Racing with Pastor Monica

Did you smell the burn of rubber in Indy? Hear the screech of tires? May in the Midwest means it’s RACING season in Indianapolis. The checkered flags go up in yards; money pours into the IMS, and spectators from all over the world line up to see which driver will be crowned victor and (bizarrely enough) watch a bottle of milk be dumped over the winner’s head after chugging some to follow tradition. It is a global phenomenon.

But what about the smaller, everyday races? The ones where there is no crowd and no trophy? What happens when conditions change, the track gets slippery, or there is no clear finish line?

Pastor Monica has officially crossed the starting line and begun her “race” as our Pastor here at First Mennonite Church. She has put in years of training, moved across the country, and now it’s “all engines go” as she begins her new life here with us. After the pomp and circumstance of Monica’s installation, the stadium has gotten quieter. The crowd has dissipated and there aren’t clear road markers as to which way or how fast she should turn. Monica relies heavily on her daily quiet time and creative life to stay in tune with her divine inner compass.

Here are some specific ways we can pray for Monica and encourage her as she stays the course and navigates around bumps in the road. Pastor Monica currently faces chronic health issues that sometimes leave her physically tired and frustrated. Please join me in praying for strength, direction, and serenity as she seeks and discovers next steps for her medical journey. As the Pastoral Team Search Committee continues our quest for adding a part-time pastor, please pray for patience as Monica attempts to support our new church structure & all of the commissions in the absence of another leader to share the load. 

When I asked Monica what a “successful” first lap around the track might look like for her first year of pastoring, she thought for a minute, broke into a huge smile and replied, “When I reach my 27th sermon, I will have preached more at FMC than I have everywhere else combined.” As Monica pours her soul, study, and meditations into her sermons, I hope we can whoop & holler our appreciation and celebrate with her when she reaches this milestone! 

Pastor Monica is not alone on her journey. We are all interconnected and racing right alongside her. The old model of a dictator-pastor who has all the answers, and a congregation as passive recipients of said pastor, is over. The health of our congregation is entirely dependent on all of us, and we are all a part of church successes and failures. We say we want strong youth programming? Well, we need teachers and youth sponsors to step forward. We want to become an anti-racist church? Well then, we all need to show up for the Widerstand audit results and be engaged in future anti-bias training. Do we want to be a church where all are welcome and connect with our neighborhood? Church Life is gonna need help! No one person can fill all of our needs, but if we are serious about the spiritual health of our church, we all have a part to play in the days to come.

I invite you to spend time over the summer discerning what role God is nudging you toward in our faith community. This could look like daily prayer, asking a friend or spouse for the strengths they see in you, or journaling during a sermon and paying attention to what words fill your being with purpose and excitement. Let’s be intentional in our thoughts and actions as we run this race together alongside Pastor Monica.

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Exploring Art

I have been passionate about creating imagery—art—all my life. In grade school, I started drawing portraits, and my work evolved to incorporate still life objects and landscape images as I pursued my master’s degree in fine arts. I like to create work with unsettling juxtapositions: images of quirky, man-made knick-knacks vs. nature, interior vs. exterior spaces, flat vs. dimensional, with the hope that viewers will be inspired to see all that surrounds them in a new light.

Bird – Tree
Mixed media – drawn image, wallpaper, acrylic paint
Cloud – Cloud – Cloud
Mixed media – thread, felt, wallpaper
Vase – Landscape
Mixed media – drawn image, acrylic paint, fibers
Landscape – Landscape
Mixed media – drawn image, acrylic paint

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Racing for Life

First published at Reprinted with permission.

A good night’s sleep doesn’t happen often for Sherry Mast, so when she woke up on the morning of August 20, 2021, after a restful evening’s slumber, she had every reason to believe it would be a good day.

It almost wasn’t.

As is her morning custom, the mother of two boys and grandmother of five, who loves the outdoors and enjoys reading, started her daily routine by making a cup of coffee when suddenly everything took an abrupt turn for the worse.

“I went to make coffee in my coffee maker, and I couldn’t make sense of it,” she said. “I couldn’t figure out how to do it, so I picked up my iPad to look for instructions and I could see the words, but I couldn’t comprehend them.”

Retired nurse, living in Greenfield, Ind. since 2017, Sherry and her husband, who was out of town at the time, live in an in-law suite adjacent to her son Justin, the emergency preparedness and response manager with Eskenazi Health. Sherry quickly found Justin’s wife, Jessica, and told her something was wrong, so she called Justin who said they should rush to the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital as soon as possible.

Justin was there to greet them at the Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department at Eskenazi Health, where he told them to get checked in while he parked their car.

“Jessica and I walked up to the check-in desk, and this is where I see a miracle where there was nobody in line to report in, which I feel is pretty unusual,” Sherry said. “They immediately got me into a room, I remember trying to talk to the nurse who was trying to start my IVs.”

Sherry began an exhaustive battery of exploratory tests and a CT scan before a clot was discovered in her left carotid artery, which is the second main branch that arises directly off the aorta. The left and right carotid arteries carry blood and oxygen to the brain, head and face. A clot or blockage in the carotid can cause serious, if not fatal, complications.

“I had always told my boys that I do not want to be put on life support, and I was fortunate that the window after a stroke in which you can do treatment is very limited, and because they did not know when my stroke actually happened because I was sleeping, I wasn’t a candidate for the medications that they can give and surgery was the only choice,” she said. “I think everyone was concerned and my husband was in Michigan, and he found out his little Nissan truck could do 70-75 miles an hour pretty good coming back to Indianapolis.”

The last thing Sherry remembers prior to waking up four hours later in the ICU was a group of doctors standing around a computer plotting a course of action, which included emergency surgery.

“I had total blockage in the lower part of my brain that was causing my symptoms. They went in through the right side of my groin, Dr. Juan Tejada (an Eskenazi Health interventional neuroradiology specialist) later told me he in essence played a video game in my head to get the blood flow back in my brain,” she said. “He had to work on the back of my brain first to get the clot out of the way because they saw that’s where the circulation was cut off. Afterwards my husband and I looked at the videos of the surgery and you could see there was no blood flow in those veins, and after he removed the clot that was blocking them, you could see the blood flow rush back. Then Dr. Tejada went into my carotid where there was a large blockage and he did the same thing there, and my artery kind of went limp, so he put a stint in there to repair that.”

As Sherry regained consciousness following the procedure, she opened her eyes to see the most important people in the world to her.

“I immediately recognized my sons and my husband, which was wonderful,” she said. “It didn’t take long for hospital staff members to get me started with all the neurological testing by making me say certain words, stick out my tongue, lift my arms and all that kind of stuff. After I got back in the room in the early evening and up until 11 p.m., they were checking my neurological signs every half hour. Staff couldn’t believe how well I was talking and how well I could remember. I joked around with them asking them to spread it out a little bit so they’re not bothering me every half hour, but they explained it’s going to be every half hour, then after a while it went to every hour.”

As Sherry remembers it, her stroke happened on a Friday, and as frightening and dangerous as it was, she was on her way home the following Monday.

“It was during COVID, the ICU was filling up and they really needed my bed. If they would’ve decided to keep me, I would’ve had to go on to a different floor, so I told them I feel fine and I’m ready to go home. I had to talk the girls (nurses) into letting me go to the bathroom, and once my husband was with me in my room, they were willing to let me get up and do that.”

Sherry’s healing process happened so quickly that there was no need to schedule any follow-up physical therapy sessions for her. From the instant she returned home, Sherry was free to do just about whatever she wanted to.

“Two weeks after the stroke, my husband and I helped our oldest son move to Goshen, Ind.,” she said. “Four weeks out from the stroke, we went on a five-day vacation with three couples to Kellys Island (in Ohio).”

Sherry believes the spot-on advice she received during the morning of her stroke from her son Justin and daughter-in-law Jessica was instrumental in her surviving and healing quickly from the dangerous episode she experienced.

“I’d like to stress the importance of when you begin to feel some symptoms and something’s not right, not to mess around,” she said. “If Jessica would’ve taken me somewhere else, I would’ve had the complete work up there and then they would’ve transferred me to Eskenazi Health and hours would’ve been wasted. I think it’s better that when something doesn’t seem right, please don’t just say ‘well this will go away’ because time is so valuable in getting treatment.

“When I think of what it could’ve been, it’s a miracle … it’s a God thing that I’m still here. As I have told many of my friends, there was a stroke team waiting for me at Eskenazi Health and they knew exactly what to do, and I’ll always be grateful for all they did for me.”

The Eskenazi Health Stroke Center urges people to be diligent and aware of the symptoms of a stroke and to B.E.F.A.S.T. in your response by checking a person’s balance, eyes, face, arms and speech, before it’s time to call 911.

Keeping Us Running

I have been involved with the Worship Commission since starting in 2018 as the chair-elect. It has been a great learning opportunity, and we have had a variety of different leaders over those few short years… When I started it was Bob Brown, then Gary Martin, followed by Bob & Mag, Frances Ringenberg, and now Monica! All of these pastors certainly “kept us running” in a variety of ways, but there was yet another who really contributed significantly when we needed it most: Andrea Grotenhuis!

In March of 2020 we began the new and frightening journey with Covid. The Trustees lead the planning behind the scenes. They contacted people with knowledge about technology who could brainstorm, looking for virtual ways of meeting together. Andrea (and Todd) became involved, and she really took the lead by sharing her ideas and time, along with Hollins & Jason, running through different scenarios to determine what would work out best for sound quality and recording. Andrea was scheduled to preach on what became our first virtual church service. She did so with her typical calm and forthright style. And that continued for many months—dealing with glitches, interruptions and mistakes with humor and grace. Andrea served as our worship leader, took part in nearly every pre-worship planning meeting, helped with children’s time and gave thoughtful suggestions as we sought to improve our processes and keep everyone engaged and in touch.

It was almost exactly one year later that we began meeting again in our FMC building. Throughout that year Andrea was a constant presence, guiding us forward and keeping us together. I can’t say enough about how much I have appreciated her leadership, her kind example and her openness to envision new possibilities for FMC!

Andrea enjoying her coffee cake celebration with Isaiah Rosner at FMC

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Guide My Feet: A Hurdle Parable

When we were invited to write a MennoExpressions article on the hurdles one might encounter when “running the race,” both of us immediately thought of a hurdle incident that happened several years ago – okay, let’s be honest, it was actually several decades ago by now. We were walking on the Purdue campus when we came upon a hurdle that ended up sending one of us to the Purdue Student Hospital with a broken elbow. In reflecting on this hurdle encounter, we discovered that it actually reveals a lot about life hurdles in general.

First the short version of our “hurdle parable:” On our walk, we came across a parking lot that was cordoned off by a chain strung between metal posts. Beth wanted to use the parking lot as a short cut and suggested that we simply jump over the chain, treating it as a hurdle. In spite of Andrea’s cautions and protestations, Beth proceeded to demonstrate her “hurdling technique” to show Andrea how easy it would be to do. Then, splat! There was Beth lying on the ground (albeit on the other side of the chain) with her elbow bent in a rather peculiar way.

Now, the lessons learned from this literal hurdle (or shall we say “hurt-le”?) for facing other obstacles we may find blocking our path:

  1. Recognize that jumping over the hurdle may not be the only or best way forward. Crawl under it, walk around it, slowly climb over it, kick over the hurdle — there may be alternative (and safer) ways to move forward.
  2. Realistically assess hurdle-jumping capabilities and resources, but don’t underestimate your untapped potential.
  3. Deliberately build your hurdle-jumping skills.
  4. Make sure it is your hurdle to jump over.
  5. Remember that you don’t have to go it alone – ask for advice and seek out additional support.
  6. Actually listen to (and heed) the advice of others.
  7. Realize that not everything that looks like a hurdle really is a hurdle. You might discover that you can take a hurdle apart – maybe even make it into a ladder that you could use to get over the barrier.
  8. Give yourself a second chance moment to think before you jump. This is wise advice in decision making in general. 
  9. (and ¾). Embrace the moment you commit to jump. Sometimes you just have to have enough faith – like Harry Potter – to run at the brick wall and trust that it will not be a hurdle but a portal that will get you where you need to go.

Yet, know that sometimes you might still end up in the emergency room with a broken elbow.

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Editor’s Note

let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Moving forward, setting goals, charting progress… when the MennoExpressions team met to discuss our theme for this year we knew we wanted to capture the excitement of the church meeting in person again, learning to know Monica Miller, our new, already-beloved full-time pastor, and expanding our welcome to the community around us. Running the Race seemed an ideal metaphor for these and many experiences and challenges we may encounter.

Now personally, I claim no affinity for actual racing! I enjoy walking or biking on quiet paths, but I would prefer to cheer for others rather than compete in a sporting event. Still, planning and completing each issue of MennoExpressions feels like a race, though a relay with shared responsibilities for the team. And the finish line completing one issue blends into the beginning of the next—as in many life events.

As you explore these articles, we hope you glean wisdom from the theme of racing and find inspiration in the stories of racers who share their hard work of training and competing, or ponder turning hurdles into building blocks. Appreciate a behind-the-scenes glimpse into keeping the pastoral team running smoothly.

Enjoy learning about the way Kaden, an excited high school graduate, is already preparing for his next big challenge at Purdue.

You may want to race to the Top Ten article to complete the quiz for a chance to win ice cream, and see the update on the marathon project to enhance and care for the FMC Memory Garden.

A group of visuals could help you see the intersection of art, nature and pies(!) in a new way.

Don’t miss the dramatic “race for life” narrative, which reinforces the urgency to get help quickly when stroke symptoms appear suddenly.

Finally, in this issue we are launching Milestones, a new feature to share important life events for the Shalom and FMC families.

Blessings to each of you as you consider this encouragement.

But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength… they will run and not grow weary…

Isaiah 40:31

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Editor’s Note

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

II Corinthians 4:7

It was a heartfelt plea, an entreaty to welcome everyone who walks through our doors. We don’t know their story, but “each person is a treasure in a clay jar.” Somehow, those simple words from our FMC interim pastor Frances Ringenberg struck a chord and transformed my view of reaching out with a welcome for all—visitors or long-time members. As one who enjoys wandering through antique stores, I could picture a cherished jar, easily broken if not handled with care.  And certainly, experiences and losses in the struggles with Covid emphasize the fragility of life. I cherish the wisdom and caring that Frances and her husband Ron shared with us.

Frances Ringenberg (left) chatting with Monica Miller.

Preparing for the installation of Monica Miller as the new fulltime pastor for First Mennonite has accentuated our emphasis on welcoming and transformation. Various groups gathered at her home to clean, unpack and paint as she moved into her new apartment. We will continue to look for ways to ease her transition into a new congregation in a new city.

Also in this issue, continuing our theme for the year, we explore additional ways our lives are being transformed—by remembering Dagne Assefe, beloved pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church, by sharing wisdom from guest speakers, taking walks to soak in the beauty of autumn, and preserving the abundant harvest of fruits and vegetables.

Traveling continues to bring challenges and changes. But the treasure of time with family and friends encourages us to seek out ways to stay safe when we are not at home. 

A renewed emphasis on improving and beautifying the Memorial Garden at First Mennonite has allowed the congregation to visualize the new plans and share in the task. Finally, pondering life lessons from the seasonal transformations in a flower garden encourage us to treasure the last bouquet of autumn—and maybe even arrange it in a clay jar.

Some photos from the licensing and installation service on November 7 at First Mennonite Church—welcoming Monica as our pastor on this day of joy!

Waiting expectantly for the service to begin
Conference Minister Sharon Yoder leads the licensing service
Paul Hartman, search committee chair, welcomes Monica
Monica is surrounded by prayers from the congregation
Celebrating Monica with a festive feast of pies

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Van Gogh Makes Me Dance

I have long been a fan of Van Gogh, and two years ago spent a couple of days in Arles, France, where the artist spent his last four years and produced an astonishing number of masterpieces. I was dubious about seeing The Lume at Newfields, while in Indianapolis, fearing that it would be a schmaltzy disappointment. I was wrong. The digital presentation was excellent, giving a total immersion feel to the great artist’s work. The presentation was intimate, constantly in motion, and accompanied by rich music. The large rooms had dozens of people mesmerized. When a family with small children entered, the kids immediately broke into dance. They became part of the artwork, which I imagine would please Van Gogh himself!

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Last Autumn Bouquet

As I sit here typing, the rain pounds the windows and the deck, the ground and the garden. Unlike the fresh warm rains of spring that bring growth and life, this rain seems to be beating a cold, beckoning rhythm of an ancient song. It sings to the earth a lullaby from Ecclesiastes, in lyrical harmony with the northern wind, “to all things there is season, a time to plant, a time to pluck from the ground” … and to the leaves they gently nudge, coaxing the them to the ground, reminding them that, after all, “Nothing gold can stay.” Soon, a white blanket will cover the sky, the earth and all will be hushed as the growing world sleeps

Autumn is often closely associated with death and dying. It does have a way of reminding us of our mortality. Almost all plant life and gardens die in the fall, however rigorously planned, religiously watered, relentlessly weeded and regularly fed! In the same way, no matter how well we take care of our bodies there is only one common end to us all and it is not that different than what happens in our gardens in the fall and winter. We wither, we dry up, and we die. It is no accident that Halloween and the Day of the Dead are part of fall celebrations. Like many others, I dread the end of the sunny growing season and the darkness that seems to wrap the world in a shroud here in Indiana during the fall and winter months. And though there is no doubt that the benefits of gardening are many and far reaching, yet, I have to agree with the musician Arthur Schnabel who says, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists, but the pauses- ah, that is where the art resides.” Even The Divine Gardener rested after six days. There is a cycle to life, a rhythm which enables life. And it requires rest, hibernation, Sabbath and sometimes death. Could fall and winter be thought of as a Sabbath for the garden and the gardener?

Several weeks ago, I cut my last bouquet, arranged it in a vase and posted the picture on Facebook, announcing the end of my garden in the post: “The last of my summer flowers” or something like that. A sad day, indeed! But the next day I ventured outside and began collecting something different. Not as colorful or typically pretty, but still full of beauty and life. As I walked along the back row of my garden, I looked at the brown curled up sunflower heads, and there I saw them–seeds. Each sunflower had one large head or a dozen or so small flower heads, and each flower head had seeds for dozens upon dozens of sunflowers.

 I find sunflowers so amazingly beautiful. The way the seeds are arranged within each head like a mandala, a pattern so intricate and rhythmic, a glorious testament to The Divine Biologist, Artist, and Gardener. And then, of course, there were the marigolds. I could collect seeds from those flowers for days and if each flower has roughly 25-50 seeds. There would be enough to give everyone I know a garden full of marigolds.

Everywhere I look as I drive down the road the land is turning brown. But when I look carefully, I still see an abundance of life and hope. Encapsulated in a seed pod, held tight by the head of a shriveled-up flower or buried by the feet of well-meaning gardeners, seeds are at rest, like fetuses in wombs, fast asleep and awaiting warm breezes and an ancient, triumphant song of birth and life. To everything there is a season, after all.

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