Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Thankful for Chaos

Chaos in the world breeds uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth. — Tom Barrett

I am thankful for chaos. Yes, that’s right, I really am. My life is in a sort of chaos right now, not bad or traumatic in any way, just busy and full and disorganized, and well, chaotic. So I’m trying to embrace this chaos in which I find myself swimming rather than fight it and risk drowning in my own disorganization and discombobulation. I am working at being thankful for this present state of being; it’s where I am so I might as well find the good in it and be thankful for it. At least I’m alive and kicking and drawing breath.

We humans much prefer order. We like to know what’s coming at us, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there. We like plots and plans and protocol. Chaos makes us a little crazy and stirs up that fight or flight mechanism. Unfortunately, that adrenaline-filled response is not what’s needed to take advantage of chaos and it’s power to produce amazing results and unforeseen gifts in our lives.

Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish. — Chuck Pahlahniuk

Sometimes you just have to let go and ride the chaos wave, at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I strap on my rose-colored goggles and dive into the waters of daily life. I have no clue how the chaos will play out, but I can truthfully report from past experience that the periods of greatest chaos have usually preceded good things and bursts of creativity. The path is not clear; what seems logical and sensible may not be the right fork in the road to take. Who knows? Only the Creator who holds all this universe and its seeming chaos in creative tension. I figure those are pretty good hands in which to be held. So yes, I am thankful for chaos and the gifts of discovery, creativity, and renewal it may bring.

What about you? Do you embrace your chaos and trust the process or fight it for all you’re worth? Or do you find yourself somewhere in between, sight reading life’s notes or doing your own improvisation?

Chaos is the score upon which reality is written. — Henry Miller

Photos by Kate Ter Haar, Stefan Andrej Shambora, and Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


Thankful for . . . Everything!

Courtesy wikimedia commons

Some days you just need a little inspiration. If this is one of those days for you, then click here to watch one of the most touching and inspiring stories I have ever heard.

She lives alone at age 108 without assistance in a small flat in London. She still practices the piano three hours a day. She lost her mother and husband in the concentration camp, and she survived cancer at age 83. At 104, she wrote the best-selling book A Garden of Eden in Hell.

It is particularly appropriate for today as we observe Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and with our Jewish sisters and brothers recall the some six million lives cut short in acts of incomparable human cruelty. Alice Sommer Herz, the oldest living Holocaust survivor, reminds us to “Be thankful for everything–everything is a present.”

Thank you, Alice.

Thankful this Day is Done!

It’s probably my least favorite day of the year–Tax Day. Well, maybe Spring Forward into Daylight Savings Day has a bit of an edge, but it’s a mighty close race for first place YUCK.

That said, I am so thankful this day is done for another year. It’s always an adventure trying to figure out taxes when you are clergy and have additional income streams and deductions. Plus, Pennsylvania has more taxes than Hogwarts has wizards. I’ve never lived anywhere else that taxes you for the privilege of working. Oh well, go figure! I’m sure it could always be worse.

This year, Mr. Husband and I decided to be “do-it-yourselfers” and use software to file. Of course we waited until the last few days to do it–surprise, surprise, surprise. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind paying taxes. It’s an investment in a civilized society. Without taxes our schools, roads, military, and police forces would suffer. In fact, we have a friend who whenever someone carps about high taxes to him, replies “Don’t like taxes? Move to Uganda. You won’t have taxes or roads there.”

Both Mr. Husband and I are exhausted, more than a little stressed, and considerably leaner in the wallet, but the taxes are in the mail. Night, ya’ll!

Photo by moneyblognewz used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Lessons Learned in Lent

The 40/40/40 Lent Challenge is history. I spent the week following Easter recovering from Holy Week, enjoying my family, and reflecting on the Lenten challenge to honor relationships, pare down possessions, and live more thankfully. It has been a busy time but a good one.

So what did I learn from my Lenten discipline this year?

1) I discovered that so many people have had an impact on my life and have shaped who I am today. I could spend a year writing notes and e-mails and still not exhaust the list! This tells me that virtually everyone with whom we come into contact has the potential to shape us for good (or ill). The key is to look for the best in others, to always be open to learning, and to accept the gifts others bring to your life. We do not live in isolation, and part of the joy of living is making and strengthening our web of connection and relationship.

2) I have too much stuff. It must replicate like guinea pigs in the night because there always seems to be more of it whenever I think I have cleaned out and cleared out my life and home.  Either that or I’m learning to live and be content with a whole lot less! Likely it is a combination of both! I’ll continue to dis-attach myself to as much stuff as possible and instead place value in people and experiences.

3) We all have so much for which to be thankful. Naming just one thing a day is like eating only one Lay’s potato chip or a single M & M. Splurge on gratitude; there’s no calories or fat, and the more you give thanks the fuller and richer your life will be.

Thank you for following along with me. I hope you’ll continue to stop in for more adventures in thanks-living. There’s always something for which to be grateful.

Peace and blessing!

Photos by Ben Gray, bradipo, and Nick Saltmarsh used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Unflinching Love & Dirty Floors

One of my friends and colleagues, David Hansen, wrote a fine blog entry reminding us all that today is not pre-Easter Saturday and that we shouldn’t fast forward to resurrection glee (even as we prepare the lamb and arrange the flowers). Click here to read his thoughts. David is right; today we are still in the midst of the passion; at least until that beautiful moment in this night’s Easter Vigil when the first joyous notes of Easter will sound. But that’s tonight, not right now.

For now we still wallow in the dark; after last night’s Good Friday worship, we are painfully aware of the brokenness that binds and blinds us to the face of Christ in our neighbors and in the strangers we encounter. We seek peace, yet reap discord. We crave love, but sow seeds of indifference and disdain. We desire to do good, and still our selfishness curves us inward and away from those who need us most. Yes, even though the sun is shining brightly outside my window, the very heart of darkness is present.

A young boy asked our Children’s Church leader last Sunday why Jesus had to die. Talk about a loaded question! Knowing her, I suspect she gave a good answer wrapped in love, yet his question has haunted me all week as I contemplate my Easter sermon.

Why? Why indeed did Jesus have to die? Oh, sure I can spout all the correct theological arguments and explanations, but at the heart level the question still cries out . . . why, why, why? The words sin, atonement, forgiveness, murder, evil, hatred, brokenness, and love are all engaging in a fierce round of cranial bumper-cars right now.

Another wise and wonderful pastor, Nadia Bolz Weber, offers a concise explanation of sin and forgiveness:

Because sin is just the state of human brokenness in which what we say and do causes these sometimes tiny and sometimes monstrous fractures in our relationships and in our earth and in our selves and in strangers and in those we love and sometimes even in our own bodies. Sin is the self curved in on the self. And it’s not something we can avoid entirely. Which is devastating.

And forgiveness of sins was just too close to the heart of Jesus for me to think it’s about some divine eraser in the sky letting me off the hook for being bad. I think forgiveness of sins is more about how Jesus saw the ugly truth of those around him and loved them in a way they could never love themselves.

That last sentence really hit the mark for me. Jesus, God Incarnate, sees the ugliness and darkness that I can’t erase from the deep recesses of my soul, and loves me anyway.Wow! This is truly wondrous love.

When I think of sin, I think about the kitchen floor I hate to mop. The linoleum has all these little grooves and depressions that catch the dirt and grime of daily living. No matter how diligently I swiffer and no matter how hard I scrub with a toothbrush on my hands and knees (and let me assure you that does NOT happen often), it is virtually impossible to remove all the dark trackings and leavings of the world. Yuck. I hate for people to see my dirty, dingy kitchen floor, yet it’s the room I love most in the house.

Jesus can look at the kitchen floor of my heart, and love me without flinching. That, my friends, is real love. This weekend, whether you celebrate the Creator’s love and continued redemption through the Passover or through the resurrection of the Christ, remember that you are loved–unflinchingly–by the One who created all things and called creation good. Now that’s worth some serious thanksgiving AND thanks-living!

Photo by quinnanya used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


The Dark Places

When I was a little girl, I was terribly afraid of the dark. I used to beg my parents to leave the hall light on outside my bedroom so that a shaft of light would fall across my bed from the partially open door. With the door ajar, I could also hear the reassuring sounds of their voices in conversation with each other along with the muffled prattle of the television. The light, the voices, and the mounds of stuffed animals arranged about me like some furry moat kept the darkness at bay until light from the window would signal a new day. All was well.

Tonight was the darkest night of the liturgical church calendar. We gathered for a community Good Friday service just as many other believers did in congregations around the world. The passion story was read in its entirety from John’s gospel. We sang the 22nd psalm. We journeyed through the Stations of the Cross as imaged by Food for the Poor, an ecumenical non-profit serving the marginalized in Latin America and the Caribbean. And we left our sorrows, hurts, sins, and pain at the foot of the cross. With strains of “Ah, Holy Jesus” echoing in our ears, we went silently into the night.

Yet amidst this dark night and the reality that our human brokenness would be party to the suffering and death of an innocent man, indeed of countless precious lives, the light of love is not extinguished. For even in the darkest recesses of our hearts, the love of God finds a way to shine, to seek, and to illumine us in mercy and grace.

Yes, we still have to walk into the dark places. We must open our eyes and look unflinchingly at the stench of sin and death. We must be willing to be changed by what we see. But we are not alone. The one who conquered death and darkness for all eternity journeys with us. The dark cannot quench His light.

Thanks be to God.

Photo by Glasgowamateur used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Give Thanks for Hands

Tonight we celebrated Maundy Thursday with a reminder to give thanks for hands that serve and hands that love. Jesus’ act of washing his disciples feet prior to their final Passover meal together was a focal point of the gospel reading (John 13:1-17, 31b-35). Modeling servant leadership for those who would carry on, Jesus also issued a command that they love one another. In effect, God made flesh illustrated what it means to serve and love, and he did this by using his hands in service to others.

Before coming to the table for Eucharist, those present had the opportunity to stop and dip their hands in the waters of the baptismal font and dry them on a towel held by a servant leader. (You have to understand that most Lutherans are rather reticent about exposing their feet for a ritual washing, but since “cleanliness is next to Godliness” we have no problem washing our hands!)

Not only did this simple act serve as a reminder that we were washed clean in baptism, it also illustrated the value of hands that serve others. So we washed, we ate and were strengthened, and we were sent to serve in the world. We are to love one another actively, using our hands for the good of our community and world.

Whose hands do you need to give thanks for? Perhaps your mother’s or father’s hands or maybe those of a grandparent. What makes their hands so remarkable? How do (or did) they use them in service to others? Close your eyes and see their hands before you.

Remember the words of Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! (NLT) How beautiful, too, are the hands that serve others in love!

Whether it is preparing food for a family gathering, holding a hurting child, mending clothes, tending a garden, preparing the altar for worship, or repairing a window in the church building, the hands that serve are beautiful indeed. Don’t forget to give thanks for hands!

Lent 40/40/40 Challenge

Honoring Relationships

I was saving him for last, but thinking about hands that serve reminds me to honor my spouse. He has amazing hands! They knead bread to keep our family fed, they are handy with household repairs or changing oil, they are creative as they tap, tap, tap on his computer keyboard, and they offer amazing back and neck rubs. Thank you, dear wonderful life partner, for using your hands to serve others, to show your caring and love, and to lift the bread and wine as the officiant at Christ’s holy meal. You are a treasure!

Giving Possessions

Have you ever read Sandra Cisnero’s short story “Eleven”? If not, I highly recommend it to you. Click here to read it online. I have a red sweater that has always sort of reminded me of the sweater in Cisnero’s story–even though it isn’t ratty like the one in the story. Well, today I’m finally releasing it from my closet to find a new home. Bye, bye red sweater!

Giving Thanks

Tonight I give thanks for hands. I give thanks for my mother’s hands that have held me and stroked my hair when I’m sad. I’m thankful for my father’s hands that worked so hard to provide for us. I’m thankful for my spouse’s hands as he kneads bread dough each week. I’m thankful for the hands of those in our faith community who do so much and serve so well. I am thankful to have two hands to put to good use in the service of others. Blessings abound!

Photo by Nojhan used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Promises, Promises

What do promises and hearts have in common? They’re meant to be kept but always end up broken. –Unknown

Peter blurted out, ‘Even if everyone else is ashamed of you when things fall to pieces, I won’t be.’ Mark 14:29 (The Message)

We make promises with the very best of intentions, and convince ourselves that we have the power to keep them. Just think of poor Peter, who pledged his unfailing allegiance to his beloved Rabbi Jesus, even though Jesus warned Peter that he would not be able to keep his word. The events of life and the brokenness of our human condition often get in the way.

If we were good at keeping promises the divorce rate would be virtually zero, friendships would flourish, and corruption in government would not begin when the campaign trail ends. Yes, promises are easy to speak but difficult to keep.

This sad reality does not mean we should never make promises. It simply serves to remind us how important it is to consider carefully our words, our intentions, and the path down which our promises may lead us. We cannot predict the future because we live in the present.

Choose carefully the way you word a promise. Consider saying “I will do my best to . . .” or “It is my intention to . . .” or “You have my word that I will do everything in my power to honor this commitment . . .” Promises built on trust and experience are more likely to be lived out, rather than those hastily spouted on the waves of emotion or hope.

Thankfully, Jesus forgave Peter, and in the end this bold-speaking and sometimes rash disciple became the rock solid stone on which the fledgling Christian faith community formed. Perhaps we need to work not only on keeping our promises but also on forgiving those who make pledges to us and fail. We will fail. We are imperfect creatures in the process of being perfected–stones being tumbled, smoothed, and polished. We will grate against one another, but in the process the grit of our interactions has the potential to craft us into better versions of ourselves, into the people our Creator intends us to be.

Be careful what you promise to another sojourner on this earth. Choose your words and actions carefully. Forge relationships that will stand the test of time and failure. Finally, forgive as you would be forgiven.

I can’t promise you the moon, or the stars, or even the prospect of tomorrow, but I can promise you that I am grateful to be alive and to be walking this journey of thanks-living with you. Most importantly, I can promise you that God is faithful and loves you without reservation and for all time.

Thank you for the gift of your time and for sharing a part of your life, too.

Peace and blessing!

Photos by Daquella Manera and By-Your used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Give Thanks for Good Health

Good health is something we take for granted until there’s a problem. It is often something we ignore by making poor choices. It is also something that is quite difficult to regain, if not impossible, once it is lost. I’m talking about good health.

Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139:14), and if we exercise proper care and live thankfully, we can usually enjoy good health and a good quality of life. It takes a little more effort and determination as the years go by, but with health one usually reaps what one sows.

Americans should be healthy, right? We have access to some of the best medical facilities, good food, plentiful water, and education. Unfortunately, even with these blessings, we are decidedly unhealthy as a nation. Click here to learn more about America’s health rankings (state by state).

Obesity is the number two cause of preventable death in the U.S. (Get America Fit Foundation). 60 million Americans age 20 and older are obese. Nine million children ages 6-19 are overweight. This dangerous trend is related to increases in many diseases and conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II diabetes, breast and colon cancer, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea, coronary disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis.

As a nation we are both overfed and undernourished and over-stressed and under-active. We have moved from an active agrarian and manufacturing economy toward a nation of couch potatoes who would rather drive two blocks than walk and who choose highly processed foods over simple healthy options. Despite the plethora of gyms, home exercise equipment and DVDs, and diet programs, we can’t seem to keep the weight off and our good health intact.

I’m a seven year breast cancer survivor. There is no direct history of this disease in my family. At the time I was diagnosed, I was a full-time graduate student working three part-time jobs and rearing two children as a recently-divorced single parent. My stress level was through the roof, my sleep and eating habits poor, and regular exercise was not a choice I made.  The aggressive cancer was a big wake-up call to me. If I was going to live to see both girls launched to adulthood, some things had to change and change fast.

I still tend to work too hard, but I am eating healthier, trying to remain active through walking and yoga, and striving to get adequate rest and hydration. I don’t smoke, and communion wine is about all the alcohol that passes my lips. It is still a struggle, but I continue to work at it.My weaknesses are too much coffee and a craving for salty snacks like pretzels and tortilla chips. I’m trying to blend in green tea daily and choose popcorn or fruit and veggies over the salty snacks.

I’m lucky; as an ELCA pastor, I have access to amazing health care, including strong health education, incentives, and preventative care. This is a good thing because clergy are among the most unhealthy segment of our population. We are the ones who should be setting a good example for parishioners and modeling good stewardship of self-care and solid health.  Lucky for me, I  have a spouse who shares similar values and who is trying to keep himself healthy for the long haul. It helps to have a partner in accountability!

How about you? Are you tending to your own health? Do you realize the importance of making good choices in food, exercise, and stress reduction? Do you know your risks? Are you doing all you can to minimize them?

Remember, you have this one precious life. Be sure to tend to your health, doing the best you possibly can to be a good steward of the gift of life with which you are entrusted. Ask yourself what one small step you can take this week that will either lead you to better health or augment the positive steps you are already taking. It’s your life; make the most of it, and remember to give thanks for the gift of good health!

Photo by Samuel Sharpe used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Stress Rx: Laughter!

Does the world have you wearied? Are you weighed down with trouble and woe? Want to lighten up? Then don’t forget to laugh. There are more than 40 mentions of laughter in the Bible, and a whopping 155 mentions of joy. Surely, no matter what the circumstance, one ought to be able to laugh at least once a day.

Having trouble laughing? Here are five suggestions to help:

1) Watch a British comedy

2) Play a game like “Apples to Apples” or “Pictionary”

3) Make faces at yourself in the mirror

4) Search out some funny YouTube videos

5) Play silly games with your cat or dog. It’s amazing how much fun you can have with a ball or flashlight and a furry friend or two.

I know I’ve written about the importance of keeping humor as part of one’s life regimen, but this is one thing that can’t be stressed too much. The antidote to a bad day may just possibly be a good laugh.

Knock, knock…

(Want to share a favorite joke or link to a funny video? We all need a laugh. Submit yours here, and I’ll draw one random winner for a surprise humorous gift.)

Photo by inottawa used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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