Category Archives: gratitude

Nothing in Particular…

My older son headed back to college this morning; my younger has returned to his usual high school schedule. For the first time in over a month, the family routine has returned to its usual configuration. A look over the recent holiday vacation brings to mind: nothing in particular.

We ate the usual meals at their usual times, with conversation spanning a wide range of unimportant topics. There were trips to buy clothes and groceries, and walks around Wareham – solitary, in pairs, and with all four of us. Sorry, Carcassonne, and Risk were set up on the carpet, and jigsaw puzzles took shape on the coffee table. Chores got done and each of us got bored every so often. None of it was remarkable or memorable.

It takes some unstructured, nothing-in-particular time for me to regain the awareness of the mystery that is every person; focus on particular talents and accomplishments can bring a blindness to this sacred truth. For whatever reason, sometimes it’s hardest to see God in those who share my address and name. Looking over a game board, the dinner table, and jigsaw pieces, I caught more than just a passing glimpse.

Blind spot spotted

I like to cook, and I spend a lot of time trying new recipes from Bon AppetitKing Arthur Flour, and my favorite cookbooks. I can work around food allergies and preferences, usually with no more than a minor adjustment here and there. But a weekend guest shined a light on something I hadn’t seen before: I don’t know how to create a good vegan meal, and I don’t have the ingredients necessary to do so. Almost everything I make requires dairy products, eggs, or some form of animal product. Cookies, muffins, rolls – none vegan. Outside of a couple of soups, my basic baguette recipe, granola and hummus, I could offer no more than a cup of coffee, a few nuts and a pbj. Vegetarian I can do: vegan, I can’t.

My vegan guest wasn’t around for any meals except a quick bite of breakfast before heading up to Boston – granola, toast, and coffee covered those. Still, I’m grateful for the awareness of my inability to offer vegans the same hospitality I can offer non-vegans. I’ll enjoy finding a few more recipes, or learning about how to adapt the ones I already know and love. I’m also grateful for the awareness of my dependence on animal products – those that don’t require loss of life and those that do. It brings with it the chance to live life with greater intention and thanks.

 

Craftsmanship

I ordered them from the seasonal sale catalogue, September 2000: LLBean leather ankle boots, stitched in Maine. They have kept my feet comfortable and dry for nineteen plus years. I’ve raked leaves, dug garden beds, trimmed shrubs, and chased children in them. For $45 and the cost of two sets of replacement laces, these boots have made my life richer for the miles they’ve carried me. I don’t know who put in the time, effort, and expertise to stitch leather onto sole, but I’ve said many a thanks to him or her. In a world of the disposable, it’s a rare blessing to find a classic designed for long term wear.

I took my last walk in these boots yesterday. The holes and cracks in the soles let in too much water, sand, and mud for use in bad weather or damp terrain. After almost two decades, the time had come to say good-bye. With a prayer of thanks for the life they gave me, I let them go.

For me, these boots hold two truths:

Good craftsmanship enhances life, well worth paying for.

Everything has its time, and that time is finite.

Like these boots, I hope my life’s work turns out to be an example of both.

Shaped

Life begins with a clean slate of potential, but with no experience.

Then comes the changes life brings – things that split us into different aspects, different ages and stages.

Life turns us around, revealing sides we didn’t even know we had. The people we know leave deep impressions.

God’s presence shapes us in ways we cannot understand. The process isn’t easy or quick.

Some of the changes are big, others small; some are nearly invisible from the outside.

But in the end, the shape of our lives can reveal the love of God in ways we could not imagine when we first entered this world.

As 2020 begins, I am thankful for the blessing of God’s hand in shaping my life.

A Different Way of Seeing, A Different Way of Being

[Handrail detail, Christ Church Parish, Plymouth, Massachusetts]

A fresh set of eyes and a beginner’s mind find a whole world of wonder and meaning in the very things that most people take no notice of. I’ve run my hand along the rail for years without really seeing its beautifully carved detail. It’s only because I’m working on a “find the image in the sanctuary” game as a way for children of all ages to learn more about their faith that I’ve managed to see what has been in plain sight all these years.

The beauty of the sanctuary as a whole can obscure the details – symbols, words, and colors that tell the story of Christian faith lived in a particular time and place but also taking part in the much larger world of faith. Too much focus on one or two details runs the risk of losing the larger picture. Big picture or small detail: God can draw my spirit into loving communion either way.

One of the blessings of 2020: beauty prayerfully made that deepens faith.

Welcome 2020!

In a few hours, 2019 will bow out and hold open the door for 2020. I’ll be toasting in the New Year with friends – an almost every year gathering for the seventeen years I’ve lived in Wareham. When the festivities end and my husband and I are back home, I’ll take a few minutes to thank God for the year just past; then, I’ll begin 2020 by writing about blessings – the happy ones, sad ones, hard and easy ones. I hope you share a few of your own along the way – conversation is so much more fun than monologue…

 

I’ve got plenty…

How could anybody ask for more?

It’s a line from Irving Berlin’s song, delivered in Holiday Inn by Bing Crosby. In the scene, he’s sitting down to a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner alone. A record cheerily plays Bing singing about all the things he’s thankful for while the live Bing sits alone, feeling sorry for himself. He talks back to his recorded self, listing life’s faults and shortcomings. Unlike the line in the song, there’s plenty more he’d like to ask for.

This being a Hollywood musical, everything works out splendidly for everyone involved, and the movie ends with amazing singing and dancing.

Most of us know life isn’t an Irving Berlin musical. We don’t get the girl (or boy, depending), our career plans go awry, and there’s rarely world class singing and dancing to celebrate at the end of each calendar year. Even for the people whose lives work out that way, everything gained doesn’t guarantee joy and fulfillment – no one and nothing can provide another’s happiness and contentment. There will be arguments and bad days.

Bing’s character may be wrong in the everyday sense: a laundry list of positives without the inevitable negatives is naive at best and misleading at worst. But he’s right in the much larger sense. When we know that our lives are held by God, that we are God’s beloved children, we don’t bet our joy and happiness on our current circumstances. We are enough because God delights in us. We may ask for more worldly goods, but there’s nothing more our spirits need to live holy lives. We can be happy, not because what we have is always enough, but because we are always enough. We are always loved. And so, with Bing, we can sing: how could anybody ask for more?

[Irving Berlin, Holiday Inn soundtrack, recorded in 1942, released by Sunbeam records, 1979 & 2004]

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?