“Hey, it’s the little things in life.” We’ve all heard that before; we’ve likely said it ourselves; perhaps a bit sarcastically when surprised by an unexpected taste of joy from something simple.
For our June musings, let’s remember the truth in that statement and the immense value in those often overlooked occurrences. Life is full of “little things” which have potential to become big, influential, outlook-altering catalysts. Just like the mustard seed (one of the tiniest seeds) that grows into one of the largest plants.
First, I want to acknowledge the value in simple acts of kindness.
For example, I now appreciate the power in a smile. Smiles imply:
Recognition of someone’s presence
Implication of worth
Portrayal of calmness/peace
Emission of warmth and ease
Happiness, which can be contagious for both parties
Release of endorphins - research shows, smiling can even change brain chemistry
Most of us understand this, as we offer many polite gestures: hold the door open, pick-up the book dropped by a hurried colleague, let the young man out into the line of traffic (even when it’s easy to assume the next person will). I might call a friend to check in while folding laundry. These small expressions take little time, radiate thoughtfulness, and make a large difference in someone’s day, even in their attitude. Have you heard any of those stories about a depressed person who decides to persevere thanks to a small act of kindness?
Here’s a silly example where my choosing to say “Hello” gave me a huge sense of love, joy, and peace. I had been thinking about my father, recently passed, as I worried over a big project I’d present that afternoon. On a topic near and dear to him, I considered how he would have been involved if he was still here. Early that morning, I passed a colleague and offered a morning salutation. She was carrying a box (I barely noticed). She stopped to chat, although now I can’t recall about what... for two or three minutes - tops. She pulled up the box and opened it saying, “Here, I know it’s early, but would you like one? I never get these, but something inspired me to pick them up instead of the usual pound cake or croissant.” I looked inside the box - chocolate drizzled macaroons. I gasped. She continued, “Yeah, I know; macaroons are not my usual fare but they called to me today.” Macaroons were my Dad’s favorite cookie, pastry, or treat. It was as if he spoke to me. “Lil, this afternoon will go great. Don’t worry, trust me, trust yourself, trust the Holy Spirit.” I was filled with confidence and hope! I felt him nearby... All that from saying, “Hello.”
Small acts of kindness are indeed rewarding, for giver and recipient. I recommend we dole them out generously!
Secondly, awareness itself is underrated. I realized that being aware of my surroundings, my feelings, and other’s feelings, gives me helpful insight. Furthermore, giving attention to the little things in my life, has made me more positive, optimistic, and whole. You know what else? In all those things… God is there! He is present in the smallest aspects of our day.
Don’t let the little things go unnoticed. Look at the pretty bird, enchanting flower, or traveling ladybug; pay attention to the inquisitive baby delighting with awe in discovery; be aware of the sunshine; savor a favorite song or the dog’s ecstatically wagging tail; relish sitting under a shade tree catching up with an old friend as a perfect summer breeze wafts about… notice the beauty and splendor in the simplicity.
Just like “more is less,” small is big, and miniscule can be huge. Remember the mouse who pulls the thorn from the lion’s paw, think of David and Goliath, think of the colleague that offered a tiny macaroon which changed an entire day! Think of the Holy Spirit’s whisper in a breeze - all is well.
The tiny mustard seed has so much potential. Savor and enjoy them all!
Ah, May! One of my favorite months. The skies are more blue; the air warm and fresh; the sunshine, cheerful. We take to the outdoors - active on fields, shores, and poolsides, attending Bar-B-Qs, gathering around campfires, spending quality time together. I savor my own increased energy for gardening and hiking as these days grow longer.
Speaking of gardening… I was inspired this month with a reflection on the parable of the sower whose seeds are spread over a wide and varied terrain. A few seeds are quickly pilfered by birds. A handful sprout excitedly, growing without root to sustain themselves. Other seeds grow deep and slow and flourish. The analogy is meant to represent our varied responses to biblical messages. Each of us, at different times, have likely exhibited every one of those metaphoric reactions. Have you ever been too busy to accomplish a good deed you’d planned to do? Have you ever started one with great intention, but got sidetracked and never carried through? Have you set out on a project, planning, tilling the soil, employing resources, and achieving success? Seems this might be a good story to recall this time of year, especially when life can be busy, complicated, or stressful. It reminds us to take our time, set our intentions, and follow through; slow and steady bears much fruit. (Oh, pardon the mixed adages!)
Consider further how we also have experiences as the sower. Sometimes we unearth a fantastic goal, planting (or tossing) our resume, idea, even ourselves, “out there.” We reveal our talents in hopes of moving forward on a meaningful objective. Sometimes it’s easy - we plant with small, plentiful seeds. Other times we offer up our prized kernels. In the first case we feel relaxed and carefree; in the second quite hopeful, even a bit vulnerable, likely unsure, timid, or afraid.
I recently put myself out there, hoping to achieve a long-desired ambition. Unfortunately, an aloof response shook my resolve. Almost embarrassed, I doubted myself. I began to wonder if it was silly to attempt such a feat. Perhaps I shouldn’t have exposed such an intimate goal at all. But I soon realized that planting is good.
Why not try? What about a leap of faith?
I should send my qualifications, talents, hopes, and dreams into the world. In some cases, they will fall on the stone path and be swept away without any consideration. In other places, the ground may initially appear receptive, but nothing will come to fruition. Eventually given a healthy mixture of sunshine and rain, some of my idea-seeds will settle into moist, lush earth, and I will enjoy the fruits of my labor. Of course I don’t act recklessly; it makes sense to avoid repeatedly casting seeds on dry, rocky dirt (un-receptive areas) or rely on empty responses (outward nods with no supporting intentions). Instead I proceed down the path, discerning each potential garden (possibility or opportunity) with an open heart. Adding a hopeful spirit, I invest my energy to find that fertile soil. The wisdom, I suppose, is in taking appropriate risks: seeking, deliberating, and discovering a verdant arena for each aspiration. I plow, nourish, care and cultivate… There I will watch my dream grow slow and beautiful.
So the next time you feel inspired but doubt your inner voice, the next time you want to venture out “on a limb,” under a shadow of uncertainty, wondering if it’s wise to expose such a personal desire... maybe... just... Go for It!
Ponder, pray, and take that leap of faith. Throw the seeds of your imagination high into the air. Let the wind carry some to unexpected regions. Watch the rest scatter over the ground, knowing not all will take root, but hopeful several will indeed flourish. Perhaps a few might thrive and produce beyond expectation!
Take a chance, work hard… till, sow, harvest, reap.
When a large crowd gathered... he spoke in a parable.
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled, and the birds ate it up.
Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, it withered for lack of moisture.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it.
And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold.”
His disciples asked him the meaning of this parable. He answered...
“The seed is the word of God.
Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the devil comes and takes the word from their hearts.
Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial. As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce fruit.
But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”
Do you believe in miracles? Do you notice every day blessings? This month, I’d like to offer a personal story. I’ll be sharing, confessing, and emoting. Forgive me if I don’t reach you or if perhaps the story resonates too closely…
Last week, my pup (Rocky) became ill. He’d been picky about his newly-changed food, but otherwise appeared happy, energetic, and like our Little Rock Star: half angel, half devil-dog… until Saturday. I noticed his tail lowered; he seemed a bit “off.” I called our vet. The assistant asked the basic questions and being fully booked, suggested a visit the following week (note this is quite unusual). Saturday evening, Rocky was incredibly restless. By 6:00 am [Palm Sunday] something was very wrong. By 7:00 am we were driving northward to an emergency clinic. I admit I am in no way “good” with hospitals (people or animal). I count on the comfort and security of a well-known care facility. My mind conflicted between maternal concern and excessive fear-filled doubts as the old pickup sped ahead. Should we really take him there? Emergency clinics are… neutral at best. Right? We’ll just be another faceless case. They’ll want to rack-up a bill with unnecessary treatment; they don’t know us, our history, or care about our family. Can you grasp my level of discomfort? Honestly, how judgmental! How negative!
The silent, tense drive took near an hour. M grasped the wheel with white knuckles. The engine groaned expressing the chaos in my gut. Rocky was definitely uncomfortable, warm to the touch, and a bit shaky.
We arrived; an attendant greeted us. Shortly after, the doctor examined Rocky. Doc P sat us down for his diagnosis. First came options: he can proceed with any of these types of tests, at these costs, but in his expert opinion, “Rocky has meningitis.” He explained Rocky’s lack of sensory-response, complete zone-out, and lost ability to balance. He called it “mentally dull.” What?! I was stunned, as if slapped sharply across the face.
Trusting this man’s conviction and apparent knowledge we chose tests and treatment. Later they administered a heavy dose of steroids and gave Rocky back to us to wait. We sat cradling our baby. His head needed support; his tongue was limp and partially out; his eyes rolled back. The tiny ball of fur appeared lifeless but for the slight rise and fall of his ribcage. The doctor caught sight of our expression and said, “Yes, that’s the disease…Yes, he may not make it through the week.” Tears poured down our cheeks. I snuggled my face into my precious five-year-old pup. A couple had come into the clinic for a post-surgery pick-up. Overhearing, the woman ran over and hugged me with a deep, lingering, sympathetic embrace. It conveyed strong energy. “You’re in the right place,” she whispered.
Finally, we were sent home. Rocky’s activity is completely restricted (no climbing, jumping off the couch, stairs, exertion or quick movement of any kind - basically he can walk a short distance). The next 14 days would be critical, the first 48 hours, telling. Any improvement would imply hope. Else the disease or the other possibility – an inoperable brain tumor – would likely. . .
We shared our news with family and friends counting on prayers. We cuddled our drowsy puppy every minute and sadly crated him two feet from the bed for several sleepless nights. We made every arrangement for comfort and care, hoping we’d just love him well. We prayed more…
A week later, Rocky is still weak. The only sounds he can muster are moans. He is eating and drinking, and taking his liquid medication like a champ. One day, he hugged his daddy – something he ordinarily does often – letting us know he recognizes us. Rocky paraded a toy (a typical 10-minute activity) for about 8 feet, before hiding it (also a true Rocky move). His tail goes up when the other one of us re-enters the room. After collaboration with the ER vet, our vet saw Rocky after the first full week. Doc R is pleasantly encouraged by our little guy’s progress. We see Rocky’s unique expressions. We sense that he too is optimistic. Despite what must be an overwhelming feeling of sickness, he’s sometimes aware, and always behaving like a perfect patient. This is a slow battle, but one our pup is giving all he has. He’s fighting as a true “Rocky!”
I am blessed this Easter Sunday morning. I am blessed that everything which needed to happen, did:
Unfortunately, for some peculiar reason, Easter is habitually a hard time for our family. Yet there is something Easter always brings: hope. Hope for new life, growth, love, faith… and most of all, Easter brings with it an indescribable JOY. Not a joy that mimics happiness; rather a joy that comes from your core and radiates through your whole being, right out into the atmosphere.
A JOY THAT SWELLS, SURPRISES, SUSTAINS AND SPREADS.
Easter brings fullness of joy and hope. Christ’s resurrection conquers death; joy overcomes despair. For God so loved the world, He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.” - John 3:16
Is my pup’s nightmare in anyway good? NO! We don’t desire hardship; yet challenge is a part of life we cannot control. Can I dwell in the misery and despair at yet another severe Holy Week disaster? Sure. I mean c’mon, how much more can we take? It’s not fair; it’s just not right.
Can I delight in the grace I find in each moment Rocky returns just a little bit? YOU BET! I am filled with immense JOY and gratitude for his updated prognosis. I rejoice in the gifts I recognize. He is with us, always. Sometimes more perceptibly than others. I have no doubt God worked through the women who hugged me. She was an angel to me that day. I can still see her face and feel the love she brought to me. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man is lifted up, you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but only what the Father taught me. The One who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone."- John 8:28-29
Both feelings (upset at another disaster; rejoicing and gratitude) are normal. Which will I choose to hold in my heart? Which will you choose in your circumstance? My recommendation this April is – seek, find, and treasure the JOYs in life. They may exist in unexpected places, be tangled amid stresses or hardships, or just be subtle. But these joys are filled with light, peace, and hope – just like Easter.
Less than five minutes after M declared his thoughts for “not having pets anymore because it just hurts too much,” I noticed a sign on the wall. I asked permission to have this photo.
Here are a few of those who’ve contributed to our own hearts over the years:
Please honor your beloved furry family members using the comment section below <3
What?! Another nor’easter? Seriously? Forecasts of more snow, rain, winds, cold… My immediate response: “I can’t wait for Spring!”
Do you say this too?
March is an odd month - filled with significant, undeniable transition. For some indescribable reason, it seems the remaining seasons migrate from one to another gradually; but not the arrival of spring. March transpires as an all-out battle between winter and spring. Each time spring demonstrates progress, winter clobbers the earth with a heavy blow. Who enjoys the dark, dreary, cold, gray, wet, hostile combat between winter and spring?
I throw my hands in the air uttering: “I can’t wait! I can’t wait for warmer temperatures, sunny days, the garden to bloom…” I find myself in a climate of longing, yearning beyond anticipation. Of course, anticipation can be wonderful if we savor the waiting stages, when we relish the planning and preparing for something grand. However, when I feel that old, “I-can’t-wait-for-spring,” it's more a desire to hurry past now and arrive at later.
All around me, I notice a congruent cacophony of the same kind of comments, especially this time of year: “I can’t wait for prom,” “I can’t wait for finals to be over,” “I can’t wait for next year,” “I can’t wait to get a [new] job. And there’s more: “I can’t wait for our wedding...or the baby to come… or the kids to start school… or for all their sport events to subside…”
I can’t wait till…
I start to wonder and, well, feel a bit disappointed, even in myself. I suddenly realize, What about now? What about today? Doesn’t this day have anything to offer?
What’s my point? Don’t underestimate the beauty and wonder in this moment. Yes, that’s our theme for March. I fear for those of us wishing time away, eager for the next “whatever” to arrive. I feel sad when I hear someone coveting the future. Every day contains something worthwhile. Think about what that could be: a call with an old friend, a dinner that turned out especially well, a news report of an organization making a difference in their community, fortune in choosing the fast line at the grocery store, a child helping with the dishes, or bringing home good news about school, friends, or interests. These should not be discounted. They are not merely deserved, expected, normal phenomenon. These are the amazing events that make up our lives. Moments come together to create a lifetime. When I start to wish them away, I need to pause and ponder. Then… I recognize an overlooked treasure.
There is great value in today, whatever it brings. I find most days include a bit of good and a bit of not-so-great… it's up to me as to where I put my focus. But this day, these hours, they are mine. The people, the events, situations, challenges, successes or failures, hot or cold, cloudy or sunny… it’s my time to appreciate; my moments to enter into the memory bank, journal, diary… my minutes with which to take delight and then recall when months and years have gone by and those once longed-for times have passed.
May I suggest we don’t forget to notice the tulips working hard to peek through the still snow-covered dirt. I chose to appreciate their efforts now, even before their bloom. Yes, let’s not miss a moment! I want to notice the daylight, and take advantage of a day to bake something yummy, minutes to call a friend, time to take a drive, or read...
Find something in each day to feel good about. Don’t waste any day “not being able to wait for spring.” It will surely come in time.
“Our purpose in life isn’t to arrive at a destination where we find inspiration, just as the purpose of dancing isn’t to end up at a particular spot on the floor. The purpose of dancing – and of life – is to enjoy every moment and every step.”
-Wayne W. Dyer
Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present”
“If we are to enjoy life, NOW is the time, not tomorrow or next year. Today should always be our most wonderful day.”
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
“You have everything you need for complete peace and total happiness right now.”
-Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
“Never allow waiting to become a habit…. Life is happening now.”
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
This year February 14 brings both Lent and Valentines. What could be more opposite? Valentine’s Day often includes rhyming poems, heartfelt cards, generous professions of love, scrumptious chocolates, bright flowers, special “date nights,” and a bit of splurging - physically, romantically, even financially. On the other hand, or more like way down on the other end of the spectrum, Lent begins. Lent arrives chock full of fasting, giving up, and avoiding certain luxuries. It’s a time to concentrate on a need for repentance and receive (or witness others receiving) ash - black, dirty, and dismal.
It should be “illegal” to have both celebrations share a single day! Right? Of course, those who know me are thinking… here it comes… Well you’re right... I beg to differ...
A dear friend recently told me they were looking forward to the season of Lent. The comment took me by surprise. As we continued to visit, realized what they meant. For them, Lent isn’t about sacrifice and longing for chocolate on Easter. It’s not about giving up things they enjoy. Instead, it’s a time to slow down, pause, and reflect. Far from the hurriedness, business, and demands of winter holidays (wonderful as they are) Lent is stuck in the humdrum pre-spring cold, gray, rain, and overall “blah” - sandwiched right between “after the fun of winter” and “before the promise of spring.” For many of us there’s less to do… no decorating, preparing of feasts, no planting, summer picnics or sports. Some of us even feel “down in the dumps” around the end of February from a lack of bright days and joyous activities, right? I know I’ve felt so…
In that case, I agree. I believe there is a time for every season and purpose under heaven. With that conviction in mind, I consider... Lent is a time to re-focus, re-adjust, and re-ground - forty full days to pause and ponder. I envision a bowling lane after two less accurate throws, half the pins down, half standing, split and scattered. What happens when I hit that reset button? Ah, a clean alley with a tidy set of pins, ready for the next move. Resets are important!
In Lent I reflect on the life of Jesus. I remember His teachings, suffering, miracles, lessons, compassion, and agony. I find deeper value year after year. Where did He and all He represents originate? What was it all for? LOVE; love pure and simple. It all has meaning. Lent is not about deprivation - especially deprivation for the sake of suffering. That which I choose to “give up” is not a denial I perform with remorse. Instead I forgo that which keeps me from a healthy, serene, positive place. As I mature (well, enter another decade), I discover how deeper spirituality and moving closer to God in no way means exclusion or deprivation - ever. Although it may include challenge, it still means embracing life and love; it means growth, understanding, compassion, and fresh goals - what I dare call, “honing in on the holy” or “being showered with grace.”
Grace surrounds us. Every day. However, the busier we get, the more anxious, impatient, stressed.... the more we focus on how each person, aspect, and situation prevents us from getting what we think we want or where we think we should be going. As we step back, slow down, listen, and reflect, we tend to find more meaning, more depth, greater truth, and a freeing peace.
If I’m able to welcome Lent as a way to examine and rediscover my relationship with the Creator, what better day to begin than the “day of love?” God is ultimate and infinite love; all He does, desires, and sends us is love - in hundreds of different forms and venues... Maybe this year I will relish the Lenten season to contemplate life, the loving graces I receive, and how the Trinity is truly a part of it. Love is the root of all that is good - of hope, faith, sharing, compassion, peace, joy - yup, all goodness.
Looking at it that way, I’m happy to re-ground and re-plant myself deep in the dirt of Lent and Love!
One of the scribes who heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
And a personal favorite:
As God’s chosen, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…. And over all these put on love, that is the unity that binds the rest. Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts. And be thankful.
Aww! Can I have a do-over?” Have you ever said this? I have - especially in my younger days during a game of miniature golf. I wanted to erase the shot as if it hadn’t happened and just retake it. But there was a flaw in my thinking. Life doesn’t give us do-overs. Nope. What we get is the ability to try again. Instead of pretending the first attempt never occurred, we take what we learned (like: the ball needed to go a little to the left) and we try to accomplish our goal again. Repetition is how we improve, just as practice in any sport.
It is important we live in the present. But if history teaches us anything, it’s to learn from the past. 2017 [and years prior] are gone... over... history. We may feel joy or nostalgia, or both. Yet either way a new day and a new year has dawned. Some of the things we experience may be repetitious on the surface, but underneath, it is, or at least can be, a whole new experience.
For example, in addition to the sports metaphor, consider this: As the season of Ordinary Time begins again what happens as we repeat our liturgical year? I find it’s like re-reading a book or re-watching a movie. We tend to notice things which escaped our attention the first time. [I always do!] Perhaps we find new insight, or uncover the meaning of something we may not have fully grasped the first time. In other words, we go deeper - our awareness and understanding fuller. So as I hear familiar readings, I don’t sense “the same old thing,” rather I find a fresh perspective and a clear message.
I ponder as the sun rises and sets in these January days, I don’t have resolutions quite so much anymore. As Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”* Therefore to protect my sanity (and that of those around me), I am not going to vow to clean the basement or go on a strict diet. I am however going to look toward hope. Yes I have hope: for example, I hope to increase my life in ministry as I expand studies in this spiritual director intern program. I’m also engaging in ways to grow - over declaring another finite goal (like lose 10 pounds or give up chocolate - yeah, right?! But I can cut back and feel good about it.)
In addition, I have hope for: less complexity in exchange for greater appreciation of simple, less junk traded for openness, less rushing swapped for peaceful savoring, less reacting for better understanding and compassion, less worry/anxiety for improved health in so many ways, and less meaningless activity as a gift of time for prayerful reflection and listening. Seems like I’m setting my sights on reduction or “less-ness.” Well sometimes less is more. I’m confident including more serenity both inside and around me will allow God’s gentleness, compassion, and love to permeate and maybe even work through me. I take delight in the idea of radiating His presence through inspiring writing and speaking to convey my deep faith-filled attitude and optimistic trust in His grace.
Yes. So… I decline the old do-over. I’ll rather learn from all that practice and continue with vigor. What do you think? Let’s move forward, not back! Let’s not do the same thing, let’s do it a bit better - maybe slower, or with more quiet, but definitely with healthy energy. I’m full of hope that I can take my prior attempts, my mistakes, my losses and failures, scoop them up, pile them high, stand on them, and reach higher still.
I am creating new heavens and a new earth;
The former things shall not come to mind.
Shout for joy and be glad forever in what I am creating.
Indeed, I create joy and people will delight.
A fresh heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.
* The authenticity of this quote is often questioned, however most still attribute it to Einstein. https://www.quora.com/Did-Einstein-really-define-insanity-as-doing-the-same-thing-over-and-over-again-and-expecting-different-results
We’ve heard the story of the Nativity many times. But have we ever paused to seriously ponder over it? Picture the scene… imagine these two young parents and how they might have felt. Was Mary worried? Tired? Scared? Might she have been calm, confident, and filled with trust in God? What about Joseph - was he more concerned or confident?
I consider the place and what surrounded this sacred event. I envision an old brown wooden barn filled with hay, stalls for animals which likely included: cattle, sheep, goats, perhaps another donkey. I assume Joseph’s donkey was there too. I smell a woodsy scent from the hay and wood materials.
What about temperature? Was it cold or damp? How cold? Did someone make a fire in an old barrel or perhaps on the ground outside the open doors that warmed the night air. For a few moments, I hear… nothing… silence… no music, no loud voices, no cash registers, no car horns, not even ringing bells or children playing… just… peace…
This holy family is surrounded by exactly what God wanted for them - nothing - or “no-things”. No things except these three aspects:
First, nature: the hay, the wood, the animals, the trees, the wide, clear sky, the shining star above. How simple and how beautiful! Jesus did not come to the world with, through, or in anything but simplicity and humility. He arrived without fanfare, fancy ceremony, not even with traditional comforts. Yet how eloquent!
Second, people. They didn’t have things, but they did have each other. Even if they were afraid, having very little certainty as to what was or would happen, they cared for one another. I wonder, was a handmaid present? I think likely, yes. What about others? Did other travelers find no lodging and wander out to that same barn? I’d never envisioned other people, but... perhaps. If others joined Mary and Joseph, did their hearts rejoice in the baby’s delivery? Was the family huddled in a stall or did anyone else witness in awe? Did they help find those swaddling cloths? Was Jesus passed from one to another to be held and warmed, admired and shared like the gift that He is?
Third, love. The final aspect I’m certain was present over any other thing is love. They must have been enveloped in an atmosphere of… pure love. Love between each other and love from heaven. After all, the angels ensured this couple was cared for. Mary and Joseph were guided to where they were supposed to be safely and securely. The angels directed the wise men, gathered the shepherds, and must have provided necessities (water, food, shelter). Those angels led them both into and out of Bethlehem unharmed.
During the holiday season, I always seem to have at least one week of panic - feeling hurried, overwhelmed, and flustered. I have list after list of all the things I need to get or accomplish, in addition to regular work and chores: buying gifts, wrapping presents, creating and addressing cards, obtaining all ingredients for cooking, baking, the many decorations... The pressure and worry bring me to a place of un-health, or at least less joy. I forget, for a few days, the key - it’s all about love - love given by our Father, love shared in family meals and traditions, and love felt simply through our interactions with one another.
In light of that first Christmas, I breathe... deep. I remind myself, simple is not only adequate, it is exquisite. I remember that night, the only decorations were glistening trees, twinkling stars and glowing hearts (hearts I envision filled with faith, peace, joy, and hope). I look at my lists and all the things around me - in the house, in the yard, in the town, in the office… there are a lot of things. Perhaps they are not so necessary. Only these were needed that first noel, that most holy night: God’s creation, each other, and love.
I’ve been hearing a lot about gifts and giving lately. Whether it be in class, in prayer, regarding recent disasters, or the approaching Christmas season, the concept of gifts and giving is all around me.
Although difficult to take time out of my hectic schedule, today I pause to ponder: what I am thankful for and what am I giving (i.e. contributing to the good of society)? Many things come to mind.
I am thankful for my family, my dogs, my home, the invitation to more author events, and ability to facilitate a retreat on rebuilding. I’m grateful for my faith, my friends, good books, my favorite bulky sweatshirt and indeed that warm wood stove (yes, I’m noticing the cold weather). I’m thankful for the view from the back deck, our holiday traditions and our simple routines that make us smile.
Being thankful is an emotion that brings joy and peace. Remembering to be grateful is the challenge. Often we focus on getting to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, cleaning the house, making lunches, fixing the leaky sink… and a hundred other time-consuming, energy-guzzling, life-required duties. They pop up, one after the other. If we wait until we’re finished to take a moment to stop, see, and enjoy the good, we will miss a whole lot of it. Our Creator gives us countless good things through the people and events in our daily existence. It’s nice to pause, not just for the sake of saying, “thank you,” but to feel gratitude; actually pay attention to and savor these everyday gifts. Increasing my awareness of such certainly produces an overall effect of happiness and serenity.
When I consider what I give, I may for a moment take pride in having recently supported causes for hurricane relief and cancer research. Then I start to wonder... that’s not enough. I need to make time to get back to the retirement home and visit some elderly friends. I need to impart a bit of tolerance to a few, and forgiveness to another. I can’t help but recall Matthew 25:34-40. Come... you gave food when I was hungry, visited me when I was ill, clothed and welcomed me… when… whenever you do so for the least of my brethren...
I recognize giving means more than carefully chosen presents to loved ones, and more still than donating money or possessions to a few in need. Contributing also includes sharing time, energy, spirit and prayers. When a friend is hurt or upset, I want to offer an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and perhaps some advice or assistance. I don’t want to quickly suggest, “It’ll be fine,” as I dash away to my next obligation. When a relative complains about their next “big issue,” I question myself; did I give them enough time and attention? It’s not always easy. When a coworker undermines me or someone I care about, I consider the many ways I can react; do I offer a prayer asking God to care for them?
I tend to watch my favorite home improvement shows while in the kitchen, where I spend a good deal of time. Recently, a couple was asked what they wanted most in a renovation. They looked at one another. The grandmother of a healthy brood (maybe twenty) said, “I just want space and time with my family.” She cared nothing for the things in the home, just a place to enjoy being with others. “Wow,” I thought, “Good answer; no fancy fixtures, custom cabinets, or marble mantles.”
As I conclude, I’ll promise to once again make a point to notice the small and wonderful gifts in my life; I’ll also make a conscious effort to share more of all that I have to give. I sincerely know that when I am more frequently focused on what we shall call, “both sides of gifts and giving,” I feel better, stronger, more content, fulfilled and whole.
Here are a few highlights from an adorable article on animal giving1:
Dolphins as well as cats give gifts to humans. Cats, both wild and domestic, offer dead prey in order to teach their young (or in the case of pets, their master) how to hunt and therefore acquire food.
Dolphins appear to offer what they consider very valuable resources, let’s say delicacies, like eel and tuna, to humans. In one well documented case, to the biologists in Australia who were studying them.2 Sharing outside a species is quite rare. Those dolphins never cease to amaze me!
Bonobos noted in the article share fruits and food not just in mating practice, as do many animals, but they share to others outside their own group with “stranger” bonobos.
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then they will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
- Matthew 25:34-40
How do you feel about Autumn?
Do you see Fall as a beautiful expression of nature, arrayed in all its splendor? Do you breathe deep the crisp air and admire the colorful trees? Do you relish the scent of pumpkin and ginger, take delight in the sound of swirling leaves, and feel energized from the chill on the wind? Or do you hate the allergies that accompany dried vegetation? Do you dislike that blustery, damp, cold atmosphere, the dying, dirty, disheveled leaves, and loss of summer flowers and crops?
We’ve all heard analogies which liken the seasons to human life. For example: Life starts as a sort of spring. We are born, fresh, new, and vibrant. Even now as we ponder, we envision adorable bunnies and chicks; add in babies and puppies (sorry, as a pet lover, I couldn’t help adding puppies) and our scene is set. Next, our effervescent, lively, animated days of youth and young adulthood almost sparkle as we bask in the summer sun: active, alive, with more plans and dreams than can barely fit inside a lifetime. Sure, we’ll see a thunderstorm now and then, but for the most part we remain a bit in awe of the accompanying lightning while we await the sun’s return, still believing we are near invincible.
Then what happens? We “mature.” We certainly notice life, let’s say, adjusting. I definitely creak a bit when I get up. I need reading glasses - still hard to comprehend. I can’t move as quickly, nor remember why I just climbed the stairs. Like the maple leaf, I feel each breath of wind more fully. What marks this stage? What emotions now rule? Do we fear or regret reaching our Fall? A few years ago, I dreaded seeing my age’s “number” rise. Who wants to let go of strong health and boundless energy? Dare I assume, very few, if any. However, I’ve learned to welcome every number, considering each a milestone in my journey. I may wrinkle, as do those leaves; my energy may slow or reduce, as does the length of daylight. I may face issues of withering, fading, and aging as I weather more driven storms with nary a rainbow in sight. Yet, I slowly realize… with age comes wisdom and a better sense of what life is all about. I understand the value in tranquility and serenity (peace and contentment over minor, but unexpectedly significant things, places, and events). I know better what love (in its many forms) means, much more fully, and maybe even understand the value in virtues like patience, humility, and true justice. In our, or at least my, youth, I was unaware of the depth in some of these precious ideas and treasures. I am thankful to have come through life transitions, challenges, and tests of will. Gratitude and optimism have grown in me; I believe thanks to all that has come before.
Therefore, I witness the beauty and astonishing colors; I breathe the crisp air. I anticipate pumpkin pies and the warm, orange glow from the wood stove. I can’t leave out campfires and s’mores under a star-filled sky. Suddenly, I confess an appreciation of my own autumn as something to savor, despite traces of brown spots and gray hairs.
Today as I witness the glory of this fall day, I declare: Autumn is gorgeous. Fall possesses its own sophisticated look and feel. It shines in brilliant majesty…. And, so too, do we!
Regardless of stage of life, may we stand tall and savor each and every day as the gift it is.
“Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?” said Piglet
“Suppose it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
- Winnie the Pooh, A Blustery Day.
He fills your days with good things, so your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
- Psalm 103:5
For they [My words] are life to those who find them, bringing health to one’s whole being.
With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.
- Proverbs 4:22-23
This month I’m compelled to pause in prayerful reflection. I dedicate my sincere wishes for speedy restoration to those affected by the 2017 Hurricane season. My heart goes out to lives lost, both physically and metaphorically in recent weeks. The ruin and desolation is... beyond what one imagines. We bow our heads in prayer, wonder why and how, and offer helping hands in whatever ways possible.
I did a little reading on hurricanes. Hurricane season starts in June and runs through November. The height of the season occurs in September, with September 11th noted as the “climatological peak” of activity. I found that date rather interesting. Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same sort of event, usually distinguished by location. These storms are pre-named. Depending upon the ocean area, there are several sets of names - a set for each area and each year, sorted in alphabetic order (most do not include Q & U; the Atlantic avoids Y & Z as well). When a storm is notable, usually due to wreckage and loss of life, the name may be retired. Hurricanes typically develop over warm water. Due to circulating winds, they often leave behind what’s called a cold wake. Ocean temperature drops significantly (as low cold water mixes with warm water above). When a hurricane reaches land, it leaves a “cold wake” of destruction in its path instead.
Hurricanes are categorized in classes one through five based upon wind speed, five indicating the harshest of storms. Category one storms include sustained winds over 74 mph; category five wind gales exceed 156 mph. Personally, I experienced a category four event, witnessing and emoting through preparations, the event, and its aftermath. Hurricanes include torrential rains and swirling gusts of wind and pressure. Some of us may relate through experiences of inner turmoil, knowing the swirling feelings of great loss and despair, and the analogous drowning of hope.
As we know, Texas is recovering from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, while Florida braces for Irma. While we may feel helpless, many offer prayers, others financial support, while some are able to join recovery teams that travel on site. To all these I offer gratitude.
In the wake of loss that I’ve witnessed, I pray with vigor that new life and growth may eventually be born. We’ve heard the expression, “The calm before the storm.” I advocate an expression for “The aftereffects of opportunity and optimism.” Once the skies clear, we witness people coming together in their only commonality - humanity. People. People full of compassion, determination, hope, and goodwill.
As distributors of god’s peace and grace, put your gifts to the service of one another. The one who speaks is to deliver God’s message; those who serve, do so with God’s strength.
- 1 Peter 4:10-11
Unfortunately, (or some could argue, fortunately), this is often when we are at our best - as we support one another after a crisis. Divisions of race, creed, gender, class, geography, political affiliation, etc. simply disappear. Brothers and sisters united in a silent vow to rise above the devastation. We may not be able to control the weather, but we can make a difference in the way we handle the reconstruction of affected lives. We all react after tragedy: whether by offering resources, learning to value the small stuff in life, appreciating those close to us, or perhaps growing into acceptance and understanding of others (stubborn loved ones, insensitive friends, grouchy neighbors, annoying coworkers, even the frenzied, pushy stranger on the highway). Hardship, chaos, catastrophe… they leave their marks on land, across communities and in hearts.
Yesterday, someone alluded to signs for the end of time. Given [certain] current states of affair, I too have wondered, surmising that I’d not be surprised if such was forthcoming. Not just for obvious reasons of recent environmental and political debates, but for the lack of respect toward our fellow human beings. For example, while walking through a close-doored stairwell, I stopped and waited for three young men headed that way. I held the door and smiled at each as they passed. With heads down, avoiding eye contact, not one of them uttered a hello, offered a smile or remembered to say, thank you. I wasn’t annoyed for myself; I was sad for them. Did they even notice another person’s presence? I ponder… and fear our youngsters grow in soil of individualism, lacking old-fashioned principles of kindness, attentiveness, camaraderie, and polite manners… Nevertheless, we press forward...
God finds ways to move us past disaster. We resurrect wiser to value life, love, and charity. May we all find fresh, new ways to appreciate our lives, our talents, and our potential. May we find joy in everyday events. Let us live in the present, focusing less on hurtful pasts or with anxieties about uncertain futures. After all, we can worry and prepare, believing we’ve got “it” under control and then… Who in Texas only weeks ago imagined their life as they find it today?
Let us hug and smile and share and hold doors and be the best we can be - right now. Let us put forth goodness and kindness into the universe with positive karmas and bright auras. Maybe there is hope for us yet!
Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience... forgiving one another… And over all these put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace dwell in your hearts... be thankful…
- Colossians 3:12-15
Lillian Corrigan uses writing to learn, inspire and encourage both others and herself. No stranger to devastating, life-altering hardship and loss, she's begun working as a motivational author.