Taking our ministry to the streets

I don’t remember mission trips in my early childhood church life. Though at one point in time, I wanted to join the Peace Corp and so did my daughter…not really sure where that came from but many of us thought that was the road to take….especially if we were going to run away from home.

However, I do remember my own children helping and giving to charities through church and school here in Downers Grove but never in the same capacity as a mission trip out of the state or country.

Mission trips help to promote generations of strong disciples connected to churches while leading with God. I wish that I would have started a tradition in my own family. Though it is never too late; parents or even grandparents can can set an example and travel with their children growing closer together in God’s love.

First Congregational United Church of Christ of Downers Grove traveled over 1,000 miles to Houston Texas last month to help people in need and returned with a message never to ignore any of God’s people. We have the power to build A Beautiful City, a song by Hunter Parrish, presented by Dena Provenzano, Director of Youth Ministries at the Sunday service describing the trip.  Other mission workers were eager to share a summary of their participation in Texas.

Many of the youth that have attended mission trips in the past found this trip to be the most impactful; finding that just simple loving conversations with the underprivileged was how they could help the most.

Madison talked about one homeless lady who wanted a certain bag of chips and Gatorade so they went to buy her the food. Madison said that when they came back to give the lady the food, she could not believe that they did come back probably one of Madison’s most memorable experiences.

Luke enjoyed working at the food bank and was amazed at the number of meals they made which totaled about 5,000.

Faith sat next to a woman at Crosswords and despite all the women’s problems she asked Faith questions about her life, what she did and really listened to Faith’s answers.

Erin talks about Crosswords also for the homeless and she talks about one guy who was having a bad day. She was able to calm him down and it truly opened her eyes to what others go through. Erin is so fortunate for what she has and will never forget that experience.

Joe said just giving homeless people food was one of the most positive events in his life.

George talks about how anyone can be homeless at one time or another such as a linebacker he met who had played in the Rose Bowl. Vinny talks about how grateful  people were at the time for the little help that they could give. No matter what happens in life  …Madison says…… God will be there, no matter what.

Mady talks about bringing sack lunches to Rainbow house and it really opened her eyes on how she had food when so many children did not.

Pastor Scott Oberle, who also attended the trip, was amazed at the fantastic group of young adults that were like shining stars in the darkness and was proud that he could serve with this group.

After sharing this story with a friend who lives in the northern suburbs today, a guest speaker at her church; a young teen just returned from a mission trip in Houston, Texas. Imagine….he said the he never felt more embraced by the love of Christ and how Christ changes lives.

For more information about the music, arts, teaching, worship and mission programs you may want to experience, please click on First Congregational United Church of Christ in Downers Grove.

Reflections song

POETRY BY CARYL CLEM:

Just a note unlocks a memory

A mix of love and mystery

Holding on, then letting go

Loves continual ebb and flow

In just a note, magic returns

Remembering passions burn

Time heals, the music plays on

Finding desire embraced in a song.

Summers in Saugatuck

We climbed out of the Vista cruiser after pulling up along side the small white cottage. The trees towered above us as we began to grab our suitcases and, of course, my pillow. I could hear the waves of Lake Michigan located across the road which was called Lake Shore Drive in Saugatuck Michigan.

The rental was tiny inside; only two bedrooms for the adults which was Mom and her friend. Me and Rita’s two daughters …my same age… slept on cots and sleeping bags in the expansive living room. Our Dads would come up from Chicago in a few days for the weekend and then travel back with us to Chicago.

We read, we swam, we cooked hot dogs on the beach and visited quaint shops in downtown Saugatuck.  The entire week, I had a stomach ache and constantly complained. They took my temperature. They gave me medicine. And still my stomach ached and ached. And sometimes my head too. But when my father arrived, it was amazing how the pain began to subside as we played miniature golf and took a trip on the ferry. Unfortunately,when we all left together…I never felt better. I was only eight and the first time I had ever been separated from my Dad.

I returned to Saugatuck many times in the, 1970’s, 1980s and 1990s with friends and family. And did find the cottage that had been renovated in a more upscale environment and could not believe the disappearing beach caused by erosion. Those vacations usually included a stay at the Blue Star which has been revamped over the years or Lake Shore Resort though today, Saugatuck is filled with excellent bed and breakfast mansions.

I remembered shopping downtown; a much more powerful experience when I was an adult. My mother returned on a trip with me in the 1990’s and said that the artistic shops and culture had truly expanded. This included a variety of antiques,collectibles, and art galleries which were just beginning in the late 1960s.

Now, Saugatuck is named one of the best art towns by Expedia, which included the plein air painters of the early 1900s, the Art Institute of Chicago’s OxBow students, and the artists who continue to live their today. Through its affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ox-Bow still offers one and two-week courses for credit and non-credit students.

There were also more places to eat and drink but the Butler, once an historic Inn, offers spectacular waterfront dining. Today, live entertainment can be enjoyed every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day

Saugatuck is one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World,” and also a great place for hiking and fishing.

I remember sitting on the dunes trying to enjoy the sunset and the amazing beauty that surrounded me. I didn’t think I missed my father; I had no idea why my stomach hurt.

But now, I can go back; still mesmerized by sun, sand, and water without stomach pains. and with an amazing understanding of the love a daughter has for her father.

 

 

What are your children doing this summer?

As a child, with the exception of weekend trips, summer vacation was not always fun for me. Reading alone was difficult and I did receive help when in school but I envied those that enjoyed sitting down on a rainy afternoon with Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. I also missed my best friend who went to summer day camp. It wasn’t fair and to this day, I am not sure why I couldn’t go with her. Sadly, I would wait on the sidewalk for the bus to drop her off. Some days were long….very long for me, my dolls and my swing set.

When my own children were growing up, many summers I worked, but I always tried to make every vacation or field trip a true learning opportunity. We always visited museums and trips would focus on their interests. For example, my son loved trains so there was always visits, to unique train shops, museums, and of course, rides on the Chicago Metra. My daughter loved photography and she spent a few days with a photographer to learn more about the working world of that profession; exposing her to possible career choices in the future.

Dr. Pam Roggeman is a proven academic leader familiar with and passionate about technology in progressive education and has extensive experience designing curriculum; preparing teachers in a university setting. She currently serves as the Academic Dean for the College of Education at University of Phoenix. Below, she provides wonderful suggestions for a summer filled with fun, learning, self-improvement skills and essential family time.

Create a “matching agreement.” For every hour spent in front of a screen entertaining themselves, have your child match that time in with a learning activity. Most book stores or a quick online search will have workbooks for math, reading and writing to practice skills. Have your kids do work like this to “earn and accumulate” time they can bank for screen time.

Set “learning self-improvement goals” such as a number of books read, minutes of math tutorials a day, or pages written and then agree on a fun reward for goals attained. Make it more meaningful to your kids by allowing them to decide what they’d like to learn and study. Make it even more meaningful by creating rewards for attaining the goals. These rewards don’t have to cost you anything – maybe they can earn sleepovers with friends, breakfast in bed or “owning” the TV remote for a night.

Summer reading can be essential for students to maintain and continue building their reading skills. This summer, help your children find books that will make the child think on a much larger level. Together, explore your child’s interests and find books that feed those interests.

Encourage your children to keep a journal to regularly document their activities throughout the summer. This is key because kids will start to see their accomplishments on paper. This can be a conversation starter at the dinner table, “what did you do today that will make it into your journal?” When they go back to school and the teacher asks, “What did you do all summer?” they will have the best answer in class!

Look for educational camps and structured social activitiesthat parents can in participate with their children. Make every vacation an opportunity to have the whole family grow and learn together. Maybe visit a different museum in a town nearby that would make a great day trip, or when you take that drive to the local national or state park, take the time to read the information about its origin and why it was established. Be the parent who researches and does the leg work to find the fun, educational activities at your local community center and invite your child’s best friend to attend.

Use the summer to do the kind of learning you don’t have time to do during the school year.

July Fireworks

By CARYL CLEM:

Freedom flashes in blazing red, white, blue fireworks

Celebrating love of family and country

Just as important today as yesterday

Honoring our forefather’s efforts

Produces reverence, acceptance of citizen diversity.

 

All shades of spectators sharing this night in unity

Bound by the values of equality and opportunity.

 

The United States of America, a democratic endeavor

A promise of freedom to endure forever.

 

Star Spangled Banner, waving over the brave and the free

Fanning the desire to maintain our hard won liberty

Gives proof this July 4th night

How future hopes, are unleashed by a fireworks light.

 

Capture

By CARYL CLEM

Never too late to capture a dream

Rekindle hopes, aspirations redeem

No limits, ahead an endless stream

Emotions on fire, bright as a diamond’s gleam.

A day lost in time with no tomorrow

Love, generosity, absolutely no sorrow

Nothing regretted, nothing reserved

Momentum builds as does nerve

Finally free from the past

Roles, rewards newly cast

Soul’s freedom of expression

Uncovers thirst for exploration

Just ahead out of view

An adventure is waiting for you

Holding on is letting go

Faith tempering ego

Jump forward, risk it all

Possession is perception’s recall.

 

Through the decades: Lake Lawn Lodge/Lake Geneva

My father loved to drive. He had a massive 1959 Oldsmobile Super Olds when I was four and then bought a 1966 Vista Cruiser. From the south side of Chicago, it was perfect for our summer trips to Wisconsin. The first time I met Bucky was at Lake Lawn Lodge, a wooded resort that was closed and re-opened in 2011 after 4 million dollars in renovations.

Over 130 years old, the lodge was built on Lake “Waubashawbess” or “Swan Lake”  which was the original name for Delavan Lake, given by the ancient Native Americans who called it home. Bucky, the friendly Native American, was on every wall, in every passage way, escorting us to the indoor pools, the gift shop and of course, restaurant and lodge. Over the years, Native American artifacts have been found on the property. This is the first place that I learned how to play patio shuffleboard on a deck overlooking the lake.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s. Lake Lawn was a popular retreat were you could stay at the Main hotel or one of the lodges that had its own indoor pool. Timber and Boulder was established in the early 1960’s and in the 1970’s; Shorewood, Norwood, and Woodlawn. The main hotel, however, was demolished in 1984.  Now, a new lobby and reservation area beautifully awaits guests.

And during the late 1970’s and 1980’s, since I could now legally drink, though the drinking age was only 18 in Wisconsin compared to 21 in Illinois, I spent more time in nearby Lake Geneva. Some preferred to stay at the Abbey; others… members of the Playboy club in Geneva which opened in 1968. We stayed for a pool and drinks in the late 1980’s at the resort…no longer the Playboy, but was the Americana. Now, the resort is the Grand Geneva.

However, it was the Sugar Shack that brought out the worst; still a world-class Gentleman’s club. Though, it was great for a bachelorette or bachelor party, and when I was there, the men kept their underwear on…thank God.  The Sugar Shack is one of the only clubs in the world to offer a completely nude male venue today.

Today, I would rather go back to the Treasure Cove which originally opened in 1985; now a true historical landmark. You can’t miss it on Broad Street with the giant mermaid out in front. The store was a great place for souvenirs that included fudge, mugs, t-shirts, jewelry and just a wonderful variety. Today, Turkish lamps can be purchased for a reasonable price, planters and Kisii Soapstone by Kenyan women who you are helping with employment opportunity.

Worthpoint offers a great collection of items you can purchase of vintage Lake Lawn Lodge

You are loved

Christy Utterback, 47, is a retired social worker from Clarkville, Arkansas and currently holds the county title of Mrs Peach; smiling with her grandfather who began his life in Kankakee, Il. The family moved in the late 1960’s to California.

Christy was born and raised in southern California experiencing divorce at the age of four. Her biological father was abusive even after the divorce. Her Mom re-married who is married to the same man today. In high school, Christy continued to face many obstacles with men and she was raped.  Throughout the tragedies, her self- esteem would terribly suffer but her belief in God; always a part of her heart. Christy would see a light and hear a voice saying “you are”, encouraging strength in life’s journey rather than weakness.

In college, Christy volunteered for the Special Olympics Ski Team on campus and learned sign language. That same voice and light in her dreams gave her confidence to help others and get a degree in social work. But Christy was also building walls against harms way, gaining weight rapidly to protect herself from hurt. However, she met a man in college and he proposed on Christmas Eve; they married in 1994. Her husband joined the Air force and they tried to become parents. Christy kept having one miscarriage after another because of her weight and too much testosterone.

While living in Montana due to Airforce orders, Christy started to become extremely ill with liver and kidney failure. Without a gastric bypass to lose weight, she would die. The doctor said those words to her on a Thursday; the surgery scheduled that Monday. Immediately following the surgery, Christy had five procedures and was able to lose 100 pounds. Her love for herself began to grow. But her husband became angry, frustrated and stated drinking heavily.

She gets a phone call. Her grandparents need her in California to help take care of Grandma, compression fractures all over her spine, Grandpa can’t lift her. Christy drives all day/night on 9-10-01. On 9-11-01., Grandfather wakes her up, “get up get up, call your husband, we are under attack”  She calls home, no answer, we watch the USA crumble… all day, no answer. Finally, a call. Can’t come home, base on lock down, unknown when she can return.

Christy stayed a month with her grandparents while Grandma recovered. In 2003, her grandparents moved to be with her parents in Arkansas. In February of 2004, Christy arrives in Arkansas, beaten horribly by her husband. Intensely distraught, her family came together to help. She explained little, but enough to let them know; this was it.  She filed for divorce and was also pregnant. By the grace of God, there was a heartbeat. Ultrasound after ultrasound revealed, a baby……a boy.

It was shortly after that Christy met her husband, Bob Utterback. The first time they talked she asked him if he was into big girls. He said, Oh I don’t know, I am just looking for a friend. Me too, Christy said. Bob had been married before and had four children. On August 23,2004, with Bob by her side, now her glorious husband, Seth Riley was born via C-Section.

Food was still Christy’s only comfort, her armour, her wall,and she began gaining her weight back; suffering from kidney failure again.  However, those in her life, including her doctor and her husband, refused to give up on Christy. At one point, she was 400 pounds.

Since 2016, she is has been down 200 pounds while continuing to work out at the gym and bicycle. Now a mom of 6, the pageant world was a dare. Her niece, who is big herself, was an inspiration. She was confident, beautiful and she dared her to enter. Christy entered one pageant on a dare and won. Since, she has entered many; winning many crowns.

Currently as Ms Peach, she represents the county at many events including business openings, parties, ribbon- cutting ceremonies and other planned social occasions. Consequently, Christy loves to help others while thanking the community for their support.

But most of all, her reason for sharing this story is so that many women who struggle with weight loss, abuse, and lack of self-esteem realize that they are not alone. Her prayer right now is that you see yourself differently. Begin your own journey of accepting that you are…that you are truly loved and see what comes forth. It may surprise you, it may hurt at first, but you can overcome and see nothing but the best.

Blessings & Love always,  Christy

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Where are the lightning bugs?

As I sit on the back yard deck during a warm evening, the true meaning of summer in June are the gently moving lights in mid-air.  I have not seen them yet. I really need to pay determined attention to the surrounding foliage and the stream that runs behind the property among the trees.

As a child, I did not have to wait for them to show up…they were everywhere. I was not mesmerized by their light show but more excited about collecting them as pets. Quietly, I would move to the light that seemed to be blinking on a leaf, off, as soon as I get close, on, and as they began to fly. I would cup one with both hands.

They don’t bite, they have no pincers, they don’t attack, they don’t carry disease, they are not poisonous, they don’t even fly very fast. That is why you can catch them in your hands and carefully place them in a glass jar with grass and maybe food. After collecting a whole bunch, you screw on the metal lid and keep them safe until morning. Mine usually didn’t last that long.

According to research and fireflies.org, fireflies are disappearing from marshes, fields and forests all over the country—and all over the world. Nobody knows for sure. But most researchers blame two main factors: development and light pollution. Fields and forests paved over have caused the number of fireflies to dwindle. Humans’ way of life have caused the firefly to vanish in many areas. For example,today in our backyards, there is too much light with all the solar lamps added to yards and pathways.

However, there are great tips today on how to still catch fireflies and keep them alive overnight:

  • Make sure you turn off any lights outside.
  • You should work with a friend and catch them with a net since this causes less damage to their wings.
  • Carefully take them from a net into a well-ventilated jar with long grass.
  • Add a wet paper towel to the jar. The fireflies should not dry out and will have more air.
  • They should last overnight but always release them after just one night.

If you really want to see synchronous fireflies today, thousands are seen during May and early June for about two weeks. This happens at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee which is actually a firefly mating ritual.

What dates you’ll begin to see fireflies in your back yard is somewhat of a mystery and changes from year to year. Generally, there are no fireflies west of Kansas. And I am not sure there are any here in Illinois either.

We have plants, water, flowers, tall grass and many shrubs..perfect for them to thrive. It is a warm and humid night. I sit and wait. I intensely scan…. my focus from left, to right and back again. Did I miss one.????? What kind of  fertilizers/pesticides are we using that may have a negative affect on fireflies?

Wow….look at the weeds, I just pulled them a few days ago. Boy, we are certainly not deficient in weed growing.

Where are my lightning bugs?

Thoughts on Father’s Day

When I looked up the definition of father, I was amazed at how many categorized fathers we have today. From the weekend/holiday father, surprised father, stepfather, second father to just mothers partner or husband; all of which define “the Dad”.  And, believe it or not, there is the DI Dad who is the social/legal father of children produced via donor insemination.

Father is also considered a founder of a body of knowledge or institution like George Washington; the Father of Our Country. And now I can understand why fathers are seen as authority figures and are suppose to possess experience and knowledge in life to pass onto others. That is what being a father is about; the active father who speaks of wisdom and guidance.

My father passed away when I was twelve and Fathers Day was not a Hallmark occasion that was at the top of my list. My mother never re-married and someone said that a father is a girl’s first love.

With time, I realized my father, John, was gone and could not be replaced though I would always be grateful for the strong memories of his love for me. Some didn’t have any example in their lives. And as the years passed, I figured out that I could have as many fathers as I wanted; a trusted male friend who nurtures and helps you live a more fulfilling life.

They can be a neighbor that offers support when you struggle, comfort when you are down and their snow blower when there is a foot of snow in your driveway. They can be a manager who reminds you that you are truly worth it regardless of your awkward stumbles at work. They can be a co-worker that offers you a smile, something to laugh at, thumbs up and a cup of coffee when you are having a bad day.

They can be a brother who offers unconditional love and commitment regardless of how you frustrate him. They can be any relative who is protective, concerned and sees your success rather than incompetence. They can be your best friend’s father who spent hours tutoring you in math and building your self-esteem in a subject you never thought possible.

They can be the salesman or contractor that is really looking out for your safety and best interests. They can be your postman who always makes sure your mail is delivered on time and doesn’t rush off without saying hello. They can be teachers and role models to all children of any age and family.

Most of all, they can be the one above…you may not be able to see, but truly loves you.