Oct 3 2011

{Day 3} Noticing Thankfulness

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What is a memory for which you are grateful?

Take a moment to put yourself back into the memory, see the colors, hear the sounds, feel the emotions attached to the recollection.

Be there, just for an instant, stretch your imagination back to that moment. Breathe in the thoughts and feelings.

A precious memory I have is from when I was 8 or 9.  My family was living in Kentucky, at Ft Knox. If you are familiar with the area, you know that there are many little civil war cemeteries in the most unusual places. Some are forgotten in forests or sit lonely on top of hills. My dad and I loved to go on walks or bike rides together, exploring, and we’d pour over local maps to find these hidden pieces of history.

One of these little collections of stone monuments sat on top of a hill, right above the Kentucky Fried Chicken. The tallest obelisk poked out from tall grasses and my little historian imagination would go wild every time we drove past.

The problem was getting to it.

Kentucky wasn’t a place you went treading in grass above your head. Critters of the slithering kind were often minding their own business there. But I was not deterred, pestering my dad repeatedly, until one day, he agreed and we forged our way up the steep slope and unkempt path back in time to the 19th century.

The cemetery was small, less than 10 monuments, worn with weather and years. I was thrilled. The forgottenness of the place just made it more mysterious and separate from the commercial strip below.

And that my dad was willing to take me still makes me smile. I am grateful for this, one of many wonderfully clear memories of my dad’s love.

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Three years ago, I stumbled upon Ann Voscamp’s A Holy Experience blog where she challenges her readers to count gratitudes to 1000 and beyond, small and large. Since then, thankfulness has changed my life and my relationships. When I want to enter deeply into the present moment, especially with people close to me, I count gratitudes. Alongside paying attention, it is one of the foundations of contemplative living and makes any moment a moment of  worship.

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal

When we look for what we are thankful, our hearts expand, hope is near, and love over-flows. We stop consuming life and start living it, with and through the presence of God.

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Practice: Write down 5 things you are grateful for. Not what you think you should be grateful for, but the people, places, memories, sights, smells, sounds, feelings, that make your heart and mind sing, “Oh, yes, thank you God!” I’d love to hear what’s on your list.

And visit Ann’s blog for some printables to start your own list of 1000 gifts.

31 Days




Aug 1 2011

Living Good News

Mondays are for counting thanks to 1000 and beyond

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One of my church’s missionaries, Carl, told a story about the healing impact of the Gospel that he has seen through his ministry in Asia. The projects that the mission is involved in hires people from the surrounding area. During training for the jobs, they discuss values found in scripture, such as forgiveness, service, and equality, which provide the foundation for the relief work.

After one of these training sessions that focused on God seeing all people as equal, a local man shared that he started to view his relationship with his wife in a new way. In his culture and tradition, his wife would prepare his meals each day, serve him, and then leave him to eat. After he was finished, she would eat whatever was left over.

The clash of the teaching on equality and his own practice disturbed him. One evening, when his wife came to serve him dinner, he invited her to stay and share the meal. He split the food into equal parts. It was the first meal they had ever shared together.

From that point on, their relationship was transformed.

Good news. God news. Life-changing news.

It doesn’t have to be something huge, just listening and seeing, and then being obedient to what the Spirit calls us to do. And I don’t think it’s about expending a ton of energy to do “the right thing” or “what we should,” but simply allowing ourselves to be troubled and then taking the next smallest step toward a new possibility.

A step, such as eating a meal in a new way.

**

Seeing through the eyes of gratitude today…

401. Carl’s work with Wycliffe in Asia and that the Spirit transforms lives and relationships.

402. Wind rustling in the trees

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403. Sweet peas in bloom

404. The Anne of Green Gables stories…what a delight!

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405. Bees on flowers

406. Sunshine!!

407. My mom’s recovering and healing

408. Madeleine L’Engle’s wonderful book on art and faith, Walking on Water.

409. Joy

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410. A place of peace

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411. A furry creature–what colors God has given her!

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412. The Tierra Nueva mission team. What a great experience to work alongside them! (For more photos from the Bethany Presbyterian Mission Trip, go here.)


Jul 30 2011

Creating Space for Beauty

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I’ve found that experiencing beauty as a regular part of my day requires cultivating a welcoming space: physical space, such as having a special area to display something I find beautiful or art supplies at the ready for creating; space in my schedule to intentionally notice beauty, such as walking to a look-out, taking my camera on an urban hike, hand writing a letter, or sharing a meal and seeing the beauty of a friend; and mental space, where I release behaviors and thoughts which clutter my head and blind my eyes to joy, and instead look at life with a gaze of gratitude.

When I invest energy in looking with a grateful eye on all that is beautiful, small things and experiences especially, it balances me and helps me see life as a whole, not just what is painful or difficult in the moment.

When I intentionally cultivate space for daily beauty, I find that any energy invested multiplies exponentially. Beauty is nourished by beauty.

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Awhile ago, I wrote about seeing a lovely cottage and garden near my apartment, and how sad I was, knowing that owning such a place is many years down the road. After pouring out my desire to God, it became clear that I had a choice: live in sadness and scarcity, looking longingly toward a future dream, or make space to be inspired by the real beauty of that garden and to cultivate a similar beauty in my own life.

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Making space for beauty, or really anything, is difficult if we keep a death grip on one vision or image of what must fill the space.

Instead, if we clear the space and then let beauty breathe into it (in-spire it), what fits our particular life and situation can grow organically.

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We make space for the possibility of beauty. Rather than making demands, we invite, welcome, practice hospitality.

For me, after seeing the cottage garden, inviting beauty meant taking time to clean up my balcony and simply sit, allowing a vision of beauty for that space to superimpose itself on reality.

Clearing mental space helped me feel: my hands were itching to get into dirt and to nurture growing life. I realized I didn’t want a ready-made garden, but to start from scratch.

Then, after planting the seeds, patience was necessary to nurture the space, as I waited weeks for any sign of life and then more weeks until flowers bloomed.

Now, when I look out on my balcony, I see the beauty of that cottage garden, but in a form perfect for my situation. The bees buzz, butterflies flutter, and hummingbirds greet me in the morning. A bit of Eden, four storeys up.

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Gardens are all through scripture, places of growth and healing.  A garden at the beginning when all things were new, the garden of Gethesmane when tears flowed and angels soothed, a garden for the tomb when the world held its breath. Even for the resurrection, in the garden, Jesus greeted is beloved friend, and what could happen but, “She thought he was the gardener.”  So true.

And finally, finally, the end and a new beginning: a Garden around a Tree in center of the Beautiful City.

That final glorious Day will come, but the greening, growing beauty of that Day can in-spire our days now.

Clear some space, welcome Beauty, wait and see.

What is a beauty that captures your heart?

This week, clear some space, in your physical surroundings, in your schedule, and in your thoughts for this beauty to find a home.

No need to fill the space, just let it breathe.

What vision reveals itself?

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Jun 20 2011

Answered Prayers

Mondays are for counting thanks to 1000 and beyond

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While I love Seattle, I need to get out of the city every so often to a place with more grass than concrete and more birds than cars. My ears long to escape from city sounds and I want to smell the earth and trees and sea. A couple months ago I had a talk with God about it. Not being a driver, leaving the city (and public transit) behind requires a little more planning, and I’ve loved seeing how God has been working things out without me thrashing about trying to orchestrate it. He’s been teaching me trust and patience–inviting me to tell him what I need, then step back and see what happens.

392.  On Friday I leave for the high school mission trip. Leave may not be the right word since the students will be staying in Seattle for the week working with, mostly, inner city ministries. When I said yes to helping out, I knew that this was not going to be one of those times to get out of the city, but I felt both a call and joyful excitement to be involved no matter what.

Without my saying anything to anyone, I was placed with the team of students going to Tierra Nueva, a ministry reaching out to migrant farmers, 90 minutes outside of Seattle. Most of the week will be spent working on the farm there.  I am thrilled!

393. An wonderful invitation to spend some writing time in a rural house on the peninsula.

394. The gift of a pile of beautiful garden magazines.

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395. A lovely day at the Nisqually Estuary with friends, seeing so many different kinds of birds.

(for more photos of the wildlife refuge, look here.)

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396. A balcony sanctuary, where I can listen to the mingled sounds of city and nature.

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397. A spontaneous day in Bellingham and journaling time on a rock at Larrabee State Park.

“If I spend too much time in these wild places, I will shed the trappings of what I wear in the city and slowly meld into the rock, and sea, and woods. These words even now are full of the waves and foam and splash, no longer empty, no longer easily erased. Words written on my heart.”

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398. Pots of growing things now blooming.

And while not about getting out of the city, two more amazingly wonderful answers to prayer:

399. The long-term loan of a piano keyboard from my friends Cathee and Brian.

400. Fifty one pages done toward my dissertation first draft, and no more anxiety as I write.


Feb 28 2011

Cup Overflowing

Continuing to count all that I am grateful for…

385. Leading the retreat, Cup Overflowing: Joy as a Lenten Practice, for an amazing and wonderful group of Massachusetts United Church of Christ pastors.
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386. The beauty of Ipswich, MA, and the Notre Dame Spiritual Center where the retreat was held.

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387. “who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

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388. Resurrection joy and the tree with the leaves of healing for the nations…

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389. A feathered friend’s home.

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390. Watching ducks land. Hilarious.

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391. Visiting with many good friends in Boston and being back on campus.

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392. Signs of spring when I returned to Seattle.

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393.. A wonderful surprise visit from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time.

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390. A great birthday,  crowned High Queen Susan, and served a yummy dinner with an amazing dark chocolate cake. Thank you Kimberlee, Doug, Jack, Jane, and the twinfants!

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391. Chocolate smiles and dancing.

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Jan 10 2011

Ordinary Time

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On Thursday, for Epiphany, I chalked my door with the ancient formula 20+C+M+B+11, which remembers the three travelers, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who left families and kingdoms to follow a starry hope and bring worship to a child King.  For the rest of the year, it reminds me to pray every time I enter: Christus Mansionem Benedicat–May Christ bless this house.

On Saturday, I visited a church with friends Cathee, Bryan and daughter Sarah, and fell in love with the indoor tree two stories tall covered with a thousand white lights.  We sang Joy to the World one last time.

On Sunday, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus and the final day of the Christmas season.

Today….

The advent wreath burned fiercely and quickly in a phoenix fire, to be remade anew in eleven months. The scent of pine and rosemary filled my little home, a clean and pungent smell of new beginnings.

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Christmas decorations were put away in their little box.

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The Liturgy of the Hours book changed from the blue volume to the brown one (with a pressed four-leaf clover tucked in its pages).

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Snow fell.

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The first day of Ordinary time.

Yet, extraordinarily full of grace.

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Counting thanks…

Young Jack memorizing and singing to me the third verse of O Come all ye faithful, just in time to end the season.

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Pages and pages of hand-written dissertation…embracing the one way of writing that never fills me with anxiety, but with peace and beauty and gives my thoughts time to collect.

Lunches and dinners and tea times with friends.

Worship… the morning dancing-shaker-eggs-guitar-praise of Bethany and the contemplative chants and incense of St Paul’s evening eucharist.

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Visiting St Ignatius Chapel, a work of art. (More photos here.)

Ministry and teaching possibilities.

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The fun of burning real Frankincense.

Snow falling slowly.

Bus drivers who stop between stops and give late-running me a ride.

Thai red curry. (Yummy!!)

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