Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the category “Relationships”

Precious in God’s Eyes

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The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes. 
–Psalm 116:15 (Common English Bible)

I attended the funeral of one of our retired pastors this weekend and also learned of the death of a dearly beloved former parishioner. In both cases I was reminded of the briefness of our time here on earth in contrast to the vastness of eternity, along with the impact both of these dear saints had in their respective communities. I did not know the retired pastor; I’m relatively new to this area and to my particular call to serve, but the pastor and family did a wonderful job in word, in song, and in presence of painting a vivid picture of this pastor, father, grandfather, husband, friend, and faithful disciple.

By contrast, I had come to know, to appreciate, and to love Virginia. She was one of those dear saints of God with a twinkle in her eye, a prayer in her heart, and a smile and kind words on her lips. Whenever I visited her in the nursing home, I cam away feeling like I was the one who had been ministered to in the short time of our visit. Oh, and she could tell some powerfully good stories–from her childhood, about our parish, and about her contentment in life and love for her family.

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Early on in my ministry in that small central Pennsylvania parish, Virginia took a fall and almost lost her life. Yet this strong woman rallied. She never quiet got back to her pre-fall physical condition, and the anesthesia and severity of the fall fuzzied things ever so slightly for her, but she was not one to complain. Yes, Virginia knew a thing or two about thanksliving, about how to be grateful for life in all circumstances.

“…for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11b-13 (Common English Bible)

Like Paul wrote to his dear disciples in Philippi, Virginia was strong in her conviction that she would be content with whatever life brought. After it became clear that she would not be able to return home and live independently, she determined to make her room “home in every way.” The staff loved her. She often had half a dozen visitors gathered around her on a Sunday afternoon. And she smiled and made the best of it–even on the rare days when the clouds of physical pain shadowed her face.

One day she told me “I have been trying to remember what my kitchen looks like, and I just can’t any more. I can picture some things, but…” she paused. “I guess it doesn’t matter. This is my home now, and I don’t want my children to feel any guilt about me being here. This is where I need to be.” And how do you answer that as her pastor? There aren’t really any adequate words for that kind of grace-filled living. You just tuck away the lesson and pray you’ll be able to approach life with the same bold resoluteness when it comes your time to “downsize.”

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Virginia also knew more than a few things about love. She taught me some wonderful lessons about the power of the human spirit to adapt, to accept, and to thrive. She was way ahead of her time when it came to issues of inclusion and social justice. Her approach to such issues was always wrapped in love and the sure and certain knowledge that her Lord didn’t come to judge the world but to save it (John 3:16-17) and that love covers pretty much everything. Oh, and with her love for flowers and all things living, she took to heart the words that God created everything and proclaimed it “good.”

Now lest you think I’m painting a grief-tinted overly positive picture of this dear saint, let me put your mind to rest. I also spent time with Virginia when she was in deep pain, when she was afraid, and maybe even once or twice a bit miffed and irritated. She was, just like the rest of us, simultaneously saint and sinner, but nonetheless redeemed and being made righteous with every passing day.

And now she, like so many beloved saints before her, has attained the prize, has taken that one step we all have to take alone, and has crossed into eternity and the vast cosmos that cannot begin to contain the love and mercy of God. She’s on that mountain with a feast spread before her in the presence of God. There is no more crying, no more pain, no more sorrow. She has what we who are still here only grasp at and see dimly by our fragile faith.

Her death–passing from this life to eternity–leaves a hole, a rip in the fabric of all whose lives she touched. Her family, friends, and fellow disciples will mourn, and that includes me. Yet, at the same time, I for one will give fervent thanks for her life and for the lessons she taught simply by being Virginia. Thanks be to God for all the strong women and men who are now part of that great cloud of witnesses. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Photos: Internet Book Archive, Creative Commons

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Just Breathe…and be Generous

The car hemorrhage

Bye, bye transmission!

Some days it can be tough to live with a spirit of generosity. Things happen. Details derail. Complications come up. What’s that old saying about the best laid plans?

It’s when our carefully laid plans or hopes and dreams are sidetracked that generosity becomes even more difficult. We look inward and focus on what’s wrong or what did not go as planned. Ironically, it’s at these frustrating moments in life when a spirit of generosity can be even more important.

Try this: The next time something inconvenient derails your daily plans, take a deep breath and take stock of your situation. Are you safe? Are you alive (well obviously if you’re doing this exercise)? Was anyone hurt? Will the world as you know it end because of what happened?

Most of the time the answer to all of these questions will put you in a frame of mind to be grateful–or at least help you to reflect on the situation more realistically. So your friend had to cancel lunch; maybe the dog could use an extra walk or you could use some quiet time. Maybe locking your keys in the car really isn’t the end of the world. Even not getting that job you thought you wanted so badly might have a silver lining before you realize it.

So how is this being generous? By being generous with yourself and with the situation, you allow yourself to be present in the moment. You open yourself to the possibility of thankfulness. You become aware of options that could have been oh so much worse.

A few weeks ago, my husband’s transmission blew in the driveway. It looked like a scene from “Garage CSI” complete with an undercarriage “bleed-out.” We had just moved to a new neighborhood and started new jobs. Fortunately, my husband caught one of our new neighbors at home who recommended a good garage and an excellent mechanic.

Getting to know this new mechanic has been a real blessing. He’s done an awesome job–both with putting in a good used transmission and with getting the transmission on our other car back in good order, too. Yes, we ended up spending what for us was a LOT of money. Yet as we look back and reflect on the situation we feel incredibly grateful. If this had happened a few months ago we might not have had the income stream to address it so readily. If the car had blown somewhere else, we might never have met this fine mechanic.We are grateful, and feeling grateful inspires us to be more generous in other ways because we recognize the extent of our blessings.

The flow of generous spirit–from my spouse who didn’t allow the situation to unsettle him, to the neighbor who was willing to help, to the mechanic who did amazing work–that same spirit of goodness and blessing keeps rolling on today and helps us to give thanks every day for our lives, for our blessings, and for the ability we have to make a difference for others by paying these blessings forward.

Ready for chemo in 2004 with a pony tail for Locks of Love

Chemo-bound in ’04 with ponytail for Locks of Love

Sure, not every situation can be solved as easily as a Chrysler van transmission, but even a grave illness or major life loss can be an opportunity to experience the amazing flow of generosity that’s part of life when we let it be. I can honestly look back almost a decade ago and say that my experience with breast cancer has left me with a more generous spirit, a more grateful heart, and joys I could have never imagined at the time of diagnosis.

So, dear friends, when life “gets your goat” and threatens to plan a pity party for you, STOP. Just breathe. Allow the spirit of generosity, of being present in the moment, and the joy of being alive wash over you. You, with the help of friends, neighbors, and the Creator of the Universe, can handle anything–somehow, some way. And looking back in that proverbial “rear view mirror” of experience, I can promise the perspective will probably look a whole lot different than it did in the midst of whatever happened. It may not be perfect (it might really stink), but you will find blessings. In turn, you can be generous with others and make this world a much better place.

Blessings on the new week that lies ahead.

Giving Time

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Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. — Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Rick Warren is spot on when he says time is our most precious gift. Money comes and goes (too often it seems to go!), but time is finite and cannot be regained, reinvented, or recaptured. Time is the Creator’s precious gift to us, so how we choose to spend our time also says something about our understanding of this gift with which we have been entrusted.

Remember those Mastercard commercials that illustrated the priceless nature of spending time on relationships? They ended with “For everything else, there’s Mastercard.” Being generous with time is foundational to cultivating and nurturing relationships. The gift of time is critical to keeping a marriage or partnership strong. Time spent with children is love made visible. Time invested in strengthening one’s faith life and spiritual relationships is of eternal importance.

We have no way of knowing how much time we have left to live on this earth–how long this phase of our eternal journey will last. Therefore, steward time wisely. Give it generously. Treat it with the care it deserves. Do with your time what really matters. Don’t squander and fritter it away on frivolous activities.

Here are seven suggestions for how to be generous with your time:

1. Call someone you love who lives in another town or state. Really listen to them. Don’t have an agenda. Don’t set a time limit. Let that person know how much you care even though you can’t be there in person.

2. Devote an entire evening or day to your partner. Put away the work. Take a digital sabbatical. Talk. Laugh. Love.

3. Have a “date night” with your child. Even if you would really rather not go to Chuck-e-Cheese or play yet one more game of hide-and-go-seek do it. Be there. Be fully present. These are the kinds of things your children will remember more than what was under the Christmas tree from Toys-r-Us.

4. Go to worship regularly. Make this a priority for spending your time. Not only are you giving God your best, you are setting an example for others and walking the walk.

5. Invite friends over for a meal. You don’t have to do anything extravagant; just get together. Try a potluck or progressive dinner.

6. Give time to your favorite charity. Work in the soup kitchen or food pantry. Play with the dogs and cats in the animal shelter. Visit the elderly in your local nursing home. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Do something for others.

7. Read a book. It’s a vacation for your mind. Reading isn’t your thing? then do something for yourself other than veg out in front of the television. Go for a hike. Ride horse. Plant flowers. Work out at the gym. You matter, too. If you don’t take care of your physical and emotional health, you won’t be much good at giving time to others.

Thanks for taking time to read this post. This is my gift to you. Time is precious. Thanks for spending some of yours with me. Blessings on the journey!

Photo: kojotomoto, Creative Commons

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