Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Hands cup around the warm glow of a candle in front of cool twilight shadows, flames of other candles flickering in the background

Finding Gratitude in Hardship

Thanksgiving is near! I love that Thanksgiving precedes the Advent and Christmas seasons. It helps prepare us by reminding us of God’s goodness and posturing us to receive Jesus with gratitude; with humble hearts. Soon, we’ll hear our favorite Christmas music (some of you are already doing that, just couldn’t wait!), eat delicious food, and visit with family and friends.

What are your experiences of Advent and Christmas? When I was a kid, the Advent and Christmas seasons meant going to Grandma’s home and eating all kinds of sweets and tamales. It was a time when I would see my uncles, aunts, and cousins and meet some family members for the first time. If there ever were a season to wear stretchy pants and stay up late, that was it!

For these and many other reasons, I always looked with anticipation for this time of year. It was a magical, joyful, full-of-life season for a child like me. It had little to do with the presents, but much more with the experiences: I was with the people who loved me and I loved. I was not joyful because I didn’t lack anything or had no troubles, but because I belonged with people.

Sometimes we ask, “how can I be grateful when I struggle and lack so much? How can I have joy when I have been treated unjustly and suffered greatly? What would I give thanks for, if I have so little to thank for, or have lost so much?”

If we only look at life through the lens of disappointment and loss, we fail to notice everything else that is good and life-giving. I believe God wants us to appreciate the gift of life—even with the challenges, losses, and suffering we may face.

Through our faith in Jesus, we can experience peace and hope even in the saddest and darkest times because we’re reminded we’re not alone; life is more than what we see or have at any given moment. In other words, when we see life through the lens of faith and hope, we can experience the present, and see the future, with grateful hearts – despite our lack and our heartaches.

The apostle Paul experienced all this and spoke of gratitude and joy in the middle of his difficulties, which were significant. This is what he wrote in Philippians 4:10-13:

“I rejoice…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.”

Paul’s joy and strength in Christ “to do all things” was based on his ability to be grateful in all circumstances—even when he was upset, discouraged, or disappointed. His attitude made him strong – not for selfish gain, but to remain faithful to his faith, knowing he had a promised future and life in Jesus even beyond this life. His faith and hope for the future helped him celebrate life even during difficult times.

Now when you read this, keep in mind the context of this letter. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in a cold jail cell, chained to a Roman soldier, as if he were a violent criminal. In the previous five years, he’d been arrested for preaching the gospel, held captive unjustly, shipwrecked, stranded on an island, and awaited trial before the heinous Caesar Nero. It would have been understandable if he had become a cynical, bitter, resentful person. And beyond what happened to him, he still remembered when he persecuted the church and caused so much harm to people.

So instead of writing to the Philippians, “I thank God for your faithfulness and rejoice with you” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he had many reasons to complain and abandon hope, to feel rejected and cursed. But we find him doing the opposite: expressing his joy, contentment, and strength, because he was experiencing life through the lens of faith and hope.

To Paul, no matter what happened to him, life was much more than having plenty or little. He was not a hostage of his past or his present adverse circumstances. He would not have had a reason to express gratitude if he had been.

You and I can relate to this because not everything goes how we want it. We don’t always have what we want; our prayers are not always answered the way we expect. The bad memories from our past may even yell at us, to shame and hold us back and keep us down. Or you may have lost so much you can’t imagine you have anything left to give thanks for.

Here is the question you may be asking: How did Paul do it? How do I do it? How can I be grateful when I struggle so much and my life experiences tell me otherwise?

First, don’t ever let go of your faith.

Keep the faith, because it will help you keep an open mind and perspective about yourself, other people, and everything else. In others words, it will give you hope.

When you keep your faith, those times when you hit rock-bottom become a springboard that launches you toward new opportunities and growth instead of victimization and defeat—just like Paul experienced. Keeping faith positions you to learn from your experiences instead of quitting. Faith gives us the power to transform challenges into opportunities. Faith gives us an attitude of gratitude.

Second, surround yourself with loved ones and people who care about you.

When life is rough, the temptation is to give up and go away, believing you are unlovable and done. Paul could have done that, but he didn’t. Don’t you do it either. Just like when you are sick and don’t run away from medical care, when you’re having a hard time, don’t cut off your relationships. Your family and friends can be the beacons of light you need. In fact, God uses them to care for you. This is what happened to Paul. His letter was a “thank you” note of gratitude to the churches who had supported his ministry. He was not angry or resentful because of his struggles; he was grateful because he had people that cared for him. Keeping the relationships that nurture you will provide you the endurance you need to help you keep going even in the toughest times.

Last, allow yourself to have bad days, just like Paul did.

For some misguided reasons, many of us have believed our faith will exempt us from hardship, or if we believe hard enough, we will get nothing but a blissful life. Many people lose faith, not because they don’t experience blessings, but because they think they should not experience hardship. We are going to have bad days and seasons, but hardship does not remove the blessings we already have or will get.

Psalm 23 gives us such warning and hope: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” This means we will face difficult times, even death, but God will not let us walk alone in this life or the next one. Bad seasons do not change who God is, whose we are, and how he loves us.

Here is the invitation and good news: If you are grieving or hurting, grieve and hurt with hope. Don’t suffer as though you had no faith. Instead, get hold of faith; it will remind you to whom you belong and where you belong. Don’t let yourself go into the dark, but get hold of your faith and hope and seek the light.

There are many things we can receive with gratitude; use those blessings in your life you may have taken for granted and allow them to provide strength to keep going on. Then, when you realize how much you have to live for, you will say, as Paul did, “I rejoice and can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

And the good news is that God is with you, so you can say, “I fear no evil or lacking, or anything else, for you are with me” (Psalm 23).

My friends, faith and hope do not change what happened to you in your past, what may be happening to you right now, or exempt you from future hardships, but they will help you see the reasons to have gratitude. They will give you a good life despite the challenges. Embrace life. Be grateful.

Featured image courtesy Rebecca Peterson-Hall via Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Valuing Your Pastors: Snapshots of Clergy Appreciation Month

It is October, which for pastors is Clergy Appreciation Month. Recently I polled clergy on their experiences of Pastor Appreciation in the midst of ministry. The results managed to surprise me.

I was curious to know answers to what I thought was a fairly straightforward, simple question: what’s one of the most meaningful gifts or gestures you received for Pastor Appreciation? As an afterthought, I included – or an awkward gift or gesture?

It was surprising to see the percentage of clergy who have never experienced any organized appreciation initiative, alongside the number who (though technically counted as having received Clergy Appreciation) received maybe one or two cards, years prior.

The point of surveying clergy was not to reinforce an idealized perspective of pastors. I’m rarely surprised by pastors, though it happens from time to time. But for every self-promoting or self-aggrandizing or corrupt or predatory pastor I’ve known, I’ve known many more who continue to show up week after week because they love God and they want people to see God, love God, and love others.

However, clergy burnout rates in North America are quite high, while available Sabbaticals are often under-utilized; a number of pastors leave ministry, and clergy mental health is frequently under assault. Recently, a tragic case of a high-profile pastor’s suicide hit the news. The factors contributing to burnout, clergy drop-out rates, and mental health struggles are complex, and no one event or initiative is a cure-all. Congregations should have high expectations for their pastors’ integrity, hard work, and growing maturity and leadership. Congregations have a right to expect to be treated with care, honesty, character, and respect.

But some of the gestures clergy have pointed out as most meaningful also reflect the particular challenges they face:

  • A pastor who receives a perceptive personal gift feels seen and known in what is often a lonely role
  • A pastor whose kids are included as recipients in Clergy Appreciation sees the hidden family cost and sacrifice being noticed and honored
  • A pastor who receives a deliberate daily prayer initiative senses renewed energy to face daily spiritual battles for which they crave Divine wisdom and insight
  • A pastor who receives specific notes mentioning examples of the impact of their ministry fights the fear that they’re not making any difference through the waves of criticism, tragedy, and pressure they encounter in the pews

In my informal poll, I reached out to North American Protestant Christian clergy, weighted heavily toward Wesleyan Methodist pastors working in local congregations (District Superintendents, Bishops, or General Superintendents were not included this time). They represent regions across the United States. The group includes both women and men in active pastoral ministry as solo, senior, or staff pastor or chaplain. Among responding clergy were Caucasian, Black, and Latino pastors. Pastors from multiple denominations responded, including AME Zion, AME, United Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, and Episcopalian. Congregation size varied, as did denominational form of organization – congregational voting on a pastor vs episcopal appointment by a Bishop.

  • Roughly 65% of respondents have experienced some kind of recognition, gift, token, or event for Clergy Appreciation month, which is good. However, this ranges from getting a Hallmark card or gift certificate once or twice from individuals in a congregation, to organized events, lunches, gift baskets or sporting events tickets, to each staff member receiving a thousand dollars in gift cards.
  • About 20% of respondents had never served a congregation that observed Clergy Appreciation month but had received formal, organized recognition or appreciation at other times or milestones, like a milestone anniversary year at a congregation or when the pastor was moving away.
  • About 15% of respondents had never served a congregation that organized a formal recognition or appreciation initiative, either during Clergy Appreciation Month or at any other time.

Regardless of the monetary value of gifts, respondents repeatedly affirmed that some of the most meaningful gestures were personal, or illustrated what each member was able to give in their own capacity, or expressed the specific impact a pastor’s ministry had made.

Further, a couple of respondents explained that Clergy Appreciation is rarely or never observed in some particular contexts: church planting (where a congregation is new, not yet established, and often is completely unaware of Pastor Appreciation month), and chaplaincy positions (where a clergyperson is appointed outside of a traditional congregation in settings like hospitals/hospice, law enforcement or fire departments, athletic teams, or the military). For chaplains and church planters, there may be a higher likelihood of falling through the cracks, despite their roles being particularly heavy with crisis encounters (chaplains) and with entrepreneurial launch risk (church planters).

An aside: not all clergy want Pastor Appreciation recognition – sometimes they fear it looks self-serving to visitors, or they’ve grown to dread resentful comments about needing a salary at all or interactions that feel quid pro quo. Most pastors wouldn’t want the kind of “PreachersNSneakers” attention some celebrity pastors have been receiving about the perception of their wealth or what they do with it. But the vast majority of pastors serve congregations of fewer than 500 members, and the majority of those serve in churches with 200 members or fewer, so it’s unlikely the rural Illinois pastor down the street is rocking a $4,000 pair of shoes while layoffs are occurring across town.

While certainly care should be exercised, pastors as effective leaders must work toward being able to inhabit a place of comfortable, appropriate vulnerability. And that’s what being willing to receive something is: you are allowing yourself to be impacted by another person. This is a vital trait for clergy to exercise, who so often are the ones in the position of giver – giver of time, resources, counsel, insight, and leadership. When you let people give, it breaks down walls and barriers easy for wounded clergy to keep up; it reinforces to congregations the value of expressing and communicating gratitude, positivity, and appreciation; and it allows people to give from whatever scant resource they’re able. If you tell a church you don’t “need” anything from them, you’re robbing the five-year-olds of the opportunity to practice showing gratitude through their Crayola art. You’re telling the 85-year-old that she can’t do anything valuable for you, that she has nothing of worth that you need. And you’re telling people with limited income that their banana bread doesn’t have a point – when maybe that’s the best thing they have to give. So let them give it. Or else never preach on the feeding of the 5,000 or the widows’ mites again.

Here, then, are a few takeaways from pastors’ responses on what Clergy Appreciation gestures have been most meaningful (or sometimes most awkward). They’re relevant to leaders like District Superintendents or Bishops, active and retired pastors, and laypeople wondering where their congregation falls compared to other churches.

Pastors’ experience of Clergy Appreciation Month varies so widely it seems almost solely shaped by individual congregational lay leadership.

Church size, area of the country, denomination – none of these determine the likelihood of whether or to what extent a congregation will observe Pastor Appreciation. No one leadership style or pastoral personality or temperament seemed to shape the likelihood of whether or not a particular clergyperson had received gestures of appreciation. Sometimes length of tenure appeared to have some correlation – the longer a pastor had stayed in once place, the more likely they were to have been honored in some organized or deliberate way.

Pastoral Appreciation habits on a church-by-church basis seems further illustrated by the fact that some churches don’t observe any formal recognition of Clergy Appreciation Month in October, yet have a healthy practice of regularly encouraging their pastor at other times of year. Yet rather sadly, for at least one minister, a congregation with retired denominational leaders and pastors attending was the only church they served that hadn’t recognized Clergy Appreciation (perhaps illustrating the principle that, “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown”).

When denomination, region, and church size don’t significantly determine whether or not a congregation organizes regular Clergy Appreciation initiatives, the spectrum of experiences is quite wide. Lay leaders exercise a great deal of influence and leadership, and factors like congregational culture and health likely inform attitudes, proactive communication, and a sense of pride, ownership, and gratitude.

Consider some statements from currently active pastors:

“I did not even know it was Pastor Appreciation month. I do not think I have ever received a gift for it. Is that weird?”

“I only recall having received one gift from a lay person at one church I’ve served. It had a gift card, which was nice!”

“Church plant congregations have no idea about Pastor Appreciation month!”

“The best was tickets to an NFL game. It was on a Sunday, so the church gave us the weekend off! It was really nice.”

“My church decided to make Pastor Appreciation a really big deal one year (I had been at the church for six years). Normally, I might get a card or a gift certificate from random church members. This particular year, they gave me a different surprise every Sunday during October. The first week at the end of the service they gave me a big bucket full of goodies. One week, they gave me a big box full of notes of encouragement. So very thoughtful. They also bought a new desk for my office, repainted it, re-carpeted it, and redecorated it. They also gave me a framed picture of my face made out of words that describe me.”

“They gave each of us and the lead pastor over a thousand dollars’ worth of gift certificates to the dinner theater, the fanciest steakhouse, and a bed and breakfast.”

There are a couple of dynamics likely to produce an awkward Clergy Appreciation experience.

There are a multitude of ways to show appreciation with sensitivity, creativity, and personality, as some beautiful examples below show. However, a couple of situations can create awkward Clergy Appreciation experiences.

When a congregation recognizes a Senior Pastor to the complete exclusion of other staff members, it can be awkward for everyone. Consider these experiences:

“Only recognizing senior pastors makes it look like the congregation doesn’t think the other pastors are doing ‘real’ ministry.”

“My church has this sweet sign, Our Pastor is #1! A bit awkward though since it’s singular, and we have two pastors on staff.”

When themed gifts pile up for clergy who have to pack and move regularly. While teachers receive apple-themed decor, keepsakes, ornaments, dishes, and more, pastors sometimes have a similar challenge.

“My spouse gets awkward ones all the time. Just random crosses and church-y things that will collect dust.”

“Please, no more crosses or Bibles. I’m set!”

When social insensitivity potentially sours a well-intended gesture, pastoral appreciation shifts from being relaxing to presenting new challenges to be solved.

“It was great when people offered to watch our kids so we could have a date night – until it was a person we were not comfortable letting care for our kids. Declining was awkward in those moments.”

“One thing I’m aware of in our social media age is that some pastors are going to be in pain as they watch other churches shower their pastors with gifts, and then watch their church go silent. Pastors, out of a sense of excitement and gratitude, post it on social media. Sometimes, despite the good intentions, I wonder if it leads to comparisons as one pastor compares his $25 gift certificate to another pastor’s trip to Hawaii.”

Sometimes the awkwardness has a more sinister edge, so if your pastor seems a little wary during Clergy Appreciation month, remember occasionally there are circumstances going on behind the scenes, as with one respondent in active ministry:

“I have a stalker who is sending me things. The Superintendent is about to have a cease and desist letter sent.”

Despite the number of ways expressions of gratitude can become awkward, take them as helpful notes but don’t let them keep you from showing appreciation to your own pastor. As you’ll see below, even a short note can stick in the clergy mind for years and encourage a tired pastor to keep going.

The most meaningful gifts were personal, reflected individual ability to give from the resources they had, or included notes about how their ministry mattered or the impact of their work.

No one goes into ministry for the salary; still, it is moving to see what moves the average minister. Consider these creative gestures from a variety of congregations of varying size, with varying resources, and why they mattered to the pastors who received them:

“One year, our board planned an entire weekend of services including kids’ church, youth, preaching, music, scheduling volunteers. Our staff was invited to simply come and participate. It was amazing to come without responsibility and be a part of our morning worship services. It truly was a gift of time and appreciation. Imagine a whole week that our staff was able to realign our efforts because we didn’t have to plan weekend worship services. It was great!”

“I personally appreciate the thoughtfulness more now than I did in years past. Having gone through a tough pastorate, acts of service and love mean more to me than they once did.”

“One of the most meaningful gifts I have received for Pastor Appreciation month was a picture of my grandmother framed with a poem written by one of my members. My grandmother passed two years ago during Pastoral Appreciation month. The gift made me cry.”

“Honestly the money and gifts are always appreciated. But when people have written about the difference one has made in their lives…those make everything so worth it.”

“Our church does prayers for your pastors for the month of October with a prayer prompt each day. A lot of the cards and notes I get say that people are praying, and I believe they are, especially with the prayer prompts. They include our family in the prayers so that means a lot.”

“I had a church member who knew that I like deer meat, but also that I don’t like to hunt. He killed a deer and called me to pick it up, but all I had to transport the deer was my small compact car. So I stuffed this deer carcass into the trunk of a Corolla to have it processed. It was all pretty crazy! But it was an incredibly kind gesture.”

“The most meaningful was an appreciation lunch; there wasn’t enough in the budget to give cash gifts, but the members still wanted to show their appreciation. They decorated the hallway and tables with signs. The children made cupcakes for us. The most meaningful part was the gesture from the kids who made cupcakes, because it was the sense that everyone has the capacity to give – they gave from their hearts and their own means.”

“The most meaningful – I think what people have said in the cards they give me when they express their appreciation for my ministry, and the support they offer.”

“When I was single, one congregation brought me meals every day for a month.”

“This year they gave me a gigantic card that had lots of color and glitter, it was so me! I think that’s what I like best, it is so hard to get surprises past me, and they always seem to do it.”

“We’ve also had people get our kids gift cards, to take the family out for dinner – Steak n Shake and Wendy’s – it made them feel special, that they could ‘plan’ and ‘prepare’ dinner.”

“My most used gift – someone gave me and the other pastor each a large Yeti cup with our names on them. I used it all the time and never worried about losing it on Sunday.”

“Stained glass from old church windows (when they remodeled or repaired windows). We have these from two different church buildings. I get emotional just thinking about it.”

“I remember my children lighting up when they found a basket filled with goodies on the porch. It makes me happy when my kids feel loved.”

What a variety of ways to express appreciation for clergy.

Who can you thank this month? If you’re a layperson, have you thought about the pastoral staff at your church, or chaplains in your region? If you’re a pastor, have you thought about your District Superintendent or Bishop and how you can express appreciation without coming across as overly ambitious or self-serving? If you’re a District Superintendent or Bishop, have you thought about the chaplains or church planters in your care who are less likely to be recognized with organized efforts of appreciation?

This month, who can you thank?

And if no one has said it, or is likely to say it –

Thank you. For all you do, seen and unseen. For not giving up or growing embittered or coasting. For offering the gift of character and integrity. For carrying a spiritual burden for the people under your care. For not laughing at the Sunday Schoolers’ macaroni art. For staying calm while someone your parents’ or grandparents’ age sobs on your shoulder in grief. For accepting your 385th decorative cross with a smile. For carrying the knowledge of the heartbreaking Scandal that’s About to Hit before anyone else learns of it. For taking on seminary debt and still having criticism leveled at your preaching by people who themselves are terrified of public speaking or have never preached 52 times a year. For plunging that one toilet, again.

You are seen, and appreciated, and celebrated.

Thank you to all the clergymembers who took a few minutes to share their experiences.

Featured photo from justmeasuringup.com/kidsthankyoucards

Suzanne Nicholson ~ Suffering through Thanksgiving

This is the time of year when advertisements inundate us with images of happy families gloriously celebrating the holidays. Women in velvet dresses clink champagne glasses with men in suits and plaid bowties. Their beautifully decorated homes overflow with relatives who eat turkey and all the fixings from holly-themed china plates. You can almost smell the cinnamon and nutmeg wafting through the air.

Thankfulness comes easily under those circumstances. It is effortless to live in the moment, to seize the day, when all is sparkly and beautiful. But when the current moment is rife with injustice, living in the moment is nothing short of cruel. A loved one murdered, and the killer avoids prison. A child trafficked for sex, with no one to protect her. A pension fund plundered, leaving retirees penniless.

How does one rejoice in the midst of injustice?

Scripture is full of stories of injustice. After Joseph saved Egypt from famine and brought his family under the protection of Pharaoh, time passed. The new pharaoh failed to remember that a Hebrew had saved the land; instead, he suspected the Hebrews of planning sedition (Exod. 1:8-10). The Egyptians enslaved those who had saved them.

Job’s only flaw was being so faithful to God that Satan took notice (Job 1:9-11). In the testing that followed, Job lost his business, his family, and his health. Despite his faithfulness, disaster ensued.

Sometimes even justified suffering seemed to come through unjust means. God punished Israel and Judah for their great sinfulness by means of the exile. But the prophet Habakkuk questioned how God could use the wicked Babylonians to discipline the people of God. He cried out to God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you are unable to look at disaster. Why would you look at the treacherous or keep silent when the wicked swallows one who is more righteous?” (Hab. 1:13).

Habakkuk’s outburst reflects common themes in the lament psalms. Psalm 22, which Jesus began to recite on the cross, starts with “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (Ps. 22:1-2).

Even after the resurrection of Jesus, unjust suffering continues. In 2 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul recounts the numerous times he has been flogged, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, and subjected to other horrors as a result of preaching the Gospel.

These injustices point to the “already/not-yet tension” in the New Testament. Jesus has already inaugurated the Kingdom by dealing with sin and defeating death. The fullness of the Kingdom, however, has not yet been realized. The Holy Spirit is at work in believers, transforming our lives and empowering us to be salt and light in a dark, decaying world. But until Christ returns to complete the process he started, we will continue to experience injustice in this life.

But the truth of Christ’s impending return is what keeps faithful men and women going. When we take a long view of history, our current injustices take on a different meaning. We look back at what Christ accomplished on the cross—a fact of history that can never be changed or reversed—and we understand that sin and death have met their match. We look forward to the fullness of the Kingdom and recognize that greater blessings are yet to come.

This is why Paul can write to the Philippians—while chained to a Roman guard!—that we should rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). Earlier in the letter he told the church that he focuses on what lies ahead, pressing onward to win the goal of the prize for which God has called him (3:13-14). Paul’s reality is centered not on his chains, but on the promise of eternal life with God.

This does not mean that Paul somehow ignores his present pain or pretends it did not happen. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he tells us that he had a thorn in his flesh that tormented him. Scholars have speculated on what this thorn might have been, based on hints in his letters—an eye problem? Arthritis? Some other physical deformity? Paul prayed three times for this thorn to be removed, and each time he was told no. Paul—who had healed the sick and raised the dead—was not given the power to heal himself. In Paul’s case, he needed to learn that God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through all weakness. His response: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9b-10). Paul defines his present and future by the power of God. In the current moment of pain, Paul takes a long view of history and rejoices in the ultimate victory of the God who overcomes.

This perspective is woven through the biblical narrative. The Hebrews experiencing years of slavery in Egypt cried out to God, who called Moses to deliver them. Job’s health and business were restored, and he was blessed with more sons and daughters. God promised Habakkuk that he would bring justice to the wicked Babylonians. And Psalm 22 reassures us that Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is not the last word: the lament psalm remembers God’s past faithfulness and proclaims that God will triumph and all nations will praise him.

For those who are suffering injustice, the biblical narrative brings reassurance that God is at work in this world. While restoration may occur here and now, some injustices cannot be adequately addressed in this lifetime. For those who suffer in this way, Scripture proclaims that their story does not end here. Rejoice! The God of justice is coming.

Shalom Liddick ~ An Emptier Yet Fuller Life

My hike begins like many others for me: time spent talking with God and listening to his voice being carried in the wind. My ordinary day is about to change.

As the giant orange orb crests between heaven and earth, I hear God say “happy birthday,” and my heart explodes with joy because without a doubt I knew why.

It was my birthday, but not in the way you may think. Seven years ago God gave me a new life. Life from depression, new life from death. I am reminded that Jesus, just before he went to the cross, took bread, blessed then broke it, tearing it for his disciples. They – without a clear understanding – received with thanks.

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22: 19, NIV)

Eucharisteo! It is the language of Jesus spoken as death prowled close and the cross loomed near. He took the bread, even the bread of death, and he gave thanks. I received his bread broken for me; and today, I live in thanksgiving. The language of eucharisteo is full of gut-deep groans and thanks. Tearing pieces and thanks.

From hospital bedside to laundry, I pray, “thank you, Lord.” Tear and give thanks. Splash pad to aging parents, “thank you, Lord.” Tear and give thanks. Tattered back, nails hammered, “thank you, Lord.” Torn with thanks. Rose-sprinkled aisle to graveyard visits, I mumble, “thank you, Lord.” Tear and give thanks. A life lived emptier yet fuller. Eucharisteo.

Dusk and the arching dome, the bellied moon, is all heavy with the glory of God. The weight of his gift is not illusion or transient but daily, and everywhere, in everything, is gut-wrenching and awe-full. Eucharisteo.

Carrie Carter ~ When It’s Not Just the Turkey That’s Stuffed

It’s late November and you’re mostly through your daily “Thankful For…” list, or daily “Thankful” reading from the Psalms. By this point, you have your Thanksgiving menu planned, whether it means eating in or eating out. November is pretty predictable, as far as months go.

What do you do, then, when November is not predictable? What if your “Thankful For…” list is more of a “Gotta Get Through This” list? Instead of being filled with holiday plans, family get-togethers, and attitudes of gratitude, it’s overflowing with weariness, unexpected loss, and financial difficulties. You know there are things for which you are thankful, but maybe your brain can’t focus long enough to identify them.

You’re stuffed. Except, unlike a turkey, you’re not bursting with fluffy, sage-y goodness, but rather the leaden weight of what life has lobbed at you. You’re crammed with the recent fight with your spouse, the car repairs, the daughter’s behavior at school, the medical bills, the drama in your extended family, the frustration with your job, the misunderstanding with a friend, the spiritual desert through which you journey…the list goes on and on. You step outside your own personal realm to hearing of death by fire, or by gunshot, or by tragic accident. The media howls from all sides and truth starts to ripple. You just keep stuffing, pushing the heaviness down like trash in a can. It’s not that you want to be stuffed. It’s just that you don’t know what to do with it all.

There is another way.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.          – Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)

See, we humans have a very tiny issue known as control. Culture dictates that individualism is prized. Independence is celebrated. Being in control is valued. The elevation of these traits in society has damaged our ability to release the “stuff” and relinquish our grasp on the things that we really have no hold on anyway.

How much of what you’re carrying is directly affected by what you can do about it?

Maybe some, but not all. Maybe not even most.

That’s the beautiful thing about Jesus’ words. It’s an invitation to come. It’s an invitation to bring all our stuff. Our natural inclination is, in the words of a 2-year-old, to do it, “All by self.” Not just to carry it, but to carry it alone. Jesus is offering to do it with us. He wants to exchange the stuff we’ve placed on ourselves with his stuff. He’s not asking us not to carry anything; he just wants us to carry the right things.

So perhaps your “Thankful for…” list could be written as,

“I’m thankful that I can give Jesus the stuff that has to do with my boss being verbally abusive,” or “I’m thankful that I can give Jesus the stuff that has to do with my aunt’s cancer diagnosis.”


“I’m thankful that in the midst of this disagreement with my spouse, that Jesus can help me to get perspective,” or “I’m thankful that, even though the car repairs were unexpected, Jesus will provide for our needs, even if that means me taking on a few extra hours at work.”

I’m not sure why, but I think we hesitate to “bother” Jesus with the things we consider self-manageable (the “God helps them who helps themselves” mentality), or we wait to save our asking for help when we think the stuff is too big for us to handle. And yet we pour out all stuff, big and small, to our spouse or our parents or our best friend.

Jesus’ desire is for us to come. His desire for us is to squirm out from under the heaviness of our stuff, regardless of how accustomed we are to lugging it around. His desire is for our rest.

And that’s something for which we can truly be thankful.

Karen Bates ~ Choosing Thankfulness in a Harsh World

Occasionally, I pay for people’s coffee while I’m buying my own. Not because I’m rich, but because it’s a nice thing to do.

Recently, I decided to buy coffee for the man behind me, but contemplated whether the kindness was warranted after he was less than kind to the person serving us and to another person in line. I remembered I had no idea what kind of battle the man was fighting and told the cashier I was paying for his order. After I left the store, the man came behind me demanding to know why I bought his coffee.

When I turned to talked to him, he had tears in his eyes. “Thank you. You are a nice woman. Thank you. You made my day.”

It would have been easy to justify not buying his coffee. He was rude, unnecessarily short with the employee and nasty when a person accidently bumped him with a bag. But several months ago I wrote myself notes to always be kind and always be grateful.

It’s hard to do that in situations that challenge basic decency. It’s even more difficult when the adverse actions are taken because of people’s skin color, religion, or for no reason at all.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, the Apostle Paul said:  “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Somehow, being thankful seems inappropriate when people have lost their lives, name calling is out of control, and being mean, nasty, and rude is commonplace for some. However, what I have found is that in all the tense circumstances, there are reasons to give thanks — and one reason is for the communities that rally around people when it seems that all is lost.

On October 27, the day that eleven worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed, I was in the city  (my hometown) to celebrate my mother’s birthday. I watched people rally around our Jewish brothers and sisters, reminding them that hate does not win. There were vigils, blood drives, and words of affirmation to those who were viciously targeted by hate.

I was further encouraged when the community expanded.

On November 7, the Washington Capitals played against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a hockey game. At the game, the Capitals had a 50/50 drawing where one half of the pot was going to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to assist the victims and families of the shooting. However, instead of splitting the pot, the winning fan, who wanted to remain anonymous, waived his right to his half of the $38,570 prize.

When something like that happens, it is a reminder that there are more decent people in the world than there are those who publicly display hate. The deeds and support of people who show love is one way to strip away the power people think hate gives them. Hate is nothing more than fear of the unknown.

When good and love overtake hate, it is also a reminder that God is omnipresent, good and merciful — and not as a cliché.

In Mark 14, there is a woman who crashes a dinner party to minister to Jesus. The Scriptures say she lived a sinful life, but it didn’t stop her from using her tears to wet Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

The host, Simon, was not happy about the uninvited guest, and thought if Jesus was a prophet he would have known the woman touching him was a sinner. Instead of asking the woman to stop and leave, Jesus gave the host, Simon, a lesson about hospitality and then forgave the woman of her sins.There were other guests at the party, and some of them were probably feeling the same as Simon. However, what wowed them was Jesus’s forgiveness of the woman’s sins.

I imagine the woman responded with thanksgiving and appreciation after having faced a group of people who only recognized her for her sin, not Jesus’ ability to forgive her. This incident could have ended differently if those around the woman had recognized she needed to be forgiven instead of ridiculed, or if they had thanked her for caring for Jesus.

When I purchased the coffee for the man I wasn’t sure deserved it, I returned good for evil and in a crazy sort of way I was thankful for him — despite his behavior.

In these days when the culture is trying to normalize hate and bad behavior, be thankful for the people who stand up against it. Be thankful for communities that show love when others are the victims of hate and un-Christlike behavior. Know that you can be a member of a community of love based on how you respond to situations you know about, see, and experience.

Be thankful for your voice and use it — even if you are a community of one. People on the receiving end will be thankful.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Cold and Broken Thanksgiving

From our archives, we are running a popular Thanksgiving reflection for the brokenhearted by Wesleyan Accent Managing Editor Elizabeth Glass Turner.

And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

-Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”

Hopefully, you’re having a banner year – one for the books. The stars align and everything’s coming up you. Babies smile at you, old people are grateful for you, good people respect you and bad people leave you alone. You have a lot to be thankful for. Make your gratitude list, have seconds of sweet potato casserole and pause to appreciate the moment.

Everyone goes through seasons, and some seasons seem to last longer than others.

This is for the people who aren’t having a banner year.

You miscarried.

You got laid off.

You shook your fist at cancer and it didn’t matter.

You picked up your kid from the police station.

You picked up your parent from the police station.

You found that text on your spouse’s phone.

You discovered untruthful gossip following you around.

You discovered truthful gossip following you around.

You arranged a funeral for someone.

You filled an antidepressant prescription.

You should’ve filled an antidepressant prescription.

The turkey is warm, but it’s a cold and broken thanksgiving. Shards of life lie mocking on the floor in the near-shape of their original wholeness and you catch a glimpse of your fractured reflection, a distortion of what was and what should be. And when you count your blessings it’s with gritted teeth or a sense of cruel, useless irony or a numbed, deadened mimic of routine.

What happens when the Mona Lisa is torn apart and the pieces don’t fit and you’re left with a grotesque Picasso? The features are there, but out of place, misaligned, foreign, unfamiliar. Nieces and nephews will recognize you as you walk through the door, but you know, deep down, that you’re struggling to find parts of yourself that you recognize as you sort through remnants, shards, rubble.

Happy Thanksgiving.

You compare your cold and broken thanksgiving to the vast suffering of the world to try to force perspective, to resist the darkness. I have a roof. I have food. My neighbors weren’t just bombed. 

But sometimes even Aunt Bev’s homemade pie tastes stale when your heart is re-breaking every few minutes while you make small talk.

For my days vanish like smoke;
    my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
    I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
    and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
    like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
    like a bird alone on a roof.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
    those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
    and mingle my drink with tears
because of your great wrath,
    for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
My days are like the evening shadow;
    I wither away like grass.

Let’s all go around and say what we’re thankful for…

Your year flashes in bits and pieces in front of your mind and you search for a socially appropriate response that doesn’t include “good medical attention after a miscarriage” or “pro bono lawyers” or “insightful marriage and family therapists.”

Pass the stuffing.

Because you also know by now that faith and hope and love are more than a French bistro-style inspirational poster hanging in the dining room. They’re not feelings, they’re bedrock reality that keep you sane because you know they’re more than trite platitudes.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I’ve come
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Hither by thy help, I’ve come. Here, through your help, I’ve come. Here, with your help, I’ve finally arrived. And I hope, because of your nature, to also arrive safely home.

Ebenezer: the stone of help. A memorial to overcoming by the grace of God. “A commemoration of divine assistance.”

Friend, do whatever you need to do to sit at the table, to steel your soul and give thanks. Giving thanks is a choice, whether you’re in an expensive subdivision or a soup kitchen or the smoldering ruins of your neighborhood. Wear something that makes you feel strong. Find a small phrase from a song or scripture and force it through your head. Set your phone’s alarm to go off regularly just to remind you to pray “Christ, have mercy,” or to reopen a loving email.

Put on your Superman boxers and set to work mentally constructing your memorial stone that etches onto the landscape the living reality of faith: here, in this foyer full of people, I raise a stone of commemoration. This year, by the grace of God, I made it to this foyer. By God’s help, I made it to the church, which felt like a trek across a universe of pain. Here I stack my rocks that have been thrown at me, leaving me bruised and bloodied. I will stack them tall to scream at the cosmos that I’ve come this far by the goodness of God and that God willing, I’ll make it home.

It may be a cold and broken thanksgiving but it is not destroyed.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Eucharisteo: I give thanks. “This is my Body, broken for you for the forgiveness of sins. Eat this in remembrance of me.”

The Body Broken will strengthen and sustain us through any and every holiday meal: the Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharist, gives us the taste of Ebenezer. Here, at this place, I take and eat, here, at this place, I taste and give thanks for a broken Savior. By your help, God, to this place I’ve come.

Taste and see that the Lord is good…

Let’s bow our heads and say grace.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer…

“How have you been? I haven’t heard from you lately.”

I’m taking rocks that have left me stunned and broken and crafting a monument from them.

I’m glad you’re here.

So am I. By the grace of God, I’ve made it this far. And I hope by God’s good grace, safely to make it home.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Michelle Bauer ~Stop, Go Back, Give Thanks

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  

And as they went, they were cleansed. 

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:11-19 (NIV) 

(Read previous reflections on earlier portions of this passage here and here.) 

As you read this story, what do you observe, hear, and smell? Let’s focus our attention on verses 15 and 16 of this passage. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.”  

These ten men were not simply healed of a physical disease. They were given their whole lives back. They could now go back to their homes, their families, their work. What do you think they did first? Just imagine the ripples of joy that were felt throughout their families and communities.  

Verse 15 seems to describe a moment when one of the men looked down and realized he had been healed. Have you ever had a moment when you noticed healing had taken place in your life? When one man realized he had been healed, he stopped and came back to where Jesus was. Yet what was he delaying by making this return trip? 

As he gets back to Jesus, the man begins to praise God in a loud voice. There’s that loud voice again! Have you ever been so grateful to someone that you’ve expressed your thanks in a big way? How did they respond? Have you ever been thanked that way? 

After expressing his thankfulness, the man throws himself at Jesus’ feet.  Imagine yourself at Jesus’ feet. What would you say to him? Think about asking Jesus what he would say to you. 

We don’t know exactly what the man said to Jesus but we do know that he thanked him for his healing. At that time, Samaritans were seen as “less than” by the Jewish world. Have you ever felt this way? 

What would you like to thank God for today? How will you thank him? Take some time each day this week to thank God for the ways he is cleansing you. Ask him for guidance as you live the rest of this day. 


Michelle Bauer ~ When Healing Follows Obedience

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  

And as they went, they were cleansed. 

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:11-19 (NIV) 

I invite you today to spend a few moments in silence. Offer a prayer of thanks to God for all the places in which you experience community – church, family, your workplace.  Thank God for inviting you into community with him. You don’t have to stand at a distance!  

Slowly read through Luke 17:11-19. You may want to continue to imagine yourself as a person in the story. This week we will focus our attention on verse 14 of this passage: “When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. 

Even though these men stood at a distance, Jesus saw them. Jesus made a choice to see these men. He could have ignored their cries. No one would blame him for wanting to avoid their disease. Are you ever tempted to shift your gaze from things that are hard or messy?  

Jesus heals people in many different ways throughout the Gospels. Can you recall some of them? Jesus healed a blind man with a mixture of spit and dirt. A woman was healed just by touching his clothes. What does this variety say to you about how Jesus sees people?  

Unlike some of the other healing stories, these men weren’t immediately healed. “As they went” they were healed.  As they obeyed Jesus’ instruction, the healing began.  Has there been a time in your life when obedience was linked with healing? 

In the time when this event took place, a priest had the authority to give a person a clean bill of health and allow them re-entry into the community.  What, then, were the risks associated with Jesus’ instructions? 

“And as they went, they were cleansed.”  

This feels like a progression of obedience and healing. In what areas have you felt yourself being progressively cleansed by God? Is there an area in which you long for more cleansing? Ask God for that now. Perhaps you feel invited to follow the leper’s model and ask Jesus for pity.  

Thank God for the blessings of your day. Ask him for guidance as you live the rest of your day.  

Be at peace knowing that you are being made whole by Jesus. 



Andy Stoddard ~ Simple Gifts

What simple gifts do you have this holiday season? Reflect on this piece from our archives by Rev. Andy Stoddard.


One of the things that I love most about God is how God can take our small efforts, the things in our life that we don’t believe are good enough, and make them truly amazing.  He can take our small, human efforts, and perform divine miracles with them.

He can make the impossible, possible.  Listen to what happens in John 6: 8-11:

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

Jesus is here with a crowd of 5,000 (men, there were, most assuredly many woman and children there also) and it’s time to eat. But there is nothing there to eat, at least nothing that could feed a crowd this big.

But in this text, we see two people who I’m sure must have felt foolish offer up a small little gift when they saw a huge need.  

First, the boy offers to Andrew these five loaves and two fish. And then Andrew offers them to Jesus.

You can almost see the child sweetly offering up the food, as a child would go to their piggy bank when their family has a need.  The parents smile knowing that it won’t be enough.  You can almost see Andrew do that.

But then he takes that sweet gift to Jesus, knowing that there is no way it can help, but at least it’s something.  And Jesus performs a miracle.

From one small gift, Jesus feeds thousands.

food-healthy-man-personToday, we all have gifts that seem so small with all the needs around.  Offer them anyway.  Give them to Jesus.  Give to them to his mercy and grace.  And see what he can do.

He can take our simple, small gifts, and do amazing things with them.  All for our good (and the good of others) and his glory!

Today, give your simple gifts to Jesus.