Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Merry Joseph Christmas to All!

Sunday I preached the hardest sermon I've ever been given. One of our dear congregation members, Kathy LaRoe, passed away on Wednesday after a strong fight against cancer, and I gave thanks for her gifts during the sermon illustration. I also ended up sharing a portion of my journey of loss after my hand injury, which kept me from finishing my masters in flute performance and playing in orchestras. As you enter this emotion filled season of our lives, may this sermon bring you the hope and healing that it brought us this week. We started with Matthew 1: 18-25, the Birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
This week I saw a commercial or story rather, about an airline playing Santa for the guests of one of their flights. At the gate they had a virtual Santa on a big screen television, and you could come forward, scan your boarding pass and then tell Santa what you wanted for Christmas. Some people were practical, asking for things like t-shirts and underwear, but some of the children were asking for what they really wanted like an android tablet or a cell phone. One set of parents looked at each other after their son asked for a tablet and said, we'd love a big screen television. Now, they thought this was all just a joke or for fun, so they let their dreams be big. Little did they know that someone on the other end of their flight was taking notes so that they could go hunt down all of these items and wrap them up before their plane landed. As these folks were waiting for their bags at the terminal, the first things to come out were big packages with their names on them. The guy who asked for underwear got Underarmour, the best under garments available, and the people who asked for tablets and cell phones actually got them, and the couple that asked for the television got this massive box with a tv inside. I didn't know which impressed me more, that the airline would actually follow through and do this or watching that family actually see a dream come true. Made me wonder, what would I ask a virtual Santa for if I could have anything I wanted. When we are little, we have big dreams and we go for them not worrying about whether they'll work out, but sometimes as we get older, our dreams for our lives get more practical. We learn what is possible and what is impossible.

In Matthew's version of the nativity, we see a practical carpenter, who has a practical solution to an all too common problem, his wife to be had been found pregnant and since he knew he wasn't the father, rather than raise another man's child as his first born son, to inherit everything, He resolved to release her discretely from their marriage commitments.

But then he had a dream where he was visited by a messenger of God. Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife! she hasn't been unfaithful! it's actually quite the opposite! she has been faithful to God and been blessed with a child by the Holy Spirit. This child will be God which you, Emmannuel, the messiah! the one you've been waiting for. 
Well, if his life wasn't complicated before, now it was about to get more complicated. Would he loose business from the rumors that were sure to circulate about them?
Are we really the ones for the job, for raising a savior?
Joseph's dream was not just a vision for his life, but it was a vision for Mary's life too! Carrying and raising this child would not be easy! And it would be even harder on her own. So he married her and chose to follow this new dream for their lives and for the people of Israel. They would protect and raise the child and wait eagerly to see how he would save their people.

I'm amazed at how easily it seems that Joseph followed his dream and obeyed God with such a radical idea. Who would have thought that a crazy dream like this would come true! Maybe it's because back then they trusted their dreams. The Joseph of the Old Testament trusted his dreams, even though they were crazy and got him in a lot of trouble. I wonder, if Joseph hadn't told his brothers that one day they would bow down to him, would they have ever thrown him in a pit and sold him to the traders which eventually got him on the journey to becoming a steward in Egypt which saved the country from starving during the coming years of drought, making him able to feed his family and father when in fact the brothers did come to him and fall at his feet?

For both of these Josephs, the unbelievable part of their stories isn't that they received dreams from God, it's that they had faith that these dreams could come true. 

As I was pondering this earlier this week I was realizing that my prayers have become too practical. I'd been praying for what I knew was possible, instead of what I knew to be impossible. I wondered why this might be, and as I thought back through my life, I wondered if it had to do with my flute dream. Many of you know that I grew up dreaming of becoming a professional flutist, meaning I would teach and play in an orchestra. During my graduate studies, as I was literally beginning to live the dream, I had an injury which was minor, but kept me from practicing for more than 15 minutes at a time then and still bothers my hands from time to time. Playing through the pain wasn't an option, and so I went down a different path, one which I love and am thankful for, and might have taken in the end, but different. That flute dream was one that I felt was from God about my future, and when I lost that future, I lost that dream, and I think I lost an ability to trust my dreams too. 

Maybe a similar occasion has happened for you, we have one dream and vision for our lives, or even for the lives of the people around us, and then something happens, that changes our future forever, we loose that dream and something within us dies. But how do we receive a new dream? And how do we have the faith that it will come true?

Only by the grace of God. Yes, only by the grace of God. 
Only by the grace of God can we offer our brokenness and loss to God for the receipt of a new dream? Can we dream of God working through the loss of one dream for something that could change our lives for the better, could transform our world for the good? 

Can we listen for the angels this Christmas to come with a dream for us, and will we have the faith to believe that it could be true, and will we make the choice to follow and search after that dream?

I know of a little mouse that had a dream for this church. She came about ten years ago, and saw visions of big meals and lots of people laughing and discovering love within these walls and throughout the community. Visions of spaghetti dinners, and soup suppers, and even Lenten soup meals with lots of crackers. Seder dinners with unleavened bread, and lots of meals with her homemade bread. She saw children getting meals throughout the summer and carrying backpacks full of food home to feed their families during the school year. And when her husband dreamed of a thanksgiving dinner that could feed the whole town, she had a vision to make it all possible and find a place for everyone who wanted to serve. 

Like Joseph, her dreams were not just about her life, they were about yours and mine, and this community and this world, and her faith to follow this dream created an opportunity for the hungry to be fed, the lonely to be loved, and the lost to be found. Her willingness to follow her dreams opened a way for God to enter into her life and the lives of the people around her. And we thank god for Kathy's willingness to believe in the unseen and watch for Gods unbelievable power to move.

Maybe some of you have a dream for your life that you are wondering about. Maybe like me, you are still grieving the loss of dreams that we had for our lives and even the loss of a dear friend. 

My Christmas wish for all of us, is that we would come to the manger with the hope of Joseph, trusting in Gods dream for our lives. For God's dreams never fit in a tidy little box, they are messy and sometimes frightening, and for Jesus they would seem to end with his death on a gruesome and embarrassing cross. But we know that because of his sacrifice, death does not hold the final word. The death of one life is the beginning of another. The loss of one dream offers the opportunity for a new life to begin. 

So I'd like to wish you a Joseph Christmas. Not a Mary Christmas, but a Joseph Christmas. May you dream of God's hope for your life and this world, and may you have the faith to follow those dreams and share Gods transforming love with the world!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Update on Egypt

Today I was so excited to participate in a webinar with some of our PCUSA mission partners in Egypt! They had some enlightening words for us about the situations in Egypt and Syria. 

In response to our American concern for the military ousting a democratically elected president, one of our speakers reminded us that Hitler was a democratically elected leader who took absolute control. He said that most Egyptians, Christian and Muslim, feel like they have done something that Germans were never able to do by preventing their leader to arrange for complete political control by his party. They feel like Morsi would have continued to use their constitution to make way for a Radically Islamic State which would persecute anyone who opposed the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The mission partners encouraged us to continue in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, especially in the aftermath of the destruction of 80 churches and orphanages by the Brotherhood last week in Southern Egypt. They are pleased and excited about the present formation of the government, and resolved not to react to violence with violence, but to ban together in peace and opportunities for dialogue.

They asked us to join them in their love of Muslims. "Let's not be anti-Muslim. We love Muslims in Egypt", most Muslims are kind and willing to work hand in hand with Christians. It is the most conservative and radical Muslims that persecute the Christians and anyone in opposition to their power.

Lastly they cautioned us not to get involved with Syria. They were concerned that just as the Muslim Brotherhood has controlled and sensored the media we receive in the US about Egypt, they might be fooling us about Syria.

What will happen in the coming hours or the coming days, no one can be sure. But the Egyptian Christians lift up their faith in the God who does control all things and will bring all these things to the good of all. God be with us and with our fellow Christians in both Egypt and Syria!

more information: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/global/egypt/ 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Sunday Morning Worship

On this Sunday morning I invite you to enjoy some of the moments from our Sunday Worship Services in the Policka Congregation. You'll hear our chimes piece directed by Marta Dusova, a special visitor who came to share her faith story, and "For Good" a duet Jacque and I dedicated to all of those who have been such a blessing to us in the congregation. Enjoy and God Bless you on this day of worship!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

the tug of the Yo-yo

We're about to get on our plane, and I felt like making one more post before we load. Every year it seems we are left with a question of "is this the last year?" And it is always hard to say good bye, because we don't know if it is forever. But this year I feel like we saw some growth on seeds we planted ten years ago and have been watered and fertilized so consistently that the plants are starting to grow, and the leaves are full of life and possibility.

My congregation gave me a yoyo before I left, to make sure I would come back to them...but I wonder if they also anticipated that as I feel the tug back to them, I would also see the future toss ahead. I would love to see the camp continue, the question for me is who might God also be calling to join us on the next journey? If you already feel God tugging at your heart, send me a message...we will see where God will lead.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Be the Change

 This year has been unique for me, because the children who were in my youngest class are now becoming teenagers and at that age when they are maturing and opening themselves to discover their true identity. I saw many of them taller and looking beautiful, and they could all communicate with me in ways that they could not before.  They younger groups had children that I remember being born and growing to be able to communicate a little. What a gift to see the growth of these children and the growth of the camp.

In my room on Thursday we watched a video from Volkswagen meant to inspire people to create fun ways to change the world. You can watch it below. The children thought of problems they see in the world and made advertisements for fun ways to encourage others to act differently.

Essentially, this is what the camp is. We created something fun and crazy to help kids be brave enough to speak English and develop an openness to other cultures and in the end an openness to discover themselves and their neighbors. On Friday we watched a video based on the phrase: "Be the change you want to see in the world." You can watch that video here.

As the children wrote in their journals, we gave them the option to write "After this week, I would like to have an (open mind/open hands/open doors/open hearts/open eyes/open ears) so that I can..." I was surprised to see how many children chose open hearts or open hands.  They chose to say that they want open hands to help others or open ears to listen to others. On Friday after the camp and especially on Sunday, I spoke with many who were struck with an open heart because of our camp. May this opening of their hearts draw them closer to one another and closer to God!
Over the next few weeks, I hope to share more reflection and videos...we have so many! This morning I am writing from Prague as we are sharing our final goodbyes to the country and our friends today and tomorrow. Please pray for our safe return (on Wednesday) and for the continued spirit of openness we discovered with the children this week!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Brave Explorers

The children have been coming each day with Open Eyes, and on Wednesday they definitely experienced the danger of having open hands. In one room they were doing trustfalls, as they learned to trust one another and lean on one another. In another they were baking American banana muffins, where their snack was to eat the muffins baked by the previous class...trusting their expertise. 
And in my room, we had an episode of Fear Factor (insert suspenseful sound effect), where they tried some "American" food. We chose Avocados, Red Peppers, Beef Brisket and for the scariest of all...gummy worms.  Now you may say, "Are these really American foods?" But the basis of our lesson was that America is full of a variety of nationalities which have shared their variety of food. I was amazed at the brave explorers who didn't like the avocado slice, but kept on eating thinking it was a race to see who could finish first. They left on Wednesday with open hands and an open mind to see what new surprises are in store!

Then in the evening we had a special opportunity for them to ask the Americans Questions and hear nice music;) In previous years, the youth band had played, but most of them have grown up and started going to school in other places. So, Pastor Tengler and I lead some hymns with our friend Madla playing the violin, and then Jacque and I sang some of our favorite duets. As we were singing "His Eye is on the Sparrow" I was looking around and saw all of the eyes they had made in crafts. It felt like God was watching over us in that moment, and I felt God filling our hearts and strengthening the bond we have together. 

Please pray for our health, as it has been physically demanding in the heat and with the hilly sidewalks. You can pray for the final preparations of our camp, but overall, please pray for the final themes of this camp. Friday our theme is Open Heart, and we will offer the children a chance to think about how they have been influenced by the people they have met this week or in previous years. It is a chance for them to think about what happens when we open our heart to one another and to what may be. Thank you for your support and I will post our final video when it is ready!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday, Monday

Today was one of those days, where it felt like there were not enough hours in the day. It could have been one of those days focused on tasks to be done and places to be, but it was filled with unique moments of joy, so many that there were not enough hours in the day to enjoy it all.

Our first day of camp was full of more reunions and welcoming several new campers! We also welcomed our special guests, Dora the Explorer, Indie Jones (sister of Indiana Jones) and the Wise Man. Together we looked for opportunities to take a step into a new experience.

Each afternoon we have opportunities to spend more personal time with the students and the volunteers and members of the church. Today we went on a trip to an wonderfully reconstructed castle from the Roccoco period. My favorite part was the hedge maze. When you succeeded in finding the middle you were rewarded with a half buried statue of Stalin. There was a plaque about how liberty takes work and should be valued...at the center of the maze which holds you prisoner. I thought it was a nice ironic gesture for the adults who take on the fun and beautiful maze.

But of course the best part of the day, were the moments we stole away with friends, singing and laughing, and sometimes learning a new tongue twister. Here's a fun video for your entertainment;) May you also find that there are not enough hours in the day to enjoy the gifts of God and the beauty of the world that surrounds us!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

jacque's blog...open doors? wait...closed doors. no...open doors!


Hi Everyone! This is Kati's sister Jacque writing to you this evening. Jak se mate? (I'm just kidding...Kati is the one that speaks Czech, not me!) 

This morning we enjoyed a wonderful worship service with the congregation here in Policka, and then enjoyed a delicious lunch with some of the Czech volunteers. Then we had the afternoon scheduled to prepare for the week of camp, and WOW...what. an. afternoon! Remember how our camp's theme this year is about openness? Open eyes, open hearts, open hands, and tomorrow's day theme is open doors. Well, all of the American and Czech volunteers had a big lesson in how to keep ourselves open when we discovered that the school doors were, in fact, CLOSED!!
It was quite a task to prepare for lessons about open doors when all the doors we can find are closed. And of course, at first, we all were a little bit freaked out about what to do next. Will we even get into the school? Will we all be late to our planned dinners with generous host families? what if we don't even get into the school tomorrow morning for the first day of camp?!?! Then I saw one of the czech volunteers open his hands and offer to carry a heavy bag of supplies for someone who had been holding it during the long wait for the key to the doors. Then another volunteer opened his ears and realized that all the updates about the door "situation" had been discussed in Czech so none of the Americans had any idea what was going on, and he translated for us - explaining that we would just have to wait a "little" bit longer. Then more volunteers opened their hearts and offered to come over to help set up the classrooms after the doors were miraculously OPEN!

It was remarkable to watch the work of many hands and hearts complete all the tasks we believed would take us all day long in just a few short hours at the end of the day! I am sure the lord was moving through us all today - opening our eyes, our ears, our hands, our hearts, and...eventually...our doors.

It was a great reminder to keep ourselves open throughout this week as we meet with new friends and familiar friends, young friends and old friends, american friends and czech friends.

Well, I'm off to get some jet lagged sleep for now, because bright and early tomorrow morning we will be welcoming the kids into the church for the first day of English camp. We are so excited to share with them in the energy and love and joy and (hopefully!) open doors!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Reunion, English Camp 2013

The first Saturday of the camp is usually when we get acquainted with our hosts and the volunteers for the camp. Now that this is our tenth camp, we know mostly all of the Czechs who are volunteering and the new people are some of the family members of our American Team who are here for the first time. So for many of us, today was more like a reunion than a meet and greet.  And this was the best type of reunion. High School and college and even family reunions are usually with people who you have been forced to get along with or people you feel like you need to impress. This reunion was filled with the joy and thankfulness, that everyone here has already been changed or influenced in someway by the camp. Seeing these people again is like reconnecting with some of the most important people in your life.

The theme of our camp is Open: open doors, open eyes, open hands, open ears, open hearts. Our Czech volunteers were waiting upstairs to surprise us. We came in and sat down in the sanctuary, and after we said the first day of the theme loudly, "Open Doors", they opened the doors, and came in with their hand over their ears and their eyes closed. Then we said the second theme, open eyes and they opened their eyes. We said the third theme and they opened their hands to give us apricots;) we said the fourth theme, "open ears", and they uncovered their ears. The fifth theme and they came and gave us paper hearts. 
I felt like they showered us with such a great Openness that it overwhelmed me. The first year, our main goal was to make people feel comfortable inside the church walls.  Many people held preconceived notions of what the church was about, and they were very cautious about whether they would be forced to accept our ideas or whether we would be open to learn from them as well. 

We have all opened our hearts to one another and been changed for the better. As you look at these pictures, they almost look like capturing moments of life long friends. Throughout the week, I will be posting some pictures here and others on Facebook. I will do my best to post as I can on this blog, because I am eager to share the joy of learning alongside these talented and fun people! Thank you for joining us by reading and seeing the pictures! I hope that your open hearts will also be filled with joy and thankfulness for the work the spirit is doing among us!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Settling in to the Old and the New;)

In our family, wherever we go, we seem to find the Pizza Hut and go there first to feel like home. Last night Jacque and I realized we have even found our "pizza place" in Prague. It's called Pět Pětka, "The Five Nickles", and we have eaten there every time we have stayed together at this hostel. It has a nice balance of Czech and international food, Czech beverages and fair prices. But we always get the pizza. You might think it strange, but they make pizza in their own way, with a light flaky crust and lots of fresh garlic. As we struggled to adjust to the new timeline, we got to catch up with each other and have some true "sister time", before we join up with our friends and dive into camp.

I started this morning with some Česky Chleba, true Czech bread. Mmm...it's great to be in my home away from home;)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Laughter and liftoff!

Today I am headed back to the Czech Republic, and I did something for the first time...wait for it...my suitcase was a delicate 51 pounds! No extra bag and no extra fees! I just talked to Jacque and her baggage was an even lighter 47 lbs! Are we forgetting something or are we just at that point where we realize we can't carry everything to the Czech Republic and back!

As our plane was taking of in Wichita, the little boys in front of me broke out in hysterical laughter! It was their first time on an airplane and they were laughing themselves silly as they tried to sit forward and fell back against their chair. Their sister in the next row cried, "We're going to see Papa! We're going to we Papa!" I couldn't help but laugh with them and cry out in my heart, "We're going to see Polička! We're going to see Polička!"

If you're as excited as I am to see another English Camp in Polička, check back in the next 14 days to hear about our joyful and uplifting(as well as terrifying) moments!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Remembering Vera Kathryn Salmons

My Granny, Vera Kathryn Salmons, passed away this weekend, and today was her memorial service. I didn't get to travel to West Virginia to be there, but if I had, this might have been my homily as part of her celebration of life.  Since it's on my blog, I feel like it is almost more about me than it is about her, but isn't every thing we say more about us than those we are speaking about? So, here they are my memories of Vera:

Ever since I can remember, whenever we would look at pictures of me from when I was little, there would inevitably be a picture that would come up and everyone would say, "Oh, there's the Vera face." Maybe those of you who know us both, know that face. If you asked me exactly what it means, I'm not sure I could tell you. But I know I still make that face, I'm probably even making it right now. Maybe it's the accumulation of determination and strong will to make myself heard and make a difference in the world. As a baby, that meant, "I'm cold and hungry, so bring me some Cheerios and hold me."  I'm sure I also made the face as I learned to walk without crawling first, because I was so determined(note: feel free to insert stubborn for every use of the word determined).  I used to see it as a negative thing, because it's not a happy face.  It is definitely a frustrated, pursing of the lips, serious kind of face. But when I look back at Vera Kathryn's life, I also see it as a special point of strength that has brought us both through difficult times. It is the face that recognizes something isn't right in the world, and we can change it.

My two sets of grandparents could not have been more different. My mom's parents had been happily married from the time my Papa returned from war and until my Mama passed away in 1991. My Dad's parents had been divorced and separated since Grandfather Tom's alcoholism hit a low point and Granny kicked him out, something that was not so common during the 50's/60's as it is in today's world. I always admired her for being able to break out of the system of abuse and provide for her family as a single mother.  It took an incredible amount of grit and strength, and a good stern Vera face.

Granny was never one to keep silent.  If she disagreed with something, she would let you know.  If she was unhappy, she would let you know. If she wanted something done, she would let you know.

In a similar way, Granny was never the one to sit still. She was incredibly active with Eastern Star, and she traveled all over the United States going to all of the conferences, and she would always have a fantastic dress for each one. Once she had retired, she started working at the Senior Center, hosting activities and delivering meals on wheels till well into her 80's.  I always felt like she did it, because she knew these people deserved to be cared for and looked after. I remember touring the Senior Center back in Kenova, and how she showed us what she did, not out of pride, but out of a calling to meet the needs of others.  When my Aunt Helen was incredibly ill from diabetes, Granny cared for her and stuck by her till the end.  I remember her determination to do what she could to make Helen comfortable in whatever way she could.  That Vera face was serious about making things right in this world.

Although we were not as close with Granny as we could have been, I sometimes feel close to her just because of our stubborn grit.  It wasn't something I learned from being down the street from her, it is something God placed within us to be a force of good in the world. Today, I give thanks for that dear Vera face: that determination that this brokenness we see in the world can be morphed into something purposeful and each of us can play a part in the transformation of our own lives and the world around us.  It got me to walk those 32 years ago, and it keeps me walking forward every day of my life.

So, thank you, Lord, for my granny, and thank you for the grit in my heart and her grin on my face;)

"They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains."  1 Chronicles 12:8 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Tale of Two Sisters

For last Sunday's sermon, I wrote a parable about two sisters and a mother to give a new perspective to the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). I thought you would enjoy it as well.

Once there was a woman who had two daughters. They owned a factory where they made hundreds of baked goods everyday. From french baguettes to sourdough, they specialized in providing people with their "Daily Bread". Their slogan was "From our home to yours, Mamas helping mamas find daily bread". This mother raised her daughters to take over the family business, but the younger daughter was looking for something different. She wanted to see the world and try to make it on her own as a singer-songwriter. So she went to her mother and asked for her share of the company. "If you'd let me sell my share of the company, I could try and make it big in New York City." Mama knew there was no changing her little girl's mind, so she allowed her to sell her inheritance and take a shot at making it as a recording artist.

It wasn't long before the daughter had sold all of her shares and packed up her things to make the long journey to the distant "Big Apple." Everything was so exciting, she thought she had plenty of money, and knew she need to do some research on where the big venues were, so she started going to clubs and bars to hear other musicians and try to make contacts. She had such great plans, but it was so much fun just enjoying the music scene and the company she met, that before she knew it, all of her money was gone. She found a job as a waitress at one of her favorite spots, and considered it still research. Then she noticed that she wasn't the only one squeezing by, because her customers started leaving less and less of a tip. She tried to be nicer and nicer, doing everything she could to please them, but it just seemed that they weren't as generous as when the economy was doing well. Then her boss had to make some cuts and her hourly wage took a hit. Before she knew it, she found herself out on the street, using the shelter down the street for sleeping and showering, so she could make her long shift at the club.

Her stomach growled as she served the food, how she longed to have her mother's bread, when she couldn't even afford to buy it in the store. One day she remembered, "How many of those who worked in my mother's factory had good wages enough to feed their families, and I am here starving to death? I will go back to my mother and explain how I messed up, I didn't make her proud, and instead I made a fool of myself, I am no longer worthy to be a part of the family. I wronged my family and myself, when I ignored my dreams and wasted all of my money in reckless living. Please, can you just hire me as one of the factory workers so that I might begin again." So she got up and went home.

When she got off the bus down the street from the factory, her mother saw her from the window. She was filled with compassion for her daughter and ran down to meet her. The daughter was surprised to see her mother rushing out the door to greet her. She was even more surprised when her mother threw her arms around her and kissed her. "Mama, I'm so sorry, I've been horrible to you and our family. I've wronged you by wasting your money, and I've wronged myself by failing at my dream. I am no longer worthy to be treated as your daughter." "Nonsense," said the mother,"Quick, someone run next door to the department store and get the best new dress you can find, including a pair of shoes and a bit of jewelry to match. Tonight we're taking you uptown for a steak dinner to celebrate your return! Maybe we'll even go dancing! In fact, we let's start celebrating now! Go, put some music over the speakers, I want everyone to celebrate this joyful day when my long lost daughter has come home!"

"No, mom, you really shouldn't, you don't know what I've done. I really don't deserve all of this. I don't deserve a nice dress and a fancy dinner, I deserve to have to prove myself again. I came here for a fresh start, not an easy ride."

"My darling, don't you see. I'm not giving you these things because you have earned them, but because I love you. Consider yourself forgiven, for all of those things. I have always forgiven you in my heart, and now that you've returned to me, you can enjoy your forgiveness."

Meanwhile, the older sister was in the office settling the books and some matters about the company's affairs when she heard music playing in the factory. She sent one of her assistants to find out what was going on, "Your sister has come home and your mother has called for a celebration because she has come back safe and sound. She's even made reservations for dinner uptown with plans for dancing to follow." The older sister became jealous and refused to leave her office, saying that she wouldn't be joining them for dinner or dancing, she had too much work to do. So the mother went upstairs into the office and pleaded with her to come celebrate.

"How can you say this?" the older daughter replied. "I have been slaving to make this company survive the difficult economic times, I have devoted my whole life to serving you and doing as you ask, but she has taken your gifts and squandered them away doing who knows what! She comes back here completely broke and looking like she's been living on the streets and you just forgive her before she even asks? I don't know if I can do that. I can't celebrate her return when I can't forgive how she has ruined her life and taken advantage of us! You have never thrown a party for me, not even when I have done so much for you! How am I supposed to forgive you?"

"My daughter, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. Everyday is a celebration, we celebrate each day together, but today we had to celebrated and be glad, because this sister of yours was dead to us, and now she is alive again. She was lost in a word of disaster, and now she is found in a home of love. Whether or not you can forgive her, she is already forgiven. Your grudge is only hurting you. When you find it in your heart to forgive her, you will find that I have also forgiven you time over for things you have done in the past. So, come, forgive her as I have forgiven you, and let us celebrate a life filled with grace instead of hate, love instead of anger, and freedom instead of sin!"

As they came downstairs, they found the younger sister, sitting with her guitar, and as everyone gathered around her, she played a new song:

 "Forgiven", Sanctus Real

Lord, here we are before you, we come just as we are, you know what we've been, remind us today that we are forgiven, remind us that our brothers and sisters in life are forgiven as well, guide us in your ways so that we can enjoy a life filled with forgiveness. In the name of the one who came to show us what forgiveness looks like, Jesus the Christ, Amen.