Thursday, April 19, 2018

Gratitude .. Let Me Count the Ways

A couple years ago I was privileged to share in a study at church with a group of women (that I didn’t have to lead myself!) Although I couldn’t connect with the theology of the woman on the video – or her style of speaking – her key idea stayed with me.

She spoke about noticing the gifts all around us and of her own journey as she took committedly began journaling about them each day. Would you commit to recording five things each day that you’re grateful for? I’m all for gratitude. And being an on-and-off-again journaling person I had a few notebooks laying around so I took the challenge.

Now right away I’ll admit that I’m only on number three-hundred-something and, like I said, the study was two years ago. So clearly this doesn’t happen every day.

Since moving to Wausau my practice suffered even more. But a couple months ago I found my little spiral notebook in a stack of journals – some full, some not so full. I set it on the kitchen table along with my pens – I alternate colors, which is about as artsy as I get – and on my weekends, however many mornings that is, I sit and record gratitudes as my Sabbath station plays on the Sonos.

The next monkey wrench is that now that I’m getting back into my practice, I miss it during those weekends when I stay over in Wausau. (My notebook is in Appleton.) This should be an easy fix, I know, but I don’t want to start in one of the beat-up theme books that litter my little house and I haven’t yet gotten one I can love. (I’ll work on this.) So until I find a notebook, I collect thankful moments in my mind before sleep. That helps me remember that my life is full and rich.

How do you celebrate thankfulness? Or remind yourself that, even in the midst of the crummy stuff, God is still present and active and that life is still good?

After playing society’s game of chasing shadow wealth, Laura Tong writes about her discovery of true wealth:
... with no idea where to go from there, I found an empty journal and started a record of the True Riches In My Life. For each year of my adult life, I jotted down every experience, achievement, adventure, friendship won or lost, and every decision I could remember making.

What an epiphany!

I realized my life had been full of riches long before I started chasing financial wealth and material gain. I realized most of the truest riches in my life actually came when I didn't have all that much money.
Laura then writes about some of these real riches. Acceptance, curiosity, forgiveness aren’t surprising but I was intrigued to see vulnerability on the list. I’m going to think about that one. You might want to check out her blog and notice what catches your attention.

Just recently I had an epiphany of sorts myself. It’s still too close to me to speak of in any depth, but after being reminded about how many people’s lives are shaped by fear, and how easily my own can sometimes dive that direction, I decided that I was going to live in love – with everyone and everything I encountered. If this brought me to where I wanted to be, fabulous! Wonderful! If not, well, I would still be in a better place than if I didn’t do it.

Okay, no big surprise there, but somehow, sometimes, when we face ourselves in the mirror for the tenth or ten-thousandth time, we find that we notice things we’ve known all along in whole new ways. And as we continue our journey, our lives become fuller and richer for having paused enough to notice.

What words speak to you about the preciousness of this life? Here are a couple more that resonate with me:

Sunday, April 8, 2018

You Matter; I Matter

We welcomed two people into our church family today at Wausau: First. One of them is only months old and their name isn’t even in our church registry yet. (We’ll have to fix that!) We welcomed this beloved child of God through baptism. Family gathered from all over to witness the event. We spoke ancient words and spoke of “water and the Spirit.” An older brother and sister watched proudly and shyly. A delighted grandfather walked the little one up and down the center aisle as a member of our United Methodist Women told the parents of a gift they will make in honor of their child’s baptism. This event was a wonderful addition to our 10 a.m. worship time.

Yet the 8 a.m. worship service also celebrated a joining today. This one, another of God’s beloved children, is more old than young. He has already been a part of this church for twenty years (less than a quarter of his lifetime) yet over Lent he decided to make it official. No friends or family came from far away to witness the event, though it was no less special to me (or hopefully him.) We spoke words of “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.”

His partner had secretly been in communication with the church office to have a magnetic nametag made for him. As everyone applauded, she handed it to him with a few quiet words. (Later she said with a gentle smile, “It's about time.”) We all stood in the aisle and shook hands with each other, and saying “Welcome” to this new addition.

It was a good morning. (Of course, both have been a part of God's family all along. Only churches are fussy about membership and such.) All present were hopefully reminded that we are each invaluable to all the others with whom we worship. Each of us is special, unique and beloved. We needed this, I believe, especially after learning last month that one of our community had ended his life.

Too often we lose track of how very many people value us and of all who would feel our absence keenly were we to disappear. In my longtime favorite flick, one person gets a chance to experience this but it’s something we seldom get to do. And we need to know that we are valued. They need to know that they are valued. This month, maybe you could make a point of raising people’s awareness. Tell the folks – some of whom might never hear it – that they make your day a little brighter. Tell them about how they have wormed into your heart. Or about how you smile when you think of them. Or ... (well, you get the idea...)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Speaking & Silence

Today is Palm Sunday for many Christians around the world. (Orthodox Christians celebrate Holy Week and Easter a week later than we do this year.) Our worship at Wausau: First included a heavy dose of Mark’s gospel account as we first read Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem then, after a brief reflection, read of Jesus’ last night and day – two chapters interspersed with hymns and some silence.

It seemed to go over well. People spoke of how moving the service was. Since I plan such services with more time and energy than perhaps I ought, I’m glad it worked for people. I enjoyed it as well. Three people read at one service, four at the other. Hearing them with only an hour between, I was able to notice how differently each person read. Bonnie and Will read the same passage, yet Will emphasized certain words or phrases while Bonnie stressed others. All were quite effective.

Words are important. I once knew someone who was not careful with their words – not even when they knew that what they said could cause pain or conflict. “It’s up to you to hear my words the way I mean them.” I get that taking time to consider one’s words is work but how are listeners to know how the speaker means them? (For the record, I’ve historically been bad at this myself – though without the declaration.)

Yes, words are important. So is their delivery. I had to share the sad news this morning that a younger member of our congregation had died earlier this month. The death was unexpected. I was distressed when I first heard and I’d never met this person. How much more would people feel who had worshiped, ushered, broken bread and laughed together with this family? There is no good way to share such news. I could only hope and pray I didn’t do it badly. I prayed, the day I heard the news, yesterday and frequently in the time between.

When I was growing up I learned not to express anger; acting or speaking in anger was discouraged. When I married, I found that in my (now-former) husband’s family loud was fine and normal. So was anger. My Pandora’s box was opened and I struggled through the ensuing decades unsuccessfully trying to get the lid shut again. 

I can’t undo any of that. But I work each day at watching and hearing the person across from me. What do they hear? What do they notice? I’m again practicing silence – at least once in a while. Seldom do we do harm with that. (Methodist friends: Did you notice the General Rule reference?)
The Ecclesiastes writer mentions, “a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (3:7). I, for one, would be wise to continue practicing this.

If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. James 1:26

Monday, March 12, 2018

Keeping Pets and Partners

Watching an old episode of Enterprise, I’m slowly getting warmer. I'd draped a throw over the electric heater like a tent and am curled underneath. The space between the blanket and my neck create a chimney where lovely warm air wafts past my face. And I’m starting to feel cozy when Asriel shows up and drapes herself across my lap, flattening the blanket.

I now have a cat on my lap and this is a wonderful thing. But my feet are cold and the rest of me is cool. She's stretched out along the crease between my trunk and my bent knees. And I'd pet her except that then my hand would freeze in the cold room. Besides it's so seldom that this youngster is still when she's awake that I hate to disturb her.

During a break in the action on the screen, I occurs to me that this experience is rather like being partnered. It's a give-and-take. You need to watch your iron intake; they want beef all the time. Yet you (both, hopefully!) care enough  that either you sometimes eat beef and they sometimes eat chicken, or you prepare two separate meals. (A simplistic example.)

How do we ever manage? And am I truly interested in going back to such an arrangement, should the opportunity ever present itself? I think of 25 years of sleepless night time hours because of someone's snoring. Now I sleep easily and well. If you're partnered, you can surely make a list of all the things that annoy you or make your life challenging.

The lone individuals are divided between those who love using the whole bed and squeezing the toothpaste any which way and those who grieve their aloneness, longing, if not for the annoyances then at least, the companionship of someone to share their days.

The apostle Paul gets some things wrong in his letters – even in this chapter of Romans – but he’s right that “singleness might well be the best thing” for some who are living alone (7:8 Msg). Some.

Yes, singleness can be a good thing, but it’s hard. So is marriage. (And we can experience loneliness, which I'm not writing about today, in either state.)

Where does this leave us? I guess we just keep working at it – whatever “it” is for us, whatever our situation. For myself, I’ve been practicing contentment since leaving my marriage. I’m not brilliant by a long stretch, but I’ve gotten better. If I’m alone except for cats for the rest of my days, I intend to practice finding and creating joy and peace. If this aloneness ends and I'm again partnered, I'll make it my life’s practice to live in acceptance and contentment. And I’ll work to know joy (and peace) each day.

Shalom! (May you know God's peace.)