I never expected to live in Wellsboro. In fact, I never knew a place called Wellsboro existed until I got the phone call from District Superintendent Beth Jones while I was driving between Altoona and Pittsburgh on a sunny day in April 2015. But I’m already getting ahead of myself.
This story begins during the Spring of 2011, when I joined the First United Methodist Church of Hollidaysburg, where Erin had always been a member. It was about a month after transferring my membership from the Catholic tradition to the United Methodist tradition that I began to feel drawn towards a position of leadership in the church. Not only that, but the more I prayed about it and discussed it with others, the more it became clear that I was feeling led towards pastoral ministry.
But there were questions and there were concerns; and I had already decided three years prior that I did not want to go back to school for another degree.
We were happy living in Hollidaysburg; it was a nice town, we were part of an active and vital church, and we had no desire to live anywhere else.
But I was not the only one who felt led to pursue a different career path; It seems that God was working in both of our hearts; and so Erin and I decided to trust God’s plans for us as we moved to Pittsburgh so Erin could attend Pittsburgh Vet Tech Institute while I attended Pittsburgh Seminary.
We trusted in God and God blessed us through our family as well as through the network of relationships that were built through our three years living as next door neighbors to my parents…as it happened, just at the time we were getting ready to move to Pittsburgh my parents next door neighbor sold her house, they bought the house, and invited us to live there for three years.
During that time we were blessed with a dog walking community, two supportive churches, and an opportunity to get the education that would equip us to fulfill our respective calls.
During our time in Pittsburgh I got to serve as a part time pastor at a church called Hot Metal bridge Faith Community where the primary missional thrust was to build relationships with people who were experiencing homelessness, and after graduating from Pittsburgh Vet Tech Institute Erin got to build relationships with people and their pets in her service at the Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic.
Life was good in Pittsburgh and we found a healthy rhythm between work, family, and spending time with the local dog walking group.
After graduation I was asked if I wanted to stay on with Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community after graduation. Afterall, I was happy there. Erin was happy with her place of employment. There were things about the city we both enjoyed, and we agreed that if we left there would be many many people whom we’d miss.
But we knew the life that we had chosen. Our faith had taken us this far along the journey, and we decided that in faith we would continue.
We decided to trust God in our move from Hollidaysburg to Pittsburgh, and we decided to trust God in our move from Pittsburgh to wherever the next location would be prior to knowing where that place was.
On this journey that’s what faith has been for us; it’s trust in God. And that is why, when I received the phone call on that Sunny day in April of 2015 the most prominent thing I felt was an invitation to once more, trust in God for the next step of the journey just as we’d done for every step prior.
We have discovered that the road to fulfilling God’s call in our lives is often very challenging, especially when we think of those we’ve gotten to know and love in Hollidaysburg and in Pittsburgh…but faith lived out to fulfill God’s call is always worth the cost.
As we begin this season of Advent; anticipating the birth of Christ, we do so in faith. While I think that the people and the places in mine and Erin’s story of faith are probably not the same as those in yours, I hope every one of us can recall how Jesus has been faithful to lead us along every next step of the journey towards fulfilling our call when we walk it in faith.
December 2017 will be the 10th anniversary of my father's death. It's amazing how many years have passed when it seems like just yesterday.
Dad got sick after Thanksgiving in 2007. Test results at the hospital revealed he had an obstruction in his bowel most likely caused by scar tissue from a previous gall bladder surgery. Laparoscopic surgery was scheduled for the following day to remove the blockage.
I remember Dad telling me that he had upset the surgeon by asking him how many patients he had 'lost' to this type of surgery. He said that the doctor was quite offended with his question and replied 'none.' We joked about it a bit.
My mom called to say that the surgery had been moved up and I thought, "Good. Dad will feel better soon." Well, he never did get to feeling better. The surgeon was called late that night because there was concern about my father's condition. He stopped in early the next morning before leaving for his trip and said that the surgery had gone just fine and that my dad just needed fluids and rest.
We should have moved him to a different hospital that day, but we waited another day. . .then two. The hospital finally realized that the situation had turned desperate and called life flight to take him to Sayre. There it was discovered that during the laparoscopic surgery to remove the blockage, his bowel had been perforated in several locations and his body was being poisoned by itself. He spent several weeks there trying to recover from the damage, but ultimately there was no recovery. . .just final peace.
I was so angry with the surgeon. In my opinion he rushed through a surgery. He was so confident in his work that he gave the medical staff at the hospital a false impression. Then he left for VACATION! I hated him. For years I hated him. At times I told myself that he did it on purpose because my dad had offended him when he was asked how many of his patients died from this type of surgery. Then I hated him even more.
In the fall of 2015, I found my way back to church. It is hard to describe the warm fascinating feelings that moved in my body after I welcomed Jesus back into my life. There was more love and hope in my heart than I ever imagined possible. Prior to this happening, anytime I would think of my dad, the anger and hate would well up inside me. But now things were different. I realized that I had forgiven the surgeon without making the conscious effort to forgive him. Those feelings of hate were gone. Jesus had healed my heart. He showed me how to love everyone; how to forgive anyone. Truly through Him, anything is possible.
I still cry when I think of my dad. . .but that is because I miss him.
Last year I had prayed to God to "give me a voice." At that time I was feeling shut in, not able to communicate as I would like to. I felt I had something to say but no way of saying it. Also fear. . .the kind of fear you feel when you stand in front of a group of people to speak. So I prayed to God to give me the voice that I needed.
A few days later at work, I was offered a promotion - general manager. This would put me in charge of everyone in the office. I really could not believe it. I thought, "This is not the 'voice' that I had been thinking of, but perhaps this is God answering my prayer." After all, to lead others you have to have a voice!
I dived into this new position with excitement and enthusiasm. Excited for this new opportunity but also excited that God had answered my prayer. My excitement and enthusiasm did not last long. As the months passed, I realized that I did not have a voice after all. Most decisions were not mine to make. My co-workers did not take kindly to their peer now being the 'boss.'
At the same time I was struggling to find meaning and answers to what I was doing at work, I became more involved in church. I always loved to sing, so I was invited to join the praise team. In August, I was asked if I would like to assist Karen in teaching Sunday School for the upcoming year - I was thrilled! I found the best days of my week were Sundays and Wednesday nights (praise team practice night). In the fall, I helped to create a new website for the church. Learning that we are called to be a witness to the works of the Lord, I added this blog to the site so that others can share their stories.
I decided in December that I was not equipped to be a general manager. It was a hard request to make, but I asked to go back to my previous position and part time hours as the marketing director. In all honesty, I should have declined the position when it was first offered. . .I knew in my heart then that it was not what I should be doing. But I thought God was answering my prayer and I needed to follow Him.
Just this past Sunday, February 19th, in a discussion with the children about the parable of the lost sheep, I realized that God had answered my prayer after all. When we are lost sometimes the path back is not a straight and easy one. There may be lessons to learn along the way. We can pray for the answer, but what we think is the answer is not necessarily so. God does show us the way back in a way and time that is best for us.
Here is the voice that God has given me: I am a member of the praise team singing out praise to the Lord every Sunday (and every day), I teach Sunday School to children where I learn more myself each week, I was asked to co-chair the Witness Ministry which is called to share the good news to others - what an amazing voice to have! Some prayers are answered over time. I am quite confident that God is still at work on this one for me because I still have much to learn about having a voice.
God does answer prayers.
(Revised 10/15/2011 and February 2017)
Our adoption story began back in 1949. I was an orphan with no hope and no future. But the Lord promises to be a Father to the fatherless and care for the orphan. In His great mercy and love God cared for me and gave me the best Dad and Mom that any kid could have. My parents lavished me with love and provision, and they taught me about Jesus and God's love for me. Two years later they adopted another little boy and gave me the gift of a brother. My name is John, and my brother was named Jim. You may remember James and John in the Bible, "THE SONS OF THUNDER" - well Dad and Mom had it right when they named us. Five years later Dad and Mom were surprised with our little sister by birth, Catharine Jean Vogt. They had not done anything different to conceive her. Up until that point, Mom's womb was closed. I know that the enemy is at work in an effort to ruin our lives and destroy our hopes and dreams. I also know that all things truly do work together for good for those you love the Lord and that Papa God is the blessed controller of all things. I am so grateful to the Lord that my sister was late coming into our family. If she had been born first, I would not be here today writing this story.
He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. In 1969 the Lord helped me find Sara. One day when Sara and I were talking about our future together, Sara told me that her doctors have determined that she would never be able to have children. Sara knew how much I love kids and it was important to her that we talked about this before our wedding. I reassured her of my love and told her that God could help us build a family through the blessings of adoption. We wanted a son and a daughter. I can still remember that evening when I had a heart to heart talk with my Mom and shared with her how Sara would not be able to carry children in her womb but would carry them in her heart and that we would be adopting. Mom and I tearfully embraced as we remembered what the Lord had done for us. Sara and I were united in marriage August 21, 1971.
Then one summer night in June of 1973 I was lying on the floor of our living room in Arlington, VA in great pain. I had ruptured two discs in my back, and I could hardly move. I could not sleep in a bed. Sara came in to comfort me and joined me there on the floor. That night as we embraced we realized that we had very little going for us... no home, just a small one bedroom apartment, no money, employment threatened because of my ruptured discs and no children with Sara's womb closed. It was in this darkness that I called out to God. It was actually a proclamation of faith in the midst of total frustration. I believe my exact words were... "If God wants us to have a baby we will have a baby." Approximately four weeks later Sara believed that she was pregnant. The docs said, "no way... that would be physically impossible." But on March 28, 1974, the God of the impossible gave us a son. We named him John Regis Vogt. We call him Regis after my Dad the man who took me in his arms and loved me to life when I was an orphan.
The Lord blessed us with a son but where was our little girl? We knew that the Lord could do the impossible and open Sara's womb again, after all, we had living proof of that in the blessing of our son. As the years went by our hopes for a daughter began to fade. We had moved to Washington, DC and life was very busy. We poured our lives into loving our son and working hard in our broadcasting careers at WCTN Radio serving our nation's capital area. We came to the place where we were no longer thinking about more children. I was over 50, and Sara was now $#%#^& :). For some reason, God never gave us our girl. Sometimes I would think... maybe He couldn't trust me with a girl. Maybe I would break her. Girls are very fragile.
It's Valentine's Day today. The day we tell our parents, children, grandchildren and spouses that we love them. But today I want to say "I love you" to some that I would not ordinarily say "I love you" to. To the UPS driver that got stuck in the ditch across from my house two weeks ago and admitted he was having a very bad day, "I love you." To the man at Weis Market that collects the grocery carts from the parking lot who never smiles, "I love you and I will continue to say hello and smile at you each time I am there to shop." To Kayla at Tops who does finally smile when I see her, "I love you." To Heidi who I only just met a few months ago and who pushes on no matter how many times she visits the hospital, "I love you - you are amazing." To the tenants that moved out of my apartment and still owe three months back rent, "I love you." To the people that I disagree with and often find infuriating, "I love you." To those I have met in the past and to those I have yet to meet, "I love you."
It's easy to love more than just the people you are closest to if you have Jesus in your heart. . .
Written by Russell Mee
Winter can seem so dark and depressing with all the sad and gloomy days and very little sun. The mud and dirt seems to follow you everywhere you go, it’s on your car, your shoes, on the road and everywhere around you.
But have you ever noticed in the morning after a fresh snowfall, how clean the world seems to be? The contrast is incredible, the morning sun glistens in the newly fallen snow, and everything seems to be revived and vivid with the fresh white blanket draped over it. The evergreens are low to the ground, heavy laden with the beauty of white snow. The children go outside and build snowmen and their gloom is lifted as they laugh and play. The once dark and muddy roads are now pristine. Finally all the mud and gloom seems to be covered and wiped away by the freshness of the snow.
Our sin is like the muck, mud, and dirt of a dark ugly winter’s day, it attaches itself to us and comes with us everywhere we go. We can become dark and heavy with the burden of it.
But we must confess our sins, just like David’s cry out to God saying, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” -Psalm 51:7. And if we do so we will receive the grace and forgiveness of God and he will clean us so that we might start the day new again. We are renewed and the sun reflects off of our bright new clean body and onto those around us. The heavy burden of sin is miraculously taken off of our shoulders and replaced with the freeing grace and beauty of God. We should feel cleaner and whiter than snow after a confession and repentance of sins.
But after a while the roads become dirtied and brown as we fall back into our sin. The only way to regain the cleanliness of the new snow is to repent of our sins again and watch as the Lord lets the snowfall of his grace fall all around us.
Let us pray- Lord please forgive us of our sins and make us whiter than snow, help us to stay clean but when we fail please help us return to you that we might be made pure again in your sight.
I am sure many of you have experienced a situation that you deemed a coincidence. A series of events coming together just at the right time that makes you sit back and say, "Wow, did that just happen?" The story I want to share is one of those instances, however this I believe is not a coincidence at all, but rather a gift from God.
Several years passed and many changes were taking place in my life. One change was a new career in real estate. On a rainy spring day in May, my broker and I went to visit a client who was selling their gift shop. We spent some time chatting with the owners by the front counter. As my broker continued to talk with them, I turned my head to look around the store. My eyes came in contact with a rack of cards that stood next to me. At eye level, within two feet of me was a card that read, "Dad, You are My Hero." A wave of heat rushed through my body and I could barely hold back the tears.
This of course was no coincidence. This was a sign, I was sure of it. This message was given to me by design. I know that Father's Day was just a month away and it would not be unlikely to see a rack of Father's Day cards in this gift shop. But that card at eye level with that message!
Even today (years later) I think of what that sign meant. I think that my father wanted me to know that he was indeed home - that heaven does exist. Maybe in some way he was telling me that I was his hero too - that he was proud of me. It took several more years and a few more messages to open my eyes and heart to God. Now that I have, I look forward to going home.
I had not been to church in many, many years. Once my mother no longer required that I attend church, I stopped going. As a teenager, I had more important things to do on a Sunday.
As weeks passed that turned into years, I found myself wondering why I could not settle into life. Why I could not settle into my job. Why I was constantly looking for the 'next' thing. After all, I had a great life: a loving family, a fantastic job, good health and I was living in Wellsboro (the best place on earth).
Every year my daughter's school holds a book fair. As she was shopping for third grade readers, I was socializing with the other parents in the room. Then it happened. I circled around the table and looked down. My eyes fell upon the book "90 Minutes in Heaven" by Don Piper. Without hesitation I bought the book. My eyes were finally opened.
This story gave me answers and many questions at the same time. It showed me what I was missing in my heart. It opened my eyes to God's wonderful grace. It gave me peace. It brought me back to church again.
Even though I still struggle with my way in this world, I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone. God is with me every step of the way and I will never part from His side again.