Saturday, November 26, 2011


"So," I asked 11-year old *Monique (name changed for confidential reasons), "What do you like about Thanksgiving?"

I was expecting an answer related to stuffing, pie, whipped cream, shopping, or having a couple of extra days of no school.

"I love that we have a day to think about all the little things we're thankful for, because we don't usually do that."

This was a conversation I had with one of the girls who was recently matched with a mentor in our program. I arrived at her home a few minutes early, and I was making small talk with this bright, mature young girl. I certainly didn't expect that answer, and it put a huge smile on my face. From the mouths of babes...

Thanksgiving Day 2011 has come and gone. In the weeks preceeding this annual day of feasting, I, like most people, tend to reflect on those things I am thankful for, since that is the nature of the holiday.

I find the word "thanksgiving" to be a difficult word, mostly because I believe that it has lost its power in this culture. We use this in conjunction with phrases like "counting blessings." When a clerk at a grocery store gives us our change, we say thank you, because it's common courtesy. When a loved one gives us a gift that is meaningful and impacts our lives, we also say thank you. Certainly these are at two ends of the spectrum. I believe that we should be grateful for both.... remembering to thank someone doing a job that serves us for little pay....and expressing gratitude for the acts of love that those closest to us display.

I believe in living a life of gratitude and remembering to thank God for His activity in our lives. I believe in the importance of reminding those close to us how much they mean. I believe that the practice of gratitude is a crucial spiritual practice. I had a seminary professor who shared once that, "Gratitude is the beginning of humility." Beautiful. When we truly practice gratitude, we are reminded that it is God who provides all things...not my own efforts. When I remember who my provider is, I am reminded that God takes care of all things, and that His grace truly is sufficient. When we practice gratitude, I am reminded that (from the words of the movie Rudy) that, "I know two things. God is God, and I am not."

And not only is practicing gratitude important, it's how we enter into the deepest part of God's heart...

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I believe that, for the most part, we live in a world where we don't remember to share with others how important they are to us. I just sometimes wish I had a word that had more depth and power to convey what it means to be utterly grateful and thankful.

I certainly don't want to be cliche, but I'm about to be. I am about to share the obligatory list of all that I am thankful for, because I believe this to be an important thing to remind myself of.

Today, I am thankful for...

*a family who loves me.* friends who encourage and believe in me.* good health, and steadily improving health.* the ability to improve health by doing easy and natural things.* renewed relationships* God's constant provision.* God's grace, especially in the midst of my mistakes.* new opportunities.* a job I love* co-workers who typically feel more like family than officemates.* my dog* beautiful Kentucky weather.* the hospitality of both friends and strangers.* never having to go without* having opportunities to impact this world in a positive way.* challenges.* wisdom*mentors* words* scripture* laughter.* tears.* music.* the ability to think.* medicine.* doctors.* good memories.* fun experiences.* the ability to continually learn.* hugs.* children.* life giving conversation.* exercise.* travel.*board games.* ice cream.* hot chocolate.* books.* movies.*inspiration.*perspective.* advice.* the faithful who have gone before me.* shared experiences.*

Sunday, November 06, 2011

All Saints Day

Today is the day in the year of the church calendar when many Christians celebrate All Saints Day. This is a day that is typically set aside for thinking about those mothers, father, brothers, and sisters in the faith that have gone before us and that are now enjoying the other side of eternity. It's a beautiful day, as being a Christian was never, ever meant to be a thing of isolation. Even when we practice solitude, we are doing it in celebration with the Church. After all, Jesus died not for just me or just you, but for His whole church.

Several months ago, I was at a one-day ministry conference at a local church here. One of the speakers talked about the importance of remembering certain people and times in our lives....the moment that we knew how loved we are by God, the moment we knew that we wanted to commit our lives to loving Jesus, the moment we knew that we were called to vocational ministry, etc.

As I reflected that day, I remember thinking about so many people and experiences that will forever mark my life. I thought about professors from college and other experiences from college that shaped my understanding that I was called to ministry in some shape or form (and ironically, the day of this conference was the day that my alma mater announced its closing. but that's a whole different can of worms...). I thought about family members (particularly my grandma, Evelyn Middleton) who prayed for me and reflected the love and passion of God to me, and encouraged me to give my life completely to God. I thought about so many other people I have been amazingly blessed to know... friends who love selflessly, married couples who have displayed for me what a Godly marriage looks like, ministry leaders and supervisors who have believed in me and shown me what a life of ministry looks like, peers in the same journey... the list goes on.

There's been a lot that has happened this week that I can't write about in a public space (hopefully in the next several weeks, though, I'll be at liberty to share), but these things have reminded me of God's calling on my life-and that it is never what I expect it to be. I've been reminded that our experiences of God are both dynamic and static...He is always the same, yet always revealing how He desires us to change and become more like Him. And it's been through the lives of the community and the lives of the saints in my own personal life that I've watched Him work so often.

Since I've started the journey of physical transformation, here's a verse I've been reflecting on a lot:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. -Hebrews 12:1-3

We are surrounded by the Holy Spirit and by His witnesses. These are reminders that God is forever with us, always working, always seeking to transform us into people who are intimately seeking His face and His Kingdom.

We're not alone.

What an unbelievable gift.