Rejoice Always? Yes!

Last month I was asked to give a talk on the subject of “Giving thanks to God for all—Blessings and challenges”. For me it seemed a daunting task. I’m much better at complaining about stuff. Or commiserating about about the sorry state of life on our planet. Or bitching about traffic, my neighbors’ dogs, my co-workers, life in general. Poor me!

I turned to Scripture and found in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, that he tells us to “Rejoice always.” to “Pray without ceasing.” And, “In all circumstances give thanks.”

IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES GIVE THANKS!  Think about that! We must even be thankful for the crappy stuff: Car trouble; burnt toast; a bad hair day; a headache – sometimes all these things happen on the same day.

And we need to be thankful for the trials in our life, too: Career challenges; doubts about our vocations; marital discord; financial difficulties; raising teenagers.

And most difficult (for me) is the heart-breaking stuff: Serious illness; drug or alcohol addiction; divorce; death of a loved one; facing our own mortality.

How can I give thanks in all circumstances? How can any of us?

First, for me it helps to be thankful for the good things. Having an attitude of gratitude takes patience and practice. Instead of blindly accepting all the good things in my life as if I am somehow entitled to them or that I somehow earned the goodness in my life, it helps to remember that our blessings come from God. Many of you are better at this than me – so thank you for your witness.

Secondly, I am reminded of what Fred Rogers is credited as saying on the ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’ television show: He said…

 “When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news and my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

The idea of course is that even during the most unimaginable of times; during tremendous tragedies or horrific disasters, love can still be found. This doesn’t just make heroes of the helpers but also it reminds us that each of us can make a difference. Even during the darkest of days, we can bring healing to one another.

Finally, it helps me to remember that I am loved and cared for in a thousand little ways each day. I live in communion with others who will carry me when I can longer take another step. I know that I will have a hand to hold; a shoulder to cry on; a friend that I can count on; a God who will never forsake me.

So “Rejoice always.”  “Pray without ceasing.”  And “In all circumstances give thanks.”

This April my Mom passed away. Mom always seemed younger than her 90 years. She was proud, beautiful, strong, well-informed and quick-witted. Mom wasn’t large but she was definitely in charge!

Mom was a breast cancer survivor in the 1990’s and after her surgery she was blasted with radiation, which was the normal treatment at that time. Ironically the treatment that saved her life 30 years earlier, likely caused the pulmonary fibrosis which ultimately led to her death. But I am forever thankful for those 30 years.

Still it was tough watching Mom struggle with her breathing and her weakness due to oxygen deprivation for the last year or so. This was the Mom who took care of us and suddenly we were struggling with the heartbreaking reality that we needed to take care of her. Mom who was once Super Woman was now weak and helpless. Mom, who had bandaged our knees, held our hands, kissed away our tears, solved our problems, needed our help now, more than we felt we could give. But we tried.

I think about my own children and grandchildren and how my heart aches at times when I hear of their misfortunes or disappointments. I think about how my heart soars when I hear about their triumphs and accomplishments. But mostly I cherish the simple times; the quiet moments; the unspoken love we share.

I’m certain that Mom felt that way, too. One of the last times we were together, Mom and I just sat silently and held hands. There was no need for words. I remember feeling for a moment like a little boy and that Mom had everything under control. It was sublime. I have thanked God for that day many times since.

Mom taught me about God, and she taught me how to pray. Her example of faith lives on in her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. God is love. And Mom enveloped all of us in that love.

So, I rejoice not because Mom died but because I am her son and she loved me.

I pray without ceasing that the love she shared will continue to grow and touch generations of my family even beyond my imagining.

Gram in Heaven2And yes, even in her death, I give thanks for a peaceful passing and the gift she was to so many of us. My grandson Noah and my granddaughter Anna were profoundly affected by her death. They loved her and miss her terribly but because of Mom’s witness and the faith instilled in them, they also now believe that she is an angel in heaven watching over them. I believe she is, too! What great comfort it brings to know that Mom continues to surround all of us with her love. I recently discovered a drawing in my granddaughter’s sketch book – it’s her image of Mom as an angel in heaven.

With her beautiful drawing, Anna reminded me that we are NEVER alone in our rejoicing, and in our prayer, and in our thankfulness.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Thankful on Thanksgiving and Beyond

Gratitude anchors us to the present moment. What I’m thankful for today may not be what I was thankful for yesterday or what I may be thankful for tomorrow. Still for me, thankfulness requires that I slow down and think about my blessings.

thankfulRecently my spirituality group was encouraged to list our blessings and to reflect on what matters most to us and what matters least. I was the only one who didn’t mention God. Not that I don’t think that God is important, I just didn’t single him (her) out. Instead I chose to list experiences for which I was and am and will always be thankful.

In retrospect, I see God in each of these experiences. That’s kind of how God and I operate. We tend to sneak up on one another. I’m not a “God is my co-pilot” kind of guy. I’m more of a “Hey God, you still out there?” “Remember me?” kind of guy.

Because I have been blessed with being accepted as part of a group of prayerful and spiritual believers, I was given the opportunity to acknowledge my blessings and was reminded once again to be eternally grateful for this life of mine. My friends cover me with their faith when my doubt is hanging out!

So here’s my list:

  • Our wedding day – As the sunlight pouring through the windows framed Deb as she walked down the aisle.
  • The birth of our son Tyson – and realizing how startlingly he looked like me.
  • The birth of our daughter Bess – when I said to Deb, “A girl!” “What’d we do now?” And the nurse chided me because she thought I didn’t want a daughter. I was thrilled, I just wasn’t prepared for a daughter. Everyone (including the doctor) had said it was another boy.
  • The birth of our son Blake – How the young nurse assumed that Blake was our first child because in her words, “You seem so happy!” And of course, we were! 
  • On Bess’ wedding day when she squeezed my arm and said, “Thanks Dad for everything, I feel like a princess today.”
  • The time that we toured Westminster Abbey for hours with our 3-year-old granddaughter Charlise, with all its beauty and amazing history, while she sat contentedly in her stroller and then as we left and we crossed the River Thames and she pointed excitedly and said “water”. That moment was pure unadulterated joy!
  • Conversations with my Uncle Ted (Deb’s uncle actually) and always hearing him say just before we hung up “Love you Bud!” I miss him every day.
  • Grandson Noah’s birth – While looking through the nursery window with Travis and 2-year-old Anna as an old man in a wheelchair approached and asked Anna if that was her brother. He asked her “Do you think I could get a baby brother?” She said, “Yes, but not this one!” She claimed him from day one.
  • Living in England for a year and feeling like at any moment someone might come up to us and call us out as frauds or impostors because we were just a couple of small town Midwesterners making it up as we went along.
  • Being with my Aunt Gene near her death. Watching as a sense of peacefulness came over her. I will never forget the gentleness and love given her by her nurse. It took the fear of death away.
  • Being kissed goodnight and told I’m loved every single day.

So God has been there all along in each of these moments and countless many more. This Thanksgiving I am thankful. I was thankful before and will be thankful again. And again.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

An Attitude of Gratitude

Sometimes it’s hard for me to be thankful.

I get caught up in all the tragedies of our world: the horror of violence, starvation, war, terrorism, hatred, disease and poverty. I often feel that my prayers for friends who are suffering seem shallow and rote. My futile attempts to ask for God’s mercy seem woefully inadequate in the face of such immense pain and suffering. And I feel numb and helpless. So much sadness; so much heartache; overwhelming misery. At times it really feels as if there is nothing for which to be thankful.thanks

Then I open my eyes! And my mind! And my heart! And I realize that have been given so much – my family, my friends. My beautiful wife of 40 years reminds me daily that we should ALL have an attitude of gratitude. All the sadness in this world is somehow manageable when I hold her in my arms. I become thankful once again for my job, our home, our food, but mostly for the love of one another. All the heartache is bearable when I hear my sons’ voices or hold my daughter’s hand. All my tears are washed away by the smiles, kisses and hugs of my grandchildren. All the hurt and disappointment in my life is diminished by the love of friends and family.

So yes, I’m thankful for those whom I love and those who love me. I’m thankful for those folks I’ve meet along this crazy journey of life. May we always carry one another’s burdens, share each others joys, wipe each others tears, and celebrate one another’s triumphs. We live in an imperfect world but we are perfected by love that we share. Awful things will always happen but those things shouldn’t define who we are. How we find our joy each day should be the measure of our worth.

I, for one, will continue to try to have an attitude of gratitude. My wish today is that you have a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving.

Peace,

Denis

 

Thankful

Yesterday our granddaughter Anna brought home a worksheet from Kindergarten. It had a picture of pumpkins and a turkey which she carefully colored and a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ that stated:

thanful for NoahNoah is Anna’s 3 year-old little brother. At times he can be a pest. He will sometimes destroy a work of art or un-puzzle a puzzle or disrupt a tea party or throw a baby doll across the room or otherwise torment her. His behavior will likely produce a shrill “Noah!” But Anna loves Noah and Noah loves Anna. And she readily forgives him.

This love that they share is fostered in the love that their parents have for one another. Caring for each other is what my daughter and son-in-law do; it’s what my son and daughter-in-law do; what they model; what they teach. And the lesson is being learned. Loving parents create loving children. And somehow I think that Deb and I started this love fest.

I am thankful, too! Not just for Anna and Noah but for parents that are teaching their children to love one another. Thankful for forgiveness and second chances. Thankful for constant reminders that this life is precious and we are gifts to one another. Thankful that childish squabbles and petty differences can be resolved when we remember that our love for one another triumphs over all. Thankful that anger and resentment will cease when we forgive those who have wronged us (and when we forgive ourselves, too).

I am humbled by the profound and simple love that Anna and Noah share. For me they reflect God’s grace and beauty. To me they are examples of what is to come in heaven.

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Love! Joy! Peace!

The challenge for me of course is loving and forgiving my brothers and sisters. Not just my siblings – that’s easy. But this belief in God is troublesome. If we are all God’s children then we are all sisters and brothers. Ugh! That means that I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in my life. Not only that, but I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in all of creation! I suppose I could begin by not referring to them as jerks and losers. And of course I desperately need to receive some love and forgiveness, too.

So this Thanksgiving I will thank God for the honor of witnessing the love between a five year-old sister and her three year-old brother. I’ll try to learn from their beautiful example and attempt to be thankful for EVERYONE. And I will thank God for the forgiveness received when I mostly fail. I suppose I might learn to love someone previously deemed unworthy of my affection. Or better yet I might be loved by someone who finds me unlovable.

I’m happy to take my miracles in small doses…

Peace,

Denis

A Sunny Day In England

There is always something for which to be thankful. Today I’m thankful for a sunny day. Yes, the sun is shining and the temperature is about 9 degrees Celsius (or 48 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s a nice change from our snowy and cold weekend.

I tend to be a “glass half full” kind of a guy and I try to stay positive but there are times when circumstances become overwhelming (like moving to a place far away from loved ones, where everyone thinks that you talk funny). And then sometimes I am inclined to have a little ‘pity party’ which never really helps and just adds to the general feeling of negativity. The best way (for me) to get over my melancholy is to make a list in my head of all the things for which I am grateful.

Today I’m starting with the sunshine. The rest of my list today (in no apparent order or importance) is as follows:

Sunny day in Oaktree Business Centre

  • The beautiful blue sky.
  • Kissing Deb goodbye this morning and getting kissed back.
  • My work mates; especially John who brought me a lovely cup of tea this morning.
  • A video that Bess sent yesterday of Anna wishing us a Happy Valentine’s Day (I’ve played it several times already today).
  • Mid-term school holidays this week – because traffic is much lighter.
  • Normal traffic – because it’s never really that bad.
  • The kindness of strangers – most people here have been very welcoming, helpful and patient (especially the cashiers at the markets while I struggle to determine which coin is £2 and which one is 2p).

So I have a few things to be thankful for today and I’ll hopefully have a few more tomorrow. And isn’t that all we can really hope for – blessings and thankfulness?

Peace,

Denis