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The sound of jackhammers and reciprocating saws no longer echoes through the halls of St. Timothy. The renovation has mostly been completed, though there are a few odd jobs that remain.

If you would have told this pastor when she started here in 2011, after the bruising that St. Timothy had taken, that we would be planning and carrying out a total interior renovation just seven year later, she would have laughed. There was a lot of pain left to process in those initial years together from the upsets of 2009.

But God has a way of surprising us! So it was that the Spirit started bubbling up here in 2014 in various conversations about things that needed attention: acoustics, kitchen, carpet, lights, preschool spaces and more.

In 2015 and 2016, then, we had some initial conversations about renovation. We met with representatives of the ELCA Mission Investment Fund, including Anne Gerrietts and Paula Kitt for their guidance and assessments.

We then held planning sessions, dreaming sessions and cottage meetings, where we gathered lots of input and feedback from the congregation.

Following this came conversations in 2017-18 with architects, design drawings and in-house capital campaign, bid-letting and demolition and construction.

People started offering their gifts of money, labor and encouragement. The pews were reupholstered. We moved out of the preschool, offices and sanctuary the end of May. We worshiped in the fellowship hall for the summer, and through that was a bit hard and required some accommodations, we were faithful and God was praised.

Then, it was time to move into the preschool first and then sanctuary around Labor Day and out of the fellowship hall and the makeshift offices on the east side.

And now, here we are. Almost all put back together. In a wondrously and beautifully renewed facility. God has been so good to St. Timothy!

All along, we've talked about how this renovation is not just for us but for those who will come after us. We've in vested ourselves in the future for the sake of the bright future that God is creating.

Now is a perfect time to let God reinvigorate us, too, through renewed relationships, worship, giving, generosity and commitment.

This Advent and Christmas, I pray that you will open yourselves to this gift of renewal that God brings. And I hope the facility is just the beginning of our renewal as God's people here. Come and see for yourself what God is doing here!

Blessed Christmas, all!

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A number of years ago, a friend's wife died quite unexpectedly. It was devastating. Yet in the midst of grief, my friend found so many things to be thankful for: their life together, their love, their travels, their families, their faith, their friends, the medical community, the care of their congregation and God's goodness to them. His almost immediate response of gratitude will last long in my memory.

He wasn't sugar-coating her death or trying to wiggle out of the grief journey, and we (Bob and I) shared many tears with him. Instead, he simply found gratitude as a helpful way to process the death of his beloved. His approach is a powerful witness.

Such gratitude is a gift of God and an indicator of spiritual health. Even in the midst of hard and difficult things, there is room for gratitude.

November is the month for Thanksgiving. If we're fortunate, we'll gather in some sort of celebration. Food and beverages, stories and maybe some football will be part of our time together. In the midst of it, I hope, will be time for gratitude.

Why does gratitude matter? Beyond just being good manners to say "thank you," gratitude orients our hearts in the right direction. Gratitude connects us to the Giver; in our case, God. Gratitude takes us out of ourselves and reminds us that we are not alone.

Gratitude can also be a powerful antidote to greed and selfishness that can become all-consuming and make us bitter and envious, instead of thankful and grateful.

During the week of gratitude that starts Nov. 18 (see story on right), St. Tim's will use various media to help create a "St. Tim's Says Thanks" collection.

People will be invited to share things they're thankful for by using pictures, words, a Facebook thread on the church Facebook page and in conversation.

As our hearts turn to a special emphasis on gratitude, let's find ways to celebrate together all we have to be thankful for, including this very special congregation.

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We live on the river. We enjoy its beauty, its variety, its reflections of the sun and moon, the wildlife that comes to visit.

We also watch its movements and when the waters start to rise, we know what backyard markers to pay attention to as ways to gauge the river's rising; the flower cauldron in the lower yard, the landscaping wall by the hosta bed, the big walnut in the upper yard.

Of course life on the river brings occasional challenges, too. When the water approaches that big walnut tree, as it did in 2016, we drop 3 pumps in the hole, snake the hoses out the basement windows and pay careful attention, often sleeping in shifts to be able to monitor activity.

In 2008, the river brought us the challenges and opportunity of a total first floor makeover because of a 500-year flood. Hundreds of others dealt with flood challenges, too.

I was wondering the other day, as the river was again rising, if our relationship with God is like our relationship with the river. Full of beauty, comfort, life, joy and, yes, the occasional challenge, but something we value nonetheless.

Another connection with the river is that when all is going smoothly, I don't pay as much attention to it. We simply enjoy it, take it all in, comment on its beauty and then keep moving. That's not a bad thing. If we had to pay constant attention to the river, we wouldn't get much else done.

Like the river when it's peaceful, our relationship with God can be easy to take for granted when life is going well. After all, our to-do lists are abundant, we're rarely caught up on sleep, there are so many other things clamoring for our attention that God may not be uppermost in our hearts and minds. But those earlier times help us navigate the tougher times, because we know that God is faithful, that we cant trust God.

When i think back to 2008 and the challenges we faced to reclaim our home and our lives, I'm reminded of the amazing goodness of people we saw and experienced. The rising and then receding river brought out the best in people. We came together around a common good to help each other. Challenging time in our faith encourage us to seek and accept help, guidance and encouragement from others.

There's a lot going on in our world today. A relationship with God that will carry us through the calm waters and the choppy seas is essential. Just like a river, our relationship with God can provide comfort, beauty and yes, even challenge.

A relationship with the living God can also bring out the best in us as we come together for a common good: to worship God as brothers and sisters in Christ. May that be true for all connected to St. Timothy as we get back into the rhythm of worship and life together. I hope to see you in church.

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