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Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

WAYS: For what are you most thankful?


November - December 2015

In this season of giving thanks for much and especially for God's gift of Love Incarnate in Jesus Christ, enjoy an expanded edition of WAYS. The answers here are drawn from the close to 300 responses we received to our question, "For what are you most thankful?," which was sent to all readers for whom we have email addresses.

I am most thankful for love. Understanding love came from family, neighbors, friends and, eventually, from knowing God. I am still growing in my outreach to others and learning what God, Spirit and grace mean. "Love your neighbor as yourself." When I increasingly grow to understand what that means, my thoughts expand to include each person in the whole world and an amazing God who loves everyone. Roberta "Connie" Alford, First UMC, Lewiston, Idaho

I am thankful for many things! I never dreamed I would live this long and have such a fulfilling Christian relationship with so many brothers and sisters in my church. I am very active at church – Sunday school, choir, caring ministries, prayer team and more. I have had the love of three good husbands, now in heaven. Four wonderful children, six loving grandchildren and one beautiful great-granddaughter. Who could ask for more? Thank you, God! Evelyn Barrows, Stewartstown (Pennsylvania) UMC

I am most thankful for receiving a sense of purpose to and for my life. As a second-career pastor, I took the circuitous route to formal ministry, wondering at the unseen hand that seemed to protect, correct and direct my life's journey. After responding to my call to ministry, I can utilize all my history, good and bad, as a witness with integrity. I truly can feel and share with those in my mission field. The Rev. Bobby G. Black, Washington Hills UMC, Chattanooga, Tennessee

I am thankful for God and the calling given to Pastor La Jo Dunbar. When I went through a bad divorce, Pastor Dunbar helped me to understand that God was there for me. This new journey in my life [would] get better over time with God, prayer, Scripture and faith in myself. God has changed my life! Carla J. Blair, Mount Sinai UMC, Aurora, Indiana

I'm most thankful for children. They place within us sacred trust. Children love to please. When we praise them, their hearts rejoice. Children are filled with wonder, laughter and unbounded love. A child's hand in ours is the closest we will ever get in this life to touching God. To be hugged by a child is to be hugged by the Holy One. Children take us by the hand and lead us to God. The Rev. Jim Bowden, Trinity UMC, Denton, Texas

For the Holy Spirit, who opened my eyes to what God was doing in our lives when my husband needed a lung transplant. It became obvious that we do not need luck in our lives. We have a mighty God, who put everything where and when it needed to be. It was also an opportunity to share with others how God worked in his life. Patricia Broadstreet, Florence (Texas) UMC

I am most thankful for God's grace. Without it, I wouldn't have my wonderful wife and children. My life has been full, and I look forward to more adventures. What extraordinary thing did I do to deserve what has been given? Absolutely nothing. I don't deserve it. God's unending mystery. Ron Brown, Ridgewood UMC, Parma, Ohio

I am most thankful for having the freedom to worship my God, without government oversight, in a place of my choosing, surrounded by brothers and sisters that support and comfort me when I fall short of being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. David L. Busby, Platt Springs UMC, Springdale, South Carolina

Recently, I lost my mother. We had a very close and loving relationship. She lived next door, and we saw or talked to each other every day. I have a relationship with Christ because of her witness, and I am thankful God gave me to her. Because of Christ, we will one day be reunited. Janet L Chiplis, certified lay minister, Juneau Valley Chapel Charge, Glen Campbell, Pennsylvania

I am most thankful for a Christian mother who kept me in church; a Christian husband so that, together, we raised our children in church; and for our church home that has seen us through marriages, baptisms and sorrows. More importantly, though, the loving, sacrificing, redemptive grace of Christ that has been with us in all things. Nancy C. Condry, First UMC, Katy, Texas

I am most thankful for my relationship with Jesus. Being obsessive and compulsive often lands me in situations that are familiar but taxing emotionally and spiritually. Tears flow frequently in the quietness of my prayer life while laughter and excitement exude around other people. My prayers are filled with forgiveness and strength requests. Having a strong relationship with God gives me peace, happiness, joyfulness and love in my heart. What would I do without him? Sandra Marie Conner, Central UMC, Florence, South Carolina

I am thankful for the privilege of (gift of) relationship with Christ and the responsibility associated with that gift. Both the privilege and the responsibility are associated with rich, deep and relevant life. Each is impacted by the other; each relies on the other. Bob Cox, First UMC, Hays, Kansas

I am most thankful that I know the Lord and have such tremendous faith in his will for me. Every time I pray for grace, I know that whether or not I get the answer I hoped for, the grace will carry me through. Alisa Daniels, Culver Palms UMC, Culver City, California

On my way to work today, I heard a song, “Worth Fighting For.” It made me realize how thankful I am that through all my struggles, God is not finished with me. Our family – like many others – has faced many challenges: cancer, death, surgeries and job losses. Through it all, we are still here, and God has a purpose and plan for me. We are worth fighting for, so I am forever thankful. Cynthia Davis, Iowa Annual Conference Center Coordinator, Des Moines, Iowa

I am thankful for helping hands. Hands that healed my injured shoulder. Hands that massage my neck and back. Hands that pick apples, knead bread, cook meals. Hands that type, make music, fix cars. Hands that touch. Hands that rest. Hands that sustain me on the narrow, shaky paths of life. Family hands. Friendly hands. Godly hands. Laura Dennis, Pleasant View UMC, Williamsburg, Kentucky

I am most thankful for my family and friends. Many of our friends and church family seem to have become a part of our biological family. As family, we share our talents and gifts with each other and have fun in doing so. This is how we serve each other, our church and our community. Mike Dickson, Jonesborough (Tennessee) UMC

My greatest blessing is my heavenly Father, who supplies all my needs and blessings because of his great love for his child. I owe God all glory and honor, and I am thankful for the freedom to serve him. Donna E. Dixon, Sand Hill UMC, Williamstown, West Virginia

I am most thankful for every new day, waking up whole and feeling blessed to have family, friends and a church who love me. What a joy it is to share my gifts and talents with my new church family. I know it may seem strange to be so excited about a part-time job, but it is something that I always thought I would love to do, and wouldn't you know it? I do! Lanita Donhowe, church secretary, Pittsburg (California) UMC

My faith has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was 44 and had health problems that kept me hospitalized for 21 days followed by months of recuperation at home, family and friends were my rocks. At 62 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery followed by chemotherapy, they were all there again. And when my husband became ill and died, there they all were again with anything I needed for support. What God brings you to God brings you through. I believe strongly in faith, family and friends. Joanne K. Dobrinski, Tabor Heights UMC, Portland, Oregon

I am so thankful, most of all, for the gift of life. In 2006, I had a brain aneurysm. My family was told I would not live. I was taken off life support. Funeral arrangements were being made. But I did survive, and after a month in the hospital and rehabilitation, I had brain surgery. I thank God every day for all that takes place, both good and not so good! I am very blessed. Carolee J. Flask, Halstead (Kansas) UMC

I am most thankful for my wife, two daughters, friends and family. Who can forget the awesome church that I serve? The Rev. Matthew Franks, First UMC, Locust Grove, Oklahoma

As a pastor, I find it refreshing that I can assume that people will not take what I say as automatically authoritative. For some, that means an automatic "no" or "I don't see it that way." That helps clarify my thinking, sharpen my communication and correct my views. Independent thinkers are creative thinkers. Though working collaboratively is time consuming and messy, it results in creative, deep and meaningful worship services, classes and mission projects. I am thankful for people who think for themselves. They are called United Methodists! The Rev. Jim Frisbie, retired, Pacific-Northwest Conference

I am most thankful for the inner strength I have found. Despite being homeless since February, I have not been given more than I can handle. My church family has gone above and beyond to support both my family and the transitional housing nonprofits in my area. While I would appreciate a shorter test of faith, this has given me the opportunity to explore my values and what is truly important with a fresh perspective. Melissa French, Peterborough UMC, Jaffrey, New Hampshire

I am thankful that I am a child of God and that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. Nothing can separate me from God's love. I am thankful for my loving children and grandchildren. I have lost my mother, father, husband and two sons. I am thankful for my little country church and the loving saints who gave me Christian training. I'm thankful for my wonderful life I continue to have in Christ Jesus. Maggie Garrett, Seneasha UMC, Goodman, Mississippi

I'm thankful Jesus took my place and died for my sins. I'm thankful I was born into the family I was. When I was a kid, I never asked if we were going to church on Sunday. Not going was never an option. We carried on that same tradition with our kids. Today my son is a pastor at a church in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lowell Halfhill, Mingo (Iowa) UMC

I am thankful for my church and the pastor who taught us that we are here to serve, not to be served. Every Sunday, our service challenged me to find more ways to be more like Christ to those around me. I was able to travel to Israel and was baptized in the Jordan River. I have been filled with the need to seek ways to serve and make disciples for Jesus Christ! Karen Harris, Trinity UMC, Fremont, Ohio

Late last night (in September 2015), my 23-year-old son hitchhiked 50 miles to catch a late night flight in San Francisco. For a while, he was not answering texts. For the next hour, I worried intensely. I prayed for safety to God but said nothing to his mother. Finally, he called. A good samaritan had picked him up and driven him all the way. Did God do that? I'm thankful. Rick Hatton, First UMC, Wellington, Ohio

I am thankful for three pieces of technology: neonatal heart surgery, rapid genetic sequencing and Facebook. When my granddaughter was a month old, doctors found two enormous holes in her heart, and lung and eye problems. She had emergency heart surgery. When she was 1 1/2, we finally had an explanation: a very rare genetic mutation caused her condition. On Facebook, we found a support group for people with that mutation. God has answered our prayers throughout this experience, and my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter today is happy, bright, active and beautiful. Nels Hoffman, First UMC, Los Alamos, New Mexico

What I am most thankful for is the ability to walk into a church and worship freely. Second only to that is the sense of being a part of worldwide Christianity, no matter what our nationality or denomination.The barriers that keep us separated are coming down! The Rev. Kelly Jahn, Johnson Creek (Wisconsin) UMC

In 2011, my husband, Donnell, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. God guided us through the intense process and surgery. But God was not finished with us. In 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. God told me, "Betty, I am in control, so step away and let me lead." When I moved out of his way, I found peace within. My surgery was successful, and I received 33 radiation treatments. Now both Donnell and I are cancer free. I am thankful to God for life. Betty Jeffcoat-Void,  Wesley UMC, Columbia, South Carolina

I am a lay servant. On my job and within my church, I see so many with poor physical condition. I give thanks and am very thankful that God has blessed me and has preserved my physical body so that I can do the work that he has called me to do without any physical limitations. Thank you, my heavenly Father. Sidney Johnson, Mount Zion UMC, Martinsburg, West Virginia

I am most thankful for my family. All three of my adult children are healthy; have healthy, talented and intelligent children; and are contributing members of society. They and their spouses are well educated and have excellent careers in music, neuroscience and education. My grandchildren are also well educated or pursuing their studies. Of course, we are all most thankful for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Margaret Jordan, United Church of Newport, Vermont

I am most thankful for the love of Jesus Christ and that he invites me to share in his kingdom building. I never cease to be in awe that he chose me to love on children and their families. It is humbling and challenging. This ministry is all about Jesus and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit working through me. Oh, how I love Jesus! I pray daily that all may know his amazing love. Betsy Keefe, minister of children, St. John UMC, Louisville, Kentucky

I am most thankful for prayer. Many times, I find myself in situations when I have lifted up a prayer to be filled with the right words, to have an open mind and heart, to try to see things with a new perspective. Instantly, my approach to the issue is more peaceful and I feel guided, supported and no longer alone. I know God is in charge of my life. Judy Lang, Nichols UMC, Trumbull, Connecticut

What I am so thankful for in my life is that Jesus came to save us from eternal pain. There is nothing in the world to compare to the joy, peace and eternal life in heaven. James Odhiambo Lwande, Oyugs UMC, Homa Bay, Kenya

I am most thankful that I live in a country founded on Christian principles. I have freedom of choice to worship my God, love my family and share my love with people as a witness to Jesus Christ. Joyce Moore, certified lay servant, Mabelvale (Arkansas) UMC

I am thankful for the church people I have met in my 83 years as a United Methodist. I am thankful for the dedicated Sunday school teachers I had as a youth, for the amazing pastors who have served the churches of which I have been a member. I am thankful for my family who raised me to be a Christian and gave me a good example to follow. Joyce Morris, Tallulah Falls (Georgia) UMC

I experience different levels of being thankful: Being in awe of nature – it stops me in my tracks, enjoying a "God moment." Being able to provide a "safe house" for friends with no other place to go. Being a parent of a 17-year-old son who constantly amazes me. Finally, I see the importance of how little things in life make such big differences through simple acts of random kindness. Ann C. Mottley, First UMC, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

I am most thankful for the supportive, nonjudgmental, compassionate women at my church. Through a challenging journey, they have kept me trusting in God. Leslie Murray, Lafayette (California) UMC

What am I thankful for? Where do I start? I think I am most thankful for my family, my church family and my job in the church, which has become my ministry and my passion. In good times and bad, both families sustain and encourage me, as well as provide inspiration. God has richly blessed me – far more than I deserve. For his love and grace, I am especially thankful! Claire G. Phillips, First UMC, Deming, New Mexico

My biological parents abandoned me, but God-fearing parents adopted me and lovingly nurtured me. At 25, married with one child and graduated from college, I was stricken by leukemia. But God had a plan for my life. Five years of chemotherapy healed me completely. God allowed me to serve him through the ministry of teaching in public schools and volunteering on Sundays at church. He even gave me another child, now 31. God is great! Aurora Piedad-Garcia, First Filipino-American UMC, Hacienda Heights, California

I am thankful for every place I have lived, every pet I have had, every person I have loved and every person who has loved me, every church I have been in and every verse of Scripture I have read. Why? God's steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136). William Rainbolt, Newtonville (New York) UMC

I am most grateful to live in the security of God's love, grace and hope. The Rev. Rochelle Shoemaker, retired, Wesley Memorial UMC, Charlottesville, Virginia

Life. Unselfish acts. Dedication. The culmination of dedicated medical professionals and an unselfish act of a donor providing life for my husband through a liver transplant. That was 11 years ago on our 18th wedding anniversary, Nov. 22. Yes, I am most thankful for sharing my life with a transplant survivor. Marvel Simmons, North Coast UMC, Oceanside, California

I am most thankful for the faith of my late husband and me that enabled us to risk helping refugees from the other side of the world by taking them into our home over a 30-year period. Most were young male teens, who stayed four to seven years. Along with my daughter, these newcomers continue to be my family. The joy they bring to my life is immeasurable and truly a gift from God! Judy Snyder, St. Paul's UMC, Warrington, Pennsylvania

I am thankful for God, who calls me his beloved, listens when I pray, answers when my heart and mind cry, is the light at the end of my dark tunnel, walks behind me to catch me when I fall, walks beside me when I need someone to lean on and in whom death becomes the ultimate healing. Cathy Speich-Ferguson, Grace UMC, Dillon, Montana 

I am most thankful for a loving, forgiving God. He has given me a wonderful family. He continues to answer prayers. When, as a young man, my husband was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, God was with us. When my youngest daughter was a new driver, God kept her safe through two major car accidents. With my oldest daughter, God has given her the opportunity to work part time and be home with my 1-year-old granddaughter. Lydia Stahl, Rittman (Ohio) UMC

I am most thankful that when my faith flags a bit, or fear over day-to-day issues creeps in, I always receive a direct reminder that God is real and is watching out for me every moment. Nancy Steen, Court Street UMC, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

My doctor explained a new type of corneal transplant using donor tissue and manmade materials. Since I had vision in only one eye, this was risky. The pastor and people of our small, rural church anointed me with oil and prayed fervently. The minute my old cornea was removed and the new one placed, I could see! My vision is now 20/60! I am thankful for modern technology, for talented medical professionals, and for faithful, prayerful family and friends. I am most thankful for the precious gift of sight. Betty Stover, Iliff UMC, Crooksville, Ohio

I am most thankful for my family, friends and faith. God blessed me with a loving family, whose members truly value each other. He gave me friends to help me through difficult times and celebrate good times. My faith has enabled me to walk with God when life around me seemed to be falling apart. My family, friends and God bring peace to my life. Linda Tinnerman, First UMC, Anahuac, Texas

I am most thankful that God does not give up on me, even when I give up on myself. That lesson has taken me almost 50 years to learn. Just as important, I am not supposed to give up on others. I am learning to be in constant relationship with God through my thoughts, words and deeds. We don’t all approach it in the same way, but we should respect each other's efforts. Lisa Trigg, Gobin Memorial UMC, Greencastle, Indiana

In 1998, my mother died in September and our first grandchild died in October. The grief was beyond words. My church family gave me huge doses of hugs, kind words and abundant prayers. Our mailbox overflowed with cards. I felt surrounded by the warmth of angel wings. Getting through this difficult time was thanks to my faith and knowing we were not alone on this very rough path. God is good all the time. Skippy Valentine, First UMC, Bangor, Maine

I am most thankful to be the recipient of the greatest love, from our heavenly Father, who has loved me so deeply that he has been with me every step of my life. By lovingly giving me acceptance, correction, forbearance and peace at times when I most needed to be acknowledged, changed, renewed and rested. Grace A. Vaughn, Worden UMC, Baldwin City, Kansas

I am thankful for each day and the many wonders it brings in people and other creations. I am thankful for a loving family and many good friends. I am most thankful for God who is with me always, so I am never alone. David Vogt, Christ By The Sea UMC, Vero Beach, Florida  

As I step into the shower in this drought-ridden state, I am thankful for clean water. I shower with a bucket so I can use wastewater on a shrub in my garden. I conserve water at every contact with a faucet. In the evening, my thankfulness is further heightened by the stories of refugees fleeing from Syria. After days walking on a dusty road, a small child looks into the camera with woeful eyes, too dehydrated to cry. I say a silent prayer for her that, someday soon, she will know the joys of clean water. The Rev. Robert J. Wagener, retired, Foothills UMC, La Mesa, California

Grace, I am most thankful for, because as a mother, a daughter, a teacher, a wife and a woman, I have been so imperfect. Now that I am a grandmother as well, I can see more clearly the river of grace that has flowed through my life. Susan C. Walker, Parker (Colorado) UMC

I am most thankful for my church family! When others in my life have left me needy and alone, my church family was always there for me. They have been a strong support system in my decision to become a United Methodist minister. God can ALWAYS be seen in my family! Lynn Ward, Noblestown UMC, Oakdale, Pennsylvania

Thanking God for all things recognizes that God is good. I am thankful for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. I’m grateful for the ability to reach deep within during my darkest hours to find a little more faith; the precious gift of a family dedicated to my well- being; God’s unchanging Word that has always been my guide, hope and salvation; and daily problems and my inadequacies that draw me closer to God. Aletha Weatherall, Kumler UMC, Springfield, Illinois