Guest Blogger :: Heidi Brandow on the Power of Gratitude

In this post, Heidi Brandow continues our series on Gratitude vs. Grumbling by reflecting on what happens when we become people who pay attention to the activity of God around us as well as the character of God within others and boldly declare what we see. Here's what she writes:

For me the Thanksgiving holiday has always been about family.  Growing up we didn’t live near our grandparents, so it was one of the few times of year we were guaranteed a visit; as grandkids and their grandparents often do, we made the most of every minute. As the years pass, so the seasons of life bring change, but the strong traditions of family and Thanksgiving were written in my heart in indelible ink.

Six years ago I hosted our family Thanksgiving for the first time at my home because my mom wasn’t up to it.  We’d said goodbye to both of my grandparents within six weeks of each other and Grandpa’s funeral was earlier in the week.  It was a bittersweet time – a family together in loss yet celebrating a life well lived. It was a different Thanksgiving; broken, but beautiful. 

The next year I found myself in California – alone with my two small girls.  No house full of family. (No house for that matter!) No travel plans.  I was alone, sad, and, if I am honest, ungrateful. My answer to the “what are your plans?” question: I think we’ll skip Thanksgiving this year.”

It was then I began a journey that would forever change my life.  I discovered that thanksgiving isn’t a day, it is a discipline.  I came across some happiness research that recommended the practice of writing down one thing every day for which you are truly thankful and posting it where it can be seen throughout the day.   I began the practice, with low expectations.  By Thanksgiving, it was working. I spent the holiday with my best friend’s family and friends. I found myself deeply thankful for the sister I never realized I had.  My brokenness was healing.  I began to see beauty around me.  I carried the practice through the end of the year.  By January I was a new person. Signs of new life were apparent and my colleagues began to ask why.

It has become my practice to spend the last two months of the year sharing my grateful posts on Facebook.  It keeps me grounded through the busyness of the holidays, connects me to others who share the practice in November, and prepares me for the New Year.  This year I almost bailed on Facebook in December because I became overwhelmed by the resurgence of negativity.  Suddenly the gratefulness had all ended! No one would care if I didn’t post past November this year - or notice if I just stopped, right? That night I received two separate messages from far away friends.  “The gratitude is contagious” and “The grateful posts encourage me.”  Rejoice in the Lord always. Even when Facebook is negative? Especially then.

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his faithful love lasts forever.” (Psalm 136:1) Over and over in Scripture God tells us to give thanks.  Why? It is obvious that He deserves our praise; but the second half of the verse provides a clue to the lesson my journey is teaching me. Give thanks because it is good for you.  Give thanks because it lifts your heart toward Him and, in doing so, breaks open the division between Heaven and Earth. Giving thanks gives us eyes to see Him in the world around us and arms that are open to His embrace. A grateful heart is a gift from our Creator.  A grateful heart is one that beats in time with His.  When that happens our broken hearts sing and others are invited to sing along.

Where might your journey of gratitude take you and whom could you invite along?


Guest Blogger :: Kate Schwass on Gratitude

Last Week, we explored grumbling and how toxic it is our Oneness and, therefore, our Witness.  To continue the teaching, I've invited some friends from Open Door whom I've watched experiment with thankfulness and in whom I've seen the fruit of joy being produced to reflect on their thankfulness practices & experiments. Here's what Kate writes:

“All unhappiness is derived from comparison.”  I heard this quote for the first time when I was in a theatre camp before my junior year of high school and it has resonated with me deeply ever since.  Think about it...every possible scenario which could make you unhappy really boils down to either you comparing your current state to someone else’s or to what your life was or could have been.  But how do you not find yourself muddling through life unhappy, caught in comparison?  The only true antidote to unhappiness and grumbling is to cultivate a thankful spirit.  

I’ve been actively pursuing a discipline of thankfulness in my life since college.  I’ve intentionally tried to focus my prayer life around giving thanks to God and have held myself accountable to not being whiney or entitled (or at least sounding that way)- especially on social media.  It seemed like a natural step, therefore, to participate in the practice of noting my thankfulness on Facebook each day the month of November..  Reflecting on this time and this practice brings several observations.

1. A discipline of gratitude creates a deep inner shift in my soul.  When I spend my day tallying thanks instead of adding up my complaints, my soul shifts towards God.  My prayers change.  I turn from spouting off complaints and needs to calling out joy, hope, beauty in everyday moments.  I notice the lavender growing outside my office.  A co-worker’s kind words add to an already overflowing cup rather than a desperate need for attention and approval.  My baby nestled her body closely to me makes my eyes fill with happy tears.  My life feels deeper somehow...and yet also more fragile and delicate and filled with beautiful gifts.  Ann Voskamp writes “A million little things will happen this week — and there are always really only Two Choices:  You get to decide whether you want to Complain.  Or whether you want Communion.  Life’s complicated.  That’s clarity: Complain...or Communion.”  I get to choose communion through cultivating gratitude.  

2. Gratitude is for me and it’s for them.  When I tune my conversations towards thankfulness, when I talk about things that are wonderful with my staff, when I point out beauty….complaints die down.  Grumbling ceases.  Conversations start to become about what’s working instead of what isn’t….about solutions instead of problems.  I notice my friends and family chiming in, adding blessings to my list, sharing the beautiful moments from their day.  And I have to believe that something deep shifts in their souls too.  Gratitude is contagious.  

3.  Gratitude changes communities.  At my job, we give “props” or appreciations at the end of every meeting.  We believe in putting the people first, above the material or the task at hand, and so we take time to recognize each other.  And you know what?  Everyone leaves these meetings smiling and feeling a bit more committed to their jobs and our mission.  I leave meetings feeling like I was noticed, that I have value.  I watch faces light up when someone says “I want to give props to…” and they hear their name uttered.  The practice of giving props also changes the character of our meetings.  Because we know that we will be acknowledged at the end of the meeting for how we showed respect, or honored new ideas or advocated for our students, we carry ourselves differently in the meetings.  We hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We think about our core values and try to have them reflected in our behavior.  Our community interacts differently because of gratitude.  

November is over.  The Advent season has begun.  I’m hoping that this spirit of thanksgiving carries me through this special time of year.  I pray that as I continue to tune my heart toward praise that I would find a new level of intimacy in the mystery of a God who came down.

Giving Thanks Tangibly

God has invited Katie Finegan to join Him in His work of justice and jubilee from within her Central Walnut Creek neighborhood.  In this post, Katie invites us to join her in a shared table experience on behalf of those who don't have homes or tables to linger at this Thanksgiving.  Read on and embrace the invitation, the beauty and the challenge of this shared meal experience on Thursday, November 22. As we enter the month of November, many of us pay closer attention to the circumstances, relationships, and things in our lives that we are thankful for. There’s something about this season that sharpens our vision for blessings. Our lives are full: we may struggle, but we do it in the midst of community. We may have tasted hunger or loneliness, but most of us don’t live there without provision or relief of some kind. Our cups are full so that we might spill them out, and there are opportunities all around for us to do so, if we’re looking for them.

Many of us have come to understand the significance of, and value in a shared meal. As we continue to learn about how to live in the context of our neighborhoods and communities, many of us have been incorporating more meals, potlucks, happy hours, and gatherings into our weekly and monthly rhythms. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a day when many of us gather together with family and friends to give thanks for the abundance, eat a lot of turkey and stuffing, and settle into a pleasant food coma. And this meal tends to mark the beginning of a season of gatherings: drinks out with friends, plates of cookies set out in the staff lounge, coffee with old friends in town for the holidays, big family meals, pot-lucks and holiday parties. In fact, many of us struggle to balance our holiday calendars, and even experience stress over the sheer amount of social offerings and obligations that bubble up and spill over during this season. And there is certainly a lot to be thankful for during this time, abundance and blessings in our lives worthy of being celebrated and toasted.

But this isn’t the way everyone experiences these months. For many, the holidays can be the bleakest, emptiest season – a time where hunger and cold and loneliness are magnified. There are plenty of people in our neighborhoods who don’t struggle to balance stacks of invitations, who don’t effortlessly put on extra holiday weight, and who don’t have family or friends to gather with during the holidays. As we enter into this season, let’s do it with our eyes and ears open, looking and listening to where there is hunger and loneliness of all kinds. Let’s open up our homes a little more, extend invitations, share our abundance, and pay attention to the need and longing in our neighborhoods.

The campus of St. Paul’s is part of our neighborhood; it’s where Open Door gathers to worship together on Sundays, but it is also home to many organizations and groups that meet throughout the week. For the past twelve years, the youth house has been used on Tuesdays and Thursdays by Fresh Start, a non-profit organization that served the homeless, unemployed, and working poor in our community. Though Fresh Start closed on October 31st, St. Paul’s has decided to continue to offer as many services as possible, re-opening as 'The Trinity Center'. This is a unique opportunity to explore what it looks like to participate in the creation of community and to serve where there is need - in the very place where we gather together to worship and to continue to learn what it means to follow Him together.

We have a great opportunity to do this on Thanksgiving – to prepare and share a meal, to widen our circle, to fill a need, and to serve. We've been invited by our gracious host, St. Paul’s Episcopal & Bay Area Rescue Mission, to join them in preparing, serving, & partaking in a Thanksgiving feast with our friends without homes or tables. The details are below, so please consider how you might be able to support or join the effort. Even if you have family plans on the actual holiday, there are ways to help out and pull this together!

The meal will be served in the Parish Hall at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1924 Trinity Avenue, Walnut Creek, on Thanksgiving day, November 22 at 1:00pm.

Any financial donations could be made out to "Bay Area Rescue Mission" (BARM)  with “Walnut Creek Thanksgiving Meal” designated in the memo.  Donations could be dropped into Open Door's offering box and we will be happy to send them along.

Any food donations could be brought to our gatherings on Sunday, November 11 or 18th.

Turkeys have been donated, and a couple of Walnut Creek bakeries have been contacted to donate bread and pies, but we still need:

  • Stuffing
  • Potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Vegetables
  • Salads
  • Other desserts

Here is a list of volunteer host roles for the actual event:

  • Servers / Hosts
  • Food preparers
  • Entertainment / Activities team
  • Set-up crew
  • Tear- down / Clean-up crew
  • Prayer support team

Please feel free to contact me (katie.finegan at with any questions you may have, or resource, time, or support you may be able to provide.

Many Thanks!