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As we come to the table

Just a few days left before we celebrate Thanksgiving in all of our varied and crazy ways. Relatives and friends of all shapes and sizes will gather with food dishes that range from vintage recipes to gluten-free concoctions.

101_1203 I’ve been making my efforts at having a thankful heart during the month. I’ve tried to be disciplined to write three things that brought me joy at the end of each day. At least I’ve tried.

I started my annual Joy List this morning, counting God’s graces one by one on paper. There are so many, I could write forever. I had to stop for breakfast with the promise of “to be continued.” Tomorrow my prayer partner of many years will call on the phone, and we will look back at the prayers prayed and how God answered them this year. Our voices will be full of “thank you’s.”

From Old to New Testaments, we read instructions to remember how God has been  faithful. It’s easy to forget sometimes when we are in the throes of difficulty, tragedy, or grief. And honestly, sometimes it can be simple neglect or a lack of contentment.

Just as our menus will be different, not everyone will do Thanksgiving the same way. I read one blogger who thought making a daily count of grace was too regimented, and she was definitely not putting kernels of corn beside each place settings for a round robin of being grateful. She preferred more spontaneity and daily mindfulness. She did her thankfulness in a different way.

There isn’t a prescription for how to have a grateful heart, but we are told to practice it regularly. And in the same way God’s commands are good for us, being thankful brings joy to our lives.

The method is not as important as the message. It’s the heart of the matter that matters. Be thankful in your own sweet way, dear friends.

This year has brought much loss to my friends and family. I feel it in my own heart, the tears flowing unexpectedly this morning. At many holiday tables this year, there will be an empty place.

Life can be hard during the holidays. Especially during the holidays.

And yet God is good even in this present circumstance. His grace is still sufficient. He remains the God of all comfort who gives us comfort in all our troubles. His presence in our days continues as a promise.  He still walks with us in the valley of the shadow of death. And we are never, ever alone.

If there is nothing else today or this year, there is Jesus who is God’s love demonstrated in tangible, relatable, identifiable form. He wrapped himself in skin and bone and showed us the glory.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. And have a blessed Thanksgiving.

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A thankful journey

The nightly news is full of heartbreak, calamity, death, confusion. Sweet William and I feel the weight of tragedy in the world, in our communities, and among our own friends.

Digging a hole and burying our heads sometimes seems a viable option.

On the other hand, this is November, and I remind myself during this month especially to look for the light in the darkness. And so, I write out my blessings.

  • My piano students practicing to play difficult Christmas pieces and sounding good.
  • Attending Joy Group for the mature in body/young at heart and being welcomed by many.
  • Sitting at lunch with Karen and us chatting up a storm.
  • A meet-up with Amy at Panera Bread for coffee and a cranberry-orange muffin.
  • Lunch with Shirley, her flavorful potato soup, and the encouraging conversation.
  • Recital where my students were awesome!
  • Laughing and having fun with Helen as we visited a local craft fair.
  • Sweet William being sassy and fun, causing me to chuckle.
  • Time change and falling forward, enjoying that extra hour I’ve been waiting for since spring.
  • My granddaughter’s 17th birthday, pictures on Facebook of her opening the birthday box we sent, and her saying it was just what she wanted.
  • Grace to endure the distance and the miles between us.
  • K and M coming on their day off from school, talking, playing piano, making crafts, listening to music, them shedding their light all around.
  • Early prayer time with Julie who knows the highs and the lows of me like none other and loves me still.
  • Sweet Anna here to help me, her bringing her own brand of joy to us.

Life is hard, no doubt. There will always be trouble and problems. I could focus on that while despondency begins to wrap its bone-chilling arms around me.

Or I could pray for those in need, giving them to the God who is strong enough to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders, who knows what each person needs before I try to tell Him, who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all I can ask for or imagine.

Then I am free to count blessings and look for His gifts. Then I can rejoice and be very glad.

Guy Penrod sings Count Your Blessings.

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Sunday grace

I am in need of grace this morning.

And so I count gifts as Maisie and I walk the familiar lane of our home, because grace is recognized in the numbering of blessings.

  • The beauty of the fall trees even as their colors fade.
  • The red leaves reflected in the lake.
  • This warm day in November.
  • Pictures from a distance where I see smiles and happiness.
  • The reassuring Word of God this morning and the Holy Spirit giving me strength.

I glance out the window, watching as golden leaves gently fall from the giant maple at the edge of the little woods. I had no hand in planting this one. Creator God did that through his birds. It has grown tall in a few short years.

I want to be like the tree, releasing the leaves in proper season without fighting the process. The wind blows and its branches sway and turn loose. Yet it remains strong and steadfast in the changing. It remains a strong maple.

Can I allow the days of my life to reflect what God is doing in me even through the changing, even when sometimes it is hard, even when I have to turn loose and let go? I long to.

Solomon said it wisely. To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven. There are periods of beauty and new growth, of flourishing. It is followed by the season of letting and bareness. It is a circle of life.

There are days of victory and rejoicing. There are days when my heart hurts and I wonder what and why. It will be easy to count my blessings sometimes, and other times it will be a hard eucharisteo, looking for the beauty in the ashes.

I can learn to be content in plenty and in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengths me. He lives in me and works through me, showering grace upon grace.

I am in need of grace today. And He gives it abundantly.

Sunday grace.

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It’s November!

Yesterday morning, after two cups of strong coffee and an hour of quiet time and Bible study, I greeted Sweet William with enthusiasm. “It’s November!” I said. I was fully caffeinated and ready to face the day and the month.

As the cold temperatures become the norm, I admit unashamed that I don’t miss the garden work at all. Not. At All. Oh, there’s plenty I could do, things left on my outdoor to-do-list. But November gives me permission to stay indoors in fuzzy socks and flannel shirts while I think about projects that were laid aside when summer called to me.

This month of November, I want to focus on November and not stress about December coming close on its heals. One of my piano students told me yesterday, “Christmas is only 54 days away!” Please, I’m not ready to think about that.

November is the first pumpkin pie of the season, hot cocoa, fireplaces glowing (even if it is gas logs), shorter days that naturally cause our bodies to long for cacooning. I say, “Let’s do that.” Could we actually slow our pace in November instead of speed it up?

The anticipation of Thanksgiving will encourage me be more grateful for God’s bountiful grace and mercy. He is over and above the best gift giver. A sign over one of our doorways says, “Count Your Blessings.” Thinking about my blessings throughout the day and recording them in my Joy Journal each night will help keep me accountable to having a thankful heart, especially this month.

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I want to sit at the table with family and friends and enjoy those precious occasions. Eat slowly. Talk much. Listen well. Laugh often. Treasure friendships. Appreciate family. Marvel how the children are growing. Wonder where the time goes. This is the stuff of life. I don’t want to miss it.

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November is my time to leisurely shop for Christmas gifts, thus leaving December less stressful. Shopping on-line is the preferred method, avoiding the traffic, crowds, and advertising glitz that entice me to buy something I really don’t need. I’d rather be thoughtful about gifts and not just add to someone’s clutter and over-abundance of stuff.

I will consider how I might give to ministries I endorse: World Vision, A Woman’s Choice, Voice of the Martyrs, Christian Library International. These are the organizations that are doing something positive in our world. I’d like to be part of that by planning how I can fit it into the budget.

November calls me to celebrate in its own way. I will make an effort to stay focused on this month and what it offers, not allowing myself to feel pressured as December approaches, sapping the joys I could be experiencing today.

Part of my happy perspective in a season that has found me stressed in years past is due to a podcast I heard recently. Kendra at The Lazy Genius Collective talks about Opening and Closing Ceremonies on her podcast, making the most of each holiday. She has wise counsel to offer me.

If you are interested in getting a boost of happy as you move into these last two months, then give a listen.

November is Thanksgiving, Family and Friends, Snuggling with Hot Cocoa, Turkey and Dressing, All Things Pumpkin.

Let’s slow down and enjoy it.

 

 

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Seeing God

“What if gratitude is more about seeing the face of God? Of locking our eyes on his and remembering where our help comes from? Perhaps gratitude is not only a discipline but also a gift, one we are given in special measure just before we pass through the door to suffering.”  — Roots & Sky, Christie Purifoy

Give thanks in all things for this is the will of God. I practice it regularly as a discipline. I am commanded to do it.

Perhaps at times I felt like I was doing God a favor by noticing the beauty around me and saying “thanks.” Maybe hoping to chalk up points for good behavior.

Spiritual disciplines are good. They are not rule-keeping or legalism. I understand that. But sometimes I wonder if I discipline myself for the right reasons.

We walk, exercise, push away from the table and eat less sugar and salt. It’s good for the body. We learn to do something new, work Sudoku and word puzzles, read good literature instead of consuming so much internet or television. It’s good for the mind. We practice prayer and Bible reading, attend church and participate in mission projects. It’s good for the soul.

So daily giving thanks is good for something, isn’t it?

What have I really expected from it as I list my three or more gifts of the day? I’m not sure. I read the words by Christie Purifoy and ponder them. Seeing the face of God and locking my eyes on His? Does gratitude do that for me? Not always.

I want to see the face of God instead of the petty things I focus on too often. I want to lock eyes on my Savior and behold His beauty instead of allowing the things of this world to shadow and cloud my vision.

It happens easily to me. I can’t seem to get over myself. It’s something someone says or doesn’t say. It’s an expectation I have that fizzles like a wet match. My plans, the way I wanted things to turn out just didn’t. And before I know it, I’m less than grateful and my eyes began to look downward. I didn’t get the attention I thought I deserved or the reward for my labors. The world will simply not revolve around me.

My vision darkens as I look inwardly at myself. I am blind to the gifts and the Giver.

Being thankful for every good and perfect gift can bring my heart back to the center if I do it consciously, intentionally and for the right reason. The discipline of it lifts my eyes upward. Even when trials and trouble appear and it is not perfect at all, this is a gift if it turns me back to the face of God. Once again I know He is enough for me.

I have sought for and fought for contentment. It is an on-going struggle. I have prayed for Him to be all I need. My mind knows He is. I want it planted deep in my soul also. I want to be consumed with His utter completeness. I want to be filled with the Spirit. I want to know Emmanuel – God with us – so sufficiently that other things have no room to dilute my satisfaction with Christ and Christ alone.

I’m not there yet. I will continue to lift my eyes unto the hills and beyond the horizon, past the moon, sun and stars, to the heavens where His throne is. And I will remember He has come to me, to make His home with me, to be with me and in me.

Perhaps I will glimpse His face and it will be enough.

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Photo by Elena Walls

Counting grace

While I am recuperating, I am sharing some of my favorite blogs.

One of my all-time favorite bloggers is Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience. I began reading her words years ago. She writes like an artist. Her book, One Thousand Gifts, is why I count grace as a necessary discipline of thanksgiving.

Enjoy Ann’s beautiful word pictures at A Holy Experience.

How to Get out from Under the Shadows of Hard Things that Keep Hounding You

 

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photo by Elena Walls

may ending

i had a little hand surgery this week. i say little because it seems small in comparison to the many procedures sweet william has endured and the serious issues facing people for whom we pray. but actually it was a big deal to me, and i was a bit wimpy with my brave face on.

one-handed typing is a challenge. i won’t post a picture of my bandaged appendage. you’re welcome.

little things are difficult, like taking off the cap of my medicine bottle and snapping the leash to maisie’s collar.

the entire week felt like a plan coming together. the house got cleaned, the laundry caught up, maisie had a bath after rolling in something stinky, and i finished piano lessons with my students in preparation for taking off the next month.

my neighbor offered help walking maisie, and a friend brought us dinner. (and all of us rescued maisie when she slipped out of her harness and ran the neighborhood, landing hot and panting in a marshy puddle. second bath in three days.)

sweet william is doing his best to care for me, opening those pesky containers and fixing coffee.

i say all that (and type without caps because it’s just hard and taking a ridiculously long time) because i may not be posting much in the next couple of weeks. i plan on taking care of peggy this time around. i don’t always do that well. i have pressed on and been the “strong one” enough times. i’ve dried my tears and walked the hard road alone occasionally. i’m not sorry i did. but this time i need to practice self-care which i am learning is not selfish but necessary from time to time.

the month of may will end with a quite weekend for us at the wright house. there are library movies and books in a basket, frozen meals and sandwich fixings in the fridge, clean clothes in the dresser drawers.

there will be walks down our lane with the honking of geese, the sweet smell of honeysuckle, the sun on our faces.

i will rest and recuperate. i will give thanks to God who made these bodies to heal themselves, for refined medical procedures and kind personnel, for the one good hand that carries the load for a few weeks, for sweet william brewing a strong pot of coffee and asking what he  can do to help, and for friends and family who care enough to call, to text, to come, to bring food.

i am blessed beyond measure. even on my wimpiest day.

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