On Sunday, November 3rd, 2013, Shari Winslow shared her thoughts on Gratitude with the congregants in the Deeper Life Worship Service:
It’s November, which means it’s the time of year when I notice people on Facebook doing the gratitude thing – 30 days of posting the things they’re grateful for, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I think it’s not a bad practice, although sometimes I wonder if I should do this in January or March — typically long, draggy months full of sinus infections.
But November is a good month for gratitude. Today I am particularly aware of the small moments, the ordinary blessings, the things that require me to stop and breathe and be present in my life exactly where I am. Of course I am grateful for my children and my family and my job and all the pieces of the big picture; what shakes me out of my moods and fits of self-pity or grouchiness, though, are the moments like enjoying chocolate chip pancakes, a surprise from my health-conscious husband. Fresh coffee. An extra hour in bed. Going for a run in the cool morning air, crunching through wet leaves on the street. Nothing clears my head quite like a good run when I’d rather just stay home, and yesterday morning I realized (again — it’s a lesson I keep learning, over and over) that the things that stress me out or turn me into a cranky mama—the kitchen messes, the Legos carpeting the floor in the family room, the noise on Saturday morning, the balled-up socks that never seem to make it into the hamper–are really just reminders of things for which I am grateful. The sources are my greatest joys.
Sometimes I wonder if real gratitude comes through the windows of things that make me feel grumpy and mean — syrupy plates left too long on the kitchen counter, dirt on the floors, the never-ending laundry, or any of the things it seems like only I notice. Because it seems like the times I really get it come after a bout of feeling decidedly ungrateful.
I wasn’t remotely grateful when my family was struck down by the flu, when my daughter didn’t eat a single bite of food for two days. But I was leveled with gratitude when people who love us brought food to our door, unasked.
It’s easy to be grateful for my job when I teach three dream classes of highly motivated, engaged students. It’s such a privilege to work with them. I can ask them to do challenging things and they trust me enough to try. They’re funny and earnest and they work hard and they do everything I ask; they’re polite and cute and every other wonderful word I can think of. I want to give them a huge collective hug every single day. They are still teenagers and prone to fits of absurdity, of course, but it’s totally endearing.
It’s less easy to be grateful when one of my classes is full of kids at risk for all kinds of things. They lead lives I can’t imagine. They are on probation, and not the academic kind. They’ve been jumped into gangs at the age of 15. They live in foster care or they move back and forth between different relatives. They are high-energy and high-needs kids who need a lot of attention. They are smart, sassy, exhausting kids who frustrate and worry me. I can try to make connections with these kids, and I can try to engage them in all the ways that are supposed to work, and sometimes the kids will engage and sometimes they won’t.
But then sometimes one of these kids will admit that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian isn’t the absolute worst book he’s ever read, and he will show me a page of awkward writing even if I have to beg him to uncrumple it from the bottom of his backpack, and the next day he might bring me a warm scone from his sixth period cooking class and sort of toss it on my desk. He’ll try to act like he doesn’t care whether I eat it or not, but I see him watching, so I do. And I see him smile.
The thing is that the kids in my dream classes will be fine wherever they go, no matter who teaches them. They already have the tools and the support. It’s the swaggering boy who hates to read but tosses a scone on my desk who makes me walk to my car with a big goofy grin on my face and sing all the way to pick up my daughter.
He’ll probably make me really irritated in class tomorrow when he saunters in late without his book and proceeds to cop an attitude with me, and I will find it hard to be grateful for his class at the end of a long Monday. But I guess that’s where grace comes in and slaps me silly, because that’s exactly where I find the gratitude that sticks. It’s in the tough class of kids, in the food delivered when we’re sick and out of groceries, in the reminder that the toys and laundry and dirty socks are pieces of a much bigger, beautiful picture.
I cannot promise that I won’t ever be grumpy and stressed about these things. I know I will. I’m pretty messily human. But I hope they also make my heart a little bigger.
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
By the time you read this article we will have two Sundays remaining in our Stewardship Season. The season always incorporates two major efforts: 1) each member discerning how he or she will employ time and talents through the congregation, and 2) each member or family being asked to make a financial pledge. So it’s time for me to say something about this latter activity: practicing generosity. Or, more plainly, the stewardship of money.
The best definition I have ever heard for stewardship is this: Stewardship is everything you do after you say, “I believe.” That everything includes money. Here’s the rub, though: People don’t want to hear the church say it needs money. But if people don’t hear that the church needs money, they may not give. And that is why the church talks about money—but not the only reason.
I once heard the story of a pastor who was talking with a young couple about his work as a minister. (The wife in this couple had grown up in the congregation, had known this pastor for many years, and had seen other pastors come and go there for more than 30 years.) “Who,” they asked their pastor, “pays you for your work? Do you get paid by the larger church?” It was a completely innocent question. This young couple, who had enjoyed the fellowship of the congregation , and who regularly shared their talents and limited time there, genuinely did not understand that their congregation was the sole means by which their pastor made a living. And if they didn’t understand that principle, how many other people had probably missed it?
Calvary Lutheran Church depends on the people who come through its doors on Sunday (or who mail in their checks on Monday) to financially support the congregation’s mission: the service, the worship, the fellowship, the maintenance of the facility, the upgrades, the faith development—all that happens within and beyond its walls to indicate who we are and what we believe. If the members and friends of the congregation do not give money, the church will not be able to thrive.
But there are some challenges about giving that have to be mentioned here too: If some people give generously, and others give very little or nothing, the church is likely to struggle—especially if those who give generously are no longer able to be part of the community. The truth about financial stewardship is this: The most robust congregation is the one in which every member and friend gives some percentage (even if it’s a fraction of a percent) of their income to their faith community. Why? Because where we put our money says something about our values and priorities. If more people give to the ministry, more people are invested in the ministry. It’s that simple.
But why “percentage giving”? Throughout Scripture God calls on his people to give—to benefit those who lead the worship, the poor who can’t defend themselves, the foreigner who depends on the kindness of the faithful, landowning people. In Scripture giving includes food offerings, leaving untouched a portion of land for the poor and foreigners to glean, and monetary offerings. In all cases the mandate is to regard God (and God’s priorities) as the believer’s first priority. A great way to practice God’s priority is percentage giving: Designate a percentage (mine is currently 7% to the church and another portion elsewhere), and pay that amount right alongside the mortgage, utilities, medical bills, and groceries. Percentage giving is intentional: When you designate a percentage of your income, you know how much is coming out of your bank account to go to the church. You can compare that percentage to how much you spend on other “soft expenses” like Starbucks, Barnes&Noble, and dining out. (This is an informative exercise to illustrate to yourself your priorities: Imagine learning that you have spent more at eating out than in your offering to the Church!) You can also set a goal of increasing the percentage you give, for example, from 4% one year to 4.5% the next year; this makes incremental increases more manageable.
Gratitude is not just about words, it is us unwrapping the gift of our faith—the talents and skills we’ve been given, the physical resources we have that we might share with others, the money we can share to make our church and the world a better place.
Please prayerfully deliberate about your financial gift to Calvary, and write it down on the pledge form for 2014. The more your leaders know about your financial commitment, the better we’ll be able to set a financial and ministry plan that fits our means and attends to our 2020 Long-Range Plan. And consider giving according to percentage, with the goal of gradually increasing that pledge as resources permit. Your intentionality about practicing generosity will allow our ministry to thrive and our congregation to be more vital.
Lori A. Cornell