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. 

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