grateful for those who take time to send a greeting either on paper using ink and a stamp, or in other ways, expressing their personal thoughts and sentiments in writing. It's still a kick to get mail -- on paper or electronically.
How about you? If you started a joy journal today, what would be your first entry? There’s joy in our journey. And it’s all a journey.
“I grew up in the boonies,” I told Brian Sunday, as we meandered along our back-road route to Brownsville, Indiana, located not far from the farm where I grew up.
Of course my words didn't make for a news flash, and as we roll from U.S. 40 to Abington to Brownsville on this gorgeous November morning, we’re reminded that this area is still the boonies. Even so, imagine how much more so it would have been in 1806.
That was the year on our minds, the same year that the Methodist Church became a presence in tiny Brownsville. We were headed there to celebrate the occasion with not only members of the current Brownsville United Methodist Church, but with visitors, with the Greenwood Church Methodists, and with Liberty's Edwards United Methodist Church choir.
My lifelong friend, musician Karen Parks Bunch, was there to sing and play piano, accompanying church organist Charlotte Telker. Karen provided the special music along with her husband, the Liberty church’s choir director Kevin Bunch -- and with the choir. As I did, Karen grew up in that little Brownsville church.
While our hometown church has been served continuously by Methodist preachers starting with the early circuit riders in 1806, it’s interesting that the current pastor, Shelley Dodson, is the longest continually serving minister in this church’s 210-year history. She’s been there since 2004. One busy reverend, Shelley also serves the Greenwood UMC, and has a day job as interim bursar at Indiana University East in Richmond. Whew!
During the service, Shelley read some key points in the history of this body. The Indiana Territory was organized in 1800, and it didn’t take long for the Methodist Church to bring its Christian influence to this little neck of the woods in what would become Union County, and become the state of Indiana 200 years ago this year.
After a few years of circuit riders’ services in pioneers’ log cabins, the first Brownsville Methodist Church was built of brick in 1814, near the present building. The congregation grew and in 1828, land was deeded for a larger structure. Church history doesn’t record why the building wasn’t ready until 1844.
That building, however, stood for 101 years before it burned down in a Sunday-morning fire in 1945. However, before that bad turn, things got rocky in other ways. In 1860, the nation’s Civil War divided this body and a number of members left to form the Christian Union Church in 1865.
The Methodist Church went into decline to the point where windows were broken, the roof damaged, and doors stood open. In 1871, some members saved it with remodeling the dilapidated 1844 building, and it was re-dedicated in 1873. And so it went for 71 years until the 101-year-old building burned down nine days before Christmas 1945.
The congregation decided right away to rebuild and they got busy with planning and fundraising. To make do, they met for services in the Brownsville School. The new church – the brick limestone that’s there today – opened in 1948. There was a big celebration over it being paid off in 1952.
There was another big celebration on Sunday. It included a sermon about trusting God with the future of the church by the Rev. Mick Miller, assistant district superintendent. And being Methodists, cake and coffee followed. They even broke out the church's white china.
But first came the official bicentennial photo. For that, Brian and I stood behind the pulpit in the same spot where we lit a unity candle 38 years ago on our wedding day, a fine October afternoon not so different from Sunday’s fine November one.
As we stood there, I felt proud to be part of the Brownsville UMC extended family and so glad that we made the effort to attend.
This church. Home. Roots. This church provides a deep sense of belonging. One attendee, the former Janice Parks, whom I’ve seen once in the last 50 years before Sunday, but whom I would know anywhere all the same, even handed me an envelope of old family photos ... photos of my family!
They had been in her father, Gene Parks’ things and she thought I might like them. Where else could I be on the planet where something like that could possibly happen? Where her family would save photos of mine for somewhere around a century? And where a descendant would care enough to give them to me? To even consider that I might be there that morning? Unbelievable! That's home folks for you.
Yes, I’m from the boonies all right. These boonies.
If I could change that fact, change this place on the map that I call home, change this sweet church in the wildwood -- I wouldn’t.
Congratulations to Rev. Shelley Dodson who is the longest-serving pastor of this church in its 210-year history. (Photo provided by Brownsville United Methodist Church) Meanwhile, below is Geneva Floyd, who at 96 works behind the scenes constantly because she loves Jesus and people, and they sure do love her. Right, a look at the sanctuary.
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. – Exodus 13:21-22
I attend an international, non-denominational Bible study nine months a year called Bible Study Fellowship. Each year is a different in-depth look at a particular topic, with references taking you all over the Bible.
BSF resumes the week after Labor Day and this session, which runs through early May, we’ll be in the book of John.
In the six previous years the studies have included (in no particular order here) Isaiah, Genesis, Acts of the Apostles, Matthew, Revelation, and Life of Moses. I have loved each study as part of my lifelong pursuit to become biblically literate. When you study the Bible, it comes alive to you because it is the Living Word of God.
If I had to select a favorite study so far, I’d pick Life of Moses. His life, and the miracle of God bringing His nation, Israel, out from slavery in Egypt on a journey to the Promised Land, is alive for me on so many levels! The year of the study was the same one I literally experienced that Promised Land of Israel for myself with a group from my church and I will never be the same. The Word came alive as we physically walked upon the pages of the Bible in 3-D color.
I keep thinking about God manifesting Himself before the Israelites as a Pillar of Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night. How did the ancient Jews ever get over that? How could they quibble and complain when God led them on a daily journey where they saw Him in those forms, protecting and leading? Man, would I love a selfie with God the Pillar of both Cloud and Fire!
Oh, but I do the same as they did. Don’t we all? And today, God is living inside me as He is inside all Christians. Yet sometimes we take Him for granted or we rail or complain or doubt. I say this often: I’m being an Israelite again.
Still, I can't quit thinking of God appearing as a constant Pillar … leading and protecting.
I think of the manna He provided daily for His people, Israel. It was perfect nourishment, the supply to meet their daily needs. Yet they were not to store it away as spares for tomorrow in case God didn’t show up with more. No, He promised that He would provide it daily. They had to trust.
The thought of the manna is with me lately. When I want more than He has provided, want a spare something, want more than I need today, I am tempted to ask God why I don’t have that reserve.
He shows me the manna. His showing me the manna is in the form of supernatural, spiritual provision that keeps coming to mind. It is enough to trust Him. I even wrote the word MANNA on a slip of paper and taped it to my computer. He’s that serious about this topic, and I’m that serious about remembering it.
Lately, the Hoosier skies have been putting on a show of wonderment. They are just clouds, I know, but they are part of His creation and they are spectacular, and I think of God as that Pillar of Cloud, leading, protecting. Facebook posts have been full of beautiful skies filled with clouds and sky, stunning sunsets and starry night scenes. It's all at once as new as today and as ancient as creation. I could spend hours looking up.
These photos were taken yesterday during my drive home from work. Enjoy the scenery, and don’t forget to look up.
The Bible Study Fellowship I attend is Monday nights at the host church, the Middletown Church of the Nazarene. This year’s study is Monday, Sept. 12 at 6:55-8:55 p.m. Email me at email@example.com for information. OR, just show up! There’s an introduction class that night. BSF is free and you’ll be surprised to find a couple of hundred women there too from all manner of denominations and backgrounds. Regionally, BSF also meets Tuesday mornings in New Castle, and there is a Richmond class. Wherever you are, there's likely a BSF class close enough for you to attend.