Here I Raise My Ebenezer: “Like Sand Through an Hourglass…”

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“Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives….” The signature words and distinctive tune flowed from the TV. It was one o’clock and I sat comfortable and warm on my aunt’s couch.  With a bright smile, my aunt came over to serve me lunch, a turkey sandwich and a cup of Folgers instant coffee. She sat down beside me like she had done on so many other weekdays.

Over the next hour, we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the drama of Salem and followed the unfolding of the Horton family’s stories. We watched the trials and triumphs of Bo and Hope’s love. We laughed over ridiculous storylines and plots, and debated which characters the writers would bring back from the dead. This was our shared guilty pleasure and this time turned into one of my fondest memories. Memories that had little to do with the soap opera and everything to do with the time we spent.

I didn’t have the years or the perspective to appreciate it then. I knew my aunt was a busy woman- a wife, mom, personal trainer and volunteer- but I didn’t know what it really meant to choose people over to-do lists.

My aunt made it seem like there was nowhere else more important than serving me lunch and spending time with me. She made me a priority. She gave me her full attention and time. How much I wish I could go back and thank her. Thank her for providing me a safe place. Thank her for her hospitality and presence. Thank her for her gentle guidance and inspiration. Thank her for taking time to stop, look, listen and linger.

I can’t go back or even tell her now. My aunt was stolen away from us twelve years ago from complications due to cancer treatments. Even when she was in her hospital bed, weak and in pain, she still managed to smile and made you feel as if you were the only person that she wanted to be with. Her presence offered hospitality. She wanted to hear how you were doing and made sure you knew your situations were just as pressing as what she was going though.

Although I can’t go back, I can move forward. I can be thankful for the time I had with my aunt and put into practice what she modeled. I can be thankful for every day, and what it brings, the good and the disappointing. With intention and sacrifice, I can see each person as an opportunity to encourage and build up, to make them feel valued and special. And make them feel like there is no other place I would rather be than with them in that moment.

Like so many of us, my schedule is busy, expectations are high, the demands and distractions seem unlimited. It’s hard to stop. But time seems to be slipping through my hands more quickly than ever and I’m more of aware of this than ever before. Time and people are precious gifts and to treasure them is wise.

So with these realizations, I’ve been making difficult and intentional choices to stop, look, listen and linger. I’m making space in my schedule by saying no to things and saying yes to people. I’m trying not to be swept up into ridiculous dramas or the fantasies my imagination writes so well. I’m debating over things that need to be let go of, handing them over to God to overcome, and not letting the destructive ones make a reappearance from the dead. I’m always, always, continuing to work at presence with people- with littles and bigs.

It is here I raise my Ebenezer. Thanking the Lord for His help so far. Thanking Him for the strength, energy and grace to get through my days and the reminder that time and people are special gifts. It is here I thank the Lord for the people in my life, like my aunt, who took time for me and modeled what it looks like to stop, look, listen and linger; and what it means to use our precious days wisely before they slip away.

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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