I love the idea of our Year of Gratitude because I have so much to be grateful for…and so many people to thank. Dr. Pace’s challenge has caused me to think anew about all of the people who have touched my life and influenced my faith journey. It starts with my parents, of course, who made it our family habit to be in church every Sunday morning, and took my brother and me back for choir practices and Methodist Youth Fellowship. More significantly, they modeled faith for us at home and everywhere else.

Then I think about my extended family. Some of the people who have had the greatest impact on my life are my ancestors, including many I never knew. Some had the courage and faith to leave homes and family to come to frontier Texas or booming Houston, to make new lives as circuit-riding preachers, merchants, ranchers, or construction contractors. Others were teachers or salesmen or homemakers. Many struggled through wars and droughts and “hard times.” All made sacrifices to ensure that their children and grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren had better lives and grew up in homes of faith.

I am also especially grateful to the Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, pastors and church staff who shaped my life and faith. They gave up many nights and weekends and even vacations to teach, to organize activities, to put on summer musicals, to lead trips, and most significantly to share God’s love with me and many more. I learned not only from their words but so much more from their actions.

The story is still being written, however, as I am touched by friends and colleagues who teach Sunday School, lead small groups, and on a very personal level encourage me, counsel me, support me, and hold me accountable. And I am blessed beyond measure by my wife, Liz, and our children.

Thinking of this “great cloud of witnesses” humbles me, but also challenges me to do my part, to “pass it forward.” I try to honor the lives and sacrifices of those who have influenced me by doing the same for others, by finding ways to serve, to teach, to encourage, and to share God’s love every day. I’ve also come to realize that lives are transformed one touch at a time, and we may never know the difference made by even the smallest acts of kindness.

And now, I have a lot of Thank You notes to write!