Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “love”

Nurture Relationships

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you were able to tell the ones you love how very much you love them. Better yet, I hope you were able to show your love in a variety of simple, kind, and generous ways.

So what does Valentine’s Day have to do with keeping a simple Lent? The answer is nothing and everything. The commercial celebration we are urged and guilted into celebrating has nothing to do with Lent. The idea of love–of God, neighbor, and self–has everything to do with today.

…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. — Mark 12:30-31

A simple Lent begins with tending to those things most important in our lives–God, neighbor, and self. Our fast-paced hyper-connected world tries to tell us that many things demand our attention, our time, and our money; however, this is a lie.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:21

Our needs as human beings are quite simple–food, shelter, clothes, and relationships. If we strip away all the extraneous “stuff” of life and focus on the basics, then life begins to look quite different. We find ourselves equipped to really live each precious minute.

Whoever and whatever you value–that’s where your time, your attention, your focus, your money, and your heart will be. To keep a Simple Lent spend some time this week reflecting on the three scripture passages above and on whom and what you treasure.

Choose wisely; if you do not, your heart will surely be fragmented, broken, and battered by the storms of this world.

Photo by Alice Popkorn. Thanks!

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Hungry

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — Mother Teresa

Last night a teenager in the school district where the church I serve is located completed suicide. Evidently she posted her intentions on Facebook. I don’t know the details, and I didn’t know the young woman, but I do understand the incredible hunger for love, acceptance, and appreciation that so many people feel.

Not everyone has strong families, wide networks of support and friendship, and vibrant faith communities to combat the pain, emptiness, and utter loneliness of depression, bullying, addictions, or difference. Life can be really, really hard.

My heart hurts for this young woman, for her family, her friends, all who knew her at school, and for the community left behind trying to make sense of this deep sadness and painful loss of a life cut short. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, five children or teens commit suicide each day. That’s a lot of pain and hunger for love and acceptance.

My prayer and hope is that we would all find ways to feed those who are hungry both in body and spirit. May we seek ways to be more compassionate and merciful. And may we make our schools and houses of worship safe spaces where all may be fed–without judgment and with open arms.

Thanks-Living Action

Beginning tomorrow consider doing three things each day:

1. Tell the people you love that you love them. Really look at them. Smile. Give them the gift of your time and attention.

2. Do at least one kind act for a stranger. Spread kindness and compassion lavishly; in doing so you will make the world just a little bit better.

3. Do something kind for someone you find difficult to love. Listen to that person. Try to see life from his or her perspective. Remember that your smile or kind word may be a lifesaver to someone in the midst of despair or loneliness.

And remember these words…

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.  ― Thomas Merton

…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

Photo by tjook and Charles Kremenak. Thanks!

Faith in One Another

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I’ve given up on so and so. It/he/she just isn’t worth the effort anymore.” It might be a friend, a faith community, an organization, or even a family member. Or maybe you’ve been privy to conversations about the dire state and depravity of humankind in general. When the mind starts spiraling in this direction, it becomes easy to become “oh, so negative,” as my friends Allen and Sally are fond of saying.

Of course, negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts, and pretty soon the person thinking them becomes a real “Debbie Downer.” Think, I’m exaggerating? Try this little experiment: for 24 hours watch nothing but news channels (FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or any other 24-hour news outlet or combination thereof). I guarantee you’ll feel more agitated, negative, and nervy than before you began.

Instead, vow to believe in the innate goodness of humankind, indeed of all creation. For folks who read the Torah or Old Testament, the first chapter of Genesis repeatedly chronicles the Creator proclaiming the creation “good” and “very good.” That means God doesn’t create bad, broken stuff.

Sure, we can get bumped, scuffed, scraped, and broken as we journey through life. Some folks are REALLY broken and as a result do horrible things to innocent people. Some individuals act just plain mean. Evil is very real. Still…for the good of all  of us, I believe we must never, ever give up faith in humankind. Gandhi’s words are every bit as true today as they were when he first spoke/wrote them.

Or as the unknown Johannine teacher wrote in 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).

Believe in the presence of good and in the restorative power of love. Keep the faith–and the faith in each other.

Thanksliving Action:

Need some positive information? Check out dailygood.org for good news that inspires and uplifts.

Photo by lel4nd. Thanks!

The Power of Blessing

The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and cherish you.

May God shield you on every steep,

May Christ aid you on every path,

May Spirit fill you on every slope,

On hill and on plain.

May the king shield you in the valleys,

May Christ aid you on the mountains,

May Spirit bathe you on the slopes,

In hollow, on hill, on plain,

Mountain, valley and plain.

— from the Carmina Gadelica (484–577)*

There is real power in blessing one another, and it’s a  power we too often fail to harness. In a world that can weary and batter the soul, a blessing offered in love and truth restores and revives the spirit.

A colleague in ministry posted on Facebook how her young daughter came to her after a particularly difficult day and offered her a blessing. This intuitive child understood the power of blessing her mother, a simple yet profound act that this mother and pastor will ponder in her heart for years to come even though her daughter may remember it only from her mother’s recounting of the story.

When was the last time you offered someone a blessing? When was the last time you received one from someone other than a pastor, priest, or rabbi?

The world would be a far better place if we would reclaim the art of blessing one another. Blessing transcends the boundaries and forges connections. Whether you actively practice a life of faith or whether you simply believe in the inherent goodness of creation and humankind, try adding one simple blessing a day, even if it is only one whispered under your breath–a silent wish that someone will have a good day, a good life, and all good things. Bless the one who cuts you off in traffic. Bless the emergency responders when you hear the fire alarm or see the flashing lights. Bless your life’s partner and your children. Bless your parents. Bless. Bless. Bless. You cannot go wrong wishing good on another.

*From Wikipedia: The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, runes, and other literary-folkloric poems and songs collected and translated by amateur folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1855 and 1910. (Thanks to Daniel Clendenin of Journey with Jesus for posting this lovely poem/blessing!)

Photos by Bless_Pictures and Evelyn Giggles. Thanks!

Longest Night

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. — John 1:5

Read:  John 1:1-9, 14

Ponder:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reflect:

Well, the world didn’t end today. Surprise! Surprise! It was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in south central Pennsylvania it was a chilly, gray day complete with a few snow flurries. Night settled in all too fast, and the wind has been howling through the screens ever since.

The good news is that in a few hours, dawn will break. It may be another gray winter day, but the promise of shorter nights and warmer days begins tomorrow. The darkness will never permanently be with us. There is always hope and light and love.

Thanks-Living:

Give thanks for the light. Do something today to spread a little light and a little love. It can be as simple as a smile or as generous as a gift of time or resources. You know the needs; you can be that light.

Photo by Balaji Dutt. Thanks!

Thanks Enough

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Read: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Ponder:

“For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.” — William Blake

Reflect:

Committing to a life thanks-living means expressing thanks in all conditions and at all times. The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being thankful in any situation. Even while imprisoned in Rome with an uncertain future, Paul still found time to give thanks for the communities he had helped to mentor on his missionary journeys.

The baser side of our human nature encourages us to think of what we do not have. Whatever is bad, sad, or ugly in our lives floats to the surface like toxic flotsam. It clouds the waters of our perception and prevents us from seeing all the blessings of God.

Today try to see the world through Paul’s eyes. If that doesn’t work for you, read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work.  I recommend The Cost of Discipleship for starters. Click here to read excerpts. To read an inspiring story about finding the best in the worst of situations, click here to read the story of two men who forged a friendship from the ashes of anger and death. If your thoughts turn to the negative, take a deep breath and find something to praise or something for which to be thankful. Remember that you are where you are and who you thanks to the work, love, and sacrifice of many others, including Jesus who gives you life forever.

Thanks-Living:

Today make a list of people and things for which you are thankful. Give thanks to God for your many blessings. Call or write one person on your list to let them know that you prayed for them and give joyful thanks for them. Take delight in the life you have this day.

Lift

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To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. /O my God, in your I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. — Psalm 25:1-2

Read: Psalm 25:1-5

Ponder:

“He came down from heaven” can almost be transposed into “Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned? — C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Reflect:

Yes, light walks the earth so that we can lift our weary faces and souls to the LORD and be renewed. Despite the shortening of the days and longer shadows of night, the bright, crisp morning light dawns to cheer and warm. Turn your face to the light. Lift up your soul to the Creator of atoms and ants, mountains and molecules, water and wonder. Can you feel it in your bones? Listen. Do you hear the breathe of heaven and hum of creation? The LORD of Word and Light is drawing you–and all of creation–into pure love. The days are surely coming when all will be made new.

Lift your soul. Lift your heart and hurts and hopes. Lift your hands in praise and prayer. The Advent of the LORD is here. God is with you. God has always been and will be, speaking and spinning the cosmos into a web of redemption. And you, you dear child, are being lifted into that coming reality. God quickens and readies the Christ child to enter again into the manger of your heart. Kindle the fires of this season of waiting and preparation and anticipation. Put your trust in the Light that the powers, principalities, and darkness of this age cannot overcome. Wait this day with a glad and thankful heart. Your salvation draws near.

Thanks-Living:

Resolve to avoid all that seeks to separate you from the Light of Creator God on this second day of Advent. Take several mini-breaks to pray, breath, look, and listen. See how that last leaf hangs tenaciously on the branch outside your window. Observe the joy of a child at play. Savor a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Tell as many people as you can that you love them.

Lift and be lifted. Make this a day of waiting–all day long–anticipating and expecting the Divine presence to lead you.

Photo by martinak15. Thanks!

The Basics

This past Saturday my spouse and I, along with a couple of really cool women from his congregation, had the privilege of preparing and serving the noon meal at the Gettysburg Area Soup Kitchen. Another generous family from the same congregation funded the purchase of the food.

We made Sloppy Joes (a.k.a barbeques) from scratch, and served them with salad and chips, and homemade peach pie and zucchini bread for dessert. We served 36 people, a dozen of whom were young children. Including the four of us, 40 good meals were enjoyed.

Some of the dinner guests share their stories; others choose not to divulge much about their personal lives. Medical difficulties are a common theme, and several of the guests have chronic conditions that compromised their livelihoods and ability to work or have been devastated financially by healthcare costs. One guest was dealing with a medical issue but had no health insurance. Among the guests were single parents–both male and female, white and of color. The youngest guest was a toddler, and the oldest appeared to be several years past retirement. All were courteous, polite, and gracious.

It was humbling to realize that it is only by the grace of God and the help of family and friends that I was able to serve. Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time I was in seminary, had just gone through a rough divorce, and was rearing two daughters with no child support. I was riding the razor edge of financial insecurity, but thankfully many hands and hearts helped us through that rough time. We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, work to do, and more than enough. It was tough sledding for awhile, but we were among the fortunate ones. Not all are so lucky, and times are even tougher now.

It’s too easy to make sweeping generalizations about poverty and those who live close to the margins. When we do, however, we don’t see the whole picture or learn the story behind the person. The New York Times featured a fine photo essay about homelessness on Sunday, and the latest edition of American Life in Poetry featured a striking poem by Minne Bruce Pratt entitled “Temporary Job.” Both the photos and poem help put a face on a complex issue and remind us that each person, regardless of station in life, is a beloved child of the Creator of the universe.

Mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity, and relationship are among the world’s greatest needs. Yes, we all need the basics–food, water, and shelter–but we need more to thrive. We need each other, the richest and the poorest among us. We have much to learn from one another, and all of us have something important to share and contribute. When we stand (or sit at the table) together as equal partners and children of the Creator amazing things can happen.

Small acts of kindness can spread sweet like honey between the most unlikely of folks. Sloppy Joes shared with strangers and friends can be a feast of love and grace. When hearts and minds are open barriers fall away and basic human dignity blurs the lines between serving and receiving. That is how it should be; all of us need to give generously, and all of us need to learn to receive gratefully. Above all, we need to learn to love and serve one another lavishly. That just about covers the basics, doesn’t it?

(Photos courtesy kirinqueen and sblezard. Thanks!)

Thankful for Wonderful YOU!

‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’ ~Buddha

Jesus replied: “Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

You deserve to be thankful for yourself today–and every day. You are a child of the Creator, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are unique. You were created for a purpose. You are intended to grow and thrive, to live and love, to laugh and give, to create and participate.

As the two faith traditions (Buddhism and Christianity) quoted above agree, it is important to love yourself. Only when you love and accept yourself for who you are can you truly love others.

So when the days seem rough, and you wonder whether you are worthy, special, or worth loving, take heart. You ARE wonderful. Live into your potential. Value your self so that you may value others, serve others, and love this beautiful yet broken world.

Today I am thankful for wonderful YOU! Blessings on your day, your life, and your relationships.

Photo by Julie McLeod used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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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