Monday, July 26, 2010

A Lifetime of Giving Thanks


holy experience

One of the joys (and there are many) of my life in this season as a mother-in-law, has been watching each of my daughters-in-love cultivate the discipline of intentional gratitude in their lives and the lives of their children.  I see it in lists on their walls and blogs, in creative yet simple thank you notes with the children, and hear it from their lips.  It gives me joy because thanksgiving has made such a huge difference in my life. 

Looking back over these past almost 35 years of living, loving, and learning with my husband and family, I think intentional thanksgiving would make my top 3 list of "it-has-changed-my-life-time-and-time-again" disciplines.  Deliberately expressing gratitutde for the big and small gifts and challenges in my life has gotten me out of a funk, out of a negative, complaining or self-centered attitude more times than I can rememember.  Thanksgiving has broken through at times when all other mental gymnastics proved powerless.  Thanksgiving: It does a body good.

I realized when Amber began posting her deliberate thanksgiving on her blog a few weeks ago, that it was probably time for me to move back into the discipline of frequent, deliberate thanksgiving instead of waiting for it to overtake me with joy.  So I am beginning today to keep my word  to join the Multitude Monday community.   

I am so grateful:
1.  for life...multitudes of people do not make it to 55.  I am thankful for abundant health.
2.  for my husband...he has continued to love me through all the seasons of our 35 years of marriage

3.  for my two grown sons...they are wonderful men and husbands and fathers...and it is  such fun to getting to know them in this season as "friend" in addition to "son"

4.  for my two beautiful, intelligent, and loving is such a delight getting to know them, and they are both teaching me things and expanding my view of the world through their unique views, gifts, and skills

5.  for my four grandchildren....for the health they (and we) have, for the joy and learning they bring to our lives

I am so grateful:
6.  to have been born in this great country, with all its freedoms and promise and people
7.  to have been born to incredibly loving and nurturing parents
8.  that my parents moved to Florida in my childhood, 
9.  and for all the opportunity of a new life that came our way with their move
10. for the church family that welcomed and nurtured me and my family all the rest of my childhood and youth, for the strong foundation of belief and trust that was laid

I give thanks:
11.  for the safety I had growing up...I never feared that my parents would hurt me or neglect to feed me

12.  for living in a place of abundant sunshine 
13.  and green growing things

14.  and tropical plants wearing such glorious foliage of outrageous colors 

15.  that I live so close to the beach I can be there in 20 minutes by bike

I am grateful:
16.  for my bicycles
17.  for the Pinellas trail
18.  for bike lanes on the beach
19.  for padded biking shorts for those long rides
20.  for moisture-wicking exercise wear that I come close to wearing 16 hours a day during this menopausal season of life

I am thankful:
21.  for the legacy of a gentle heart and contented spirit from my father...somehow he managed to sidestep the alcoholism that had cornered his father and replace it with gentle patience

22.  my mother, also, modeled contentment, gentleness and patience with us 

22.  for the gift of opening our eyes to appreciate beauty from my parents by continually taking us to parks, walking trails with us, pointing out things of wonder in nature

23.  that I live now within a half mile from a wonderful park

24.  for the amazing abundance and variety of birds in my of these days I will do a post of just bird pictures

25.  for the tadpoles that grew to froghood in my front porch fountain this past month

I am so grateful:
26.  that I can life has been immeasurably enriched
27.  that I have had the chance to read so many amazing books
28.  that biographies and memoirs have opened my eyes to see the world from others' eyes
29.  for computers and 
30.  four-in-one printers and
31.  digital cameras and
32.  amazing software and
33.  cell phones (even though my husband insists he can never reach me when he needs me)
34.  the world-wide web with all the innovation and staying in touch and sharing of knowledge it has spawned
35.  for the much to learn, so many people to enjoy

holy experience

Friday, July 16, 2010

Stones of Remembering

A week ago when Amber invited us to join her on "Journey of Faith Friday"s, to set out memorial stones from the rivers of our lives for others to see and, hopefully, be encouraged and conclude that "God is great, God is good, God is faithful", I began sifting through my memories to see if I came across anything in my life that still, in my estimation, qualified as a "memorial stone to God's faithfulness and power" and which I was willing to, with much effort, lug out of the river and put out on the bank for anyone who happened by to see, walk around, kick, or stub their toe on.  

I'd started piling up memorial stones in earnest in my twenties.  I married at 20, immersed myself in theological, historical, and christian education studies at Asbury College and in practice of those studies within the Wilmore Free Methodist Church for two years.  I gave birth to our first son when I was 23, and our second when I was 25.  I thought a lot about setting up memorial stones in my life, which my sons would see or bump against and ask about, and which might remind me of God's faithfulness if ever I lost my way in the dark.  I started gratitude lists in my journals while in college, and they spilled over to the walls of our small home when Kyle and Sam were small.  For decades I kept recording my struggles with life as well as my pleas for help and the answers and guidance and help I felt God offered.  

Perhaps after I have submitted to Amber's proposed discipline of writing testimonies of God's power, love and faithfulness for a few months, the stones from my river will come up easily, anxious to display their witness.  But in this season of my life, they are not easily removed from their bed of gravel and rock, so it is probably good for me that Amber is assigning topics, this first being what we see as the beginning of our friendship with God.   

Years ago I would have begun my "salvation story" at the point when I was eight years old, sitting in a Salvation Army "vacation bible school" story time one summer, paying close attention to a woman describing the construction that God was offering to do in my heart.  If I remember correctly she held up a large heart-shaped black cut-out when she described the hearts of children who lied, or disobeyed their parents, or behaved meanly towards others.  She showed us a large red heart cut-out to symbolize God's love for us which had been demonstrated in Jesus' physical death on the cross; and she held up a white heart as a picture of the heart of a person who invited Jesus to live within him and change him.  The person who consented to that act and that process would have a changed heart, a clean heart, a white heart.

I wanted a white heart, a clean heart, a good heart.  I knew I wasn't good through and through.  I knew I had done some of those bad things she talked about, and I wanted a clean heart, a white heart.  I wanted a good heart.  

Thinking of my story now, within the puzzling context of Paul's words to the Athenians that God "determined the times set for them  and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us"  (Acts 17), I would probably begin my story of God's provision sooner.

My parents had love and energy to share with a wider family of foster children when my sister and I were young.  As foster parents, they opened their home and arms and hearts to hurting children in the community whose families were fractured or breaking, and offered each child a safe place and space of his or her own, nourishing meals and honest, consistent discipline.  

I learned early on that some parents did not keep their children.  Our parents likely gave us simple answers meant to protect us from harsh realities as to why these children came to live with us.  But what my 5-6 year old brain concluded was that some parents gave their children away to others.  And if I wasn't good enough, might my parents give me away?  That anguished question tumbled over my lips one day after my mother caught me in a lie.  She assured me that she and my father would NEVER give me away.  But still, I wondered at times. 

It would be many years before I would realize and understand a greater factor in my compelling need to do right and be right, to be good.  But when I was 8, listening to that VBS story of God's invitation to change dirty hearts to clean, my mind did not know what my deep heart knew.  I knew only that I wanted a clean heart - I wanted to be GOOD.     

So I invited Jesus to "come into my heart" and live with me.  I believed he did.  And for me it truly was the beginning of many choices that set me on a path of cultivating a vibrant inner relationship with "I AM"  and making an earnest outward effort to follow God.  It was the beginning of learning to look for God's handiwork, provision and power in my life, the beginning of gathering stones of remembering.

Photo #1 of the large boulders and walking stick and photo #2 of the rocks on the shore were both taken on the Homer Spit, Homer, Alaska.

Photo #3 was taken by Michelle at Indian Rocks Beach, Florida (the Gulf Coast) one evening this summer, while the oil was still gushing, capping attempts had failed, and we were grabbing memories of "our beach" before it was gone.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I LOVE our house!

My daughter-in-law, Michelle, was sharing some humorous videos posted on the "Spirit fm 90.5" web site a few nights ago and one that stayed with me was a short video of a 4-5 year old curly blonde haired girl standing on her bathroom counter, so she could watch herself enthusiastically declare all the things she loved about her life.  I assumed she had watched a parent doing daily affirmations in front of the mirror since "Jessica's daily affirmations" was the title of the youtube clip, but it could very well have been her compliance with a parental prescription meant to replace grumbling with gratitude.

Where David and I live now is less than a 5 minute walk from where our old house stood.  Years ago, I had been looking for a house close by where we could live while our old home went through extensive (as in the architect and contractor telling us "you need to tear it down") remodeling.  I happened upon this one at the end of a cul-de-sac one afternoon when I walked the dog.  I asked to see it and within a few days David and I had made an offer to the owners, and within a couple years we had abandoned all serious thought about moving back to our former property.   We were simply too content with this house.

There were several other factors in our decision, but the ones I've thought about so often are how much I LOVE is the way it nestles among vine-covered oak trees and palmettos, and the number and placement of windows in the home.  Every single room in the house has a view to the outside, and in most places the view is largely comprised of plants and trees.

Watching from our bed as the sunlight  pushes back the early morning darkness in our back yard is pure joy.

I do most of my "paper work" at the dining room table, because I only have to lift my eyes for a moment of rest and a reminder that the current project, though keeping me inside, is not keeping me from beauty.

For someone who worked in a windowless office for many years, being able to drink in my oak glade and palmetto "jungle" is a marvelous gift.

When I am cleaning the floors or setting the table or reading to my grandchildren I have only to move my head to let the beauty feed me.

Whenever I clean or share our guest room with another, I give thanks that we are able to share such beauty with those who stay with us.  Because beauty is meant for sharing.

These photos were all taken at our home in Largo, Florida.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I read "The Search for God at Harvard" by Ari L. Goldman at least 10 years ago.  Goldman, a "third generation American-born Orthodox Jew, then religion correspondent for The New York Times who wrote this engaging spiritual memoir of his year at Harvard Divinity School in 1985, grabbed me when he wrote:

"The most elusive experience for me in my early days at the Div School was, to my great surprise, the Christian experience.  Everybody, it seemed, was trying so hard not to offend the wide diversity of people that were gathered there that Christian spirituality did not emerge.

If, for example, there was a mention in class of the divinity of Jesus, the lecturer would offer an apology to the non-Christians in the room.  If there was a Christian prayer offered at a convocation, you could be sure that some Buddhist meditation would follow for balance.  Religious truth did not seem to exist at the Div School, only religious relativism....

The Noon Worship, organized and led by students, would include some tepid hymns, an inoffensive reading from Scriture and a short sermon usually on the liberal political topic of the day.  The sermons that I grew up with in syagogue exhorted the gathered faithful to change themselves; here in the Div School chapel the plea for change was directed outside, well beyond the church walls....

I often passed the chapel when I was on my way to and from classes.   Occasionally, I would see someone sitting there meditating, but in my entire year at Harvard, I never saw anyone on his or her knees.

To my mind, kneeling is the ultimate expression of Christian supplication.  It is something so Christian that, as a boy, I was taught never to fall down on both knees, even while playing in the park or retrieving some toy from under the sofa.  'Always keep one knee up,' my counselor said at Camp Kol-Re-Na, an Orthodox all-boys summer sleep-away camp in the Catskills, 'Jews don't kneel.'"

Goldman's words astounded me.  At the point in my life when I encountered his memoir, I could not imagine my life lived without frequent kneeling before God.  I prayed a lot, about 2-4 hours a day.  I  knelt in my private worship to express submission of my life to God, I knelt when I pleaded with God to intervene in my life or that of another, and sometimes I knelt in adoration or in simple waiting, quietly "present" with God.  I knelt in corporate or solitary prayer for others in churches of various denominations, all over my local area, and in other areas of the country when I traveled.  

Although my home church during most of my adult life was generally a sitting or standing church - not a kneeling church,  people sitting in the pews were almost always invited to kneel at the altar at the front of the sanctuary at the end of a worship service to demonstrate their desire to trust God, and my last few years there we were regularly invited to kneel at the altar for our corporate prayer time.  Kneeling didn't have a prominent place in our corporate worship,  but it did have a place.

I often knelt in corporate worship whether anyone  around me knelt or not, and whether or not the worship leader invited us to kneel.  I knelt to bow my heart and tune my ear to the still small voice.  I knelt to be a living symbol to onlookers of God's invitation to man to "come, let us reason together".

So it astounded me to read that "Jews don't kneel."  If I'd ever thought about it, I would have assumed they did...for the same reasons I demonstrate personal acknowledgement of God's might and authority.

Apparently so many years of frequent kneeling during prayer had embedded itself so thoroughly in my conversation and relationship with God that kneeling was almost the only traditional expression of Christian worship that remained during my long long season of questioning and doubt.   I still tried to live my life in ways that modeled integrity, compassion, and service to others and I still made time for quiet reading and thinking, but my days no longer began and ended with praise and thanksgiving.

After I returned home from Kolkata, I tried to read my Bible but found it had become an ordinary book, subject to my many questions, doubt and skepticism which had begun brewing before my trip to India.    The words I read no longer called or sang to me with  vibrant love and life.  Church worship services also, largely lost their ability to touch me with encouragement or teaching or conviction.  I stopped dancing, stopped singing and stopped listening to contemporary Christian music to avoid the critical, cynical thoughts that filled my mind.

The journaling that had been such a strong part of my daily "walk with God" stopped being a daily record of my thriving inner life and conversation with God and instead became reading journals into which I copied meaningful sections of books I read.  After several years of my questioning even that fell by the wayside.  The ability to form coherent sentences and paragraphs had abandoned me, and each time of trying to write my thoughts ended in complete frustration.  I had become a spiritual deaf-mute.

I still tried to choose integrity, compassion, and service to others day by day, and I still followed the wisdom of a weekly day of rest.  Thanksgiving broke through on occasion in those first years of my doubt, but generally I was so overcome by the suffering in the world and so skeptical of the beliefs that had shaped me most of my life, that for a season, forgiveness, gratitude and thanksgiving - once key plantings in a thriving, abundantly nourishing garden in my life - became a neglected, patch of dormant plants.

But amazingly, in the midst of all the anger and agnosticism and despair, I still knelt.

At times, when I could not utter a single sentence of prayer, I knelt.  Some early mornings I rolled out of my bed where I liked to read and I knelt on the hard tile floor.  No words beyond " know" would escape my lips.  Sometimes I slipped out of my rocker or chair onto my knees, letting my posture say what my tongue found so difficult to utter:  "I am here, God.  Come, reason with me."

The top photo of the surf pounding against the rock was taken on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, photo #2 is a portion of a holocaust memorial at a Jewish synagogue in Clearwater, Florida, photo #3 is Walsingham Park, and the rainbow photo was taken on our cul-de-sac in Largo, FL - it actually was a full double rainbow!  My thanks to Amy for diverting her run in the park to run home and tell us, gasping!, that we MUST go out and look.