Giving is the way to gratefulness

When we count our blessings in the midst of life’s brutal storms, rather than waiting for the sunny days with warmth and light and gentle breezes to appear, it is truly the greater sacrifice. As those watching from without, there is nothing so admirable as observing someone with very little making a great deal about what they do have, however small and humble.

Gratitude can be experienced even when the outlook is dismal, can be presented even when the offering is slight. For even when the pool from which we gather is shallow and lacking in resources, there is still something there.

There is always something in which to be thankful.

It matters not what we’ve been given- we still must find the words to offer thanks.

He was feeling low again- not really in that frame of mind to offer gratitude. Not really in that mode of thinking, really. How can one offer praise when life feels destitute of joy, bereft of common everyday pleasure? He really wasn’t able to pick himself up either, like he sometimes could. Couldn’t rise to the day. It was like he’d been beaten down one too many times and the game was now over. He was ready to throw in the towel.

But she reminded him again of his call to chronicle gratitude. Reminded him of all that he’d already found in which to offer thanks. The five gifts he had committed to finding each and every day- small offerings of gratitude to a Father of good and perfect gifts. And even though it was hard- even though it wasn’t easy, he promised her he would still look for something in which to offer thanks.

And while he was looking for those small five in which to portray his day, something else happened. He started to notice people around him. People just like him, all in need of finding a gift. And as he was noticing people, he began hearing people too. Hearing their hearts, sensing their needs, listening to their stories. And he realized that he could not only count gifts, he could offer them to others as well.

And so he did. He offered a small gift.

And that one, small seemingly insignificant gift- it made all the difference for him. And for her- because she wasn’t expecting it- and to be truthfully honest, neither was he. But because he realized that he was still a giver, still a messenger of hope, he was able to stand in the gap. Even with the limitations of his life and struggle.

Actually, in spite of them.

We all can find gifts- that treasure trove of life that we each have been gifted with. But even more than this, we can all be givers: can give something each day to someone else. We can be the gift. Can be one of the five that another counts as a blessing on their gratitude list. For when we give the gift, rather than merely counting it as acquired, we come to understand:

Giving is the very best way to experience gratitude.

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A Gift Worth Giving

I am sitting Row G, Seat 2. It is intermission, half way through the musical we’ve been enjoying when from midway up the theatre comes a call ringing out through the auditorium. “Is there a doctor in the house?” The noise reverberates. The acoustics are of course meant for this kind of sound.

It takes a minute for the crowd to register what has just been said, for we are still in shock at someone standing up and bellowing. Usually, people try not to draw attention to themselves in public venues such as this is. It is unusual to hear someone yelling frantically. But all this takes but a moment to process, for very soon, we can see that someone is performing chest compressions on another lying prostrate. And very faintly, you can hear a woman crying. The cries begin to sound louder as the noise in the theatre falls to a hush. And we are left transfixed as we gaze upon the scene.

Why is it when someone is in the midst of their most vulnerable moments in life that we as people find it hard to turn away? We cannot shift our gaze? We are drawn to tragedy like moths to a lantern.

Mesmerized.

Quite soon, two ladies begin to make their way towards the commotion. They are nurses. They do what needs to be done while waiting for the defibrillator to arrive. And when the latter does come, there is a audible sound of relief that seems to ripple from the epicentre of all the action. The trouble has not yet passed, but it appears that there is some hopeful signs indicating that things will work out after all.

However. I for one cannot seem to shake that unsettled feeling. A wishfulness, a wanting: to have something of worth to offer.

I turn to my seatmate and say how helpless I feel to be there and not have anything of worth to put forward. I find myself regretting my lack of life-saving skills, something I could offer up in a time like this. But as I have none, I come up shorthanded.

I am neither a doctor, a nurse or a paramedic. I am a teacher. What good is that in an emergency?

After the gentleman in scrutiny is taken by ambulance, the audience is then told by the director of the show that he is on his way to the hospital. The director then thanks the two women who have assisted in the incident and announces the beginning of the second half of the show. We settle in, but if I am any kind of representative for the others there in that theatre, I am sure we are all watching with a little more heaviness and somber tone than when we had begun the first half. One never knows what might happen in the course of an evening. This event just reminds us of that sobering fact once again.

As I watch the remainder of the show, I am struck with a thought. The actors, singers and dancers who entertain this theatre full of people are also unable to help this gentleman’s need for medical attention. As much as they have exhibited their many talents and accomplishments, lifesaving is apparently not among them. Along with the audience, they were helpless to assist in what this man needed most: someone to rescue him in his time of distress.

The more I think about it, though; the more I realize that while this fact is true, the gifts the members of the theatre company had to offer the rest of us were certainly worthwhile and welcome. The gift of a diversion, a welcome offering from this poignant real-life scene we had just been witness to is a worthy gift to bestow. And that we the audience were able to carry on and enjoy the music and dance was testament to the great gifts and talents that this troupe had to offer. Grace under pressure at its best.

It is a gift to be able to distract those who are privy to sorrowful incidents. A gift that doctors and nurses and paramedics are at times unable to deliver due to their primary concerns with matters of a more serious nature. A gift that entertainers were made for. And it’s okay that the gifts which were offered last night were different. Because each person involved last night had gifts to bear. That those gifts were not the same in value and contribution was not necessary for them to be worthwhile, for them to be worth using. That the gifts were used and given over to help in the benefit of others is what really matters.

A couple days ago, I was doing an activity with my young kindergarten students that required some assistance from older leadership students in the Grade 6 class. An Educational Assistant offered to accompany me, but asked if I could also add two of the older students she worked with who have some exceptional needs to my mix. I was delighted.

When I observed the two special students as they interacted with my kindergarten students, I was struck by the gifts these two had to offer: gifts of patience, kindness, and wonder. They didn’t make any of my students feel “less than” when they were unable to perform a particular task, they didn’t ask them to “hurry up” when they lagged behind, and they had immeasurable wonder and excitement in completing the various stations we were involved in.

It was a joy to watch them using their gifts.

Although I can be prone to feeling inadequate when presented with a situation for which I feel I am less than skilled for, less than capable of assisting with. Feeling like my gifts are not as worthwhile, at times, when I see the skill sets/gifts that others have. It is a good reminder to myself that in giving over to these feelings of insecurity, I am allowing myself to be sucked into the lie that tells me ‘some gifts are better’. That tells me some gifts are worth more.

Our gifts were meant for us, designed especially for us. We were meant for the gifts- meant for the life we’ve been given, whatever that life and those accompanying gifts might be. And it doesn’t matter how important or distinguished or notable the gifts of our life are- it matters that we use the gifts. And use them lavishly. And when we do, the gift goes on, used for a higher purpose. Used as part of a bigger plan. Worthy and highly regarded no matter how that gift happens to come packaged.

The gift of being ourselves- it’s a gift worth giving.  Each and every time we offer it up.

This Christmas: It’s About Receiving

Black, velvet sky melts into night-time darkness. It’s something below freezing. And I think to myself, ‘here we go again’. It’s another ‘up-too-late’ week-night, and I find myself driving snow-dusted roads riddled with pot-holes. This is becoming a habit I wish I could break; that is, the custom of making lesson plans in a creepy building where toilets flush spontaneously and every creak and whistle is felt like a chill. I glance at our passenger side floor mats that are gently speckled with frost. Makes me shiver. I’m glad for the double insulation tonight in the form of two pairs of pants, a warm coat, gloves and a hat.

All the houses I pass look warm and inviting. That’s where I should be right now- at home, cuddled up with a good book and a cuppa something hot. I notice to my right a curtained bay window that partially hides a glimmering Christmas tree. Seriously, I mutter. Already? White lights sparkle as if to inspire. But rather than stir the heart strings, it stresses.me.out.

I am not ready for Christmas. And I admit it: I am not at all excited about the upcoming Christmas season which lies just around the corner.

When I conjure up images of the Season, thoughts always turn to giving. That notion of giving has been ingrained in me from a child, and truly giving is something I have come to believe in as worthwhile and necessary. Of course, I learned how from the very best. My parents- the epitome of sacrificial ‘life-givers,’ having devoted their every breath and good intention to the families and people they served in full-time pastoral ministry.

My mother with a permanent curvature in her spine from having spent more hours than a person could recount on the phone, counseling women- young and old alike- she has lost years of sleep praying over women. Lifting their names heavenward when she could have been deep in slumber. Her life has been a gift freely offered to those she has mentored, prayed with, loved and befriended. She has been and continues to be an inspiration.

My dad, just released yesterday from the hospital, has Parkinson’s. A trip years ago to the Lahey Clinic in Boston confirmed that indeed, Parkinson’s is related to full-time ministry work. Many of those patients studied came from a life of stressful, full-out, service to the people they assisted. That’s my Dad. He was a wonderful pastor. Throughout my growing up years, his minutes, hours, days and weeks were devoted to The Calling. But years take their toll. And then some. What my parents had, they gave. And they gave over pretty much everything.

And what of their offspring? Are we treading similar paths? Yesterday, I found myself on the way to school yet again with the gritty taste of a broken tooth in my mouth after having pulverized yet another molar into dust. The grinding a result of stress acted out in restless dreams. The daily circus- running here, there and everywhere- and for whom? For what? And why?

It’s all getting to me.

Yes. I have seen with my own two eyes what havoc self-less living can wreak on lives that place great emphasis on generous service, duty and responsibility more so than on intentional acceptance. Even if that giving was done with the right motives. There were years when we kids waited, as hours ticked by, for a Dad who willingly made hospital calls on Christmas morning- knowing that this Calling of his and my mom’s was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s just how it was. So when I think of Christmas, of Christmas trees- lights shimmering in the dark. Of presents underneath and happy, cheerful voices. I think of my parents. How they gave freely from the heart- year-round- and gave from what little monetary value they had. Their time, their resources, their lives. All characterized by self-less giving. And it has surely caused us as their children to be the better for it.

I am now an adult on that same side of the fence as my parents were once, and I am coming to realize indeed that giving is important. But that there are drawbacks when it comes to giving. Yes, there is amazing joy to be found in giving. And truly giving gets our eyes off ourselves and focused on others. And while I will always believe that giving is truly a worthwhile portion of the whole, I have come to believe that there’s more to the story than this. Because many of us, if we’re truthful, find this part somewhat easy. Giving- we know how to do that. It’s part of our culture. But when it comes to receiving back from others, well- that’s another story. It’s harder somehow. It’s hard to accept the gift with humility and gratitude. Shamelessly reveling in the pleasure of the offering. There is just something about a person who can with acceptance receive the gift with unabashed abandon. Just like a child seeing Christmas for the very first time.

It’s receiving that is hardest, in my books, folks. And this year, I’m just not ready yet to give more of me. Stripping my resources to the bones, wiping myself out so as to outdo what I might have done last year. I’m not sure if I’m ready yet for Christmas if what I have to look forward to is wearing myself thin, turning myself inside out, holding my emotions upside down all in the name of burning out for Christmas cheer.

If Christmas means giving more and more, then I’ll take a pass, thanks.

This year, I plan on receiving. I want Christmas to wash over me in all its glory. This year, I want to focus on receiving Christmas.

And I am coming to realize with the passing of years that there is a point of no return. A point when reached that one realizes they just can’t give anymore. Something else has got to give. But yet the paradox seems to be that while one is coming to the end of the proverbial rope with giving endlessly to seemingly worthwhile causes, that one can at the same time find it difficult to place themselves square on the receiving end of the gift.

To be sure- through the years, we’ve been inundated with the message that it’s better to give than receive. That God loves a cheerful giver. That it is in giving that we find true joy. That there is no better exercise than reaching down and lifting people up (John Holmes). That it is through giving we are blessed.

And most of us give- maybe not until it hurts, but we do know how to give. We give to charity, to community and church service. We tithe. We place ourselves on the altar of sacrifice for our children. But when it comes to receiving something back ourselves, don’t we have a hard time accepting that we’re really worthy of the gift? That we’re worth being sacrificed for, worth being the object of someone else’s blessing? It is humbling to be in the passive role, accepting that I am at times: needy, lacking and without. It is humbling to be the receiver when encountering one with something to offer me. Because I like to be in control. Being the receiver puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

Being on acceptance end of the gift-giving reminds me of my frailty. It reminds me that I don’t have everything- I’m sometimes at a disadvantage. It reminds me that in receiving, I have cause to be thankful. It reminds me that I am loved. It reminds me that I am the route to someone else’s blessing. I am the pathway to blessing for the one who gives to me.

And it is a humble reminder that I should never stand in the way of that. Of letting someone else feel the joy of giving.

It’s hard to receive. It’s hard to receive when we know the cost. When we know what it truly means. We hate to impose, to bother- to be that burden on another. For we know the price of time, of scarce resources, of money spent. We’ve been the giver so many times before. And don’t we sometimes just feel so unworthy? Not worth the offering. Such a nuisance.

As if the gift was never meant for us.

Almost 2000 years ago, God sent a gift. It was His absolute delight to do so- and what a gift that Baby was. That Child came to give so that we might receive. It was a gift, His birth. A gift to all those that witnessed the spectacle. A gift to Mary- and Joseph. A gift to the shepherds, the village people, the wise men. It was truly the Ultimate Gift- a gift that keeps on giving. Even today.

And I don’t know about you, but I am starting to feel ready to let that gift of peace and hope and love and Light and good will toward mankind wash over me this Christmas. I don’t need to give up, give out, give away or give over to receive this gift- I just need to accept it. I don’t need to burn myself out chasing after it- it already came. Hand-delivered. And the Gift is just waiting for me to unwrap it.

So I don’t want my focus to be giving this year. I don’t want to sell myself out, burn myself out, using up all my energy playing Christmas. I want to receive the gift. With absolute, awe-filled wonder.

I want to receive Christmas. As if it was my first Christmas ever.

On gratitude…

It has been said a thousand times over.   To have the best life, to live out a life of excellence superior to the mediocre to which we so easily ascribe in the daily grind of the here and now, one must practice gratitude.  Gratitude.  Giving thanks for who I am, where I am, with what I am.  Needing nothing more, nor in want of less.  Grateful for the life I have been given.

Gratitude.  Such a world of possibility, a world within a word that holds the keys to both meaning and understanding.  The keys to life. So much room for discovery, so much I do not know nor see with my mind’s eye.  Uncovering the wealth of life and its many gifts, therein lies the key to becoming gratitude in its many forms.  And I am ready for this discovery to begin.

I am grateful today for this: the freedom to let go and let be.   As I am trying to do here at this humble little campsite in Cornwall, P.E.I.

Camping so far has been a whirlwind of activity.  We are into the sixth day, and I finally feel like I am starting to unwind.  It was an adventure from the very beginning, what with the madness of packing for a month only the night before we were set to leave.  I was filing a report for work mere hours prior to pulling out of the driveway, camper in tow behind the ½ ton, with the kids and me bringing up the rear in the van.  Every square inch of available space used, and then some.   Nearly missing the empty sign lighting up the gas gauge.  Then, unpacking six-hours worth of luggage, Rubbermaid totes, boxes and strewn odds and ends that ended up hither, thither and yon throughout three vehicles.

Good times.

And now, work and the hectic pace of life as it was seems a distant, hazy memory.  When crazy work and extra-curricular schedules have been all I eat, sleep and breathe for the last year.  To relegate it to a compartment in the brain matter is telling.  I never even brought along professional literature to read on this camping trip- more than I can say for last year’s stint at this very campground, when I would sneak back to the camper during movie nights to read my textbooks.

It is freeing to let go and let be.

We are in limbo somewhat with the camper.  Our camper- it has been with us through thick and thin.  One wonders if it is on its last legs, what with all the repairs we had to make just to get ole’Bessy in ship-shape for a month at the KOA.  As I write, she sways in the wind, gusts coming off the water in heaves.  White caps decorating the waves in mid-summer attire, perfect for a day of sailing.

The girls and I are settled for a cozy day inside (Daddy and Oldest are making the trek back home today to mow the lawns and attend soccer this evening, both of which will be activities conducted in the rain.  Um, no thanks, I’ll pass on that one.)  The girls are contentedly playing for a change, and I am enjoying this peace within the confines of our twenty-four feet of available space.  We had listed the camper for sale so as to up-grade.  One month in this canvas get-up was originally thirty days too long for this gal.  However, I am re-thinking the whole plan as I am finally settled in, and I have organized a bit so as to throw some perspective on the whole camping experience.  From this vantage point, life would be a whole lot cheaper (we would be out about ten grand if we up-graded), easier (we would be un-packing whilst the buyer was waiting to purchase and pull out with ole Bessy in tow) and less complicated (we still have to budget for the rest of the summer, so let’s be realistic here: is it really worth it to get a camper now that we are already settled into our first of four weeks?)

To make a decision to not sell and embrace camping done ‘tent-trailer’ style, is also freeing.   I am grateful for the twenty-four feet of space I have.  It is home away from home.  I can live with the creaks and whistles through the cracks along the walls, the dampness in our bed covers at night.  The rain taps over my head a steady rhythm, and it brings comfort.  This is my opportunity to let go and let be.

So, the highlights so far. Those for which, among uncountable others,  I am humbly grateful.  Visiting with extended family.  I love being close to my Mom and Dad, my brothers and sisters and those Maine cousins who just left yesterday morning, whom I was able to see every day because we are camping here in Cornwall.  The pool.  The kiddos are becoming little fish, and are all quite competent in the deep end.  The relaxed pace of life.  Like I said, it is a bit of an adjustment, but I could get very use to living life in the slow lane.  The proximity to Charlottetown.  I love that stores are only ten minutes away. TEN MINUTES, people!!!!!  I can hardly contain my excitement and the adrenaline rush I get just thinking about that little fact.  The beautiful water view I have when looking outside my door- that mouth of water that opens up into the Charlottetown Harbour known as the West River.  Yesterday, it was a sea of glass.  Today, it is a swirling mass of energy befitting those hardy sailors brave enough to set out in small water craft trying to catch the stiff breezes of the day.  I prefer to watch and admire her strength from afar.

My own dear immediate family tucked in together under one tiny roof, safe and sound inside sleeping bags guaranteed to keep little and big ones warm even on the most frigid of nights.  These children of mine- they will not always tag along.  There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when Husband and I will coax and plead against hope that one or more might come along for the ride.   For old time’s sake.  I cannot think of those times being old times yet.  I am here.  And right now, so are they: my infuriating, wonderfully strong-willed, beloved Fearless Foursome…

For life, breath, and a mind to grasp this moment in which I can choose to be grateful, I give thanks.  I am humbly mindful of all I have been given.

Gratitude.  Giving thanks for who I am, with what I am, where I am.

I can, and I will.  Be grateful.  For all this, for all that is yet to come.  It is my soulful offering.

Gratitude.