How to Have a Grateful Heart

img_5977“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

-Thomas Merton

 

It’s fall ya’ll! Is there a more beautiful season? In the south we’re grateful for the slightest “chill” in the air. We don’t have the array of the mountains’ colors but we get excited about the maples and other hardwood trees that put on a show for us.

What makes November such a special month? Thanksgiving, of course! And my personal favorite, our wedding anniversary. We’ve such happy memories of being married on Thanksgiving weekend thirty-one years ago. Coming together with the extraordinary people in our lives for Friends-giving. That a single mom of two in Mississippi and an unmarried guy in North Carolina could find each other without the internet is something to celebrate. To be more specific, I was a mom of an eight-year-old boy and a five- year-old daughter with autism and severe cognitive delays. I worked two jobs for a time. I would teach pre-school in one town and then drive to a church in another town where I was Director of Daycare and Kindergarten. It was important to have food on the table every day. My life is so much happier now in comparison that I almost forget how difficult that season of life was. The miracle of finding a man who truly loved me and my children was a dream come true.

Through the years we’ve attempted to set apart November in its entirety; to give thanks for our personal blessings as well as for the great country we were born into. When the children were young we’d always read stories and  remember the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

So far we’ve img_5577waited until after Thanksgiving to commence the Christmas decorating. It’s becoming more difficult! With all the commercialism around the holidays, it saddens me that the celebration of Thanksgiving has been nearly obliterated. I always think of Thanksgiving as a gift of rest and contemplation before the madness begins.

Giving thanks on a particular day is one thing; being thankful each day of the year is another. Gratitude is an intentional choice for me. I’m a thinker, feeler and analyzer, often spending too much time in my head. For me to actually be grateful it was necessary to establish a habit of writing specific items down. I’d planned to do that for years, and what finally got me on track was the book by Ann Voscamp, “One Thousand Gifts”. I began numbering each line of a  journal my friend Harriet gave me. For instance: 687. My neighbors, 688. Summer storms, 689. A perfect wife for John! 690. Fellowship and supper with girlfriends at Whole Foods, etc.  After a few years of this practice I’m up to nearly 2,000 “gifts”. There are tiny things and huge things. Whatever comes to mind. And, you cannot imagine how inspiring it is to look back and see all the wonderful things that have come about by God’s grace. I didn’t realize that my gratitude journal would become a diary of my life. I’m so glad I did it and I hope I can encourage you to also start making a list!

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done. O Lord what great works you do!” Psalm 92: 4-5

 

What if We Could Live Our Lives in Reverse?

“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” 

-David Bowie

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A weird idea came to me while on my morning walk. What if God birthed us into the world, not as infants but as eighty- year olds–intellectually vibrant, but including our assorted sags and wrinkles. What if we could grow into our youth equipped with the knowledge and experiences we gathered through eight decades of living? Would we raise our children and love our neighbors differently?

Perhaps we’d have come to realize that:

  • Relationships are more important than things, always.
  • Reaching out to help is preferable to judging because behind each person’s action there is a reason.
  • We can give hope to those who’ve made bad decisions and point them to healing  in Christ’s Redemption.
  • Having compassion for folks that are physically challenged—putting ourselves in their shoes— is far more desirable than laughing or making fun.
  • We should worry less! We’d have become aware of God’s faithfulness. That He has us in His Hand and although his timing and plan is often not our own, He always comes through.
  • Daily gratitude is important. We’d be thankful for each unique person or thing, even though tinged with earth. Perfection awaits in Heaven.
  • Collecting quite a variety of friends from different backgrounds, races, ages and values broadens our perspective.
  • The depth of love we have for our children and grandchildren is stunning.
  • We could be more in love with our spouse than when we married.
  • We don’t have to do everything. Our gifting and strengths will make a place for us.
  • Our life’s work is valuable because we are serving others and improving their lives.
  • Our work ethic and attitude is more crucial to employers than college degrees.
  • Our insecurities may tell us that we’ll look better when putting others down. We now know that we’re better when we champion one another.
  • Having a vision and making plans is important because time is finite. Making deliberate choices about what to give ourselves and our time to is crucial.
  • Listening is one of the best ways to show love. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19
  • Giving generously when an opportunity is presented is always a good idea. “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.”  Hebrews 13:16
  • It’s important to eat real food, choose an active lifestyle and eschew fad diets. Steadiness is key to being healthy for the long haul.
  • We should show respect for others by replying to invitations and requests. We’d know how much work is involved in planning an event.
  • We don’t need to wait until our house looks like a magazine spread to have people over.
  • Being outside and enjoying our magnificent world is a gift.
  • You can always fill the holes and paint another color!
  • There is always something to smile about!

I hope my rambling thoughts have stimulated your thinking and maybe even inspired you! What would you add to my list?

 

 

 

 

 

Why Hospitality is a Good Idea

Why Hospitality is a Good Idea

img_7521When I was a single mom, a long time ago, my two children and I shared a home with my friend Nancy and her twins.

Next door to us lived an elderly man and his wife. The husband was so friendly, always with a huge smile. We invited them over a time or two, just to be hospitable. I remember that he would say over and over again, “My wife and I want to have you over for a visit some time, but we have to get the house cleaned up first.” We’d say, “okay”, but somehow I knew it would never happen. His outward appearance and even the exterior of their home seemed bent on perfection. I could tell that his home would never measure up to the standards he sought for guests. It saddens me when I recall my former neighbors and the folks who’d have gained much from knowing them.

It also saddens me when clients tell me they hide when they hear a neighbor knock at the door. They’re afraid they’ll be evaluated and come up short. I believe, on the other hand, that people are more comfortable in imperfect homes.

Clients have told me that they avoid “sterile” homes of relatives because they can’t relax. They’d constantly be afraid to track in or spill something. It’s a lie that neighbors have “perfectly together” homes. Unless the home is more like a museum and no real living goes on.

I’ll never forget the times I ran to my best friends’ homes, in the most difficult seasons of my life. More than once I dragged my two kids along and invaded Barbara’s family meals and celebrations when I needed the comfort of family. They welcomed us into the fold as if we were kin. My favorite memories happened in homes. We had real conversations and relationships went to deeper levels. I always felt encouraged.

Here are some tips for welcoming folks in~

If someone shows up at the door without notice:

  • Kick the clutter out of the pathway and welcome them with a smile and a glass of water.

If you have a little notice before someone arrives:

  • Have your front door/porch area neat and inviting.
  • Keep your home tidy and clean enough. No toys as tripping hazards, or piles of dirty underwear in the entrance. You can stuff clothes in the laundry or closet if you need to temporarily.
  • Place dirty dishes in dishwasher or the sink so the counters are clear.
  • Cut some greenery or flowers from your yard and stick in a jar or vase on the table, or  pick up flowers from Trader Joe’s.
  • Light a candle near the entrance.
  • Turn on lamps— use lighting for warmth.
  • Have fresh fruit in a bowl and maybe popcorn or snacks.
  • Offer something seasonal such as pumpkin spice tea. If you’re really inspired, bake something with a wonderful aroma!
  • Quickly swish the toilet and wipe counters and surfaces.
  • With a big smile, greet your people at the door.
  • Do not apologize about your house and point out all the negatives,
  • Focus on them! Let them know you’re happy to see them and you care about them.
  • If the air is chilly, offer a throw.
  • Just enjoy your time together. Do you realize how valuable a listening ear is? I am forever grateful and changed by the friends who have listened.

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Hebrews 13:2

“The ornaments of my home are the friends who frequent it.”  Emerson

Why You Should Get to Know Your Neighbors

Why You Should Get to Know Your Neighbors

After residing in the same place for nearly thirty years our neighborhood feels like a big family under one roof. Carolyn’s in the office, Susan and Kathleen are in the dining room and I’m in the kitchen. The others are scattered aro52043549-senior-woman-meeting-smiling-young-family-flowers-at-the-doorund the house and sometimes we pass in the hallway. We know we’re there for each other and we’ll call if we need anything.

Pat mows for us regularly now. It’s a huge blessing because we have a large lawn.

When a pipe burst and we had no water, Shari came over and helped me carry dishes to her house to wash. We showered there for days.

Ruth used to walk through my back door to borrow something or to bring me a yummy treat. I loved that she always wanted me to see her new paint or wallpaper. It was fun to get excited about our projects. Once I was in angst about a paint color for the living room. I’ll always remember what she told me. “Don’t worry about it— it’s not a marriage!” That phrase has helped me many times when I worry over a decision.

There is one thing I learned early on about making friends with neighbors.  Asking a favor, even to borrow some sugar, can initiate a relationship.  One neighbor is now a close friend. In the early years I was struck that she always had it together.  I wanted to be friends but I didn’t know if she’d ever need me or if I could add value to her life. One day I was in the middle of a baking concoction. I desperately needed an ingredient so I knocked on her door. She gladly gave me what I needed. Looking back, I really think our friendship started then. I’ve always been glad when a neighbor needs a cup of flour or a can of tomatoes. It brings us together in a unique way,

I remember when Leigh lived across the street. I’d sent some soup over to her. She brought the bowl back full of camellias. She said her mother taught her never to send a container back empty. I liked that.

Years ago, another neighbor, Bill, lost his wife and was all alone. John was a baby so I would knock on Bill’s door and ask him to take a walk as I strolled John. He talked about our walks until the day he died. It taught me that little acts can make a big difference. Even now as I’m remembering him, I’m reminded to break out of my little world, and show interest in a neighbor.

Cookies are always a good excuse to knock on a neighbor’s door. One family brought us a bouquet of flowers to thank us for the cookies I delivered. Our daughters became good friends.

46395966-diverse-neighbors-drinking-party-yard-conceptPeople don’t tend to move from our neighborhood until they die. We sit with them as they’re passing away, when appropriate. We attend their funerals and bring food.  We go back home and try to adjust to life without that special one. We remember the times we were with them at the Christmas party or the times a knock came at the door and there was Barbe delivering Maxine’s amazing homemade dumplings. I’ll never forget all the sweet people we have known and lost. I can see them right now in my mind’s eye.

I’ve been lamenting a potential move from our home– but the real loss would be the people we’ve grown to love.

Do you know your neighbors? If not, I urge you to take a step and reach out in some small way. You will be the one who benefits most.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

Frederick Buechner

How to Help Grieving Friends

How to Help Grieving Friends

6946253448_0413828369_cI’ll be attending two funerals this week. I want to be there to support their loved ones in the most difficult of times. Tom and I have each lost a parent in the last couple of years and I remember the kindnesses shown to us while our grief was fresh. I’ve learned from others how to encourage grieving ones.

When my mom passed away two years ago I was surprised how much little gestures affected me. A simple text, a voice mail, a comment on social media; all these efforts meant so much. One friend left a message that she really wanted to talk with me. Knowing her, I knew what she meant. She wanted to give me an opportunity to talk. Another just commented in a text how special my mom was. She’d known her back when we were in our early 20’s. Just a quick comment, but heartfelt. What I have learned is this- just do something. Don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t feel that you must have the right words. Don’t use some flowery super-spiritual words about how God “needed” him or feel that it’s your responsibility to offer an explanation.  Don’t feel you have to make a meal or even buy a card, although those things are great! Instead of doing nothing, just express your concern. A friend once told me that she felt comforted when I said, “I’m so sorry”, while she was in  a difficult place. Sometimes that’s about all we can do, and sometimes it’s enough.

Here are some ideas that have been meaningful to us:

  • Offering food  “I really want to bring some food over. Where should I deliver it?” Said in such a straightforward manner, it is really hard to say no, especially when it fills a legitimate need. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Let me know if I can bring food” or “Let me know if I can help”. I’ve made these statements many times myself when I didn’t know what to say or do. However, I think it takes an emotionally strong person to ask for help.  I’m now trying to boldly say what I’d like to do for the ones in need. Just picking up a few snack items and drinks from the store is immensely helpful. Even getting to the grocery store is difficult while managing grief and difficult decisions.
  • Gifts of green plants  Our friends brought us a beautiful peace lily. There is something encouraging about a thriving green plant. That plant makes me happy.
  • Sending a card  We were surprised and deeply touched by the people who sent cards. A friend from years past sent cards to us when each of our parents passed away. It was so meaningful to me that she would take the time to do that. A note is always appreciated, but even just a signed card means so much. Sometimes I think people may not remember a card in the mail, but I know we do!
  • Showing up  There is something about having someone physically be there for you. Touch is tangible comfort. The people who waited with us at the hospital and all the friends and acquaintances who attended the funeral, we will never forget. Also, it’s never too late to visit or drop in on someone. They will still be thinking about their loss, and will value you for thinking of them at any time.
  • Text messages and phone calls  The quickest and easiest forms of communications shouldn’t be discounted. The messages Tom and I received in various forms were so encouraging and meaningful.

We have such an amazing ability to encourage each other. I’ve learned that even simple actions mean a great deal at just the right time. And I’m thankful for my real life examples that have helped me to be a better friend in times of need.