Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Thankful the Busy Day is Done!

Wow! What a busy day it’s been. It seems any time we go on vacation, I spend a couple of days playing catch up when we return. Where do the hours go? Between work, family, and writing the hours just fly by. So tonight, at the end of this long yet good day, I am ready to close these tired eyes and rest.

Yes, sometimes it’s alright to be thankful for something as simple as completing a day successfully. In just a few hours, God willing, I’ll be ready to “get up and do it again” (Thanks, Jackson Browne!).

Thank you, God, for this good day, and thank you that it’s done! Zzzzzzzzzzzz…..a good night’s sleep will be the “cat’s meow”!

(Photo by dcysurfer used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)


Thankful for Listening Ears

“The first duty of love is to listen.”   –Paul Tillich

I’m sure that if my mother had a dime for every time she lent me her listening ear, she would be a rich woman. I have cried on her shoulder and over the phone, and I have shared my fears, heartaches, and deepest joys with her. Sometimes she offers advice, but mostly she just listens.

My mother lives in accord with what Paul Tillich said. To truly love someone is to be willing to listen, to truly hear what that person is saying. This means engaging in active listening. This kind of listening requires the hearer to understand, interpret, and evaluate what is being heard.

People gravitate to active listeners, knowing they will be heard and understood. An active listener may not always agree with what is being said, but he or she will seek to understand deeply and respond faithfully to the person speaking.

I’m sure you know people who are not good listeners. They are quick to spring back with a retort or give a ready answer before the words have fully left one’s lips. Silence is awkward and uncomfortable rather than affirming and gracious. They never seem to really hear what you are trying to communicate.

All humans seek to be heard and understood. We need relationship and community. We thrive when we are heard, and we grow when we listen what others have to say. How many times have you heard an adult say to a child who is seeking his or her attention “Not now. I’m busy. Give me a minute.” The child who is dismissed learns a sad lesson about value and worth. Remember Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle”?

I have tried to have good listening ears. Sometimes I am successful, and sometimes I fail. The times where I fail tend to happen when I forget to be truly present in the moment–blocking out all agendas, plans, outside influences, and personal goals and needs. The times when my listening ears are at their best happen when I focus my energy and attention fully on the other person or people involved, giving thanks for them and acknowledging their existence and giftedness and value.

Active listening takes time and patience. When my mother listens to me or one of her friends, she makes that person feel like nothing is more important to her at that moment in time. Her love is evident and radiates from a place of deep concentration and compassion–from her heart. Thanks, Mom, for your listening ears. I hope I can continue to grow into the kind of active and caring listener that you are.

What about you? Who has lent you some listening ears?

Photo by On Task used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


I am Thankful to be Home!

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving Vacation in Rhode Island, but tonight I am so thankful to be home. It’s almost 500 miles each way, and with holiday traffic the drive was grueling. Coming home it was stop and go traffic for the last 100 miles, and we saw several fender benders along the way. We were all exhausted by the time we pulled into the driveway.

Be it ever so humble (or grand!) there is no place like home. Yes, I amso thankful to be home sweet home. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy crawling into my own bed for a good night’s rest. Sleep well!


Graphic Image by lovelornpoets used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful to Live in a Free Country

If you’re a news junkie, it is difficult not to be depressed about the state of the world. Wars, famine, revolt, poverty–it’s a real downer to scan the daily headlines. Even here at home, in our tried-and-true democracy, times are tough. Unemployment is too high, the national debt is scandalous, and our elected leaders are having trouble working together to find a solution that will help all citizens rather than a privileged few. Ugh.

That said, I am thankful to live in the United States. I am grateful to be a citizen of a free nation under a constitution that guarantees certain rights and liberties. The situation here is not ideal, of course, but then nothing is perfect and it’s pretty short-sighted of folks to assume this big old country of ours should run like a Hollywood movie. Anytime humans are involved in anything there’s bound to be some hitches in the giddy-up.

I would still rather live here and work on making things better than live in a lot of other places around the world. In the United States I can worship without fear and in freedom. I can pretty much say how I feel without worrying about being dragged off, tortured, killed, and dumped in an unmarked grave. I have a vocation I love that pays my bills and allows me to serve others. I have lots of choice about what I purchase or choose not to purchase–both in terms of food and consumer goods. My children are able to go to school. Police, fire, and emergency personnel serve in my community and offer a measure of protection and security. Men and women willingly volunteer to serve in the armed forces to keep our borders safe. Some infrastructure exists in almost every community. I could go on, but you know what I’m saying.

We Americans are very lucky people. By the accident of birth we did not choose, we have abundant freedoms. We even have the freedom to peacefully protest the wrongs we do see and work for change. Yep, we’re in a little bit of a mess right now, but if you take a walk though history, you’ll see that other eras had their challenges and missteps, too.

The things about this nation I do not like or feel are unjust are up to me to try to change. I have that freedom. I have the freedom to be a responsible citizen who cares about her neighbor as well as herself, or I can be an irresponsible person who looks only to my own good and complains when things don’t go my way. Again, I have the freedom to choose.

So, I choose to be thankful. I choose to be grateful for these United States. And, I choose to try to make a difference where I can, to speak out when I see injustice, and work for a better nation for all. If I don’t agree with how things are going, I have the freedom to work for change. Realistically I may not be able to do much, but who knows? I do live in a free nation. What was that old camp song…”It only takes a spark to get a fire going…”?

Are you grateful for the freedoms you enjoy?

Photos by J.W. Photography paukrus, and KGI.ORG used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for Time to Relax

I am by nature a “Martha.” I’m working on being more of a “Mary,” but I suspect Jesus would still scold me for being in a “doing” rather than a “being” mode too much of the time. I can just about imagine him saying “Sharron, Sharron, you are fretting and fussing about so many things; but one thing is necessary!”

For many years I felt guilty if I wasn’t engaged in some activity that I deemed “productive.” It might be grading essays, cleaning the kitchen, washing clothes, organizing the linen closet, or even counting sheep, anything that kept my mind and hands occupied in gainful activity. To sit and simply be present in the moment, or to take time to play games with family members, or to sit quietly with a cup of tea and a good book seemed so lavish and wasteful.

Sabbath was a foreign concept in my former life as a teacher. Oh, sure, I went to worship on Sundays and was active in church, but Sunday was a time for swim meets, getting things done in preparation for the week ahead, or more often than not, playing catch-up from the previous week’s work. God, however, has other ideas about making time for Sabbath.

After being called to ministry and studying scripture, I finally began to understand the importance of Sabbath keeping. God commanded us to keep the Sabbath for our good, not as some kind of punishment or one more rule to follow slavishly and begrudgingly. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t suddenly and magically become good at resting and keeping periods of Sabbath. Oh, no. I just hid my Martha nature a little bit better. Well, actually I hid it from myself better than anyone else. Denial is a lovely river to paddle. See I couldn’t even float blissfully in my denial—I had to actually paddle and work at it. I’m still trying to be a better Sabbath-keeper, present moment liver, and relaxer. It is a process; I’m growing into it and appreciating it.

Now I celebrate time to relax and simply “be.” I am thankful for the opportunity to read a good book, revel in the beauty of the natural world, and play games with family members. I am thankful to linger a little longer in the morning with my husband over a cup of coffee and conversation. I take pleasure in walking the dogs and observing their joy and zest for living.

The funny thing is that I don’t really miss the “Martha” side of me that much. The dishes will wait patiently in the sink. The clothes don’t have to be washed on cue. So what if my linen closet is messier than I like? It almost seems silly now that I actually LOOKED for things to do with idle time.

I am finding more joy in prayer, study of scripture and theology, tending to important relationships, and trying to get adequate rest. Life is far more satisfying in the slow lane; in fact, I’ll take prairie path over super highway any day. How blessed I was this day to be able to sleep late, linger over good conversation and food, and play games. Now it’s time for a short nap followed by a family dinner and more good conversation.

Savor the moments, friends. Take time to appreciate the fact that you are alive and drawing breath. Cultivate and tend those precious relationships. Oh, and be sure to give thanks for time to relax and be a “Mary.” Martha can wait.

Photo by peretzpup used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for Family Gatherings

One of the best things about holidays is the chance for families to gather together–usually around a delicious meal that includes traditional dishes and perennial favorites. Lively conversation and friendly banter spice the gathering. It’s a chance to visit with one another; for some family members who come from afar, it may be the only or one of the few times to see relatives during the year.

This was a unique year for me. It was the first year I spent a holiday with my husband’s family. It was good to get to know them better and experience the obvious love and delight they take in each other’s presence. I got to sample my mother-in-law’s holiday staple dishes–creamed onions and carrots and turnips and my father-in-law’s pumpkin cheesecake. I was able to bring one of our family’s traditional holiday favorite dishes to the table, too. After dinner there was more conversation, games, and grazing on the leftover desserts. It has been a good day.

Of course, it was sad not to be with my parents or my oldest daughter, but one can’t be everywhere at once. I am thankful to be welcomed into my husband’s family and made to feel right at home. I am thankful my youngest daughter is having a good time with her step-siblings and new relatives. I am truly thankful to be able to pick up a cell phone and call my parents and to use instant chat to talk with my daughter in Korea.  Most of all I am thankful to be alive today, to be able to enjoy good food and fine company, a sunny, crisp November day, and the beauty of God’s good creation. Blessings abound!

I hope you were able to find moments of blessing and to celebrate with those you love. To those who had to work, who were alone, or who are suffering illness or difficulty, I pray a better day for you and the meeting of your needs. I hope that all of us will find ways to open our eyes, reach out to one another in love and mutual caring, so that all my experience that bounty of God.

How did you spend this day? What were your special blessings? Did you remember to give thanks?

Photo by martha_chapa95 used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for Safe Travel

It’s late…or early, depending on how you look at the wee hours after midnight. We arrived at my sister-in-law’s house a few minutes ago, and I am truly thankful for safe travel.

What a day! We got a really late start for our journey to Rhode Island, and this year we had two vehicles in our “mini-caravan.” It was dark before we left the lights of Harrisburg behind us. We stopped in Allentown at the Taco Bell and did some serious damage in terms of the quantities of food devoured. The next stop was a Starbuck’s in New Jersey for a jolt of java, followed by a trip to the nearby grocery to pick up the toiletries we’d all forgotten to bring. Well, everybody but my husband Mr. Boy Scout, that is. We made a final stop for gas in Connecticut (and Dunkin’ Donuts) before cruising down the highway for the final leg to our destination outside of Providence. Overall, traffic was heavy but tolerable, and the weather cleared up just in time. Whew!

The kids are wired, and the adults are tired. It’s time for a few hours of sleep in a comfortable bed. First, however, we’ll take time to pray and give thanks for a long but safe journey. It’s good to be among family, although it’s sad that we can’t be with all of our family.

Night, ya’ll! Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by John Trainor used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for My Grandpa’s Legacy

I am thankful for my Grandpa Rogers and the legacy he left behind. I am especially grateful for his life and work this week as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Grandpa was a family farmer in the foothills of eastern Kentucky. He and my Granny reared my mother and her nine brothers and sisters on a family farm. It was hard work for not much pay, but he was respected by all who knew him as an honest man and earnest worker. His farm is long gone, but his legacy remains and reminds me why the family farmer is so important not only to the past and its nostalgia but also to the future of our country and its food supply.

Grandpa’s major cash crop was tobacco, but he raised pigs, chickens, and cows, too. My grandparents had a large garden and an apple orchard, and my Granny put up all kinds of vegetables and fruits. She even canned the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. She did all of this without indoor plumbing. I can remember being entertained by churning butter with a hand-cranked churn. Fried apple pies and biscuits always graced her table, and the grandchildren managed to deplete the stock during furtive forays into the dining room between dinner and supper.

I didn’t appreciate my grandfather’s legacy fully until I started learning about our agricultural and food productions systems. It’s easy for most of us to go into a grocery store and fill our carts with an impressive array of items without ever considering their origin or how far they traveled to reach the store. There’s a huge difference between tomatoes fresh off the vine and those plasticine-like numbers in the produce section at Wal-Mart. A plastic container of blackberries may look nice on the shelf, but it will never match the experience of picking berries amidst the brambles and eating your fill in the process. Fresh, raw milk is something most Americans no longer have access to, and milk in a glass bottle from a local dairy is a rare treat.

My mothers’ family did without a lot of the “niceties” that townspeople took for granted. They made up for it in self-reliance, and understanding of and appreciation for the land and all of God’s creation, and a commitment to a way of life that is fast passing from the American landscape. I wish I had the kind of practical knowledge about farming, gardening, and putting up food that my Grandpa and Granny had. My husband and I are trying to become more self-reliant and aware of the sources of our food. We’re learning to garden, to can, and to choose local foods whenever possible.

America is in a strange place right now. For the first time our farmers do not produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet the needs of our people. Fewer family farms are in operation every year. It’s risky business, and competition is fierce. It takes a special person to be a farmer.

As you gather around your table this Thursday, be sure to give thanks for the people who planted, grew, and harvested your food. I know I will. I’ll also offer a prayer of thanks for my Grandpa Rogers’ legacy–for the strong hands that worked the land and then folded in prayer to give God thanks for it.

Click here to view a fine short film from Bread for the World about the current plight of small farmers. Please take the time to watch it. It may just change the way you look at your food and where it comes from.

Photos by anoldent, racheltayse,  and marc_smith used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


Thankful for the Wisdom of Grandmothers

I am 51. That means I have probably already lived more than half of my life on earth. I know what it’s like to face my mortality thanks to a close encounter with breast cancer. I have lived long enough to lose friends in car accidents, to suicide, and to serious medical issues. I know what it is to love deeply and be loved that way in return. I have also known hurt and pain. I love a good cry and a good belly laugh. I marvel at nature and am in awe of the Creator of the Universe. I have had numerous jobs, a couple of good careers, and one vocation. I have taken the easy, wide highway and the road less traveled. Sometimes I have taken unfortunate detours or made the journey more difficult that it has to be.

Most of all I have learned a lot, especially that I have a lot more to learn. I am thankful for 51 years of life, and I am increasingly thankful for the wisdom of elders. I particularly enjoy visiting shut-ins in our parish. You can learn a lot by hanging out with “more mature” folks. Oh, I’m also discovering that old gets older all the time.

Seriously, when I was younger I was afraid of old folks–old being anyone over 40. Nursing homes appalled me, and I dreaded visits to my grandmother at the nursing home in Paris, Kentucky. It smelled of strong cleaning solution attempting to cover urine, the soured aromas of leftover lunch, and what I imagined to be the very smell of death. My Granny, as I called her, was a sweet lady. She worked hard every day of her life and never had very much in the way of material things, but she was rich in love and wise in the ways that mattered. Her biscuits, fried apple pies, and canned sausage were better than any gourmet meal that’s crossed my lips.  I still have a few letters from her written in careful, almost lacy script. She always put a dollar or two in her letters–just a little something extra. I wish I had spent more time with her, but as a teenager I was afraid she would think my shorts and attention span were both too short. How could that diminutive yet ram-rod straight bespectacled woman possibly understand a way cool worldly teenager like me? Now I know the answer to that question, and Granny is long gone from this world.

My father’s mother, known as “Mammaw” was another wise woman. She, too, had come up the hard way. In fact, she didn’t learn to drive until after my grandfather died suddenly from a heart attack. Not only did she learn to drive–she also moved to the city (Cincinnati) and got a job in the cafeteria at Proctor & Gamble. She pinched pennies, bought stock, kept a neat but comfortable house, and even had a pet squirrel that would come eat on her back porch. I loved to visit her as a child. She had this folding cot that I slept on in her living room. What a treat! I also remember being fascinated with her bathroom and its claw foot tub and toilet with the tank high above it. She was a fine cook; her jam cake with caramel icing was divine. She was also active in her church and donated her time and her driving skills to haul around “little old ladies” younger than herself. She loved her family and was always giving and caring. I remember her carefully selected and inscribed cards that arrived at Christmas and on my birthday. Inside was always a crisp bill of more denomination than she should have sent. Mammaw even tried to teach this lefty how to iron properly. It was probably one of the few failures of her life because I still can’t iron worth a hoot.

Both of my grandmothers were wise beyond their schooling. They knew what was important in life, and they knew how to squeeze the most out of every day and each dollar. I wish I had sought more of their wash and wear wisdom when I had the chance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t comprehend wisdom or beauty or the sacrificial ways of love. My world revolved around Tiger Beat, rock and roll, bell-bottom jeans, and other transitory fads and fashions. They loved me anyway. What a gift, what a precious, precious gift! Thank you, Granny and Mammaw. Now I understand, and I am thankful for your wisdom and love.

Photo by Mrs. Logic used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for the Beauty of Creation

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” –John Muir

My journey from home to Trinity Lutheran Church in Rouzerville takes about 40 minutes in good weather–a bit longer if I need take an alternate route or find myself behind slow traffic. One Sunday morning I was even delayed by a farmer in his Sunday suit trying to move a recalcitrant calf out of the road. It is a lovely drive, and I am thankful for the gift of nature and the time to think and pray (with my eyes open, of course).

When I leave Arendtsville, I drive over rolling hills with orchards on either side. The view is breathtaking, and I have enjoyed watching it change during the short four months I have been making the trip. Once I cross Route 30 through Cashtown, I am in the flat lands surrounded by fields, farm yards, and more orchards. The trip slows down through historic Fairfield before I cross the covered bridge and head over Jack’s Mountain. Next is the ascent to  Blue Ridge Summit and subsequent descent into Rouzerville. On a clear day it is a stunning drive and perfect time to prepare my heart and mind for worship.

Sometimes I go home by a different route in order to stop at the nursing home in Quincy. This route takes me through Waynesboro, up through Quincy, Mont Alto, and Penn National. It’s a quick descent through the forest to Route 30 and then home. This route seems to be preferable in bad weather–at least that’s what I discovered during our October snow storm.

Some folks might complain about the distance, but by North Dakota standards it’s a breeze. I try to consolidate trips to be a better steward of time and resources, but I appreciate the opportunity to drink in the beauty of the Keystone state.

My husband and I are fortunate to be a short drive from the Appalachian Trail and the Michaux State Forest and Pine Grove Furnace State Park, all of which offer many opportunities to enjoy hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. Occasionally, when our day off is the same, we’ll take the dogs and go for a quick hike. Even if we don’t have time to leave town, we can take a quick walk up to the local cemetery. It sits at one of the highest points in town, is surrounded on three sides by orchards, and affords both peace and quiet and stunning views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

Simply standing atop that hill, holding my husband’s hand, drinking in the crisp autumn air and the beauty of God’s good creation is a gift beyond price and measure. Thank you, God, for the beauty of your earth. Help us all to be good stewards of this gift.

What are your favorite places to experience the beauty of creation?

Even if you can’t get outside, click here for a wonderful rendition of English Composer John Rutter’s version of “For the Beauty of the Earth” sung by the Paya Lebar Methodist School Girls’ Choir (Singapore). The voices and pictures are lovely.

Photos by Gerry Dincher and Rob Blezard used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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