Jun 28 2010

Gratitude

Mondays are for gratitude…counting to 1000 and beyond…

193. The birth of Sarah Kathleen on Friday morning to dear friends Cathee and Brian. Yay!

DSC_0371194. A still-empty apartment feeling more like home every time I return.

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IMG00056195. Hours of looking at scrumptious wall colors. So thankful to the Creator Artist God for the complex physics that makes colors possible and the eyes to see them with.

DSC_0417196.  Walking Magnolia and finding lovely views so close to my apartment.

197. Friends helping me move (thank you, Doug!); quoting lines from Star Wars as we carried boxes and boxes of my books up the stairs (“Almost there!”).

198. The smell of freshly cut pine wood shelving.

DSC_0448199. New apartment sounds: Seagulls, bird song, the deep rumbling horn blast of leaving cruise ships, seaplanes, and the low buzz of the distant city.

200. A wonderful evening of laughter and reconnecting with Kim, Ryan, and Sara at Angela’s birthday party.

201. Being asked to be a godparent for a soon-to-be born little boy.  It may be the closest I get to motherhood. So honored and excited!

202. That God answers my questions when I take the time to listen.

DSC_0347203. A surprising and immediate answer to prayer at church yesterday.

204. Generous offers of furniture.

205. Countless meals, and tea with biscuits at Kimberlee and Doug’s. Learning how to make a BLT with avocado, sautéed portabella, arugula, and homemade mayo.  Yummy!!

206. Little Jack taking my hand as we walked down the sidewalk, and the bouncy exuberance of Little Jane.

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Mar 1 2010

Worry

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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Matthew 6:25-29

At some point in my past, I learned a strange lesson:  if I worry, I can prevent something bad from happening.

Worry keeps me focused on what could happen so that I am prepared, so that I’ve thought through and scripted every eventuality.

But life just doesn’t work that way.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, all the contingency plans are unnecessary, and the 1% of the time a prediction comes true, the moment itself provides many more surprising and often grace-full resources I could never have anticipated.

A friend of mine once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.”   Worrying doesn’t make my life any safer or happier, yet I have kept at it, convinced it will.

And I am convinced, more and more, that worry and joy don’t play well together.

Joy lives in the moment, in the sudden smile, the laugh, a loving touch, the sung harmony, the quiet evening, the sparkly snow.  Relationships thrive in the present, watered and nurtured by the unfettered and unexpected joy of simply being together.

One cannot plan or force joy, only be attentive when it happens.  When I am lost in future plans, it’s hard to see what’s right in front of me.

I’ve been told a few times that life begins at 40.  I’m coming to understand this better.  As I get older, I’m less willing to waste precious time on behaviors or patterns which don’t make sense.  As I leave my thirties, I’d like to leave worry behind.


Jan 28 2010

This Moment

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Outside my window…snows a mini-blizzard, millions of little flakes churning against the white sky.

Thinking…that solitude and quiet is both a deep blessing, but also a challenge to use well.

Thankful for…my parents, with whom I just talked on the phone.

From the kitchen…rice wrap burrito with cheese and roasted salsa, and irish breakfast tea.

Creating…my prospectus, 15 pages on why I want to write my dissertation on prayer, study,  and theological education.

Going…to finish a draft of my proposal by Sunday. (I hope!)

Reading…lots of books on prayer, and expecting another stack to arrive today.

Hoping…for wisdom and guidance (and strength) about moving in May…Seattle or Texas?

Hearing…occasional cars shwoosh by, wet tires on the road.

Around the house…all is quiet, it is times like these I miss my days as a foster kitty mom.

Favorite thing…reading today a lovely, wonderful quote by Frederick Buechner:

“Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity… that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”

Post inspired by http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com


Jan 2 2010

Making a Gratitude Journal

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My recent posts have centered around two themes: gratitude and memory, the two areas I believe God is leading me to focus on for 2010. In this time between Christmas and Epiphany, the traditional twelve days of Christmas, I have been working on a gratitude journal where I’m recording both my One Thousand Gifts list (an edited version is on-line here), and memories of joy which come to mind as I review my life.

Just in the short time of making the list, I have found that I’m beginning to look forward to the time I spend reviewing the day.  Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it takes a little digging.

Making the Journal

I selected some magazines for images and patterned craft paper my dad gave me to decorate the cover and each page:

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(My own tastes lean toward nature photography, flowers, and victoriana, but a journal could easily be crafted differently.)

During the course of the afternoon, my mom came in to see how it was coming along.  One magazine, The Girlhood Home Companion, had some paper dolls in the back, which led to my mom delightedly telling me about her afternoons as a child (before Barbie) cutting out paper dolls.

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And the finished journal:

Gratitude Journal

Dec 19 2009

Anamnesis

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As I look at the beautiful Christmas tree here at my parent’s home, hung with 40 years of memories, I’m struck by how this tree is like memory itself.  Hidden among the branches and tinsel, illuminated by twinkle lights or lost in shadows, little ornaments of past delight wait to be rediscovered, re-remembered, and enjoyed anew.

St Thomas Aquinas wrote that joy is delight remembered.

Reading about the human brain and how memory is formed, I have been surprised by its fragility.  Barring the painful memory loss that comes with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or injury,  normal events making the trek from experience to working memory into long-term memory require certain key conditions or the brain will not store the information in any retrievable fashion.   Even strong memories can still be lost as long-term memory remains in flux for over a decade. The more sensory and emotional connections made with an experience, the greater the chance it will stick around; the more it is actively recalled and in a sense, re-experienced, the greater the chance it will solidify into long-term memory.

Some people spend more of their time thinking about the future or the present, I tend to think more about the past, and I often return over and over to certain memories.

As I’ve been rediscovering prayer this past year and asking difficult questions about vocation (and the future), God has been gently, yet insistently, showing me that the majority of the memories I frequently revisit are marked with sadness and shame, rather than joy or grace.    While I often find joy in the present, it doesn’t seem to make it into my long-term memory.  With a tinge of Jonah-like frustration at God, I complained, “Well, this is what I remember, so help me remember something else!”

The word anamnesis came to mind. Not exactly a word I would casually…well, remember.

Liturgically, it refers to the part of the Eucharistic prayer recalling the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

Anamnesis means more than to simply remember or reminisce, it means to remember something forgotten.

To remember what was forgotten seems paradoxical and feels impossible, so I figure it must only be possible with the help of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus described as the Comforter, who will “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

As I walk this journey of Advent and come to the end of 2009, I long for a loss of forgetfulness, to remember (maybe even for the first time) all the many times God spoke grace, love, and joy in experiences and through others, and to feel them as deeply as I feel the not-so pleasant memories.  I long to stop traveling the roads that lead to feelings of sadness and shame. Even better, I want to remember whole stories from the past, not just the difficult parts, and pray for insight into how grace, God’s “I love you,” was present even in painful times.

A way I’d like to begin this exploration of the fragile, wonderful, complex gift of graced human memory and memory-making is to create a weekly blog practice called Anamnesis, and invite you to join in.  If you have remembered a forgotten moment of joy or grace, and would like to share it, include your blog link below or add a comment.

Peace to you on your journey through Advent!


Dec 14 2009

A Thousand Gifts

Winter Morning

Winter Morning

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

A year ago I stumbled upon a blog called A Holy Experience. The captivating poetry of Ann Voscamp’s writing, photos of her life on a farm, and the background music of David Nevue’s piano playing, created a soothing and healing world. It was one of the blogs which inspired me to start The Contemplative Cottage.  Yesterday, as I took some time to lose myself in its many pages and Advent meditations, I discovered Ann’s gratitude practice, One Thousand Gifts, which has created a “gratitude community” of folks and bloggers who have taken up the practice themselves.

The practice is simple: list what you are thankful for and thank God for them.  Keep adding to the list over time until you reach 1000.  List 10 things a day or spend a quiet morning or a Sabbath day making a longer list once a week.  Take the nearest scrap of paper and start writing.

What brings you joy today? Makes you laugh? Whose presence are you thankful for? What beauty do you notice and take delight in? Who or what touches your heart and mind?

Ann describes these gifts as God’s “I love you” and our grateful response as a practice of worship.  She says that making the list made her want to look for more of these grace-full experiences.  Knowing from my own practice of paying attention to the beauty in nature, intentional looking leads to seeing more and more of what would have been unnoticed.

The word that comes to mind is abundance.  Rather than seeing a glass half full or half empty, this practice suggests that the glass is overflowing, just waiting to be noticed.  I am going to take up Ann’s challenge and start making my list.

“When in all gifts we find God, then in God we shall find all things.” George MacDonald.

photo: Susan Forshey
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