Inspiration Category


Gratitude

Gratitude

What is really important to you?

Having been given the order to evacuate, my cousin put some things in his truck and waited. His apartment is located in Talent, near I-5 in southern Oregon, in the middle of where fires swept through beginning at the northern edges of Ashland and reaching into the southern edges of Medford, before it was stopped. With his truck running to keep his laptop and phone charged, he used his phone’s wi-fi hotspot to listen to fire & police scanners on his laptop, in an effort to discover how the fire and all the various efforts to stop it were progressing.

As he sat and waited, he could hear propane tanks and electrical transformers exploding, over and over. Over the tops of trees and the roofs of some town houses he watched the glowing orange light and billowing smoke of the fire seeming to be very near, pushed along by a strong wind, not sure for several hours if it was passing by or coming closer. The glow and light of the fire would flare up, the smoke even blacker against the night sky, whenever a structure burned – someone’s home or business.

Nearly all in his apartment complex had evacuated, but one neighbor returned, saying all the roads were a mess due to road closures and backed up traffic. The neighbor went to bed, knowing my cousin would come get him if the fire got too close.

He sent me several texts reassuring me he was fine and not to worry – that all was in God’s hands. Around 3 am, when it finally became clear the fire was not coming any further in his direction, he went into his apartment and to bed, after being in the front seat of his truck watching the fire for over eight hours.

When I talked with him on the phone early the next morning, he said he was happy to be alive, with his furnishings and personal belongings intact, and with a place to live. My father and I were happy about that too!

Through it all, I kept wondering, “what did he pack to take with him?”

What is most important to you? This seems to be the question the year 2020 is asking us. Fires, floods, hurricanes, civil unrest, COVID … all asking the same question.

Of course, that has always been THE question, but the rapid-fire succession of tragedies and disasters these last couple years seems to be heightening and intensifying our awareness of what really matters most. At least for some of us.

I find it difficult to assign degrees of importance to the items and furnishings in my home most of which belonged to my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Gifts from my sons and grandchildren have just as much significance and value to me as do the family heirlooms. Everywhere I turn, I am surrounded by mementos and keepsakes that connect me to the beloveds in my life. If I had to evacuate, what would I take with me? What would you take?

What did he take?

I was pretty sure I knew and my suspicions were confirmed when we talked and I asked — a few changes of clothing, a winter coat, sandals in addition to the shoes he was wearing, some bedding and pillows for the back of his truck, toiletries and shave gear, important documents, A Course In Miracles, laptop, cell phone, iPad, tea, water and means to heat water, and a little bit of food. That’s all.

He also said: “Even if I could have somehow chosen just the very few personal things I had room for beyond the basics, out of all the many and various sacred belongings that shaped, informed and gave meaning to the inner dimensions of my home and the long and intricate weavings of my life, it would diminish and dishonor all that I could not take. If my past and its symbols and representations were to burn, then all of it needed to go together, to keep each other company.”

Ultimately, the precarious nature of just having the very simple essentials—food, water, clothing, shelter—especially in light of cataclysmic events, should give all of us plenty of pause for gratitude.

After my cousin’s experience, and watching on-line through social media platforms how his community is coming together to help one another, my heart has been finely tuned to gratitude.

My father has always said the vast majority of people are good at heart.

My cashier at Martins on Monday morning was genuinely and sincerely kind as we chatted about life. She asked me if the number of canned fruits she placed in one bag was acceptable, not wanting it to be too heavy for me to carry. I have never been asked that before, which I said to her. She explained that she asked the same of a gentleman who appeared to be of a muscular stature and he had replied ‘no’ because of a shoulder injury. She gladly put fewer cans in separate bags to ease his burden.

Margie—that is her name—said, “we shouldn’t judge people because we don’t know what they might be going through.” I heartily agreed with her.

Additionally, I found out that both of her parents had died at the age of 66; so now when she and each of her siblings reach the age of 67, they have and will celebrate with a big party. Remembering this now puts a smile on my face.

After this early morning cheery conversation, I used my Martins points to get gas. As I was getting out of my truck, the attendant approached the pump with a bag of cat food. While we exchanged ‘good mornings’ she filled the bowl that was under a cinder block display of windshield wiper fluid. Her thoughtfulness was deeply touching.

Gratitude can heighten our awareness to kindness and goodness. Gratitude can make all our words and actions more poignant and every breath precious. Gratitude is an act of humility and selflessness that assumes nothing but compassion and generosity for and towards all God’s beloveds—all creatures great and small.

Just like a fish in water, gratitude should be the environment in which we walk out our trust in God.

This is a lesson the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk highlights. Known as the “complainer” by many Christians, Habakkuk spends most of his short book complaining to God about the coming destruction and judgement of the nation of Israel by the Babylonians which took place during the sixth century BCE.

After spending much of three chapters fussing and grumbling to God, he ends with this:

For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines,
even if the olive tree fails to produce,
and the fields yield no food at all,
even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen,
and there are no cows in the stalls;
still, I will rejoice in ADONAI,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
ELOHIM Adonai is my strength!
He makes me swift and sure-footed as a deer
and enables me to stride over my high places.

Verse 19 in another translation reads:

The Sovereign LORD is my source of strength.
He gives me the agility of a deer;
he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.

Most of, if not all, the time …

It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world. Mary Oliver

Enough

Enough

When is enough, ‘enough?’

Our pastor came to visit us today and asked my 91-year-young father if I was taking good care of him. Do not let my father’s age fool you! He has the energy of a 60-year-old in good health and is of sound mind.

My father’s response was both adamantly noteworthy and praise-filled. He would most assuredly deny any false exaggeration in complete and utter humility, which he did when I asserted as such following the departure of our pastor.

I told my father that I did not feel like I was doing enough for him, or that I was doing enough for God. He responded in kind; even now I find myself shaking my head in thorough disbelief at his remark.

After retiring two years ago, I threw myself into volunteer work feeling somewhat guilty that I was not ‘doing enough’ with all this time I had on my hands. I made some great memories with two of my grandchildren as well. However, once the shelter in place orders went into effect due to the pandemic, I willingly gave up these activities so as not to endanger my father’s health—we live in the same house.

He prepares most of his own meals, does his laundry, vacuums, etc., leaving me little to do that is praiseworthy. And yet here we are, both feeling like we are not doing enough for God.

This last couple of weeks my father has been out in the yard spreading mulch, planting grass seed and landscaping. As I watched him, I thought to myself, “this isn’t just about getting the yard the way he wants it; this is also about preparing the place for me, his only daughter, in the time he has left.”

I had just finished reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright where I read the following:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Christ honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. This is the logic of the mission of God.

I think we can both stop worrying, Dad, because that sounds like more than enough to me!

Hopeful

Hopeful

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” – Maya Angelou

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

To whom or what do you look for hope?

Friends? I am fortunate and blessed to have the love, support and encouragement of remarkable women friends …

… one recently had successful hip surgery. She never gave up hope that she would one day walk normally even after the procedure was indeterminately delayed due to unforeseen circumstances.

… several others are facing challenging health issues. Each unequivocally believes she will come through whole and healthy.

… others who are grieving the loss of a parent with grace and dignity during the pandemic. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this crisis may make their mourning.

… another who sends me messages for on-line classes to encourage me in my writing and in my journey as a woman.

Nature? Since Easter, Creation and Her bounty fill my heart …

… watching the Jenny Wren gather sticks as she builds her nest in the Wren box outside my kitchen window.

… laughing at the Common Grackles bathe in the bird bath in our yard. The way they splash water all over the place is hilarious!

… watering my 15 sunflower plants! Each plant is only about three to four inches tall and yet already following the sun across the sky.

The myriad of scientists, physicians, and researchers working on a vaccine for Covid-19 gives me hope. The global peaceful protestors give me hope. The Black Lives Matter organization gives me hope. Within these dark and desperate times, the Light of Goodness still shines.

My pastor frequently uses illustrations, book passages and quotes from authors to enhance his messages. Whenever he mentions a writer, I generally investigate him or her on-line, and more often than not, purchase a book by said author. Needless to say, I have a stack of books by my bedside I eagerly anticipate reading.

One such author he routinely recites is biblical scholar N.T. Wright. I am making my way through his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church—which I highly recommend and which has given me cause for great hope.

In it he writes:

“… the gospel of Jesus Christ announces that what God did for Jesus at Easter he will do not only for all those who are ‘in Christ’ but also for the entire cosmos. It will be an act of new creation, parallel to and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead.”

Later he says:

“ Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Christ honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. This is the logic of the mission of God.”

Regardless of whether you agree or not with any or all of what is quoted above—engaging in conversation as God’s beloved children around such, would make me hopeful.

I will close with a poem by Hafiz.

TRIPPING OVER JOY

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.
― Hafiz, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy

I surrender … to hope.

Ask

Ask

“Let us ask the Father in my name to keep you mindful of His love for you and yours for Him.”  A Course in Miracles

Dusty Feet

Dusty Feet

Hopelessly weary,
dressed in rags,
her care-worn hands
and silent tears
cleanse his dusty feet.

As she kneels,
heart in anguish,
her whole being is
enveloped within
His tranquil soul.

Drying His feet
with her hair,
anointing them
with grateful kisses,
she is free.

Fear

Fear

Within the last year or so, three beloveds–one being my father–have told me that they think I am courageous. Each time I was taken aback. I do not see it.

In fact, after a recent incident with a friend and her daughter, I was confronted with just how much of my life has been and is driven by fear. Fear of being judged, fear of disapproval, fear of confrontation, fear of displeasing people, fear of not being loved, fear of not being worthy to be loved, fear of making mistakes, fear of being helpless, fear of not being smart enough or pretty enough or good enough . . .

. . . my heart races, doubts assail me and I look for a way out by staying under the radar.

And so . . .

“Pray for my daughter. She’s walking to work.”

“That’s a long way, what happened?”

“She doesn’t have a ride and she doesn’t need my help.
I told her I would take her but I was going to tell her
boss she doesn’t have transportation. (Part of the conditions
of her employment is to have transportation.) She said no
and walked out the door.”

Imagining the worst that could happen to this beautiful and intelligent 17-year-old woman walking over six miles to work on shoulder-less roads and through sketchy areas, I hopped into my truck in search of her. Luckily, I found her not too far from her home and she willingly accepted a ride.

As we drove, she received a text from her mother, “Don’t come home.”

Even though my insides were in an uproar, I remained as outwardly calm as I could, so that I could support the daughter through this traumatic event. When I dropped her off, there were tears in her eyes as I gave her a hug.

After I got home, a text conversation with her mother made me realize how my fears had informed my friendship with her and how the advice I had given her over time was not completely truthful or helpful.

During some quiet time, I reflected on the gutsy girl who walked out of her house not knowing the outcome of her decision yet remaining true to herself.

And then, remembering some of my past . . .

“You better not get pregnant!”

I was barely 19 years old when my father called me to his office in the basement of our home and spoke those words to me–fearful himself, I’m sure.  I’d just started college away from home, was with my first serious boyfriend, and I was beginning to explore some alternative activities and ideas that were in direct contradiction to some of the conditioned ways I was raised.

My father’s stern and strict methods of discipline still left me fearful and confused but I was determined to “walk out the door.”

The rest, as they say, is history. (See my Home Page for some of the highlights.)

Gutsy and courageous? I don’t know, maybe. Will I still make decisions based on my fears? Probably, but hopefully less and less as I allow those fears to fall away in the light of God’s Love and Grace.

. . . it could be as simple as making the best hand with the cards I’ve been dealt.