Less Clutter = More Living

“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.” — Wendell Berry

What does clutter have to do with living thankfully? A lot actually. Clutter and excess possessions have a way of keeping us from seeing clearly and from enjoying life. If you are so tied up in the clutter and “stuff” of your life, then how can you really enjoy the moment? How can you focus on being generous with others when you continually focus on amassing more possessions? How can you live thankfully when you can’t fully appreciate, much less use and enjoy, all that you have?

To me nothing is sadder than seeing a yard or estate sale following the death of someone who has spent his or her life collecting stuff that no one wants in the end. It is sickening to see someone’s possessions thrown out as rubbish. Not only is this a huge waste of money and resources, it is also a sad commentary on our obsession with possessing.

When you possess only a few items of real value, you are better able to appreciate what you have. You will not likely live above your means, and you may even have enough resources to share with others. Less clutter can equal a better quality of life and help you to live thankfully and with a minimal ecological footprint.

How much do you really need? What is essential? What can you give away? Recycle? Share? Re-purpose?

One blogger, Erin Branscom, even proposed a “40 Bags in 40 Days” challenge to declutter. Her idea is to fill one trash bag each day with items to give away, recycle, or (as a last resort) discard. She suggests repeating this process until your home is how you feel most comfortable. She also reports hearing that if you declutter your home by 40% you will cut your household chores by 40%. Sounds like 40% is a magic number in the decluttering process (You may remember my 40/40/40 Challenge during Lent). Click here to visit Erin’s blog.

So do you want to be more thankful for what you have? Declutter. Do you want to have more time, resources, and energy? Declutter. Do you want to be able to share with others? Declutter and share your stuff, trusting that you will have enough when you give out of your abundance. Start right now. Look around you. What one thing can you share with someone else, give to charity, recycle, or (if necessary) throw away?

Photo by misteraitch used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

You are Gold!

Percy Williams of Canada on the shoulders of his teammates after winning a gold medal in the men’s 100 meters race at the VIIIth Summer Olympic Games

We don’t have television anymore, but I’ve been following the Olympic games via the BBC and other online sources. It’s wonderful to see athletes from around the world who have invested everything they have to get to the games and compete for the gold. The faces of the gold medal winners are a sight to behold.

The only problem is that only one person in each event comes home with a gold medal. Somehow the second place silver just doesn’t have the luster in the eyes of the world’s onlookers. The silver and bronze medalists worked hard, too. They gave the competition their all. And what about the athlete who came in last place? Didn’t he or she give it the best effort? Just to earn a spot on an Olympic team is a herculean feat.

Fortunately for us, in God’s economy we are all gold medal material. The Creator of the universe looked at creation and proclaimed all of it good–very good. When the Creator looks at you and me, those divine eyes of love see the very best in each one of us. God sees our potential not our failings. God looks at us with eyes of love because God doesn’t make mistakes or junk.

What you and I may see as broken and damaged in our own lives or the lives of others, God sees as redeemed and reclaimed. We are constantly recycled and re-purposed to be the best we can be. We are works in progress, and we are golden. We are precious in God’s sight.

So, dear friend, you deserve a gold medal from God. You may feel damaged, and the world may have told you that you are “less than” or “not good enough,” but that is not the end of the story. God says otherwise. Isn’t it time we started telling ourselves and others this truth?

Doesn’t the single mother who works as long and hard as any elite athlete to keep her children clothed and fed deserve God’s gold medal? What about the teacher who works long hours in a tough school district for peanuts and precious little praise? Doesn’t he deserve God’s gold? How about that teenager who keeps pressing on despite the taunts and torture of his or her peers? Or the pensioner on a limited income who still finds myriad ways to serve and give?

If we can look at one another the way God sees us, then maybe we can make this world a better place. There are no losers in the divine economy–only gold. Own it, live it, and share it! Now that’s something for which we can all give thanks.

Photo by Library Archives used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

One Small Thing

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Choosing to live a life of thanks-living doesn’t have to be complicated and overwhelming. The idea is for gratitude to become so ingrained as an attitude that it is second nature in how you approach every action and each moment of your life. The best way to accomplish this is to take a deliberate series of small steps, to repeat these small steps until they become habit, and to add more small steps so that your life becomes layered in thankfulness.

A good first step is to take a few minutes one day each week to write, e-mail, text, or call someone who has made a difference in your life. Tell them thank you. Be specific about noting one or more attributes and/or actions you observe in them that have had an impact on your own life. I like to say a prayer for that person, too, giving thanks to the Creator for them and asking that God bless and keep them as they continue to bless the lives of others.

Small snowflakes of thanks like these add up quickly. Soon you will find yourself seeing more and more in others for which you are thankful. As you open your heart and mind in this way, you too will be blessed. Start small, be faithful in your small actions, and watch the joys, blessings, and gratitude grow. Thankfulness and a generous heart grow exponentially. You will never run out of reasons to be grateful if you mindfully attend to one small thing at a time.

Blessings on your thanks-living journey. As for me, I am thankful that you take your time to join me and share in this adventure.

(Photo by Iain Farrell used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

How to Begin a Thankful Day

You open your eyes to the new day. Maybe you’re still tired from yesterday and didn’t get enough sleep last night. You might be excited for an event or opportunity that will come your way in the next few hours. Perhaps you wish you could pull the covers over your head and avoid another day of drudgery on the job.

Wait! You have a choice. From the moment you first open your eyes you can choose to have a thankful day or an ordinary day. There’s no set formula to ensure a day of thanks-living, but I can offer you some tried and true methods that work for me.

  1. Let the first thought that runs through your head or lands on your lips be a word of thanks that you are alive and have the opportunity to live another day on this earth. A simple “Thank you for life” will do nicely, but feel free to take more time and elaborate on the reasons you are thankful.
  2. Begin your day gently with some stretching or yoga and prayer or meditation. Take time to let your body wake up and feel the thankfulness.
  3. Drink a glass of water. Give thanks that you have ready access to clean, fresh drinking water.
  4. If you enjoy tea or coffee, take the time to savor one cup–if possible with a loved one or friend. Share at least one thing with each other for which you are grateful.
  5. Eat a simple, healthy breakfast. Try some oatmeal and fruit, whole grain bread and cheese, yogurt, eggs, and/or nuts depending on your style of eating. Fueling your body properly is critical. Avoid choking down food while commuting, and resist the urge to fill up with fast but unhealthy food at the drive-thru. Both your body and bank account will thank you.
  6. Plan to tell one person why you are thankful for them today. Of course, you can choose to tell more people what you appreciate about them or their actions. The more you give thanks and express gratitude, the more thankful and gracious you will become.
  7. Choose to look for the good in every person, place, thing, or event. The easiest thing is to look at the inconveniences and problems; remember, however, that every problem presents another opportunity, and every negative has a positive spin if you look hard enough for it.

If you’re breathing and can move, you have much for which to be thankful. If you have food to eat, work to do, and people you love, you are indeed blessed. Count your blessings and start each day with thanks. It makes all the difference.

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The Gift of Children

I’m tired tonight, but it’s a good and happy tired. We’re in the midst of a Community Vacation Bible School in our small town, a collaboration of three congregations (Church of the Brethren, Lutheran, and Methodist), and it is a joy to see upwards of 50 children having so much fun in a safe, caring environment. Most importantly, we’re sharing some promises of God that hopefully will give them some grounding and security in the knowledge that they are beloved children of the Creator. I know these children are also basking in the support, encouragement, and warmth of the many adult and teen volunteers who have planned and worked for months to help this week come together.

An oft-quoted African proverb reminds us that it takes a village to raise a child. This week we are in the business of being one such community, of trying to make a difference. When we seeds of hope and love, we may never see the results of the efforts, yet still we plant.

Children are a gift of God, no doubt about it. All you have to do is hang around them for awhile. Their joy, lack of inhibition, laughter, and sense of wonder are amazing to behold. Watching how even the littlest children instinctively begin to move and dance to the music–spinning with joy and adding a cascade of squeals and giggles to the instrumentation–makes the day better.

Yep, I’m tired, and I bet the rest of the volunteers are, too. That said, I pray we all sleep the deep, peaceful slumber of children tonight. And may you, dear reader, dream dreams, experience awe and wonder, and laugh until your belly hurts. Give thanks for the children in your life. They are fragile. They are precious. Treat them with care, shower them with love, and tell them often just how amazing they truly are.

Night now!

Photos by D. Hilgart and National Assembly for Wales used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Good Words for a New Week

Free your heart from hatred — forgive. Free your mind from worries — most never happen. Live simply and appreciate what you have. Give more. Expect less.                   – Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey entered life eternal on July 16, 2012. I’ve been so busy that I just read about it today, two weeks later. I still remember reading his best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People shortly after it was published in 1989. As a young marketing professional I devoured his words eagerly with desire to be more effective, to advance in my field, and to be successful (as I then defined success).

Today I revisited that book and discovered that even in my eagerness and desire to learn, I really hadn’t understood Covey at all. At age 51, I read his words through a different lens, one tempered by experience and seasoned with a more mature (hopefully) spirituality. Instead of the “must-have” guide to career success I read in my early thirties, I now understand Covey was writing more about how to live life well. He believed that the way one conducted one’s business reflected the way one approached a life of principle, character, and generosity.

In addition to the quote above, here are a few other favorite insights:

How you treat the one reveals how you regard the many, because everyone is ultimately a one.

There’s no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature.

People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them.

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.

Covey understood that vocational success is about much more than work and achievement; it is an outgrowth of how one chooses to approach life and serve others. I am grateful to Dr. Stephen Covey for his words, wisdom, and example, and I am thankful to return to his writing with fresh eyes and a deeper sense of purpose and meaning.

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Vacation Time

Last week I took a mini-vacation, and it was wonderful. It was supposed to involve a trip to see my spouse’s family, but conflicting work schedules made it necessary for me to stay behind. Because we could not go to New England with the rest of the family, my two girls and I determined that we would take the single day neither one of them was scheduled to work and go to the beach. Yes, that’s right. We got up very early, drove four and a half hours to spend seven hours at the shore, and then drove right back home. It ended up being a fine adventure and gloriously good time.

Our lovely mini trip cost less than a night’s stay in a budget beach motel, and we enjoyed a full day of fun, quality time together, and relaxation (I took a two hour nap and read while they walked the boardwalk). I am so thankful my youngest daughter insisted we take this whirlwind girl trip getaway. Just a few hours of ocean air, salt water, surf, and sun helped melt away accumulated stress.

Maybe it has something to do with the American work ethic, or perhaps it is my Germanic heritage, but whatever the root cause, I have a difficult time taking vacation. I am lucky; I have a job that provides generous paid time off. Not all Americans have that luxury. In fact, about one in four Americans has no paid vacation time or holidays as a  job benefit. Even so, I still have a hard time breaking away.

And yet, God commanded us to take Sabbath time., designating the first day of every week as time to reorient oneself to a right relationship with God, and to take sufficient time to rest and recharge. If God considers Sabbath time so important, why do I have such a difficult time taking the vacation time I am granted? Why are many Americans working themselves into illness and poor health? Why is paid vacation and holiday time a “benefit” offered to the lucky workers and not all working Americans?

In case you think I’m odd, read this article posted on Salon’s website. You might also wish to review this policy brief, entitled “No-vacation nation USA– a comparison of leave and holiday in OECD countries,” by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt that is referenced in the article. Produced for the European Trade Union Institute for Research, Education and Health and Safety, the report provides a comparison of paid leave and holiday time for 21 wealthy countries (16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States). After reading the entries for the other countries describing the various governmental policies for how paid leave and vacation time is guaranteed to workers, here is the statement for the United States: “United States law offers no statutory paid leave. The only exceptions are for government contractors and subcontractors covered under the Davis-Bacon Act (18).”

Here’s another telling excerpt from the report’s introduction (p. 2):

In the absence of government standards in the United States, almost one in four workers there has no paid leave and no paid public holidays at all. According to U.S. government survey data, the average worker in the U.S. private sector receives only about nine days of paid leave and about six paid public holidays per year, substantially less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of world’s rich economies excluding Japan (which guarantees only 10 paid-leave days and requires no paid public holidays).

You can access the entire report here.

We are conditioned to think that vacation and holiday time may lead to lower productivity and sloth, even though credible research says otherwise.  If you do have paid vacation time and holidays as part of your work package, be thankful–and take it. Your body, your mind, your family, and your spirit will thank you.

Choices

We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves. — Thomas Merton

Not a day goes by that we fail to make choices. Our choices can be as simple as whether to eat toast and eggs or cereal for breakfast or whether to wear jeans and a t-shirt or slacks and a dress shirt.

Our choices may also be more profound and have far-reaching effect. We can choose to take our rightful place in the grocery check-out line or make someone’s life easier by letting the harried mother with only a few items go ahead of us. We can choose to be grumpy and hateful or pleasant and courteous. And, we can choose a life of thankfulness and gratitude, or we can choose to be selfish and self-centered.

We can choose a clutched, closed-fist approach to life or an open and sharing posture. The choice is ours to make.

By choosing a life of thanksliving, we open ourselves to fulfill all that we can be. When we recognize, honor, and share the many gifts we have been given, we will never run out of oil. Living with gratitude and thankfulness helps us to construct community and a web of relationships that sustains others, as well as ourselves. Living each moment as gift and blessing is an eye-opening, heart-widening experience.

But don’t just believe me. Choose for yourself and see how amazing a life of thanksliving really can be.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for Walks

The last few months in our house have been excruciatingly busy, and because of that fact I let my fitness slip. I never happened to be near the YWCA and couldn’t seem to make the time for a special trip there. At home, something always seemed to intervene to keep me from my yoga routine and regular walks. It didn’t take long for a few pounds to creep back on (Thanks stress eating and lack of willpower!) and a general sense of malaise to settle over my days. What had originally been inconvenience and busyness gave way to stress and sluggishness. Ugh!

One day I finally realized just how far away from my healthy routine I had fallen. Sure, I was still making time for prayer, meditation, and study, but my physical self was suffering neglect. So I decided enough was enough. It was time to blend in a few more salads, a couple of extra glasses of water, and a long daily walk.

Walking is great exercise. It requires no special equipment other than decent shoes and a safe place to walk. It provides a completely different view of the world on foot than what one sees encased in a speeding box of plastic, glass, and metal. It can be a social activity or a respite that provides needed “self” time. It improves posture, breathing, and cardiovascular fitness. Even bone density gets a boost. Check out this article from the Mayo Clinic for more information about the many benefits of walking.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking two long walks. It was glorious! I used one of the walks as time to talk with my mother. Thanks, mom! It was good to hear your voice. I used the other one to spend time with my youngest daughter and the dogs. Thanks, family!

After my brush with the fitness slump and dumpy blahs, I have a renewed appreciation for the benefits of daily walking as an important part of my thanks-living lifestyle. In fact, I’m going to take the dogs for a walk around town right now.

How about you? Do you enjoy walking? What benefits do you gain from walking? I’d love to hear from you!

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Thankful for Wonderful YOU!

‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’ ~Buddha

Jesus replied: “Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

You deserve to be thankful for yourself today–and every day. You are a child of the Creator, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are unique. You were created for a purpose. You are intended to grow and thrive, to live and love, to laugh and give, to create and participate.

As the two faith traditions (Buddhism and Christianity) quoted above agree, it is important to love yourself. Only when you love and accept yourself for who you are can you truly love others.

So when the days seem rough, and you wonder whether you are worthy, special, or worth loving, take heart. You ARE wonderful. Live into your potential. Value your self so that you may value others, serve others, and love this beautiful yet broken world.

Today I am thankful for wonderful YOU! Blessings on your day, your life, and your relationships.

Photo by Julie McLeod used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!