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Year of Gratitude; June: Week 3

June’s focus for our year of gratitude is Sabbath. Last week I noted I am not always good at taking time off and giving myself a break. I did so last week, but clearing my calendar so I could have more than one day off (after going a couple of weeks without one.)

This week I am on a sermon retreat. I usually try to schedule one each year, but often they get interrupted by funerals and other things. I get some sermon work done, but it never feels like enough.

This week I chose to be part of the Great Plains UMC offerings of a retreat called “A Time Apart.” Pastor Rebecca is offered this as part of the Transition into Ministry program and I decided to tag along. Beginning Sunday evening, it ends this this afternoon.

What a gift this has been! The retreat is being held at The Spiritual Life Center in Bel Aire, north of Wichita. I could have slept at home and driven in and out, but chose to stay. A much better choice as I was up early and walked and walked in the evening and had plenty of quiet and reflective time. At home I have a tendency to be driven by the many things left undone. The space is beautiful. This  morning I saw the moon reflected on the water, one of the many times this small body of water was as smooth as glass:


I am not sure the moon in the water is all that evident in my picture but it was beautiful The water’s edge is teaming with life: baby turtles, little sun fish and big carp and catfish often nibbling on the moss. Some crawdads and water snakes. Geese honking and swimming, small and large blue heron, standing tall and paying attention to the water.

This retreat, respite from the normal daily tasks of work have been good for my soul. This time has allowed some creativity and energy to be part my long range sermon planning. The time is work, but at different pace, in a seperate place and surrounded by prayer and grace. The chapel where we held Morning and Evening Prayer has amazing accoustics. Perhaps you can imagine what it sounds like when several preachers sing! One of my favorites this week, was a personal favorite, It is Well With My Soul.” 

So today I plan to write a thank you note to the Spiritual Life Center for providing such a beautiful retreat setting. I will say thank you to the retreat leader. I have found myself profoundly grateful the last few days for this gift of time and space.

How do you find time and space for retreat from your normal everyday activities? Where do you find rest for your soul? Is it well with your soul? I pray you find Sabbath this week, where you may encounter the God of grace and love.

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Year of Gratitude: June

We begin a new month in our year of gratitude. This month our focus is:

June 2019

Sabbath: This month begins summer break for people in school. Vacations, camps and all kinds of outdoor activities abound. Summer vacation has often been a time to relax, enjoy outdoor activities and time away. This month we give thanks for Sabbath and time off.

I always loved summer, either as a kid or when I had children at home. It was an easier time, with trips to the pool and the park and grilling out and time away. I still love summer for riding my bike, walking, hiking, eating every meal I can outside, listening to the birds a different rhythm.

In this weeks blog, I don’t want to focus on sabbath so much, as the historical events remembered this week. I don’t know about your news feed, but mine been filled with the honoring Women’s Sufferage and the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There are precious few that are still alive that participated D-Day and none that were part of passing the Woman’s Suffrage bill in U.S. Senate.

Both of these events were historic for the lives of many. On June 4, 1919 the Women’s Suffrage bill passed to allow women the right to vote. It would not be until August 20, 1920 that the ninteenth amendment would be ratified by a majority of the states. It wasn’t perfect, women color still to this day continue to struggle to exercise their right to vote. But Methodist women, both Anglo and women of color, have been on the forefront of this important step toward equality.

D-Day was a changing point in World War II. The sacrafice made by the soldiers and the medics in life and limb and sanity of mind and spirit was great. This was the event that began to turn the tide against the ugliness and the hatred and the bigotry of nazism. We must never forget the horrors inflicted upon our Jewish brothers and sisters, the Roma, homosexuals, dissendents against the Nazi regime, athletes, theologians, artists and others who were systematically murdered. Fascism in whatever form it rears its ugly head must be called out and named so this can not happen again. I am forever grateful for all those who stood up and fought against this perverse political understanding.

So while this is not a post on Sabbath, it is a post to encourage us to think about those who have gone before us. This is an invitation to thank someone today who has made a real difference,  has made stand for equality and against the powers of bigotry and hate. Perhaps you know someone who is serving in the military, as an Americorp or Vista or in the Peace Corp. Could you write them a note and say thank you? Maybe you know someone doing an internship in the church, in the schools, at a medical facility and is working to make the world a better place, a place where all are welcome. Today, write a note, pick up the phone or find a way to say thank you to those who continue the work of those who have given of themselves to make the world more peaceful and more just for every one.


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Year of Gratitude April: Week 2

There is a lovely hymn with these words:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Natalie Sleeth wrote these words as an anthem in 1985 and it became a hymn in 1986. Since then, Hymn of Promise has appeared in multiple hymnals and is used for both memorial services and Easter. This song has become deeply beloved as well.

Today in Wichita, after several days in the 70’s and 80’s a cold and bitter wind has swept down from the north. In some places blizzard warnings have occurred and certainly jackets and coats are back on instead of a light wrap or no wrap at all. The tender petals of the flowers are taking a beating and some plants may be hurt by the dramatic change in weather. I grew concerned, so I went and cut a few of the tulips and brought them indoors, so I could enjoy them if the wind battered them too much.

tulips vase

They are beautiful on my table. These tulips remind me that I sometimes need space, away from the battering and blowing winds of life to just be. Holy Week, with all it’s added activities can be such a place. The services can allow me time to focus on what really matters in push to Easter.

This week my growing edge is more physical than spiritual. There is 5K on Saturday, and while I have been working hard to get ready for it, this week was filled with really long days. I stretched, but lost several days that I would have preferred to walk and do longer distances. No matter, I am giving thanks for the ability to walk a 5K, for the finances that allow me to pay the entry fee and in doing so help First’s school partnerships with Park and Washington Elementry Schools.

I wrote a thank note to someone who had given me a tulip plant. It is an orange and yellow tulip and it is lovely. I look forward to putting in the ground to enjoy in the years to come.

What are your growing edges physically this week? How are you finding  space to pay attention to those edges and to prepare for Holy Week next week: phyisically, emotionally and spiritually? How are you adapting to the cold winds that come unexpectedly in the season of spring and in this season of your life?

Beginning with Palm/Passion Sunday and through Holy Week, these words from Hymn of Promise help me to focus and center:

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

May Holy Week be a time of blessing and of promise. In the midst of the busyness, may you find some moments to give thanks to the God who offers hope and love.

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Year of Gratitude: February Week 3

Toward the end of this week is Valentine’s Day. Last week I invited you to share Valentines. This week, if you haven’t done, I invite to still share some love with people that are close to you. I would add, perhaps you could share some Valentine’s with people are not close to, people perhaps in your orbit, but with whom you do not have a great deal in common or whom you do not know well.

A few weeks ago Leonard Sweet asked this question: “When we see someone else, what do we see? Do we see others through a self-screen of our ideas, our beliefs, our politics? Or do we see another person as an inimitable and precious handiwork of God?” I’ve pondered it since then. How do we see others? Not just those whom we love, but other’s whom we have just met or perhaps know from a distance or from their “reputation” whatever that might be?

When we give thanks or share Valentines is what we share from an open place in our hearts and minds and spirits? Or do we share only from that space within ourselves that acknowledges what we already think we know about someone? Do we see someone else as a unique and unrepeatable gift from God? Or, do we see them somehow only in terms of our own ideas and beliefs?

This week, I invite you to get to know someone new, someone who you do not really know. Get a cup of coffee, or tea, sit down and just open yourself to who this person was created to be. Then write them a thank you note for the time spent together, and add a note to your gratitude jar about your experience. Or, write a thank note to someone whose services you take for granted, the custodian in your building, the postal carrier, the person who brings you coffee at your favorite shop, a checker at a grocery store. People often need a reminder that they are created by God and are a gift to the world. Find a way to get through the “self-screen” of the people you meet this week and see each one as “an intimitable and precious handwork of God.”


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Year of Gratitude: February Week 2

So far, the month of February has been cold, cold, cold. Schools have closed all over the state and I won’t even mention the polar vortex. Well, maybe I will mention it! I love snow, but if it’s going to be this cold I WANT snow!!! So far, in Wichita, we have ice, sleet, but not much snow. So, stuck indoors it’s good to continue to focus on gratitude. God is good and life is good.

For the month of February our gratitude focus will be:

Relationships: This month is filled with “Valentines” but love is more than hearts and flowers. There are many relationships which call for gratitude. This month we give thanks for all our relationships.

Next week is Valentine’s Day. Many people tend to be dismissive of this so-called “Hallmark” holiday. I used to be one of those people. I was reminded by friends many years ago, that love isn’t something that one buys or sells, love is gift, a Divine gift. So for more than two decades I have given out Valentines to my congregations on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day. Relationships are important whether or not they are romantic. We are named and claimed by those who love us, and for me, that points to the deep love of God.

I buy Valentines by the hundreds and sign hundreds each year. Sometimes it takes me back to being a kid and choosing just the right one. So today and in these days before Valentines Day, I invite you to give out some Valentines. You can make them, buy them, or take a plain sheet of paper and color some hearts on it. Share love with your neighbors, your friends, your family.  Send at least one note thanking someone for their friendship and their love. Know that I am deeply grateful for your friendship.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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Year of Gratitude: February

We are finishing the second month of our Year of Gratitude. (We started in December with the beginning of the Christian year.) This month we focused on new things: New Year’s  resolutions, new paths and other choices to begin a new year and gave thanks for the new possibilities we are given. We created a gratitude jar so each week we could put one thing or event that made a difference and for which we were grateful. At the end of December, 2019 we will be able to look back over our year and remember.

For the month of February our gratitude focus will be:

Relationships: This month is filled with “Valentines” but love is more than hearts and flowers. There are many relationships which call for gratitude. This month we give thanks for all our relationships.

Sarah Ban Breathnach in her journal book The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude writes:  “Grace is available for each of us every day–our spiritual daily bread–but we’ve to to remember to ask for it with a grateful heart and not worry about whether there will be enough for tomorrow.”

Grace is our daily bread as is gratitude. I would like to encourage you to think about the grace you have received through the month of January. Have you written three or four things to put in your jar? If not, take a few moments to so. Breath in grace, Breath in gratitude. What has touched you in January? What has surprised you in its grace, its beauty, its love?

Relationships are also part of our spiritual daily bread along with grace. Our relationships teach us many things. As we prepare for February and our thankfulness for our relationships, today I want you to write two thank you notes. One, I would like you to write a thank you note to God, for the blessings you have received in January. Put it in your jar, so that in December you might pull it out and re-read it with a prayer for God’s goodness.

Second, to begin our month focusing on relationships, I would like you to write a thank you note to yourself. We are so often hard ourselves, we call ourselves names, often have a running litany of what is wrong and why it is wrong and blame ourselves. Often the grace that is our daily bread is offered to others and we offer little to ourselves. Take some time and thank yourself, for getting up and out of bed, for taking care of others whether it be children or friends or a partner or parents. Thank your body for what it can do. In thanking yourself, you have a path to thank God for life, for love and grace.


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Year of Gratitude: December, Week 4

On this third day of Christmas, I find myself deeply grateful for many things. However, I have been in several conversations where people are tired, overwhelmed and just want to close the book on 2018.

Some periods of time are like that. Sometimes it feels like one damn thing after another and the desire is to be “over it!” Our challenge, is a year of gratitude. Certainly, a new year, with all the blank spaces on the calendar can give a visualization of hope, promise, opportunity and newness of life.

I don’t think that we should actually just try to erase the past, particularly not the painful past. I know I hate when I hear what have I learned from my difficulties or pain or grief. The challenge is what have I learned?

I can be grateful, even when my life is not all I would hope it would be. I can be grateful when nothing is going right. How? I am grateful by choosing to find those moments when I have been loved, cared for and affirmed. I can search my memories and experiences to find those people who have most embodied God’s presence with their love, their laughter and their grace.

In the Christian tradition we are in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas which begins on December 25 and ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. We celebrate Emmanuel, God-with-us. We give thanks for God who is embodied in humanity and we see this embodiment in Jesus. Through Jesus, we too, are called to embody God, to be the incarnation of the God in the world.

The challenge for this week, is to take some time and think about 2018. Where have you seen God at work in your life and in the lives of others? In the gospel of Luke, at the end of the story of the birth of Jesus, it says that “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What will treasure from this year? What things will you continue to ponder?

Anytime someone lives out the “incarnation” of God, it is a gift without measure. In our faith, God puts on skin and shares life with us. We, in our faith, then allow God to be at work in us and through us. The greatest gift of Christmas is seeing God in Christ and then seeing God in others. Share this week, how you have seen that gift in another.

The December challenge is to be grateful for gifts. Write one thank you note to someone you have seen living out the grace of God. Perhaps it was seeing someone help someone else, perhaps they were embodying the love and grace of Jesus in a conversation, or in a visit or a call. Surely there is one person in whom you have seen the living expression of God’s love and grace. Thank them as part of this year of gratitude.



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Year of Gratitude: December, Week 2

DECEMBER                                                                                                                                          We are now less than two weeks from Christmas day. For many of us, the crush of things to do, places to go and parties and events to attend seem relentless. Where does one find the time to give thanks? Like Straight No Chaser’s song, The  Christmas Can- Can, it can feel like a mad dash to get to the end of the season. Other than a quick thank you through a text or e-mail or phone sending a thank you note may feel like one more thing to do in an already ridiculously full calendar.

Yes, indeed, I am going to challenge you to write a thank you note this week. Our focus, will be on the gift of time. This one thing, seems to be the hardest to grasp with our culture overwhelming us with things to do. And there are so many wonderful places to go, performances to attend, special worship services and events in which to participate. Time is precious and a gift in and of itself.

So this weeks challenge is to write one thank note to someone who has given  you the gift of time. Maybe they went to coffee or lunch with you, or called you or stopped by and their presence and time spent with you was a special gift. I believe I often overlook the simpliest things because I get too busy, too focused; a simple hug, a “how are you, really?” and the time it takes is a gift beyone measure.

Write one thank note, at least for time shared and given. Then sometime this week offer a gift of time to someone else. Some one you love,  someone who you haven’t talked to for a while, or perhaps, just bring a cup of coffee to their desk and see how they are doing. This week, we give thanks for the gift of time.

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Year of Gratitude: December, Week 1

DECEMBER                                                                                                                                        Gifts: This month tends to be all about gifts. We receive and give them. There are many kinds of gifts, physical, spiritual and emotional. This month we give thanks for all the gifts we receive.

Advent begins our new year as Christians. This month the focus of our gratitude challenge is gifts. December is all about gifts. There is both the secular focus of Santa bringing gifts and the Christians focus of the Christ Child as a gift and the gifts we share out of that experience of the birth Jesus. Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights usually falls during December as well and includes gift giving as part of its ritual and tradition.

There are many kinds of gifts, and each brings its own joy. This first week, I’d like us to consider the gift of talents. Each one of us as beloved sons and daughters of God are gifted, talented in one way or another or in multiple ways. We are, using my favorite phrase, unique and unrepeatable.

This week, I would like to challenge each one of us to write a thank you note to at least one person whose talents have a made a difference in our lives. Perhaps that might be a musician whose music makes your soul soar. Perhaps its a writer, locally known or perhaps someone whose blog or book or an article has changed you or your changed your mind. Perhaps its a chef, or a friend who cooks or bakes and has gifted you their creations. Maybe you could consider thanking someone whose talent is often overlooked, a good listener, a good friend. Write a thank you note sharing your gratitude.

Then, share your talent with someone in the next few days. Bake some cookies, make a phone call, share a gift that only you can give. May the gratitude we share, be a source of light and love during this Advent season.

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A Year of Gratitude

This Sunday, December 2, 2018 begins the Christian New Year. It is the season of Advent, a season of waiting, of expectation and preparation for the birth of Jesus. I am very excited about our Advent season, but I am also energized by the challenge I talked about in worship on Sunday that we, at First United Methodist Church, in downtown Wichita, Kansas embark on a thankful year. Each week I will be encouraging people to write one thank you note, and to do one thing out of gratitude and thanksgiving.

I will be publishing “prompts” and ideas each week on the theme for each month. You can find those themes here on our website.  For December, the theme will be gifts. For this week, before we actually begin, I would like to encourage you to write one thank you note. Maybe it can be for a beautiful thanksgiving meal you had with someone last week, or perhaps a coffee date, or just a note to thank one person for what they mean to you and the difference they have made in your life.

Let’s get started. I believe that a year of gratitude can change not only my life, but yours and begin the process of transforming the world. Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is thank you, it will be enough.” I believe that, but I also believe that prayer is more than words, it is a way life. I am deeply grateful for the congregation I serve, for family, for friends and for those who read my blog.

Thank you, and may all of us be blessed in this year of gratitude.

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