Finding Gratitude in a Pile of Torn Paper

Image result for the aftermath of unwrapping gifts

Within the next 24 to 36 hours, the majority of American living rooms will look much like the image above: a mass of wrapping paper strewn across the floor. Countless hours of list making, planning, shopping and wrapping in a jumbled mess; not to mention the added expense to purchase these gifts.

It’s obvious that Americans have a consumerism addiction. I can look at the pile of gifts under our own tree and recognize the problem as if Santa’s bag threw up and landed in perfectly neat piles all over my living room floor. We seem to have placed a lot of value on the wrong things and there is no easy way to pull back the reins on this condition. But I do think there is room to find a special gift that hides among the packages and the crumpled up wrapping paper.

The gift of time.

My current list of books that I’m reading include several on the  topic of being truly mindful of the present moment. The act of deliberate mindfulness. Now, these aren’t books authored by Eastern philosophers or Zen masters (although I have read a few of those as well). No, these are books written by Western Christians who have become cognizant of a disconnect in our society. See, Satan can use feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness to make Christians feel that they must hustle and throw on the shiny image of perfectionism in order to feel that they are valued. Perhaps hustling and projecting the perfect image isn’t you – perhaps you are devoted to your work; or your drink/drug of choice; or that perfect number on the scale that would make you feel sexy again; or any other addiction that allows you to hide from truly feeling or really living. And while you are focusing on work OR the illusion that you must impress complete strangers OR pontificate about the status of your lives on social media OR……well, time, that precious gift is moving on without you.

We have all heard the story about the corporate executive who lays in the hospital during his final days and upon examining his life,  finds that the one thing he wishes he had more of was time – not money, not one more account, not another home or new car. No, he wanted more time. It is one of the most precious gifts that God has bestowed on each of us but which we only get a finite amount of in our life.

I was first confronted with this reality many years ago after my mother had first passed away. While going through a box of her things, I came across a small notebook called “A Grandmother’s Memories to Her Grandchildren”. In it, my mother had carefully written about herself in response to scripted questions or prompts. Her handwriting, small and delicate, told the story of her life – the intimate details that are all too quickly forgotten. She included things like her  favorite color (pink), her favorite type of flower (yellow roses) and memories from her childhood (playing baseball in the street with neighborhood kids). As I flipped through the pages of that book, her handwriting became noticeably forced and messy with disjointed spacing. I assume she was losing her dexterity during those final months. Eventually, I came to pages that were never finished or even started on. That’s when she was unable to tell her story. So, I picked up the notebook and filled in the missing pieces the best I could remember.

Just this past summer as we were unpacking boxes in our new home, my oldest daughter, Grace, came upon a box of mine in the closet. In it was that notebook. Grace brought it to me and we read through the memories that my mother had penned for the grandchildren that she would never live to see grow up. My mother left a wonderful gift for me and my children. Knowing she was running out of time, she told her story and left us a legacy to pass along.

I once read a story about how our focus becomes so myopic in the face of our mortality.

Our time here is short.

So, I wonder how this will play out over the next 24 to 36 hours in your home. As you gather with family and friends, where will you focus your time? Sure, the presents under the tree are nice and no one loves to give and receive like me. But I’m wondering about the rest of your time.

Will you fill it with stories?

Laughter?

Gathering around those you love?

Memories that will last long after the crumpled up wrapping paper litters the floor around your Christmas tree?

Will you fill that finite time with the reading of the story about a God who transcended infinite time and space to occupy our world? Our God, who loved us so much, that He was willing to share finite time with us? Our God, who became flesh, and made a way for us to one day shake the boundaries of time and space and live in eternity with Him?

See, finite means that one day, our time is up. It may come with time to prepare or it may come suddenly. But one day it will come. Will you have spent this time wisely?

For many this weekend, it is the first Christmas season without a loved one and a reminder of the empty spots at the table. For many, it isn’t a happy and joyous season. Still for others, they face an unknown future after a diagnosis. Let’s remember all of these in our prayers.

For all of us, we have precious time during this holiday weekend to share with those we love. Let’s take a moment in gratitude and give thanks for this opportunity and for the One who gives us all the precious gift of time and the freedom to choose how we spend it. Let’s spend it wisely with those we love.

Merry Christmas to you and your family. And to my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukkah.

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When Gratitude Comes from a Stone that is Never Cast

Image result for jesus and the adulterous woman

John 8:1-11 New Living Translation (NLT)

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

 

I have always loved this story about Jesus.

But, I came to really love it even more when I realized that this story is about each one of us.

See, at one time or another, we have all played the role of the accuser or the condemned. So, this story is a reminder for all of us.

It reminds us that we are all imperfect, fallible creations. We are sinners who will find ourselves on the side of the condemned – our sins laid open for all of the world to see and speculate about. We will be ridiculed, humiliated, and be asked to give an account to our accusers.

Oh, that’s not you?

Ok…perhaps you haven’t had your sins paraded down Main Street for all the world to view. Your sins were done in the dark, in the private corners of your life. No matter. The ramifications of your sin will seep into your very heart like a slow poison. It will choke out your joy and steal your peace. Rest assured, though, it will insist on showing itself to the world – eventually.

Perhaps you will despise in others what you yourself are trying so desperately to hide. Perhaps if you draw attention to someone else’s sin, yours can stay bound up like a little secret. When that happens, you then become the accuser.

See, we have all played both roles in this story.

We have all sinned and been found out in one form or another. Perhaps it wasn’t in the streets in front of townspeople like this woman from the story. You might have been found out by only your spouse, a friend, or in those quiet moments when the Spirit was pricking your heart with unease. Sin doesn’t have to be displayed  in public in order for it to have power. Sin has power the moment we bend our will away from God and toward a need that we think the sin will fulfill. Regardless, we have all fallen short and are punishable under the Law.

We have also played the role of the accuser. Perhaps your self-righteous condemnation was in the quiet disapproving glance or stare. Perhaps it was in the whispers between you and your friends. Perhaps you felt bold enough to disapprove of someone’s actions through a post or comment on social media. Better yet, why not disapprove anonymously on a forum like Topix. I mean, no one will ever know it was you, right?

Hmmm….

The part that I love about this story is how Jesus reacts to both roles.

To the accusers, He asks the one in the crowd who is blameless and without sin to cast the first stone against the woman.

Silence. (I like to imagine crickets chirping in the background.)

To the woman, He offers something that we all need at some point in our lives – grace and mercy. If what she was accused of was true, then she was, indeed, punishable by the Law of Moses. But with Christ, He offers His own life instead of asking for hers. And with that grace and mercy He makes one request: “Go and sin no more.”

I have played both roles in this story. I have sinned in many ways and some of those have, in turn, hurt others. I have also felt justified to point out the sins in others or make the pious comment to a friend about the actions of others. However, I am coming to realize that the person in this story I need to focus on the most is Jesus. I don’t need to focus on the woman’s sin or on the ones who brought her forth for condemnation.

No.

I need to set my eyes on Jesus’ response.

I firmly believe that 99.99% of humans know right from wrong. They don’t need you to point out the obvious. There are plenty of paranha in the human fish tank to eat people for lunch. No, I believe that they need to see a glimpse of Jesus – they need to know that there is mercy and grace waiting for them at the feet of Christ. However, they will never know the way unless you show them – unless you push through the crowd of spectators and take them to where Christ lives. That place is in your heart and your life. That place is reflected in your words of kindness and support and love. That place is in your willingness to lend a hand.

If you so claim to be a Christian, you should NEVER look down upon another, unless you are bending down to lend them a hand and help them up.

Oh, and I believe my grandmother’s words to be as prophetic today as they were when I was a child….”If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I leave you with this final thought on the subject.

The late Christian singer, Rich Mullins, had a wonderful song called, “Let Mercy Lead”. The words in the chorus have become a mantra of sorts in my life today. I hope they will find themselves in your heart as well.

Be blessed and let’s bless others with mercy and grace.

Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There’ll be a drop of grace
If we can reach
Beyond the wisdom of this age
Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe
Although their foolish hearts may break
They will find peace
And I’ll meet you in that place
Where mercy leads (Rich Mullins)

 

 

 

 

Finding Gratitude in Giving Thanks & Lessons Learned

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The American way of Thanksgiving……the busiest travel weekend of the year….feasts….football…and Black Friday shopping….the official beginning of the Christmas season for most.

This is our first holiday season at Cate Cabana. The garland and wreaths were hung around here about 2 weeks ago. The first tree went up the next weekend and the remainder of the trees will be placed and decorated this week. I saw many people decorating a bit earlier than usual. I know I did. Dave seemed perplexed at my insistence to get the pumpkins, fodder and hay off of the front porch in exchange for the Christmas decorations.

Why?

Well, besides being my favorite time of year, I was motivated by 2 other important rationales.

  1. It was the first year in our new home.
  2. I can’t help but believe that the warm glow of lights, the focus on giving, and the music that this season carries with it, would somehow lighten our hearts and spread a bit of much needed joy.

This Thanksgiving, Dave and I will spend alone. The girls will be with their father and we have decided not to travel over the break as in years past. We want to enjoy the quiet of our home. I don’t plan to Christmas shop. I plan to finish my decorating, do some more writing and finish a couple of books I have been sifting through. I want my house to be filled with the scent of a fresh-cut tree and the carols of Christmas.

While most will recite their blessings around a table of family and friends, I went a bit farther and contemplated the lessons I have learned from those blessings I have received this year. So, as I thought about this, I came up with a few “gifts” that have blessed me, more because of what I have learned as a result of them and not so much from the “gift” itself.

HOME – It is no secret among my closest circle that this home was not at the top of my list when Dave and I were house hunting last spring. I had picked a more traditional and sensible home. One made entirely of brick with a small, intimate yard. I knew that all I was giving up in my other cottage, could easily be replicated in the home I had picked as my favorite. Yet, no one else in my family agreed. Dave and the girls were drawn to a home that had more land than I felt we needed, it had a cramped upstairs for the girls, and I felt they were attracted to the allure of a pool. Yet, we came back to the house over and over again. I couldn’t imagine us in this home because the previous owner had stuffed it with furniture too big and too elaborate for the style and space. Our real estate agent kept telling me that I had to see it through my eyes. Boy, that was hard for me. I wanted it to feel and look like the cozy home I had created on Main Street. I wanted it to be another Chez Elfinfun. The truth? It would never be that. My resistance to this home was not about the house itself but more about leaving behind what had become a rich part of my story and imagining the creation of something new. So, after weeks of toil and consideration, we bought and moved into Cate Cabana. In the months since, we have created a warm and welcoming home that begins a new story. It is a story that has more yard than we need; yet, offers a place of space and privacy, a big yard for our puppies and a pool for our family to enjoy. This past summer was full of laughter, meals out-of-doors, family gatherings and a revolving door of teenagers. My yard is full of plants and flowers that I have no experience with. I am going to take a garden dream that someone else started and make it into a something new. Our home has taught me so much about letting go, starting over and recreating.

ELECTION 2016 – Sounds crazy, huh? Well, I remained silent on social media for the majority of the last few months of this election cycle. I spoke in private about my concerns. But, as I take the time to reflect, I realize that this crazy election taught me so much. First, I came to realize that I can no longer be defined by one particular party. In fact, I don’t know that there is a party out there that lines up with who I am now. As I scrutinized both sides, I was amazed at the lack of better choices to represent the people of this country. On one side you had a lifelong politician whose career has been pockmarked with scandals and controversies.On the other side, you had a billionaire businessman with a savvy marketing strategy and no filter. Really, America? This is the best we could do? While there exists no candidate out there that could have represented either side with “perfection”, the mere fact that these 2 were allowed to represent the thoughts and ideals of America, points to a bigger issue in our modern society and culture. Second, this election brought out the state of our society. People stood, and are still standing, unapologetically on their side of the fence. As if voting for one party over another made people better or worse. As if one side made you more righteous and the other somehow made you evil. As if one side made you a racist bigot and misogynist and the other side made you a heathen destined for hell. As if one side made you more intolerant and the other side made you more tolerant. As if…..How about the notion that neither side is right and neither side is wrong? How about they are different lenses through which each individual looks at their life and the life of others? Third, this election reminded me that Jesus isn’t a Republican or a Democrat. His law is love. Finally, the greatest gift Facebook gave me during this election, is the option to still be friends with people without having to be subjected to their rhetoric. I chose to “Unfollow” a whole bunch of people and the gift of that decision was a greater peace of mind.

STRUGGLES: I have been very transparent about my recent bout with depression. After much testing, it appears that its cause is not chemical, but hormonal. Or, just the normal cycle of a woman in middle age. Most people don’t want to admit that they struggle. Struggle, for many, is an indication of weakness. Or, it is a topic that feels embarrassing to share. Or, people feel uncomfortable in knowing that a family member or friend is in a season of struggle. So, I could have chosen to stay quiet. I could have pretended that everything was going well. Instead, I chose to embrace this season as a time to be vulnerable and transparent. My honesty was a leap of faith for me. It was hard to have those conversations with Dave about why I cried all the time, why I couldn’t sleep, why I was grouchy and lethargic. It was hard to have those conversations with friends and family. Yet, the love and support I was given, encouraged me to seek answers. Answers that I now have. I am starting to feel like myself again. It is amazing what just a good night’s sleep will do. I want all of us to be kind to one another in all seasons of our lives. Life is hard for every one of us at times. In my house, the struggles come from all directions at times – me , my teenage daughters and Dave. Our struggles define moments in our lives when we are living in or out of grace with ourselves, others and the world around us. So, to each other, let’s extend an ample amount of grace.

CAREER: I didn’t choose public education as my career. It chose me. There has never been any other profession that I wanted to be a part of. I am halfway through my 24th year. Twenty-four years. It is hard to imagine where the time has gone. Five years ago I stepped away from the classroom to go into administration. It isn’t (or never should be) a position of “power”. It is a position in which I am able to serve others – kids, teachers, staff, parents, families and the community at large. Most mornings, I take my cup of coffee and stand at the door to greet each child and adult as they come through the front doors into our building. I love being the first face they see as they begin another day of learning. I love the hugs and the time I get to spend to make a positive impact. That is the great thing about being a teacher: the opportunity to leave a footprint on the life of another human being in their journey to becoming the best possible version of themselves. My job doesn’t afford me the luxury to decide who will get my love, respect, acceptance and support. I give freely to ALL. I give without regard to their race, religion, behavior, their home life, their abilities, disabilities or culture. Each day, I am given a glimpse into the fabric of our society. All that I see is beautiful. It is a melting pot of colors, ideas, talents and gifts. Each face is the chance for me to recognize and acknowledge the Divine that lives in us all. I want my greeting and smile to convey that they are all welcome to learn and grow within the walls of our building.

FAMILY & FRIENDS: Each day I am reminded of the blessings of my family. I look at the path I took to get to where I am and realize with awe, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. That’s not to say that my path was easy. It wasn’t. It is marked with pain, poor choices, redemption, grace, failure, and love. Dave and I went to see the new movie Arrival. At the very end, one character poses the following question: If you could see your life from start to finish, all the good and bad, would you still make the choices you did? Powerful question. I don’t know. Yet, to make different choices would have meant a very different life than the one I have now. This life I am living has been shaped and refined by every choice, both good and bad, that I have ever lived. I can’t be too unhappy about that. My family  – some are close, others far….some are blood, some are chosen, some are from marriage. Regardless of who they are or how they came to be in my life, they are part of my story and who I am. My friends. Well, friendship is a funny thing. Friends are fickle and few stay the course from start to finish. That has been a lesson I have learned this year. For some, friendship is as convenient as proximity. For others, it doesn’t matter the miles, they are still there, checking in with you and making the necessary time to spend together. Friendships change and I find that hard to accept. I find it difficult to know when the time has come to let certain friendships go their own way and realize that means I go a different way. But it seems that the core people – your team – just never changes; and those are the ones that we spend the extra amount of attention working on. This blessing has been a tough one for me this year. But like all things, there is something to learn and take away that makes each of us a better version of ourselves.

It goes without saying that we all have so many things to be thankful for.

I have a wonderful family – near and far, blood and married kin. I am blessed with friends. I am blessed with a faith that is big enough for all who want to sit at my table – alike and different. I am blessed with a joy to be fully present in this one, wild and wonderful life.

As you gather around your table this week, I hope that you will not only take the time to reflect on all the blessings you have but all of the lessons you have learned along the way. Life will teach you to love what you have…or it will teach you to love what you have lost. The choice is always ours to make.

When Gratitude Seems Quiet

“But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen…..”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars

I asked October to say goodbye so that November could say ‘Hello’.

With this greeting came the same unusual heat, as if we have only two seasons now: summer and winter. As the new month rolled in, the malaise in my spirit that I had hoped would disappear with the month before, remained.

I have spent the early mornings this week in quiet prayer.

Searching.

Asking questions.

Listening.

I understand that this is probably just a season in my life, much like the ones in nature. It is a season that I am most unfamiliar with – this malaise in my spirit. This isn’t like me.

Things seem to be shifting inside of me. My middle-aged body is changing and for the first time I seem to see it happening: insomnia on my worse nights, interrupted sleep on my best nights; sensitivity to things of nostalgia; muscle and joint aches that require my heating pad.

I have spent a lot of time alone lately.

I have had strange and frightening dreams at night. Dreams that awaken me and leave me too scared to fully succumb to the return of sleep. Thankfully, my awakening drives the dreams far from my remembering.

My girls are changing and navigating their push through adolescence. I am entering my “second adolescence” in reverse. It has not been an easy ride at Cate Cabana. I wonder how my poor husband is managing to survive: the turmoil of quarreling teens and a wife undergoing changes in her own life.

Grace, in a moment of teenage humor, pointed out that my upcoming birthday would mark my downward slide toward the half-century mark. Is it possible that in four short years, I will be 50?

How must that make my father feel?

How does he process that the tiny creature he cradled in his arms is a middle-aged woman?

How will I process that in my own mind when Grace and Anna reach my age?

Will I even be here to witness those milestones in them?

My mother wasn’t so lucky. In fact, she was probably carrying the mutated cells in her body when she was my age. Cells that would grow silently in the very center of her being until it was too late.

How will I feel when I reach the age of 52? An age she missed by just a few months.

Then I turn to the family I have left – Dad, Margaret, Carol & Marty.

Each reunion with them reminds us quietly, that we are all getting older. Each visit and phone call…..well, they are more precious than any jewel I own.

These are the questions and thoughts I have wrestled with of late.

I confessed this Dave.

I told him that I hadn’t felt quite like myself in the last few weeks: edgy, tired, fearful and a little sad.

My love….well, he just takes my hand and kisses me gently, letting me know that all we face in the years to come….we will face together. All of them.

This morning I listened to him read our devotional from the Book of Jonah. That first chapter reminded us both that no matter where life takes us, God is faithful. So, while I wrestle with my questions and face my fears, I am grateful that He will meet me there.

And while I am in this season, I am grateful for Dave – this man God sent my way  – to hold my hand and sit in my quiet with me.

Dear Reader, there are many seasons of change for each of us on this journey of life. It is my hope that in each of those seasons, we can stop and look for gratitude all around; even when it is quiet.

Blessings….

Finding Gratitude at the End of this Month

 

October is winding down.

As I reflect on the month, I am reminded of the opening line from the classic book by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. It starts with the following: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Charles Dickens opened his novel with this famous line in an effort to draw attention to the dualities that existed in England during his time. It is a reality that exists in our country  and throughout the world today. In fact, these dualities exist in many of our personal lives as well.

If I were being honest, I think I can say with certainty: I will be grateful when this month is over.

October is typically one of my favorite months of the year. I am fortunate enough to  live in the Appalachian Region and this time of year is usually cause for celebration. Normally the mountains are blazing with colors so deep it almost hurts your eyes in the sunshine. Then there are the days of rain when roadways and sidewalks are covered with a blanket of wet, sticky leaves that adhere to the bottoms of your shoes. October is usually a call for chunky sweaters and knee-high boots. But this month has seen only a few days that resemble what is typically expected in our region. Like so many other things, this October has been unusual. In fact, this weekend will still feel unusually warm with highs climbing towards 80. No significant rain in the forecast and the colors on our trees are just dull. I needed a different October.

October at Cate Cabana has been a full one and some of the highlights have included the peak of Cross Country season….Fall Break….an extended visit from family….a second wedding anniversary for Dave and me…decorating our house and placing candle lights in each window so that guests feel a warm welcome in the evening darkness. We are planning for a big Christmas in our new home. I am looking forward to spending the holidays with family and friends, all of us together under one roof.

October is a month of celebrating for Dave and me. While my parents were visiting, we celebrated our second wedding anniversary. Two years….gone in the blink of an eye. Our own growing and stretching  – within us and between us. We are still blending our separate lives into one and letting go of the stuff we packed in boxes that no longer serve us. This process has left us lighter and more focused on where we are going from here. We are learning so much about one another through our similarities, but more importantly, through our differences. I am learning to listen with a heart that is open while figuring out what makes this man tick. And he might say he is learning about the passion I hold for certain positions I take. It has not only deepened our love, but the friendship that exists between us as well.

For all of the wonderful things that October has brought with it, there has also come an equal amount of heartbreak and lessons.

My girls are growing physically and emotionally in this journey to becoming women in their own right. Growth can be painful at times. This month they have both had very hard lessons to learn about the hurt words can cause and the importance of setting boundaries. They have been betrayed by friends they thought they could trust. They have watched other friends make choices that hurt their own hearts. They have made choices that have grieved my heart as well. In the midst of these challenges, I have had to use such moments as a springboard for tough discussions that are wrapped up in love, mercy and grace. We have spoken of the importance of forgiveness. We have talked about when it is appropriate to continue fostering and caring for a friendship and when it is time to move on. Ironically, I am having those same lessons handed to me about a couple of friendships in my life as well.  There are friends for a reason, friends for a season, and those for a lifetime. In these moments, I miss my mom. I miss her wisdom and how she would always say, “This too shall pass.”

Being a teenager is hard. Becoming a woman today is scary and filled with an uncertainty that I struggle to comprehend on many days. The world didn’t seem so scary when I was growing up. Maybe it was and I was oblivious to it. Regardless, it’s difficult to watch them develop and navigate their own opinions on issues when the rhetoric that they are exposed to is so volatile, disrespectful, and filled with hate. I have found the following words to be the most real and honest thing that I know to offer them during these times: “How do you think Jesus would respond to ______________?” Framing my perspective through the lens of Christ has helped me more in recent weeks than wasting my time reading social media opinions that attack people for having an opposing viewpoint and listening to hateful debates facilitated by agendas disguised as reporters.

My response to the atmosphere around me and rhetoric I have heard or read in a variety of mediums, is an indication of a shift that is happening in my life. It is a shift that places love, kindness and service to others above any condemnation. It is a shift that allows me to do more listening than speaking. It is a shift that has silenced my mouth and turned myself inward to examine my own heart and shore up my faith. It is a shift that has me asking a lot of questions.

This month has been the best of times and the worst of times…worst of times? Well, maybe not the worst, for I have weathered so much more. But it has been a time of great challenges.

Regardless, it always surprises me when it is over.

I’m just ready to move forward.

Be blessed.

Finding Gratitude Together

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.

Virginia Satir

There was no question how we would spend our Fall Break this year. Girls were with us and there were no immediate plans for any extensive traveling. So, we extended the invitation  for my parents to come down from Indiana and spend the whole week with us.

I was over the moon when they accepted. Ten months was way too long between visits.

As I get older, I worry less about filling up time with well-orchestrated activities. Instead, I just plan for time. Time spent together; however it may choose to come.

We planned for one excursion this week to Biltmore. The rest of the week was spent with each other – plain and simple.

My parents tended to my perennials – deadheading and watering….offering instructions on how to prepare my beds for the upcoming frost and winter sleep. The yard at Cate Cabana is full of plants and flowers that someone else had carefully and thoughtfully planted and I have little experience in their care. So, I asked questions  – a lot of them. I sought the advice of my stepmom, Margaret, on the best flowers to plant in those areas of my yard that I am unsure about.

My father insisted on watering all of the flowers, commenting on the need we have for lots of rain as he went from spot to spot.

When the shelving unit in my walk-in closet fell to the floor one morning, my father insisted that we work together to build something new. And we did. Dad kept remarking about my skills and ease with which I used power tools. I reminded him that I have spent my whole life listening to and watching the best teacher a girl could ever have – him.

My parents came with a list of questions about their computer. I watched as my husband patiently answered each one – sometimes more than once.

We talked a lot.

Some of those conversations were funny  – time spent reminiscing about family and events that have long since receded into our memories. My father told Grace and Anna about me as a teenager – brooding and moody with a Sony Walkman in my back pocket and foamy earphones that seemed permanently attached to my ears.  He also shared with them his pride in all I had accomplished, in the hopes that they too, could be encouraged to reach any star they aimed for.

But there were some conversations that were hard – necessary, but hard. Conversations about their final wishes….fears they had. As an only child, I did my best to assure them of the role I was willing to play in their care at the end of this life…and my promise to fulfill their wishes for a final resting place….the promise to my stepmom that family was about more than blood, and she would not walk this world alone.

I was also witness to a moment when my oldest daughter was less than her gracious self in public. It was heart-wrenching to see the disappointment in my father’s eyes at his granddaughter’s behavior. It was a lesson that she will never forget.

The week went by too fast and before I knew it, Saturday morning came. The house was buzzing with the movements of my parents as they gathered their belongings and packed the car. Thankfully, Dave insisted on a series of photos outside of the house before their departure. The girls didn’t scoff at being in their pjs and I didn’t mind that I was without make-up and still sporting some bad hair from a short night’s sleep.

As we said our good-byes, Dad and I didn’t hide any tears or put on our bravest faces. No, we were real and vulnerable. We felt the pain of our good-bye and the growing miles that each hour would place between us as they traveled back up north. We know and understand that every moment….every memory…every conversation, is a precious gift that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Today, in the fading light across my backyard, my heart is full to overflowing at the week we all spent together. A week of love and laughter….meals and bread broken….new experiences and stories from long ago….

Reader, it is my hope that this week you will pay special attention to the times when you are gathered together with the ones you love. Our times of togetherness are precious gifts that are too soon over but should never be forgotten.

Be blessed.

When Gratitude Comes with Hope

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Light……despite all of the darkness.

It’s hard to see sometimes, isn’t it?

It’s hard to imagine that amidst the heartache and tragedy, there is a light that shines so bright, all of the darkness flees to the depths.

It seems impossible given all of the tragedy around us…..

I imagine those who hear racial slurs….the disrespect that some find so easy to spew towards another human made in the image  of the Almighty Creator. Those who continue to carry the persecution of their ancestors on their shoulders must be weary, while the rest of us try to imagine how we can remove the load altogether.

I am horrified at the headlines of sexual abuse, rape, sex slave trading…rapists who walk free after a few weeks while their victims piece together a new life….children/infants who are the easy prey for cowards with a sick lust in their groins…women who live in a culture where they struggle to see any value to their lives aside from their bodies…women who are denied the very basic rights of humans.

It’s hard to filter through the headlines of abuse…shootings…war…tension….fear…and get to the heart of what is really happening in the lives of those around us; in the culture of our country.

Even our small area of the country is experiencing issues that many believed to be problems in larger metropolitan areas. Drive-by shootings on an interstate….appalling racial slurs and actions…sickening abuse and violence.

My teenage daughters have seemingly irrational fears about movie theaters, shopping malls, and trips that require taking an airplane. This isn’t the world I wanted them to grow up in….

I know. I know. These things aren’t necessarily new in this world. Since the fall of man, we have lived in a sinful world where the enemy roams about looking to destroy God’s most beautiful creation – humankind. With the advancements in technology and the lightning fast speed of the internet, the atrocities of the world reach our social media feed within minutes of an event. We are no longer able to turn a blind eye to the world around us. Oceans and land forms no longer separate the human race.

We don’t get a pass to just sit back and watch it happen. We aren’t supposed to accept that this is just the way things are today.

I believe that we have a responsibility – a duty, if you will, to be a light in our corner of the universe. I believe that we are expected to pass kindness forward to those around us. I believe it is expected that we pray for those who mean us harm. I believe that every encounter brings with it the opportunity to show compassion…mercy…the  willingness to sit among one another  to listen and learn. Each of us is a thread in the larger tapestry that God is weaving together. Each thread is important….each one brings beauty and life to this world. Diminishing one, in any way, is to diminish us all.

So…I have been clinging to hope this week.

I am standing firm….despite all I see and hear about what is happening around me, locally, nationally and world-wide…that hope is on the horizon. I am going to continue to walk in confidence towards hope. I am going to believe in the best of humankind. I am going to trust that if people are faced with a choice, they will rise up to defend those who are helpless to defend themselves. I am choosing to believe that all things work for the good of those who love God.

Just imagine for one minute, what our world would be like if we just lived in love and kindness….if we lived in the light of hope. If we were wiling to let God’s love for others, be the message we wanted to send. If only the ones who read this essay this week did all of this…imagine the impact you could have on the world around you.

I am hopeful that we can.

So this week, dear Reader, it is my hope and prayer that each of you will choose to live in love and kindness….with the hope that if we pass it forward to others, the world will catch on, as well. Perfect love can drive out fear…can drive back hate….can point others to the hope in the Light of this World, that drives all darkness to the depths.

Be blessed this week.

Finding Gratitude at Home

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

I’ve been thinking a lot about home.

For many years, home was a cute little cottage situated on a busy main thoroughfare. It was in that space where my little elves and I rebuilt a life together. It was there that I watched them grow. It was there that I put my life back together and decided that living with authenticity and intention was the only way to truly get through this life.

Now home is a place called Cate Cabana. It has enough space for us all to spread out and a pool to goof off in when the weather is too hot to stand. It sits in a quiet neighborhood with about an acre of land. Our yard is a gathering place for creatures of all kind. I like the early mornings to sit and sip coffee on our back porch. We eat most of our meals outside under the cabana. In the early evenings, crickets and frogs sing their songs to the audience gathered around.

The garden is defining itself little by little. I am learning about how the light folds from one end of our yard to another – how much sun each spot gets and how the earth crumbles or sticks together in my hands.This place will allow me to try my hand at growing flowers and plants I only admired in other people’s yards. I feel like I’m learning all over again.

Yesterday marked 3 months in this new house.

It is a quirky space full of all the things that bring us comfort. It is a place that we are defining as a family – not a place where any one must try and fit in.

Mostly, it is a place for us to gather.

Anna & Grace have filled this home with the squeals, whispers and laughter that only a herd of teenagers can deliver. Hardly a weekend goes by when it hasn’t been filled with the sounds of busyness and fun. Family has gathered to share in meals and visit or celebrate special occasions. Dave and I are planning holiday parties and gatherings. We finally have a place to entertain.

While all of this wonderful, I am reminded that home is less about a physical space and more about the special people who fill it. Some are here every day while others pop over now and again. Home is the sound of laughter, story-telling, the occasional fuss between sisters and words of love.

Home is the place where you go when the rest of the world is against you; because the people you find in your home are the ones who love you the most.

It is here that Grace and Anna will fall in love, achieve new dreams and set off to find a  life of their own. Here, Dave and I will dream of life after the noise and bustle has left the house too quiet for us to stand. Family and friends will gather around the table and share times of joy and sadness. Our home will welcome any and all who wish to come.

This home and family?

Well, it fills my heart to overflowing with gratitude.

Dear friends, as autumn comes to us with its long shadows and cool evenings, it is my hope that you will find time to give thanks for your home and all who are welcome to come inside for a respite from the world around. May you and yours find love, peace, joy and hope wherever you gather – for home is so much more than space that we occupy; but rather, the ones who occupy our hearts.

Blessings…..

When Gratitude Comes with a Second Chance

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I’ve been thinking about second chances this week.

We are all in need of them throughout our lives for a variety of reasons. Think back to a time in your life when you were given a second chance at something.

Felt good, didn’t it?

When I look at my own life, I immediately think of my love story with David. See, when my first marriage fell apart, I never thought I would get another chance to spend my life with someone. Then I met Dave. When you realize that the universe is extending you an invitation to sit at the table of love again, you certainly don’t  squander it. In fact, I went all in…deeper and more deliberately than I did the first time. I understood the risk I was taking. I knew all the ways I stumbled the first time. I talked about the things that made me uncomfortable and laid my heart open to him. In return, I reaped a harvest of love, unlike anything before.

I knew the power of that second chance.

This week I was thinking of a young friend. She has struggled with a road block in her career. We have chatted a lot this summer about her discouragement and fears that perhaps she has been sitting on the wrong bus – not just the wrong seat on a bus, but the wrong bus all together.

Yes. I can identify with that fear.

I remember a time when I was about her age, I felt the same way. I just knew I was at the right school, doing the right work. My evaluations affirmed what I believed. Yet, at the end of the year, I found myself in graduate school with no job. I was panicky.

How could this have happened?

What did I do wrong?

I prayed. I cried. I felt lost and confused.

Then, without warning – the perfect opportunity opened up for me. It wasn’t the door I would have chosen for myself. Yet, there it was – a new beginning. Not only was that the perfect fit for me, I learned the most valuable lessons of my career during my time. Those lessons took me to my next assignment and eventually to the place where I am now.

I just couldn’t see it at the time.

My young friend has been given a new beginning. I know that she understands the value of a second chance. I am confident that she will blossom where she has been planted.

Sometimes second chances are companions with forgiveness. This is especially true in our relationships. With God, He goes beyond second chances in our relationship with Him. See, His ability to forgive is deeper and wider than any ocean. And what about chances? Well, it is never about how many times the invitation is given for us to come back; it’s just important that we do.

It’s easy to get lost in the loss of something; rather than to see that loss as a means for a second chance and a new opportunity. I often think about how tightly we cling to things that are no good for us. When we keep our hands closed around certain dreams, things or people, we are unable to accept what we might need the most. We then miss out on that second chance and something even greater than what we had the first time around.

Reader, it is my hope that you will reflect on second chances (or third or fourth or…). Spend a few moments looking back on times when you were offered another chance. Remember how that felt and your determination to get it right the next time around.

Look for ways to extend that to someone else; or, encourage someone who is looking for another opportunity.

Be blessed.