Today I heard a question I’ve been asked many times: “Where are you from? I’ve been trying to figure out your accent.” I enjoy this question. Some people tell me they are normally really good with accents, but they are confused by mine. Often times, I respond with: “I have lived in many places.”

My life journey has been a surprise to me. I was the nervous child who always struggled being away from home. Knowing myself well, I’m still amazed as an eighteen-year old I moved away from my home state of Michigan and went to college in Texas. On the first day of classes I met the girl who would become my wife. We have now been married for thirty-four years.

The birth of our daughter is burned into my memory as a great day! Our daughter was born in California, where I worked for a large chemical company. Although I pastored two churches in my college years, it was during our time in California God convinced me of my call to become an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. A phone call to my former District Superintendent in the Texas Conference (who went on to become a bishop) connected me with a seminary I never heard of before. Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. I shared with God we had no money for seminary, and an infant daughter to care for. A student appointment and a full scholarship (plus a stipend) from Brite made it possible for me to get my M.Div. Even going through cancer and chemotherapy in my second year of seminary didn’t stop my progress. I was ordained as a Deacon and an Elder in the Texas Conference. It was not my plan to ever leave my conference. Then I went on a mission trip to Alaska.

On this mission trip I was positive God was directing me to become a pastor in Alaska. This did not happen right away, but it did happen. A big part of our daughter’s growing up years happened in Alaska. Alaska is part of who I am. A well-known Alaskan musher told me years after we moved to Arizona: “You are an Alaskan who just happens to live in Arizona.” I received this as high praise. It was painful when I realized it was time to leave Alaska. How did we end up in Arizona instead of going back to Texas? The Conference Superintendent who recruited me to the Alaska Missionary Conference (as it was known then) moved to serve a church in Tucson. It was his encouragement and connections that played a vital role in bringing us to the Desert Southwest Conference. I have now lived in Arizona longer than I lived in Texas, California, or Alaska. Arizona has claimed a part of me.

So, what is my accent? I guess it’s a Michitexcalialaszona accent. I am so thankful God’s plans for my life have been so much bigger and more creative than anything I could have come up with! I’m not the same boy who left Michigan. Some of the hardest parts of the journey had the greatest impact on my life. In this life journey one lesson God has taught me is thankfulness is both an attitude and a choice. I love seeing the blessings of each day. Claiming a thankful attitude changes how we approach and experience life’s challenges. My journey is only partially completed, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the journey.

It’s easy to ask on Thanksgiving: “What are we thankful for?” It is life transforming when we address this question every day of our lives. As we reflect on what Christ has done for us, it’s even easier to be thankful. What role does being thankful play in your life? If you would like thankfulness to play a larger role, you have the power to choose to do so starting today!

Your brother on the journey, Mark

Further thoughts: As a pastor, I was always thankful when my Charge Conferences were completed. I never fully understood how hard they were for the district superintendents, though, until I became one. Even with a small district, they take a lot of time, emotion, and effort. This week I’m scheduled to finish our South District conferences and “church conversations”. I’m ready to do my happy dance! As part of my recovery time, I’m taking off Thanksgiving week. This includes taking a week’s break from writing “Mark’s Musings”. I will start again after Thanksgiving. It’s my hope each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day holiday, and a life filled with thanksgiving!

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