Dear Bethlehem,
It’s hard to believe that it’s November already. I saw my first Christmas commercial on TV the other day and almost couldn’t believe my eyes.
October was a month of homecomings, as well as new adventures for me. I took a few days off to drive up to the Bay Area to see friends that still live there. Being back in Half Moon Bay for the first time since I helped my parents move back in June was a truly odd experience. It felt simultaneously familiar and foreign. I felt a sense of comfort and belonging, that was followed by the thought, “Oh yeah, you don’t have a house here anymore.” Driving by my old house was truly an odd experience. To know that different people, living different lives, creating different memories were living there now made me both happy and sad at the same time.
After my time off with friends I experienced another return, a literal “homecoming” at California Lutheran University. I cannot say that it was unchanged, but so much of it was the same that it too brought back many wonderful, and not so wonderful memories. I had the great honor of being this year’s homecoming preacher and it was an amazing experience. To be able to preach for people who knew me before seminary was even on my radar was a blessing. And to have them do a double take at me in my alb and stole was very fun.
Homecoming weekend was followed immediately by Theoasis (theology in the oasis) which is the fall conference for the Pacifica and SW California Synods out in Palm Desert. It was a chance to learn, a chance to connect with other clergy, and a chance to for rejuvenation.
Throughout all of my travels, there was one feeling/emotion that united them all: gratitude. I was so very grateful to have grown up in such a wonderful place, and to still have friends in that area. I was so thankful that I had a college experience where I grew and learned; where I felt safe to try new things, and was stretched beyond my comfort zone. I felt so lucky to be called to this synod, to be colleagues with the other pastors of this area. And lastly, I felt incredibly blessed to have this home here at Bethlehem to return to.
It may sound trite or clich√©, but research in positive psychology has identified again and again the benefits of gratitude. The benefits of taking time to think about all the things we have to be thankful for. Even in the midst of our most trying times, when hope seems farthest away, taking stock of what we have to be thankful for reorients our perspective. One of my favorite Christmas movies is White Christmas, and in it, Bing Crosby sings a song about just this topic: “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” In the midst of all that is going on around us in the world, I invite you to take some time to count your blessings. And if it is a person that you’re are thankful for, tell them! Spread that gratitude around, you may not know just how much they need to hear that.
With a thankful heart,
Pastor Sam