• Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone.  My family updates are in the letter below.  
  • My reading this week has been mostly in cookbooks (getting ready for Thanksgiving) and the Bible (getting ready for sermons and Bible Studies.) I highly recommend the Bible...and think it is a good idea to have someone to dialogue along with you while you read...a partner...a Bible study group...or a thoughtful author. And cookbooks are great too...especially if you have time to browse and read some of the articles.

December  1, 2019
Name Them One By One

The steady rain around here isn't freezing, but my bones are every time I step outside. And I haven't seen the sun for at least two days...maybe more...I've lost track.   As what little daylight we've had today fades away, I look outside my window and notice that November gray, laced with thick and thin brown designs, the surviving trunks and branches and twigs of shed trees.  

But on this Thanksgiving weekend, there are other matters that call out for my attention.  The traditions of the holiday intrude into this weekend's gloom.  And while it takes a bit more energy than comes easily, I've been able to focus more on the family, the food, and my ritual recitation of blessings from the past year.

As I write this, Tristan and Scarlette (and Sean and Maple) are about thirty minutes from home.  When they pull into their garage in Lisle, that will complete our family's travelings for this year's Thanksgiving.  They joined us for the weekend in Sidell.  

My daughter Mindy drove to Madison, Wisconsin to be sure that her sister Alison (and husband Nelson and daughter Isobel) could be with family for the holiday.  

And Jie and I journeyed on Thanksgiving day itself to be with my parents in Springfield, Illinois, along with my brother Steve and his family: Linda, Ariel, Johnny, and Micah.  Linda's father, Bruno, joined us for that meal.  

And all the family gatherings were satisfying.  And we are all grateful for each other.

The holiday food is always a joy...and a challenge.  Pies and homemade breads, black olives and specialty pickles, gallons of coffee and creative cranberry dishes, and tons of turkey...all remind us that these are no ordinary meals. Our family also dabbles in mashed potatoes, corn pudding, oyster dressing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole...  

But holiday meals are an enormous challenge:  the shopping, the cooking and baking, the washing of dishes and pots and pans...  And then to shed the extra pounds accumulated.  But challenges are good, and I am glad I have the health and strength to take them on.

All that remains on my Thanksgiving "to do list" is to compose my annual recitation of those blessings that God has made manifest to me in the past 12 month.  Here's the start of my list:
  • I am thankful that I could spend the holiday with my mom and dad.  My dad had a devastating stroke in March and my mom a serious heart attack in August.  Neither are anywhere near recovered.  Their lives are forever altered, but still in God's grace and joy.
  • Our extended family grew by one this year:  Granddaughter Maple was born in March.  She is a happy and pudgy baby, who smiles quickly and brings smiles to everyone around her. 
  • Maple's four-year old brother Sean (fluent in Chinese since he could talk) can finally speak English enough so that I can tell him dramatic stories and introduce him to new songs.
  • Mindy is the family member who lives closest by and steadies my life with weekly get togethers, lunches, and mutual encouragements.  Her deep involvement in community theater in Champaign/Urbana is a continuing blessing of pride and entertainment.
  • Isobel lives in a world all of her own, (as do all fourteen month old children.)  She communicates with a mix of English, Spanish, and sign language. One of my greatest blessings this past year was to be able to baptize her at the Holy Wisdom Monastery.
  • Alison and Nelson...and Scarlette and Tristen...while parenting our grandchildren, and overwhelmed with outside work and household chores...each continue to bless me as they flash their unique personalities in our conversations...and show off their sense of humor.
  • Jie and I quietly celebrated our fourteenth anniversary.  It is no easy thing for a Chinese and an American to build a marriage together.  Marriage is seldom an easy thing for anyone...what with gender differences and personality differences.  But add in the chaos of language and the clash of culture and the trauma of immigration...and you have a whopper of a challenge on your hands.  But with God, all things are possible, and so we continue to exist in the grace of his miracles...week after week...year after year.  And we are thankful for each other.
  • Since Jie is also a pastor, we now have three churches between us:  Mattoon, Sidell, and Chrisman.  The people in Sidell have provided us with a parsonage...as have the people in Mattoon.  Chrisman has a parsonage too...but two is enough for the two of us.  I am grateful that the people of these three churches give us venues to do our ministry.  In all three churches we are blessed with people who love us and encourage us in our callings.
  • I am thankful for my Friday writers' group, a group of people much smarter than me as they challenge me to explore different kinds of writing and communicate more effectively with my readers.
  • In the church, I am thankful for my Tuesday Bible study groups, the church staff that works alongside me, and the officers that provide such thoughtful and open-minded leadership for a congregation that has to face big challenges.
  • I love traveling, and this past year I am grateful for opportunities to make trips to Florida (January), a Civil Right pilgrimage to Georgia and Tennessee (March), to the tulip festival in Michigan (May), and a trip with Chinese scholars to Yellowstone National Park (August).  
  • In the future, I expect to be thankful for ophthalmologists, gastro-intestinal specialists, family practice referral doctors, urologists...and gym coaches.  But the preferred results from all that activity are still pending...and they seem a bit exasperating at this point.  
My list, of course, is only beginning.  It gets very specific and granular the longer I go on.  It includes every good book I've read in the past year, every good movie or TV show I've seen, every friend I have on Facebook, every plant and flower that grew in my garden, every room in my house, every pet in our extended family...  Thanks be to God
I hope your list brings you the same strength and healing on these gloomy days that mine does.  And now...on to tomorrow...with hope and confidence.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I used to write it when I first woke up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation. Now I write it on a Saturday, revise it, and send all of them out by email.This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than pontificating.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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