Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Monday Musings

Whew! What a week! Today I’ve finally had time to collect my thoughts and breathe a little. It isn’t that I haven’t been thankful or practicing thanks-living for the past two days, it is simply that I’ve been running like a hamster in a wheel. Life has been on the fast and furious track, both literally and emotionally, hurtling through time and space at a blurry, disconcerting pace.

Last week was a tough one in many ways. Both my spouse and I dealt with hurt and pain among friends, family, and our parishes. Deaths, bad health diagnoses, and suffering lapped at our hearts and clouded our days, plus we were balancing busy, hectic schedules and multiple priorities. It ended up being one of those weeks where we simply got lost in the living, too busy to be present in each precious moment. Life is like that sometimes. No one said it was a 24/7/365 picnic.

Today, however, the sun is shining, and a new week fills the horizon with potential and opportunity. My challenge this week is to avoid filling each moment with “busyness” and “doing.” To live from a place of thankfulness, one must be aware of the day as it’s passing. To that end, I have set these goals for the week:

  1. to find time to exercise and meditate at least six out of seven days,
  2. to make sure I give my spouse and children quality time — not the end of day leftovers,
  3. to move through all activities with purpose, focusing on one thing at a time, and
  4. to consciously practice thanks-living by telling at least one person each day in a call, in person, or by e-mail or snail mail how thankful I am for their presence in my life.

If I truly believe each day is a precious gift, then I must spend my life giving thanks for the gift and using it wisely. To do otherwise is to deny both gift and giver.

How about you? How will you give thanks for the gift of life, each precious day, hour, and minute of it?

Photos by pfly and Hamed Saber used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Stand Strong Hayhoe & the Friday Five

Ever heard of Dr. Katharine Hayhoe? She’s a Research Associate Professor at Texas Tech University and a respected teacher and atmospheric scientist. Hayhoe happens to be an evangelical Christian and is married to Andrew Farley, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at TTU and pastor of a nondenominational church in Lubbock. Together the couple wrote a book about climate change from a faith-based perspective. Now she finds herself squarely in the cross hairs of controversy.

She was contracted to write the opening chapter for the upcoming book by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich but was dropped after Gingrich was pressured by constituents and media. Rush Limbaugh dismissed her as “a babe named Hayhoe.” She is receiving a torrent of hate mail, including almost 200 nasty e-mails the morning after appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show (Fox TV).  Click here to read an article about what she’s facing, somewhat ironically from folks who claim the same faith.

Hayhoe spoke with passion in an interview with a Canadian newspaper, “My own faith is the Christian faith and in the Christian faith we are told to love our neighbours as much as ourselves. And our neighbours, especially the poorer ones, are already harmed by climate change.”

Curious about Dr. Hayhoe and her work? Click here to read more about her and to watch short videos from the PBS NOVA series The Secret Lives of Scientists and Engineers. Click here to read an excellent short article Hayhoe wrote for the April 2011 issue of Sojourners. Click here for more information about the book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.

Do I agree with everything for which Dr. Hayhoe stands? I don’t know. Chances are we might split a few theological hairs, but seeking the common ground in our respective discipleship walks is much more important. I don’t have to agree with everything she says to appreciate her courage, her commitment, and willingness to speak the truth in love. I will say that on the issue of climate change I’m with her 1o0% (Hey, Rush, does that earn me the title of “climate babe,” too?).

This Friday I am particularly thankful for people of faith who stand their ground to speak the truth in the irrational face of hate and bullying. Thank you, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, for standing up for what you believe both as a scientist and Christian. I and many others stand with you, Dr. Hayhoe; stay strong.

If you want to show your support for Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, you can send her a note of appreciation through Sojourners by clicking here, or you can read her complete profile and contact her through TTU by clicking here.

The Friday Five

I am thankful for:

  1. the fresh homemade bread my spouse has in the oven right now,
  2. the spirit of collaboration and cooperation exhibited last night by folks from various churches and organizations in my area.
  3. that I have more than I need and plenty to share,
  4. my family,
  5. and the simple and amazing gift of another day on this wonderful earth.

Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video used under Creative Commons License. Thanks! Photo of Dr. Hayhoe from her website.

Thankful for Potlucks

Yum! Yum! It seems like any time you get a bunch of church people together for a luck meal, you are truly going to get lucky. I thought Lutherans had the corner on the potluck market, but tonight I attended a meal preceding  a gathering of our local Fellowship of Churches and found that not necessarily true.

One of the true joys of potlucks is sampling a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Unlike going to the food bar at your local Ryan’s, Hoss’s or other “pitch ’till you win” trough and tea restaurant, a certain level of decorum still abides. Folks tend to play nice and not be too hoggish, waiting patiently and trusting there will be plenty even if you’re bringing up the rear of the line. How many times at a church potluck have you eyed that last tasty spoonful left in the dish but not had the gumption to take it? After all, “mom-wisdom” generally says “don’t be a hog and take the last bite; leave it for someone else.” I guess that’s why so many dishes go home nearly empty rather than scraped clean.

One feature of potlucks is the distinct presence of comfort foods. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a potluck where there hasn’t been at least one jello salad or macaroni and cheese bake. It’s an opportunity to tote out your best artery-clogging recipes to share with others — unless you happen to be a major “kill-joy” like me who tends to take spinach salads or vegetarian lasagna. Think about it: fried chicken or spinach salad. What would you choose?

The very best thing about potlucks is that there always seems to be more than enough food and way more than enough variety. Like Jesus with the loaves and fishes, folks are fed aplenty and there are always some leftovers. Just as birds of a feather flock together, folks and food find common ground and full bellies.

For Further Reflection

What’s your favorite potluck contribution? What’s the best dish you’ve ever sampled at a potluck meal? Care to comment on the worst?

Be sure to give thanks for the opportunity to gather together and share communal meals. It sure beats dining alone on a can of soup!

Photo by Tobyotter used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for Exercise

Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. — Hebrews 12:11-13

Exercise, for me, is something that’s easily pushed aside on busy days. I’ll waive my yoga routine if it means an extra half-hour of sleep. If it’s too cold, I’m much more tempted to stay inside rather than get out and walk a couple of miles. If I have looming deadlines, I won’t go near the Airdyne. I can find many excuses not to drive that eight miles to the YWCA where we have a family membership. I just sigh and chalk it up to a busy lifestyle and multiple commitments and maybe have another cup of coffee.

When I neglect exercise, I put in motion an unhealthy cycle. The less exercise, the more likely I am to feel additional stress since I am not releasing those lovely endorphins. When I go several days without yoga, my body becomes tight, tense, and stiff. Even my breathing is affected when I neglect the deliberate focus provided by my semi-regular Stretch and Pray routine. The more stressed I’m feeling, the more likely I am to overeat and consume too much caffeine.

I’m trying to rethink my approach to exercise this year and make self-care a real priority. As a pastor and cancer survivor I know the importance of self-care, but I sometimes fail to act on that knowledge. I neglect to show gratitude to my Creator when I fail to properly care for my body, a part of God’s good creation. I neglect to love myself and treat myself as a person of worth and beauty. I also potentially cheat my loved ones of the best I can give them when I fail to properly care for myself.

Exercise is one important part of the good health picture. It is my right and my responsibility to take care of this body. I am thankful to have reasonably good health right now. I am thankful to be able to exercise. Now, I just need to make sure it remains a priority for this year of thanks-living and beyond.

For Further Reflection

Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly.

  • How often do you exercise?
  • What sort of exercise do you prefer?
  • How important do you believe it is to take good care of your body?
  • Is there a disconnect between what you think and what you do?
  • What changes might you need to make this year to ensure you are getting enough exercise?
  • What one step can you take starting today to take better care of your health through exercise?

Photo by whologwhy used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Gratitude Need not be Grandiose

Gratitude need not be grandiose. Some of the best things in life for which to be thankful are incredibly simple. It is important to name them, share them, and appreciate them.

  • I am thankful for a clean glass of water to drink whenever I want one.
  • I am thankful to sit down with my husband and drink a cup of freshly ground coffee in the morning.
  • I am thankful for leftover lasagna and salad for supper.
  • I am thankful to be able to sit in a warm family room with at least part of my family to watch the State of the Union Address while living in safety in a free country.
  • I am thankful for a warm bed and a good night’s sleep.
  • I am thankful for poetry, good fiction, scripture, and yes, the occasional brainless page-turner–most of which come from the local library or paperbackswap.com.
  • I am thankful to have survived cancer and to have reasonably good health.
  • I am thankful for good work and fine folk with whom to work.
  • I am thankful for music (and my second-hand iPod).
  • I am thankful for film.
  • I am thankful for art (and public galleries that make it possible for me to experience it).
  • I am thankful for nature–for local, state, and national parks and forests that keep it accessible.
  • I am thankful for my sturdy old laptop and high speed DSL.
  • I am thankful to be able to laugh, smile, and breathe.
  • I am thankful to be alive and in the company of those I love and who love me.

How about you? For what simple things are you thankful? Why not make a list and share them right now?

Photo by quinnanya used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

The Mistake that Became Dinner

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. — Oscar Wilde (from Lady Windermere’s Fan, Act III)

Sometimes a mistake can be a fortuitous event. Such was the case in our household yesterday. Here’s what happened.

My daughter signed up to bring a main dish for the church dinner her youth group was helping serve. Together we prepared and baked a lovely lasagna. She was awake and ready to go when I headed out the door for worship at the church I serve. My spouse was already next door for services in the congregation he serves. I even left the fresh-out-of-the-oven and delicious-smelling dish in the back seat of the car for her.

Poor child! She who is usually quite responsible somehow managed to fall asleep in the one hour between when I left the house and she had to leave for church. While I was sad that the mistake was made, I was delighted that we would have a tasty treat. Her mistake became a delightful lagniappe for our Sunday supper.

Mistakes are like that sometimes. They don’t have to be horrible; in fact, a mistake can be quite instructive. Occasionally, as in our case, a mistake can be delicious.

Many familiar inventions and products are the results of mistakes. Toll House Cookies, the microwave oven, the vulcanization of rubber, penicillin, cornflakes, the Frisbee, the Slinky, Silly Putty, Post-It Notes, Velcro, and potato chips all started out as mistakes that ended up working.

The next time you, or someone you love, makes a mistake try not to fret, worry, or obsess over it. Instead, give thanks for the mistake and what it might offer in the way of instruction or future guidance. Hey, you might even get dinner out of the deal!

Inquiring Minds Want to Know…

Have you ever made a mistake that turned out to be fortuitous? If so, please leave a comment and share it!

Photo by plasticrevolver used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Gratitude has no Expiration Date

Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart… — Psalm 111:1a

Are all of your holiday thank you cards written? Perhaps you still have a couple that need to be sent, but you are worrying that it’s really too long past Christmas to show your gratitude. If that’s the case, dear one, let me assure you of a simple fact: It is never too late to give thanks.

Gratitude has no expiration date. It’s that simple. Stop right now. Sit down. Get out a nice note card (even a plain scrap of paper will do) and your favorite writing implement. If you are uncertain of how to begin, click here for a short article/video originally taken from the CBS Evening News segment “Assignment America” and shared by the excellent website DailyGood. In it you will meet attorney John Kralik, a man whose life was transformed by the simple act of expressing gratitude through handwritten notes.

Did you watch the video? If not, stop right now and do it. Yes, click on that little link above. Trust me; you’ll be glad you took the time.

Now, imagine a world where hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of people took the time to say a simple word of thanks via the trusty method of pen, paper, envelope, and stamp. We’re not talking crafting a Pushcart Prize caliber tome here. Just a few sentences will do.

Giving thanks for even the most simple gift or action, benefits not only the giver but also the one who receives. Like ripples from a stone that troubles the waters of a quiet lake, a thank you note has the capacity to change the world one person at a time. Hey, it might even help the United States Postal Service, too. Just think of all the people in your life who deserve your thanks!

Start one note at a time as often as you are able. Start with those long overdue holiday thank you notes and keep on thanking. It will change your life. Of that I am quite certain.

Thanks-Living Activity

Here’s this weeks challenge activity! Write a thank you note each day to someone you need to thank and put it in the mail. That’s six days (Monday through Saturday) and six notes and six stamps. On top of that, each day write a short note to the Creator of the Universe giving thanks for something God has done for you or given you. Yes, write it down. Your writing is your prayer.

Drop a comment here and let me know how it went. I will randomly select one person to receive an eight-note pack of “Joyfully Yours” notes from DaySpring and eight stamps to keep your thank-you regimen going. Better yet, these notes will be procured locally to support a local Christian bookstore.

Congrats to Natasha, the last winner, who received three art cards featuring illuminated manuscripts from The St. John’s Bible.

Photos by Kanko and Randy OHC used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Investing in Thankfulness

I will not just live my life. I will not spend my life. I will invest my life.  — Helen Keller

This week I challenged you to find a way to make someone happy each day as a way of thanks-living. Making someone else’s day brighter is a way of investing your life, of expanding your horizons, and in deepening roots. Focusing outward on the other has so many benefits. It’s a win-win situation both for you and for the people to whom you show kindness, love, and gratitude.

So how did you do? I attempted small things each day to see how simply being more attuned to others’ needs and feelings would help me respond to their needs without the attempt feeling contrived or forced. I wanted my thanks-living responses to feel “organic” rather than “orchestrated.” The result is positive, and as I look back on the week I can see how interwoven our lives really are. Turning the focus upside down from “me” to “we” is like wrinkle cream for the soul. Everything is just a little bit better and brighter.

Helen Keller, who had many strikes against her, turned those strikes into fuel to benefit the lives of many. Her teacher Anne Sullivan invested her life in Helen, and Helen in turn invested her life in making a real difference in the world. Everything we do has a ripple effect; for every action there is a reaction. There is much over which we have precious little control, but we do have control over how we fact the world and how we choose to interact with our brothers and sisters on life’s journey. Life is both an art and a science–imperfect yes, but filled with beauty and light. How will use the raw creative tools of your life? Will you squander them on yourself or invest your gifts and talents in others? I have done a little of both in 50 years; now I choose to invest what is left of my life in others and in trying to leave this planet a little better place when I leave.

For Further Reflection

If you took the challenge and tried to make one person a little happier each day, please share your results by commenting. If not, click here to read about one person’s experience passing out cookies in New York City. You can read more stories by going to helpothers.org. Better yet, write your own story with your own precious life.

Photo by katiesw1 used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

 

Snow & the Friday Five

Yes, I’m thankful that it’s snowing outside. After all it is January in Pennsylvania, so we should be having a few snow showers. As long as it will be clear by Sunday morning, I’m tickled pink to enjoy watching its silent fall.

The dogs had a blast playing in it, Dexter rooting his snout into it and tossing the fluffy bits into the air and Pete looking like a giant snow bear. It is good to end a delightful Friday with a covering of clean, white beauty. All seasons have their delights, and winter is wonderful for its crisp, clear air, minimalism, and snowy artistry. Thank you, God, for snow and four distinct and lovely seasons.

What’s your favorite season? What joys do you find in winter?

The Friday Five

For my Friday Five I’m thankful for

  1. A date night with my spouse and the pretty pink roses he gave me yesterday,
  2. Yummy homemade tomato soup,
  3. A delightful discussion at our Coffee, Tea, & Theology Book Club meeting today AND two new participants,
  4. The promise of a lazy Saturday morning, and
  5. SNOW!!!

What five people, things, or events brought you delight this day? For what do you need to offer thanks?

Photo by lalofont used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

 

How Much Time Does God Get?

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. –Psalm 62:8

Sometimes I wonder…the One who knows me the best, the One who always has my back, and the One who loves me beyond all measure and reason is too often the one with whom I spend the least amount of “quality” time. And no, I’m not talking about my wonderful husband (although we do have to be intentional about giving each other good, quality time and not the end-of-a-long-busy-day-totally-worn-out leftover time). The One about whom I speak is my Creator, the one who according to the psalmist “…formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

Why is it so easy to have time for almost everything but God? It’s easy to spend an hour or two a day in the gym or several hours a week involved in a civic club, our children’s sports events, or (fill in the blank), yet spending an hour or two on Sunday in worship and Christian education can feel like a chore. When faced with the choice of reading the Bible or a NY Times bestseller, what often wins? I’ll admit it…the book of Judges or the Jon Stewart Show, Matthew or The Mentalist…sometimes the choice is not so clear cut.

And prayer. Most folks can talk for an hour or more to a best friend or family member, but to pray for an hour? This relationship with God thing can be tough to cultivate sometimes. It takes effort and dedication, an investment of time and love. All relationships take time and effort, commitment and care if they are to flourish and grow.

The thing about the Divine One is that God desires good for us, is patient, forgiving, and kind to us. Even when we break God’s heart repeatedly, God doesn’t give up on us. The Lord of the Universe who proclaimed all of creation good has arms wider that our biggest hurt, love that exceeds our wildest dreams, and is a refuge from anything the world can throw at us.

Today I am thankful for an awesome God who is trustworthy, with whom I can be myself no matter how awkward or inadequate I may feel, and whose love does not depend on anything I can say or do or not say or fail to do. Truly, I can pour my heart out to the architect of the heavens and designer of the cosmos, and even my puniest most pathetic whimper is heard and counted as worthy. Thank you, God. Thank you.

For Further Reflection

Give God some time today. Write your Creator a thank you letter. Sing to God. Dance like David before the Lord of the Dance.  Praise God in whatever way you feel moved to do so. Read Psalm 62 and give thanks for the goodness and grace of the Divine One.

Photo by Dave Stokes used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

 

 

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