Tag Archives: gratitude

Surely There’s a Saltine Somewhere

Have you ever had something so painful or traumatic happen to you that you are afraid of revisiting it? I’ve recently been wrestling with just such a thing and I quietly asked God about it. “Should I even open that drawer?” And the silent whisper in my spirit that was not me, answered back, “Yes, and not only open that drawer but make a list of what you are thankful for that is in there.” I wish everyone could have seen my shocked and incredulous face at even that thought. I find that idea just distasteful which is, again, how I know it was not my idea.

We are in the season of gratitude. My friends are posting on social media their sweet points of gratitude. I love this because it helps me to be grateful for things I might not have thought of on my own.

Lately, I’ve been reading about techniques for surviving adversity and a strange recurring theme keeps popping up. It is gratitude. Making a small thankful list at the end of each day has seen some people through some huge difficulties. Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, about the sudden death of her husband says that is the one thing that saved her in the midst of that momentous loss. She says it is a “practice”; something you have to train yourself to do. I agree.

I’d add a couple of other thankful thoughts to that one.

Zoom In. Sometimes, especially when life is really hard, you have to zoom in on the very small things to be grateful. In Texas, in this season, that is akin to looking at a pile of Texas brown leaves and finding the one sort of red or gold one to marvel at. You have to go small sometimes to find your gratitude. I have a friend going through some really rough chemo right now. She told me she found herself giving God thanks for a saltine cracker. No matter what is happening to us, there’s a saltine in there somewhere. Find it and give thanks for it.

Give thanks for what you are without. Sometimes it is the absence of something hard that we can be grateful for. Since I got off my cancer medication, I no longer have joint and foot pain with each step. I’m grateful for what is missing.

If you’ve lost something or someone you love, give thanks for what you had. It is a miracle that we cross paths with anyone at all, much less those who have enhanced our lives in some way. Give thanks that you met; knew each other, had fun, shared life, shared a journey or a season. Thank God that you had that job or your health or those children in your home while it lasted.

 See the funny. There is always something funny. Have you noticed how some of the best funerals are filled with laughter? I’ve laughed with people on their death beds or who have been through great tragedy. Laughter is grace.  Yesterday, my husband was taking a very deep Sunday afternoon nap on the couch. He was sleeping so long and hard, I feared he was about to miss something so I went to gently wake him up. Instead,  I tripped on his shoes and fell, with my whole self, onto his face. This is funny enough but then he didn’t even wake up at which point I panicked and started waking him up in a far less gentle way. He woke up to me shaking him violently and screaming, “I fell on you and you’re still sleeping!”  This is hilarious to me because he always sleeps harder than a human should and I always fall. But, both of those things don’t usually happen at the same time. I cannot quit laughing about this. See the funny. Give thanks for it.  It is grace in this hard life.

Give thanks in advance for what will be. In life, there are always hidden sweet surprises around every corner. You don’t know what they are. You can’t know. Most, we can’t even imagine. Maybe it will be a saltine, a red leaf, a memory, a new friend, laughter through tears. You don’t know what it is, only that it will be. Thank God now for the sweet surprises to come.

 

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What the High School Students Taught Me

This past Sunday was our celebration of graduating high school seniors at church. We are graduating our third child on Thursday and about to have an empty nest. We have had a child in our home non-stop for 29 years, so yes, an empty nest is going to be fun/strange/sad/happy/quiet; so many things to feel. Seriously. Imagine all of those feelings at once wrapped up in this graduation week.

On Sunday three of the graduates spoke in the worship services, including our son. As they spoke, they taught me about the power of the community of faith. All three had been members of that particular church most of their lives.

Here’s what they said, summarized:

-They were grateful and could now see the many people who helped raise them and show them faith. For all, it was a long list beyond their parents.

-It wasn’t any one thing, it was all the things. It was cookies and snacks; the many Sunday School lessons and Bible studies. It was singing in the children’s choir and serving as acolytes in worship. It was Vacation Bible School and Mission trips. It was pastors preaching, people loving them and speaking to them, hugging them and recognizing their milestones. It wasn’t any one thing, it was this tapestry woven together by the community of faith with them and around them.

-They saw the church for what it is, imperfect, ever-changing, filled with real-life loss and challenges. They all had families that hung in there despite the messy imperfection of the whole thing. They had families that made them attend when they didn’t want to. They had families that invested, served, modeled faith.

-They noticed that the more you invested in the community the more you received.

At the end of this happy/sad/milestone morning, I wanted to grab the microphone and preach or at least give a mom’s rebuttal but it didn’t seem polite.

I wanted to say to every single person, child, tween, teen, young adult and older adult…”Can’t you see this happening before our eyes? This is an illustration of the God-infused super sloppy church. Where it is never one thing, it is all the things…embedded with prayer, worship, life, death, sickness, ritual, grace and forgiveness.”

I wanted to say to everyone. “No matter how old you are, join up. Attach yourself to a community of faith and do not let go. Don’t let conflict or imperfection or that piece of music, or preaching or person you don’t like sitting next to you stop you. Invest. Show up. Show up again and again and again. You may not see results for 19 or 190 years. Show up anyway.

Sunday I sat in the pew and saw it. It was a real-life, people-I-love example of the power of the community of faith to shape lives. 19 years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and we inserted him right in the middle of an imperfect community of faith from the time he was 2 weeks old and the pediatrician said he could go to the church nursery.

On Sunday, a confidant young man walked to the pulpit in that same church and shared his faith, his values, his future plans and his gratitude for the cloud of witnesses who loved him into that.

Everyone deserves to be loved and shaped like that. Everyone.

The Teacher

Life is clearly a series of transitions. We should be used to that by now. So many I know are in the midst of some achingly abrupt and difficult transitions. The hardest ones seem to the be the ones no one asked for.

I have friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Some are grieving breaking or broken marriages. Some are agonizing over the painful transitions of their children in trying to launch into the real world or who are struggling with addiction, anxiety, learning differences or depression. People I know keep getting difficult diagnoses. I know some right now who are transitioning from this life to the next or sitting near a loved one who is.

I have two sets of friends who are literally going through everything they own in order to move to different countries for a work season. I know some who are in the midst of big job changes, some they didn’t ask for.

My family has been wrapping our hearts around my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis which became official last June after revealing itself slowly a few years before that. She does not like to call it that. She believes she has normal “old people forgetfulness.” We try sometimes to gently remind her that it is more than that but I don’t suppose it matters.

My mom was an elementary school teacher. She’s still teaching me, even through her own transition. As Alzheimer’s erases her memory, she is forced to stay anchored in the present: the this day, this moment, present. Her disease has made her more attentive, more reflective even. We spend Wednesdays together. One of her favorite topics is for me to tell her about my childhood. I’m a storyteller anyway and not that many people are asking about my childhood these days, so I find it delightful. She hangs on every word. She’ll say, “I remember that!” Or, “I was a good mom, wasn’t I?”

She gets more caught up in the moment we are in. Last week, at a restaurant, she said she loved me and asked if she could kiss me. One kiss led to more all over my face. With the business lunch crowd looking on, she kissed and loved on me as if I was 9 months old. I just let every single kiss soak right in.

She stays in the present. She savors things, gratefully. She loves playing Tetris and beating me, every time. She loves a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. She loves peppermints, iced coffee, ice cream, playing Solitaire and Words with Friends on her Kindle. She will look at pictures of her loved ones all day long. She often names the things she likes, like a Holy litany.

Almost every time we are together, she tells me to look at the sky. “Can you believe how blue it is?” “Look at that tiny cloud over there!” “I’ve never seen the sky look so beautiful, have you?”

I do not romanticize her disease or what is coming for all of us. I know how hard and long and ever changing our journey will be.

But for now, in this transition-no-one-asked-for, she’s still teaching. I think her lesson points can work for anyone going through a hard season.

Stay in today. It is all we really have.

If you love someone, tell them and kiss them all over their face.

Savor little things, gratefully. Name what is good in your life over and over and give thanks.

And, for God’s sake, and yours, look up. Look up.

Milestone Moments

60 years. My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage this weekend. I know, that’s a lot of years of marriage. We chose a low-key celebration at their home. All four of their children were present for the day, which is rare, along with some significant others and a few grandchildren. We played games, ate their favorite barbecue, remembered a few stories together, teased each other and then played more games.  My family is like yours, awash in family dynamics, so we had all of that going, of course.  We had a family meeting to talk about the future which was brave and important and something I would recommend every family do.

Our different resentments, issues and decades long baggage were all present and accounted for. Through the day, we had tears, tension and laughter.  Some of us were hot and would crack a window secretly until other people figured it out and were freezing. We repeated the window thing all day.

We asked my parents to please tell us the secret to marriage. My dad said the secret is just two words, “Yes Ma’am.” I like that. Then my mom chimed in and said the secret was respect. I like that too. She still calls my dad her boyfriend and repeatedly tells us how much she likes him and how cute he is. She made a couple of clear, heartfelt speeches telling us how much she has loved her life, her work, her travels, her children, her grandchildren and great-grandson. Alzheimer’s evidently took the day off for this anniversary milestone, so imagine that.

60 years takes you through so many seasons, so many dynamics, so many homes and jobs and friends. 60 years presents different challenges at different times and my family has weathered a few.

Almost everything these days makes me feel grateful, blessed and amazed. Milestone moments highlight the blessings.

We all looked at their wedding pictures. They still have the cake topper from their wedding cake. Some of us did little photo collages and put the pictures on Facebook or Instagram so others could see our celebration.

My husband’s grandmother always used to remind me that I was rich, rich, rich. On Saturday it felt like she was so right.

Six Days Later

I’ve wanted to write since last Tuesday’s momentous election.  I really have. I’ve had so many thoughts and concerns, just like you.  I’ve read too much, watched too much, seen so much since that time. I’ve disconnected a little bit. I’ve walked a lot. I’ve talked to friends and relatives. I couldn’t find the words to write. Or, I had too many words, some of them not appropriate for a blog, so I knew that wouldn’t do. I just needed to let some things simmer until I could articulate something.

One of the more amazing realizations of the last week for me has been a humbling understanding that not everyone sees the world like I do. It floors me that this is true. Not all Christians agree with me. We do not have the same values. Not all women agree with me. Not all white people think like me. I am humbled by realizing this. I sort of thought we were all one big happy family. We are not. I am now, six days later, feeling humbled by this.

No matter how you voted you have to agree we are in for some serious changes and that is hard for all of us. We do not know how this will turn out. Six days later, I’m aware that change is coming.

I was so stunned by the election’s outcome that it disoriented me for a while. On the day after, my daughter sent the Thanksgiving menu. I actually thought, “We are going to still have Thanksgiving?” I’m better now. Of course we will have Thanksgiving. Six days later, I’m still grateful for so much.

Six days later, I realize how much I need my touch points. I need to hang on to that which grounds me and gives me hope. I need to rely on routines and rituals: prayer, journaling, exercise, music, home, family, friends, nature. Thomas Merton put it like this, “If you yourself are at peace, then at least there is some peace in the world.” Six days later, I am working at being at peace.

Saturday started as a gloomy day for me, but I went ahead and tied up my tennis shoes, leashed my dog and headed out for a touch point walk. We found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a 5K to raise awareness for a disease. Once you are accidently in a 5K you can’t get out and so we walked. Little girls in tutus walked by followed by little boys in super hero capes. Old people ran by (how do they do that?) I saw people of all colors. Moms and Dads with strollers. I saw people who were clearly of different faiths. I marveled, “Look at them, all of them, out here raising awareness.”  Some had shirts on in memory of someone who had died from the disease.

Later, I engaged in another touch point, planning our family’s weekly menus and buying groceries. In front of the store, teenagers were collecting food items for the hungry. Shoppers were coming out of the store in droves with extra bags of food for those in need. It surprised me. I actually said out loud, “Well would you look at that” to no one at all except myself.

Then, the coach from my son’s high school football team sent an email with pictures. A third grade football team had disappointingly had their opponent forfeit the last game of the season. They had no one to play them. The coach called on his players to suit up and come “play the little guys to make their last game memorable.”  These big high school football players, who only the night before had played a play off game themselves, suited up, playing these little boys on a beautiful fall Saturday morning.

Six days later, I still have no good words. I feel humbled. I feel the changes coming. I feel the need to engage in those basic touch points. I am ready to have Thanksgiving. And, I still see good people who care, doing good things all around me.

Our country is torn and anxious right now but it is the same country where people do 5K runs for others, where the hungry are fed and where giant high school athletes care about little boys who just want to play football.  Thank God for that. Touch points.

I Get to Do This

Because technology is awesome, I’m on my back porch, with my dog, listening to my soothing fountain, blogging. I’m drinking a peach mango sparkling water and all is right with the world. We had fall for like one day and now it is sort of summer again. But it is good because it’s not like a Texas summer since it is only 83 degrees. I’m also out here because there are at least four men in our home working on things.

Today begins the third week of people in our house working on things. It is the third week of not being able to find any piece of clothing at the right time because everything is in the garage. We keep asking each other “Have you seen my khakis, my black belt, my sweatshirt?” The answer has been no every time and the hilarious side effect is that we each end up wearing each other’s clothes.

My husband and I keep going to the pantry for things and remembering all over again that there’s nothing there. To say we are disoriented is an understatement. I keep saying “It’s like camping without s’mores or a campfire or views.”

So imagine my delight when something I read actually helped me. In the new devotional book by Sarah Young, “Jesus Always”, a line jumped out at me last week. “As you go about your work, perseverance is essential. If you start to grow weary or discouraged, remind yourself, ‘I get to do this!'”

Isn’t that great? Not I have to do this; I get to do this! In counseling, we call it re-framing. I get to sit outside and blog. I get to have new ceilings and floors. You can apply it to anything. I get to exercise and am grateful to be healthy enough to do so. Not, oh no, the holidays, rather I get to celebrate with family and friends.

I shared this insight with my husband as I do all of my insights. Now we are correcting ourselves with a smile every time we complain. I get to wear my high school football player’s sweaty hoodie. I get to prepare dinners from the food I can locate in the garage. I get to improvise all the taken for granted basic comforts of home. We get to move our furniture from room to room as the men work.

Life is good. We are so blessed. Oh, and tonight I’m going with our 18-year-old son because we get to vote; him for the first time. Please, no matter how you feel this year, vote! Sacrifices were made so we could do that. I’m so grateful.

What “have to do” can you re-frame as a “get to do”?

 

 

Celebrate!

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it in its fullness.” John 10:10

Oprah said, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

I love it when my favorite people agree on things.

With our new grandson, we are in a season of celebration. Recently, my daughter told me she felt a little weird with everyone giving them presents, meals, showers and parties just for having a baby. I told her, “Life is hard and peopel need reasons to celebrate. Everyone loves celebrating a baby. Let them.”

But it is more than the grandson. It is me being in a new, easier, more restful, peaceful season of life. (On Monday my one chore was to get two hummingbird feeders, fill them and hang them because now I have time to notice them.) It is being five years past breast cancer. It is having three beautiful children who are at the moment happy and engaged with life. It is having a loving attentive husband that I still like after 31 years together. Did I tell you our sweet grand baby was born on our 31st anniversary? No one could have planned that gift.

It is that fall is coming; I am sure of it.  It is last Saturday having two family gatherings at our home and seeing our grandson meet 2 sets of great grandparents, 2 great aunts, aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time. It was my mom’s 80th birthday too. We surprised her with her great-grandson. She screamed, smiled and cried and told me it was the best birthday party she’d ever had. Even Alzheimer’s couldn’t take away that joy. One tiny baby and all those relatives just lining up for a snuggle, a smile.  We even loved it when he cried.

It is tomorrow, the 28th anniversary of when I became a mom. I celebrate the wonder of watching our daughter grow from adorable baby, to funny toddler, to goofy child who made up her own words, to awkward middle school kid, to dramatic high school student, college girl, married woman, speech therapist and now happy, attentive new mommy/wife and professional. The girl who made up all those words is teaching kids how to say them right. My celebration cup seems like it can’t hold one more drop of joy.

There’s still hard stuff happening, of course. A funeral for a dear, longtime colleague, gone too soon; normal worries; aches and pains; life stuff. But laced through it all are sweet gifts: sunrises, sunsets, hummingbirds, babies, soft pillows, good books, friends, coffee, family, milestones… so much to celebrate!