The Grace that is Gratitude

I am walking along, feet feeling chafed along the inside of my sneakers. These shoes are wearing thin. And I feel the many miles I have walked in them so very much tonight. Feel the tired, the exhaustion, feel the weariness. But with the sunset in the distance, the wind at my back- it is a good night to take pause for thought. A good night to think and wonder at the life I have been given.

Even as I call to mind- first the few minor irritants in my day-to-day life; those things that cause me slight annoyance and minor setbacks (and then, later recalling the good- is not that just the way: glass half-full!), I am reminded that these are still gifts for which to be thankful. For we are called to be thankful in everything. Not only in the good, in the pleasant, and in the enjoyable: but to give thanks in everything.

In everything?

Even in those moments we feel we have failed?
In those moments we feel we have been wronged?
In those moments we feel we have been misunderstood?
Even then?
In those moments when we’ve been slighted, offended, hurt or angered? Then?
Even then?

Oh, but yes, offer thanks in everything. For in offering gratitude in everything, that blanket of grace that covers and permeates all, we open the door for understanding more of what we were meant to know about thanksgiving. In everything, we learn. In all our life experiences, we come to know, come to understand. Come to glean meaning about ourselves, about the others whom we share this living space, and about God’s compassionate, merciful, holy love.

So even when we have little to be grateful for, it is still enough. Little is much. It is enough. There is always something to cling to, always something on which to build a foundation of gratitude. Even if only for the little things we count as graces.

When thinking of what we don’t have, let us remember what we do have.
When thinking of what we want, let us be grateful we have what we need.
When thinking of how we have been wounded, let us remember where we have been healed.  When thinking of wrongs in our lives, let us focus for mere moments on what has gone right? For in so doing, we will shift our thinking just enough to allow the room gratefulness needs to make a difference.

And always remember:

“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.”
-Alan Cohen

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For the Bitter and the Sweet

Coffee on the veranda

I pick up my scorched oven mitts off the damp, October ground, leaving flakes of charred material and black soot on the earth to mark the spot. There since midnight, they are a testament to the previous night’s disaster. Bright red cloth contrasting with charcoal black. Stationary, since I threw them out the door, onto the step and then again onto the grass where I proceeded to hose them down until the flames subsided—all after they had caught on fire from the heat emitted from my oven burner. And this: because I had brushed the knob of the burner (ever so gently) as I reached into the cupboard for a bowl. Having sat back down at my computer to type, I was oblivious to the smolder, until smoke began to curl around the cupboard, up toward the ceiling: alerting me to the calamity.

If I had only:
Not wanted a cookie.
Not reached for the bowl.
Not brushed the knob.
Not left the oven mitts on the burner.

If I had only.

Life is wrought with “if onlys”.

This week has been a series of unfortunate events, a series of “if onlys”…or so it seems. There is always something to complicate the day. Be that arriving late for appointments, forgetting appointments, or scheduling too many appointments. Be that day-to-day complications like not enough sleep, sickness and low energy. Be that bigger-than-everyday complications like additional work meetings, late night projects, lost luggage, health concerns, and worries that go deeper than surface level. Add to the list, if you will: parenting issues, relationship issues, marriage issues. Life.

There is just always something.

How can we say thanks when life is just not what we want it to be? How can we say thanks when things are just not how we wish they were? How can we say thanks when we don’t FEEL particularly thankful for everything we’ve been given? Giving thanks for both the little things on our ever filling plate…along with the bigger things that make our lives chaotic and stressful?

Is it even possible?

I wake up in the morning to the smell of the charred remains of the previous day. Add to this, the cheesecake boiled over in the oven last night so I now realize that I have the pleasure of a pre-breakfast, ‘make-work’ project. I can now officially confirm that I will be late for church. And on the very day that I have to lead the singing.

I can feel the resentment rising within. Give thanks for this?

How easily I forget that gratitude is a state of the heart. A choice of the soul embracing life in its fullness, both the bitter and the sweet. Joel Osteen: “One of the main reasons that we lose our enthusiasm in life is because we become ungrateful..we let what was once a miracle become common to us. We get so accustomed to his goodness it becomes a routine..”

Life is hard. Of a truth: it is not easy. But it is always a miracle, a gift to have the opportunity to live.

The air in our lungs.
The roof over our head.
The clothes that cover.
The shoes that fit.
The water we drink.
The food we intake.
For the everyday, commonplace miracles of life.  For both the bitter and the sweet.
We are eternally grateful.

This thanksgiving I offer gratitude for the miracles. Everyday and otherwise. They are what cause me to remember how much I have.

And impress on me how much I must be grateful.

Wonderings {on gratitude}

What would our prayers be like if we focused them around the things, people and situations in our lives for which we didn’t feel overly grateful? Thanking God for the things we’d sooner we DIDN’T have…rather than asking Him for things we DON’T have and want/desire.

I wonder.

Would we then appreciate more the difficulty and trouble we see as obstacles in our lives, viewing these instead as blessings in disguise? Would it make us more grateful? More appreciative? Would we realize that these difficulties are things that make us and shape us into beautiful people, stretching our hearts so that they can hold more love?

I wonder.

Would that gratitude that was grown and cultivated cause us to give more love? To be love to those around us- even to the ones we are ungrateful for? I truly wonder.

What would happen if we were grateful for things like the following:

Snow and other weather related annoyances
Dirt and mud and soggy grass
Messes (both large and small)
Chores
Work/employment/jobs
Inconveniences (make this one personal)
People who rub us the wrong way
Mundane activities (you name one)
People who offend us
People who challenge us
Financial issues
Health and its challenges
Marriage and its complexity
Relationships and their intricacy
Pain and its hardship
Loss and sorrow

What if the pain in our lives was there to teach us gratitude and how to offer words of thanks for each and every moment we’ve been given…as if everything we’d been given was a gift? For is it not?

We are owed nothing. We come into this world naked. We leave the same way. What happens in between is ours to use as an offering of gratitude, as we can. As we are able. So that we can grow in grace and understanding. So that we can grow in compassion and empathy. So that we can reach out to people in our circles of influence and show those people care. Trouble is here in our lives so as to move us toward something. Might it move us to love? Move us closer toward the Author of gratitude Himself?

Might it cause us to be a grateful people?
Making us mindful of who we are, what we have and what we can give as an outpouring of our gratitude.

Might it open our eyes to a whole new way of living?

“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.”― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

And echoing these beautiful words, I say: I want to be grateful.

For today, for all my tomorrows and for each day that leads towards always, even after that.

Does Being Average Make you Happier?

We are finishing up supper when a knock comes to the door. It is a family friend and acquaintance that we recently hired to construct a bookshelf for us just arriving for a quick check-in about a piece he’s already built. He wonders if it fits okay over the radiator. It does. In fact, it’s a perfect fit.

Earlier this month, this gentleman arrived in the middle of supper hour and spent the better part of the evening talking to both Husband and I about our dreams for our family room. What were we wanting him to fashion as an entertainment unit to house our most beloved pictures, books and games? At what level would we want our entertainment system to be set? What style should the framework be? What vision did we have?

As we talked, it became increasingly clear that this man cared a great deal about his work- and even more so, cared about our ideas, our thoughts and opinions. To illustrate my point, he had talked to Husband about some additional thoughts he had for this unit on the Sunday past- proving to me that if we were paying him for his time, we’d owe him for the incredible amount of thought he’s invested in considering our best options. You don’t get this kind of service from the box stores. To have him drive from town this evening for a five-minute drop-in just to check whether the piece he was building fit neatly in place, meant a lot.

In fact, it’s priceless in MasterCard terms.

Some might say that everyday people such as our retired friend who make furniture for pleasure- such as you or I, us plain-folk people: some might say we are not the ones that make this world turn. Not the ones who are the real movers and shakers. I read a quote about mediocrity lately and it said that being average should be feared- should push us to our limits, causing us to reach our true potential. Whatever that means.

To be honest, some of the most average people in my life have made the biggest impact. We don’t remember the chance encounters we have with celebrities (if we have them at all) nor do we chalk up as the most life-changing, the brief glimpses into the world of the extraordinary as the part of life that we could not live without. It is the average, everyday people and pleasures of life that we count as life’s greatest blessings.

After my last two posts on being average, I decided to share an article I found on-line and read called “The joy of being average” found at “http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2014/03/13/the-joy-of-being-average/  In the article, the author Sam expounds on the joys of being average, highlighting such benefits to life as lowered expectations, more safety, more happiness, less restrictions, more freedom, less pressure, among other benefits. In the article, he poses the question: should we continuously try to live up to our potential? Sam concludes that ‘no’, we should not feel that pressure- it is ours to choose how we live our lives, how we use or don’t use our potential.

I contend: there is joy in acceptance as well. I feel that in accepting that our lives are short, fragile and fleeting helps us to put perspective on things. Who are we really trying to impress? What really matters? What are the most important things in life? What decisions are the most crucial?

What really makes the difference?

Celebrity, both at local, regional, national and international levels, as enticing as it might look and seem, is just a mirage. The people behind the celebrity still have to get up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.  They still live and die. And so do we.

The question should not be based on how to live up to one’s truest potential but rather focused on perspective: how can I live my life with joy and contentment? Gratitude and grace? And what non-essentials can I eliminate so that I don’t miss the boat and waste this one chance I have at truly living life well?

Being average isn’t a wasted opportunity, a shameful decision.  Living simply is not to squander one’s life; but chasing after dreams that are only a mirage certainly are.  Life is beautiful- even when it is average, ordinary and simple, and living an average life is more than admirable when we can do so with joy and contentment. When we choose to embrace the life we’ve been given, average isn’t ordinary.

It’s amazing. Truly amazing.

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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Experiencing the light {Counting Blessings}

I stand at the gable window, pausing momentarily to fold a blanket and set it on the window seat. It is 7:30 a.m., and I am in the midst of morning routines. So much to do, and so little time in which to get it all done.

What I wish is that I could go back to bed.

As I come out of Daughter’s bedroom, I notice the glow of daybreak through the upper window. Just this once- instead of rushing past to make the bed (without a thought to anything else happening in the universe)- I pause. Catching a glimpse, as I do of pink and purple ribbons extending out across the sky. Just a quick glimpse from the corner of my eye, but it is enough to stop me in my tracks. Pastel hues, as if stolen from an artist’s palette, wash light over grey horizons in a glorious watercolor display. I am awe-struck for several moments as I try to capture in my mind this picture I have been afforded.

A defining interlude in my day.

My mind could never quite do justice to what I am viewing from our upstairs window just now. This image is so exquisite, so rare (if only for the reason that most mornings I miss it). So I run for my half-charged cell phone in an effort to seize the moment; when I return, color is spreading ever wider out from the source, reaching further across the sky. I watch as beams of sunlight extend towards the grey, barren landscape, touching treetops and brushing snow-covered fields, illuminating as they move in regal formation. I watch while frosted roads kissed with color reflect the light. And I cannot help but delight in the wonder that is the shoulder of our road, which runs parallel to our old farm house, as it blushes in rose-tinted tones that reflect the beauty of the sky. The world, a painting in progress, and I am witness to the art unfolding.

“Look at the sky!” I call to my son. “Even the ground is pink.”

We stand in silence for a moment. But then reality sets in again and reminders of the day ahead dictate the schedule. Lunch orders to fill out, bags to pack, beds to make, laundry to wash. Rush, rush. Hustle, hustle. We move about with hardly a conscious thought to the wonder to which we just were given front row seats. Rushing through breakfast routines. Rushing through bed-making. Rushing to the van to make it to work/school on time. Forgetting commitments and then remembering them just in time. And realizing that it is duty day and someone has the wrong boots packed for the weather- just another highlight (low light). And it quickly becomes a day in which I find myself rushing everywhere, noticing little along the way.

But isn’t every day the same? And in all the rushing, I find myself just putting in time as I count down the minutes until each hour is over. Counting down hours until the day is done again.

This is no way to live.

Much later, we talk on the phone, she and I- chatting about this, that and the other, when she tells me that he has started counting little gratitudes. Counting blessings. I am touched by this- knowing what a test this will prove to be. He, who appears to have seemingly very little of which to be thankful for (at this point in the game), has taken up the challenge to count the ways in which he is grateful. And she mentions that he’s starting by noticing the little things- things that might mean nothing to anyone else- but which mean everything to those who have been challenged to be grateful.

Little blessings that mean everything to him.

I conjure up an image of him taking part in this ritual of counting gratitudes: and in my own mind, I am humbly inspired. For isn’t this the way? The way to truly experience light?

Light shines when we choose gratitude.

And yet, it isn’t until this very moment that I truly see light today, although I have witnessed the glorious natural wonder that is the sunrise from the vantage of my window. It isn’t until now- as darkness covers everything a velvet black- that I experience light. For in choosing to focus inward on that which envelopes me in darkness, I cannot see the truth of daylight, cannot appreciate the joy that is today. It is only in allowing the light to penetrate my soul that I am free.

So I too begin to number my many gratitudes, naming them one at a time. And I finally realize what I have been missing all along: the opportunity to make each moment as worthwhile as those precious minutes I spent drinking in a mid-winter sunrise early on a Monday morning. It’s all light if we allow it to shine.

And so. Like him, I will count- for if he can do this from a hospital bed with far less at his disposal, then so can I. I will name my gratitudes.

1. Steaming hot coffee in a tall mug.
2. Raisin bread toast laced with cinnamon.
3. Helpers at recess.
4. Laughs at bedtime with my girls.
5. Unexpected emails that make my day.

And of course there are always others. But for today, I am comforted by the light that I have already witnessed, this ritual of counting moving me ever closer to the Source of light as I name my little and big gratitudes, putting words to paper one by one.

Counting one simple blessing at a time.

Credit to Ann Voskamp for the challenge found in her beautiful book “One Thousand Gifts”.

When You Don’t Feel Thankful

Retrieved from Clouds 365 Blog

She stands folding clothes as they talk on the phone. A small stack of washcloths emerges as she reaches the end of the pile. She starts in on the socks trying to find matches while the other voice carries to her over phone wires. And all the while she is listening. Sometimes God speaks loudest when we are doing the basest of tasks. The laundry room can be a holy place.

“I am having a hard time feeling thankful,” she admits. It’s hard feeling thankful when you reach breaking point. When you are falling. When you lie face to the ground. This is not a place to say ‘thanks’- it’s a place to ask ‘why’. A place to demand answers, reasons, explanations.

Ground Zero is not a place for gratitude.

She closes the laundry room door and starts walking, phone to the ear.

There are so many biblical verses that tell us we will never be given more than we can handle and that there is always enough grace- but it is hard to believe. Sometimes. Hard to believe that God is enough. That we can live life. That there is more than enough strength thorough steady, common grace. Hard to believe that God’s grace is sufficient.  It’s a matter of perspective really. Not always circumstance.

For even in our darkest moments- there is light that shines.

I tap out words many hours later. The sun is just rising on a darkened world. Through the trees, I can see the beginnings of light. Through all obstacles, light shines through. Soon, there will be a brilliant display of glorious, epic proportions. There will be a wash of colour, a splash of pinks, oranges, yellows and reds. There will be a glorious sun rising. And it will be beautiful.

But in this given moment, it’s just a peek of light. A promise that more is on its way.  There is still darkness all around.  And if we didn’t know otherwise, we would think it would be like this forever.  But this we know: there is always the promise of a new day.  If yesterday wasn’t all it was suppose to be cracked up to be, well there is always today. Bleak night will turn into morning light.  We have this surety.

And even if that isn’t enough- if the promise of a new day with new hope isn’t enough, and I don’t really feel thankful or particularly grateful in spite of that hope, there are some things that can draw in in spite of my feelings, in spite of my circumstances and the particular place I find myself occupying in life RIGHT NOW. There are things I can still be thankful for…
1. Thankful that I have a choice in how I view my life. I can view it through a lens of despair or a lens of hope. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to view this. It’s mine to make.
2. Thankful that I have a choice in what I voice about my life. I can describe it in gloomy terms or in glowing terms. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.
3. Thankful that I have a choice in how I interpret meaning for all the events in my life- both difficult and joyous as they stand right now. These events can be interpreted as disastrous shards that should be discarded or as beautiful pieces fitting for the masterpiece in the making that my life is.

I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.

I stop looking out the window and look deep into my soul- searching for light, for some kind of illumination. And I remember that I had found some earlier this week in an exchange made between two dying women, both of cancer- but one full of hope and promise, the other without either of those spiritually speaking. And this is what the latter said in her beautiful letter to the woman bent on ending it all:

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.” (Kara Tippetts)

Although life is full of pain and suffering and tears and unknowns, our lives are not meant to suffer through, to log as if in a chart book- ‘glad that day’s done’, to check off as over and finished. They are meant to be lived. To be experienced. Enjoyed and known. To be analyzed and understood as part of a Master Design. Meant to be celebrated. For each single day on its own is beautiful or terrible, depending on the perspective I might have had that particular day: but the entirety of the life is beautiful. And in our suffering, along with our joy, we find that God is making something incredible of all the pieces.

But He’s not finished with us yet.

Sometimes when things seem the messiest, the most work on the exquisite design is underway. And even when we don’t FEEL thankful, we can still BE grateful that the design is still in process.  It’s not completed yet. It’s just getting started. And it will be something beautiful- a breathtaking display of glorious wonder. When all is said and done.

We just have to strive to believe.