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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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Sunday grace

The sun shines in the afternoon, and I feel it in my bones. Cold dark days are hard to navigate sometimes.

Thanksgiving anticipation looms in my view. Most of the shopping is finished except for broccoli that needs to be crisp and fresh. Recipes have been pulled from books and boxes. They are old and spattered with years of memories. I recognize my mother’s handwriting on one of the folded papers.

I remember other Thanksgivings. Some are full of wonder, like last year when my dear ones drove long to be here around the table. Others years found me with an ache in my heart, like the year when my mother first became sick or when there was one less person at the table.

Holidays are a mixed menu of sweetness and salty tears. It is the stuff of real life. The rain and the clouds can suddenly turn into rays of brilliant sunshine. And vice versa.

When we gather at the table this year, let us give thanks for those who are there. Whoever they are, whether relatives, long-time friends, or new acquaintances, they are gifts God has given us for a time, this very moment.

They are more important than the food or the table settings. More important than the football game or the black Friday ads. More important than the Christmas gifts we are hoping to get at a bargain.  More important than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

We will set across the table from one another, face to face with daughters of Eve and sons of Adam, God’s image breathed into human form.

Let us give thanks for each one and love them with all of our hearts.

Sunday grace.

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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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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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Sunday grace

It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and also the first Sunday of Advent. They greet each other today.

The admonition in my devotional book points me to a continuing path. “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The few days of the holiday leave memories lingering, thoughts of my family, my precious ones, gathered around tables of food and fellowship, the conversations as varied and tantalizing as the recipes we prepared. Love for one another overlooks our differences of opinion.

Laughter rings from room to room. Children relish time with each other and lay forth a challenge to jump in cold waters of the swimming pool as adults stand around and remember being this young and adventurous.

There is much for which to say “Thank You” to my Father in Heaven. Not just on Thanksgiving Day but every day of my wonderful wild life.

We press forward toward year’s end, the compulsions of Christmas pursuits weighing upon us.

Giving thanks is followed by the invitation to look for the Christ child. The coming of the Promise rides on the heels of a grateful heart. Is there a message for me here?

As I look for joy, count gifts, acknowledge my  blessings from a benevolent God, my heart opens to the prospect of what will come. A good, good Father gives good to His children. His word is true and faithful. What He says He will do indeed.

I will anticipate the season of Christmas with gladness for it is the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. He didn’t come as expected in robes of royalty. But He came none the less, in humble attire and amidst uncertain ways.

My gifts often come disguised. They are still gifts. And I will be thankful.

Sunday grace.

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On this day of giving thanks

It’s early morning. Gentle winds blow the chimes on my deck and I hear music.

The house is quiet except for the popping of the gas longs. The window close to where I sit is open slightly. Even outside there is a stillness on this Thanksgiving Day.

My house is full, all beds and some couches nestling warm bodies in sleep. Three dogs still doze in the darkness of the yet unbroken new day.

I am thankful they are all here, all snuggled in, us together on this special occasion. I have been broken and grief-stricken on other holidays throughout my life time. Death and distance can wreck havoc on a heart.

But today, loved ones are here. And for that I am filled full with joy and gratitude.

I have not always been thankful in all my circumstances. In the dark place of the not knowing, in the wondering how good can come from my trial and my pain, in my own house of self-pity, I have been doubtful and fragmented.

I have coddled my misery too much and sat in my despair too long.

Life is not always an easy, flower-strewn pathway. It is often rocky and rough, the climb steep and foreboding, the night dark and long. We work muscles, reach for every ounce of strength, and learn endurance as we press on to the new dawning and the green pastures in our vision.

For there is always the hope of God’s Presence, His Word of promise of His never-forsaking love for us. He is our Immanuel, the with us God. We do not have to do this life on our own.

He calls me to a mature mentality of praise and thanksgiving, even in the hardest of circumstances. Even when loved ones are not gathered around a table. Even when death takes one held so dear. Even when pain is my companion.

He calls forth hope in Himself, asking me to focus my gaze on His beauty, to see glory, to see everlasting love, to remember His faithfulness always.

This is His will in Christ Jesus, to give thanks in all circumstances, to see Him in every situation, One who is working all things for my good, One who is redeeming every heartache and disappointment, One who is planning on bringing beauty out of my ashes.

He is a good and loving Savior who makes all things new. He mends our brokeness, filling us with Himself and shining through the cracks of our humanity so that the world may see Him in us, His children.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.  — Psalm 118:1

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The memento box and Thanksgiving

I’ve had a box in the garage for a long time. When I stored it away, I wrote on the box an identifying mark, MEMENTOS. I’ve added to the box through the years.

memento – 1. something that reminds one of past events; souvenir (thefreedictionary.com)

Perhaps some of you will understand. I’m a saver, a keeper of memories. Often I keep things too long and end up with a banker’s box full of cards, letters, notes, etc. that were just too precious to throw out at the time.

So I tossed them in a box. And now it’s filled to the brim.

During my semi-annual clean-out-the-garage day, I determined I really should go through the box of mementos. I would look at the things saved one more time and throw them away. After all, one can only keep so much stuff.

My children will thank me one day.

As I am going through each item and reading hand-written messages, I travel back in time. There are birthday cards, valentines, and thank you’s, the happy sentiments with sweet messages of endearment. I smile as I read.

Then there are the other messages, ones sent during sickness, operations, long months of illness, and seasons of tribulation common to us all. These take me back to a different occasion, the difficult times when the prayers of others held up my hands during the conflict and the struggle.

I linger over the handwritten words, remember each precious individual who took time to choose a card, write their thoughts, address and stamp the envelope and mail it to the Wright House. I consider the effort and cost.

I am reasonably addicted to the quick email, the Facebook message, or the text sent on the run. I appreciate the quick way of notification and staying in touch. Often those messages convey appreciation and care.I like sending and receiving those fast and efficient communications. But I can quickly loose them as the phone memory gets full or other messages take their places in chronological order.

So to be able to read again the thoughts of those who cared enough to send their very best, I am touched anew by their demonstration of love.

I chuckle at some of the cards. One particular couple sent Sweet William get-well cards regularly during the years of suffering with his knee. So often they were funny quips with the wife’s dry wit of humor thrown in for extra emphasis. We needed a reason to laugh. And so I do laugh again as I re-read them.

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There are notes from piano students now grown up and pursuing adult endeavors. The “thank-you” for being a good teacher from young students is rewarding.

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Some of the cards were from the grandchildren when they were small, their childish scrawl and penmanship evident of their different ages. Those unstructured letters spell more than words. It took effort for those tiny hands to hold pencils and crayons and write a few simple words or draw pictures. They are love to me.

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I read beautiful prose from my daughter-in-love, her artful way of using language. Short notes written in my one and only son’s familiar script are equally dear.

Sweet William’s cards were always well-chosen, him looking for the perfect printed words that conveyed what his heart wanted to say.

A faithful friend’s remembrance of me shows up in the annual birthday greeting. Another friend wrote a note on half of a card, making it a post card. I love that about her. She and I like to re-purpose, re-use, and as she wrote “re-mail.”

I discovered a copy of a nomination for Mother of the Year written by my one and only son when he was a teenager. I cherish his tender words even now.

I dug down deep into the bottom of the box looking for the oldest of the contents. The treasure hunt produced the funeral book when my mother died over 30 years ago. It contains a record of people who paid their last respects, people who loved my mother dearly. Inside the book was a poem by Martha Snell Nicholson that was read at mother’s funeral. I have wondered where that poem went, and it was pure delight to find it.

This isn’t death – It’s glory! It is not dark – It’s light!
It isn’t stumbling, groping, or even faith – It’s sight!
This isn’t grief – It’s having my last tear wiped away;
It’s sunrise – It’s the morning of my eternal day!

As I read again this treasured poem, I am aware that some who wrote me have died. They also have seen their eternal day.  At 30 years past, I am nearer mine, and it does not seem fearsome at all but pure glory.

I’ve just touched the surface of the box of Mementos. This is going to take a while, because I simply must read each card again.

I consider these people represented by saved mementos, some who came into my life for a season, and others who came to stay. Both are vital to us as human beings. Relationship is the gift God offered in Eden and once again at the cross.

As Thanksgiving week implores me to remember my blessings, I count my friends and relations. I am blessed indeed to have people who care about and love me. I am equally blessed to be able to reciprocate that love.

Jesus told his disciples, “I have called you friends.”

Friends walk with us in this journey of life. They help us carry our burdens. They laugh with us, cry with us, pray for us, and sit in silence with us when there are no words. Without them we would be poor indeed.

I am thankful for God’s gift of people. They show me how to love.