When I chose Gratitude to be my one word for this year, I really had no idea how appropriate it would be. I initially chose it because I wanted to be happier with my life and by focusing on gratitude I figured my attitude and perspective would change. I was right about that. Each morning I write down three things I’m going to do that day and why I’m grateful for that thing. And, each night when I lay down in bed, I think of three things (often more than that) that I’m grateful for from the day. Focusing on gratitude has been an important spiritual discipline for me so far this year.
In the last few weeks and months, however, gratitude has come up for me in an unexpected way. I’m spending a lot of time reflecting on the last nine years of ministry at North. And, I’m finding myself full of gratitude for all the people and places and situations that have filled the last nine years. Last night I started looking through old photo albums on Facebook…
Those little sixth graders with their chubby, round faces and goofy smiles are now preparing to start their junior year of college. Those awkward, too-cool-for-school ninth graders are now in their mid-twenties trying to figure out what life means and where life goes. How can I look at their now-mature faces and not be filled with gratitude?
Many of the active volunteers today are the same ones who joined me on that first Lenten retreat in 2009. There were many one-time volunteers, some who stayed around for a few years, but those loyal, never-leave-my-side volunteer…how can I look at them and not be filled with gratitude?
The staff at North has changed a lot in the past nine years – senior pastor, many associate pastors, front office staff, custodial staff. They all weren’t easy to get along with, but I learned from all of them. There are some deep, life-long connections and I will dearly miss seeing them daily. It’s hard to believe today is our last staff lunch together. Mexican, of course. How can I reflect over shared stories and difficult moments and not be filled with gratitude?
When I walked into North nine years ago for the first time it felt like a stranger. I didn’t know where the bathroom was or how to get to the senior pastor’s office. There were nooks and crannies I didn’t even know existed. Now North is like a second home. Walking around the hallways is like spending time with an old friend – each room, each space offers memories I cherish. Overnights in the Game Room. Candle time in the youth room. Staff prayers in the Chapel. Christmas Eve in the Sanctuary. Square dancing in the Fellowship Hall. Thankfully I have this beautiful canvas hanging in our home to remind me of the beauty that North holds. How can I walk through the hallways of this place and not be filled with gratitude?
It wasn’t all perfect. There were some really difficult youth. There were some really difficult parents. There were some really difficult colleagues and church members and… And yet, I learned from each difficult moment. Some made me stronger, some made me more sensitive. Some reinforced what I thought I already knew, some made me rethink everything. How can I look back on those trying moments and not be filled with gratitude?
We traveled to Kenya. We traveled to all areas of Eastern Kentucky. We traveled to Michigan and Southern Indiana. We traveled to Kings Island and Holiday World. We traveled to homes and schools. We traveled to retreat centers. We traveled in a church bus then a church van. We traveled in rental vans and my old Alero then my new Terrain. How many miles have we gone together? Too many to count. Each mile holds a memory, a shared story, a connection. How can I look back on the miles and not be filled with gratitude?
Unlike a teacher, I only see the youth once a week – sometimes less. However, unlike a teacher, I don’t just get one or two years with a student – I get 7+ years. I don’t see the daily changes, but I see the changes over the years. I see the scrawny young man who avoids work at all cost become a leader on his college campus and prepare to join the Armed Services. I see the girl who is uncomfortable being the tallest of all her friends become confident and sure of herself as she discovers her passions and strengths. I see their faces go from baby to young wo/man. I see the way they change their style to reflect their personality. I see them grow long hair then cut it short then dye it then finally ease into the style they’ll hold onto for awhile. I see them look up to the older kids then become the ones who are looked up to. I don’t always know the daily happenings in their lives, but I do see the arc – from then to now. How can I look back at each one of those baby-to-wo/man faces and not be filled with gratitude?
Is it weird to say I’m grateful I chose gratitude for my one word? 😉 Well, weird or not, I am. It turns out, for reasons bigger than I knew, gratitude is the perfect word for 2017.