During the month of November, a variety of voices from around our Conference will be sharing the weekly Let’s Talk column around a thematic focus of gratitude. This week’s columnist is the Rev. Karen Thisthlethwaite, associate pastor at Ladera Community Church, UCC, in Portola Valley.
When COVID first hit in March 2020 my life was filled with unexpected blessings. I was serving at a church I loved, pushed to be more creative, and was connect with my colleagues in new ways. Remarkably our son Colin’s preschool stayed open and then welcomed our daughter Siena when her school shut down. My husband, Bryan, started working from home and every day was a new adventure. The kids learned how to ride a bike, we cooked more, and when summer came, we packed up and moved to San Diego, to spend time with Bryan’s mom.
Before we left, I found out the position I held was being closed due to COVID. After allowing me to mourn, God asked me to “look for the blessings in my life.” Then we learned that the kids would be starting kindergarten and second grade via distance learning, online. We realized that we could live anywhere, and we decided to stay in San Diego. The kids made new friends and we enjoyed walks on the beach. We learned how to play tennis and pickleball. It was not a “typical” COVID experience. Or maybe it was.
By the end of the year I noticed that God had indeed showed me many blessings, one of the most significant being offered a new position at Ladera Community Church as their Associate Pastor of Community Engagement and Spiritual Development. This was a complete shock to me as I am an ordained Presbyterian pastor and until I started talking with Ladera, and Pastor Jeff, I didn’t really know much about the United Church of Christ.
2021 started off as a year of new possibilities. I started learning more about the UCC and working towards Dual Standing, allowing me to keep my Presbyterian roots and enter more fully into a covenantal relationship with both Ladera and the UCC. I met new colleagues in the Conference and encountered God in places I had never thought to look.
And in this seeking and growing, things became a little messy, and then extremely messy, as vaccination rates and warmer weather allowed for different worship opportunities. Would we return to in-person worship? Would we continue live stream and zoom? Would the kids go back to school in person? Should we start venturing outside our pod, fly on airplanes, and visit my 93- and 95-year-old grandparents. Yes, yes, and yes.
Just not all at once. But in what order? How would we honor the new relationships and patterns we had made during COVID, while being able to enjoy the relationship we had before the pandemic began? Why were people so different? Did people think we were different? More than abundant blessings it seemed like a period of abundant questions. Questions that I, that we, are still trying to answer.
Overwhelmed by schoolmates and friends suffering from COVID, navigating between social encounters where masks were required, encouraged, or absent, I was slowly starting to realize that I had stopped “looking for the blessings.” Instead, I was just existing.
Then the power went out. Literally. We left the house to go to a Halloween party and came home to darkness. Yet what could have been a complete disaster turned into a non-stop reminder of how loved we are by God and how God provides for us even when we don’t realize it at the time. Let me explain.
As you know, Halloween parties can be amazing! We played games, ate dinner, and won prizes. Siena was super excited to get a mini flashlight, and the host let Colin play until he won one as well. Colin, after landing on a “spin again” several times in a row, was also offered a chance to pick any prize he wanted. He chose a pack of glow sticks and created two glow stick necklaces: one for him and one for Siena.
Why write all of this? Because when we got home and discovered the power was out, the kids’ glow sticks lit the way. Their mini flashlights helped us find the adult flashlights and because we had already eaten dinner we didn’t need to cook or even open the refrigerator. We simply snuggled and went to bed. The power was still out when we woke up, but by then God had already provided natural sunlight.
Throughout the day, our neighbors across the street (who had power) texted us offering workspace, and one neighbor even put an extension cord outside his home in case anyone needed to charge anything. An over-the-top example of God’s provision! And by the time the power came back on at 6:00 p.m. we were almost sad the adventure was over.
That night, sitting in the dark, filled with so much love, and unexpected grace, I knew God was telling me that God still had me. That I hadn’t used up all of my allotted COVID abundant blessings, and that more is still to come. For with God, there is always more to come. Even when we can’t see it. Even when we think we are just taking the kids to a Halloween party. God is watching over us. Loading us up with the tools we need to not just survive, but to thrive.
One of my most recent blessings has been being accepted in the NCNC-UCC and gaining Dual Standing in September. I am so grateful to be part of a denomination where “all are welcome.” Where I can come to church in a Spirit of light or struggling in the dark and know that there is a place for me. Thank you being on this journey with me. I look forward to meeting you and celebrating not just Thanksgiving, but many years of ministry to come.