Unexpected Gratitude

This past Sunday, I preached on the story of the healing of the seven lepers (Luke 17:11-21). When we laid out our Lenten worship series several months ago, there was no way we could have known that we’d be in the midst of a full-blown Covid-19 pandemic nor that the tie-ins to this encounter with Jesus in Luke’s gospel would feel so poignantly prescient. It is a story that includes at least three core elements: safe social distancing (the lepers by law had to live their lives in continual quarantine lest they infect anyone with their skin diseases), an urgent cry for healing (they come to Jesus and call out, “Have mercy on us!”) and unexpected gratitude (only one of the ten comes back to thank Jesus and he is an “outsider” Samaritan).

It was this last theme that I asked worshipers to reflect on leading up to, during and after the service. I shared that in this nightmarish time when our world has been literally turned upside down by the health crisis that is spreading and threatening lives every day, I have nevertheless experienced interactions filled with blessing and grace, moments of unexpected gratitude that have helped to carry me: a conversation with a woman who has placed a sign of explicit welcome on her front yard in a neighborhood that has become increasingly diverse; family game nights via Zoom when we can’t be physically present with one another; countless acts of everyday heroism that inspire me from nurses, doctors, Amazon Prime drivers, grocery store workers, amateur mask-makers and more.

Here’s what others shared with me about their unexpected gratitude during this surreal time:

Jennifer Fleming emailed me that “I’m missing my 2-year-old students fiercely. There was no time to say goodbye to them or explain that I wouldn’t be with them for a while, so I made a video of myself reading one of their favorite stories and put it on FB so they could at least see me. One of the parents responded by saying this, ‘Thank you for this. Just this am she said how much she missed and loved you.  We are at my parents right now and she just walked you all around the house showing everyone.’  As you can imagine, I just smiled and cried. ”

Chris Myers and her family have re-instituted their family gratitude journal at dinner time. Some of their recent entries have included gratitude for:

+Good health – definitely a time not to take this for granted
+ Health care workers and scientists working on the forefront
+ Sleeping in late
+ Teachers & professors – my college girls miss both the structure and quality of in class learning. 
Conversely, my high schooler is thankful not to have had school these last 2 weeks! 
+Time to enjoy and not feel on the go all day, time to get things done that have been pushed aside; time to catch up with others on the phone, good, long – not rushed – conversations -and Game nights!

A young mom from our congregation, Kara Wagner just had a baby boy, Arthur, 2 weeks ago – she told me how grateful she and her husband Wes are for his life and for the fact that he just came through kidney surgery at the hospital this past Friday.

Jen Burleson (Chartwell) and Diane McGrath (Chartridge) both shared their utter delight and thanks for the mystery person who has been dropping off fresh flowers to them and their neighbors at their front doors nearly every day.

Nancy Rutledge expressed gratitude for the time to FaceTime with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons during their ‘workday’ which is a better time for the kids than at night when everyone is so tired.”

Carole Parker wrote, “I just wanted to thank the entire staff, for everything you’ve done to keep us all connected these past weeks! It’s been grounding and provides the perfect focus…God’s focus. You’ve been a lifeline to so many, at a time when it’s easy to let go of hope. Thank you!”

One of our young adults, Laura Fosler, described how “I got furloughed for 8 (hopefully only 8) weeks and while financially it’s soooo not ideal, I’m feeling grateful for the time.  I’ve been craving a “stop my life I want to get off” break for a while and while this is certainly not how I envisioned it, I kinda feel like I got what I was needing.  I’ve also felt for a while like I was on the cusp of something new/different/big change professionally so I suspect this may be the window it’s coming through.  I’ve been wanting to move into non-profit work for a while now. I’m staying connected to my faith by embracing the slow down and trying to listen to what the Lord has laid ahead for me.  New found time for quiet walks and relishing the simple things has become restorative.  And, there’s a whole lotta talking to Jesus happening.”

Dixie Catlett said it was hard to limit it to three things (for the purposes of the email) but here’s what made her list:

“Today, I find myself particularly grateful for Gov. Larry Hogan’s ability/willingness to listen to health and logistics experts about how to prepare for the progression of the COVID 19 virus infection. 

I’m very grateful for healthcare professionals who are saving lives and doing testing to identify in whom and where the virus is active so that others can avoid contracting it, and grateful for hotels that are housing healthcare workers at no cost so their families are safer.

I’m grateful for having a home in which to shelter comfortably and for those who are finding ways to keep us feeling connected to each other and to God, like our church family.”

Betty Spengler has discovered “an unexpected blessing” — In February I made the decision to not renew my contract in July with the educational association that I have been working for part-time since I retired from the University of Maryland three years ago. Even though I really enjoy most aspects of the job, I had come to the realization that the job was preventing me from doing so many of the things I had hoped to accomplish when I “retired”. It was a very hard decision and there were days that I woke up and wanted to take it back. One of the big fears I had was what I would do with all of my newfound free time. Things are at a standstill for work right now because of the uncertainty of our June conference being held so I am getting to practice what life will be like once I stop working. What I have learned is that I will be okay. I will not be bored and will have time to do so many things and that it will be okay. I am learning that my days can be full even during this time when I can’t see my grandchildren. If it weren’t for this pause at work, I would still be worrying about whether I made the right decision. Now I don’t question it at all.

I have been able to spend time working on digital scrapbooking after a long hiatus. I have made 40 pages in the past two weeks. There is so much joy in this process because it causes me to look through hundreds of photos reminding me of so many memories and countless blessings.

Our Winter Relief Co-Coordinator, Carolyn Heim, wrote:

I am grateful for all the Facetime activities that I am getting to do with my children and grandchildren.  I am also grateful for the increased opportunity I have now to get outside and both walk and bike.  I should be in the best athletic shape after all of this.

  I also wanted you to know that I have done a lot of thinking over the past several days.  One thought that has always been in my mind and has now become very dominant is how often we think of something we want to tell someone (positive that is), but don’t take the opportunity to do so.  Often that chance is lost for whatever reason.  Due to the current situation where we don’t know who will be affected by this coronavirus and having my family scattered all over, I decided to do something about that.  I used all of Saturday to write personal letters to each of my children and grandchildren talking about memories since they were born and about what I feel for each of them. I sent this to them as their Easter gift.  It is my hope that I can continue this exercise over the next week or so with other family members.  I don’t know what their reaction will be, but it certainly made me feel better that I had shared my thoughts with each of them before the opportunity was lost.  Just thought I would pass this on.

And here’s what bubbled up and streamed in during our worship service:

Sue Sheridan Origlio · 57:54 Love this saying…Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.

I’m so thankful for the humor of my neighbors and how they offer to pick up supplies for us since there are 2 of us with underlying conditions in my family.🙏🏻🤗     

Meredith McClure-Scott · 57:05 I’m grateful to spend time with my teens! 🥰

Joanne Bruneau · 57:26 Grateful for zoom meetings continuing my Al-anon support groups; grateful for my children embracing new hobbies, grateful for all of us who are doing our part to support one another

Gabrielle Melka · 57:49 Grateful that my nephew was able to get a full-time job at Home Depot

Sue Sheridan Origlio · 57:54 Love this saying…Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.

Briana Fach · 58:09 Grateful for nice weather so we can get outside and enjoy nature

Susie Orner · 58:11 I have family with compromised immune system andcubdergoing first chemo and I have had 3 co workers get me powerade and Gatorade for her and lysol spray.

Kim McWilliams Bibeault · 58:40 So many beautiful signs of spring

Katie Norbury Carlin · 58:52 family dinners without the rush to activities

Meg Moore · 5:06 Katie Norbury Carlin Yes I feel this! Just a general slower pace that I’m enjoying.

Michael Murphy · 58:55 Grateful for you and your Church bringing this uplifting and warm Service to us. We will look forward to it every Sunday as we go through this crisis. Our daughter attends this Church and we have attended twice and have been so impressed by your messages and music. THANK YOU

Teresa Hales Tudor · 59:08 Grateful to be able to stay connected with all our family and friends via lots of different technologies!

Shane Perry · 59:47 It has been great to share my love of cooking with my daughters

Carol Holland · 59:50 People having time to talk to each other and check in on each other without the rush of having to be somewhere

Michael Lohr · 59:57 Thankful to be able to still work doing these trying times

Michael Nunn · 1:00:02 So thankful for my Family. Two weeks together non stop and as happy as ever.

Joe Jackins · 1:00:06 Gratitude – thanks for the safe return of Joe, Jim, and Steve as they brought a sailboat back from Charleston, going offshore and up the Bay for a total of 627 miles.

Judith Plymyer · 1:00:10 More time to read, play the piano, and take long walks in nature. Thankful for my virtual book club and the time to email about our current circumstances. More time to sort and donate things to others in need.

Linda Barstow · 1:00:13 So thankful for all the teachers working remotely to provide lessons for our children and staying in touch with them through email and Google Classroom.

Derek Dill · 1:00:19 We’re actually playing board games again!!!

Josie Rider Wiswall · 1:00:37 I just got into Twitter about a month ago. Some guy came up in my Feed at the end of February. He is from Italy and the Coronavirus just started there. He said I have no idea what this will happen but feel free to Follow me and I will Live Tweet what my family and I are going through. I am SO thankful that I am following him. As he tells his story it has given me comfort in knowing what is to come. I am so grateful that we can connect with strangers from around the world. The true meaning that we are in this together.

Sherry DeHart Leikin · 1:00:52 Families playing games and taking walks together

Jenelle Armstrong Piepmeier · 1:01:34 Thankful for Sophie Piepmeier who has helped take care of her little sister as we’ve been scrambling to work from home

Tyler J. Holt · 1:02:34 I’m grateful to be working right now. As stressful as this time has been, I’ve not only been able to dedicate more time to composing new music, but also have more quality practice time with trumpet with no jaw pain! I’ve also been able to spend more time with my nephews 😊

Jeanne Ward · 1:02:45 We are grateful are to be working while so many are laid off.

Carla Rader · 1:02:57 Grateful to be able to work from home.

Ashley Cuzzart · 1:03:07 Agreed!

Lucy Miner · 1:03:17  When all of this began, I was nervous about being home constantly with my three boisterous little boys, but I have come to find that this has been one of the sweetest times of my life with them. We’ve all embraced this time and have been enjoying schooling, learning and playing together. I’ve seen their relationships blossom with each other and I feel more connected to them than ever. I’m grateful that I’m able to be here and focus my energy on them. Also grateful that their Dad is able to work from home and be here for us as well. We’ve had some tough days, but overall, I’m continually amazed with the unexpected gratitude that has come about from this situation. Praise be to God for that!

I have no doubt that we will continue to find these moments of unexpected gratitude over the coming weeks and months even as we endure some heart-breaking losses as individuals, a nation and the world. May they help to counterbalance your sadness and give you strength in the midst of it all.

–Rev. Ron Foster