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Note: I know there are many people out there truly suffering this Thanksgiving — this post is not for you. A change of perspective won’t mitigate your very real grief. Please know that the prayers and empathy of many, many people are with you this holiday season. Take care of yourselves!

Blessing myopia: The inability to see all the marvelous gifts in our lives because we are too focused on negative things that occlude our vision. I’ve certainly been guilty of this lack of awareness. Maybe you have, too? This Thanksgiving, let’s shift our focus a bit.

There’s lint in my pockets
but no holes, and my boots
(battered, worn) will last
another season. If I cut the frayed bits
off my jacket, no one will be the wiser.
I am fed, filled. I sink into bed
(the mattress little more than
dust mites tightly holding tentacles)
and sleep warm and well.
When I am cold, the cat comes
to sit; no blanket could be better.
There is sun somewhere,
even if I can’t see it.
It will rise and set predictably.
The clock of my life will tick.
The sound will fill the hollow places,
joy will change the plain days
into something rather lovely.
Ordinary life will stop my breath
with surprise, and daily my heart
will croon.

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At this time of year, one would expect to read a post about thanksgiving — that is, about giving thanks for the blessings and bounty of one’s life. My contribution is a little different. I am grateful this year for pain; specifically, the pain in my left knee, of which I am reminded every time I cross my legs. I am grateful because this pain reminds me, over and over again, just how harmful, corrosive and painful passing judgment on others can be.

Years ago, I broke my ankle in a dramatic and gymnastically spectacular fall down a short flight of steps. I also injured my opposite knee at the same time. My employer, a generous man who worried about my well-being, sent me to his doctor, a specialist, to make sure my ankle and knee were well attended to.

My husband came along — I couldn’t drive with my cast, and I wanted his loving support (as I do in all matters, great and small). The doctor was polite to my spouse, but downright curt with me. When I described my knee pain, he grabbed the offending joint and wrenched it, hard. I shouted in pain. “Well, you might need surgery for that down the road,” he said.

My ankle had lost a triangular-shaped piece of bone. It still aches terribly in the cold. And my knee still bothers me — not enough to pursue something as radical as surgery, but just enough to remind me about how that doctor treated me. I was mystified by it at the time, and for a long while after. And then it came to me. This was the same doctor that my boss had sent other employees to, only these employees were dear to him for other reasons: Specifically, he was dating them.

What must that doctor have thought of me, sitting on his examination table, holding my husband’s hand? He must have thought me the worst of harlots, the most shameless of hussies. No wonder he was so brusque.

He was dead wrong, of course. I was, and am, an excellent worker, but I am also the most loyal of spouses. Yet in one stroke that doctor judged me guilty and meted out justice in a bedside manner most unbecoming to his profession.

Strangely, I am grateful for the pain left behind because it reminds me what judgment does to others. Judging is hurtful. It is not my place to judge anyone, nor is it theirs to judge me. I also think God gave me this experience for a reason. I can be overly judgmental, pointing fingers mentally at what I perceive as others’ spiritual flaws…without remembering that these flaws are not my business; they are God’s. My responsibility is for my own flaws, to tending my own soul’s garden.

And if I ever need reminding, I can just cross my legs.

1 Sing joyful songs to the Lord!
Praise the mighty rock where we are safe.
2 Come to worship him
with thankful hearts
and songs of praise.

3 The Lord is the greatest God,
king over all other gods.
4 He holds the deepest part
of the earth in his hands,
and the mountain peaks
belong to him.
5 The ocean is the Lord’s
because he made it,
and with his own hands
he formed the dry land.

6 Bow down and worship
the Lord our Creator!
7 The Lord is our God,
and we are his people.

Psalm 95:1-7 CEV

My son has had trouble waking up for school for years, but in the last few months, it had really become a challenge. A blood test at the doctor’s office revealed that he has a thyroid problem and a Vitamin D deficiency. I was relieved to hear that there was a reason for his fatigue; now we could begin to treat the issues and things would change for the better.

So I got right down to the important task of expressing my gratitude to God in prayer.

Thank you for resolving this long-standing problem, Lord. I appreciate you giving us the information and tools we need to help my son.

Next thing I knew, I lapsed into what I call a “weighted” prayer. That is to say, I am genuinely grateful for the things God has done in my life, but as I send thanks skyward, it’s fraught with an underlying heaviness and I can’t help but add a little snarky postscript, like so:

But you know, it would have been great if You’d done this sooner! I mean, You created all the planets, minute life forms like paramecia, and they say Your eye is on the sparrow. Why did this slip by You?

As with everything, we’ve got a New Jersey phrase for what I was doing. In Jerzese, we call it being a Stunod. A Weisenheimer. A Jamoch. I was busting God’s shoes! What in the world was I thinking. Did I not recall that, while mostly merciful, God is also in possession of a wicked-hot thunderbolt? Tread lightly there, self!

Over the summer, friends helped us cut down a dead tree, and since that time, I’ve had a pile of branches in my yard. The other day, a contractor came to the door and offered to haul the load away. He was someone who’d done work for my neighbor, and his rates were reasonable. This was a good thing, so I prayed about it.

Thank you Lord, for sending an honest contractor to clear those branches. ‘Course, it woulda been great if You’d sent him sooner….

Back seat driving? When God’s at the wheel? Now that’s nervy. Like attaching an anchor to a prayer. Sending a beautiful love note with a thumb tack in it.

A prayer needs to have just enough substance to pack in what you have to say, but enough lightness and lilt to wend its way up to Heaven.

I’ll work on my habit of editorializing and Jerzifying as I send prayers of thanks. I know that the best way to express appreciation– to anyone, but particularly to the Source of my Strength – is to put it simply and graciously, without any extra weight. And certainly, it’s best to can the ‘tude when talking to the One holding us (and everything else in existence) together. Simply put: From my heart, Lord. Thank You.

You’ve heard it before:
that tale about the two sisters.
One relevant moment with a fairy and wham! —
Each time they open their mouths, out fly judgments:
Flowers and jewels for the good sister,
snakes and stones for the bad one.
Let us forsake the topic of practicality:
You could chip a tooth on a ruby,
not to mention choking on a toad.

I have lived this story and so have you.
When I breathe a discordant word,
I might as well expel an asp.
But put words of thanks on my lips,
and suddenly —
a spray of petals, bright diamonds,
a shining array of good and gracious.

It is time to decide your gifts:
Which sister will you be?
For me, I give thanks:
for shoes in the closet,
for heat in my home,
for food so plentiful,
I think of dieting.

O God, O Provider of all,
make of my words
all that is precious,
all that is holy:
May I return to you your gifts
in rose-hushed prayer
and sparkling praise.

This  fall, I joined the Lydia’s Circle at Florissant Presbyterian Church.  Why?  Sometimes I feel like the only women I know well are my fellow choir members and the women who come to book club or prayer group.  I wanted to widen my circle a bit and this seemed like a good way to do it.

What I didn’t expect, and still haven’t entirely deciphered, are the various offerings they collect.  I may not have deciphered all of them, but I have latched on to one of them – the Thanks Offering.

Whenever I am thankful for something, I fish out a coin and drop it into my Thanks Bank.  I also send up a prayer of thanks.  So far I’ve added coins into my bank for:

  • a rainy morning when I got to sleep in,
  • an afternoon spent on the sofa reading a good book,
  • having to make room on the sofa for my son and his book,
  • Indian summer and a second set of blooms from my clematis,
  • a good choir rehearsal,
  • a hug from a friend,
  • getting family photos hung in the living room,
  • a note from my editor that she is taking my book manuscript to committee.

Blessings big and blessings small. They’re there. Sometimes we just need to remember to count them.

–SueBE

 

Thank You, Lord,
for the many blessings
You rain down
on me and mine.

Thank You
for the food we eat,
the clothes we wear,
and the beds
we sleep in each night.

Thank You most of all
for the behind the scenes blessings
that keep us safe,
that bring us joy,
that shape our lives,
even though we never know
that these special gifts
have been given to us
each and every day.

Amen

I’m not even sure what my son was whining about that particular evening. Everything and nothing. In truth, he was probably over tired because he’d just started swim team with both its swim practice and dry land training. But we’d also been picking at each other a lot – my husband giving my son grief, me giving him an earful in turn and so on. We simply were not appreciating each other or a whole lot of anything else.

“We’re going to start something new tonight.” I got them both to sit down at the kitchen table, but the looks they gave me were wary. You know – the kind of look that says, what on earth is she up to? “We are each going to name five things that we are thankful for.”

My husband, looking relieved, was immediately on board. My son? Not so much. When his turn came around he stated that he was thankful for one cat. Then another cat. Then the last cat. And thank you to Mom for letting me eat. And then something about his Dad (I don’t remember what but my husband laughingly points out that I came directly after the cats while he was last). Fortunately, this funk didn’t last and my son is now with the program.

For my part, I’m learning a lot. I’ve learned that although they don’t say it often, they are grateful when I make a meal and run errands for them. This is also a great way to find out about what concerns them. Thanks that he made friends on the swim team tells me that, no matter how self-assured he acted, my son was worried, at least a little bit, about being the new kid in the pool. My husband’s thanks give me some insight into what is going on at work and what his hopes are for our family.

This may not seem like a big deal, but we aren’t together 24/7, and they are typical males. The things that they worry about the most are seldom topics of conversation. Giving thanks as a family has given me some insight into matters to them.

What does this have to do with prayer and faith? When I pray for someone, I don’t like to make assumptions. I can’t pray for a solution if I don’t know there is a problem. Now that I know what is going on with the two men in my life, I can hold these things up in prayer.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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