Every year at the Board around this time, we have a Christmas card contest. We choose a theme, usually a Bible passage, and we invite the youngest relatives of Board employees to illustrate it. One picture ends up on our Christmas card.

Every year, children include stars in their pictures, often a lot of stars. This year, with Matthew 2:10 as our guide, we got a multitude of stars. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Each child had his or her own way of making this star of joy stand out among the other, ordinary stars.

Children have done this for generations. They listen to the story of the Magi, about how they traveled by camel for a very long time, following a bright new star through the darkness. Then, they sit down with a box of crayons or some colored pencils and they play it back in pictures.

Even the smallest children get the meaning behind this miraculous story. One young girl drew the Three Wise Men. She wrote the words from Matthew in black marker above the travelers, and above that, she drew rows and rows of stars. The stars remind me of runaway umbrellas bouncing along in the wind. They look like they’re moving with the Magi toward a stable crowned by an exploding yellow star and a pair of hovering angels. The artist gave the Wise Men a single word balloon: Aleluia!

This is pure, simple joy, no matter how you spell it. The message of Christmas is one of hope and renewal that even a young child can’t miss. In Jesus Christ, God sends the promise of salvation, and we are in awe. Transformation and rebirth await us. It is such a wonderful gift.

On behalf of all of us here at the Board of Pensions, I wish you and all your loved ones a Christmas season full of the joy this gift brings.

Grace and peace,

The Reverend Frank Clark Spencer

Welcome to Board Connections, the newsletter for The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This publication highlights recent Board news and important updates and information. We hope you find this newsletter useful, and we welcome your feedback at any time.

Behavioral Health Network Change

Beginning January 1, 2016, the active Medical Plan’s behavioral health service provider changes to Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to enhance and better integrate service delivery. Highmark’s network is larger than that of Cigna Behavioral Health, the current provider, giving members greater opportunity to find more affordable treatment with a network provider. (More costly, out-of-network care continues to be covered; see Your Healthcare Benefits in Brief 2016 for copayment details.)

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services continue to be provided by Cigna. This valuable program offers active members up to six face-to-face counseling sessions per issue at no cost to the member and provides employers and mid councils with management consultation services. If a member is seeking in-depth treatment, Cigna will refer the member to Highmark.

A New Year of Call to Health

A new year of Call to Health has begun, offering new opportunities to participate and a new Call to Health website. Watch your mail for information about the new website, coming soon!

Increase Gratitude, Decrease Stress

For many, the holidays bring stress, and with it, harmful effects to the body, according to a growing body of research by the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley — in collaboration with the University of California, Davis. Studies funded by GGSC’s Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude Project show that high levels of stress and anxiety can hasten aging.*

An antidote to stress, the studies suggest, is to practice gratitude. Gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, and helps people sleep better. It boosts feelings of happiness, optimism, and other positive emotions while reducing anxiety, anger, and depression.

So count your blessings, this holy season, and lessen your stress! And remember, we are all called to health!

*See Dr. Wendy Mendes discuss her research, Effects of Measured and Manipulated Gratitude on Biomarkers of Health and Aging.

Take the First Step toward Wholeness

The Reverend Charles Booker, pastor of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, Maryland, draws on his own personal experience as he encourages members struggling with challenges to realize they are not alone — that the Board of Pensions and the Benefits Plan offer caring resources, including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can help. Watch the video now.

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If you have comments or feedback on this newsletter, please let us know at communications@pensions.org.

If you have questions, call the Board at 800-773-7752 (800-PRESPLAN) and speak with a service representative.

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