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

 

The Making of a Friend

The Making of a Friend

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As an introvert, I have a tendency to “go it alone”.  Looking back I realize I trudged through lots of very hard situations  by myself. There were times I would have benefitted from just hearing a voice on the other end of the phone. I didn’t want to bother people. I figured everyone was busy with their own problems. I was wrong to think no one had time for me. Now, when I have an opportunity, I implore my younger friends to not do what I did. “Reach out to someone; ask for help”, I say.

Sometimes friendships begin in the simplest of ways. I introduced myself to Courtney as we volunteered on a community project that our church sponsored. She and her husband had just moved to town and I invited them to a small group that met in our home. A long-lasting friendship was born.

Years have passed, and today I thank this same sweet friend for bringing me “out of myself” and encouraging me. For filling up that tank that all humans have. The tank that only caring, listening, loving people can fill. She listened, she affirmed, she asked questions. We understood each other. We shared personal experiences that have taught us a lot about life; particularly about ourselves. We both laughed at our own stories- how we used to think we were always right and how it seemed like a huge eye-opener when we realized it just wasn’t so. How funny.

For a couple of hours every couple of weeks we chat on the phone, from different states, at heart-level about the deep stuff going on. How we want to please God in everything, how it’s hard to love, how we need each other.

What struck me after our conversation today is this. We are in a mentoring relationship that she initiated. She is young enough to be my daughter. I am the one who said yes to the request- to sacrifice my time to be an older wiser guide. How ironic. How funny the upside-down-ness of it all. I have a spring in my step today after our time together. I can only hope she was encouraged as well. As humans we want to be heard and affirmed. Sometimes our needs are met by giving ourselves away. Giving our time for someone else- laying our lives down. I’m really glad I decided to step out of my shell at that work project!

Emerson said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Or as the book of Proverbs puts it, “To have a friend you must show yourself friendly.”

When we say yes to help someone else, guess who often gains the most?