by Rev. Racquel Ray,  Assoc. Minister (Acting).

There are moments in our lives when we just have to STOP and PRAISE GOD for all of our  blessings! May has been full of those moments for me.

We have all been through trials over the past few years. The struggles have been real. And we have had to find ways to cope. We have had to grasp for routines, pray for peace, beg for healing, and actively seek joy. The current cognitive disassociation of finding joy while others are suffering is an ongoing challenge. And yet, we must count our blessings, give thanks, and praise God when we do.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “…since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you. I always remember you in my prayers, asking the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, to give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you will know him better. I pray also that you will have greater understanding in you so you will know the hope to which he has called us and that you will know how rich and glorious are the blessings God has promised his holy people.”

Glorious are the blessings God has promised. Glorious, yes. Easy, no. Some are a surprise gift. Some are hard won. And sometimes, the blessings we have received are not obvious in the moment. There are times when hindsight reveals our blessings from the past.

In Hospice care, I often heard stories from the families of the dying. They related how grateful they were that they were able to gather while their loved one was still healthy enough to participate. They shared stories of that last seventy-fifth wedding anniversary, that birthday, or that family reunion. The events that were challenging to plan and execute, that were difficult to do, became the last time their family was able to gather before their loved one died. The blessings of their last family gathering, and the memories held in photos and heart’s memories were glorious. Easy, no. Worth it, yes.

As I sat with the dying throughout the pandemic, I learned the sacredness of life. Life, which can be difficult, or joy filled, is precious. I heard stories of Veterans, families, marriages, and lives well lived. I heard stories of war, the Great Depression, loss, grief, and pain. The heaviness of life and death was Holy. As I accompanied nursing home residents through their final breaths, I appreciated the life and vitality of my own family. On my commute home my mantra became, “time to turn to the living…”

In order to process the heaviness of grief, I needed to embrace the joy of living as a counterbalance. The beauty of a sunny day, the sparkling laughter of a child, the silliness of a puppy, the taste of favorite foods, the smells of good coffee, and the satisfaction of rest all became vital to my wellness. They all became glorious blessings.

Finding our blessings is not always easy. It is so easy and our human nature to focus on the negative – of which there is plenty! The pandemic death toll in the country has passed the million mark, there is war in Europe, multiple mass shootings, divisive news media can all keep us spiraling into negativity.

Yet, if we sit and feel our present moment, we sense our blessings. In my office I hear the sound of children’s laughter and learning in the T.O.T.s preschool. I smell the essential oil diffusing. I see the gentle rain sprinkling on greening grass and flowing river. I feel the hope of a growing and vibrant congregation. I taste fresh coffee from my favorite shop. God is here in this place!

When we are able to sense the present, we are aware of the ‘now’ and we can celebrate in it. It is one level of awareness to sense one’s blessings. And, it is another level of awareness to celebrate them!

My Ordination service on May 1st was a celebration! It was the culmination of twenty-five years of ministry, ten years of school, hundreds of books read, thousands of pages written, many beloved ‘villages’ supporting, and the love to which God has called us all. It was the evidence of the joy I share for this work and for my family. It was a celebration of strong and kind ministers that have supported my journey. Easy, no. Worth it, yes.

A week ago, I was in New Haven for the delayed from 2020 Yale University Commencement. My classmates and I left campus without goodbyes or ritual in March of 2020. This past weekend, Yale brought us back and threw us a party! Sure, it would have been easier to skip it; to continue normal routines of home and church. But, I’m so glad I went! The celebration and reunion, the worship and closure was a blessing! Easy, no. Worth it, yes.

I offer this as our congregation navigates the balance between celebrations and safety. When we gather as communities, we are exposed to the risk of covid. And we are all struggling with decision fatigue of whether to stay home or join community. We want to be safe. We also need community. It is a continuing risk vs. reward journey. And there are blessings and benefits to both options of staying in or going out.

I concur with Paul and “I pray also that you will have greater understanding in you so you will know the hope to which he has called us and that you will know how rich and glorious are the blessings God has promised his holy people.” I pray that God will “…give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you will know God better” in the present blessed moments. And I pray that you will find many ways to safely celebrate the sacred moments fully aware of God’s rich and glorious blessings in your lives.