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Lessons from Ed about giving thanks

I like Thanksgiving. It’s a time of food and family togetherness. People come together from all over to gather, eat, share family memories, watch football and just relax.

Wait a minute. My phone seems to be vibrating. Oh my, it’s a text from the CDC: “Family togetherness is limited to 10 people or less this year. Wear masks, go outside, stay at least six feet apart, wash your hands, don’t sing, and football? Maybe? Maybe not?”

COVID-19 has given a whole new meaning to Thanksgiving. One tweet said, “Instead of Santa at the end of the Macy’s parade, it’s Dr Fauci in PPE throwing out vaccines and masks.”

But when it comes to Thanksgiving, we do have choices. We can give-in to the negatives and be depressed, or we can find ways to celebrate in creative new ways. Thanksgiving should be a time of giving thanks and enjoying closer family connections. 

I think God would certainly want us to be careful and adhere to the health precautions as we look to protect ourselves and our neighbors from the ravages of this awful disease. But I also think God would want us to find ways to care for each other and to share the love of God.

The Apostle Paul in the Bible certainly illustrates what our attitude should be in the midst of crisis. In a letter to one of his churches he wrote, “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16)

Paul continues with a promise. “On the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.” (Philippians 2:16-18)

You can be proud that you did not give up despite the hardships. Your hard work and perseverance is not in vain, or useless. You can rejoice in the honor of offering your resources and your life to God. You will soon share the joy. You will rejoice, and God will share that joy with you. What a great promise.

Thanksgiving Day was designed to give us a rare opportunity to slow down and be thankful. Whether for family and friends who support us or for events and decisions that shape us, we are thankful for a God who loves, forgives and restores us. We have a lot to be thankful for.

I witnessed a great example of thankfulness during crisis in my friend, Ed.

Ed worked for many years as a night watchman at a United Methodist conference center. Several years ago, he opened a coffee shop inside the same building. His store provides good coffee, snacks, books and other products. While there you can relax, read a newspaper, watch the news or a sporting event. I like the coffee, but I really enjoy talking to Ed.

One day, Ed pulled me aside to tell me he had cancer. He recently learned that the cancer was upgraded from Stage 2 to Stage 3. The chemo treatments were getting intense, and he was struggling to be at the coffee shop every day.

Together, we held hands and prayed for God to give Ed comfort and strength for what lies ahead. Afterward, with a trace of tears in his eyes, Ed talked about God restoring his life and family. Despite being gravely ill, he continued to receive encouragement from his church, his family and friends.

“I cried, when I heard the news,” he admitted. “But I am richly blessed.” 

On the last day of the conference, Ed called me over, handed me a $100 bill and said, “Larry, please give this to the people in charge for their offering.”

Surprised, I replied, “Ed, what a generous gift. Thank you. But why?”

I will never forget his reply: “I always give a portion of whatever I make back to God. I made $400 this week, so I want to give $100 back.”

How can a person battling cancer persevere with such a generous spirit?

“I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. I will rejoice even pouring my life out like a liquid offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.”

I enjoyed the conference and received valuable lessons, but the greatest lesson of all came from a kind, good-hearted soul named Ed who taught the true meaning of faith. Ed understood what it meant to “rejoice even pouring my life out like a liquid offering to God.” 

“Therefore, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.”

Ed taught the true meaning of God’s grace and the love of God’s church. COVID-19 is very real, but we all have an opportunity to model God’s amazing grace during the crisis. Have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving.

Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.