“Count Your Blessings”

November 24, 2019


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Nov. 24, 2019

“Count Your Blessings”
II Cor. 9:11

It’s about time to start the annual tradition of watching favorite Christmas movies. When I was growing up, our family tradition was to watch the Christmas musical “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. I still love that movie! (although I am much too young for it to be my favorite!)

My favorite song in the show is “Count Your Blessings”. Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney end up in the Vermont lodge late one night when neither one of them can sleep and Bing sings to Rosemary this lovely lullaby. It is obvious to everyone watching the movie at that point that they are falling in love.
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you’re worried and you can’t sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.

Our traditional word for today is from II Cor. 9:11, which says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” I had to think about this text for a time. Generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. Until I read this, I was accustomed to thinking that thanksgiving precipitated generosity… that generosity was in response to our gratitude.
Earlier this year, I was reading a research study by UCLA which showed that having an attitude of gratitude:
• changes the molecular structure of the brain
• keeps gray matter functioning
• makes us healthier and happier
When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant. The spiritual benefits are obvious – but there are physical benefits as well!

There are many studies showing that people who count their blessings tend to be far happier and experience less depression. For one study, researchers recruited people with mental health difficulties, including people suffering from anxiety and depression. The study involved nearly 300 adults who were randomly divided into three groups. This study came from the University of California, Berkeley.
All groups received counselling services, but the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.

What did they find? Compared to the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended. Collective-evolution.com

Some of you know I’ve had a recurring trouble with my right knee. I’ve had to have several surgeries on it, including partial replacement, reconstruction, and a full replacement. I was scheduled this week for another replacement of my knee. I was not feeling very hopeful or grateful about medical science or orthopedic surgery, except for our own Brian Hakala, who has been very supportive.

Through much deliberation and prayer, exercise, consultation with surgeons, and more prayer, I decided not to have another surgery and to see how the knee progressed. I’ve had to be creative about how to give thanks about this knee. I am having to learn to be grateful that in my mid-50’s I can walk without a limp some days and I can walk without pain! And then my husband broke his foot last week and I realized how grateful I was that I didn’t have knee surgery within 2 days of him breaking his foot and both of us gimping around together! It’s a whole new reason to be grateful.

After last week’s sermon, I had conversations with several of you about being grateful even in the difficult seasons of life. How can we be grateful when we are given, for example:
– a cancer diagnosis
– or when we suffer the loss of a loved one
– or when we are going through multiple hardships at once
– or when there is a lifelong or chronic issue that we will have to deal with
What role does gratitude have in those circumstances? I don’t believe for a moment that God gives us these difficult times to create a lesson or an opportunity for something better. Bad things just happen.

However, I do believe that sometimes going through difficulties can create opportunities for healing and growth. They may be slow and painful, but they may also produce new purpose and meaning that would have otherwise been unavailable.

Eric and I became foster parents to a 15-year-old. It was one of the most challenging and joyful, but also painful times of our lives. We opened our homes and our hearts to a child who was not our own and he lived with us for the better part of three years. We offered to adopt him. He elected not to accept our offer. And it turned out to be the right decision for him. In the end, shortly before he turned eighteen, our foster son asked to live with another family. His decision was hurtful to us and left a hole in our hearts. We learned a great deal about ourselves and our family while he lived with us. Not all of it was stuff we even wanted to know! We kept track of him for many years, but he has disappeared now and we don’t know where he is.

One of the things we learned was that we have a lot of room in our home and in our hearts and in our family for extra people and we can accommodate someone else’s life melding into ours for a short or a more extended time. We’ve done that along the way, Eric and I, and it has usually been a blessing. As our traditional word for today teaches, sometimes generosity teaches us to be grateful.

Last week, I went to my regular board meeting at InterFaith Ministries. It is now known as HumanKind Ministries. This is a ministry downtown for our city’s homeless and impoverished population. Next door to the administrative building where the board meets is one of the shelters where the homeless men sleep during the winter months. They line up at this shelter starting at 3:00 pm on cold winter evenings for a hot meal and a warm place to sleep. Some of you have served meals there on North Market. Each time I attend a board meeting, I feel a bit of guilt driving in my car and parking in the lot and then walking into the building in my cozy clothes, with a coat or an umbrella, prepared for whatever weather conditions may be occurring while those guys are huddled outside the building under blankets braving the cold and rain or snow. I always feel this way when I see people living on the margins. Guilt, and then shallow gratitude for all that I have, and then guilt again. And then I wonder what else I can do to be an advocate for all the people who don’t have…
– housing
– food
– medical care
– mental health
– clean water
– access to services
– education
– family, or support
– whatever they need to get through the day
But guilt doesn’t do them any good and it doesn’t help me either. So, I go inside, and I work diligently on the board to raise more money to help give them an opportunity to receive care, food, a warm place to stay, and case management. And when I go outside at the end of the meeting, they are no longer outside. They are inside the warm building next door enjoying the hot meal some volunteers have lovingly prepared.

Then I drive home with a fresh conviction and a grateful heart that I know you. I know and love this place where we gather each week to encourage and give thanks for what we have and for each other. I give thanks for you:
* those of you who make your offerings to the children’s home.
* those of you who tutor at Gammon Elementary School.
* those of you who give generously to this church so that we can be together each week.
* those of you who volunteer in our choir to sing and bring us joy.
* those of you who volunteer to serve on a board.
* those of you who put on a smile and come to church when you may not feel like it.
* those of you who teach our children or repair costumes for the children’s play or help with the children’s choir.
* those of you who make cookies or serve coffee.
* those of you who usher or video our services.
* those of you who visit the sick or send cards.
And I’m grateful for you – because by doing what you do, you make a difference in people’s lives and make it easier for people to have hope.

If we, the 98-99 percent, practice being consciously grateful, our hands will open more often, and the systems of economic disparity will lessen. True gratitude, I have come to believe, prompts a desire to see others similarly blessed, while also loosening the hold possessions have on the grateful one. As our traditional word teaches, generosity creates thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. My you and yours truly be blessed and be a blessing.