The holidays can, undoubtedly, bring out the worst in us sometimes (as evidenced by the increased sense of loss we often feel with the realization that loved ones are no longer with us; or the highly viewed Youtube Black Friday shopping debacles that get cast across the Internet). But they also remind of us of what’s still good about this world – with ‘thanks’ and ‘giving’ being abundantly displayed.
I’m being a typical mom this week, with the important reminder:
Don’t forget to say thank-you.
It’s not just about showing appreciation for the kindness that someone has bestowed upon you. It’s just as much about reflecting who you truly are – and better yet, who you yet have the ability to be – because of filling your heart with gratitude. (Funny that, as we give thanks, we are the ones who also get filled.)
This past weekend, the man I knew as my pastor from my earliest childhood memories until my young adulthood retired. As I went to attend the reception in his honor, I revisited many early life memories, and I also saw the additional years on those who I remembered from there. It was clear that my dear, long-time pastor had earned his right to this time (probably even long before now – but pastors usually retire from the earth before they get to retire from ministry). I thought back to this time last year when I’d last been there and had witnessed him as he performed what I suppose was one of the toughest, and yet one of the most important, services of his life. As a matter of fact, I felt blessed to have made it back then, as I listened to him share how he and his wife met, how he courted her, how they began their lives together, and how they’d shared in ministry – until her time had come to depart for her heavenly home. She’d specified that he should be the one to lead the service; she simply reasoned that no one else knew her as well as he had, so it made the most sense. After being helped up the stairs that day, he gave us all the opportunity to journey with him back in time and catch a glimpse into the lives of two very young people I would have otherwise never known.
I was grateful to be a part of that sweet service. I was also relieved that I’d answered a nudge I’d received in my spirit a couple of weeks before that, when I’d decided to mail a Christmas card to my prior pastor and his wife, thanking them for the effect their ministry had ultimately had on me.
So, in celebration of their love for so many others in their ministry (who I’m sure weren’t always so lovable), I’d feel privileged to share with you the following words I sent out this time last year (I suppose on angels’ wings):
Dear Rev. and Mrs. G-
I pray this letter finds you in good spirits for the celebration time of our Lord’s birth. I wanted you to know that you are in my prayers for your personal lives and for your continued ministry. More than anything, I realize that I am many years overdue in sending out a thank you letter for the hugely positive impact that you both have had on my life.
Whenever I recall my fondest childhood, teenage and young adult memories, they always somehow relate back to our church and its people. I still hold many close relationships, to this day, with so many friends from there; and I know, without a doubt, whenever I’ve walked through those doors, before or since my time away, I have always felt welcomed. I can think of so many times in my life when other church bodies might have been less welcoming to my behaviors or my situations – but you all were the definition of I Corinthians 13 in your love towards me, most especially being patient and kind. The fruits of the Spirit were always as abundant as the ice cream and good cheer that flowed around our summers of Vacation Bible School or the many receptions taking place in our well-used fellowship hall.
From Christmas plays (with practices that brought our youth group so close together) to lock-ins (where Scavenger hunts took us to outreach opportunities within the neighborhood) to games on the softball field (where our church was so much a part of our larger community) to bible studies that ranged from Communicant’s class to catechisms (where I began proclaiming my own faith), and well beyond into my adulthood (when I finally got around to learning all the books of my bible), I’ve come to deeply realize how I was being prepared to become an everyday evangelist (even if I still don’t set the example I strive to follow). There are so many things I learned from Sunday School to VBS to Wednesday night classes that I never realized I was retaining until people asked me through the years, “How do you know this stuff?” Time and time again, it comes back to my early foundation, the biblical grounding I received at the church I will always call home.
My beliefs, to this day, were formed and shaped there. Whether it was you, boldly proclaiming, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” or whether it was your ‘better half’, sweetly exhorting, “Jody, how could you think you wouldn’t become a teacher? It’s in your blood,” you have each shaped so much of the person I am (whether you’d prefer to take any credit for it or not!). You allowed me to grow up in a loving church environment that, rather than scolding me for questioning things I couldn’t comprehend in the Word or for sometimes just being downright disruptive and rebellious, I was abundantly nurtured. Each time I now stand up in front of the people of the Church to speak or to teach, I think back to those Sunday mornings, before the Sunday School hour, where we assembled and where I was not only allowed, but encouraged, as a youth to lead that opening worship service. I had absolutely no idea that God had me in training for something more for His Kingdom down the road.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the relationship I was blessed to have with your family, for my friendships with your sons, for the joy and laughter that went on among our youth who were like siblings, for the extended family I had in our congregation, for the many scriptural teachings learned, and for the ability to experiment with who I was going to become within the body of Christ (with all my messy mistakes included).
This side of heaven can quite often be difficult, trying to push us to give in when circumstances feel impossible. Through many trials and tribulations, I’ve come to learn to temper my emotions compared only to one thing, and that is the measure of those other words I’ve heard you proclaim, over and over, and have learned to yearn for one day in the presence of our Lord and Savior: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” In all joy and assuredness, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that you both will hear those precious words one day.
Thank you for giving to the Lord in my life and the lives of others. Please know how very much your gift is treasured.
With great love and respect,
Maybe they never received it.
Perhaps it didn’t get read on time.
Even if so, it might not have held the same meaning as it did for me.
Nevertheless, I needed to take time to express my love, my admiration…
It made a distinctive difference to – maybe even ‘in’ – me.
So to the rest of you, I urge:
“Please don’t forget to say Thank You.”
To this very day, Vacation Bible School is still one of my favorite weeks of the year.