Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Days 5 & 6: Computer Trauma Cont.

My computer is off at the repair shop; no word yet on possible outcomes. Unfortunately, my daughter’s old laptop is threatening to give up the ghost, as well, with strange error messages reporting it cannot access the hard drive. Right now I would be thankful to have a dependable laptop that works. Hopefully, my spouse’s computer guru will be able to accomplish this mission, and I’ll have my Dell Vostro back in hand in short order.

This morning I met with a group of colleagues in ministry to discuss the lessons for this coming Sunday, and the gospel lesson from the eighth chapter of Mark proved quite convicting, especially verses 34-35: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” Ouch!

Granted, I did a little more than give up an indulgence like chocolate or coffee or television for Lent, but what do I really know about denying myself? I have very nice roof over my head, sufficient clothing, plenty of good food, reliable transportation, healthcare, and more than enough “stuff.” It’s way too easy for me to keep my mind on the things of the world — like ailing computers — that really, in the grand scheme of things, do not amount to a hill of beans. A little reality check is a good thing!

Meanwhile, Lent rolls on, and so does my 40/40/40 Challenge.  Here are my results for days five and six.

Honoring Relationships

For days five and six, I am honoring two more friends from North Dakota who made my time there a real joy. Both of these women are strong, courageous, and amazing. They’ll know who they are in short order!

Giving Possessions

For day five, I am finally parting with a beloved Eddie Bauer sweater and coordinating turtleneck. I have hung on to this set even though it is now too big for me and doesn’t really match my color scheme (although there’s not much scheming to my color palette). It’s still a nice sweater, but it needs a new home. For day six, I am giving away an almost brand new sweatshirt that is really too small. I am finally truly convinced that clothing should not sit in one’s closet unworn. No need to hoard, right?


Yesterday, I was thankful for a good night’s sleep. It’s been a busy, stressful, crazy week so far, and I slept incredibly soundly. It was glorious! Today, I am thankful that my oldest daughter is finally home from Korea. I can’t adequately explain how wonderful it is to have both my girls under the same roof, even if it is only temporary. Every day is a gift. Thank you, Creator of the Universe, for bringing Elspeth safely home again.

That’s all for tonight! I hope each one of you had a good day and found much for which to be thankful. Remember, a grateful heart is contagious and life-giving. Try it! You’ll be amazed at what happens.

Photo by sugree used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


Days 3 & 4 — Dead Computer Edition

Friday, just before I was ready to post, my secondhand Dell Vostro laptop computer decided to die. There was no fanfire, no fireworks, just that dreaded blank screen and a blinking light indicating a grave technological situation. The poor hunk of cyber-junk will be off to the computer technician tomorrow to see if there is any hope for revival. If not, at least I should be able to get my data — more than four years worth of work — retrieved from the hard drive. Lesson learned: spend the money and  buy that external hard drive!

Thankfully, my daughter offered up her old Dell so I could get back on track. Thank you, dear daughter! So here we go with a report for the Lent 40/40/40 Challenge for days three and four.

Honoring Relationships

So many people! So few days! This could be habit forming. For day three I sent a long overdue letter to a friend in North Dakota.  For day four, I sent a combination birthday greeting and letter to a dear aunt who has been such an inspiration and constant source of encouragement to me.

Giving Possessions

I suppose it would be disingenuous to give the broken computer, so for day three I am giving away more clothes and for day four finally recycling those extra old cell phones.


I am thankful my daughter let me borrow her old computer. Of course, my computer crashed just after I had accepted a sizeable freelance job. Timing is everything!

I am also thankful for the poetry of Robert Frost. His images and use of language have inspired me for years. My mother first introduced me to Frost as a young girl; in fact, she still has his Collected Poems after all these years. Thanks to both of them, I have often chosen to walk the “road less traveled.” Yes, doing so does make all the difference.

And the Winner Is (drawn by dear daughter) …

Thanks to those of you who commented on Day Two. The winner of the Stretch & Pray DVD is Bev. It’ll be on the way via USPS this week.

Photo by raybdbomb used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Day Two: Devotions, Daughters, & Dogs

For more than three years I have used Murray D. Finck’s Stretch and Pray program. Granted, I go through periods where I practice this discipline more faithfully than other times, but I keep returning to it because it works. Finck is an ELCA bishop (Pacifica Synod), and he developed Stretch and Pray out of his experience on a four-week mini-sabbatical/pilgrimage to Thailand and Nepal led by Roy Oswald of the Alban Institute. At that time Finck suffered from chronic back pain from an injury that occurred 20 years earlier. On the trip, the participants began each morning with a series of stretches, postures, aerobic exercises and prayers. By the end of the trip, Finck’s pain was gone.

He is quick to point out that these sort of results may not happen for everyone, but I can attest to the benefits of Stretch and Pray. When I incorporate the program into my daily routine, I feel better — mentally, physically, and spiritually. It is a wonderfully simple, invigorating yet relaxing routine. I especially like the prayer postures at the end.

Honoring Relationships

I have two for day two — relationships to honor, that is. Today I want to give thanks for my daughters. They were born six years apart on the same day. I’ve known them for 24 and 18 years respectively, and they have taught me much about what it means to love, to be fully present, to be human, and to forgive (myself and others). I am proud to be their mother, and I am proud of who they are and are becoming. Thanks, ladies!

Giving Possessions

Today is your opportunity to have a copy of the Stretch and Pray DVD. I have decided to give my copy away to a reader. I have only used the DVD a few times, so I want to pass it on to someone who might benefit from it rather than have it collect dust on the shelf. Leave a comment at the end of this post. I’ll randomly select a name on Sunday, February 26, and then pass this copy along to the winner.


I am thankful for dogs, especially Pete and Dexter. Pete is our Springer Spaniel, and Dex belongs to my oldest daughter but has been living with us while she’s been overseas. A wise colleague in ministry once said that all ministers should have a dog. Why? Because at the end of a long, draining day a dog will still greet you at the door like you’re the most important person in the world. A dog will give you unconditional love and will never criticize or judge. This is true; however, Pete will eat anything that resembles food and isn’t nailed down, and Dexter will chew socks, books, and furniture. Oh, well! One can’t have everything.

Day One: Bye, Bye Books & Thank You, Mom

My forehead smudged by a dusty cross and the words of the prophet Joel ringing in my ears, I completed day one of my Lenten journey and kick-started my 40/40/40  plan.

Honoring Relationships

I have a list of way more than 40 people I want to thank. I started with my mother; after all, she gave me life and taught me the majority of my life lessons. She’s also set a dandy example when it comes to faith, strength, giving, and compassion. I’m lucky she’s my mom!

Giving Possessions

I decided the first possessions I need to let go of are books. I found half a dozen books I can live without, and instead of offering them for trade on, I am taking them to our local library for their used book sale. I kind of figured it would be cheating to put them up for trade and bring more books into the house when I’m trying to divest myself of stuff.


I am thankful for our Ash Wednesday service tonight. It is one of the most meaningful worship services of the year for me. I am quite partial to the lessons appointed for this day, and the liturgy is moving.

I also had a good time burning last years palms with my husband. He had the wonderful idea of using a propane torch and a tin can. It was efficient, quick, and didn’t smell anything up too badly (especially since we had a strong wind today).  I’m thankful we can share parts of our ministry with each other.

How about you? If you keep Lent, how did you start off the season?

Leaning into Lent: Thankful for Donuts and Dust

My daughter and I went to see a completely brainless but funny romantic comedy tonight (gotta love $5 movie Tuesdays) and split a bag of donuts in celebration of Fastnacht (Shrove Tuesday), so I suppose I’m officially ready for Lent to begin tomorrow with an Ash Wednesday smudge on the forehead. All kidding aside, I look forward to Lent each year. I like the disciplines of reflection and intentionality that are a part of the 40 days, and I appreciate the opportunity to slow down a little bit and think about my relationship with God, humankind, and creation.

I have long since passed the days of contemplating the “giving-up goodies” aspect associated with this penitential season. Instead, each year I try to think carefully about how I can be more aware — to be conscious of my choices and how my decisions ripple outward in impact.

As a United States citizen, even one who falls solidly in the shrinking middle class, I am among the world’s wealthiest people. I have much, much more than I need, so to my way of thinking that makes me all the more responsible for my consumption. It isn’t fair for me as a person of faith to randomly exercise my privilege without thinking how my choices affect my neighbors both near and far.

Just because I have a laptop (for work), a cell phone (old school freebie), an iPod, digital camera and Nook (hand-me-downs from dear daughters), and a car (a sensible compact sedan) doesn’t make me any brighter, better, or more worthy. It simply means that by accident of birth, I lucked into living in a part of the world that makes it relatively easy to amass stuff, to have access to education and healthcare, and to enjoy an abundance of freedoms.

No, there will be no blithe giving up of something like chocolate or desserts or coffee or television for me. This year I’m leaning into Lent as I would a strong north wind. I hope to use these days and my personal meditation and devotions to contemplate issues of justice, consumption, and equity. Sure,I try to do this on a daily basis, but I want to be intentional about it.

Supposedly it takes about 21 days to change a habit, so I figure 40 days + Sundays should give me plenty of time to shed stuff and count my blessings; hopefully, in doing so, I will experience a lasting change and move a little closer toward my goal of minimalism.

Here’s the plan. Each day during Lent I will commit to giving away one possession. I’ll also spend some time thinking about why I am thankful to be able to share that possession with someone else. Finally, I will tell someone I care about each and every day why I value that person.

So, 40 days – 40 possessions + 40 thanksgivings + honoring 40 relationship = an intentional Lenten discipline. I invite you to join me on the journey and to share how you will be leaning into Lent this year.

I look forward to receiving that ashen cross-shaped ashen smudge tomorrow. For I am dust, I am connected to this earth in a fundamental and elemental way. Thanks to the cross, I am also connected to the God that created, loves, and cherishes all people and all this earth. Donuts are dandy, but I am particularly thankful for dust.

Photos by khawkins04 and Sara Korf used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


Thankful for Children

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. — 1 Corinthians 4:2

Yesterday afternoon, I attended child protection training with three folks from the congregation I serve. We are in the process of crafting our child protection policy to become a Safe Haven congregation for children, youth, and vulnerable adults. It’s a critical part of our ministry, one we are not taking lightly.

The United Methodist Church down the street hosted this training for their conference and brought in a wonderful speaker/trainer. Since we share some ministries with them, including a community Vacation Bible School, the opportunity to be “on the same page” with them was great. One cannot take too seriously our charge to protect, love, and serve all of God’s children, and unfortunately faith communities have been too trusting in the past.

Safe Sanctuaries is the program used by the United Methodist Church. The book and training materials are written by Joy Melton, an attorney who is also ordained in the Methodist tradition. If your faith community does not have a policy in place to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults, please consider how you might address this concern. Don’t wait until you have to respond to the worst possible scenario.

We are a small congregation with few children, but we take seriously our calling to offer a safe space for them to know, love, and serve their Creator. Children bring such a pure faith to our assemblies. They trust God, their parents, and the adults in their communities to help order their world, provide love and protection, and offer safe boundaries for their growth and development. In return, with something as simple as a smile, they bring light and hope to our days, reminding us that with God all things are, indeed, possible.

So give thanks for the children in your midst. Do all you can to keep them safe and be good stewards of this sacred trust. Show them the love of Christ and let them teach you about faith, hope, and love.

Photos by quinn.anya and commanderjaygold used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


The Friday 5 + the Saturday 7 = 12 Thanksgivings

Yes, I can do math as long as it’s simple math! I did not write yesterday because we were in the car for 10 hours on the way home from Tennessee. Since dear husband and step-son are away for the weekend doing their Boy Scout thing, my daughter and I stopped at our local quick mart and each bought our favorite pint of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and settled in for a Mother/Daughter Movie night. We watched the Coen Brother’s rendition of True Grit on Netflix, followed by a couple of episodes of Dr. Who. The combination of chocolate bliss and travel fatigue knocked me right out for a solid seven hours of sleep. It was a meaningful trip and a wonderful night of time spent with the youngest daughter.

Sometimes Thanks-living means being present enough to live in the moment, making choices that perhaps are not the most logical or efficient but that carry the most relationship capital and time/love investment. It is a necessary challenge to balance thinking and living between head and heard.

So without further commentary let the thanksgivings begin…

1.  Mother/Daughter Movie Nights (My daughter gave up time with her step-sister and another friend to stay and watch movies with me. Thanks dear daughter!)

2. Time with Parents (I had some precious time with my father and mother this week. I am particularly grateful for the time my mother spent sharing stories of her childhood. I’ll write more about that one later.)

3.  Safe Travel (Other than the senior citizen from Florida who veered her “land yacht”  into our lane so close that I could feel my skin crawl and the Big Rig driver who almost clocked us, we had an uneventful and safe trip. Whew! Thank you, God!)

4.  Lunch with my Cousin (I always have a blast with my cousin who lives in Chattanooga. Like me, she stays “busier than a bird dog scratchin’ fleas, so I am especially grateful that she took time out of her day for a long, leisurely lunch filled with laughter and catching-up-conversation.)

5. Dinner with a Good Friend (My mom and I had dinner with a dear friend and former neighbor at Wally’s, a local Chattanooga restaurant specializing in Southern home cooking. Again, it was a time filled with laughter and good conversation.)

6. Facebook (Yup, as annoying as it can sometimes be, I am grateful for this social networking tool that allows me to keep up with family, friends, and colleagues. Technology is neutral; how we choose to use or avoid it makes all the difference.)

7. Amazing Teenagers (From the high schooler who has identified an amazing potential weapon in the fight against cancer to the homeless teen on Long Island who won a national science prize for her discovery about adaptability in two marine animals, I am amazed at the gifts and talents youth have to offer. Our job as adults is to encourage, support, and avoid squelching their dreams. Click here for more on these amazing stories.)

8. The Joy of Finding Great Clothes at Second-hand Stores (While I was in Tennessee, I stopped at a local non-profit’s resale shop, where for under $10 I picked up three like-new items that would have totaled about $150 if bought new at their name-brand retailers. I saved money, I gave a second life to three items of clothing, and I circumvented the consumer stream. Cool!)

9. My Laptop (I bought this laptop from a local computer store in North Dakota on a clearance special. It’s a Dell Vostro 1510, and it it a bit too heavy and clunky, but it is sturdy and meets all my computing needs. Best of all? My total investment was under $400. It is essential for my work and writing, and I am so thankful to have it.)

10. Health Insurance (I am so fortunate to have a good health insurance plan made possible as part of the benefits packages provided by my husband’s and my congregations. As a cancer survivor, I would have a difficult time finding coverage otherwise. One of my daughter’s friends, a working actor who lives with diabetes, just tweeted that he cannot find any plan that will cover his preexisting condition when he ages out of his mother’s plan next week. Something has to give with our healthcare system!)

11. Steel Cut Oats and Green Tea (Both of these foods are among my favorites and are healthy choices offering significant dietary benefits. Based on the reality of #10, healthy food choices are especially important. Click here for a quick trip through the 10 best and worst food choices from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)

12.  Simply Being Alive! (I give thanks for another day and another opportunity to live life to the fullest, loving my family, friends, and neighbors, and reveling in God’s good creation.)

It is my prerogative to make this list of thanksgiving into a “Baker’s Dozen” (but with no calories or fat), so…

13.  I am thankful to you for joining me on this thanks-living journey. Please take the time to post at least one thing for which you are thankful this very day. You guys rock!

Photos by Jason Riedy, stonysteiner, and theseanster93 used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!



Descendant (A Thanksgiving for the Generations)

Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. — Deuteronomy 32:7

The photo above, taken in 1988, represents four generations of my father’s family, the Riessingers: my “Mammaw,” my father, yours truly, and my oldest daughter. A lot  has changed since we had this photo made. Mammaw has entered eternity, my dad is approaching his 87th birthday in August, I’m looking at 51 in April, and my daughter will be 25 in November. My youngest daughter, who was not yet born when this picture was made, will be 19 on the same day in November. Time marches on.

When I look at this photo I am reminded of the chain of the generations, how we pass on not only genetic material, but also traditions, hopes, pain, and faith. No matter what transpires, we are linked by birth, by blood, and by story.

My Mammaw was a strong woman. She knew her share of pain and want, having lost her husband too early. Yet she picked herself up out of her grief and learned to drive, got a job, and made a life for herself. She loved her son and two daughters, and her five grandchildren as much as life itself. I learned so many important life lessons from her — many of which I didn’t fully appreciate until after she was gone. The only thing I know she ever wrote off as a complete failure was her attempt to teach me to iron properly. Oh, well, no one is perfect.

Just yesterday I sat with my father and youngest daughter drinking coffee and talking. My dad, who I remember as being strong and handsome and able to do almost anything, now walks with a limp after two hip replacements, has frail, hurting hands, and forgets a few things. Yet when I look at him, I still see that handsome, smiling man who would bring me gifts from his travels with the Postal Inspection Service (Chinese silk pajamas, dolls, and postcards from all over the United States), who would carry me on his shoulders, and who held me when I cried. He’s had his ups and downs over the years, and lately more valleys than peaks, but he is still my father, and I carry his legacy to the core of my being.

The last time we met over a cup of coffee, before I moved to Pennsylvania, he looked at me and said “I was a good dad when you were little girl, wasn’t I? You know I loved you.” What do you say in response to something like that? Of course, I know. Yes, daddy, I know you love me to the best of your ability and that even though we’ve both let each other down over the years, we are still of the same blood and flesh, the same stubborn German stock. Just today my daughter told me, “You know, you have some of PePaw’s traits, too. You’re both really stubborn.”  Could do worse, I suppose.

I wish I knew more about the generations of my father’s family. I would love to have the stories of my great-grandparents written on my heart. As it is, I rely on a few photos and memories. I have a photo (thanks Aunt Dot) of my grandfather at the fire department, I have a black and white photo of him in his shoe repair shop, and I have a couple of photos of great-grandparents. My favorite photo is one of my father as a small boy. He had a hole in his shoe, so his hand is covering it. My grandmother’s generation was the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without generation.” Ah, we can (and should) learn a lot from the generations who came before us.

Thanks, dad, for life, for stubbornness, for contributing in more ways than I’ll ever be able to tell you to who I am today. Thanks, Mammaw for the love and life lessons. Thank you generations I’ll never know.

Thankful for Parents

I’m going to keep this short and sweet tonight because it’s been a long, good day. I got to spend quality time with both of my parents today. Living 10 hours away, every minute with them is precious.

I have been reminded today of how lucky I am to still have both of them around. It is a gift to be able to be here with them.

So, I am thankful for both my mother and my father. I am thankful that they gave me life, that they love me, and that we can still spend some time together.

How about you? If your parents are still alive, are you able to spend time with them? If they are no longer living, how do you honor and preserve their memories?

Of Love, Long Car Rides, and Commercialized Affection

So today, Valentine’s Day, I spent 10 hours in the car with one of my two dear daughters traveling south to see my dear parents. Only one problem with that. My dear spouse is at home in Pennsylvania on our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. And, my other daughter is half a world away. Oh, well. Love still abounds even if we aren’t celebrating a commercial holiday designed to enhance the sale of candy, jewelry, cards, and flowers.

My spouse and I actually celebrated on Sunday evening by cooking dinner together and making dark chocolate covered strawberries. Yum! Today I wrote him a poem while driving and e-mailed it to him after arriving at my mom’s house. Thanks be to God for WiFi! This peculiar approach to Cupid’s special day makes me a huge buzz-kill or a creative non-conformist.

Seriously, love doesn’t have to be parceled out in commercialized doses as the retail industry dictates. Love is something to be celebrated every day. Give thanks for the ones you love. Give thanks for the love they show you. Cut out a paper heart and write a poem. Make cookies together. Take a walk. Do something fun with your children or dearest friend. Call your parents. Show love. Celebrate love. Give thanks for love. Be love!

Happy Day — Valentine’s or otherwise! Now go spread some love.

Image by Nils Geylen used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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