An Invitation to Explore Gratitude

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grat·i·tude  ˈ(ɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/)

noun- the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

I wonder how many times a day we say “thank you.” Someone hands us something, we say, “thank you.” Someone does something we’ve asked, we say “thank you.” Someone holds the door open for us, we say “thank you.” In many ways, saying “thank you” has become an automated response. Words that have been modeled and encouraged, and engrained in us by our parents and teachers. These two little, socially acceptable words seem to roll off our tongue without much thought to the weight they carry.

In English, “thank you” derives from “think,” it originally meant, “I will remember what you did for me” but in other languages (the Portuguese obrigado is a good example) the standard term follows the form of the English “much obliged” — it actually means “I am in your debt.” ¹  This brings to mind a formality and sincerity that my daily flippant use of the phrase is lacking.

Maybe, we should start thinking of our “thank yous” in a more meaningful way. Yes, please do continue using polite “thank yous” in public social exchanges but in our private, heart spaces, maybe we should start to explore the deeper meaning of thankfulness and why practicing gratitude is so important.

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This may mean slowing down a bit and recognizing some things. It means acknowledging, with great sincerity, the “whos” and “whats” in our life that make us better people. It means remembering the people who we may have taken for granted or haven’t taken the time to tell them how much they mean to us. It may mean forgiveness and grace. It may mean thinking differently about the difficult situations in our life. The ones that seem to have no end, and may mean acknowledging that even through those situations we are learning, growing, and God can use them for good things. It may mean the realization of a lack of something, something more to grasp, but what that something is, you are not quite sure. All of this is good exploration and great discoveries can come from it.

Gratitude is more than a choice.  It’s is a discipline. A discipline that needs to be developed and practiced through every situation. Exploring and cultivating gratitude brings about a grateful heart. A grateful heart produces joy and joy can carry us through life and all life has to bring.

Gratitude does not necessarily come easy though. Exploring and cultivating gratitude requires dedication. It can be difficult work that requires effort and the ability to think beyond ourselves and our current circumstances. (Ever notice how much easier it is to be thankful when things are going good.). But the results of your work, and the joy it will brings, far outweighs the difficulty of the practice.

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I am dedicating the rest of November to explore, discuss, and write about gratitude here on my blog and on my Facebook page.  I would love for you to join me in your own exploration of gratitude.

Here’s some questions to get you started:

1.) When you think of “thank yous” and gratitude, what do you think about? Proper etiquette, emotions, attitudes, a choice?

2.) What does gratitude look like in your own life?

3.) Does thankfulness boil down to polite manners and ethically-correct responses, or is it something that you work on and through to bring joy and strength?

4.) How can you practice true gratitude in your daily life?

 

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks for everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

And One more thing, it’s not too late to join November’s Gratitude Letter Challenge. You can find more here: Letters of Gratitude- A Challenge for the Month of November

 

 


The Joy Bombs

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History has proved New Englanders to be revolutionaries, passionate and determined people, overcomers of all types of difficulties, including wild weather. If there’s one prerequisite to being labeled a “New Englander,” it is the skill of talking about and complaining about the weather. You really can’t blame us. If you have spent any amount of time in New England, you know our weather is unpredictable and always changing. It could be sunny and fifty degrees one day, only to wake up to an outrageous, snowy nor’easter the next. Mark Twain accurately summed up our weather, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

Well, we’ve been waiting more than a few minutes and the weather seems to be stuck on the winter channel. Even though the calendar says it is spring, snow is in the forecast AGAIN. It appears the snow in unaware of proper seasonal boundaries.

My daughter tells me the recent snowstorms are a test of our patience and joy. That’s a great way to look at it. We will persevere and when spring weather FINALLY comes it will be even sweeter. BUT until then, it seems (from Facebook feeds and the word on the street) not everyone feels the same. Most people are pretty bummed about this winter weather and I get it. So, the kids and I thought we should do something about the low morale and cheer people up.  We came up with an idea to go out into our community to help people find some joy and give a few people something else to talk about instead of the weather.

We grabbed some balloons at the dollar store, purchased some cookies and hot chocolate at Walmart, and made bundles of joy (or as my youngest daughter called them, “joy bombs.”) We tied a poem to the package, prayed, and followed wherever the Holy Spirit led us. Our goal was to make people smile and brighten their day.  The following is our “adventure log.”

 

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JOY ADVENTURE LOG:

1.) Left one “joy bomb” by a car in a parking lot.

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2-3.) Brought two “Joy Bombs” to a local breakfast cafe. Asked the waitresses if they would pass them on to two customers. They seemed happy to do so.

4.) Stopped an older couple pumping gas at the gas station.  I am not quite sure if they heard or understood what we were doing (or if they thought that I was slightly off my rocker.) Regardless, they took the cookies, hot chocolate, and the balloon. As I was driving away, I saw a huge smile on the woman’s face as she pointed to the bag and explained something to her husband

5.) Pulled into the parking lot of my hair salon. Saw one woman getting into the car next to us. (Let her get in the car first so the snow did not wreck her freshly styled hair.) Asked her how she felt about the weather. She looked a little suspicious and a bit confused. We explained what we were doing. She said something like, “No, that’s not me. I am fine with the snow.” Well, that’s great! Save “joy bomb” for someone else.

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5.) Left one for Lala, my fabulous hair stylist. I figured Lala would be hearing all about the weather and people’s problems while styling clients’ hair. Asked the receptionist to tell Lala to pass the “joy bomb” on to someone who really needed it.  Will follow-up.

6.) Stopped a dad and his toddler who were walking through a parking lot.Told them the balloon and cookies were just for them. My daughters thought I knew them because of the way I spoke to them. It touched my heart that my daughters observed and commented on this. This project isn’t just about blessing community members but also about meeting the people we share our town with and modeling interactions for my children.

5.) Coffee house. (Seriously, how have I not been to this place before?) Very friendly service and the two young men working the counter happily took the “job bomb” and will be passing it on to someone.  Side note: How cute is this little journal area? I have lots of thoughts and dreams I could add to one of those journals. I will be back soon.

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7.) Brought one to a church family. My girls asked if they could bring it up to the door by themselves. And they did! 🙂

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8., 9., 10. ) Left three at neighbors’ doorsteps. The only other time we come to these doors are to receive something- candy at Halloween. It’s feels good to give and not just receive.

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11. 12. 13.) Town Hall- I gave each kid a “joy bomb” and we walked into town hall. There were three beautiful, friendly, women to receive joy from each child. They were so touched, they gave us balloons leftover from someone’s retirement party. One balloon for each kid and then four more to pass on to others. We happily took them and promised to pass them on. One of the ladies asked if I was the one that did the kindness rocks. I love that connections are being made.

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14. 15. 16) Retirement Home- My girls decided they wanted to give their balloons away to the residents. At first my three-year old was adamant about keeping his balloon and that was completely fine with me. My oldest bent down next to him and quietly explained who and why they were giving their balloons away and before I knew it my son wanted to give his away too! Kindness was multiplying before my eyes and my daughter reminded me of the power and influence of using soft, gentle words. What a blessing this stop was! We walked in and residents’ faces lit up. We stayed for a few minutes and talked with some of them. Then they surprised us with a cookie and told us we were welcome anytime.

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17.) Brought a “joy bomb” to the pastor at the Episcopal Church. I drive and walk by this church often and I always think it would be nice to stop by and say “hi.”  Well, today seemed a good day to do it. 🙂 (Why did I wait so long?)

18.) We brought one to a church friend.

19.) My kids had it on their hearts to bring one to a fellow homeschooling family who lives down the street. We left the “joy bomb” on their step along with the rest of the balloons from town hall. My kids were thrilled that they had some say in this project and their voice mattered.

20.) The final balloon, we brought to a neighbor who we do not know well but know they could use some joy. We left the “joy bomb” at their door.

All twenty “joy bombs” prayed for and delivered. Throughout the morning, I kept thinking about what this adventure was teaching my children. We had inadvertently worked on project management skills, math skills, map skills, conversational skills, and teamwork. We had witnessed the power of prayer and kindness within our interactions with each other and with other people. As a bonus, we met new friends and found new places in our town to visit.

When we pulled into the driveway, one of my daughters said, “Mom, I feel like I have been hugged ten thousand times.”  That’s a pretty great and accurate description of how I felt too. The weather seemed so insignificant when we placed our sights higher and on other things. I don’t think winter weather is quite over yet and that’s okay. It’s a pain to deal with but we are New Englanders. We’ll get through it and how we wait “the few minutes” matters. Let’s try to be cheerful, spread some joy, and help where we can. If you are able, grab an extra shovel and help clean off cars and walkways, take cookies to a neighbor, smile to those you meet. You never know how the smallest interactions will influence someone’s whole day.  Stay warm and stay positive. Spring will be here “soon.” ❤

 

 

 


Kindness ROCKS

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Keep your eyes open and you might find one! Love, peace, joy, or a smile! The kids and I have been inspired to spread kindness in the shape of rocks. Following the example of the following four organizations, I bought five bags of black river rocks (at the dollar store.) We painted hearts, rainbows, crosses, smiley faces, and other things that might make one smile and we have been hiding them all over our town.

Our hope is that each rock is found at the perfect moment and it will bring a smile to the finder’s face. If you do find one, we would love to hear about it! We would love to know what happened to the rocks after we left it somewhere.

Check out these beautiful stories of others who are spreading joy and kindness one rock at a time.

Love Rocks  (A beautiful, courageous story of how one family is overcoming loss and grief with love and joy!)

The Kindness Rocks Project

Word Rocks

The Rainbow Rock Project (A story that tells you are never to young to make a difference!)

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Fear and Joy

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There is a difficult situation that I have been dealing with. It has caused many unsettling feelings and unwanted fear. No matter how much I have prayed about it, talked about it, thought through it, tried to release it, the fear has remained. Like a thick, heavy chain, fear has held me back and kept me where I do not want to be.  It has stolen my time and littered my mood. When I have tried to break free and I can’t, guilt brings another chain. Guilt over the fact that I shouldn’t be fearful, only joyful in all my circumstances. An either/or response. What a tangled, emotional mess!

Can joy and fear reside in the same situation?

In my devotions this morning, I read a passage that I have read many times before but today it spoke to what my heart has been needing to hear.

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, Greetings! And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”  Matthew 28:1-15

The guards and the Marys were both afraid by the events they were witnessing. Can you blame them? A great earthquake, an angel that looked like lightening sitting in front of them on an empty tomb. Their responses to the fear is what sets them apart.  The guards “trembled and became like dead men.” Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were afraid yet filled with joy .(verse 8) Their fear did not hold them back or chained them to the ground, they were able to move forward in joy to the mission they were tasked to do.

I realize that I have been acting more like the guards. Stumbling, falling to the ground, acting like dead man woman. Fear and guilt have been lying to me. Telling me that I cannot move forward.  This passage shows me that it is not an either/or response. Being fearful does not disqualify you from doing God’s work but it can paralyzed and rob you from the freedom and complete joy that the Lord so freely wants to give.

“Our fear lives side by side with our joy” – SHE READS TRUTH

Our joy comes from the Lord.

Move forward and break the chains of fear with joy and the strength from the Lord.

 

 


Timeless Comforts

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She rummaged through her wallet searching for something specific. Her soft, aged, wrinkled hands worked tediously through each pocket and in and out of every fold. She knew that it was there but where it was she was not certain. The rest of us looked on in great anticipation as to what object would be pulled from its hiding place. With a smile and a sigh, she pulled out what seemed to be a photograph. She motioned me over and gently placed it in my hand.  I looked down to see a handsome man dressed in 70’s fashion. His brown eyes twinkled. His smile was warm and welcoming. Pointing to the picture, she told me it was her son.  I turned over the picture to find words scribbled on the back- “Husband. (man’s name.) Married 67 years. Three children (children’s names.)”  The program director broke the silence with a little light-hearted humor and reminded the aging woman that the picture was not of her son but of her husband. A funny statement was made and everyone laughed.

There was great care and respect in the interaction between the director and the woman. A familiarity and trust in the way they looked at each other and spoke. The elderly woman smiled warmly at me and gave me a silent nod.  I handed her back her treasured photograph and smiled back with a lump in my throat. Sixty-seven years with a man, three children later, and a whole life lived and the details were blurred and hard to recall.

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I wasn’t supposed to be there. Through a series of unplanned, God-orchestrated events, I was found myself filling in for my pastor husband at our church’s monthly non-denominational church service that we facilitate for the residents of the dementia and memory care home in our local community.  I had never been to the service before and my husband had given me a 5 minute orientation about how to get there, what to do when I got there, and then told me to come up with some short message to share. One other church member, Evie, would be leading the singing. She had never been there before either.

We were led through a maze of hallways and locked doors, and invited to enter a bright, warm room. There were about ten comfortable chairs placed alongside the walls. Four residents silently occupied four of them. One other resident, a friendly, animated man was seated in a wheel chair near the door. Fall decorations were hung from the ceiling and wooden crafts the residents had made were displayed along the walls. A big, bright window and large ,framed, New England foliage pictures added light and cheer to the small room.

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A few introductions were made and large-print hymnals were passed around the room.  Evie announced the page number of the first hymn and started us through the first verse.  In between the familiar words and phrases, I glanced over at the residents singing. Their mouths moved at different times. Wrong words and phrases escaped their lips. With the exception of Evie’s voice, each song sounded off-key, off pitch, off melody, and sung with poor rhythm. BUT each song was sung with great enthusiasm and joy. The residents sang from their hearts with confidence and peace.

With great reverence they listened to and joined me as we recited Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer. We talked about Jesus and the greatest commandment to love God and love others. There seemed to be a trust and familiarity with the songs and the passages for the residents. It was a sacred place and moment. There was unity as we were connected together to a past of a rich tradition of faith held by all those who have gone before us.

With their worlds becoming blurry and details slipping away daily, these timeless truths woven beautifully into hymns and passages, have been locked and stored in the hearts and souls to serve as anchors of hope and comfort.

When everything is gone and has been stripped away, the thing that truly matters remains… love and Jesus. 

I have been thinking a lot about this and what is going to matter when I get to the end of my earthly journey. What legacy will I leave? The hours spent worrying about things out of my control. Petty arguments and disagreement with others. Guilt, shame, bad decisions, and fretting over dumb stuff.  Things that seem so important now, when they are stripped away what will remain? Certainly, not earthly comforts or physical strength.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  Matthew 24:35

My visit with these sweet, elderly people did more for me than I could ever do for them. Before I left, I took each one of their velvety smooth, wrinkled hands in mine and I looked them in their eyes as if I could see deep into their souls. I hoped with every part of me that they felt loved and filled with comfort and peace.  In the short time I spent with them they helped me put things in perspective. They set me on a path to continue to think about what is important in my life and how I am spending this precious time I have on Earth. But most importantly, they were a testimony to me of the kind of things I should be setting my eyes on and storing in my heart and soul for a future that one day will come.

It is Well With My Soul by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, (it is well), with my soul, (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.