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Discussing religion, spirituality and values. Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. You can email her at
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New voices on the Religion pages

Longtime readers of our Saturday Religion section have probably noticed some changes on our pages over the past few months. We were saddened by the passing of longtime Religion columnist  Charlie Chilton in July. Chilton, a retired Baptist minister and missionary, wrote his last column in June, as he was battling cancer.

One of the memorable things Chilton said to me several times as we talked about his columns was, “I’m not good at judging.” It was clear to me that what he wrote came not just from a place of faith, but of love and kindness. Chilton considered his column a form of ministry, and I know he reached many people.

Since Chilton’s passing, several people have come forward to share their voices on our Religion pages. Heather Ablondi, a woman’s ministry speaker in Fredericksburg, writes the Saying Grace column that now appears weekly in the Religion section. Ablondi writes about issues that are both timely and timeless through the lens of her faith. Other new contributors include guest columnist Rev. Jim Vaught, a former hospital chaplain, and Rev. Leonard Lacey, pastor of United Faith Christian Ministry in Stafford County.

Below is Ablondi’s most recent column, “Focus on the gifts you have,” about a child’s question about gratitude and Thanksgiving.

- Religion editor Janet Marshall

Focus on the gifts you have


This past week we celebrated a quintessential American holiday—Thanksgiving.

In schools all across America, children dressed up as Pilgrims while eating mini-feasts of turkey and mashed potatoes. Teachers told stories of how the Pilgrims almost died during their first winter here and of Indians teaching them how to grow and find food in the harsh environment that had become the settlers’ home. Children learned that the first Thanksgiving meal was a way for the Pilgrims to thank their new friends for all they had done for them.

This Thanksgiving was particularly special for me because it was the first one that my daughters really understood what they were celebrating.

But as we were clearing the dinner table at the start of Thanksgiving week, my middle daughter asked a question that has haunted me the past few days.

“Mom, shouldn’t we thank God for what we have every day? Why do we do it just on Thanksgiving?”

Now, as Christians, we probably thank God for what we have on more than just Thanksgiving, but do we do it every day?

The reality is that most of us spend our days thinking more about what we do not have than thanking God for what we do. We love the new house that we just moved into, until we visit a friend who has a larger, more beautiful one. We are content with the wardrobe hanging in our closet until we make a trip to the shopping mall.

With the advent and growth of Black Friday, Thanksgiving Day itself has become somewhat of an oxymoron. We wait in long lines outside stores in the wee hours of the morning one day after giving thanks for all that we already have.

Psalm 95:2 tells us that we are to come into God’s presence with thanksgiving, but how often does our time with the Lord sound more like a child reading off his wish list to Santa Claus?

Ann Voskamp shares in her book “One Thousand Gifts” that “our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

In this same book, Ann challenges her readers to keep a gratitude journal—to make a list of 1,000 gifts from God. When we spend our days looking for these gifts, we not only develop an attitude of thanksgiving towards God, but recent studies conclude that keeping a gratitude list is guaranteed to increase your happiness by 25 percent.

As I count my gifts—No. 1, a beautiful sunrise; No. 35, baby giggles; No. 115, my husband’s job; No. 324, the chance to share with you each week—I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all that I have been given.

Counting gifts allows us to look at our world differently. Toys strewn around the house are no longer an annoying inconvenience, but a reminder of the wonderful gift of our children. Instead of being frustrated as we sit in traffic on Interstate 95, we begin to be thankful for the opportunity to spend quiet time with the Lord.

In Psalm 9:1, David says, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”

Daily numbering of gifts and thanking God for all that we have allows us to, like David, recount all of God’s wonderful deeds. Despite his many flaws and shortcomings, David was called by God a man after His own heart. I believe that one of the reasons for this was David’s thankfulness for all that God had done for him.

As we enter this holiday season, will you join me in counting blessings and giving thanks to God? Whether it is in a traditional journal or a note file on your smartphone, I challenge you to start counting the many gifts you have been given.

I pray that as your list grows, so will your relationship with the Lord and your thankfulness for all that He has given you.

Heather Ablondi is a women’s ministry speaker and author who resides in Fredericksburg. Contact her at