First United Methodist Church

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Devotion: When God’s Plans Are Not My Own

What a week of worship and service it has been. My soul has been filled up by all that has transpired over the last 3 or 4 days. First, over 330 parents, grandparents and church members supported over 80 dancers who descended on our campus for the Nutcracker performance on Friday night where our Studio 150 ministry was able to share the joy of this Advent season through dance. And then on Sunday, we worshipped together as one church through a blended service led by both our contemporary band and our traditional choir, and then we went out and served together. You can say we didn’t just “go to church” this Sunday, but we “were the church” this Sunday. And last but not least, we gathered that night in the courtyard under a beautiful night sky and found hope together through the lighting of candles, worship, spoken word, and dancing.

As I processed all that I had the privilege to participate in this weekend, I thought about the plans that we make and the plans that God makes.

Our almost 7-year-old, Emmaline is very curious about families these days and what makes up a family. We have recently had conversations with her about adoption and fostering both because of my work with the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home and because we recently visited our cousins who are foster parents. When Emmaline wants to know why some little kids don’t have parents it is one of those holy and sensitive moments where you really want to say the right thing as a parent. We are always cognizant that our judgments can become our children’s judgments, so we try to answer these deep philosophical questions (that we are never trained to answer, I might add) with a lot of grace. I usually say something like this. “Most of the time, grown-ups are excited and ready to become parents, but every once in a while, people have children and they really are not ready to be parents. And so other parents have to step in until they are ready.”

In one of these recent conversations where she had just met her second cousin who is a foster child, she just could not understand where her “real” parents were. We walked through the definition again and a little light bulb went on in her eyes.

“Oh I get it,” she said. “Mary and Joseph weren’t ready to be parents either, but they decided to trust God and love Jesus anyway!”

Wow, kid! Okay, well done. Not where I was going with this conversation, but yes, you really did just nail the meaning of Christmas! I am always glad when I listen to her small, yet wise voice.

And so, I have been pondering that thought over these last few days. I have thought about how my plans aren’t always God’s plans and wondering back to how I respond when I realize that there is a difference.

In this third week of Advent, I encourage you to think about the well-laid plans of your life and how, if you are like me, the planning process brings you joy. But then, I know we can all recall a time or many times when our plans were turned upside down and when we finally glimpse God’s plans, how much more of life we still are learning to embrace.

I pray that your Advent season gives you moments not only to recognize the times when your plans were different, but also when they were aligned. You see, I didn’t always want to be a pastor, but the educational journey to get here has been a blessing. At one point in my life, Ryan and I were planning to be missionaries in someplace very different from here, but God helped me grow deep roots where I was planted and taught me about being a missionary in my own, everyday life. Maybe you can remember a time too when your plans were different from God’s plans and how you chose to trust God anyway. Maybe Emmaline is right, maybe following Jesus is really about trusting God with plans very different from our own and learning to love and be loved in the process.

Devotion: Hope is Found Together

Do you remember how on Sunday I compared the journey of Advent to a laborious hike? And how we find HOPE when we continue to climb? Because Advent, just like faith, is a journey and it is sometimes hard to remember that the view at the top is worth it because our muscles hurt or we are thirsty or sunburnt, or just worn out. Well, today was one of those days. It’s the end of another long day, but there have been wonderful holy moments hidden in the chaos. I found hope in some small ways because I was looking for it and because I was watching and waiting.

Today I had the opportunity to go with Emmaline on her first field trip of this year. We rode a school bus which my children have always been obsessed with and I now have a newfound respect for the sanity of all school bus drivers. (If you are one of them, there’s a special place in heaven for you)! Emmaline and 120 of her closest first-grade friends went to the Orlando Science Center for the day. I had some really special moments with my firstborn and times that were just ours. But part of my job as a chaperone was to watch two additional children that I did not birth, and I quickly found that to be more exhausting than watching my own three children. Shout out to all the teachers out there!

We explored the Science Center, a place that our family knows and loves well, but it had special significance and was extra fun because we were doing it with all of Emmaline‘s classmates. The bus ride back to school was equally chaotic and when the field trip was over, the rest of the day continued with meetings, school pick-ups, Nutcracker dance rehearsal, and finally a wonderful respite in the middle of a busy week. If you missed the Advent Family Experience that we had tonight at the MFLC, it really was a place to experience Hope. People from the 9 AM and 11 AM services came together for a warm meal, crafts, gingerbread-making fun, and all of the beautiful chaos that comes with young church families! Pastor Leah and Pastor Jared and their teams created a beautiful atmosphere for families of all ages to learn a little bit more about this Advent season. I couldn’t be more proud of this amazing team that God has put together at this church.

The point is not that we need more programs or activities or events to experience HOPE, the point is that hope is found when we are together. When we break bread together, and we help watch each other’s children on the playground or when we offer to rock our babies, so that hungry mamas can eat. Hope it’s found when children find another child and tell them that we’re praying for them to get better or when we take a deep breath and go for a walk outside just to experience the beauty of Creation. Hope is found in a story, a laugh or a hug, or an invitation to join in or get to know. At Christmas time we probably have more opportunities to practice that hope and to model for our loved ones. Remember, hope is found more easily when we walk this journey together because we were never meant to walk this path alone. When we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and we come together with people who do the same, our hope grows so we can keep going. And even when we’re tired and frustrated and overwhelmed, hope it’s still found.

And so my encouragement to you, to me, to us all, is to keep looking for that hope. Especially when you have days like today. Don’t neglect to be with the body or become so busy that you forget how much we need each other. And what a joy it is to be together!

Devotion: Storms & the Bible

Our hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Ian. Know that your church family is praying for you and our neighbors during this time. 

As we assess the resulting damage, we want to offer any aid we can. Visit to learn more about our relief efforts and how you can support our neighbors.

Devotion: Amos 8

Devotion: I Am Listening

Hello, Church Family, and Happy Fall!

Thank you for the prayers, presents, gift cards and words of love and encouragement over these last four weeks. Our little Elizabeth Pearl has been a blessing and our home is filled with a lot of snuggles, kisses and lots of joy. I have included a few pictures for you to see how much she has already grown. I can’t wait for you to meet her in person.

I wanted to take a few minutes to share what God has been teaching me on this Maternity Leave and I hope it will speak to your heart and where you find yourself today. Those that know me would not describe me as a person that “slows down” well. I have always been on the go. I run from one thing to the other, I fill our schedules with adventures and fun, I take our “big kids” to the park or a splash pad or the museum whenever possible and I don’t often sit and rest. I like being on the move, I like chasing the next big adventure and I don’t like sitting idle. I have often joked that multitasking is my middle name. I make lists of things to do constantly, and I often allow myself to feel guilty if I haven’t gotten enough done, even if it is a Saturday.

This is how I am wired, but it isn’t always life-giving.

Towards the end of this pregnancy, if you saw me, you could tell I was running out of steam. I was tired, had low energy, lost my patience more with my kids and I felt like there wasn’t enough time to get all of the last-minute things accomplished. I felt a sense of responsibility to finish everything on my plate as to not burden my Teammates.

But then something beautiful happened. I had a baby and was FORCED to slow down. Every one of you that has been in the presence of a newborn in your life knows what I am talking about. Babies run on a different time schedule and in fact, they don’t run at all. They sleep and eat and capture your devotion a whole lot, but they don’t run and they don’t rush. Ellie is no exception. She has been the beautiful reminder of slowing down, sitting, snuggling, eating slowly, staying in yoga pants all day and being present. She also doesn’t talk yet and asks me a million questions as our big kids do, so I spend a lot more time quiet and listening. I listen to her breathing, her little noises, the sound of the baby swing or the washing machine and the sound of my own soul slowing down.

What God is teaching me in this season of Maternity Leave is just to listen. To wait and anticipate how God might show up in the silence. How I might experience God’s love as I watch our older two love on their little sister, or how my husband tenderly holds her, or why she might be smiling while she sleeps and how peace is found when we give ourselves a longer list of gracious moments than a list of To-Dos. I am relearning what I have always known but haven’t always practiced which is that God is just as much in the stillness as in the chaos, but that we are more in touch with the life-giving peace when we quiet our minds and slow our roll.

It comes down to listening, deep listening. In one of the devotions I have been reading during this time, a contributor to this email wrote about a friend from Belarus who answers the phone not with the common greeting that we are used to, “Hello, who is this?” or “Hello, yes this is she.” But the friend from Belarus answers every phone call with the phrase, “I am listening.” And isn’t that refreshing? Prayer or a time of Contemplative Silence that I am engaging in on a much deeper level, is my being present to God by responding, “I am listening.”

I pray that as you walk through your daily routines, as you study Scripture, as you join with other followers of Jesus on this journey, that you are finding more ways to LISTEN. It looks different for everyone, but it is life-giving all the same.  I pray that you are opening a space, every day at least once to be present with God in a slowed down and open sort of way. I pray that you sit down at your couch, or drive in your car, or rest in your bed and open that line of communication back to the Almighty with the words, “I am LISTENING” and I pray that you will wait to hear God’s words of grace back to you.

Church, I look forward to being back with you and serving alongside of you again soon. Thank you for the love you have poured out on me and my family these last few months. Know that I pray for you and your families as well. May you find some time this week to turn off the TV, put down your phone, silence the radio and open yourself up to God’s stillness and boldly LISTEN to what God might be teaching you.


Devotion: Amos 6

Devotion: History of the Israelites (Amos 5)

Devotion: The Greyhound Bus

I want to tell you a story; so grab your morning coffee or afternoon cup of tea and see if you can picture where God was at work in this experience.

This past weekend I had a little adventure. One of my dear friends from seminary is getting ready to get married and once she gets married, she will move down to Florida to join her husband. In seminary, we had a Covenant Group of 7 women, all young United Methodists, all on either the deacon or elder track and we have seen each other through a lot. I was the first one of us to get married and the first to become a mother. Each of us has been at or in each other’s weddings and we have thrown countless showers in support of each other over the years even though I am in Florida, four are in North Georgia, one is in California, and one is in England. My seminary sister Brittany is the last of us to get married, and so the rest of us wanted to throw her a Bridal shower. We decided on having it in Alpharetta right outside of Atlanta and so began the quest of getting there at 8 months pregnant. I immediately vetoed driving myself 16 hours this close to my due date and flying didn’t seem like a possibility either, so I bought a roundtrip bus ticket on the Greyhound.

Yes, you read that right. I headed out Friday morning and came back at 1:30am on Sunday morning. People thought I was CRAZY! Maybe you do too while reading this but let me tell you all of the ways Jesus showed up on the Greyhound bus this past weekend.

First, this idiot pastor of yours thought there was such a thing as “long-term” parking at the Orlando Greyhound station. (I clearly didn’t do my research). When I arrived Friday morning and realized that there were only Tow-Away zones on the property, I immediately began to pray for a solution. I found a woman in an official uniform and explained the situation. I told her that this was my first time at Greyhound (obviously) and did she know of another property within walking distance that I could park at? I explained that my husband is a pastor and we had two small kids and so coming to pick me up in the middle of the night early on a Sunday morning wasn’t ideal. She stopped what she was doing, asked me where my car was parked and wrote down my plate details. Then she told the Security Guard, while pointing at my car, “You see that black car with the Florida plates and the missing hubcap, don’t tow it. This pregnant woman will be back for it early Sunday morning!”

I was in awe of this and asked her how she was able to pull such strings and she said, “Sweetie, I’m the manager here!”

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

When it was time to board, I vigilantly watched my blue suitcase to make sure it got loaded onto the bottom of the bus, which it almost didn’t, but at the last minute a handler retrieved and threw it on right before we backed away from the station.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

I managed to secure a seat all by myself and keep a seat to myself which gave me much more room than I would have gotten even on an airplane. And every time we made a stop and more people got on, I silently prayed, “don’t pick the seat next to me, please” and for 8 hours there and back, I kept a seat to myself.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

When I returned to Orlando early on Sunday morning, low and behold, my car was still there, but right beside it was a giant branch that had fallen and broken apart and had I parked one spot over, would have cracked my windshield.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

I share this story with you because I saw God show up a whole lot more this past weekend because I was in an uncomfortable situation. While I will choose faster travel means in the future, I marveled at the opportunity it presented me to see a different part of God’s people. Don’t get me wrong, I have traveled extensively across Europe and have always been open to new adventures. I usually travel with others though and never at 8 months pregnant. What God reminded me so clearly this weekend is just how much God loves His people. Not just the people I interact with at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park or my children’s school or in the Central Florida region. God loves the Haitian man that sat behind me and the man with face tattoos and the woman with a broken cell phone and the family who had to carry their belongings in a plastic bag. God loves me as much as God loves them. They may never have other means or resources to be able to travel as I do, but they are no less light bearers in this world. The woman from New York who was trying to get to Brunswick who had been on a bus for 30 hours offered me part of her meal because she could see I am pregnant. You see, God’s light and grace is all around us if we have the courage to look into its eyes and see the face of Christ.

What I am beginning to see more and more, is that the rest of the world does not live like you and me. Most of us are living in a privileged state and comfortable with our resources and means. This is not a state of judgment, only observation. And I would say that when we live with means, we need experiences like I had this weekend to be reminded about the vastness and wide diversity of God’s love. I think there is also something to be said about when we are uncomfortable or in less than comfy situations, it CAN open us up to seeing God at work in ways we never expected.

And so my prayer for you and my challenge for those in this faith community is to never turn down the opportunity to be in less than ideal situations because, in my experience, that is when God shows up in mighty ways. If you don’t believe me, look at a majority of the stories of transformation in Scripture and you will see a God that came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I believe Jesus came to shake things up in our lives with people not like us to show us just how high, how deep and how great is His love for us…for all of us.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

Wednesday Devotion: Smelling like the Sheep

In reading and researching for this devotion today, I came across this quote from St. Francis Assisi. Throughout the history of the movement of the Church, there are examples of people who show extreme kindness and compassion for those in their spheres of influence. One such person that lived this out is St. Francis Assisi (1194-1253). People like Assisi practiced the great compassion of Jesus in the communities they found themselves. They led, not from above, and not even from below, but mostly from within, by walking with their brothers and sisters, or “smelling like the sheep.” I love this way of articulating the version of Kindness and Compassion that we are called to live out. What does that phrase mean to you and how does it tie to what we heard about kindness throughout this week?

Over and over again, people were compared to sheep in the Bible and God or Jesus was referred to as the Great Shepherd. While it isn’t always a flattering comparison of us (sheep being stupid and all), the point is clear, we can only “smell like the sheep” when we get to the place by being WITH the people. We are doing life with them enough so much so that we start to smell like them. Jesus called us to do life with others in less than comfortable or glamorous places and to reach people where there is need, not where our preferences are met. This takes on many forms. Some are intense and extreme and only happen a few times in our lives, like the story that Pastor David shared about Julio Diaz, the social worker from the Bronx who showed kindness to the young man who tried to rob him at knifepoint. But then there are other less extreme examples of “smelling like the sheep” when we stop in the busyness of our day to jump someone’s car battery, or use our umbrella to walk a mom with two kids on her hip to her car in the pouring rain or pay for the person’ coffee behind us in the Starbucks line. The more we live with people, especially people in need, the more we start to “smell” like them.

As I was driving home last night, I heard this powerful story on NPR about how young Polish adults are responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and how their kindness and compassion has left them changed, or “smelling like the sheep.” Since the war in Ukraine began, almost 3 million Ukrainian refugees have come to Poland for safety. Polish people have given their time, talent and even space in their homes to help fellow brothers and sisters. One of the reporters interviewed three Polish young adults living in Warsaw and asked them how their work with Ukrainian refugees was changing them and those in their generation. One of the Polish young adults shared how on the day the war started, she couldn’t stop crying, so instead of wallowing or simply hoping things would improve, she and her roommates decided to do something about it. They opened their apartment to not one, but 8 Ukrainian refugees and are currently sharing a small space with lots of people for almost 3 months now. Her deep sadness over the war and her interactions with the refugees made her reevaluate everything she did in her life. What a powerful statement that gets to the heart of the Kingdom. The more we are with the people and smell like the sheep, we begin to reevaluate our life, our priorities, our prejudices, our wants and needs and then slowly, little by little Kingdom seeds are planted and cultivated.

What I found most interesting about the interview is that this wasn’t always the case. When the Syrian refugee crisis broke out 5 years ago, there wasn’t nearly the same response. Poland’s borders were closed and they were not welcoming to refugees. And I believe a lot of lessons were learned through that. No country is perfect, no group of people has it all figured out, but in this story, I see how grace gives second chances and we will never run out of opportunities to be kind and compassionate. If we ignore or shrug off one, more will come our way because that is the way God’s refining fire works. We could speed past an opportunity to be kind at the beginning of the day, but then see it with fresh eyes at the end of the day. We will never run out of opportunities to share God’s love and grace with others. And if we are willing to be people that serve and love and have compassion on the people we are doing life with, we will end up smelling like the sheep and never be the same again.

That is my prayer for me, for you and for all followers of Jesus. May God add God’s blessing to the reading and digesting of this thought.


Wednesday Devotion: Too Much Energy

Last night Ryan, the kids and I were settling down to eat our dinner of a Taco feast and I asked who wanted to pray. Emmaline was the first to volunteer and as always, she gives the most beautiful prayers with deep love and adoration for God and thankfulness for her food and everyone, I mean everyone listed out in her family. Then Charlie offered up his prayer: “Peanut Butter, Jelly Sandwich.

When it’s time to pray, we bow our heads and say, Thank you God for EVRYTHING this Happy, Happy Day! AMEN
“Beautiful Prayer Charlie,” I respond and then I add, “Would you like to say a prayer all of your own?” (Trying to teach our kids to speak from the heart)

To which he responded, with a long, exasperated sigh, “Ahhhh, no thanks, that just takes too much energy!”

Well, okay, not what we were planning to hear, but point taken kid, point taken.

Ryan and I looked at each other and laughed but in that moment, I was reminded of the importance of authenticity and rest. You see, in his 4-year old heart, his Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich prayer was plenty good for Jesus and he just wanted to get on with eating his taco…thank you very much. But I was the one pushing for the performance of faith; he was the one actually living it out. I was the one trying to teach deep theology and perfected prayer language to my 4-year old and he was just being himself before his Creator.

His honest and truthful response reminded me of our need to just be ourselves before the one that loves us more than we could ever know. Charlie’s exasperated sigh also taught me that the practice of faith shouldn’t be exhausting but it should be exhilarating. Charlie’s facial expression reminded me that sometimes the world expects too much of us and God is inviting us instead just to rest in God’s presence.

As I thought on this experience more today and then wove it through my experience of the lesson of Forgiveness on Sunday, I wonder how many of my brothers and sisters struggle to forgive others because they have not forgiven themselves. I grew up in a very healthy church without a lot of toxicity and drama. As a young Christian, I was encouraged to ask questions, be my true self and that grace is offered even in my failures. But how many of us have grown up in a church, or family or denomination that sought to “prove one’s holiness?” How many of those people that we love are carrying spiritual trauma done to them by a faith leader or spiritual leader or one’s own interpretation of the Scriptures? I don’t know all of your stories, but my heart breaks for those that have so much shame piled on them because they felt like being a Christian was more about the perfect performance rather than a friendship with the perfect Savior.

My prayer for you is to embrace your imperfections and questions and doubts and incomplete prayers and inability to forgive yourself, and let Jesus turn it into something beautiful. To let beautiful things come from ashes. I hope you never hear me say that your Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich prayer isn’t “good enough” and I hope you never fall into the trap of thinking that worshipping and following Jesus “takes too much energy.” Truthfully, when done the right way, following Jesus and being who you truly are leads to abundant life; a life that is free and unshackled and isn’t out to prove anything. Maybe we struggle with forgiveness because we have forgotten that. Maybe you are too far removed from our honest, child-like selves that call things out for what they really are. Know that you can always come to Jesus as you are, bringing what is your best and letting God fill in the gaps. And so I encourage you this week to be honest about what is life-giving in your spiritual practices and what wears you out. Pursue that which brings you abundance of life because at the end of the day, it isn’t about our perfection, but about our God’s perfect love.