What I'm Thankful For

I actually wrote this blog the weekend before the election. I decided that for two days I would shut out the steady stream of negative and depressing political rhetoric and focus on a few things I’m thankful for. Unfortunately, before I could post the blog, my computer succumbed to a severe virus and crashed. But as the negative and depressing political rhetoric continues—and as Thanksgiving approaches—I offer these humble and meandering thoughts.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively in Africa and the Middle East. What a privilege to get to know extraordinary men and women from races and religions different from mine. They have taught me much about the world, about faith, and about what it means to love your neighbor.

I’m thankful to be in ongoing partnership with Israeli and Palestinian women working for peace. Just weeks ago thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women marched together to call on their political leaders to engage authentically in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.

On a recent Saturday morning seventy women from my church walked in solidarity with them—praying for their efforts and confessing our own need to grow as peacemakers. Several Muslim women from our community heard about the march and joined us. It was an extraordinary morning!

I’m thankful for my long-term relationship with World Relief, a Christian organization that has wisely and faithfully championed for immigration reform and for refugee resettlement. (FYI, last March I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for World Relief projects serving women in the warzones of Syria-Iraq, South Sudan and DR Congo. Hardest thing I ever did—but that’s how much I value the work of WR!)

I’m thankful for my friends in Iraq who are—right now—serving in Mosul, providing emergency care to thousands of displaced families. I’ve been to Iraq and I can't read the chilling and heartbreaking stories coming from Mosul without seeing the faces of people I've met. Tragically, most of those suffering in Mosul can't make it to the refugee camps established for them. So my dear friends at Preemptive Love Coalition are going to them, taking emergency food, water and medical care to them, being the hands and feet of Christ to the most vulnerable.

I’m thankful for people I know in Jordan who are opening their hearts, homes and churches to Syrian refugees. My friends at Questscope have been in the Middle East for over thirty years, serving young people at risk. Their current mentoring work with refugees—giving young Syrian men and women who have lost everything, the training and opportunity to mentor younger refugees—offers one of the best practices I’ve ever seen. Even in Aleppo, which has once again been devastated beyond comprehension, Questscope is there.

I’m thankful to be in a church in which both women and men are challenged to use their God-given gifts for the common good, and both are invited to sit around the tables where important decisions are made. Girls and women throughout the world need to be educated, empowered financially, and given the opportunity to live and teach and lead and work toward a better future.

I’m thankful for the peacemaking lessons I’ve learned from wise people like John Perkins and Ron Sider and John Paul Lederach. I am, however, chastised by the realization that I’ve been more committed to practicing these lessons globally than locally. As the shadow of racism grows longer and white supremacy seems to be gaining strength in our country, I cannot remain silent on the sidelines. I will never regret the time I’ve spent with women globally, but I do regret not spending more time with women in my own community, especially women of color. I have much to learn from them and have already begun to benefit from their wisdom and friendship.

I’m thankful to live in a country where heated public discourse is allowed. I am shocked by how ugly it’s become, and I don’t think that bodes well for our future. But I still believe there is much to be celebrated in America and in Americans. Wise and compassionate Americans from across the political spectrum continue to advocate for a consistent ethic of life—one that protects the unborn, the poor, the refugees, the trafficked, the incarcerated, the marginalized. Across this country, unsung heroes are doing so much good for so many.

I’m thankful for the little book by Thomas Kelly that I read over and over again. “Be not fooled by the world’s power,” writes Kelly. “Imposing institutions of war and imperialism and greed are wholly vulnerable for they, as we, are forever in the hands of a conquering God.” (A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly, 1941)

I’m thankful that in Jesus I’ve found a religion worth living. In Jesus I’ve found a resting place for my soul and a radical call to compassionate action in the world. That about sums it up for me.

I’m thankful for my family: For hours of joyful and playful escape with my grandsons. For the remarkable blessing of adult relationships with my wise and funny and energetic kids. For a dad who at 86 is helping resettle young refugees in his Michigan community. “Busy day today,” he emailed recently, “I picked the boys up at the mosque and we went shopping for clothes.”

Speaking of family, I’d wanted to get a quote from my husband for this blog, but when I wrote it he was speaking to church leaders in Africa. So I’ll settle for an extended quote from an excellent sermon he recently preached called Respect Everyone Always.

In his sermon he highlighted 10 practices that comprise respect:

See All People as Image Bearers of God • Determine to Differ Without Demonizing • Always Believe the Best About Others • Don’t Interrupt or Dominate Conversations • Guard Your Volume & Refuse to Use Incendiary Words (in private, public, social media) • Be Courteous to Everyone • Never Stereotype • Apologize Quickly • Form Opinions Carefully & Stay Open-minded • Be Faithful (do what you say you’re going to do)

It’s obvious how all these practices can and should be applied both personally and publicly. But Bill never settles for vague generalities. As he closed his sermon he got on a little riff that put flesh on the bare bones of those words. He said:

This is clearly important in our world, and obviously it’s vitally important in our country at this particular time. It’s also important in our church. Without respect toward one another, this church could fracture overnight, because we’re so diverse.

If the wealthy people ever start disrespecting the poorer among us, it will break heaven’s heart.

If the men in this church ever act disrespectfully toward any woman in this church—well gang, that can just never happen, ever.

With 103 countries represented in our church, if people from one part of the world ever start disrespecting people from other parts of world, it will do incalculable damage to the body of Christ gathered in this place.

If one race or ethnicity starts disrespecting people from another race or ethnicity, it will be unbelievably sad and destructive.

If the straights among us ever start disrespecting the gays among us, it will be horrible for all of us.

If political party members of this church start disrespecting members of the opposing party, it will create chaos.

I want to close by asking you to make a public profession—if you can do this sincerely—that you’d like to make a fresh commitment to become a more respectful person.

If God’s been speaking to you about any of these things, please repeat with full voice after me.

I make a fresh commitment to respect everyone always.

To respect everyone always.

Respect everyone always.

It was a great sermon. You can listen to it here.

As Thanksgiving approaches, what are you thankful for? I guarantee that your family and friends need to hear some good news--communicated respectfully!