Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Raindrops of Thanksgiving

I have been reading the words of thanks as my friends post daily their thoughts on gratitude—an excellent exercise in the recognition of an abundant life.  Family, work, friends, health, nature, sunshine, pets, food, shelter, joy, and on and on goes the list. If the practice becomes one of daily exercise, we wake every morning to the wonder that a new day brings, knowing we have much for which to be grateful. And we can name them – one by one.

 I am reminded of a song that says, “Give thanks with a grateful heart” and I cannot help but wonder if the mind and heart always work together in giving thanks. We know in our minds that we can list those things for which we are thankful. We know in our minds that we have a warm bed. We know in our minds there is food in our refrigerator. We know filling our car with gas is routine. And yes, we are thankful for those seemingly simple abundances. We have been given so much and we want to express it.

But does the listing of our abundances give us a grateful heart?  Which comes first—gratitude or thanks?  Of course, it is gratitude which must come first. We recognize somewhere down in our soul that we are part of an amazing plan. Just look up on a starry night. Spend some time there and you will feel that you belong in some plan that is bigger than yourself. Gaze into a sunset or watch rain falling orderly outside a window and tell yourself, “I am a part of this life and I have a great benefactor who loves me. God, it is you and I feel this gratitude in my heart.”

Gratitude in our hearts is an emotion we feel when we strip away all the noisy stuff of the world that says we have to have this or that to give thanks. And gratitude can still be residing in our hearts when our world has fallen apart, when our hearts are broken.  Gratitude is simply saying the first verse of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.”

Thanksgiving then, is the overflowing of our grateful hearts and then becomes this joyous, outlandish listing of blessings.  The Psalmist goes on to say, “He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies.” Don’t you love that? Even as wars, famines, floods, storms, diseases, and disasters surround us this Thanksgiving, God alone prepares for us a table of abundance. A table full of love and assurance that in His care, we have everything we need. And we are more than satisfied. Our hearts are full of gratitude to Him.

The sharing of our gratitude then becomes thanksgiving. We must share our gratitude, for if we don’t we are not being thankful to God or to our fellow man (and that, by the way includes spouse, parents, children, co-workers.)The writer of Hebrews calls thanks the very fruit of our lips:
"Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."(Hebrews 13:15)



Monday, September 30, 2013

Spider Webs and Mountaintops

 There is a spider web outside my window. No spider works there, but bits of leaves and dust and a dead fly remain trapped in a gauzy maze. Occasionally a breeze will move the web and I silently hope for release for the fly. I silently hope the web will just blow away on its own or be washed clean by a rainfall and remove itself from my view. But instead I wait and look at it. I wonder why I don’t take charge and clean the windowsill and be rid of spiderwebs and death fragments and entrapment. I know I will—I just have to get to the place where I decide it is time for it to go.  I have to get to the place where I will change. 

Where is the place we change? Is it when we have had enough? Is it the place where we can’t stand ourselves anymore? Is it when we have new insights, new direction, and new inspiration? Is it when we seek change from those around us who offer an idea, a word of encouragement, a hope-holding hand along with some spoken words of truth?

Why do we resist change? It’s not because we enjoy looking at dead flies caught in spider webs.  Sometimes the webs are gnarly and sticky and we are caught and it is just plain hard to get out of it. It holds us in a grip and entwines around us, until like the fly, we become exhausted simply trying to flee.  All of our energy is devoted to breaking free, leaving no energy for productivity and meaning.  And we forget how good it feels to fly. And we die.

I belong to an energetic group of women writers who trek to a mountain house every year and we work through some of the “webs” in our writing. The webs are all shapes and sizes. Some are fresh. Some are in need of major de-webbing. And some just need a little sweeping with a whisk broom. But each writer brings ideas and encouragement and hands to hold and words to encourage.  The view of the mountain range keeps us focused on the goal. What goal is that? That somewhere out there, just over that mountain, the words will come. Somehow the spider webs become insignificant. The entrapment loses its gnarly grip and we become free to write, free to grow, and free to become all that God intends us to become.

And so how do we change? We surrender old ways and commit to new ways. On the final night of retreat, we set goals for ourselves and offered comments and questions about those goals. A scribe even wrote them down and will send them out—written in words to hold us accountable to one another, dated so we can measure our productivity, reminding us that we have viewed the mountains—and somehow, the spider webs  seem insignificant.

Psalm 121:1 “I lift my eyes to the hills; where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

42 Years, 42 Thoughts

I am sitting here looking at a map of the world. Here I sit in Atlanta. And far away, on the other side of the earth my son and his new bride are seeing things I have never seen, experiencing places I will probably never go.  And I am happy for them and share in their joy as they send pictures and first impressions of the sights and sounds of a fabulous honeymoon.

I remember my honeymoon. It was 42 years ago today.  And while we did not travel around the world, the looming chairlift to view the Smoky Mountains was fairly spectacular for this Kentucky girl and her man. Each year, we have made the effort to celebrate these quickly-gone-by years.  Maybe a trip or maybe not. Maybe dinner at a favorite restaurant or maybe not. The important thing is that we remember – and we celebrate. Tonight, we will cook together. Steak Au Poivre on the back porch. Monogrammed linen napkins. Candles and Van Morrison. Perfect.

I was talking to a friend the other day about the mystery of marriage. We agreed that sometimes even in a fairly good marriage we can go days, weeks, sometimes longer wondering who really is this person we married and can we go the distance? There are definitely “seasons.”She asked me how we had made our marriage work for all these years. I have been trying to think of answers that would encourage and motivate my own children to help them grow in their own marriages. Some are not very profound, some are silly, and some serious, but together they seem to be a good recipe for a marriage that goes the diastance.

1 – Forgive one another.  Little annoyances can build up to big trouble. Clear the clutter of small stuff.

2 – Find the good

3 – Greet each other with eye contact – hugs and kisses are a bonus as the years go byJ

4 – That means, put down the paper or iphone to acknowledge one another

5 – Help each other  - marriage is a team.

6 – Support the interests of each other

7 – Say “Thank You” and mean it. A smile is a bonus.

8 – Surprise each other

9 – Share concerns with each other

10 – Do things together

11 – remember all days are not glamorous and fun

12 – you will have some really bad days

13  - respect each other’s need for space

14 – work together on long range goals

15 – keep yourself physically healthy

16 – pray together

17 – read a devotional together

18 – worship together

19 – plan a budget and stick to it

20 – answer the phone when he/she calls

21 – be an encourager

22 – give each other space for friends and hobbies – but not too much!

23 – recognize the fact that you will not always see ‘eye-to-eye’

24 – keep a bucket list and annually review and revise – and revise again

25 – change will happen; change is good, but then you must change with change

26 – love your in-laws – expand your ability to embrace others with grace

27 – work hard with a daily schedule

28 – live on less; save more

29 – read good books, but don’t insist you read all the same books

30 – laugh at yourselves together

31 – serve the homeless; go on a mission trip; think of others you might help

32 – remember birthdays and anniversaries – late does not count!

33 – be hospitable and open your home to others

34 – learn new skills; take a foreign language or cooking class

35 – sing together; sing with your friends

36 – be a tourist in your own town – see the sights together

37 – recognize that some days are harder than others; move through

38 – go to farmer’s market and find something new to fix for dinner

39 – forgive each other for not being perfect – think I said that one first and repeating again

40 – extend grace abundantly

41 – be grateful every day

42 – celebrate each day as a day to improve

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! (Psalms)







Thursday, May 30, 2013

Facing The Day

My daughter and I were zooming up the highway to a favorite shopping outlet. Cars in all lanes traveling at maximum speed. It was impossible to move in any direction when we approached the little animal in the very center of our lane. Lying on his back, legs quivering, he had already been stunned by one driver, and now I would barely miss him. But we  knew his life was in jeopardy and the road he planned to cross became his deathbed.
Death is part of daily life. It seems I attend a memorial service once a week. Over and over, I am reminded that I believe in the resurrection, new life, and an eternal home with Jesus Christ, my Savior. I affirm my trust in a place where there will be no more suffering or death, crying or grief.  I sing songs about the "great cloud of witnesses" and feel a longing in my very soul for that time that is not for me - not yet. I must carry on with my fellow sojourners, loving my family and neighbors, and feeling joy in the midst of the daily-ness of living, loving, and  letting go. Celebration and sorrow all mixed up together. As Thomas aKempis says in his book The Imitation of Christ, " Love is devoted and grateful to God, always trusting and hoping in Him, even when it does not taste God's sweetness. There is not love where there is not sorrow."
And then I hear of a child who has relapsed with cancer and then I really have to look for God's sweetness. As her loving and hopeful father lamented, "She should be swimming and riding her bike, going to camp, and playing with her brother." Instead, she must face more treatments in far-off places. She must retreat from the child's world of play to a more serious and somber world of work with doctors, medicines, and treatments. But she will know that love abounds as her hurting parents do all they can to help her in her work. Love and sorrow all mixed up together.
And I guess that's what keeps us going. We help each other in our work. We attend a memorial service. Or we attend a wedding. We gather as friends to pray and remember and rejoice. We bake banana bread and write the note. We bring a gift. We offer a listening ear to someone who needs to talk - about their joy or their sorrow. And it is in the mixed up daily-ness of joys and sorrows, we face each day and live with one another.
How are you doing?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

After 30 Days, Then What?

I heard an interview with a man who helped after the bomb exploded in Boston. After 30 days, he was questioned about his involvement and how he is healing. His voice cracked. He stammered a bit, but was able to tell how he had stepped over some hurt people to get to the ones who were near death. The memories haunted him and when asked if he thought he could move forward now, he wondered how he would. It might take a lifetime.

I also watched a young woman be interviewed after barely escaping from a car that exploded on a bridge in California, killing all of her friends.. Traumatized, she cried on camera, saying she wanted to go back and pull her friends out of the car, desperate to save them from the raging flames. Those memories will haunt her for a long time.

Tragedies seem to be constant and more and more horrific. We are exposed to the raw details of the event, experiencing the daily devastation from our own safe homes. We cringe when we listen to the report of three little girls held captive for ten grueling years. And as we drive down our own streets, we wonder if that could ever happen to us.

And if it did happen to us, how could we ever move forward? Recover? Heal?

One man said, "I have to put this behind me now and move on."

One man looked down and wept. It will take him longer.

One woman could not speak. It will take her even longer.

But with time and loving support, they will move forward. They will look at life with different eyes. Their eyes will be eyes that carry the depth of painful experience, wounds. And because they look with wounded eyes, they will see the injustices around them more often, and possibly seek to reach out to extend the hand of grace to another.

And yet, in the beauty of perfect Spring days, I know that even in a troubled world, all is well. Every day this week as the news reports defy goodness in this world, I can look out to a creation that is full of wonder and perfection, new life, and a desire to bloom and grow. And in some way it is the same yearning in my own heart that knows that yes, God is making everything new( Revelation 21:5).

Monday, April 29, 2013

Breathless Expectations

The writer of the book said the one thing we can be certain of is uncertainty. But I delude myself with my  own confidence. I put myself on a schedule to perfection, an agenda of self-confidence. I discipline myself and practice skills until I "know for sure" that nothing will harm me. Not me. Not my family. If I study hard enough, make enough money, take my medicine, pray regularly, and be kind to my neighbors, my lot is secure.
Wrong. Right outside my window this the perfect example. Little lettuces, planted carefully and watched over faithfully are snipped in the wee hours of the night  by a fat rabbit. I knew it might happen. It happened before, but I will try again. I must never give up hope. I will try other varieties and put down some repellent. And I will trust.
The writer said that "certainty is the mark of a commonsense life— gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God."http://utmost.org/
Who lives with breathless expectation? I will tell you who. The person who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death - yet certain of God. The person who has watched the life they loved be taken from them through illness or tragedy - yet certain of God. The person who has experienced rejection - yet certain of God. The person who has been treated unfairly, yet holds their head up with grace, certain of God. That is breathless expectation. My friend who lost her daughter eight years ago said recently on her birthday, " I will sing to her today. I will fling the joyful birthday anthem to the wind and let is soar over the clouds and into the halls of heaven."

That is breathless expectation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Small Signs of Advent - Morning Stillness

     Why is the morning so still? Why is the time between darkness and dawn so very quiet? The night voices begin to quiet themselves and the morning voices , like me, are hesitant to start moving. Stillness.  I open my eyes and leave the warm space to listen and wait. As the first rays of light peek through the trees, the morning noises, one by one, come to life. Another day. Another new morning reminds me of the words from Isaiah, "Morning by morning He wakens - wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught."( Isaiah 50:4)
I have learned the quiet before dawn is what rescues me from the perils of the day. The stillness and quiet waiting are when I hear the voice of God, assuring me that the One who brings his first rays of light to creation is also bringing me a ray of light, a ray of hope, a ray of guidance.  It is the example Jesus gave to his disciples where, "In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35.) The Christ child teaches us.
I cannot help but wonder about those who miss the quiet before the dawn. Admittedly, sometimes I am one of those, but choosing to miss the lonely, quiet place of silence is dangerous. Henri Nouwen, in his book Out of Solitude says: "Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures."
Where is the place of "somewhere?" The answer lies in my Advent reading for today.
"God wants to open the heart before it opens itself to the world; before the ear hears the innumerable voices of the day, the early hours are the time to hear the voice of the Creator and Redeemer. God made the stillness of the early morning for himself." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger)
Open my heart, God, to your day and let me always show up as you wait for me in the stillness of the early morning.