Grateful

When I was on sabbatical, I bought a handbag with the word “grateful” on it.  I am not much of a shopper.  I can usually talk myself out of almost any purchase (much to my children’s disappointment as they were growing up). But the bag’s simple message spoke to me. It defined my prevailing mood throughout my sabbatical.  For the entire four months I was away, I experienced gratitude.

I was grateful for

  • Time to rest. When people ask what I did during sabbatical, I am hesitant to honestly say, “I slept.  A lot.”  I had underestimated just how tired I was. The impact of ongoing ministry especially during the pandemic combined with my own experience of the disease in addition to the loss of my father-in-law that winter all brought me to a level of exhaustion.  I was grateful to stop and rest.
  • This congregation who lived out their belief in God’s concept of Sabbath and sabbatical by providing both funds and time. God promises that rest is not only necessary but also good for us. I was grateful for this extended time of renewal.
  • Danielle’s ministry and the congregation’s openness to a new minister. EWCC has a long history of welcoming and nurturing new and student ministers. This congregation has offered a gracious atmosphere in which to learn and grow.  And Danielle did an excellent job serving this congregation.  I was grateful to know that EWCC’s powerful ministry continued under skilled leadership.
  • Time with my family.  I didn’t have to squeeze in time to visit my parents – I could relax and offer them the care and attention they deserved.  Roger and I were overjoyed to travel with our adult children – such a treat to experience the beauty of Alaska together as a family.  Those precious memories are priceless. And I am so grateful.

This experience of gratitude provided new insight into the phrase, “My cup overflows.” My heart was overwhelmed daily with gratitude for the beauty I encountered, for the opportunity to rest and heal, and for God’s invitation simply to soak it all in and enjoy.

            And now I am grateful to be back among you as we venture forward in this new era of pandemic and healing. I am grateful that we are surrounded by the presence of God, whose steadfast love endures forever. 

Thank you.

Corona and Gratitude

This week I enjoyed a coloring page (not something I ordinarily do but I find it quiets my spirit in these troubled times) that reads, “This the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118).

            It is not easy to rejoice these days. Every newscast is grim and images of overfilled hospitals are horrifying. Across the globe, people are sick and dying. There is great suffering everywhere. How does one rejoice on a day filled with sadness?  

            These days I am discovering that very familiar Scripture passages suddenly sound brand new. Or at least they are offering me a new insight. In the midst of a pandemic the refrain “Rejoice and be glad,” has a different ring to it. It has nothing to do with happy feelings, calm meditations or even joyous events. Instead, I hear an invitation to look for signs of God who created this day. If God created this day, where can I discover God? Where can I find reasons to give thanks and – perhaps – even rejoice?  

            I’ve decided to intentionally count my blessings. Today I am filled with gratitude for the many ways our congregation is stepping up to meet the challenge of the coronavirus and the very human need that illness brings with it. I give thanks for our outstanding staff who are learning new skills in order to minister to our congregation. Our office manager Heidi Tucker has transformed the church’s online presence by updating and improving our website and creating a YouTube channel with recordings of worship, Bible study, reflections, and music.

I give thanks for Anne Sorensen and Tom Converse who now meet with our youth group online. The kids love the opportunity to see one another and then respond to questions like “How has this week been for you? Where have you experienced God this week? What was hard about these last few days? What did you enjoy?” I give thanks for Louise Labbe-Fahy who sends notes and coloring pages to our Sunday School children and is discovering ways to offer Bible stories and activities for them online.

            My heart is filled with gratitude for the many people who are enriching the lives of our congregation – let us rejoice in musicians like Nancy Ducharme, Ben Gould, Jeff Wong, and Sarah Jo Burke who lift our spirits with their musical talents. There are many volunteers who are sending cards and making phone calls while we are physically apart from one another. Clever crafters are creating much-needed facemasks and isolation gowns for local hospitals and nursing homes. Food that you donated to our church pantry is being given to “Caitlyn’s Cupboard” at Day Kimball Hospital to help oncology patients during a time when the need is high but donations are low.

 Your compassion and caring fill my heart with hope. That enables me to rejoice in this day because I see signs of God’s love and new life in and around us.

            Today – look for signs of God’s hope.  Let us rejoice because God is in this day.

            Today – be a sign of God’s hope for someone else. Help someone else have a reason to rejoice.

Daily Appreciations

What if we noticed the small things in our lives that lift our spirits and make us smile? What if we didn’t allow those moments to slip us by, but instead took time to pause, appreciate, and give thanks. I wonder if we would become more aware of the blessings in our lives.

Here are some small things that brighten my days:  

Our local creamery. Not only can I get fresh milk (and chocolate milk!), yogurt, and meat, but it tickles me that there is a drive-through. I haven’t used it personally, but I have vivid memories of being a young mother with three little ones. The thought of having to unbuckle car seats, search for kicked-off shoes, and zipping up coats even one more time was enough to make me skip an errand or two. I love that tired parents, busy teenagers, and any weary traveler can just pull up to the window and fill their order. Every time I see the sign, it makes me smile.  So I pause. Appreciate. And give thanks.

A warm pool on a cold day. There is something a bit decadent about enjoying the warm air and refreshing water inside while gazing at the wintery scene outside. I love to swim and am grateful for the beautiful pool that is close enough for me to enjoy several times each week. I try not to take it for granted, so I pause. Appreciate. And give thanks.

Fruit-flavored water. This little treat is available whenever I go swimming. Yes, it’s a small pleasure, but how lovely to have fresh-tasting, cool water prepared for my refreshment. Before I drink, I pause. Appreciate. And give thanks.

Pretty candles. Short winter days call for additional light. And how much better it is when those lights sparkle and cast a beautiful glow. This candle is from the very special wedding I attended, so they offer an additional meaning. When I light a candle, it causes me to slow down and gives me the chance to pause so I can appreciate its uplifting light. And I give thanks.

Warm boots. “Walking in a winter wonderland” only sounds like fun in a song. The reality is usually cold legs and icy toes. When my thoughtful husband gave me these boots for Christmas, I knew that cold mornings would be transformed for me. When I I slip them on, I pause and appreciate their warmth and comfort.  And I give thanks.  

Cup of tea. Just the process of preparing tea can calm me down. Heat the water, choose the flavor, pour the water, wait as it steeps, and then pour and enjoy.  Ahhh… it is an invitation to pause and appreciate. And then to give thanks.

            Each day provides opportunities to bask, even briefly, in appreciation and to offer thanks. It’s easy to overlook simple pleasures as we rush from one moment to the next. Instead, let’s pause long enough to notice. Let’s take a moment to appreciate. And then let us give thanks.