Thursday, November 24, 2016

How To Be Thankful

Let me start by saying that Brenda and I have tried a number of churches since we landed in Central Florida. 
I don't think it's fair to suggest that any we visited weren't very nice, and more than good enough for a couple of sinners.  (Oh, we're not bad people at all, but we have learned to accept that we're all sinners, and we're all just trying our best to be right in the eyes of our God.)

Not so ironically, Brenda and I both spent most of our young lives attending services at churches our parents or ancestors picked for us.  Yes, think about that one...  Although growing up in different countries, our grandparents picked the churches their children would attend, and our parents just naturally continued a tradition that takes place in almost all families.

As for picking our own church, I think Brenda would agree that our choice had to be "us".  Do you know what I mean?
Speaking for myself for a sec, I'd say that I seldom left the religious services of my youth feeling all that inspired, motivated, cleansed, or whatever it is many God-fearing people seek.  Ya, that's a big part of what I mean by a church being "us", or maybe striking an undefinable chord within either Brenda or me.  (Truth be told, we thought we found the perfect church just before leaving Kissimmee.  Still, I guess God would have kept us there if that was his plan.) 
With all that.... 
Enter an awesome little congregation in a tiny town not far from where we are now, a little further south near Tampa.

Truly, none of the following should be taken in a negative way -- when I say that this church and its people are kinda old fashion, or kinda folksy, because I think the atmosphere there is totally "us".

We were made to feel at home from the very start, and nothing has changed over the many months we've been attending services there.  In fact, only missing a single service over that span -- due to a wicked flu bug, Brenda and I agree that Sunday morning is our very favorite time of the week.  Moreover, we usually go out for a bite after services, and we spend a great deal of time sipping coffee and hashing over our Pastor's latest message.

Yup, our Pastor...  Actually, this piece has a lot to do with the way he recently helped every member in his congregation to be thankful.  Of course, his lovely wife attracted everyone to that special night with her homemade chicken soup and dumplings.  (And, let me tell you, I was trying not to appear too piggish by limiting myself to just two bowls of that awesome stuff.)

Still, the best part of the night -- after some prayer, some talk of scripture, and a few warmth-inspiring Christian songs -- was a little game the Pastor had everyone in attendance play.  Here's how it went...
He gave everyone in the hall a small bowl, a small stack of notepaper and a pen.

The Pastor then asked everyone to take a piece of the paper, and jot on it something they were extremely thankful for.  Actually, he next turned to me at a nearby table, and I immediately pointed at Brenda.  Aaaaaah, for sure, the thing I'm most thankful for is having that always smiling young lady in my life.

He went on to ask us to fill our small bowls -- no, wait, he wanted us to overfill those bowls -- with all the things we were thankful for.
A few days after that stirring evening, Brenda asked me what I'd written on the remaining slips I heaped in my bowl.  That was easy...  Again, my first was about Brenda.  The next one I wrote with a lump in my throat, thanking God for the best upbringing a young guy could have ever have had.  The third one could have filled a bowl by itself, had I decided to list each detail separately.  But it was something simpler, as I expressed my thanks for "a life full of unbelievable experiences".  I mean, how many folks do you know who have made their favorite pastime their living?  How many do you know who got to study their sport in the old Soviet Union, to mix with many of the top people in their profession, or got to lecture in front of National Hockey League coaches and GMs?  Mixed in with all that, hardly a day goes by that I don't see something on TV and tell Brenda, "I've been there," or "I've done that."

To be honest, I've been into inspirational stuff since my earliest years of adulthood -- or even earlier.  And I'd long ago seen some ideas close to what the Pastor had us do.  A reader could even use the following version, especially if he or she is a little down in the dumps...
As I recall, the idea is to divide a long sheet of paper down the middle, and then go about listing all the negatives in your life on one side, and all the positives on the other.  As one usually discovers, the nice things tend to go far down the sheet, and sometimes even overflow onto another.  And, while the negatives might gnaw at you more than any others, this exercises tends to put things quickly into perspective.  I mean, no matter what might be bothering us at any given moment, we'd seldom ever give up all the great things that have happened to us over a lifetime.
As long time friends might know, I was literally wiped out a few years ago -- partly from a rather ugly divorce, with the finishing touches coming when I entrusted my coaching career to some extremely unscrupulous hockey people.  No matter, Brenda and I have spent little time crying.  We didn't even need any formal exercises to shake us out of those downers.  No, we've kinda known all along that we've been lucky, and we'll take the negatives in exchange for all the truly nice things that have happened for us in recent years.

So, did we find the right church "for us"?  I kinda think so.  And, while we don't have much flexibility in our lifestyle right now -- having to care for my ailing mom, Brenda and I truly want to get more involved in what we see as "our church".

As for being thankful, well...  After over 40-years in coaching, I learned to rely on a lot of little mental games like those described above.  They were useful to me, I think they helped my players at times, and I'm hoping they might help my readers, too.