Giving Thanks, 2018

Y’know, in so many ways, I am so, so ready to see the backside of 2018 as it heads out the door in another five weeks. This has been a tough year: the loss of Mary’s dad and my mom were certainly huge reasons to wish this year a speedy farewell. But there were other times of toughness in the family: struggles in school, for one. Watching the nest empty a little, for another. An emergency appendectomy on my 25th anniversary, no less. It hasn’t been the easiest of years.

And yet…

And yet there remains much to be thankful for. It might seem trite, to do a list at this time of year, but Abraham Lincoln may have been onto something in 1863 when he established Thanksgiving as a holiday in the midst of the Civil War. We do need a reminder, every now and then, to stop down and to be thankful for what is going right. And so, in 2018 I give thanks for:

  • The first 25 years of marriage to the one who is still my bride, Mary. Despite the appendectomy on the day, it’s been a good year for celebrating us. Like dinners out, and plans for a week in the UK at New Year’s. Losing her dad and seeing the effect on her mom, made me imagine what it would be like without her. And I shudder.
  • And the kids, David and Sarah, who each have their own path, and that’s great, and it’s terrific to see the young adults they’re turning into.
  • Quite simply, without them I couldn’t have answered the call that I’m receiving, beckoning me towards ordination. They have given me space to explore this and permission where I needed it.
  • Starting seminary this year, and figuring out how to juggle all that entails while holding down a job and doing everything else. Learning how to do online classes, as well as fitting in with the in-person classes…it’s been a shift, and I’m grateful for it, and for the endorsements I’ve received along the way. (Just a couple of weeks until my second semester is over!)
  • David’s trip to Spain (and Portugal) this summer, where he had the chance to complete his field school, refine his archaeological techniques, and learn about grad school programs that are now his choice for what to do after Radford (can you believe he wants to go to GRAD SCHOOL?!?)
  • Sarah and her servant leader’s heart in being the leader for Chrysalis weekend C-99 in the summer. She had to overcome a lot to get it done, and she had to buckle down in some places where it was hard to do so. But it’s easy to see how she simply comes alive in leading worship and bringing others to Christ!
  • My own teaming experiences on Emmaus weekend E-185, Kairos weekend K-75, and soon to be Chrysalis weekend C-100…for Adam, Michael, Shannon, Larry, Hollywood, Joel, and everyone else who got to experience God’s love (and I got to have a front-row seat).
  • Sarah’s job! She’s experiencing the wide world of work, starting this fall at Sheetz and learning how to deal with managers, customers, managers, other coworkers, and managers. Oh, and managers.
  • The beginning of the emptying nest, as David and his roommate Nathan got an apartment…and David promptly emptied his bedroom. Our baby boy is all gone now! (Ask Mary about her new lounge/study/nook room)
  • Good friends: reconnecting with Adam in a way we hadn’t in the last couple of years, and bowling with Ken and Trish each month, and…so many others!
  • Work–having some, of course, and that it pays well helps, and that it’s a little less crazy lately has been an added bonus.
  • The love and support of Sydenstricker UMC in the candidacy process. I was truly touched and humbled by the unanimous vote to recommend me to pursue candidacy. That was a special moment.
  • Fergie. The Pums. The happy puppy. Despite her entering, technically, into “senior dog” status as a 7-year-old this year, and picking up the first couple of silver bits of fur in her black coat, she’s a 50-pound chicken who truly knows how to love. You cannot out-love a dog.
  • Sharing a weekend in Vermont with Glenn, being able to showcase some of my home state to a Texan who’d never seen it before. And all the more, his support over that weekend as my mom passed away. Truly, a brother.

I know I’m leaving things off…but I also know this is so much already to be thankful for. Lord, you give and you give. And sometimes, yes, you take away. But your love is always constant, and I can see it looking back even in years like this. May your name be praised!

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Thanksgiving

We were talking about how it’s Thanksgiving this week in the office, and someone made the observation that this year has just been so nuts, so nonstop, that it’s hard to believe it’s late November already. Wasn’t it just April, she wondered?

Yes, it was. Yet here we are. But, of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s not like they’ve moved Thanksgiving suddenly. It’s right where it always was.

I am sure some of why we feel this way is down to The World, the mad pace we all keep trying to satisfy it. But I think as well, there’s a sense of being caught off guard: what do you mean, I have to power down and be thankful? It jars us slightly, especially if we don’t live from a place of thankfulness. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions when you ask them what they’re thankful for–and they can’t answer in general platitudes, like just “my family.” Ask someone to get specific: who? Why? What in particular are you thankful for? That’s when they start looking up and away, trying to rack their brains for something specific. That’s when the pause starts coming into the conversation.

It’s an indictment, really, of our failure to live in a spirit of thanksgiving with God on a daily basis. But that’s not how we’re called to live:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

In all circumstances? Yep. When you’re overwhelmed at work, be thankful for the skills God gave you to handle the job in the first place. Frustrated that the car needs another repair? Then be thankful for having been given the resources even to have bought it in the first place. Disappointed by something your child did? Then for just having that child in your life to begin with: so many would-be parents ache at each miscarriage or stillbirth.

For many, our prayer life is lacking in thankfulness. We have our long lists of things to ask for; how much of our conversation with God is just telling him “thanks” for all that’s actually going right?

After Thanksgiving, we will begin moving into Advent, and we begin to turn our hearts back towards the manger and the One who came to show us the way. Look at the fact that at least five times in the Gospels, Jesus directly and publicly gives thanks to his father in heaven (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, Luke 22:17-19, John 6:11, John 11:41), and then take that as a new direction in your prayer practices. Work more thanksgiving into them, and then I promise you, you won’t be surprised by the fourth Thursday in November any longer, because you’ll be thankful the whole year round.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Take Time to Give Thanks

It is an absolutely. Gorgeous. June. Day. And yes, since it’s the weekend, I have a ton of chores to do. It’s also still the busy season at work, and it won’t take much for my mind to wander to all I haven’t done yet there, as well. But you know where I am right now?

20170604_155713Yep: my backyard hammock, enjoying the soft breeze, the high-80s warmth, and a chance to reflect on what’s going right, instead of obsess (as I always do) about what’s not. A partial list:

  • There’s two racks of ribs in the smoker that will be absolutely delicious later this afternoon.
  • It’s Pentecost, and we had a spirit-filled service this morning, welcoming Tim back off the mountain and celebrating his Emmaus walk.
  • My high-school daughter passed her state Chemistry test, despite much angst, and she says her first SAT this weekend felt good too.
  • Both the kids participated in the (school-)year-end lock-in at church last night, reconnecting with people of Christ.
  • Twenty-four years of marriage–to the same wonderful woman, no less.
  • Being done with the lawn earlier than I’d feared it would take.
  • Making plans with my college roommate for a guys’ weekend golfing and etc. together this September, to mark our respective birthdays, and being able to grace him with free airfare (yeah, I had a ridiculous amount of miles).
  • My own connection with the Emmaus community, which I got to celebrate yesterday.
  • A roof, food, and love…what more, really, do I need?

And yet, how often do we actually stop to thank God for all that’s going right in our world, instead of just bringing to him our concerns? As Garrison Keillor wrote: “Thank you, dear Lord, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

Jesus, you are amazing, awesome in power and love, and I start by celebrating you. But I also celebrate all that’s going right in my life, and I thank you for your hand behind me every day. Forgive me for the times I overlook your grace and your bounty. Free my heart to rest in those times that your love surrounds me, those times that things are going well, and leave me reminders often of how to turn back to you. In you precious name…Amen.

Thankfulness

We celebrated another Thanksgiving yesterday. The usual: the turkey (18# this year), the stuffing, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the peas, the green beans (French style), the rolls, the cranberry sauce, the onions….  Brought my mom over, and College Boy was home for the week, his first time home in three months. All in all, a Thanksgiving like so many others.

Once we push back from the table, once we start “trippin’ on tryptophan,” do we rush into the next season and start decorating for Christmas? Or do we continue in thanksgiving?

To be thankful ought to be more than an annual occurrence. It ought to be daily, hourly–it ought to be a continual prayer of thanks to God for all he’s done for us. Stopping down once a year to be thankful ought to feel embarrassing: if this is the only time we’re thankful, there’s so much we’re missing in our life with God.

I’m thankful for

  • the opportunity to have experienced God’s love so vividly at Emmaus this spring.
  • finding Mom a nursing home that will take her next month, where she can get the kind of care she needs and can be safe.
  • College Boy and his adventures of the past few months: there’s a new maturity I see that heartens me, that makes all the struggles of high school worthwhile.
  • my daughter, despite being in the midst of the aforementioned struggles with high school. Her commitment to the Lord is strong and I appreciate all that she is.
  • my bride, for putting up with me nearly 24 years now. ‘Nuf sed.
  • grace, without which thankfulness is meaningless, and without which so much of the last year would have been impossible.
  • friends, family, coworkers, fellow pilgrims on the trail
  • my dog. I mean, who wouldn’t be thankful for her?
  • anyone reading this. Seriously: if you care enough to be following me and reading these words, I’m thankful that God has led you across my path.

The list, really, is endless. And isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t we live our lives so that they are a testament to how grateful we are to God for all he’s already done for us, instead of asking for the next thing?