We Are Only As Thankful As….

We Are Only As Thankful As….

Generally, we are only as thankful as our feelings about the last thing that’s happened to us.

I think that’s true, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It takes effort to make a gratitude list. Though we may talk about our blessings, few of us actually sit down on a daily basis and consider what they really are. It’s especially difficult to do so when times are sad or hard.

On a beautiful Thursday morning this past spring, a group of women met at my friend Laura’s farmhouse for food and fellowship. Among them was a fair lady named Lin who, though she had been suffering for about 5-6 years with Parkinson’s and cancer, was not giving up on life. She was serving at her church, attending Bible study, and reaching out to friends to encourage them in their struggles.

Two seasons and many months later, on another Thursday morning in October, Lin’s body reached the end of its usefulness to her, and the Lord took her home. The nurses on watch in her last hours reported that she went peacefully.

Thursdays are when I gather with my friends to study God’s Word; it seemed natural that we should be together – a group who had prayed for Lin for a long, long time – when we learned of her passing.

Our parish priest spoke to our grieving group and said, “The Lord always answers our prayers, though often not in the way we’d like,” and reminded us that God had answered our many prayers to restore Lin to fullness of health – in heaven.

Then, as we remembered together, Laura said,

“I thought she always had a little bit of an edge.”

I caught myself smiling, because I knew exactly what Laura meant.

“But in the last year,” she continued, “it was like she softened somehow. When we were all at my house, I asked her, ‘HOW are you doing this? Living with all this?’ She said she didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her, because she felt it had made her less self-centered. More compassionate. More caring towards other people.”

Did you get that?

A woman who had suffered for years – years! – was grateful for the experience.

She had found grace in her suffering.

God had transformed her pain by moving her heart.

We shook our heads. It was incredible to think that Lin had considered herself self-centered. A woman beside Laura said, “She called me to see how I was doing!”

But God knows our innermost being, and if there’s work to be done (hint: there always is), He wants to do it.

Lin’s willingness to allow God into her suffering is what changed her understanding of her life’s circumstances from terrible to acceptable.

Can we ask for the grace to be blessed by the ‘awful’ in our lives?

Can we see beyond it with the eyes of faith, acknowledging a greater purpose?

When life seems to go off-track, and we are threatened by financial trouble, rocky relationships, or health crises, it’s easy to lose trust in God and question His faithfulness to us. We might even blame Him for the things that seem grossly unfair, because we wonder – if He really cared, why would He allow this?

But perhaps we have a small-minded, limited view of happiness.

In His loving embrace, God can use even this – whatever this is – to shape us to be more like Himself – perfectly loving, always desiring the eternal good.

In seeking Him, we find joy and peace to share with others. It’s a path we must take to appreciate.

Psalm 16:10-11 says:

You will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful servant see the pit.
You will show me the path to life, abounding in joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.

God will not leave us forever in our pits of despair, nor will he let us lie in our misery today if we turn towards Him and say, “Help me, please.”

With Him there is hope for right now.

With Him there is hope for eternity.

May we learn to live like Lin, transformed by the love of God, expectant of the heavenly wonders to come.

Amidst Angels: A Short Post on Gratitude

Amidst Angels: A Short Post on Gratitude
U.S. Navy Blue Angels, 2015. Photo taken at Hospital Point, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.

“It’s so beautiful,” I said as we watched the Blue Angels making the final pass of their 2019 flight demonstration over the Severn River.

“Mom, you think everything is beautiful,” replied my teenage daughter.

I looked over at her – sandy blonde hair – taking videos with my phone.

Yep. Beautiful.

Me and my daughter at the 2019 Blue Angels flight demonstration.

Practically all of Annapolis clamors to find a spot somewhere near the water to view the planes at 2 pm on the Wednesday of Commissioning Week – those 5 blissful days in May when the Academy sends off its newest batch of brilliant officers to represent our nation across the globe. I give that praise with no sarcasm whatsoever. They are – to a woman and man – among the very best and brightest our country has to offer.

So we’ve come to watch the flight demonstration honoring them every year for the past 12? I’ve lost count. Except when the Blue Angels were grounded because of weather or budget cuts (2013), we were there. With friends or by ourselves, we make this annual pilgrimage to appreciate the display of skill, training, courage, complete trust and raw nerve it takes to fly one combat airplane at 800 mph just inches from another. The show celebrates those who serve. It is about noble character, sacrifice, and working as a team for a cause greater than one’s self.

The elegance and energy of the moment will take your breath away.

And the glinting sun on the wings, the howling engines, and the cooling breeze make me wistful. In this week, more than any other in the year, I feel the passage of time.

My wedding anniversary…the near-end of another school year…the dying away of the spring flowers and the full-on growth of green shade for summer…all are happening right now in this week.

Is there a spot in your geography which makes you grateful? Where you see your days spread out before and behind you? You remember the good and the bad simultaneously? You hold the joy and the pain together as one?

2019. View across the Severn River.

The key to a full heart, I’ve found, is taking an inventory of the GOOD and raising it up high.

Even when there’s hurt. Even when there’s suffering. Even when concern is knocking on your door.

My days are not the same as they were just last year or two years ago, and I’m sure yours aren’t either. There has been success and sadness. There have been sound decisions and bad ones. And there are battles still being waged.

But in our favorite spots we are reminded that we are never independent of God’s grace. His presence – which continually blesses us despite all the ways we continually screw up – is just that – PRESENT. Always.

Every year, I stand on Hospital Point and I just feel so darn thankful to be alive. And this time, I knew why.

It’s all beautiful. All of it. Beautiful.

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

Wholesome. I love this word. It means anything suggestive of good health and well-being. It has a connotation of warmth and nourishment, virtue and pure intentions.

I’ve decided that for 2019, I’m going to end each month sharing with you 5 things that I found to be wholesome, because to paraphrase Philippians 4:8 – we are to dwell on the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. In short – those things that contribute to the fullness of life that God intends for us. **

I know – that sounds pretty lofty. I’m not aiming for grandiose ideas, just everyday things I encountered that were notable, enriching, and/or helpful in some way.

So, here we go. FIVE wholesome things I learned in January.

  1. If a woman can’t have her family with her 24-7, the next best thing is a beautifully framed photo of the people she loves. I’m rather picky about photo printing. Now that film has gone the way of the dinosaurs, it’s hard to find a shop that delivers prints with true-to-life color. For years I have been looking for an online company producing premium-quality prints, and recently a friend suggested Mpix.com. This month, I chose from a nice selection of mats and frames to create a birthday present for my mom – a gorgeous, ready-to-hang 8 x 10 framed photograph of her two girls and 4 grandchildren that was taken last spring at my youngest son’s First Communion celebration. She cried when she got it. First-time customers get 25% off for sharing an email address. Check it out.
  2. The most important sentence we can say just might be: “Tell me more about that.” Jonathan Fields says this a lot when encouraging his guests to continue in the podcast that’s got me completely hooked – Good Life Project. The premise of the show is that every story matters, and Fields’s guests are purpose-driven, community-oriented individuals who have meaningfully processed both personal and professional issues. I’ve only been listening for about two months, but in January, I was gripped by conversations Fields had with Brene Brown, Bronnie Ware (author of The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying), and Mark Nepo (author of More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and the World). I also loved that my youngest son happened to hear the story of Maggie Doyne – a young woman who took a gap year after high school, only to find her passion in caring for orphans in Nepal and collaborated on the formation of a Nepali school, health clinic, and foundation for 350 children. Good Life Project. It’s good food for thought.
  3. The memoir Educated, by Tara Westover, is going to become a modern classic. If you haven’t heard of it, I’m surprised, but before long you will, because it’s an unforgettable story of a girl from a survivalist family in Idaho who is barely home-schooled, yet manages to teach herself enough to enter Brigham Young University and then Cambridge and Harvard, all while trying to negotiate unspeakably complex ties between herself and the people who love her in profound and profoundly unhealthy ways. Like all great writers, Tara Westover has a gift for drawing connections between the visible world and its invisible undercurrents, crafting electrifying sentences like these: “I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind.” (p. 304)
  4. Fermented goat’s milk from Answers Pet Food is healing my dog. I have two canines – Luna and Seamus. Luna is a Beagle with a host of allergy issues and she’s been suffering from a cough for months that comes and goes in intensity. We’ve been working with our vet to uncover the root cause, but three weeks ago a nutritionist friend suggested I try adding a natural probiotic – raw fermented goat’s milk – to her diet to help support healthy immune function. The fermentation process increases digestive enzymes, b-vitamins, antioxidants and lactic acid, and it’s been working. Luna is still congested in the mornings, but the cough is basically gone. Cheers to improvement in the lives of our fur-babies!
  5. Handwritten thank-you notes warm the soul. Okay – so maybe I didn’t really learn this one this month, but I received three very nice notes in January that are worth mentioning here, if only to say that when you take the time to tell someone that what they did for you touched your heart, you WILL touch theirs too. We are so glib with our thank-yous these days. Putting pen to paper and expressing gratitude in a few thoughtful phrases means so very much. Consider how it feels to read, “You are a treasured friend,” “You are truly amazing and appreciated,” “I treasure the bond that we have and thank God for you regularly,” “Thank you SO much for thinking of me.” For February – let’s go and put more encouraging words out there in the world.

That’s it for January’s wholesome list! I appreciate your reading time more than you will ever know, and I’d love to hear what you’re learning too. Email me via the “Contact” link on my home page. Peace and blessings in February!

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

When was the last time the events of a day seemed to be pointing to bad news for you? Did things actually turn out to be as awful as you’d feared?

I shared this story with my readers several seasons ago, but this year seems as good a time as any to revisit the lessons of that fateful day. 

Re-posting this story for your holidays. Blessings to you and yours.

– Gretchen 

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

I can’t remember the year, but I know it was Christmas. And he called my brother-in-law by name. And that’s part of what set off the  tension in the air….

As I remember it, it was like this…
The doorbell rang and a 20-something guy in a fire department sport jacket was standing on the front steps of my sister- and brother-in-law’s house looking very nervous.

Photo my Les Anderson, Unsplash.

The door opened.
“Mr. D?” he asked.
“Yes, yes.”
“I’m uh. I’m uh…very sorry to tell you this. But…”
“Yeah??” my brother-in-law’s voice escalated a little.
“But, uhm. Uh…”
“YEah?”
 “I ran into your mailbox. I’m…”
“Oh, GOD!!!”
“I’m really, really sorry. The road is very icy and I just…”
“NO! No! No,” my brother-in-law was almost yelling, and beginning to let out bits of relieved laughter.
The guy in the doorway wasn’t sure what to think. He paused, dumbfounded.
“No! I…I have five brothers! I thought you were gonna tell me one of them had died!”
“Oh, God!! Oh, no!! No, man! I’m sorry.”
At this point, the rest of us adults in the house were laughing with relief too.
“It was just the fire department jacket, you know!?? And you looked so serious!”
“Well, I just feel so bad about the mailbox, and…”
“Ah no! This hill, the road, it’s ok. Really.”
“I want to pay for it.”
“No. No. Won’t let you do that. Merry Christmas!! Merry Christmas!!”
Isn’t it funny, how in a flash, we can calculate what’s truly most important to us? My brother-in-law knew that his wife and kids were right there at home with him, so his thoughts then followed to the next ring of people he loves – his brothers. And his heart was filled with gratitude for the fact that the news was not about them.
How often do I give thanks for ill that has not befallen me? I’m not saying I should look at other people’s tragedies and say, “I’m so glad that’s not happening in my life.” But if I’m honest, on the vast, vast, vast majority of days the good so far outweighs the bad that I have no reason to dwell unnecessarily on negative things.
Rejoice always. 
– 2 Thessalonians 5:16

5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

November is a time to contemplate our blessings. So many of us are deeply thankful. And full hearts should spill over into good deeds in the world.

Over the last few weeks – via Instagram, Facebook, and emails to my subscribers – I’ve requested stories about the many ways I KNOW you guys show love in the world. And I waited to hear your responses.

Very few came.

I think you’re shy.

Or busy.

But I’m gonna go with shy.

You don’t want to tell me how you show love because you fear it will make you appear prideful. Boastful. Arrogant. As if you’re bragging that you do a lot.…And I get that. I really do.

But the good that we do can inspire others and – if done unselfishly – gives glory to God. Because He gives us all the means to do it in the first place.

So I’m going to proceed as I’d promised and share with you the little I have (and the little I did) and pray that you’ll find something to chew on here. Ok?

There are a few ways we can give out the love and gratitude we feel in our hearts, and here are a couple stories to illustrate them.

1) Begin where you are this very moment and seek to understand others who are right there with you. On the first day I requested stories, I heard from The Boundless Professionals, a young couple who maintains a travel blog and beautiful Instagram page of journeys to far-off destinations like South Africa and Zambia, as well as closer ones like San Diego and the Chesapeake Bay. They embrace a philosophy of no-debt living and had this to say about spreading goodness as they go:

“We feel there are so many ways to bring kindness to the world, and one of our favorite ways is to focus on having conversations with people who do not get to talk with others. Elderly, homeless, people struggling in small businesses. We love conversation, and whether it’s in a small town or in a large city, everyone needs someone to talk to!”

One of our greatest needs is simply to be heard, and you can give the gift of presence, listening, and conversation anywhere. It’s fun. Free. And maybe even freeing for your soul.

2) Share the things you love. My high school friend Howard – now an oncologist – has a sweet tooth. But he doesn’t hoard the treats. He maintains a drawer of candy in his office to share with his coworkers. They can help themselves to Snicker’s bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups any time they’d like. It’s the little things that make a day pleasant, right?

Given the nature of his work, you’d think he’d be a serious guy. And he’s a devoted doctor for sure. But his daily Facebook posts are laugh-out-loud funny, and he’s shown this sense of humor since way back when. He gives of himself, and there’s no greater gift. I’m sure his eyes sparkle when he has good news for his patients.

3) Remember your history. Your experiences are a road map to future contributions. A few years ago, a friend of mine had been through some difficult experiences with men. One in particular was not a gentleman. So for her birthday this month, she asked for donations to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. I was happy to oblige. In my senior year at Dickinson College, I received several weeks of preliminary training as a domestic violence counselor for the state of Pennsylvania, and spent time with fellow volunteers helping prepare a safe house for abused women and children. I heard stories that shattered all my preconceptions and learned that domestic violence cuts across all races, classes, education levels, and socioeconomic groups. My heart was forever changed.

If God placed an experience in your life, there’s probably something you can do with it.

4) Step out of your comfort zone to give. Spreading kindness may require you to do something a bit uncomfortable, but one of my favorite sayings is “Never ignore a generous impulse,” so I try to follow where the Spirit leads me.

In this case, I wrote a note to Michelle Ostrelich, a woman who ran for the New York State Senate this year and was defeated. It takes great courage to run for office, especially without any background in politics, and that’s what she did. She stepped up to speak on behalf of groups she was concerned about and truly listened to the people in her community, and friends – that is honorable work. I wanted to encourage her and let her know that she inspired me and I hope she continues in her pursuits.

Even with a small personal connection – her husband is the aforementioned Howard (whom I have not seen in person in 25 years) – writing the letter felt very, very strange. We have never met. To her it would have come completely out of the blue. But the gesture was well received, and that’s how it often is when we obey the “nudge” to do good. To extend our hearts. It’s weird until it’s not. Try it and see.

5) If an idea keeps hitting you, there’s a reason. Some call it “holy discontent.” Others call it “fire in the belly.” They are the subjects or issues that make us angry. Move us to action. Push us to make a difference.

What riles you up? The one thing that just rips your heart to shreds? You cannot help but rise out of your chair saying, “That is NOT right!!”

Could it be that this one thing (or more) is the way that God is asking you to move in the world?

I admit, I haven’t yet fully figured out how to deal with my holy discontent. It’s violence against women. Specifically rape. I CANNOT stand portrayals of it in movies – so much so that I’ve become a fearful film watcher and this limits my range of choices. But so be it.

Years ago, I heard about the Fistula Foundation, which provides restorative surgery to repair obstetric fistulas to women in developing countries. A fistula is a hole between a woman’s vagina and one or more of her internal organs. It can be caused by many days of obstructed labor or by sexual violence, and the result is that without surgical repair a woman becomes permanently incontinent of urine and/or feces. The majority of women who suffer with fistulas are rejected by their husbands and shunned or cast out of their communities because they smell. They end up living as outcasts.

In 2018, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a partner of the Fistula Foundation, won the Nobel Peace Price for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where rape is a tool of war. He works at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and has cared for 50,000 victims of sexual violence since 1999, and there is no end in sight. Read more here.

So, as you might have guessed, on “Giving Tuesday” this week, I gave to Dr. Denis Mukwege’s efforts in conjunction with the Fistula Foundation.

This is not enough. My hands, my ears, my words, my time, and my money are of course still needed. I must make myself available to know how, when, and where to go next.

In prayer, I am being called every day to act according to God’s will, and it’s my responsibility to listen and respond.

Only in this way – through each of us – can the world be changed for good.

I am reading an amazing book right now and will cover it in another blog post, but among its main points is this:

To truly show love in the world, we must first recognize the humanity of every person.

The late Elie Wiesel – Holocaust survivor, teacher, activist, author, Nobel laureate, and adviser to world leaders, explains:

“To be human is to share a common origin. And if we share a common origin, our destinies are entwined. What happens to me will eventually happen to you; what happened to my people is a foreshadowing of what will threaten the world. Auschwitz led to Hiroshima and who knows what else? Therefore the most important biblical commandment is Lo taamod al dam réakha, ‘Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow human being.’ The word réakha, ‘fellow human being’ – it is universal. Anyone who is suffering, anyone who is threatened becomes your responsibility. If you can feel this and act with even a bit more humanity, more sensitivity, as a result, that is the beginning.” (from Witness, by Ariel Burger, p. 147-148)

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

The small voice spoke from the silence of the back seat.

“I am thankful for Mike.”

“I’m sorry, Honey. What did you say?”

“I’m thankful for Mike. He told me how to get the cars on.”

“Which cars?”

“The new ones. For my Anki Overdrive. I didn’t know how to get them on right and he told me today at lower lot. I’m so thankful for him.”

“Oh. Oh yes, that was certainly nice of him. So, you’re thankful for him, and his friendship.”

“Yes.”

End of discussion.

I looked in the rear view mirror to see my little boy smiling to himself.

My son received a car and track system from Santa at Christmas, and got a couple new components for his eighth birthday this past weekend. I didn’t know he had any questions about how these supplementary pieces would work, because he never had questions before. But with kids, sometimes things are hidden from you.

In any case, he has a friend. A friend who helped him. Gave him a few directions while they stood in line, waiting for their parents to pick them up from school.

And my young son is vocalizing his gratitude about that friendship.

Letting his gratitude LIVE in his heart, and not be a fleeting moment of forgotten, “Thanks.”

Wonderful.

Why do we – as adults – make so little of gratitude?

And find it so hard to verbalize it?

Or allow ourselves to get hung up….

On what others might think if we just said the words, “Your kindness means so much to me”?

Or on the timing of such a remark?

Or on the “appropriateness” of it?

Why do we let the moments that touch us – go?

Isn’t life lived in the tiny, every day moments?

Shouldn’t we be most grateful when they are undeniably beautiful?

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

Why Ugly Decorations Are Good

Why Ugly Decorations Are Good

Two unofficial members of our household made their seasonal debuts at our home yesterday, so I thought I’d take a moment to introduce them to you on this, day four of my Month of Good News 2016.
This is Lucy, Guardian of the Front Porch.

lucy

She’s been with us for about a decade. I think I got her at Michael’s craft store for about $6, back when I was trying to make sure our oldest son gained an awareness of the changing seasons. He and this little scarecrow were about the same size, but she didn’t acquire a name until my daughter came along and dubbed her ‘Lucy.’ The name stuck, and now our youngest son has an oddly strong attachment to her.

And this is Cheese.

cheese

I don’t know who named him. But he is a remnant of my brother-in-law’s surprise Halloween-themed 40th birthday party, which was held in 2001. My husband insisted that we keep this lovely trinket as a souvenir. Once, I suggested we get rid of it – an idea for which I was nearly tarred and feathered.

Little did I know that Cheese would become our children’s all-time favorite Halloween decoration. It moves around the house throughout October as the kids desperately try to recreate the famous “Great Shriek” scene of a few years back, when Cheese was placed in my bed. I encountered it unwittingly and responded accordingly.

As you can see, I have a love/hate relationship with Lucy and Cheese. We have other knickknacks that are better looking, and they are displayed as well. But when the kids begin to feel festive in October, these are the two decorations they are most excited to see. From now until January 6, there will be many kinds of holiday embellishments in our home. Thus, Lucy and Cheese ring in the holiday season – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year.

Today I was looking for a quote about holidays and found this one from Philip Andrew Adams, an Australian humanist, social commentator, broadcaster, and filmmaker:

“To many people holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance.”

I don’t know Adams, so I can’t say whether we’d agree on other topics, but I do think holidays are a time of reassurance, especially for the young and young at heart.

The traditions we keep – like putting out certain decorations – remind our spirits that there is a continuity that cannot be shaken. This speaks Truth to our souls, in a time when we need solidity and comfort. 

For this, I am grateful. Because even if they are ugly, decorations show we have reason to celebrate and give thanks. Good news, for sure.

Finding the Essence of Holiness

Finding the Essence of Holiness

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Horses on the beach at Assateague Island, July 2016.

I started the day with thanks. The best way for me to start any day.

But this wasn’t just any day.

Some friends of ours had invited my kids and I down to their campsite at Assateague Island to spend an afternoon on the beach and enjoy a couple meals.

Ever since I was a little girl, when I poured over the book Misty of Chincoteague (and all the others in the ‘Misty’ series by Marguerite Henry), I had wanted to visit the islands where Spanish galleons had wrecked and descendants of their live cargo – horses – still roam wild and free.

Today was going to be a monumental day.

It turned out to be more than I’d dreamed.

We drove 2 hours from Annapolis, had lunch at the camp, and crossed the dunes onto the beach. The sight took my breath away.

Horses. Everywhere.

Bays. Chestnuts. Paints. All gorgeous. Breathtakingly gorgeous.

In that moment, I thanked God again for this day, and was reminded of the words of Anne Lamott in her book on writing, Bird by Bird.

There is ecstasy in paying attention.

You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world,

where you see in everything the essence of holiness,

a sign that God is implicit in all of creation. (p. 100)

It was impossible to look on these creatures, surviving here in this unlikely place for hundreds of years, and not see the presence of the Creator.

But that wasn’t my only moment of joyful surprise for the day.

Mid-afternoon, I saw an older woman on a boogie board taking on some huge waves and it looked like so much fun I couldn’t help myself. I ran right out there too. I never even stopped to think about how I looked: pale-skinned 40-something woman who bears all the evidence of her four decades and having birthed three kids. And I’m so glad I didn’t. Letting myself wonder about what goes on in other people’s heads robs me of the fullness of Life intended for me.

The surf at Assateague pounds the beach with tremendous force. These were not gentle lapping waves AT ALL. As I jumped into the sea and the first two swells crested, I lost my footing. The aggressive waves threw me down headfirst – one right after the other! But did I quit? No!!!  I got back on my board, sandy hair and all, and headed out to sea.

The next 20 minutes were exhilarating – riding the whitecaps and kicking back out for more – as were the following 5 when I strolled onto the beach and flopped down with all three of my slack-jawed kids. Each one kept sneaking peeks at me like they’d never seen me before in their lives. Finally, my daughter summed up what they were all thinking.

“I can’t believe you just did that, Mom.”

Yes, I did, kid. Yes, I did. And it felt so good.

Giving thanks opens us up. It changes our outlook, removes our inward gaze.

It’s kind of a sin when you think about it. To not give thanks with everything you can muster, for every good thing that comes your way.

I’m so glad I took every opportunity I could that day.

Every perfect gift is from above,

coming down from the Father of lights,

with whom there is no alteration

or shadow caused by change.

– James 1:17

For a brief video of the horses being startles by my kids’ boogie board being washed ashore, click here.

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

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We attended a wedding and got a thank-you note. But I wasn’t expecting one. The bride and groom had already sent us a note for the gift we’d given them. ‘Hmm,’ I wondered as I opened it, ‘maybe they were worried they had overlooked us, so they’re sending another one.’

Nope.

“Thank you both so much for joining us as we celebrated our big day. We hope you both had a great time as well!!”

Who does this?

Who spends postage to thank guests for their presence, instead of their presents?

Almost no one. And that’s why it’s so remarkable. And sweet.

The truth is, we are grateful to have special people with us, in good times, bad times, and in-between times. The trouble is, we neglect to tell them we are thankful that they are there.

Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Something to think about.