The Gratitude Antidote

88ec1c8388a0372b82f0b1881a8fe1fcToday we had a guest speaker at church who stood in for our pastor for Sunday services. She gave a good message, one that addressed fear over faith. Listening to her speak, I remembered a sentence from Ann Voskamp’s book, ONE THOUSAND GIFTS, in which is stated, “It is impossible to give thanks and feel fear simultaneously.” That sentence, one among many that I’ve remembered from the book, seems to make its way to the forefront of my memory often.

Each and every day we all face fears, different kinds of things that make us afraid. Sometimes our own fears are small compared to those others are facing. Sometimes we’re the ones facing the huge, important, life-changing fears. No matter, to remember that point, that when giving gratitude to God for what do have, it is impossible to feel fear at that exact moment, is to remember a way to face the fear without letting it win. I’ve tested the thought more times than I can count. It’s always been true. Whenever I’ve felt fear, whether over something important or important only to me, I’ve noticed that remembering to give thanks for something in my life cancels out the fear.

If we’ve lived to a certain age, at least past our twenties, and maybe into our thirties, we “get it”. Once we’ve grown out of adolescence, and perhaps married and taken on parenthood, we realize how much we have to be thankful for in our lives. Some people take longer to make the connection, to understand that what we consider to be “ours” is actually only ours because God is gracious enough to let us have it, be that anything material or (more importantly) the people in our lives that have become so important to us. I know that’s where I often stumble. I don’t want to be reminded that my loved ones, my children and my grandchildren, my husband, my extended family, my friends, all those I cherish are but gifts from God. He has given me the gift of having those precious beings in my life, but in reality they belong to Him. Many times those very ones who bring me such joy, who have special places in my heart, are the ones who cause me the most fear. It’s at those times, when I can feel the fear taking over and winning, that if I remember to thank God for the very existence of them, for the very opportunity and gift of loving them, that I can no longer fear. Thanking Him for my loved ones reminds me that they are really His, and the fear that is surrounding me on their behalf begins to dissipate. It doesn’t happen immediately, but it does happen.

Doing the gratitude thing to cancel out fear works in all sorts of situations, not only when it comes to our loved ones. For as many times as we feel fear and for as many reasons, there is always something right in front of us that we know is a gift from God. We know it like we know our names, but we don’t always think it. When we consciously take a moment to think it, to make ourselves see it, and to name it so that we can thank God for it, that fear living inside us seems to evaporate. In my case I can feel a type of lightening of my load (which is usually the world carried on my shoulders). It’s nice to give that up for awhile, even if only a few minutes, to that One much larger than I. Later, of course, the fear may come back. When that happens, giving gratitude will once again chase it away.

I’m more than a little glad that I read Ann Voskamp’s book. I’m more than a little glad that I know gratitude can counteract fear. Gratitude can slow us down, make us realize that we’ve been given countless things from God, and that in the larger scheme of things (for after all, in the midst of our fears we seem to have tunnel vision), He cares for us enough to have given us what we already have. Knowing that, it’s easier to realize He is with us in our fears and that those, too, are under His power. Those, too, those scary things that cause our fear, are not insurmountable to God. Nothing is.

So, this morning, sitting there in church, morning light shining through stained glass windows, our guest speaker giving a message on fear vs. faith, I couldn’t help but remember what I’ve already learned about the power of gratitude to God in the face of any fear. Showing our gratitude, naming our gratitude, telling God of our gratitude, is a powerful weapon against any fear at all.

Today I am grateful for the reminder given me this morning. Today I am grateful that I know the power of gratitude. Now if I can only continue to remember it and apply it whenever I need an antidote of a fear I’m facing.

Today I’m grateful for you and that you’re reading this post!

Weeding our Hearts

A couple of days ago I was pulling weeds in one of my flower beds. That kind of activity leaves the mind to wander, to think about all sorts of possibilities, flit in countless directions. Working with nature, rescuing flowers from the weeds that would choke them, is a satisfying (though back-breaking) task, but I find it hard to keep my mind on that task only. As my mind wandered, it took many a turn.

While I was stooped, stalking and then pulling the different weeds, I began to think of the weeds in my heart that needed pulling as well. Although I can’t physically reach in and pull one out by its roots inside my heart like I can in the flower bed, I can consciously work to remove those “weeds” that keep the “flowers” in my heart from growing to their full potential. Removing the proverbial weeds from inside of me might at least allow the better parts of me to remain and not get choked out, the way the weeds in my flower bed want to crowd out my flowers.

As I kept at the repetition of finding, reaching, pulling, discarding, I continued to think of what kind of weeds I might be harboring inside myself. During Lent I participated in two studies geared toward preparing for Easter, and in a religious, spiritual sense, I had been working on growing more aware of my blessings while also growing more attentive to God. Certainly anytime we work outside, whether it’s pulling weeds or planting flowers, whether it’s feeding birds or watering thirsty hanging baskets, we feel closer to nature, and most of the time, closer to God (or whoever/whatever we call our higher being). In my awareness I couldn’t help think about the mission I was on that day, the one of pulling the weeds, pulling out the undesirables from my flower bed in order to let the desirables, the flowers, survive and flourish.

Isn’t that what we do when we rid ourselves of weeds that live inside our hearts? What kind of weeds do we harbor, that might need “weeding” from our very existence? Is it ill feelings toward a friend or relative? Is it a hurt or disappointment we need to let go? Is it a certain arrogance or pride we need to get over and live without? Getting rid of these personal weeds, or others like them, might allow the good in us, the parts of us that need to survive, grow and flourish to do just that.

During this Lenten season, perhaps it’s a good idea to do some weeding inside ourselves as we go about our lives weeding our flower beds or doing whatever else we do. While we’re at it, we might try also adding some mulch to both the flower beds and ourselves. What can we use as mulch for ourselves? What can we add into our lives to prevent those internal weeds from sprouting again? How about time with family or friends? How about quiet meditation to give us time away from the noise of the world? How about time spent in prayer (if that’s your thing)? Because people are so different, each of us must decide for ourselves what we can do to grow as a person the way our different plants and flowers grow in their beds, pots, or planters. How many times have we seen the suggestion to “bloom where you’re planted”? Getting rid of our own weeds will help that to happen, help us to bloom as the people we’re meant to be.

Happy Easter and Happy Weeding!

Day In, Day Out

happysocks1There are days when the sky is blue and the birds are singing and the sun is shining and children are playing. There are days when the wind chimes sing in a soft breeze while the aroma from a grill wafts its way toward hungry noses waiting impatiently. There are days when families are laughing while precious, newborn babies are crying their first breath into our world. These are the days when everything falls into place even when we aren’t noticing, when we eat healthy, get some exercise. These are the days when all the socks come out of the dryer.

These days need to be chronicled, recorded, saved like a treasure to hold now and then, to remember when the other days come. Those other days when gray clouds cover the sky, when the sun has taken a day off, when rain is falling, and no one is playing or laughing or grilling. Those other days when nothing falls into place, when the only people you see are the ones you’d rather not, when everything coming out of your mouth is the wrong thing to say, when everything eaten is unhealthy, and when half the socks refuse to leave the dryer and have hidden somewhere that only other clothes can see.

May you have many more days with blue skies than rainy ones, and may all your socks agree to follow each other out of your dryer on cue.

Insomnia

Insomnia, the inability to sleep, the most unwanted companion in the night. Tonight that visitor comes to me. I pulled the short straw without ever knowing. I lost the bet without ever knowing I was in the game. I am the chosen one, chosen to have no respite from the day. I will be denied sleep. Maybe someone, somewhere, is getting a good night’s sleep solely because I’m not. Is that how the world works? Does the universe operate as in “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” where someone suffers so all can be happy? Certainly my insomnia can’t be compared to the suffering in that story, and yet I feel that it should be my turn to be sleeping, peacefully oblivious, my mind allowed to shut down and shut off for a few hours. Insomnia not only robs me of sleep; it sentences my mind to ceaseless thought. Like a 24-hour news channel, my mind reports my news only to me. All night. Also, like a 24-hour news channel, it repeats often, so that some of the thoughts scrolling through my brain scroll again and again. Yes, I have reporting, and I also have a scroll bar, or at least it seems that way. Such is my weary mind so bent on crowding me with news that it’s filling up empty time with coverage of events past, some good and some bad, and then events to come, so that I may spend part of the night with my old friend Anxiety, too. What a pair, Insomnia And Anxiety;I think they must always travel together. They work for the same imp who steals souls by stealing sleep.

My lids are heavy, and my eyes are tired. My body aches from fatigue, but my own personal cable channel (the one in my head) refuses to quiet. No matter how much my body may scream for relief, it can’t drown out the anchorman/woman in my head.

Will I drift off by dawn? My husband sleeps soundly right next to me. I find myself grateful that he, at least, is resting. By the time his alarm shouts its hideous sound, my mind will finally run out of news, and fatigue will win over insomnia. I’m most grateful that I won’t rise to an alarm in a few hours. I’ve been here before….I’ve been here when a sleepless night was followed by a hard morning to rise.

Perhaps if I put down the computer one more time, click off my lamp one more time, and put my head on the pillow, I will drift off to sleep. I’m willing to try. I’ll hope now that the dog or dear husband doesn’t begin to snore when I do…..

Gratitude – elusive emotion, especially in a high school classroom

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84a534d852bc8fc544609bfd6961cd18(Written last week in a high school English class)

Sitting in the midst of teenagers reluctantly taking a poetry test, I watch them for the wrong turn of the head, a suspicious glance of an eye. Sitting ever vigilant, moving my own eyes across the room, hearing an errant complaint mumbled into the atmosphere, I guard the integrity of Room N103.

What am I doing here? I’m retired. I no longer help the not knowing to know any knowledge. I don’t quiet the talkative, hush the whisperer, correct the cheater, coerce the unwilling. I don’t calm classrooms, study students, or examine the examinees. Not now – not in this, the second year of my retirement. I don’t take a test on keeping the classroom quiet while students take a test on poetry.

I am wrong! I am substituting for a friend, a former colleague who had surgery, and I realize that old habits die hard.

These teenagers will take the test and take it honestly. Sitting in the back of the classroom (the better perch from which to observe), I still notice the tilt of a pony tail, any movement not in sync with test-taking. I’ve only known these students a few days, and yet I’ve known them for decades it seems, the practiced stretch, the distracting cough, the exaggerated head rolls. I have not forgotten the language of their bodies. I can still translate.

Ah! Poor babies! They think the word “substitute” on my name tag means “clueless”; they would never imagine it means “veteran.” They’ve been warned. They took no heed.

Suddenly, in spite of my frustration and fatigue, in spite of my wanting to be somewhere – almost anywhere – else, I feel a shocking rush of gratitude. From nowhere. Gratitude for this day has taken over this moment, gratitude for the opportunity to keep my skills honed, gratitude for the chance to help out a colleague, gratitude for the fact that I’m healthy and able to be here, even gratitude for the few students who appreciate what I’m doing when setting boundaries. I feel gratitude galore for the friendly faces of my friends on the faculty, my family from my teaching years whom I love to this day.

Suddenly, in spite of the nervous twitching around me, the efforts to slip something by me, the energy it takes me to stay vigilant……suddenly I’m reminded from a power so much greater than I that life is good. All really is, at this moment, right with the world.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t grateful when the day was over!

Grandchild, on the way home from the beach

imageShe sleeps –

A blonde head, streaked with various shades of light brown, lies in my lap.
The pale lashes fringe the closed lids, hiding her thoughtful blue eyes.
She sleeps, covered by a large beach towel I put on our seat for just such a purpose……armor against the air conditioner in our rented van that carries my daughters, their children, and me.
Her mind, normally so active on many levels, finally rests. I wonder, looking down, if she dreams as she clutches her new stuffed dolphin close.
Is she dreaming of the beach? Building sand castles and digging for sea shells? Floating in the waves beyond the surf?
Buckled in by her seat belt, she is protected more by my body that cushions her now and would cushion her then.
I am the grandmother seat belt, full body protection. Finally I am thankful for my “extra” cushioning.

Constellations?

dab0eae8c51934d3c59f394d179b3320Constellations, collections of stars, shine down on us each night. They remind me of our grandchildren. Scattered across the night sky, sprinkled near and far, the stars radiate a rare and beautiful light. So much like our grandchildren. They are scattered, our grandchildren, some closer to us geographically than others, but they all surely do radiate their own rare and beautiful light.

Mark and I have a blended family; we each had two daughters. Now we both have four. We are a blended family because of the children. Not many can say that. The two older daughters set us up. I think we have an Oprah-worthy story, but Oprah doesn’t have that show any more, and I wouldn’t want to be on it if she did.

Our four girls have happily presented us with 15 grandchildren. Not all at once, thank goodness. They did space them out, but there are years when we have more than one grandchild born into an age group. I think the prize goes to the fall of 2004 into the spring of 2005 when we had three grandbabies, Addison in September, Claire in January, and Jack in March. Our two oldest, both grandsons, were born the same year, one day apart. I guess it was fated then that we’d have other grandchildren with birthdays close together.

Bragging rights for being the oldest goes to Dylan; the next in the line by a day is Blake (cousins). Drew followed them two years later (Blake’s little brother), and then Allie (their little sister) joined our stars a year and a half after Drew. She was followed by Abigail (Dylan’s little sister) nine months later. Six months later came Josh (Allie’s little brother). Six grandchildren in five years! Olivia was here a year later (Abigail’s baby sis and the baby of their family). For three years we had no babies, something we weren’t accustomed to, and then Addison (a new family started) was born in September of 2004, followed by Claire (another new family started) in January 2005, followed by Jack (Josh’s brother, and the baby of that family) in March of the same year. Three years later Catherine was born (little sister to Claire) in January and Hadley in March (little sister to Addison). Three years later Claire and Catherine were given a little brother Sam (the baby of that family). He was followed by Maggie (little sister to Addison and Hadley), and she was followed 13 months later by Knox! He’s the baby of his family! Our grandchildren range in age from 19 to one. That, my friends, is a constellation. Fifteen stars in twelve years! That’s some twinkle, don’t ya think?

Each time I look up at a night sky (not as often as I’d like), I think of our own little constellation. Each of those children are stars. Now half of them wouldn’t like to know I am calling them children, but they are still sweet babies to us. May they always shine on and on and on. May they always radiate love and warmth. May they always be bright with happiness. Most of all, may they always know how important they are to us. They are the diamonds in the sky of our family.

Caution

Words can be heavy, with weight to each sound
Words can be smooth or be rough
Words can be sour, can grimace our mouths
Words can be tender or tough

Words become mellow as years go by
Words with some age speak wise
Words grow softer as wrinkles appear
Words can be said without lies

Words sometimes best said in the dark
Without any light from above
Secret, quiet words meant for the one
Into whose ear we speak love

Words can make such cuddlesome sounds
Words can then sting and correct
Words can beckon or send us away
Words left unsaid can neglect.

Words are powerful tools when used
To reveal what our hearts wish to say
Words carefully heal, casually hurt
And once said they don’t go away………

Malaysian Flight 370

The mysterious musings of what has happened to Malaysian Flight 370 has now consumed international aviation communities and governmental agencies. Together the people involved in all those combined have pooled their knowledge and experience to help find the missing aircraft. So far nothing concrete has surfaced anywhere, neither in ideas nor any signs of the plane.

Since Daughter #2 and her family live in Kuala Lumpur, this news story has kept my attention. They fly in and out of the same airport without a thought of something untoward happening. I’ve flown there and back home through the same airport twice myself. Thinking the planes they’ve traveled on would disappear as if in a dark magic act, or thinking anything beyond a routine flight seems almost unimaginable. It’s the same way any of us would think of any flight originating here in the USA.

On behalf of the passengers and their families, I hope there will soon be closure, that the agencies involved will come to an agreed upon conclusion, one that (although the bitterest of pills to swallow) will allow those waiting to have a chance to get past that moment of learning what we all most dread to hear, to take the next step – one before the other – and begin the long process back to normalcy, if it is ever to be reached.

These tragic moments know no point of origin, nor how many nationalities were represented on board, nor if they were all good, all bad, or somewhere in between. These results do not depend on what was eaten for breakfast or dinner, who was angry at whom, who was flying toward love or away from hate. We are all susceptible to being passengers on a plane such as Malaysian Flight 370. Therein lies the fear, the mystery. We want the answer to be inexplicable, something that could never happen to us.

We love our comfort, our fantasies. These are the very things that keep us going, make it possible to get up tomorrow, and – one day – board the next plane. Thoughts and prayers to all those touched in a personal way by that flight. God Bless.