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?

 

 

 

 

 

Band-Aid Bread (Recipe Included)

Band-Aid Bread  (Recipe Included)

fullsizerenderMy friend Renee had experienced weddings of all three daughters. The addition of sons-in-law and lots of grandchildren happened  in what seemed like no time at all. I was newer at all this so I was picking her brain. She called the marriages and new relationships “expansive”. Renee is one of those people that when she speaks you want to scoop up every word. She doesn’t just toss words out like some of us do. Since she didn’t offer an explanation for expansive I knew I’d find out for myself.

We prayed for our kids’ future spouses their entire lives. It seems like such a far off prayer, and then before you know it your son or daughter finds just the right mate. It’s magic. An  incredible answer to our hopes for them. As our family began to expand, I saw in myself an attitude of wanting the new people in the family to like me. I guess I wasn’t completely comfortable with my in-law status—sometimes I felt like I was in middle school with the insecurities.

One way to show love and bring folks together is to feed them. I’ve always believed that sharing a meal around the table is the best way to really know people and bond with them. As soon as you pull up a chair to the table, you’re all on common ground. No one is better than the other one and the table joins you together with an invisible cord that causes everyone to breathe easy and be their authentic selves. At least that’s the way I see it.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I planned our  Sunday lunch. It would be one of the first times our new daughter-in-law Mary would join us after church for lunch. I baked bread. Artisan bread is so easy to make; it just takes a little planning ahead. Homemade bread always seems special and that’s what I wanted this meal to be. The bread stood out so much in the meal that I honestly don’t remember the other items we had! You’ll soon see why.

I took the loaves from the oven as everyone was seated. There’s nothing like that aroma of homemade bread. The butter was on the table, softened for easy spreading. Ahhhhh….. The slicing began and suddenly the chatter became silence. I gazed toward the table from my post at the counter—my eyes connected with a look of shock on Mary’s face. She had just bitten into the bread and was pulling an object from her piece of bread! Time stood still. A band-aid! Oh no! What? How? Words popped out of my mouth with no thought whatsoever. “Mary, welcome to the family. You’ve now passed your initiation to become a real Freshwater!” We all laughed and even proceeded to eat the bread, disposing of the tainted piece. Mary reminded me that I’d told them about cutting my finger while preparing vegetables the day before. I had wondered what happened to that band-aid!

This wasn’t really Mary’s initiation into the family. It was my initiation into being real. Surely nothing could be more embarrassing than what I’d experienced with the bread. I remembered the word expansive from Renee. In families we are blessedly stuck with each other. As we grow we expand in understanding and love as we include more people and their unique attributes from which to learn. We grow as individuals as we tangibly move toward each other. Even after that fateful Sunday lunch, breaking bread around the table is still my favorite!

 

BAND-AID BREAD -my version

2 packs of quick rise yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt; Band-aid, optional
6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough

Cornmeal

1. In a large plastic resealable container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups very warm (about 100 degrees) water. Using a large spoon, stir in flour, mixing until mixture is uniformly moist with no dry patches. Do not knead. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to shape of plastic container. Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

2. Let dough rise at room temperature, until dough begins to flatten on top or collapse, at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours. (At this point, dough can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; refrigerated dough is easier to work with than room-temperature dough. It’s best that first-time bakers refrigerate dough overnight or at least 3 hours.

3. When ready to bake, sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel. I use parchment paper on a round stone with cornmeal sprinkled on it. Place a broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees, preheating baking stone for at least 20 minutes.

4. Sprinkle a little flour on dough and on your hands. Pull dough up and, using a serrated knife, cut off a grapefruit-size piece (about 1 pound). Working for 30 to 60 seconds (and adding flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands; most dusting flour will fall off, it’s not intended to be incorporated into dough), turn dough in hands, gently stretching surface of dough, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go, creating a rounded top and a bunched bottom.

5. Place shaped dough on prepared pizza peel and let rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it in lidded container. (Even one day’s storage improves flavor and texture of bread. Dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in airtight containers and defrosted overnight in refrigerator prior to baking day.) Dust dough with flour.

6. Using a serrated knife, slash top of dough in three parallel, 1/4-inch deep cuts (or in a tic-tac-toe pattern). Place dough onto preheated baking stone. Pour 1 cup or more hot tap water into broiler pan and quickly close oven door to trap steam. Bake until crust is well-browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool completely.

There are many Artisan Bread recipes online. I just thought it would be fun to include my version here. Enjoy!

 

Why Making a Packing List is a Good Idea

Why Making a Packing List is a Good Idea

7515797150_7e00247854_mOnce upon a time back in the 1980’s, there was a bright handsome young man who held a degree in chemical engineering.  His career at a Paper Mill required  involvement in various professional organizations that supported his job and company. For quite a few years he held offices in one particular group, and eventually moved up to the office of Chairman over a regional chapter in the national organization.

In those days he was rarely home. His beautiful* wife stayed home with the four children while he spent too many hours at work. When he travelled, his wife was tasked with packing his suitcase. It was especially important to make the best clothing choices for the conference in which he would give a speech to a very large group of professionals.

As he was dressing and prepping for the meeting he noticed he had no shoes. His wife, who happened to have joined him at this particular meeting, had forgotten them! Panic ensued. Without the benefit of cell phones, an urgent search was made for size elevens. Alas! A son of one of the members relinquished his dress shoes and saved the day! This dear husband (of mine) squeezed his feet into a nice pair of dress shoes that were almost large enough. I vowed to never travel again without a packing list! True story.

How to create a packing list

Simply write down everything you might need for a trip. Take your time and list every possible item that could be needed for all seasons and occasions. Then while you’re packing, just skip over the things that aren’t pertinent for a particular excursion. Leave nothing to memory and you’ll forego that nagging feeling– “Oh no, I forgot the …….”. It has eased my mind so much to use this list. I’ve also created lists for specific trips or experiences such as hiking. I typed my lists on Word documents and made several copies— keeping one in my suitcase and another with cosmetics.

For example:

  • cell phone
  • charger
  • laptop
  • charger538693661_781e67bba8_m
  • Kindle
  • charger
  • cosmetics: list every single item
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • PJs
  • running shoes
  • socks
  • Etc. – You get the idea!

You may have a much better memory than I do. But if you’re like me, there is huge relief in depending on a list rather than on my brain. Actually, that’s the beauty of lists. Having a permanent list rather than re-writing each time we pack saves a lot of time. When you’re hurriedly packing it’s hard to remember everything. Anything we can put to paper or  the notes section of our phones will free our brains to focus on other important things.

Do you make such a list for packing? If so, I’d love to hear if it has been as helpful for you. What crucial  things have you forgotten to pack?

*artistic license

 

The Gallows

The Gallows

6662481043_a071f74a7b_mOptimized-IMG_7392There is a common practice that most people engage in to show affection for friends and family. We give gifts. Gift giving can be tricky because it’s sometimes hard to identify things that are meaningful to others. I realized years ago that I like gifts that say someone “knows me”. Or that they really listen. They pick up on cues in conversation and act on my preferences when gifting. For instance, a long time ago when my husband and I were long-distance dating, (before modern conveniences like cell phones!) he gave me a Sandi Patty cassette tape because he’d “listened” to me. He also ordered some clinical/scholarly books that would inform me about my daughter’s disabilities. Again, before the internet!  Those kind of gifts make me feel known and loved.

I’ll tell you the story of a more recent heart-felt gift. I see it  from our kitchen when I look out the bank of windows into the backyard. I chuckle a little when I see the The Gallows. That’s what I call it.

Christmas morning 2015 revealed my gift- a bird feeder. And also it’s support which looked exactly like a gallows to me. All I could think of is “Hang that wicked Haman on the gallows!” (awesome story in the Book of Esther- Old Testament.) Silly, I know. But that’s what it reminded me of.

The bird feeder was an all time favorite gift. You have to know the history.  Many years ago Tom gave me a perfect anniversary gift- a squirrel resistant bird feeder. A few years later, a storm took down our favorite pear tree that hosted the bird feeder. When the tree came down, the bird feeder was damaged and ended up in a pile of stuff in the garage, mostly forgotten.

Christmas 2015 came around. I’d announced to the kids that our gifts would be hand-made or refurbished/refinished gifts, using things we had. I didn’t force my idea on the others; but just wanted them to have realistic expectations about gifts from us. That’s when Tom surprised me with the bird feeder. He went to the trouble to replace broken parts AND act on my idea for a low cost Christmas, I was so touched. Although it was my all time favorite gift many years ago, it has far more meaning now. Broken, overlooked and recycled- now better than new. And now that Tom is working in another city, and I miss him A LOT, looking at that labor of love through the back window means so much more.

What kind of gifts mean the most to you? What ideas do you have for giving meaningful gifts to others? Remember that some of the very best gifts are your focused attention and experiences with the ones you love.