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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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“Have a lovely Thanksgiving.”

I laughed out loud when I read that note from my editor.  We are not lovely Thanksgiving people.  We are more like the Griswold Family and I do mean both sides of the family.

My sister has to do everything with perfection.  No seriously.  She makes Martha Stewart look slapdash.  She is also a vegetarian as is my niece.  Dad, who has dementia, will insist on telling her all about my son’s foray into the woods deer hunting.  The teen knows better but my Dad?  Try to stop him.  And he won’t try to talk to anyone else about it so I know it isn’t entirely accidental. Dad thinks he’s funny.

My sister-in-law?  Also heavily into perfection but there are so many people on that side of the family.  We have engineers, IT people, hipsters, and young professionals.  Then there’s my kid – red neck libertarian?  Yeah, that’s a description he’s appreciate.  It will be loud, it will be rambunctious and something will go slightly askew.

Lovely?  No.  Fun, humorous and full of loud love.  Anyone who goes looking for lovely will be frustrated beyond belief.  But those of us who jump into it will come out the other side grate-filled for the family with which God blessed us.

–SueBE

 

 

Prayer vs fearBetween Thanksgiving being just around the corner and the Senate vote to limit Middle Eastern refugees, I’m sure we’ve all been doing a lot of soul searching.  It’s hard to be grateful when people make unjust decisions.

I understand this better as an adult than I did as a child. In the mid-197s when I was in grade school, another school district folded into ours and the impact was huge. I’m not sure how many elementary schools there were or any of the stats.  That’s not why it was a big deal.  It was the makeup of the district.  That’s a nice sanitary way of saying race.

My district was largely working class Catholics.  My family was the minority because we were Protestant.  Do I need to point it out?  The vast majority of us were also white.

The new part of the district was also working class. I suspect there were more Protestants than Catholics, but they were black.  Plans were immediately put into place to desegregate the combined districts.  K-4 would be taught on my side of the district.  5 and 6 would be bussed to the new part.

What was the school board thinking? People reacted strongly to this plan. Many people moved away. This may have been the beginning of white flight although no one used that phrase.

My parents talked to me about their decision to stay.  “God made us all. The white ones and the brown ones. They’re just as scared as you are.”

I found that hard to believe.  I had heard more than once that as soon as I got off the bus OVER THERE, I would get knifed. It’s just how those people are.  I wanted to believe my parents.  I really did.  But people were moving.  They were putting their kids in new schools. What did they know that my parents didn’t?

I was terrified when I got off the bus that first day. I’d love to say that I immediately had an epiphany, but I don’t remember my first day. It must have been pretty normal. I got to know my fellow students. These were the girls who taught me to turn double dutch. They tried to teach me to jump. Don’t blame them for my two left feet. They honed my jacks game. They taught me to sled on a piece of cardboard in a trash bag (easier to bring to school than a sled). This was also the first time I saw somebody stand up to a bully. I still remember him strutting across the playground behind the teacher. Sure, he was in trouble too but he’d done the right thing and no one could convince him otherwise.

My parents had done the right thing too. It wasn’t an easy decision but I know they prayed about it.

Back to today.  I wish that our Senate had made the tough decision but they caved in to fear.  Fortunately, you and I can still make a different decision. There are bullies out there.

I’m just grateful my parents taught me to go with God even when that choice doesn’t look safe. All too often, the danger is the product of our fevered imaginations.

–SueBE

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.

The weekend before Thanksgiving.  You might expect to spend this time contemplating your many blessings and thanking those around you who figure in this count. knit

Or you might live one city over from the infamous town of Ferguson, Missouri where a police officer shot a teen age boy in early August.  In that case, you’d spend the weekend before Thanksgiving asking if anyone had heard anything – indict or no, protest or no, riot or no.  You could spend your time trying to read something into every word and every silence . . . or not.

Frankly, many of us who live in the area are sick of it.  We’re sick of the controversy, the expectations, the misunderstandings and the misrepresentations in the media.

I spent the day at the Florissant Presbyterian Church craft fair and book sale.  I spent the day with people who find ways to share what they love with others.  One woman does sewing machine embroidery that is so intricate it looks like a painting. What an amazing way to bring cheer into someone’s home! A man turns the most beautiful wood into bowls.  Simple and utterly amazing.  I watched a tiny boy of about four catch a woman’s display as it started to slide off the table and then scoot back to mama’ side. Teens and toddlers, grandparents and couples, come together in community.

These are the things for which I will be giving thanks all through the holiday weekend – a wide variety of people living, loving and working side-by-side.   Heavenly Father, thank you for helping me see.

–SueBE

 

Last week may have been Thanksgiving but as this verse ran through my head, I was anything but Thankful.  Why should I be?  A friend died on Friday.  We were burying her on Tuesday.  And I had been asked to work the funeral luncheon.  Quite frankly, I didn’t want to do it.  As an introvert, this was just a bit much.  Thankful?  I don’t think so.

Funerals are never easy but there were things about this one that made it especially difficult. Darlene reminded me an awful lot of my mom. Ninety percent of the time, that’s a good thing, but they both died of lung cancer and pneumonia.  Nope.  Not feeling grateful.

At the funeral, I ran into another friend.  It was nice to have someone to walk in with and we cheered each other on. Together, we’d be okay.  Then we ran into another friend neither of us had seen in over a year.  Strong arms, plentiful hugs and friendship.  I managed to muster some thanks for these things.

But I still didn’t want to work the luncheon.

At church, I put vases on tables, slipped casseroles into the oven and reached pitchers none of the other ladies could reach.  We had three hours between the funeral service and the luncheon, but the time didn’t drag as I thought it would.  Together, we talked about Darlene and her husband, Roy.  We compared memories, swapped stories and talked about other family and friends.

We laughed at the playful debate about how to arrange sliced tomatoes on a platter (lines or rounds) and how best to lay out the flat wear.  That said, the humorous highlight of the day may have been when they asked me to cover platters with plastic wrap. Yes, I have seen it before, but it generally wins the battle.

I may not have wanted to work, but I needed to work and fortunately that’s where I ended up even if I was too befuddled to hear that still small voice.  I found myself just where I needed to be — among friends, sharing hugs and tears and laughter.

I’m still not thankful for my loss.  I tear up every time I see her empty chair in choir.  But I can’t help but smile when I look around at the friends we shared.  I can give thanks for that and there will be more to come.

–SueBE

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.

Coat crib and Hat and Mitten Tree (2010)

One coat, one pair of mittens, isn’t much. Added with the gifts of others, many will be warmed.

Every day, when we bring in the mail, there is another envelope.  Someone is asking for money.  Help the orphans.  Help the homeless.  Help the hungry.

As much as I want to help, the need is overwhelming.  I freeze up.   I know I have a lot to be grateful for, but in the face of so much need, how can I really help?

Last weekend my son participated in Scouting for Food.  One Saturday, the boys drop off bags and ask people to donate just a few cans.  Just what you can.

What most people don’t realize is how these little bits add up.  The Saturday after the boys drop off the bags, they pick them up.  It always takes a bigger crew of bigger boys this second week and when the numbers rolled in this year I found out why.

They collected over 2 million food items.  That’s right.  2,000,000 plus.  That’s the highest total they’ve reached in five years.  Think of all the food pantries that will be helped.  Think of all the families who will have food on their tables.  The boys collected over 2 million items because people like you and I each gave a few cans.  No single bag looks like much but taken together they are quite a haul.

This holiday season open your heart.  Listen for God.  Then pick a charity.  Focus on a particular cause.  Then, give what you can.  Maybe it is just an afternoon spent packing boxes at the local food pantry.  Or a single toy.  Or a coat.

One toy and one coat don’t look like much.  Neither did one small bag of cans.  But taken together our small donations can do a lot of good for those in need more than ever now that the weather has turned cold.

–SueBE

Holy HolidaySeem a little early for a holiday post?  I thought so too until I realized that the craft and home blogs I regularly read are already peppered with holiday posts ranging from Thanks Trees and roasting pan giveaways to Christmas ornaments and themed trees. 

Then there are the warnings.  “Only 8 more Saturdays until Christmas!” and “How to plan the perfect Holiday meal.”

If you’re already rushing around in a kerfuffle or even planning your kerfuffle, I’d like to invite you to dial it back and think for a moment about the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas.

The first Thanksgiving was a feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  I’m sure it involved a certain amount of planning and cooking and such, but this was a Puritan Thanksgiving.  Puritans were not the flashiest people on the planet.  They didn’t go in for the latest fashions or posh homes.  Simply put, this would not have been a Pin-able celebration.

Yet it had God at the center.

Before that, came the first Christmas.  Christ was born in a stable, a stable behind a full-to-capacity inn in a city crowded with people traveling for the census.  Have you ever been in a stable or barn that is more crowded than normal?  Even if it wasn’t nasty, it was bare bones, simple, serviceable.  Pin-able?  Hardly.

But Christ was there.

Whether or not your plates match isn’t the big issue.  The menu doesn’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to knock yourself out over gifts, or wrapping or cards.

Instead take some time to walk outdoors.  Get together with friends.  Enjoy the things that bring you close to God.  Make him your Center.  It may not make for a Pin-able celebration, but it will make for a truly Holy-day whether we are talking Thanksgiving or Christmas.

–SueBE

This is the anthem that our choir sang today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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