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.

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.

 

Summers at Lake Michigan

For me, it all began at Rainbow beach which also had an expansive park for picnics. I remember the water purification plant which is now called Eugene Sawyer Purification Plant. My memories of Rainbow had a lot to due with dead fish on the beach and closings due to poor water quality during the 1960’s so since the Southside of Chicago wasn’t that far from Indiana and someone had a car, we would head to Indiana Dunes.

The Dunes was less than an hour from Chicago so a day trip was perfect. Located in Porter County, the beach offered about 15 miles of sandy shoreline with great hiking trails and camp grounds. Though some people became afraid to go to the Dunes in July of 1966 since three young women in bathing suits left the beach, climbed in a small motorboat and were never seen again. Others found the Dunes extremely crowded and in the 1970’s so many of us gravitated to Warren Dunes in Michigan instead.

Warren Dunes has three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and is open year-round. It also has a dune formation that rises 260 feet above the lake with spectacular views and 1,952 acres of recreational opportunity. Located in Sawyer Michigan, the dunes was approximately an hour and 30 minutes from the city by car and you could take a train from Union Station. The beach was never crowded and always clean. Among the park’s dunes are Mt. Fuller, Pikes Peak, and Mt. Edwards, with the most significant being Tower Hill, the highest point in the park, which stands 240 feet (73 meters) above the Lake Michigan. And downtown Sawyer offered bookstores and antique shops.

Throughout the 1980’s, I lived in the Waukegan area teaching high school and sometimes spending my summers working other jobs or going to school. But did I spend alot of time at Waukegan Harbor and Illinois Beach State Park. In fact, I could hear foghorns from my kitchen window…only a few miles from Waukegan Harbor and the Marina.

The first times I sailed, I did with friends from the Waukegan Harbor and when we didn’t sail, many would fish and take a walk out to the lighthouse. One of the best seafood restaurants was located their called Mathons, which had portholes for windows and a friendly bar. On the fourth of July in 1987, we went down to the Harbor for fireworks and I was pregnant with my son. He had been fairly quiet up until that night when he kicked up a storm at listening to the sounds. He was born only a few weeks later.

The first time I said the words Illinois State Beach Park or was it Illinois Beach State Park when I was in third grade on a stage; terrified to speak. I was so worried that my informational one minute speech, completely memorized, would be botched. It was not by choice. It was a place in Illinois given to me by my teacher to research. All third graders was assigned this project.

That is the first thing that I remembered as a guest at the beach and park. Oh, my, it really does exist! Illinois Beach State Park  stretched 6.5 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan in Zion. The 4,160-acre park, consisted of two separate areas (North Unit and South Unit), which offered ample opportunities for swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping and simply appreciating nature.

In the 1990s, 2000’s and now, I live in Downers Grove with a pool and a pond in the back yard though I don’t think the pond would be good for you! (Caddyshack movie joke for some who remember. In the movie, the pond was better for you.

However, today, my adult children and I travel back and forth, up and down. We have taken a walk at Rainbow beach, had ice cream at the Waukegan Harbor, took pictures of what used to be the beer store at Illinois Beach State Park, explored the Dunes and added Michigan City to our travels.

All through one’s lifetime, great vacations still spent on the shore’s of Lake Michigan!

 

Ice cream man is coming

One called him the guy ceem man and another that I babysat for called him the good hemor( Humor) man depending on who came to visit our South side Chicago neighborhood in the 1960s. Some were on bicycles with big freezers in the front. Others were in trucks. But it was the most exciting moment of our lives when the ice cream man was coming. I liked Good Humor the best; always buying a chocolate eclair. The truck menu was complicated with many, many choices so I just stayed with the same. There was such a crowd of children….I didn’t have that much time to patiently browse the menu.

You had better be playing outside to hear their bells ringing. Back in our day, most were rain and shine. And if you were really good, you could gauge how far they were from your block so you could run inside to get money from Mom or Grandma. If Mom wasn’t home, I never remember a time missing out. Some neighborhood friend made sure everyone got ice cream as if the truck would never come back again.

And if you were truly an expert at ice cream buying, you knew the difference in bells between sellers. Popsicles were the popular choice to buy from those on bicycles and between 25 and 50 cents. Good humor ice cream bars ran between 70 cents and a dollar; my mother thought somewhat pricey at the time.

In the 1980s and 1990s speakers were more advanced so that you may here them from inside. However, all Good Humor trucks were sold in 1976 but the product can still be purchased today in grocery stores. Ice cream bikes are still around generally found on the beach or carnival.

Melody Ice Cream Company has been serving ice cream to the Chicago land area since 1979. They talk about how their Chicago Ice Cream Trucks keep the spirit of the original Good Humor man alive for children to enjoy. You can actually book an ice cream truck for a special event. They have expanded their ice cream truck inventory and our offering a soft serve ice cream truck. Their trucks are thoroughly inspected every season for any health concerns.

I am going to sit outside more often this summer and listen. I bet more adults run to the ice cream truck than children. Maybe there is an app to find out if the ice cream man is coming! Yeah, I know…. that spoils everything!

 

 

Wisconsin Dells Sunday dinner

 

“Put on you gloves,” Mom said. And she wasn’t referring to my woolly mittens during winter’s blast. They were dainty white gloves that ended at the wrist, tapered fingers, usually with a pearl closure. It was summer at our favorite vacation spot, the Wisconsin Dells, and we were going to a grand place for Sunday dinner.

Living on the south side of Chicago, we could drive in our Vista Cruiser since airline tickets were expensive in the 1960’s. Though we switched up motels several times on various trips, we never stopped visiting the Tommy Barlett Water Show and we never stopped dressing in our best for dinner. White gloves, a small grown up white clutch purse and, of course, a neatly styled dress; nothing less was expected for the occasion.

Just minutes from Wisconsin Dells located in Mirror Lake State park, you wind through the beautiful woods to the Hoffman Brothers restaurant built in 1953, situated right on the shore of Mirror Lake, Ishnala. My father loved the restaurant built into nature where giant Norway pines grow through the roof. Though only a child under 12, our first stop at the restaurant with my parents was the Arrowhead Bar built in the shape of an arrowhead with a breathtaking view of the bluffs.  Here is where we waited for our seat in the dining room and I could actually sit at the bar in those days. Served like an adult, I graciously sipped the famous kiddy cocktail with maraschino cherries, loaded with sugar, before being seated for dinner.

The house specialty was prime rib but I always got to choose a steak, medium rare, regardless of the cost. The rustic but elegant surroundings in red offered that reverent experience of unbroken time with my parents so long ago. Both now both have passed; not able to tell their daughter how proud they are of her well-practiced manners, always reminding her how she will grow into a lovely woman someday.

But to carry on tradition, I took my own children to this supper club that boosted over 50 years of popularity.  My son and daughter, pre-teen in age at the time, fought as usual, not quite as enamored as I was and were more content with a grilled cheese sandwich and fries then prime rib. Their unpracticed manners or should I say complete rudeness did not go unnoticed. And no, white gloves, were not a part of their Sunday apparel. The thought of professional class and style, ties, sports jackets and a dress could only be described in my warped imagination. Needless to say, I was disappointed at the outcome of our visit.

However, years later we found a picture together of what I thought, a failed excursion that I had quickly snapped for posterity, gobbling their Ishnala food. It was remembered fondly that this was the restaurant where their grandparents, had rekindled their love for family. Imagine that, they had paid attention to the intent after all; an unexpected response to the trip that I thought a waste of time and money.

As a result, they are trying to save their pennies for their own Sunday dinner that offers timeless beauty and what will hopefully be for them,  another excursion of cherished family memories.

Look to see if that favorite restaurant, park, even movie house is still thriving and insist on taking them for a visit. Though popcorn may be the only immediate source of your children or even grandchildren’s concern, they may surprise you in the long run.