A Reflection of Gratitude

This is the fourth installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

There have been countless moments in my life that I have been completely overwhelmed with gratitude.  God has blessed me time and again, and I never cease to be amazed by His great plan.  When asked to write this reflection of gratitude, there was one particular memory of my mom that came to mind:

My mom has never been one to sit back and let life pass her by.  She is always up for an adventure.  If there is something she wants to do or accomplish, she finds a way.  My mom has an incredible gift for being in the moment and grateful for each day.

A little over fifteen years ago, as my family was preparing for a Memorial Day picnic, I realized that my mom had not been working around the house with the rest of us.  It seemed odd and I suddenly felt the urge to check on her.  I found her in her bedroom looking extremely pale and sick.  She told me that she didn’t feel well and I could tell instantly that something was very wrong.  I ran outside to get my dad and in a matter of minutes things went from bad to worse.  My mom was having trouble walking, she began coming in and out of consciousness, and life was draining from her with each passing moment.  I started to panic.  How could this happen?  How could someone who was so full of life just a few hours before suddenly be so sick?  We didn’t know at that moment, but an infection had made its way into her blood stream. Her body was shutting down as she became septic.  The ambulance finally came and she was taken to the hospital.  That day seemed to last forever.  The doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to stabilize her throughout the day and night.  With tears of desperation I prayed, begging God to let her live.

When morning came, mom was not out of the woods, but by the grace of God she was stable.  Many family and friends showered us with love, prayers and support.  It was overwhelming to feel the love of God through their actions.  Mom had a long road to recovery in the following months, but we were so grateful for her continued healing and the peace of God that we felt in the middle of it all.  Even through her pain and fatigue, she chose to face each day with a grateful heart.

Often times I get frustrated with what’s going on in my world.  It’s easy to get caught up in the daily routine, family drama, or the news stories that splash across our televisions and newspapers.  All of these things are parts of life that can leave us in a whirlwind of chaos and negativity.  We suffer unimaginable trials on our journey.  It can be difficult to feel grateful in the midst of it all.  Sometimes we have to choose gratitude.  When we choose gratitude, we allow ourselves to see the beauty that God is creating in the midst of our pain.  When we invite God into the center of our world, He surrounds us with peace that surpasses all understanding.  On difficult days when I struggle to find something to be grateful for, I think back on that Memorial Day.  I remember the grace and peace that God gave to us.  I think about my mom’s example of living a life of gratitude in good and bad times.  I give thanks that my mom is still here with me and for the beautiful memories we have been able to make together since then.  I am filled with gratitude knowing that God is walking beside me on my journey through life and I know that no matter what challenges I may face, I am never alone.

Jill Dressler is a member of St. Mark’s, Erie. 

Episcopal Gratitude

This is the third installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When asked to write about gratitude, I had thoughts far and wide of all of the blessings for which I am grateful. I have an incredible relationship with my husband for which I thank God every single day. I have a wonderful daughter. I have a great job. I have precious friends. My family is loving and supportive.

My grandfather was an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Central New York. When I was born, I came home to the rectory. We lived upstairs, and Grandpa and Grandma lived on the first floor. Dad was in the military then. It was wartime.

I’ve never NOT been an Episcopalian. The word “cradle” seems to have taken on a negative connotation for some people; however, that’s what I am – a cradle Episcopalian.

From the Diocese of Central New York, my family eventually moved to Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The late Canon Fred Haworth was my priest in Indiana, PA. Remarkably, he would also go on to become my priest in Grove City, PA.  As a teen, I was deeply involved in youth activities, choir, and nursery duties. The church on the corner of Elm and Main held public dinners in its basement. I loved serving at those dinners alongside wonderful women who were mentors to us young people.

We built a new church outside of town in the mid sixties, and Epiphany is still there today with its pink tower outside and gorgeous woods inside. I love that church building. My marriage was blessed there. My daughter was baptized there. Sean Rowe was ordained to the diaconate there. My husband was ordained there and installed as vicar.

The clergy of our diocese are a gift to me as well.  At the recent ordination of Nick Evancho to the priesthood, I looked around at the wonderful people who engage in ordained ministry as well as those who do vital work in other capacities. I truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as they came forward and laid hands on Nicholas.  Later, I told my husband, “I love these people! They are amazing!”

The late Barbara Akin [former vicar of Epiphany] and I were close friends. We argued, hung up on one another, disagreed over many issues; but we loved one another, and I love her still. I am grateful for her presence in my life at a time when I was single and struggling with belief and relationships.

Then the greatest blessing of all appeared: my husband. Most of you know that we worked together on the internet and that we became friends as well as co-workers. Love blossomed for both of us, and so I went to Australia twenty years ago to meet him. When I arrived in the airport lobby, he was waiting there for me. I ran into his arms, and it has been wonderful ever since.

When Geoffrey came to live in the USA and we married, he did not attend church. I went every Sunday and came home to talk about Barbara Akin and the other great people in the congregation. One Sunday he decided to go with me. The rest is history!

Then came Foxburg. Through a training held at Epiphany, we met some people from Foxburg and learned that they had no priest at all. Geoffrey decided to involve himself in a ministry there, and this ministry has gone both ways: we have received more than we have given.

I have had two wonderful careers: teacher for thirty years and outpatient mental health therapist for the past thirteen. Being an Episcopalian has enabled me to work with an open mind and a nonjudgmental attitude with all “sorts and conditions” of humankind.  I continue to do so with generosity of heart and with love. The Episcopal Church, in all its liberal glory, has enabled me to have a spiritual base from which to work, The Church teaches us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Almost every sermon that I hear, whether it be from my husband, our deacon, our bishop, or another pastor or priest in our diocese, teaches love. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael, preached love at the recent royal wedding, and I am told that he exudes love when encountered in person.

With all of my faults, I am accepted by the Episcopal Church as a worthy member. God has provided me with many opportunities for ministry wherever I have gone and in everything I do. The Church forms the basis for my decisions and actions. It supports me and gives me hope for the future here on this Earth and in the World to come. The Church has given me a relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Grateful? You bet I am –  every day of my life!

Cheryl Wild attends both Epiphany in Grove City and Memorial Church of Our Father in Foxburg, where her husband, Geoffrey, serves as vicar. She is also a member of the diocese’s Commission on Ministry.

Gladness and Thankfulness

This is the second installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When I was asked to write about gratitude, I realized that I have spent much of this year being thankful for so very much—my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends, my coworkers, the people who attend Grace, Ridgway, and the people of this diocese. But there’s more than just the long, long list of people for whom I am thankful. There’s a lifetime of events, and a whole lot of mistakes, that have shaped who I am, the kind of person, the kind of Christian I am. I started out thinking about my gratitude for these people.

But then I started writing, and I kept finding myself back, just over eighteen months ago, on my knees in church on a typical Sunday. Maybe not so typical in that I was so frustrated that what I believed I was being called to do simply wasn’t happening. I felt overwhelmed with the burden of not knowing where I was supposed to even begin; I had no idea what I needed to do. I was angry–more angry and frustrated–than I’ve ever felt in my life. I felt lost, invisible, and ignored. And I was exhausted from what feels like a lifetime of fighting to be heard and to be seen. I was tired of arguing with managers at work for fair treatment; I was tired of defending my parenting choices with my mother. Add in years of being a single parent, a history of clinical depression, and the hundreds of times I was the only one on the PTA or the Bishop’s Committee speaking up on certain topics. I was, in my own words, tired of having to fight all the time.

During the sermon that day, Fr Alan was telling a story about God taking a man and placing him near a very large boulder. God tells the man, “Push the rock.” The man pushes the rock; the rock doesn’t move.  The man continues to push the rock; the rock continues to not move. After a time, God returns to see the man. The man complains, “Lord, I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t move this rock!” God responds, “My son, I didn’t tell you to move the rock. But now you are strong enough for the work I have for you. Come with me.”

Then, I’m on my knees, begging God to take my anger away. I’m telling Him how very tired I am over and over and over. And I’m crying. I can’t see, because that happens sometimes. I’m repeating the litany of battles I’ve fought, begging to have it end. And in my blindness, in my tears, God responds, “Just what do you think all that was for?”

In the months since then, I have moved through a good many conversations with God, as well as conversations with others who have shared their thoughts and insights. There’s been a lot of scripture, some found and some searched for.

I am overwhelmed with gladness and thankfulness for the people God has given me. For the ones who have guided, for the ones who have listened, for the ones who have simply loved. I’m even thankful for the ones who have caused pain and grief, for the lessons they’ve taught me.

I’ve heard it said that all prayer can be boiled down to two things:  help me and thank you. I have spent a lot of my life asking for help. I find myself, more and more these days, saying, “Thank You,” to God for His mercy in forgiving and loving me, His wisdom in those persons He has given me, and His peace as I learn to rest in Him. “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” ~Ephesians 1:16

Cheryl Whipple Mumford is a member of Grace Episcopal Church, Ridgway. 

Not Only Her Daughter-In-Law

This is the first installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I recently received an e-mail from Megin Sewak about my willingness to write an article for the Forward blog summer series. She said the series would be based on gratitude. The American Heritage dictionary definition of gratitude defines it as: The state of being grateful; thankfulness. Several ideas and individuals immediately came to mind about whom I could write about. After tossing around a few names in my head, I decided the person I would base this article on was my late mother-in-law, Marjorie Stanford. It wasn’t too long after I had been introduced to her by my then boyfriend, her son Rick, I found out she liked to be called by her nickname, which was “Pete”, so “Pete” was what I called her unless she slipped and called me by my given name “Norma” instead of my nickname “Noni”. If she called me Norma, then I called her Marjorie! Rick and I dated for several years before we got married. During those years of courtship with Rick, I had an opportunity to get to know my future mother-in-law and we became great friends. After Rick and I married, we lived the next house down from my in-laws, who lived in the family farmhouse which was built in 1819!

Now to the gratitude part of the story. Every spring when the trees burst out with a multitude of shades of green and flowers spring out of the ground, Pete comes to mind. She always had fabulous flower beds around her house. She spent many hours transplanting and relocating perennials in the early spring. I would help her and ask her questions about how did she know where to move plants and how did she know the species she was moving? She would smile and tell me after all the years of gardening she enjoyed the mystery of what would bloom and where it would bloom. We spent time in the pasture gathering dried “meadow muffins” to spread around the flower beds. Soon I found myself developing my own flower beds with plants or seeds she shared with me. When the spring/summer season turned to fall, we would prep the beds for winter. She not only tended to flower beds, she was also an active participant in the dairy farm business with her husband Rex. After the dairy business became too much for them, they sold the cows and began to raise beef cows. During the week, I worked at Edinboro University. However, on the weekends I helped with chores, first with the dairy herd and later with the beef cows. After chores, Rick and I would often go to Pete and Rex’s house for a wonderful breakfast made by no one other than Pete! She always made the most fabulous bread/toast and served it with the breakfast meals. I inquired about her bread recipe, and she offered to teach me how to make it. I remember spending a Saturday afternoon at her house making bread. After the bread was made, she told me to go home and make some bread. I did as I was told. After my bread was made, I called to tell her I did it! She asked me to bring her a sample, so I did. She smiled and told me it was just as good as hers. Then she informed me I could now take over making the bread.

As the years passed, my mother-in-law and father-in-law dealt with the death of both of their sons. I continued to live down the road from Pete and Rex after Rick’s tragic death. Often I would cook meals and share them with Pete and Rex. They continued to be an important part of my life. A few days before Pete’s death, she told me I was not only her daughter-in-law, but more importantly I was her friend. Rick died in 2002 and Pete and Rex both died in 2005.

Every spring, when I work in my flower beds, I think of Pete. Those memories continue to bring a smile to my face and I will be forever filled with gratitude for all Pete shared and taught me all those years ago.

Noni Stanford is a member and senior warden of St. James, Titusville. 

I Sincerely Thank Everyone – by Nina Palattella

Nina Palattella is a high school senior blogging about her experience as a Christian. This is her final post. Click here to read Nina’s previous blog posts.

IMG_1673Hello and welcome to my eighth blog post! As the school year is drawing to a close, this will be (at least for the foreseeable future) my last post; it has been an honor to share my various thoughts with all of you through the writings since the fall. In preparation for this entry, I went back and read several of the other posts I have published over the last year, including my very first one that I wrote at the end of last summer; it was fun to look back at the things I had forgotten that I had written about. It was inspiring, too, to read the activities I listed in my first post and think about what I’ve added to it in the past year.

When I graduate from high school in a few days shy of three weeks, I will also have graduated from The Vine, my community’s Episcopal youth group. I feel lucky to have participated in the group for the two years that I could, but I am thankful that such a great program exists for the kids who will still be around to enjoy it. In addition to adults and youth at my church, I know that there are people from other churches and beyond (including readers of this blog) who are hoping for my success, and that’s a pretty great feeling that I am fortunate to have.

Because of my experience writing this blog, I’ve become more aware of just how much of an impact my faith and my involvement in the church has on my life, and because of that awareness I’ve realized how important it is to me that I continue practicing that faith as I get older and gain the ability to make more independent decisions about my faith, as well as other aspects of my life. I’ve accepted the fact that the ways I practice my faith are subject to changes, both minor and significant; the church I currently attend won’t be an option for weekly Sunday services, so if I want to worship with a traditional congregation, I’ll have to seek out a parish (and if I happen to find more than one, I’ll have to decide which one best satisfies what I’m looking for). Maybe I’ll decide that it’s more convenient for me to express my faith more informally and individually for a while, which I think is just as much of a valid choice for anyone.

In less than one month I will return to Camp Nazareth for my final year as a camper, which is both terribly exciting and a little bit saddening. Even though I’m only there for one week of the year, camp and the people I have spent time with there are responsible for a large part of the formation of my faith throughout the past ten years. One of the best things about Camp Nazareth is that I associate it with so many fun times as well as with religion, and I think that’s critically important, especially for children but really for people of any age. Communities like Camp Nazareth and The Vine have helped me stick with my faith because they have showed me the real-life positive impact that my beliefs can have on other people, and they’ve taught me that living a life with Christ can be achieved in any number of ways, many of which are really awesome (like sliding down an enormous soap-covered Slip ‘N’ Slide with not only your fellow campers but the ministers as well).

Of course, anyone who’s read even a little bit of the Old Testament knows that religion isn’t fun all the time. It can cause some people to feel overwhelmed; other people cite the current condition of the world, as well as tragic events, as their reason for not believing in God or higher power in general. I understand that the concept of believing in something as malleable as God can feel like too much—or like too little, depending on your stance in this debate—and I have had flashes of doubt in how I believe and whether it can be enough for me. However, I have always been oddly willing to accept that God is beyond definition and I can only have the most basic idea of what His plans are for me or for anyone. I think that as long as I continue to enrich my life in all the ways that matter to me, such as through education and music and literature, and as long as I work to enrich the lives of others in as many ways as I am able, then I can be satisfied with the life that I am living, both for myself and for Christ. I sincerely thank everyone for following and guiding me through this process, and I wish you all the best in wherever life may take you!

Nina Palattella, The Cathedral of St. Paul Erie