Category Archives: gratitude

Absolute Color

A week before Easter nineteen years ago, a package came for me. My mother-in-law had sent a set of floral placemats and napkins, with this note:

I saw these in a shop downtown and thought they would look lovely with your violet tablecloth. Happy Easter. Love, Carol

She was right. There was a bit of violet in the fabric that was an exact match for my tablecloth. How she knew that from thousands of miles away, I do not know. But if there’s a visual equivalent to absolute pitch, Carol had it.

The beauty of things mattered to her – setting a table, arranging furniture, picking a wardrobe. She had the gift of making things look just so, and my own table is the better for it.

My son and I used those napkins last night. More than for their beauty, I value them because they are a visible sign of Carol’s love. My life is more beautiful for it.

 

Remembering Carol

My mother-in-law passed from this life into the next yesterday morning.  In just a few days, with the family I joined half my life ago and the family that’s come into the world since then, I’ll stand by her grave  and give her back to God. But for today, I’ll share one of my favorite moments with Carol:

Sitting on my patio soon after the birth of my second son, she asked if I was going to try for a girl – something she had done thirty-eight years earlier. I answered with a shake of my head, just as her third attempt for a girl brought our newborn son outside and placed him in her arms – her son, my husband, Dave.

Bless you, Carol. Rest in the arms of God.

Peaceful sleep…

Angel Guardian, keep and preserve all of us from every evil, sickness, and grief.

Help us, O Lord, to be good, obedient, and kind.

I thank thee, O Lord, for all good things thou has sent to me during this past day.

Let me spend this night in peace, and protect me from all harm. Amen.

[A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 16]

Let me spend this night in peace…

During one stay with my parents after my older son was born, my father sent me off to bed around ten o’clock with a promise that he’d put Colin in the crib when he was ready to sleep. He also told me not to worry if Colin woke early – he’d be up early anyway, and he’d be glad to keep Colin company while I got some extra sleep. Ten minutes later, I was asleep; nine hours later, I awoke to hear Colin and my father downstairs, laughing. A few years after that, he kept my younger son company, soothing Jared through an uncomfortable night of teething while I slept without interruption.

I spent those nights in peace because I knew my father and trusted in his love and care for me and my young sons. I didn’t wake up because I knew he was more than capable of meeting their needs. If an emergency arose, my father would do whatever was necessary, and would wake me if I needed to be up.

My children are twenty-one and eighteen now, and my father died almost four years ago. But each night, I still hand Colin and Jared over, just as I have since their first  nights in this world. I hand them over to God, trusting that God’s love for them will not fail. I do the same with everyone else’s lives, including my own. If I could not give everyone over to God, would I ever get a peaceful night’s sleep?

This past day

At the end of the day, am I grateful for the hours I was given? Am I aware, on the superficial as well as on the deepest level, of the miracle I’ve been immersed in? The miracle I easily mistake for an infinite if commonplace resource: daily life.

Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of its outline or a hint of its face. The way the trees move in the wind, the way my cats interrupt their backyard explorations to rest under my hand, the aeronautic wonder of a sparrow flying from maple to forsythia, the appearance of my still sleepy son packing his duffel before heading to work.

Food on the table, breathable air, loving and being loved. Today may not be perfect, and I may forget some of its gifts. Still…

I thank thee, O Lord, for all good things thou hast sent to me during the past day. 

[nighttime prayer, A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 16. This is part of an ongoing series. For the full prayer, click Prayer At Night above.]

Help Us, O Lord

Help us, O Lord, to be good, obedient, and kind.

Good, obedient, and kind. Taken separately, they don’t have near the power as they do together.

Good    Help me spend my days wisely, offering my talents, knowledge, and energy only to those things that increase the love in this world. Everything I am can devastate or foster. Help me choose the latter.

Obedient      I am too limited to see very far down the path of love and peace. I am tempted to serve lesser powers: greed, vanity, and fear.  Help me choose to serve you, when your reasons seem clear and when they do not.

Kind      All the good intentions will lead me astray if I am willing to harm others in their name. Help me choose kindness over judgement, for you have been so kind to me.

On this day, help me to remember that without kindness I can mistake personal piety for goodness and unwillingness to accept the consequences of my actions for obedience. God help me.

[For the full prayer, click prayer at night above]

The End…and the Beginning

Sleep well, see you in the morning.

The day is nearly done. Things left undone will have to wait – there isn’t time to turn them into things done. This is the time to say good-bye to this day, with all that it has been and all that it has not. There can never be another one exactly like it because the world continues to turn and I continue to move from birth to death.

Sleep well

I let go of the day, giving thanks for the gift it was. I give everyone I love back to God, in the hope and faith that they will be returned to me in the morning. If they are not, then in the hope and faith that their return to God is joyous. Then I close my eyes and give myself back, too.

see you in the morning…

Whatever has happened in the past, a new day rises. Its pattern may seem ordinary and predictable, but this is something altogether new. It may not be easy or painless, but the morning brings its own miracles. I can see it in the sky’s light, and I can see it in you.

For this, O Lord, I give you thanks. Amen.

Say Your Prayers

Now I lay me down to sleep…

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Lord bless me as I close my eyes…

Dear God, tonight I give everyone I love back to you…

The words are only the doorway, meant to be moved through. Say them knowing that God listens and waits for you. Not because you owe an account for every good, bad, and indifferent thing you though, said, or did – because you are a well loved child coming home after a long day’s adventure, and God wants you to share everything that happened.

Jump in Bed

It was a great way to end the day – taking a flying leap onto my bed. I don’t think I’ve jumped into bed in the literal sense in well over thirty years, save a few exceptions. It certainly isn’t part of my normal routine any more. Even my children are too big for such a nightly action. It seems to be for the young and light weight.

Have I left behind the joy of heading to bed, along with my childhood body and years? I wonder. Have I forgotten what a blessing it is to have a safe, comfortable place to end my day? To let go of the world I think I can control in favor of the dreamscape that springs from well far deeper than my conscious mind’s pool is an adventure offered to me every night. I haven’t given this a thought in a very long time.

Many times, I’ve heard the Spirit more clearly in my dreams than in my waking hours. Isn’t it worth a good jump into bed for that alone?

Now I lay me down to sleep…

The Book We Choose

What book do you want to read tonight?

I ordered a copy of Boynton’s The Going To Bed Book for my niece’s soon-to-be-in-the-world son, Declan. It was a favorite of my own two boys, given by my friend Diane. I’ve read it hundreds of times, and all that reading has worn the corners and spine soft.

The story starts at sunset and ends with everyone fast asleep under a bright moon. In between,  the animals do all the going-to-bed activities – bathing, brushing teeth, exercising, and saying good night to each other. Like all great literature, familiarity makes it more interesting rather than less. Like all good picture books, it presents a the world in a smattering of simple words and captivating images.  From these early books comes a love of learning and an appreciation for beauty.

How do you give someone else the world? How do you reveal the pain and joy of life? What is the best way to point out the wondrous things that surround us, and the ones that live within us? There are many answers to such questions. Still, the way of the children’s book is one of the best:  Go with simple words. Point out the small miracles of daily life – moon, stars, ants, baths. Paint a picture when possible. Read it over and over until it becomes part of you. Give it a good ending. Share it with others.

The moon is high. The sea is deep.

They rock

and rock

and rock

to sleep.

[Boynton, Sandra; The Going To Bed Book; New York: Little Simon, new edition, 1995]

 

 

 

End well, begin well

Time to do the dishes…

My grandmother had us help with supper dishes once everyone was done eating – cleaning and putting away everything used for cooking or serving. Tabletops and cupboards were wiped clean, and the wet dish towels hung to dry overnight. But dish duty didn’t end there: by the time everyone headed to bed, the kitchen sink was full of tea cups and plates from bedtime snacks. Before she slept, she washed and dried all of them, returning them to the shelves and cupboards where they belonged. It’s no good starting a new day with yesterday’s dishes in the way, she’d say. I want to start tomorrow with a clean kitchen. 

Turns out, my grandmother had the right idea. Beginning the day with a clean kitchen is beginning with a clean slate. The morning tasks are done more easily when the work space is clean and all the necessary utensils are ready to use, in the physical sense and psychologically. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t always just dirty dishes: they are a symbol of a burdensome life routine. The simple investment of ten minutes and a dollop of dish soap gets a necessary chore done and offers a tomorrow without the burden of today’s leftover messiness.

Have you noticed that spiritual practices are much the same? They are simple steps and actions designed to be done at the beginning and end of the day; they are repetitive, requiring an investment of time and energy; they can’t be done once and for all, and they enhance the lives of those who do them. Left undone, life becomes an inconvenient mess.

The Jesus prayer, meditation, lectio divina, daily readings – just a few of the practices that can help you put your soul’s house to rights every night and wake up to God’s new day ready for whatever will come.  I’ll remember this when I see dishes in the sink.