Tag Archives: gratitude

How to Really Live

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences will have resonances with our own innermost being, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. — Joseph Campbell

Note: This post is the first in a series. Each day will feature one observation about and a suggestion for how to really live your life, how to engage yourself fully in the act of being alive.

What’s it all about, this life we live? Do you ever slow down long enough to wonder about the meaning of life? Maybe you are too busy living–earning a living, running taxi for children or grandchildren, or caring for aging parents, trying to keep your head above the waters of financial ruin–to even care about deeper meaning.

The first step to really living your life is to quit kidding yourself about how much life you have left to live. The only moment each one of us is promised is the present one. You may live to be a hundred or you may die tomorrow, but the only moment in which you are truly alive is this one–right here, right now.

Close your eyes. Take a slow, deep breath, inhaling through your nose. Hold it lightly for a short interval. Now breath out gently but fully through your nose, emptying your lungs deeply from your gut upward.  While you are enjoying this solitary breath, give thanks for it and for your precious gift of life.

What a miracle you are! That single breath you just honored is one of some 17,000 that you will take in one 24-hour period. Your heart will beat, without any help from you, more than 100,000 times each day. You make thousands of decisions each day, both great and small, conscious and unconscious. You are an amazing creation, one that the Creator of the Cosmos called very, very good.

The first step to really living your life is make a conscious choice to live more fully in the present moment. Yes, some things must be planned and arranged and done, but if you find yourself always looking backward at the way things were or planning for a future over which you have no control–just stop.

Take another one of those single, thankful breaths and come back to the present moment.

  • Love the people you love. I mean really love them and tell them so. Spend time with them if you can.
  • Do something fun or silly. Celebrate and laugh every single day. Laughter is good medicine and will cure a host of maladies.
  • Leave your work behind (at least for a little while)
  • Be active. Take a walk, ride your bike, dance, swim, hike, or do yoga.
  • Eat well and mindfully. Sit down at the table. Light a candle.
  • Rest

Whenever cares and worries threaten to carry you away into moments past or futures unknown, will yourself back to the present moment and day. Live it well. It is gift, pure gift.

Remember the words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel:

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (6:34)

Whatever your situation, remember that life is fleeting in the grand scheme of the universe. We’re only on this earth for a short time. No trouble, worry, or distraction is worth depriving you or others of the privilege of living right now.

Blessings on your precious life here and now!

A Lagniappe:

Enjoy this You-Tube version of Burt Bacharach’s song “Alfie” sung by the incomparable Rumer.

Photo by OutdoorLori. Thanks!

Service Saturday

Everyone can be great, because anybody can serve. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow is the National Day of Service in the United States of America. President Obama started this tradition before his first inauguration in honor of Dr. King’s legacy of service and desire to help better the lives of others. Activities and community-wide efforts are planned in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

What do you plan to do? Can you find a way to give back to your community? If there is not an organized activity in your immediate area, don’t let that stop you. Look around. What needs to be done? Can you clean up the sidewalk and street in front of your house? Can you take food to your local food pantry and volunteer to help? How about checking in on that elderly neighbor? Know someone who is recovering from surgery or the flu? How about cooking a double portion and taking them a meal? What non-profit agencies are looking for volunteers? Do local faith communities have needs? A few phone calls should yield plenty of opportunities for you to help.

Don’t let it stop with just one day. Take the pledge to serve all year. Can you imagine how much better and stronger our communities could be if everyone pledged to serve just one hour per week? According to the A. C. Nielsen Co. the average American watches more than four hours of television a day. Surely, one hour per week of service is not too much to give. Plus, giving feels good when you do it. In giving, you also receive–your level of happiness and well-being increases, you make connections with others and with your community, and your sense of purpose is enhanced.

So give a little thanks tomorrow and every week of the year. Give a little of your time, your energy, and your resources to serve others. No matter what our politics, religious beliefs, or economic status, we can all serve. If you don’t live in the U.S., serve wherever you do live. Make your own corner of the world just a little bit brighter. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Serve others. You’ll be glad you did.

Photo by vastateparkstaff. Thanks!

How Then Shall We Live?

As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way. -Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is one of my heroes because she not only talked a good talk; she lived a life of love, compassion, and mercy. Her faith was forged through her own trials and pain, a reality that also led her down a path to help others. Day was a truly amazing woman and a faithful witness to the gospel. You can read more of her story here.

When I read the above quote today, I was reminded again that each day we wake to answer the question “how shall I live this day?” Our western culture affords us myriad choices and opportunities. Most all who read this reflection are blessed to have enough to eat, living quarters that are dry, warm, clean, and spacious, more than enough clothes and possessions, and transportation. Yet still many of us wonder about purpose, direction, and meaning.

Do we live for ourselves, or do we live for one another? Are we only here to live for the day (Carpe Diem) and what we can amass, or are we here to live in community and share? Are we entitled to however much we can get, or do we use only what we need and share the rest with those who have need? How then shall we live?

I cannot answer that for anyone but myself. What I am learning in life is that how I answer that question really does matter and that my needs are pretty simple. People matter; stuff does not. Relationships last; possessions come and go. We come into life empty-handed, and we go out the very same way.

How will you live today?

Photos by Jagz Mario and christiantimeless. Thanks!

 

Thankful for Failure

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. — Johnny Cash

I once heard someone say that a mistake is really only a mistake if you fail to learn from it. That means mistakes and failures can be some of our best teachers, our most important investments in time and energy. The lessons we learn from what doesn’t work well can be life-changing and affirming in the long run.

How we handle failure and what we make of our mistakes makes all the difference. That’s why I like Johnny Cash’s observation about failure. Lay that failure down and walk on it; use it as a bridge to a better tomorrow and a brighter future. Take from the experience what you can use to build a stronger foundation, to try a new approach, and to blaze a new trail.

Take from the experience only that which will prevent you from making the same mistake again. Most of all, don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying again, from moving on, and from taking calculated risks in the future. Believe that you are created for a purpose and never, ever give living into that reality.

Be thankful for failure. It may be that today’s mistake or disappointment will you into tomorrow’s opportunity and success.

Here’s a wonderful short video about famous “failures” from bluefishtv.com. Enjoy!

Photo by rockinred1969. Thanks!

The Power of Blessing

The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and cherish you.

May God shield you on every steep,

May Christ aid you on every path,

May Spirit fill you on every slope,

On hill and on plain.

May the king shield you in the valleys,

May Christ aid you on the mountains,

May Spirit bathe you on the slopes,

In hollow, on hill, on plain,

Mountain, valley and plain.

— from the Carmina Gadelica (484–577)*

There is real power in blessing one another, and it’s a  power we too often fail to harness. In a world that can weary and batter the soul, a blessing offered in love and truth restores and revives the spirit.

A colleague in ministry posted on Facebook how her young daughter came to her after a particularly difficult day and offered her a blessing. This intuitive child understood the power of blessing her mother, a simple yet profound act that this mother and pastor will ponder in her heart for years to come even though her daughter may remember it only from her mother’s recounting of the story.

When was the last time you offered someone a blessing? When was the last time you received one from someone other than a pastor, priest, or rabbi?

The world would be a far better place if we would reclaim the art of blessing one another. Blessing transcends the boundaries and forges connections. Whether you actively practice a life of faith or whether you simply believe in the inherent goodness of creation and humankind, try adding one simple blessing a day, even if it is only one whispered under your breath–a silent wish that someone will have a good day, a good life, and all good things. Bless the one who cuts you off in traffic. Bless the emergency responders when you hear the fire alarm or see the flashing lights. Bless your life’s partner and your children. Bless your parents. Bless. Bless. Bless. You cannot go wrong wishing good on another.

*From Wikipedia: The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, runes, and other literary-folkloric poems and songs collected and translated by amateur folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1855 and 1910. (Thanks to Daniel Clendenin of Journey with Jesus for posting this lovely poem/blessing!)

Photos by Bless_Pictures and Evelyn Giggles. Thanks!

Ditching the Detritus

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. — Confucious

Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” — Linda Breen Pierce

I am convinced that “stuff” has a tendency to multiply like guinea pigs–fast and furiously. In fact, we live in a world where the accumulation and collection of stuff is encouraged at almost every turn. Buy this, collect that, you need one of these…so the consumer wooing goes. If one listens to this siren song, the result is a life full of stuff, most of which is unneeded for one’s happiness and is, in fact, downright unnecessary and even wasteful.

Think about it. Just how much does a person really need?

Do you ever feel awash in a sea of paperwork? Do you regularly look at drawers or shelves or closets or entire rooms and feel exhausted just contemplating where to start with the overabundance of stuff? Do you feel worn out from the work of managing your “stuff”? Are you holding onto things out of guilt or obligation (Great Aunt Mary’s awful vase or the dollar store tchotchke a student gave you eight years ago)?  Does your detritus (what a great word!) prevent you from living fully and gratefully? Could others benefit from what you do not need?

If you answered yes to one or more questions, then maybe 2013 is the year for you to ditch your detritus. Someone will have to do it eventually. Would you rather simplify now or leave it to your children and other family members to sort through in the midst of grief and loss? Would you rather have someone hurriedly sort your stuff, consigning bits and pieces of your life to various places–including the landfill?

The more simply you can live, the more choices will present themselves, and the more options you will likely have. Can you imagine heading out in your car with your life’s possessions or even taking off with a couple of suitcases? Granted, not every person can minimalize his or her life to this degree, but all of us can take practical steps toward ditching detritus and polishing the contours of our existence.

Here are a few ways to start:

Choose one small space and a short span of time–a drawer and fifteen minutes, a closet and an hour, a room and an afternoon–and determine to make a change. Pull everything out. Spare nothing. Make three piles. One pile is for that which you must absolutely keep, one pile is for items whose fate remains unsure, and the final pile is for items that can leave your life without question. Take the unsure items and box them away for six weeks. If you aren’t forced to open the box, then part with it, preferably unopened to your favorite local charity.

Make a memory, not a mess–What about those precious photos and gifts you keep out of duty, obligation, or love? The easiest way to deal with these items is to photograph them, and keep a digital file of memories. If you are crafty or artsy, consider making something new from them or at least making an artful arrangement for a photograph. Then release these items for others to use and enjoy.

Create some capital–If you are strapped for cash, then by all means find an outlet such as Amazon, half.com, ebay, or Craigslist to sell items of significant cash value. Books, dvds, and vinyl of marginal value (it’s no longer a good deal to sell via Amazon unless you have items of value or significant stock) can be bulk grouped and sold locally via Craigslist or through a used bookstore, game outlet, or entertainment store. Hold a rummage sale.

Give–Consider simply giving items away. Local charities are often happy to take items for resale. If you have books of value, do what my mother did, and pass them along for others to enjoy.  Share from your abundance. Remember, we really don’t “own” anything permanently in this world anyway. We come here empty-handed, and we will leave the same way. If you created some capital and don’t need the funds to pay off debt or secure a college fund, then give the proceeds to the charity of your choice. Keep only what you need; share the rest.

Determine to keep your life lean and clean–Once you’ve rid yourself of detritus, determine to live a simple life that is free of unnecessary stuff and clutter.

  • Place added value on relationships, community, and experience.
  • Make it known that you would prefer any gifts to be in the form of consumables, experiences/time, or gifts to charitable organizations to benefit others. Consider alternatives to the traditional holiday gift-giving glut, such as limiting the number of gifts, choosing to give only fair-trade or consumable items, or exchanging handmade and home-crafted gifts.
  • Keep only items that are functional or beautiful to you.
  • Maintain a “loose hold” on things. Be always willing to let items come in and out of your life without fuss.
  • Designate one period of time each week to stem the tide of clutter and consumption.
  • Avoid recreational shopping.
  • Hold to a one in/one out rule–especially with clothes. If you bring an item into your closet or life, send another item on its merry way.
  • Cultivate the art of giving from your abundance–joyfully and readily–as part of a life of thanks-living.

These are by no means new ideas, but it helps to hear this message over and against the encouragement and pressure our society places on needless, mindless, and excessive consumption. Mindful living and thoughtful use of resources helps to foster a life of thanks-living, and that is a very good thing indeed.

  • How do you discard the detritus of your life in a way that is healthy, fruitful, and mindful of the environment?
  • What advice can you offer from personal experience?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in simplifying your life in 2013?

Photos by coiros and puuikibeach. Thanks!

The Generous Saint-aclaus

From the book Tales Told in Holland–a rather odd photo indeed.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  James 1:17

Read: 2 Corinthians 9:6-9

Ponder:

“Once again St. Nicholas Day

Has even come to our hideaway;

It won’t be quite as fun, I fear,

As the happy day we had last year.

Then we were hopeful, no reason to doubt

That optimism would win the bout,

And by the time this year came round,

We’d all be free, and safe and sound.

Still, let’s not forget it’s St. Nicholas Day,

Though we’ve nothing left to give away.

We’ll have to find something else to do:

So everyone please look in their shoe!”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Reflect

Today many Christians will commemorate the life and faithful witness of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.  We don’t know a whole lot about Nicholas, although many wonderful legends and stories exist. He lived and served during the fourth century in what is now Turkey, and he is believed to have died around 342 CE.

Stories told about Nicholas emphasize his love of God, his love for neighbor, and his particular compassion for the poor and marginalized. My favorite legend involves three young women whose father was about to sell them into slavery (think human trafficking) because there was no money for dowries. The good bishop reportedly placed a bag of gold in one of each girl’s stockings that were hung out to dry, thus enabling them to marry rather than face a life of shame and ignominy.

Legends about the life of St. Nicholas give us our legend of Santa Claus, although the modern North American Santa Claus is a creation of Clement Clark Moore, who in the early 1800s wrote the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” or what we now know as “The Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s  creation of Santa Claus was an attempt to transform the rowdy, drunken holiday traditions into a more family-oriented, calm, and safe holiday. His good intentions, however, played right into the hands of those seeking to market Christmas, and so gift-giving morphed like atomic fallout into an overspent, overindulged, and harried experience.

Recapturing the story of St. Nicholas is one way to turn the Advent and Christmas focus back to giving in a good way–not giving to excess or beyond one’s means but rather giving to meet needs. Instead of giving out of guilt or duty, St. Nicholas’ witness encourages us to give out of pure love in response to the unmerited love and grace of Christ.

No, I’m really not trying to spoil Christmas for the tots or undo a complicated system of supply and demand that will unmantle the very underpinnings of capitalism and the economic system. I’m simply hoping to provide a way for us to reclaim the expectation, preparation, and joy of the Advent season. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no family had to go into debt in order to “do Christmas” the right way? Wouldn’t it be lovely if folks could slide into the pews on Christmas Eve and sing “Silent Night” with a sense of wonder and delight rather than exhaustion and anxious hope about whether enough has been prepared and spent?

Christmas presents we purchase come and go or break and end up in some landfill. Gifts of heart and hand last much longer. But the gift of God incarnate for which we wait once again is the one true gift that matters, the one that will never be the wrong size or color and will never need returning.

Thanks-Living

Spend some time today recovering the legends and stories of this good Christian man, whose life witness gives us a model for generosity and care of the poor and marginalized. For more information, check out Bill McKibben’s delightful little book Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas, Adam English’s new book The Saint who Would be Santa Claus, and/or Stephen Nissenbaum”s The Battle for Christmas. You can also learn a lot by visiting the St. Nicholas Center website. Give thanks for Nicholas’ generous spirit and find one way to be secretly generous with someone today.

Consider making St. Nicholas ornaments or cookies. A pattern/tutorial for the ornament, designed by Mollie Johanson/Wild Olive, may be found here. Recipes for cookies may be found here or at the St. Nicholas Center website. Blessings on your day!

Photos by dierken and oddharmonic. Thanks!

Thanks Enough

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Read: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Ponder:

“For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.” — William Blake

Reflect:

Committing to a life thanks-living means expressing thanks in all conditions and at all times. The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being thankful in any situation. Even while imprisoned in Rome with an uncertain future, Paul still found time to give thanks for the communities he had helped to mentor on his missionary journeys.

The baser side of our human nature encourages us to think of what we do not have. Whatever is bad, sad, or ugly in our lives floats to the surface like toxic flotsam. It clouds the waters of our perception and prevents us from seeing all the blessings of God.

Today try to see the world through Paul’s eyes. If that doesn’t work for you, read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work.  I recommend The Cost of Discipleship for starters. Click here to read excerpts. To read an inspiring story about finding the best in the worst of situations, click here to read the story of two men who forged a friendship from the ashes of anger and death. If your thoughts turn to the negative, take a deep breath and find something to praise or something for which to be thankful. Remember that you are where you are and who you thanks to the work, love, and sacrifice of many others, including Jesus who gives you life forever.

Thanks-Living:

Today make a list of people and things for which you are thankful. Give thanks to God for your many blessings. Call or write one person on your list to let them know that you prayed for them and give joyful thanks for them. Take delight in the life you have this day.

“How Can I Help?”

He even poses for pictures without a fuss!

“How can I help?” Today I am thankful for these four simple words that mean so very much, and I’m even more thankful for the one who speaks them to me.  You see, these four words comprise a question my wonderful spouse asks at least once a day, and I have come to treasure them as a reflection of his love and care for me and our family.

He’ll walk in the kitchen door and see me preparing dinner, set down whatever he’s carrying, and immediately ask “How can I help?” No task is too great or menial. I’m a terrible chopper; my lefthandedness and clumsy fine motor skills never have been helpful when it comes to chopping vegetables. Mr. Husband can chop as well or better than any food channel chef. He’ll set the table if asked or make a salad. In fact, he’ll frequently make an entire meal; we are true partners in the kitchen just as in other aspects of our marriage.

Mr. Husband doesn’t limit this question to meal prep and clean-up either. He is incredibly handy and able to fix almost anything. Broken faucet? No problem. Leaky shower? No big deal. Need an oil change? Done! His acts of service know no limit, and I’m convinced he can make just about anything work again.

If I’ve had a bad day or am worried or dealing with excess stress he’ll simply ask “How can I help?” Help might be a back rub, a listening ear, or a cup of tea. He’s also really good at inciting some awesome belly laughs. He’s also patient, kind, and calm.

So today I am grateful for my spouse, and for his servant heart, gentle spirit, and true partnership. Thank you, Mr. Husband, for your love, your friendship, and your partnership. You’re the best!

How often do you ask “How can I help?” Who has been of great help to you? Who can you thank today?

Photo by Linda Fleagle. Thanks!

Building Up One Another

Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.   Romans 15:2

Yesterday my daughter had outpatient surgery, and I had several hours to reflect on the verse above and on the idea of how we build up one another and pave the way for our neighbors and those yet to come. Even being there at Gettysburg Wellspan Hospital and watching how my daughter’s caregivers worked together to make the experience a successful one reinforced this idea. Each person was part of a seamless whole–from the valet who opened her car door to the nurse who wheeled her out six hours later–all doing their best to provide care, hope, and healing.

We do not operate in a vacuum. Everything we do has an impact on someone else in some way. It can be for good or for ill, but it will affect the fabric of the universe in some way. We do have some choice in how we approach life. We can be like a bumper car bouncing off of others in a random or determined fashion thinking only of our own pleasure and goals. Or, we can be like weavers working with others to create something strong, beautiful, and useful–a collaboration of individual fibers that each brings character, dimension, and color to the whole.

As for me, I prefer the latter approach because I realize that I am who I am today thanks to so many people who have paved the way before me, who have touched my life, and who have woven strands of themselves into the fabric of my being. Some of these folks have made significant personal sacrifice–family members, friends, folks in the various faith communities of which I have been a part–in an effort to help me thrive and grow. Likewise, I am thankful to be able to sacrifice for others and pay forward some of the abundant blessings I have experienced.

As English poet and priest John Donne wrote in Meditation XVII

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main

We, each one of us, are where we are today because of the work and building up others have done on our behalf. “Bootstrap” mentality and the notion of a “self-made person” are illusion; one may work hard and succeed, but that success is built on an existing foundation, a bit of something much bigger than ourselves. That, dear friends, is something  really quite wonderful.

Who in your life has paved the way and helped build your firm foundation? How will you build up another?

Photos by opensourceway and hanssplinter. Thanks!