Giving Thanks and Giving Back
A month or so ago we were fortunate to have a miraculous myrrh streaming icon here at our church. While standing in line waiting to be anointed, there was a young mother and her two sons in front of me. I could see out of the corner of my eye the older son, who I learned later, was in 6th grade, kept looking at me. I turned to smile at him and saw he had a very concerned look on his face. Before I had the chance to say “hi,” he said to me in a very serious tone, “I know why I’m here, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do?”
I replied to him, “No worries. When Fr. Luke comes over to you, he will anoint your forehead, each side of your face, and chin with the sign of the cross,” I said, “Hold out your hands like this, he’ll do the same on the top of your hands and on your palms.”
Relief came over his face and our conversation continued on who he was, what school he was in, why he was here, and how they were friends with one of our parishioners that invited them to come be anointed.
For days following, I thought of this story and it made me think. His words were so simple, yet the meaning was much deeper.
Fr Luke asked me to speak about “What God and the Church mean to me and why I give back to the Church.” I struggled with how I would start this but then I remembered my conversation with this boy and thought it was something we should all think about. We know WHY we are here – we come to encounter God, to pray, to ask forgiveness, to seek spiritual guidance and inspiration, and for so many other things. But do we know WHAT we are supposed to do as followers of Jesus Christ? Of course, we all know when to kneel, or make the sign of the cross or receive communion. We know certain rituals and practices, but I what I am referring to is, HOW DO WE SHOW OUR GRATITUDE? What do we give back to the church and how do we show God we are thankful for our blessings? Of course, it should be more than just saying thank you to God.
As I continue to share my thoughts on this topic, I want you to all understand that I am NOT the expert at showing my gratitude. I often forget, and put other things higher on the priority list. From time to time, however, I often feel a nudge, or a kick in the pants, reminding me – “Lisa, you are blessed…give thanks and give back!”
Many of you may, or may not know, these two things about me. In 2003, my family suffered two tragedies within a couple months when both my niece and my brother passed away at young ages. These traumatic events turned life turned upside down for me and my entire family. I was trying to be strong for the other family members, and the one and only thing that kept me going, was my faith. I turned to God to carry me through those dark times and He did. I realized, though, that I needed to do more than just go to church to express my gratitude. I wanted to help our church, I wanted to participate in whatever way I could - not for my glory, not for any recognition I would get, but to give back to God in gratitude! To show my gratitude in concrete ways!
Six years later, in October 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two days prior to that my beloved husband, Dan, asked me to marry him. What a roller coaster of emotion! I was happy, sad, angry, excited…you name it, every emotion went through me. I recall on one of my very angry days, when I was particularly angry at God, I kept asking, “WHY? WHY is this happening?”
God answered my angry plea! Not on that day, but months later. Once again, I felt I needed to continue to express to God how thankful I was. I continued my journey of participating as much as could in the Church to show my gratitude! This Church, and our beautiful Church family, have become a very significant part of my life. When I am not here, I miss the feeling of love and peace I receive when I come. And when I am here, I long for more. How I wish life was more about what we experience at Church, and not about the daily grind. I’m sure many of you would agree.
I shared those two stories with you because these events helped me realized that being thankful is more than just about saying “Thank you.” It is about doing something concrete! It is giving back! It is about showing gratitude in different ways!
There are many ways we can show our gratitude. Most people assume that we when talk about giving back in the Church, it’s always financial. Of course, we do need to support our Church financially and help keep the programs and facilities running. I want to remind people, however, that there are many other ways to give back along with our finances. Helping with our new soup kitchen, the Living Bread Luncheon, which is happening every first Saturday of each month, and even happening on Thanksgiving Day this year! Visiting our homebound parishioners, joining and getting active in the Philoptochos or deciding to run for Parish Council. What about participating in Project Mexico, donating time to our local hospitals, or collecting supplies for victims of natural disasters, or like we have recently done in our Church with the 53 boxes of supplies we sent to Project Mexico, or the 30 Thanksgiving Baskets we’re offering to families, or the 45 presents we’re getting for the Christmas Giving Tree.
We all have the ability to give back one way or the other! Some may be able to give more financially and maybe not so much with their time. Others can offer many volunteer hours, but may give less financially. How you give back is an individual choice according to how you feel you’ve been blessed by God. Just make a choice that is filled with love in your heart. As the Bible says, “God loves a cheerful giver!”
At this time of year when the holidays are so close to us, particularly Thanksgiving this week, take the time to reflect on all that you are grateful for. Possibly you’ve had the experience of sitting around the dinner table on Thanksgiving day, and having each person around the table say what they are thankful for. Well, this year, maybe you can add one thing. Have everyone say what they are thankful for AND what are they doing to show their gratitude!
I ask you all to please reflect on these words, and remember GIVE THANKS and GIVE BACK!
IN WHOM DO WE TRUST?
Our Orthodox Faith
Spirituality: The Meaning of Theosis As the Goal of Christian Life