There is a clear connection between who you are as a leader and your expressions of gratitude. As you know, it is a critical part of your work to make sure others feel appreciated, acknowledged, and valued. So, how do you share your appreciation with those with whom you live, work, and play?
Giving God Thanks
Over the past 30 years, I have expressed my thanks to people who have been especially meaningful and impactful in my life. Before cell phones, I wrote short notes, sent cards, or made phone calls from a landline. I remember some of the first calls I made with a cell phone were expressions of “I’m giving God thanks for you today.” In recent years I have used email and text messages. I have even been known to write a poem or to send flowers. I am not suggesting that you do what I have done, but I am asking, “How do you share your appreciation with those who have had an impact upon your life?”
Gratitude from Philippians
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his gratitude, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4).
Over the years, those words have become one of my favorite scriptures. I have learned, through practice, to pray for you when you come to mind. Even if it is just for a season, you have become a significant part of my life.
So, again during this Thanksgiving week, I am giving God thanks for the people who have helped make me who I am. I am not sure what brings certain people to mind, but I am certain it is God coming to me in and through the people I remember.
With that in mind, if you will give a few more minutes of your time, I want to share with you some of the people who have come to mind this week. It might be that some have come to mind because I am writing this blog. But I know others have come to mind because I am particularly grateful for who they are and how God has come to me in and through them.
One of the persons who has come to mind is Mary Handley, my fourth Sunday School teacher. She was the first person to tell me that I would go somewhere in the world and tell people about Jesus. Another person is Carole Duncan, my Sunday School teacher when I was 14 years old. She was the first person I told that I thought God was calling me to preach. She cared for me and nurtured me as if I were her own. And another person is Mel Cummings, my Sunday School teacher, who the day after the Marshall University football team was killed in the plane crash, gathered us close. He listened to our questions, he loved us through our grief, and he cried with us. “I thank my God every time I remember you…”
I have been thinking of several people who were members of churches I served over the years. People who have become special friends, who surrounded my family with love and care, and who shaped my life significantly. People like Don and Betty became parents to Kim and me as they became grandparents to our children. Tom and Barbara made our first move with children less painful and more joy-filled. And Paul and Richard who have become lifelong friends. In fact, I have talked with both this week. “I thank my God every time I remember you…”
I am not sure why, but I am thinking of Dr. Berkowitz, my religion professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. He turned my world upside down as he taught me to think critically about the scripture. When I think of him, I immediately think of Gerald Harshbarger, a pastor who helped me make sense of what I was learning. The story of Jonah had a larger more significant meaning than a person being swallowed by a whale. Every time I prepare a sermon I think of Fred Craddock and every time I speak of God’s love I think of George Morris. Both were seminary professors at Candler School of Theology. Their influence and impact upon my life is immeasurable. “I thank my God every time I remember you…”
Oh, there are so many of you who come to mind. People like David Cornelius. I first met him in the parking lot of the church asking for a handout. All he wanted was for me to listen to him. Although I thought I knew more about what he needed, he taught me to pay attention to what he was saying. For him, it was a matter of dignity. When I think of David, I also think of John Locke. I first met John as the man who lived in the dumpster behind the church building. He enriched my life the morning that he stood in a worship service and sang “The Lord’s Prayer.” “I thank my God every time I remember you…”
Grateful for You
If you are still with me, I am grateful. God has come to me and deeply shaped my life through so many of you over 48 years of ministry. Along with all of you, I have met in and through the church, I am grateful for my Cabinet colleagues, my district office colleagues, and for each of you who continue to enrich my life in special and unnoticed ways. “I thank my God every time I remember you…”
Today, as I give thanks, I am remembering my wife, Kimberly, my children, and my grandchildren. I am remembering close and special friends. I am remembering the people who have walked along with me through the tough times as well as the good times. I am the person I am today because of their love and care in my life. “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
You know, there are so many of you who come to mind. Just know that I am giving God thanks for you today. I am grateful for you, your ministry, your friendship, and for all God has done to make me who I am in and through you.
Dietrick Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life, we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”
Take Gratitude with You
Who are the people who fill your heart with love, happiness, and gratitude?
Here is what I want you to do. Take a moment to think of three or four people for whom you are grateful. People through whom you have experienced God’s love. Who brings you joy. Who has been influential? Write their names on a piece of paper. You now have a list of people who are special to you.
For the rest of your life, take these names with you wherever you go. Take them to family gatherings and to Sunday worship. Keep them with you on special occasions. And when you move, make sure when everything is packed, you have them with you. Finally, when you come to the end of your life, take your names with you. I know there will be people who will say, “You can’t take it with you,” but take your list of special people with you.
Now, when you get to the gate and Saint Peter is there to greet you, he will ask, “What do you have in your hand?” You will say, “It’s just a list of people who are special to me.” He will say, “Let me see it.” And you will say, “It is just the names of some people, that if it were not for them, I would not be here.” And he will say, “Let me see your names.”
You will give him your list and he will look at you and smile. Then he will say, “I know these people. I just saw them on my over here to greet you. They were making a sign. The sign read, “Welcome Home.”
“I thank my God every time I remember you…”
Who you are is how you lead. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!