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.

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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.

I am so very grateful…

Gratitude: it’s a matter of the heart.

I could speak of the day.  Gorgeous, crisp autumn chill.  Leaves pattern the dying grass.  Down a heritage road, I can see for a mile a canopy of tree branches laden down with hues of gold, crimson, burnt orange: deep and rich.  Air pungent with earthy undertones.  The smell of wood freshly sawed.  The fragrant scent of evergreen.  The splendid aromas of the great outdoors.

I could speak of the day.  Family gathered round an aging table- passed down from those who broke bread in bygone years.  The heady mix of turkey dinner with all the fixins’: whipped potatoes, cinnamon-infused carrot coins, sweet potato smothered in maple syrup and pecans, green bean casserole topped with crunchy, fried onions.  Devilled eggs as light as a feather.  Rolls and beets and pickles and pistachio salad.  Ruby red cranberry sauce.  Gravy, still simmering in the saucepan on the stove.  I could speak of this.

I could speak of the day.  A walk through the woods.  Gentle winding paths leading to steeper terrain.  Still, silent groves of trees that could tell a story or two.  A lush patch of ivy wound tightly in amongst a hardwood stand.  A huge tree bent over in growth to give the shape of a rainbow. I could speak of all this.

I could speak of the road, hidden away off the beaten track.  Trees bent as if to conceal a secret.  I could speak of the grey chipmunk that scurried across the way, unnoticed by the others.  Of the laughter that silly poses can bring when the camera is still and waiting.  I could speak of giggles and squeals and happy voices. I could speak yet again of all this and more.

We have so much of which to speak.

And yet, it’s those little moments of frustration that cause our vision to become unfocused.  That cause us to lose perspective.  And we forget how much we have.  In a moment of worry or fear or anger or frustration or annoyance or despair or sorrow: we forget.  We forget how much we really have.

I speak tonight of that which I am so very grateful: for those moments in my day wherein I can stop and listen to the heart.  For moments when I can see the mistakes I have made and still find the clarity and wherewithal to mend my wrongs.  I am thankful for the circumstances in my life which have smoothed out rough edges in my soul, like sand polishing a piece of sea glass. I am thankful that life is not perfect.  That happiness is not the goal. And that contentment is not dependent on what I have or don’t have.  I am grateful for the things in my life that make me stronger, wiser, and more intuitive to matters of the heart and soul.

I am thankful for all those event and happenings and defining moments of my life that have shaped me to become the person I am today.  I am grateful that my life is a story and that the Author of this story is not finished with it yet.  I am beyond grateful that he is the Author of all stories told about grace and mercy and joy and compassion.  All stories told about hope and love and renewal and contentment.  I am grateful that He weaves in themes of beauty even in the presence of  themes on pain and struggle and anguish and sorrow.  He writes in joy, for joy always follows sorrow.  Always follows darkness and night.  Joy comes in the morning.

I am so very grateful for Hands that hold.  I am grateful that I am not alone in the journey.  I am grateful, so very grateful.

I could speak tonight of all that I’ve been given, for I have been given much.  But instead I will offer just one word: thanks.

Thanks for giving me a story.  I am so very grateful.

When running is futile…and giving brings the joy back.

{I have been feeling it all week- like a balloon expanding far past its limit. It pushes on my chest and squeezes my lungs.
Stress. Anxiety. Tension.
It is eating away at me from the inside out.
I was able to hide it at first, putting my game face on to face the world. But today: it all came bursting out in a torrent of words and feelings. Emotions- much bigger than I could contain. And I felt the wind being knocked out of me, the air leave in a rush. I felt that feeling of deflation. Busting wide open.
And I just couldn’t get it all back together again- couldn’t contain it in time for the real world to happen at exactly 8:35 a.m.. Sometimes we’re not ready to move forward but we take that first step anyway. That first step forward in the right direction.}

I am leaving the house in a flurry. Ponytail flying from behind while I carry coffee mugs and bags, over-filled with hats and gloves and jewellery and snacks, lunch and papers. Reams and reams of papers. And goodness knows what all else.

Is there ever any end to the insanity?

And now I’m just running. In my black buckled high-heel boots. The ones with the black shoe polish, a quick fix. Silver necklace swinging like a pendulum. And while I run, I am just steaming. STEAMING. Anger pouring out from every fiber. The end result of so many missed opportunities, missed connections. The final straw that broke the camel’s back, a combination of so many abrupted attempts to get things done. I can hardly even think. So I don’t. I just let the steam flow profusely out my ears. And I don’t look back again as I run, other than to throw my hand behind me to check that the door knob is safely secured. And then, I run as if my life depended on it.

This is me: I hit the ground running at break of day. And I don’t stop running until I hit the pillow at day’s end. I run to the shower. I run up the stairs. I run down. I run from room to room. I run out the door. I run to the school. It is all I can do to NOT run down the halls. And while I may not be running at school, my mind is racing. What does this one need? And that one? And what was I suppose to do again on my prep, my recess, my lunch?

I run back into the house at end of day. Race around the kitchen getting supper underway. Run out the door. Off to soccer, piano, Kid’s Club. Who knows…I am running, and that is all I know some nights.

And sometimes the cycle just starts to spin and spin and spin- until I feel like I am being sucked into the center of a vortex, an endless, smothering vacuum.

I felt that stress today bearing down on me. I could feel its pressure on my chest, my back and head.
I was standing at the door when I saw him. The Boy in my classroom. I had already intervened about five times to remind little ones where they should be sitting. I was tiring of the reminders and just about to wonder if there was any point when he did it: when he high-fived the palm of my busy, little sprinter.

He high-fived his little friend the Sprinter, the one who couldn’t sit still in his chair even for the five minutes allotted for his snack. For truly, his little friend certainly hadn’t heeded any of my nagging pleas. The Boy high-fived him. Blew my socks off- blew me right out of the water: “Good sitting,” he said to his friend. “High five!”

And I felt it then: a well breaking deep within. Some kind of release from down inside my soul. Because The Boy had achieved what I had not with just a simple gesture. He had achieved what I had not with a generous dose of kindness.

The greatest antidote to stress is a perspective shift. When we can see outside of the world we live in and realize that there is more to the narrow box within which we have locked ourselves. Within which we are confined. When we can see that there is something beyond our troubles. That there is more than the messy ‘here and now’. When we can see that life is a composite of ‘what we’ve been given’ and ‘what we make with that precious, wonderful gift’. When we can see with eyes wide open.

When we can truly SEE.

We realize: life is exquisitely beautiful. It is raw beauty and heady wonder mixed with a generous dose of heartache, pain and trouble. It is a perfectly imperfect combination of hope and wonder and awe. Truth: life might be hard, but it is doable. It is possible. It’s not hopeless. It’s just not.

You know, after the Boy reached out his sweet little five-year old hand to touch the palm of his busy little friend- the one having trouble sitting still, as per my teacher-ly expectation: suddenly I started to see things clearer. And I realized: I can do this. I can smile. I can laugh- even when I feel like crying. I can encourage, even though I feel myself getting discouraged. I can offer grace. I can love. I can give.

I can always give something.

And that’s just it: in giving, I have felt that aching, troublesome burden lifting. In giving hugs. In wiping tears. In offering gratitude. In exuding praise. In holding close. In love, I can offer much.

In giving: my burdens can be lifted.

A few words on gratitude…

I am steering the van towards after-school destination numero deux in project “My Life as a Chauffer.”   A tired Kindergartener rides solo in the backseat, a motley assortment of Foodland bags/backpacks/other odds and ends ride shotgun in the passenger side.  And all the while, Veggie Tales blares in the background.  One male character says to his sidekick, “Do you think she’ll like me?”    To which comes the response, “She has to like you…under order of banishment or imprisonment.”

I wish I could jump into the script and wring that little gourd’s rubbery neck.  But I resist.   Because in a world of cartoon characters, it is that easy.  To draw the lines, shade in the edges and round out the scene.  If you want it to happen, it will happen.  Just write it in the script.  If you want a happy ending, wave the magic wand.  Done.

If only life were so easy.

And when real life is factored into the equation.  And the show is over and real-life begins.  That’s when the truest test of character is evidenced.  When the chips are down, and everything is laid bare to the raw bones.  It’s when we are at our lowest that we see what stuff we’re really made of.

Can we truly find joy even in weariness?

It’s the gradual wearing away, the erosion of patience and understanding and empathy that really hurts.  The endless trips we make back and forth, from home to goodness know where else.  It’s the lack of time for meaningful conversations.  The sleepless nights.  The gray hair.  It’s the little things that wear us down and make it hard to be thankful.

Living life with gratitude sometimes means one must offer thanks at the most un-opportune moments. Uttering words of gratitude even for those things in life of which one is not always fully enjoying, passionately loving, deriving pleasure or benefiting greatly from nor receiving back a large measure of happiness.  Sometimes we give thanks for the smallest of things.  And in the one item of thankfulness, it can often more than balance the scales in the long run.  Life lived in gratitude is the truest measure of joy.

Tonight.  I am thankful for:

  1. My ignorant bliss this morning as I slept in almost an hour past my alarm.  My body needed that little bit extra.
  2. Not losing my patience as I coped with having slept in way past what I should have done.
  3. Nutri-grain bars. Great breakfast option on the run.
  4. That domino game I forgot about.  As I also forgot my math teacher’s edition, it was a great pinch-hit for a harried teacher.
  5. My colleague who offered me a domino worksheet last Thursday.  Whoever would have dreamed it would’ve come in so handy (#loveyoumarlenewarren)
  6. Five-year old helpers.  Who are almost already out the door even before I get my thoughts out of my head and into words.
  7. A husband who packed my lunch today.  And always.
  8. Cell-phones that are not broken.
  9. Schedules that allow windows of opportunity.
  10. Supper meals without fighting.

 

And these, dear friends, are just a few of my favorite things.