For many, November is the month selected to celebrate all of the wonderful things we’re thankful for in our lives. Our senses seem to be heightened to the tiny and big blessings that permeate our daily routines. But I want to challenge you to not wait for November to come around every year before you’re conscious of the daily benefits God gives you (Psalm 68:19).
There’s something about being grateful and thankful that has the power to change any situation you’re facing — or at least your outlook on it. As I write this article, I’m reminded of several times when I was facing some major challenges or had just experienced a big disappointment, and God put a praise in my heart at those very moments. Immediately, I began to thank God for His mercy and goodness. Being thankful is an act of worship.
I remember one particular situation where I had just had an emotional beat-down and I was just exhausted. The Holy Spirit whispered in my heart to start praising God. The situation didn’t change, but within minutes, as I continued my praise of the Father, I changed. My heart got lighter because the burden of my anxiety was lifted as God replaced it with His. As he promised us in the book of Matthew, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Often, unpleasant and unwelcome thoughts of the past threaten our state of mind. And you may not feel like praising or saying how thankful you are for the things you have. But this is precisely the moment that we must press on and declare our thankfulness to God. I believe God honors our faithfulness, particularly when it’s hard to be faithful and when we physically just don’t feel like doing the right thing.
Also, we must remember that there is always something to be grateful and thankful for. If you’re reading this article right now, you can see! If you heard your alarm go off this morning, you can hear! If you got out of bed this morning, you have movement in your body! And even if you don’t have any of those things, you’re still here.God has a purpose for you and that by itself is something beautiful to be thankful for.
In Psalm 100:4, the Bible says to “enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.”We should always have an attitude of prayer and thankfulness. The most blessed gift any of us can ever receive is the gift of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins. It would be the worst tragedy to leave this world accepting every other gift but that one.
I’d like to challenge you to something for the entire month of November. It’s called the Thankfulness Challenge. Start your day by writing down five things you’re thankful for. Even if you find yourself thinking about it for a moment, keep thinking! I promise you will never run out of things to thank God for. Regardless of what you’re facing right now, as you turn your eyes upon Jesus, your problems will become smaller and smaller — and worship will become bigger and bigger.
When I think of service, the first thought that comes to mind is Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. What a humbling act. I mean, the Savior of the world, the God of the universe, the Prince of Peace, the Rose of Sharon, stooping down to wash and make clean the filthy feet of human sinners. How awesome.
Of course, Jesus’ acts of service go far beyond that, but I believe this particular act embodies what we as believers should be doing every day. Each of our lives should be an act of service. We should always ask the question: What can I do to help my fellow man? I encourage you to read John 13 and take note of the entire scenario, before and after, that surrounded the Lord washing the feet of His servants. John 13:14-15 says, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” The way we are to live our lives is already laid out for us in the Bible.
There are many lessons to be learned in this chapter alone. For instance, when we serve, it’s not just to our friends or to people we know love us. We are to serve our enemies as well, if they are in need. This is extremely difficult to do, but God never requires something of us without giving us the ability to carry it out.
Jesus washed the feet of Peter, knowing that Peter was going to deny Him not once but three times! Wow! He’s so amazing! Can you imagine washing the feet of someone who lied about you, treated you poorly, or denied they even knew you when you spent quality time with this person?
During my days in television, I had countless opportunities to serve others and shine the light of Christ. Whether it was praying for a mother who just found out her son had been shot and killed, or showing compassion to family members burying a child , those people were in need of serving and God used me to do just that. I knew that God placed me on certain stories just so I could share His love and offer up a prayer for those in some trying situations; situations that the average person would never experience.
Service can be as simple as a smile to a sad soul. I’m so grateful for the privileges I had to experience those moments where I could offer encouragement. Sometimes that’s all it takes to plant a seed of righteousness in someone’s heart. We affect each other and you never know how your words will help someone. Sometimes people will let you know you made a positive impact on their life and sometimes they won’t. But just know that God is always watching and if you are showing love, compassion and exhibiting any of the fruits of the Spirit, He is pleased.
As believers, we are constantly being watched. Our lives are living epistles to be read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2). What are people reading when they look at you? What do they see? Are you willing to serve others even if it’s at the expense of your feelings? I hope so because not only will you be helping someone else, but you will reap the benefits of God’s blessings and His pleasure.
Jessica Leblanc is an award-winning, Emmy-nominated journalist who was named one of the top student television n news reporters in the country by college broadcasters in 2011. While in college, she traveled to Europe and wrote political and human interest stroies for UPIU.com. Upon graduation from Southeastern Louisiana University, she began working at WBRZ New 2 in Baton Rouge as a multimedia journalist and later as an anchor. Originally from NOLA, she spends her free time working on blog Moments with Jess, reading, taking on various speaking engagements and spending time with her family
Many millennials tend to be islands unto themselves. Our generation is one of the world’s most capable, but we are often self-restricting. Fear of failure sometimes drives us away from opportunity, and insecurity often forces us to repress our enthusiasm.
Each of us has experiences worth sharing, and we all possess the ability to positively influence our fellow man. You do not have to be perfect or highly skilled to make an impact. All you need is confidence.
Courtney Stein is a shy girl with a keen perspective, and she is a powerful example of how pushing past uncertainty and wading into something new can make a remarkable impression on other people’s lives.
She lives in the boggy lowlands of Ascension Parish on the edge of Gonzales. She is a writer, scholar and – from August to April – a volunteer catechism teacher at St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church.
Twenty-five-year-old Stein works full-time as a receiving manager at a Baton Rouge bookstore. She has a keen interest in young adult and children’s literature, and has translated her obsession with reading into a passionate pursuit of learning.
She graduated valedictorian from East Ascension High in 2009, got an English degree from LSU in 2013, and received her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts one year ago. Studious, hardworking and determined, she is an ideal student, and after years of practice has become a first-rate teacher.
Stein’s official role at St. Theresa is teacher’s aide. “I take the kids, one and one, and help them learn their prayers and process their catechism lessons,” she said.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of catechism, Stein explained it as, “a nine-month, in-church class held so kids can learn more about their faith before making the official decision to become a full member of the Catholic Church.”
Catechism provides young Catholics with information about the Church’s tenets, and educates them on how specific rituals function inside and outside of mass. Each church has its own parish school of religion (PSR) where classes are taught. Because it concerns spiritual development, catechism is never taken lightly.
Nearly a decade ago, the director of the St. Theresa PSR asked Stein if she would be interested in helping. St. Theresa, like many churches, is always in need of volunteers, and the director felt Stein would be a good fit for working with the parish’s children. Nevertheless, the thought of teaching was intimidating, and Stein felt there were other people better qualified for the job.
“My immediate reaction was to say no. It scared me,” she said. Stein’s lack of self-assurance was overwhelming. She had only ever been a student, never a teacher. She thought, “Who am I to instruct kids? I don’t know enough. Honestly, who gives me the authority to be the voice of faith to these children? What if I say the wrong thing?”
She spent two days considering the consequences of accepting the position. Stein prayed about it, faced her anxieties head on and ultimately felt comfortable enough to say, “yes.” It has been six years since she first started volunteering, and it is something she has never regretted.
Teaching at the PSR requires serious sacrifices of Stein’s private life. It is a job that affords her no financial compensation, but takes up a great deal of personal time. Its only reward comes from the enjoyment of passing on wisdom to a fresh generation of Catholics.
Fortunately, that satisfaction is enough for Stein. Every August, she returns and starts working with a new group of kids. Her fear of teaching has vanished. “I now know teaching is just sharing knowledge with another person, and a big part of it is being open to other people’s experiences. We’re all capable of that,” Stein said.
Like a parent, Stein appreciates each student’s special point of view. “Every kid I teach brings a different life experience to the table. Their uniqueness causes them to process information differently and sometimes ask tough questions. I learn from them as much as they learn from me,” she said.
And that, Stein said, is why she is motivated to teach — so she can keep learning. The students force her to approach even basic material from new angles. No information can be taken for granted. “We’ve had kids come to our class who’ve asked, ‘who’s Jesus?’ or ‘what’s the Holy Spirit,’ and that’s hard to hear,” she explained. “As Christians, we occasionally forget about the people – especially children – out there who don’t know the fundamentals. Luckily, in catechism, they get the chance to learn about the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
All of her students – regardless of their familiarity with Christianity – are curious. When a child asks “why,” Stein always says, “Everything can and should be traced back to the Bible. If you have any questions about your faith, that’s where you need to start.” And Stein is frequently compelled to turn to the Word herself when students pose difficult questions.
Part of being an effective teacher is admitting when you do not know the answer. “You won’t always have the correct response, and you’ve got to be prepared to admit that. You also have to be ready to do everything you can to figure the right answer out. Not just for the kids, but for yourself,” Stein said.
Searching for the “right answer” is the driving force in Stein’s life. She is a member of a large Acadian family that practices centuries-old religious and cultural customs. Growing up, there was little separation between her spiritual and social upbringings.
However, the rituals and traditions in which Stein was raised come with a few limitations. Occasionally, her opinions shift from both the official doctrine of the Catholic Church and her family’s conventional worldview. But, she knows neither her faith nor her perspective is mutually exclusive. They each work together, in their own particular ways to make her a productive person.
For Stein, faith is not defined by stiff regulations. It is about embracing your imperfections and exercising the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
Her practical approach to faith makes Stein an ideal candidate for ministering to children. She also brings a great deal of life experience to the classroom. As a teenager, she came up against some fairly steep psychological obstacles.
Ten years ago, Stein suffered a heavy emotional setback after ending a friendship. “I went through a very tough time my sophomore year of high school. I was deeply depressed. I had some really bad thoughts,” she explained.
Fortunately, she reached out to her family, friends and a therapist for support. Her healing also came, in part, through prayer. “I prayed a lot! Even when I didn’t want to – and to be honest, I mostly didn’t feel like praying – I did it anyway, and it helped,” she said.
Stein, like many of us, still has moments of doubt and self-condemnation, and she occasionally feels her closeness to the Lord “come and go.” But, she said, “It’s normal to question and feel insecure in your faith once in awhile. You just have to work through it – don’t settle – in order to strengthen your bond with God.”
No two of us are the same. Whether it is through teaching, creating or competing, each of us has something extraordinary to contribute to the greater good. Self-assurance does not always come easily. Sometimes we have to step out in faith before we can develop authentic personal strength.
Life is a bottomless and uncharted sea of opportunity. Waves of uncertainty often push us away from our potential and blur our point of view. Like Stein, we must take a deep breath, wrap ourselves in confidence and dive into the murky tide of the unknown. The ripples we create have the potential to impact someone else’s life in a big way.