Happy Thanksgiving

From Michelle.  November 22, 2012.

Dear friends and family,

My soul has lightened in recent days.  I cannot explain why.  Our circumstances have not changed, nor is there any particular movement on the horizon.  Nevertheless, my soul looks up, expectant, like a small creature, perched on hind legs, sniffing the wind.  Perhaps it knows something that I do not?  Regardless, hope stirs against all reason, and moves in the air surrounding.  It is a good place to be on Thanksgiving morning.

This Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for limitations.  There is blessing to be found in the non-movement, in the smallness, in embracing the ordinary.  It takes a quiet spirit and a presence of mind to note the soul’s progress.  Today we stop moving so much, and pause, away from the crowd.  With little movement happening on the outside, there will be time to appreciate the movements of the inner life.  Steve worked late two nights this week, already more than his body can handle.  So we have said no to precious invitations for Thanksgiving feasts with friends, and we are hunkering down as a family.

We have often, over the last two years, pressed against the borders of our newfound limitations, trying to expand our territory.  These past two months, we have done this to the point of exhaustion.  The reality remains, however, that we have been called during this period to live smaller.  As the boundaries of life have narrowed significantly through Steve’s condition, we are learning to look more closely at the seemingly insignificant, reading the small signs and the quiet signals. This evening we will practice that call by celebrating together, just the five of us.  Today, we give thanks by embracing the boundaries, and looking closely at what has been given.

This practice, as yet so imperfectly observed by me, reminds me of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the little flower, whose frequent illnesses caused her to celebrate the smallest details of love and service to Christ with all simplicity.  In contemplating her humble place in the order of things, she said: “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of it’s scent nor the daisy of its simple charm.  If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”

Perhaps some of my recent peace has been in appreciating the simple gifts.  Lately, I have been delighting in my children, in delicious meals, in the fond looks that Steve showers on me daily.  We all know these are the richest of gifts, but I, at least, am often too busy to notice them.  A visitor from the United States has been appreciating the view from our lanai every morning, overlooking a small pool ringed by palm trees and tropical bushes, and with her eyes I see the simple beauty of our residential neighborhood with fresh eyes.

There is still much letting go to be done.  I still cling to the idea that in order to fully live, life must be full.   I say yes far too much.  But reminders come fast and furious that for Steve, things simply take more time.  If I want to walk beside him, I must also slow my pace.  During a precious vacation in a remote part of the Philippines this month, Steve fell on some coral trying to catch Zephyr and cut his feet and wrist.  Coral is alive and highly infectious, never an easy wound to heal.  For Steve, however, it took three weeks and three rounds of strong oral antibiotics before the redness, swelling and puss even began to dissipate.  Four weeks later, I am still watching the redness around his toes.  While visiting someone in the hospital last week, we discovered the room was on the third floor and there were no elevators.  By the time we had finished the visit and were standing in the hallway talking to a relative, Steve could barely stand, leaning against the wall for support.  It has been a busy week, and yesterday Steve could barely climb the stairs in our house just once.

Limitations can be a gift.  The proportions of our world are set right when we step off center stage.  One is never indispensable.  There is a transparency of spirit that occurs when we no longer force our own importance on a situation.  When forced to acknowledge our smallness, there is room for God to be big.  God is given room to show up, to provide.  Others have an opportunity to shine.  This gift of limitations is especially precious in the life of ministry, where the myth of one’s indispensability is especially treacherous.

This week, Steve’s body hurts more than usual.  While there is much he cannot feel, eventually he knows when he has done too much.  I am reminded again of the lessons of Dr. Paul Brand on the gift of pain.  Without pain, his leprosy patients caused themselves enormous harm.  Pain lets us know when something is wrong.  It gives us appropriate and healthy boundaries for how we treat our bodies.  It  is a precious limitation.  Without it, we press too hard, and injure ourselves.  So instead of lamenting the pain, today we will welcome it as an invitation to rest, to lie down, to stop and look around.

Tonight, around the dinner table, I plan to slow down and look closely at the gift of my precious family.  Zephyr will be cracking jokes and delighting the most in his own sense of humor.  Jude will be zany and grateful, a fountain of energy, appreciation and affection.  Aidan will be constant and kind, equal parts thoughtful and light, sensitive and observant of the dynamics around the table.  As we do every night, we will each share what we are thankful for.  As he does every night, Zephyr will insist on going first.  And as it is every day, without fail, none of us will have any trouble finding things to be thankful for.

Whether or not a rainstorm is indeed gathering on the horizon, we will celebrate the common gifts, the violets and the daisies, enough food on our table, enough life and love to fill our hearts to overflowing.  May your arms be equally full of gratitude today.

With love,


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  • Roger Bartholomew UCM

    We are created by God for the work he has pre-decided that we should do. Michelle, I feel that right now, God has called you to the work of caring for all of your family – and not the business of life which is so tempting in its appeal. I believe that this is why your spirit/soul feels content because you are living in God’s will. His plan for you undoubtably will have different phases and different focuses (he does not want us to be bored), but right now, you are living in his will. As I spend too much time on work each day, and am slowly drowning under an avalanche of emails, your situation seems very appealing – and something that I have never been able to do. So therefore we can both say with joy, “I won’t see you for Thanksgiving!!” 

  • shelley merritt

    Thanks, Michelle.  Your writing is good for the soul.  I just copied your paragraph on limitations…”Limitations can be a gift…”  Very good and just the perfect word for my heart today.  I know you will enjoy the priceless gift of your family gathered around the table tonight.  A meal with loved ones, I think, is (like a wedding) one of our Lord’s favorite places! 

  • Opheliatongco

    Hi Michelle,

    What a beautiful message on this day.  You and Pastor Steve and the boys are always in my prayers. Happy thanksgiving!

  • Cbsample

    That Steve can chase any one, or climb anything, or walk at all, is such an astonishing gift…wow, wow, wow… How we thank God for you all! Pace yourselves in His joy!

  • Margaret Sutherland

    Michelle, what a gift you are, not only to Steve, but to all of us through the things you share with us! Except for meeting you briefly in the hospital in Asheville, we have never had opportunity to get to know you since our work is on Southern Palawan, yet we are so very grateful for you! Thank you for helping us to understand the difficult things as well as the delights of your days. You inspire us to pray as well as to praise the Lord.
    I was able to visit this past Sunday and heard Steve preach what was the best message I have ever heard on giving, and I thanked the Lord for the precious woman behind this dear servant of God. Thank you for all the love and support you give Steve, so he can continue minister to so many, more powerfully than ever, and thank you for your ministry to us as well. ! May you and your family enjoy a rich and precious time together this Thanksgiving.

  • Xn2leader1

    Saints Michele and Steve — and much like the Apostle Paul:  “…hardships we suffered…under great pressure, far beyond our ability t endure, so that we despaired even of life….we felt the sentence of death.   but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will delieve us.  On him we have set our hope…Then many will give thanks …for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many”  1 cor. 1:8ff
    You two are living examples of what Paul wrote.
    Happy Thanksgiving!!
    john and carol dettoni

  • Patricia

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the gift of your wonderful message!!  I read a few of the comments below and wonder if there is a way that I could see or hear Steve’s message on giving.  May the Lord bless you and your family now and always,


  • Geri & Harry

    Dear Michelle and Steve,

    Michelle, we praise the Lord that your soul feels lighter and freer.  May the Lord bless you and Steve with some precious times of rest. May God continue to give healing to Steve’s body.  We miss you all there in the Philippines. This Thanksgiving Harry is in Burundi. I am at our new home here in Romania.  With continued prayers for you and praises of Thanksgiving. Geri & Harry

  • http://naturalbornalien.wordpress.com/ Melody DuBois

    Thank you, Michelle, for opening the windows and doors of your soul and letting the Spirit flow right through, carried by your words into the windows of my soul, too. 

    These words on giving thanks for limitations… oh, how I needed them today. And the miracle is, that when I finally stop and accept them, to my great surprise, I find not the panic I expected, but instead a deep breathing, an unexpected serenity and relief. Just what you described — that “transparency of spirit that occurs when we no longer force our own importance on a situation.”

  • Lencabili

    Thanks for a beautiful message Michelle! Such a heart felt thanksgiving reading, thank you for sharing!

  • Ammiarmas

    Amen to all that you shared….thank you for inspiring us to think beyond ourselves.

  • Glenbraden

    Happy Thanksgiving!  Kristine and I just got back from the American Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  It was a lovely service. Coming home to read your posting has helped solidify so many things that I too am thankful for this year. Slowing down to enjoy the good and beautiful in my very own family.
    We love and miss you guys!  Hope we can chat soon!
    Love from the Bradens!

  • Lisa Gus

    beautiful reflections.   I am grateful for you, for your family, for the insights God gives you and for the gift of being able to read about them…

  • Sue Economides

    As always, we love your heartfelt words and beautiful Faith. Blessings for you all…….Sue and Jim Economides

  • Deborahannegustafson

    Thank you for engaging us in the simple joys in life.

  • Virgie Huehnergarth

    I love your letters!   It is good to hear how you all are doing and what you are doing.  Your family is an inspiration to me.  I am glad you had a happy Thanksgiving together.  Virgie Hueuhergarth

  • Mindyjsmith

    Thank you for continuing to share your beautiful like and your continuous struggles, Michelle.  You are both an inspiration to us all.  Blessings for the holiday season. 


    • Mindyjsmith

       Ugh… beautiful “life”.