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Grateful for the Gift

Grateful for the Gift

As I write this, the late evening sunlight is shining through purple-gray clouds.  It is the golden hour – that time before dark when everything is bathed in a soft yellow light.  Autumn in Ohio is in full bloom – bright oranges and reds and yellows, and I can hear the sound of the wind blowing through trees.

For me, it is easy to be grateful in the fall.  I love the cool air and crisp colors. I love cooking soups and stews and baking treats laced with cinnamon.  I am a pastor, and when I step outside and see the canvas that for me is God’s creation, I thank God. 

The first prayer my husband and I taught our sons was “Thank you, God.”  When my boys were toddlers this was our prayer before meals – and still is.  I will always remember their first prayers: “Thank you God for Daddy. Thank you, God, for the backhoe loader.  Thank you, God, for grapes.” We thank God before meals and at the end of the day after we read our books and sing our songs and before I pray a blessing over each boy, we say thank you to God for the day.

I try to teach my children to live gratefully, but I’m not always good at saying thank you myself.  While I was packing for my family’s move from Crestline to Mansfield last year I stumbled upon a box containing a few thank you notes I wrote after my wedding – 11 years ago. Somehow this stack had never been mailed, and I felt the guilt of the thing I should have done but never did. You know those thoughtful people who are always sending cards– thank yous and birthdays and thinking of you notes?  I am not one of them.  

I want to get better at thanking the people in my life.  I want them to know I am thankful for them. I want to be more grateful.  I have read about the research saying people who practice gratitude are happier.  So I try to be thankful but it’s easy to forget. My spiritual director advised me to begin each day with a list of things I’m grateful for.  Sometimes I remember, but most days the alarm clock goes off, and I immediately begin thinking of all that I need to do. Maybe my checklist could become a prayer of thanksgiving as I look ahead to the opportunities I will be given each and every day.

Practicing gratitude has helped me get through the most difficult seasons of my life.  When I’m frustrated with my job, I think of the things I have because of it: clothing and food and a home.  When I reach out to friends or colleagues, I feel grateful for the support they provide. When I face conflict I practice thanking God for the person with whom I’m in conflict.  This helps me to see them as a human being – a person with unique strengths and weaknesses; a person who I believe is, like every person in the world, created in the image of God.  Being grateful simply makes life better.

For me, gratitude is about saying thank you – and it’s also about seeing life as a gift.  My grateful response is to offer myself in service to the one who I believe is the giver, and also to the people around me: my family, my colleagues, my parishioners, and the people I encounter wherever I go.  

How does your perspective change when you begin to think of life as a gift?  How does that sense of giftedness color the people and the world around you?

When I forget that my life is a gift, I am called back by the simplest things: a sunrise, a yoga class, the sound of my children’s giggles.  So as autumn turns to winter and the colors change to brown and gray, I will remember the life that’s waiting beneath the frost. And I will keep saying thank you.

 

Focusing, Re-branding, and Including

Focusing, Re-branding, and Including

In March 2018, I was one of 15 people from Mansfield who went to the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. The original intent of the trip, which was funded by a grant from the Richland County Foundation, was to come back with ideas on how to continue the revitalization of the central business district in Mansfield. What evolved from that trip was the Mansfield Rising Plan which the Foundation now uses to prioritize its investments in downtown

Prior to our departure, Richland Source President Jay Allred, who has attended many SXSW conferences, described SXSW to our group as drinking from a firehose of information. He said we would feel like our hair was on fire.

That was an understatement. 

The amount of information was unimaginable, the quality of the information was mind-blowing. 

Mind Body Align Founder Annamarie Fernyak speaks about being mindful and present. Being among 30,000 people in a six-block radius does not lend itself to being mindful and present but you find yourself quickly becoming just that. You cannot possibly think about which session you will attend later or tomorrow or three days from now. You must focus on where you are and who is speaking to you in that moment. The hustle and bustle outside your conference room door or down on the street is not for you. 

I would love to tell you I heard one speaker at SXSW who changed everything for me but that is not true. I heard many speakers whom I gleaned tidbits of information from to bring back to Mansfield. 

One of my favorite speakers was Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer with Uber at the time. She spoke about rebranding while unapologetically wearing a sequin jumpsuit in the middle of the day. 

Listening to her speak about the importance of branding and sometimes re-branding, I started to think about the things that come out of our mouths when someone tilts their head to the side and says, “Mansfield?  Where’s that?” We all say the same thing. We say, “About an hour between Cleveland and Columbus.  Have you seen Shawshank Redemption?” Bozoma made me think… What if we re-branded Mansfield?  What if we mentioned Cleveland, Columbus, and Shawshank after telling people about how amazing Mansfield is to live, work, and gather?

Bozoma also spoke about the need for racial and gender diversity. I think we can do better with both. She said people like to say, “there’s a pipeline problem” with equity in diversity in the workforce. Bozoma says, “That’s bullshit.” She talked about the need for white men to look around in their office and say, “there’s a lot of white men here. Let’s change that.” Why does she, the one black woman, have to change it? She believes it’s a comfortability issue, not a pipeline issue. The question becomes, are we reflecting the population we’re trying to serve and are we willing to make the changes necessary to do so?

Back to her sequin jumpsuit. She said, “I’m a woman who wears sequins in the daytime. I’m not afraid of a lot. There’s a lot happening around women and diversity empowerment. I intend to step right in there with my sequins and bust it right open.” 

Let’s all be more like Bozoma. Let’s invite more people of color to the table. Let’s open more doors for women. Let’s include those who haven’t been included before. Let’s reach back and lift up someone younger. Because let’s be honest, we can all think of a time when we didn’t feel included because of our gender, age, race, otherness. Let’s do what we can to be more like Bozoma, although I’ll do it in a plain black dress and pearls instead of sequins.