Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “joy”

The Year of Living Generously

Happy New Year

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.    Acts 2:46-47

It’s a new year, a new day filled with promise and possibility. What will you do with the minutes, hours, and days ahead? How will you shape and craft the time entrusted to you? How will you use your gifts and talents to make this world a better place?

I’m not talking about resolutions. Those are well and good if you make them, but our culture and human tendencies work against their care and keeping. I’m not even talking about goals. Setting goals is vital to achievement and essential to moving forward in ways that are productive and measurable.

What I hope to do–and I invite you to join me–is to commit to live intentionally and deeply into a fresh way of being for this new year. This year I want to build a life that is deliberately joyful and generous. I’m talking about a deep culture shift that begins on an individual level and ripples outward into community.

Living generously begins one person at a time, BUT…living generously has the power to change the world and to heal and cultivate relationships, one life at a time, one small group at a time, and one community at a time. It starts with you. It starts with me. It starts now.

The Year of Living Generously has two parts. First, I’ll be posting three to four times a week to offer ideas, share experiences, and plan and dream with you. I invite you to comment and share your ideas and experiences, too. Secondly, I invite you to participate in a Lenten discipline called With Glad and Generous Hearts. This 40-day faith-based study is designed with both individuals and groups in mind. It features daily reflections and questions for individual use, as well as a weekly group study. More information about how to participate will be available mid-January.

I hope you’ll consider joining me for the journey and will share this information with your friends and in your communities. Together we can craft a year of living generous lives, marked by prodigal love, and seasoned with gladness and joy.

For today I leave you with this thought:

Divine time is infinite and fluid. Human time is finite and marked by artificial constraints of our own creation. The key to a glad and generous life is to acknowledge our human reality while embracing and living into Divine (or Kairos) time. In doing so we have the potential to maximize our days and hours by living fully each precious moment.

Happy New Year! Blessings on the journey.

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Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

Seeing Sunflowers

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. — Henry David Thoreau

It is August, 2006. Dianne and I are taking our two middle-school-age children to summer camp. Dianne is making good time in her green sedan, deftly navigating a series of uncrowded eastern North Dakota highways. We haven’t known each other long, a few weeks at most, so this Sunday afternoon drive provides plenty of opportunity to move beyond the surface-level chatter that so often marks the early encounters of a developing friendship.

Despite the flow of easy conversation, I am distracted by the fields of ripening sunflowers that we pass along the way. Myriad bright yellow flowers dance with the breeze, exuding happiness, signaling summer, and signifying joy to me. The sight of row upon row of these butter-yellow beauties turning their heavy heads upward toward the sun captivates my imagination. I can’t take my eyes off of them.

To Dianne the sunflowers symbolize something entirely different–the reality that winter will soon return to the prairie with icy blast and frosty roar. I have not yet experienced a North Dakota winter, so Dianne’s association with these lovely golden flowers is a foreign one to me. Winter seems far away; August means humid, sweltering dog days and languorous summer nights to this Southern girl. A daughter of the prairie, Dianne also sees sunflowers in economic terms, as a crop to be monitored and assessed rather than the subject of a tourist’s photo shoot. Yes, of course she appreciates the sunflower’s beauty, but she “sees” something different, something beyond my field of vision on this bucolic August afternoon.

It is January, 2013, and I am sitting in my home office in Pennsylvania. I have just returned from North Dakota. It was not a pleasure trip, although it is always good to visit friends, breathe the prairie air, and revel in the vastness of the land and sky. This time I went to help lay to rest my dear friend Paula, to assist in honoring her life’s work and faith witness, and to mourn with friends and family her sudden and too-early passing. It is winter. It is cold. There are no sunflowers to cheer the spirit. Only snow and sadness cover the stalk-stubbled prairie fields.

I now “see” too keenly what Dianne sees in the sunflowers. The glorious brightness of the blossom is not the ultimate end. Winter comes with its darkness and desolation. Snow casts a funereal pall across the quiet earth. And winter comes also to our lives, as loss and loneliness cover the naked soil of the soul.

Yet winter will yield to spring, and a fresh crop of sunflowers will push their hardy shoots through the fragrant, freshly-turned prairie soil. Yes, the sunflowers will return again–hopeful, bright, trusting. And riotously joyous, always joyous. As the psalmist reminds us, “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5).

I’m told that North Dakota farmers are planting fewer and fewer fields of sunflowers. Nationwide; the USDA forecasts a drop of about eighteen percent in sunflower acres planted. It’s a crop that must be shared with birds, and there haven’t been as many price insurance options in recent years. Other crops promise better yield and more favorable return, so naturally there may be fewer fields of flowers. Farming, like life, is rife with risk. The only truly certain thing is the present moment, and each moment is a seed of hope ready to be sown.

I will again plant sunflowers this spring in Pennsylvania. In fact, I will plant more than last year’s few token plants. I want to see an abundance of those sturdy stalks balancing massive flowering heads, heavy with seed and promise. Planting and tending them is an act both of defiant joy and of fond remembrance:  defiant joy from “seeing” them not as a harbinger of winter and desolation but rather of creation’s beauty and God’s abundance, and also as a fond remembrance of my Dakota days and some very dear friends.

Reflect:

What do you “see” when you gaze upon a field of sunflowers? What might you need to “see” differently?

Photos by travelmanitoba, DJ Flickr, Daniel Knecht, hulio82, and one sharp eye. Thanks!

Don’t Worry…Be Grateful!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? — Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

Yesterday I wrote about fear and how it can prevent one from living a life of joy and thanks-living. Today I want to address one of fear’s first cousins–worry. Fear and worry like to hang out together. There’s safety in numbers and misery, too.

Worry prevents a person from fully enjoying and embracing life. This emotion refuses to live in the present. While it rarely dwells long in the past, it looks to the future with an anxious eye and hesitant air. Worry’s favorite words are “What if…?” It loves to ask questions like “What if there’s not enough money?” and “What if I lose my job?” or “What if I get really sick?” or even “What if the sky falls tomorrow?”

Unless you’re closely related to Chicken Little, you have no business embracing worry as a bosom buddy or “kissin’ cousin.” Throw worry right out the door. NOW! Worry does not have your best interests at heart and certainly doesn’t want you to live joyfully and thankfully in the present moment.

Worrying about the future will not likely change anything; instead, you’ll only miss or fail to enjoy the present. And let’s face it folks; the present moment is the only one we have control over.

So skip the worry. Live mindfully in the present. Enjoy what you’ve been given. Determine that you have enough, that you are blessed abundantly, and that you have much to share with and give to others. Life is good, God is good, and you are good enough, too.

And now for something a little bit different…

If you still doubt it and feel inclined to worry, then take a listen to this classic rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. See if you can identify the two other guys in the video. (Sorry about the ad. You can click to skip it after five seconds.)

Photo by Elizabeth Audrey. Thanks!

Beginning…Again

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. […] And to make an end is to make a beginning.         — T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding”

Happy New Year! How are you spending the first day of the rest of your life? What is your state of mind? To whom have you said, “I love you”? What will you do with this one precious day?

Part of living a life of thanks-living is being mindful of each day and the gifts–great and small–that present themselves to you and that you present to others. The beginning of a new calendar year is traditionally a time for resolutions and hopefulness. How about mindfulness?

What if…instead of resolving to lose weight, make more money, save more money, find the right partner, get a better job, write that best-selling novel, or whatever else you might want to achieve…what if you simply resolved to be mindful of each precious moment? What if you promised to try and be aware of the gift of each day, one day at a time?

Sure, planning is a good thing, but we twenty-first century, multi-tasking, over-booked, under-capitalized humans tend to get so caught up in looking backwards and forwards that we forget to look straight ahead into the moment. Hey, I’m as guilty as anyone else.

Instead of a resolution this year, I’m simply going to try to live each and every day as if it is the only day I have. After all, we never know how much time we do have, so let’s try to make the most of it. So…

  • Let’s put relationships first and stuff last.
  • Let’s take care of the body we’ve been given by eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
  • Let’s look at our work as good and valuable and do the best possible job we can at whatever we do. If you don’t feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, work mindfully at following your passions. If you live and work well, the living will follow.
  • Let’s focus on giving and sharing rather than amassing and hoarding, and
  • Let’s cultivate and nurture our sense of the holy, the spiritual, and the good (what I call faith).

As 2012 ends, however the year was for you, let’s embrace the new beginning of 2013 and make it 365 single days of joy and thanks-living. I look forward to the journey!

Want a little inspiration? Check out this You Tube video:

Photo by Sally Mahoney. Thanks!

If You’re Happy and You Know It…

You can choose to be happy. No matter your state or station in life, if you look at each day with hope, love, and and open mind/heart/soul, you will find a blessing somewhere. String those little pearls of blessing one by one on the necklace of your life, and soon you will find that happiness has been hanging around all along.

No, not every day is a happy day. Sadness, pain, and loss are a part of the human condition, and none of us are immune, but even in the midst of grief one can experience a spark of joy, a happy memory, and the love of friends and family.

According to dictionary.com, happiness “results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good.” When one approaches life from the perspective of “thanks-living,” of looking for the good in all areas of life and giving thanks for the blessings ones experiences and shares with others, then happiness, well, happens.

The key to happiness is to look for the good in all things and in all people, to be contented with oneself and in one’s situation, and to love without reserve or measure. You and I, dear friends, possess the key to unlock the door behind which happiness lies. Be grateful for this fact and live into it. Make lemonade out of life’s lemons, and write your own happy ending. Don’t let doubt and despair rain on your parade.

Peace, blessing, and happiness to you this day!

Lenten 40/40/40 Update for Day 13:

Honoring Relationships

Today I give thanks for another North Dakota friend — Paula. She is a strong woman who possesses a beautiful, generous, and kind spirit. No stranger to pain and grief, Paula nonetheless finds happiness, contentment, and meaning in her life. She gives of her time and resources generously and doesn’t meet  a stranger. She loves her family and friends dearly. Thanks for being you, Paula! Knowing you has made me a better me.

Giving Possessions

Today it’s time to give away some music CDs. Since my iPod is now synched to my spouse’s, I have no need for duplicates and choose to share (legally, of course!).

Thanksgivings

Today was a gorgeous sun-drenched March day in south-central PA. How glorious it was to simply marvel at the budding trees and daffodils straining to bloom. Thanks to the God of all creation for making such bright beauty possible.

For Further Reflection…

How have you created happiness today? What has brought you joy?

Photo by donireewalker used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for the Promise of a New Morning

Some days are just plain rotten. I bet you have experienced a few days that you’d rather not repeat. You know the kind — the only news you hear seems to be bad news, you’re overbooked and overwhelmed, and if one more thing goes wrong you think you just might throw a hissy fit.

How is it possible to be thankful in the midst of a horrible, rotten, really bed, no good, terrible day? (Hmmmm….seems like I remember a children’s book about a day like that.) Is it possible to redeem some good from the ashes of awful?

The answer, thankfully, is yes. First of all, honor the fact that you have truly had a really, really bad day. Commit that day to the past. Grieve whatever losses or pain you have suffered. Don’t deny the doldrums and dismay. Finally, remember the words of the psalmist “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30b).

You may not have the certainty that tomorrow will be a good day, but you can close your eyes in the reality of the promise of a new morning and the chance for better hours. Your Creator desires good for you and wants to clothe you with joy. If you can’t give thanks for the day, then do give thanks for the promise of another one that just may be better.

Peace and blessing to you and yours! May your Friday be the beginning of a wonderful weekend capped by a restful and praise-filled Sabbath.

Thanks-living Activity

Spend some time reading and praying with Psalm 30. Savor the words of praise and hope. Know that your Creator is near to you now and always, even in the midst of pain and suffering.

Photo by David Shankbone used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Words for the Week & a Contest

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Paul knew a thing or two about thanks-living. He faced some pretty tough circumstances and even managed to be cheery in prison. Seems like his tri-fold admonition is a potent recipe for experiencing a daily attitude of gratitude.

How about a little thanks-living challenge this week? As you ponder St. Paul’s words, live them out by doing these three things:

1.  Find reason to laugh and be joyful each day.

2.  Pray as often as you’re moved to do so during the day. It doesn’t have to be formal and fancy, just a conversation with the Creator at any time in any place.

3.  Finally, find at least one (but hopefully more) reason to give thanks and/or say thank you to someone every day.

Are you up for the challenge? Here’s a little incentive…

Sometime between now and next Sunday (12/18) post a response to this blog entry about your experience with the challenge.  If you do, you’ll be entered in a random drawing to win a package of DaySpring thank you notes (a handy thing to have this time of year). Each response is one entry, so feel free to post throughout the week. If you’re not already a subscriber, you’ll need to post your e-mail so I can let you know if you’ve won.

Have a great week of gratitude and thanks-living!

Photo by tshien used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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