Parables: Part 6: The Parable of the Amaryllis

A parable is literally something “cast alongside” a truth in order to illustrate that truth. The website Got Questions labels the 35+ parables that Jesus told as “inspired comparisons “and then adds that a common description of a parable is: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” -a definition from my childhood. Jesus often ended a parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This was his call to listen to the parables, not just as one would listen to an ordinary story, but as one who is seeking the truth of God. I hope that my little parables inspire that intent in you. 

A few weeks ago, my daughter-in-law presented me with an amaryllis kit. The kit contained a an ugly brown bulb, a pot, and potting mixture. I have been gifted with blossoming amaryllis plants before and was told that they would bloom again, but I had to let the bulb dry out.  In fact I had two pots with dried up ugly bulbs in the storage area of my garage which had come along with me the last time we moved.  I had not known what to do with them to force them to bloom, but they were given to me by a special friend so I didn’t want to throw them away.

Now that I had the instructions for planting this new bulb, I decided to experiment with the two old bulbs; now I had three Amaryllis bulbs in pots. A few days later, I found another boxed Amaryllis plant outside  my patio door – Fedexed by the same friend. I carefully potted this one too and put all four in my bedroom in indirect light and kept the soil damp (not wet) as the directions said.  Soon two of them took off and produced stems that were several inches high.  The other two followed suit a week or two later. 

I became very attached to these plants. Every day I checked on them – some days more than once. I said encouraging words over them, hoping they all would bud and then bloom. On Christmas Eve the plant from my daughter-in-law produced a  bud. On Christmas Day a red flower was beginning to peek through.  Soon it will be in full bloom.   I hope that in a week or so, all four will be blooming! When the blossoms die, I will put all four plants in the storage area of my garage and trust that the magic of nature (and a little water provided by me) will create four blossoming plants for Christmas.

This process sparked some parable-like thoughts about dead things that can be brought  to the feet of God and recycled into blessings 

♥   First, of course, I pictured my husband’s sick, wasted body and exhausted mind transformed into something new and beautiful after death.  I have no idea when or how that will happen or what form it will take or what it will look like. But I trust that God will “water” Fred (and all our departed loved ones) so he will become as beautiful as my red amaryllis plants.

♥  Then I thought of the tradition of “bringing in the new year. ” The year 2o2o was as ugly a year as the brown bulbs covered with a crust of dried out leaves of my amaryllis plants, Surely we can hope and work so that out of the lessons and experiences of 2020 will blossom new dreams and possibilities as sturdy as the amaryllis stalks and as lovely as its flowers.

♥  Finally, I thought about how my selfish thoughts and actions can be redeemed by God’s grace and forgiveness and recycled into new acts of beauty and blessing. My dark sorrow and hopelessness can be refreshed by God’s spirit and turned into joy.

Once again the beauty of nature can bring us hope and redemption!

 

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Parables – Part 5: The Parable of the Pansy

A parable is literally something “cast alongside” a truth in order to illustrate that truth. The website Got Questions labels the 35+ parables that Jesus told as “inspired comparisons “and then adds that a common description of a parable is: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”-a definition from my childhood.  Jesus often ended a parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This was his call to listen to the parables, not just as one would listen to an ordinary story, but as one who is seeking the truth of God. I hope that my little parables inspire that intent in you. (This post was first published  on September 20, 2020).

A good friend brought me a huge container of pansies this spring.  I put them in the place of honor on a small table on our patio.  Because of COVID 19,  my sister did my plant-shopping this year. As pink begonias, red and white geraniums,  two beautiful gerbera daisies, purple and white petunias, impatiens and three varieties of marigold were brought to my home, I filled pot after pot.  Soon colorful plants bordered all three edges of the patio.

Eventually, the pansies were edged out to a spot toward the back of the patio because I expected them to fade away as summer progressed. But they surprised me. They kept blooming. So I watered them and thinned them and, as my husband would say, “loved on” them.

A few days ago, as I was watering all these beautiful flowers and thanking God for their existence, I was shocked to find a pert yellow pansy with purple markings standing proudly in the pot of yellow gerbera daisies. Miraculously (to me at least) the genetic material of this delicate plant had migrated at least eight feet across the patio and found a home with tall and sturdy daisies.  

Last week my husband became part the  Hospice of Holland program. We are experiencing a flurry of new regimens, new breathing treatments, changed medications, and new (and wonderful) people. He is gradually beginning to get used to the idea that he will not get better. And I am pondering how to ease into thinking and speaking about  the reality of the spiritual aspects of this new stage of life -not only for him but for myself as his caregiver.

So as I stood there marveling at the amazing experience this little pansy in my pot of daisies had undergone, it occurred to me that its life is a lovely metaphor for our experience in God’s Kingdom on earth and then in heaven.  This little pansy moved from life as a seed into a life of  shared occupancy with daisies – all without understanding how or why this transition had even come about. Or caring!

It seems as if we will have a similar  experience as we breathe our last breath as humans and move to a forever life with God in heaven.  We can only imagine what it will be like.  We don’t know how we will get there.  But we can believe it will be a more beautiful and fulfilling life than we could ever dream of.  

 2020 Update:  About three weeks after this was posted in September, my husband died unexpectedly at home, as he wished. Even the hospice nurse was surprised at his death, since he seemed to be improving under hospice care. I read him this post after I published it because he loved the transition the pansies made from one pot to another. He has now transitioned to his forever life. When the pansies bloom again in the spring, I will remember the joy they brought him – and perhaps are still bringing.

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Recycling Loneliness

I think I have been a “loner” since birth.  My father baptized me and then disappeared into the chaos of World War II, never to return. My mother retreated into unmitigated grief for the rest of her life, even though she re-married and had four additional children. Those children formed a tight pact which unintentionally excluded me – or maybe I made a  pact that excluded them.

Anyway the pattern was set, aided and abetted by my introverted personality style, for my pursuing a loner’s internal lifestyle. On the outside I was a teacher, a non-profit director,  a  volunteer, a successful writer, and even the spiritual formation director of a large congregation. All of these roles kept me active and fulfilled, but did not change my internal aloneness – and perhaps, aloofness.

Now I have been sidelined into an experience of loneliness by this awful pandemic, specifically because of health concerns that could make COVID-19 dangerous. For me this has been intensified by my husband’s recent death which has deprived me not only of his presence and companionship, but also of the intense occupation of caregiving. 

Since I’m an introvert, being alone rarely means being lonely. But last week I sat down and counted the number of minutes I had spent in face-to-face contact with someone: 

  • 90 seconds of interaction from the distance of several feet with the person who delivered my groceries
  • about 7 minutes in the bank
  • about 30 seconds in the drive-through lane of a pharmacy as I interacted with the pharmacy tech
  • and, blessedly, about 2 minutes with two of my grandchildren as they came to pick up garbage bags full of pop cans to recycle.
  • In addition I spent 90 minutes in a Zoom call with my spiritual formation group and 20 in conversation during a haircut

That adds up to about 120 minutes of face-t0-face interaction with others in 7 days.  I was astonished! Of course, I’ve had several interactions by phone or by e-mail. But my time spent face-to-face with another person has been severely limited – as it has for millions of people.

I have pondered this “aloneness” now for days.  I rarely am at a loss of what to do with myself. I rarely feel lonely.  I miss Fred dreadfully, especially as a partner in conversation, but I never have really thought of myself as missing face-to-face companionship until this week. And yet, with some amount of dread, I realized, that nothing can be done about this until we are victorious over the pandemic.  How do we live with the aloneness?

And then  I read a quote in Sojourner from Wes Granberg-Michaelson’s latest book,  Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage: 

“For ages, those living as monks, cloistered nuns, hermits and wandering pilgrims have mastered the art of turning loneliness into solitude, creating a real presence to themselves and to God. These spiritual explorers were often confined – as many of us are now – into narrow spaces, yet pilgrimage to the authentic explores an interior landscape.”

How do we master the art of turning loneliness to solitude First, how do we deal with loneliness? We can recognize it and face it. But as Wes-Granberg Michaelson says, we can also turn being alone into solitude. So, you ask, what’s the difference? Here is one distinction: loneliness is a feeling of discontent, of being alone in the world, isolated even if people are all around you. Solitude is refreshing and self-renewing. It is the state of being alone without being lonely.

Turning Loneliness into Solitude

So, I’m seeing that experiencing solitude rather than loneliness is a choice. We have to choose to leave the the pain and sadness of loneliness and step into possibilities of the restoration and rejuvenation. It’s like turning off a busy highway onto a quiet country road, a space of  beauty and possibilities.

I imagine that everyone’s experiences during a time of solitude are different. And I suppose that solitude can even look (and feel) like wasting time. But it not time wasted; it is time found and joyfully appreciated.

I find that I move out of loneliness and into solitude when I care for my plants or when I watch the birds flitting around the bare branches of a tree in full view from my recliner.  I can be happy in solitude without setting foot outside. Sometimes I sit and gaze at my well-loved wall hangings: a piece of colorful abstract art that I borrowed from the library off and on  for years until I won a silent auction and proudly brought it home. Three paintings by the same artist of a serenely green pastoral landscape, populated by trees and cows and clouds and ducks on a pond. A wooden chessboard carefully crafted and beautifully stained by a friend of Fred’s. A new striking and brilliantly colored painting I “commissioned” from a local artist to illustrate/interpret Psalm 23:6 which I read during the scattering of  Fred’s ashes:  “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life . I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”

I spend many hours of solitude reading.  This week it is Barack Obama’s first volume about his life in service to his country. A Promised Land is filled with memories, family stories, musings about life as a black man, revelations about his spiritual and emotional growth – along with an intimate record of his life in politics. But solitude prompts this story of a life well-lived to offer many moments of self-examination: How do I make decisions? Am I willing to forgive quickly and not prolong an issue? How would I deal with public criticism or resentment or attack? How can I express compassion and understanding in all of my interactions with people?

Since being struck by Granberg-Michaelson’s quote, I have recycled many lonely moments into solitude by seeking “real presence” to myself and to God.  I invite God into my sorrow and my tears, knowing that he experienced both. I moan about the “dark winter” of 2020 and plead for his blessing on the efforts to end COVID-19 and the horrific influence of Donald Trump. I reflect with gratitude on the gifts and prayers from my friends. I struggle with God to understand my role for my life these days. And I pour my thoughts into writing.

And now my solitude is broken. The doorbell is ringing.  Amazon Prime has just delivered a copy Without Oars, Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage – a Christmas gift from a friend!  Becoming a “spiritual explorer” just got even more exciting.

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Parables: Part 4 -The Parable of the Shoveling Neighbor

A parable is literally something “cast alongside” a truth in order to illustrate that truth. The website Got Questions labels the 35+ parables that Jesus told as “inspired comparisons” and then adds that a common description of a parable is: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”-a definition from my childhood.  Jesus often ended a parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This was his call to listen to the parables, not just as one would listen to an ordinary story, but as one who is seeking the truth of God. I hope that my little parables inspire that intent  in you. (This post was first published in 2015).

It had snowed all night.  In the morning, as I opened the door to get the newspaper, I was greeted with a blast of cold air. But the door had only opened about four inches. High winds had sculpted waves of drifts across our front yard and up several steps to the front door during the night.  The snow covered the bottom of the door.  Later when I tried again, I  gained only a few more inches.  The back door was blocked as well.  We were prisoners in our own house!

A few hours later, I heard the noise of a snow blower. I ran to the door to see if our neighbor was once again blessing us with the gift of snow blowing.  Of course I couldn’t get the door open. I was so relieved to see him, I wanted to be sure I could thank him, so I put my shoulder to the door.  This time I opened the door enough so that on while on my knees I was able to grab a shovel next to the steps, snake it through the wrought iron railing. and pull it into the house.  I tried to shovel the snow away from the door from  inside the house, but I didn’t make much progress.

Suddenly there was no more engine noise.  I looked up and saw our neighbor at the bottom of the steps.  He yelled, “I’ll get that in a minute.”  Since our unspoken agreement had always been that we would shovel the steps and he would do the rest, I shook my head and said, “That’s okay.”  He came up the steps and smiled a big smile, “I’ll get it!  I love doing this stuff.”  Finally I realized that this lovely man was going to solve all my snow-related problems, and I smiled and said thank you at least a dozen times.

All through the day when I looked out the window at the drifts, I smiled in gratitude. When I left to do some errands, I smiled gratefully  at our ease in leaving the house and driving out onto the street. Before I went to sleep that night, I again was full of thanks as I remembered how our neighbor had blessed us.  Suddenly this whole experience became a parable.

Here was this man giving me the gift I so badly needed (making it possible for us to leave the house) and I had said, “No thanks, I’ll handle it.” – when I knew I couldn’t.  And then he offered again, telling me he loved doing it for me.  How many times have I stood in front of God totally blocked in by some problem and said,  “No thanks, I can handle it,” Gratitude-Quote-520x245knowing I was at the end of my rope. Why do I insist on trying to run my life, when God has repeatedly said, “I’ll handle it; I love doing this for you.”  And have I ever been as extravagant in my gratitude to God for sustaining my life and making a path through obstacles and pain and helplessness as I was to my neighbor?

We had only had a few inches of snow last night, but as I write this, my neighbor again is clearing our path.  I think this little object lesson from Jesus will live long in my memory.

2020 Update:  Now that we live in a lower level apartment instead of a house, we have the benefit of having the maintenance man (I call him Wonderful Lonnie – but not to his face) use a snow blower to clear the snow off of the patio. The parking lot and driveway are also plowed.  The lesson described in this parable, however, is well-learned.  Since Fred died, people are constantly asking if I need help with this or that.  And if I do need help, I  usually say yes (except to food since I am diabetic).  I understand now that when God says, “I’ll handle it,” he usually uses people I love (or strangers who will become people I love) to carry out the task. 

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From My Reading – December

“What we do when faced with our deepest wounds determines whether there is authentic spirituality at work or not. If we seek to blame other people, accuse, attack, or even explain and make perfect, logical sense out of our wounds, there will be no further spiritual journey. But if, when the wounding happens, we find the grace and the freedom to somehow see that it’s not just a wound, but a sacred wound, then the journey progresses. Then we set out to find ourselves, to find the truth, and to find God” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, September, 14, 2020).

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“It’s so much easier to learn to love what you have instead of yearning always for what you’re missing, or what you imagine you’re missing.  It’s so much more peaceful” (Anna Quindlen).

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“To start seeing that the many events of our day, week, or year are not in the way of our search for a full life but are rather the way to it is a real experience of conversion. We discover that cleaning and cooking, writing letters and doing professional work, visiting people and caring for others, are not a series of random events that prevent us from realizing our deepest self. These natural, daily activities contain within them some transforming power that changes how we live” (Henri Nouwen).

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“We recognize the effects of white supremacy in human hearts and minds, as well as in institutions. But more importantly, we know that God has given us the power to battle and ultimately overcome all principalities and  powers through his Son, our Savior. That means praying like New Testament Christians, so that the power of the Holy Spirit can be poured out as it was at Pentecost. We must discern the principalities and powers we fight against; we must pray against them and teach against them. This is where boldness comes in, right? It takes extraordinary boldness to say, “White supremacy is a demonic spirit. The source of it is pure evil. But the Spirit of the God in Jesus Christ is stronger” (Eugene F. Rivers III  in Plough).

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What an incredible power we have, to walk through the world, making somebody’s day” (Krista Tippett).

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“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.  . . . .’ Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,’ the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well” (Frederick Buechner in Whistling in the Dark).

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Praying with a Hymn: Great is Thy Faithfulness

Soon after my husband’s death in October, I received a lovely sympathy card with the words of  Lamentations 3:22-23:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.”

I decided to use those verses in a “Praying with Scripture” post. As I was working on it, a hymn came into my mind; I couldn’t stop singing it.  So I decided to use the hymn lyrics – along with the scripture passage. The verses and choruses of the hymn follow, along with some questions and suggestions that may help you pray with the hymn.  But first here is the history of the hymn as told in the website  Independent Baptist .com.

“Thomas Obadiah Chisolm (1866-1960) had a difficult early adult life. His health was so fragile that there were periods of time when he was confined to bed, unable to work. Between bouts of illness he would have to push himself to put in extra hours at various jobs in order to make ends meet. After coming to Christ at age 27, Thomas found great comfort in the Scriptures, and in the fact that God was faithful to be his strength in time of illness and weakness, and to provide his needs. Lamentations 3:22-23 was one of his favorite scriptures: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”

While away from home on a missions trip, Thomas often wrote to one of his good friends, William Runyan, a relatively unknown musician. Several poems were exchanged in these letters. Runyan found one of Williams’ poems so moving that he decided to compose a musical score to accompany the lyrics. Great is Thy Faithfulness was published in 1923.

For several years , the hymn got very little recognition, until it was discovered by a Moody Bible Institute professor who loved it so much and requested it sung so often at chapel services, that the song became the unofficial theme song of the college.

It was not until 1945 when George Beverly Shea began to sing Great is Thy Faithfulness at the Billy Graham evangelistic crusades, that the hymn was heard around the world.

Thomas Chisolm died in 1960 at age 94. During his lifetime, he wrote more than 1,200 poems and hymns including O To Be Like Thee and Living for Jesus.”

So below I offer you a lectio divina (sacred reading) experience to use with one of my favorite hymns.  Read the words prayerfully – to yourself and then out loud. If you have a recording of the hymn, play that. Then meditate on the questions following each section and do the suggested exercises.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

♥    Read Lamentations  3: 1-18 and focus on all the pain and suffering expressed there.

♥    What pain and suffering have you endured in 2020? How has God shown his  presence through those experiences?  Think about experiences in your life when you were afraid that God was far away from you.

♥  Thank God for never turning away from you, for always being compassionate towards you,  for being the same God yesterday and today and tomorrow.

Chorus:
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;

♥  Praise God for providing everything you need.  Ask God to help you recognize these many blessings.

♥ Use the phrase, “Great is thy faithfulness” whenever a happy thought or a lovely memory, or a beautiful musical theme floats on the air.

♥    Before you get out of bed each morning, think about what “new mercies” you might see during this new day.  Give thanks to the Father who will bestow them all on you.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

♥  Thank God for your favorite seasonal experiences: the reds and oranges of autumn leaves, the soft falling of snowflakes on a calm winter day; the first pansies of spring; the blue skies of summer. Be a witness to the faithfulness of God through the seasons of the year.

 ♥  Pay special attention to lights and candles and other joyful moments of the Advent season.  Thank God for the Light that came into the world in Bethlehem.

Chorus
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

♥ Create a gratitude journal and list some of the “ten thousand” blessings God provides for you each day. Be very specific. For example, instead of being grateful for the beauty in the world, thank God for:

  • the still-flowering orange begonia plant in your bedroom, a Mother’s Day gift from your daughter-in-law,
  • the sun shining through the beveled glass in your front door, creating stunning flashes of reds and blues and greens,
  • the huge framed photograph on a wall in your living room of an eagle flying over the rolling waves of Lake Michigan, given to you decades ago by a friend, now a strong Christian, who valued your input as he shared his loss of faith.

♥  Keep in mind during the hard days of the pandemic that God will provide strength to get through today and hope for each tomorrow.  Thank God daily for his presence in your life and in the world.

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Parables – Part 3: The Parable of Dirty Windows

A parable is literally something “cast alongside” a truth in order to illustrate that truth. The website Got Questions labels the 35+ parables that Jesus told as “inspired comparisons “and then adds that a common description of a parable is: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”-a definition from my childhood.  Jesus often ended a parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This was his call to listen to the parables, not just as one would listen to an ordinary story, but as one who is seeking the truth of God. I hope that my little parables inspire that intent in you. (This post was first published in 2018).

Parable of the Dirty Windows

To me the most important feature of a place to live is the amount of light that comes through the doors and windows. Therefore, I was ecstatic when each time our manufactured home was finally placed on a lot (moving the home 150 miles is a blog post all its own), the sun shone through four walls of windows and two doors. I reveled in the shades of pink during both dawn and twilight and gave thanks for every sunny moment in between. 

Of course, keeping more than a dozen windows and two screen doors clean and spotless was a hindrance, but I managed to keep everything shiny for at least six months of the year. When I was no longer able to lug a step-ladder and climb to the top, two wonderful men from church took over the task.

Almost two years ago, we sold that house and moved to the second floor of an apartment complex. Now we have windows only on one side, but we do have a patio door in our living room leading out to the balcony which nearly makes up for that. Keeping the outside view from the windows clear is harder. Last year apartments in the three buildings across the street were power-washed. I gazed in envy (and frustration) as the guys loaded their trucks and left the complex without touching our building. The apartment manager told me they couldn’t afford to clean all the buildings every year; our building would probably be done next year. 

So, you can imagine my excitement a few weeks ago when I came home with a load of groceries and glimpsed the power wash truck at the far end of the block on our side of the street! As soon as I saw the two college guys in red shirts decorated with a SHINE logo approaching our building with ladders and hoses and a noisy machine, I emptied my balcony (including nearly two dozen pots of flowers) so that they could scrub the deck as well. They sprayed (powerfully) the entire side of the building, windows and all, and then one of them climbed the ladder and sprayed and scrubbed the balcony. As the young man stepped back down the ladder, I thanked him profusely.

My excitement didn’t last long. When I glanced out the air-dried dry windows, I saw nothing but huge, dusty spots.  Evidently power washing is not suitable for windows – even if the guys’ shirts promise SHINE.  

So, as always, I look for the message of the lessons life brings me. The first thing that popped into my mind was a phrase quoted frequently by my mother-in-law. “Be careful what you wish for!” I wished for clean windows and ended up with dirtier windows. Then I thought of a phrase I learned in Al-Anon, “An expectation is a premeditated resentment.” That phrase has helped me through a lot through the years, but the expectation of clean windows has been in my mind for nearly a year. I have already set myself up for resentment. Then I thought of a phrase very popular in my Dutch community where we symbolically wash the main street during Tulip Time every summer: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  That long-resented proverb brought some clarity. I said to myself, “This window mishap is not as bad as you are making it, Karen.”

Now as I reflect on this, Paul’s phrase in the King James Version of my childhood comes to mind: Corinthians 13:12:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly . . . .” This is a metaphor of profound implications: we need the faith to believe that what we and think we know and understand will be made crystal clear “then.” What I hope I will remember is that windows aren’t important enough to be crystal clear – now or then.

Finally, I thought of the one sentence that has truly been a life-changer for me and millions of others who take its lesson to heart. It is the first sentence in the Serenity Prayer: “Lord give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

I have cleaned the balcony door a couple of times since then; it gives me a beautifully clear view of my surroundings. That particular dirty window I can change.  And when I look out  the other ugly spotted windows, I am grateful for a homely reminder that I can look at life with bitterness or disappointment or an “it’s not fair attitude” or I can choose to accept the things I cannot change (even the smallest things) and be rewarded with serenity.  

2020 UpdateSince this post was first published, we moved yet again to a first floor apartment in the same apartment complex. It has the same floor plan except a regular door opens onto a patio – not as much light, but much easier to navigate without the stairs.  I was pleased to learn one summer day that 2020 was the year for this block of apartments to be power washed. I hoped for a miracle, but the windows ended up just as ugly. I could reach these, but I knew my back wouldn’t allow me to wash them. After a year of looking through the spots, I gifted myself with a cleaning lady to spend a couple of hours doing the tasks I no longer could – including washing the windows.  Even she could not eliminate the spots.  This time I sighed in disappointment and went to gaze through the clean  front door at my beautiful patio flowers.

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Chasing Gratitude

“Darkness deserves gratitude.  It is the alleuia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight” (Joan Chittister).

Thanksgiving Day will be lonely and uneventful for many Americans this year.  The loss of cherished traditions and relationships at a time when we are already emotionally depleted seems to be more than we can bear.  In  a post on the blog The Reformed Journal – The Twelve, Wes Granberg-Michaelson describes our current malaise beautifully:

Let’s face it. We’ve been living in a sea of tumult. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted whatever “normal” may have meant. Life and death choices have greeted us each morning, deciding whether to leave the house, buy groceries, pick up a prescription, have coffee with a friend, or stay secluded inside with those we love, which sometimes tests that love. Now, when we’re all suffering from COVID fatigue, it has come roaring back, following us even into our quiet, indoor gatherings with a few friends and family.

This virus has attacked our trust, our confidence, and for some, our faith. Even if healthy, it has left us depleted. . . . Breathing air for months that is biologically and politically poisoned, while facing winds of righteous anger, has left us all breathless. We’re exhausted emotionally, politically, and spiritually. Our inner resources seem sucked dry. We’re all gasping for air, which, as we’ve witnessed, can be fatal. We thirst, panting for living springs. We hunger, longing for the bread of life (Reformed Journal : The Twelve blog).

Granberg-Michaelson goes on to recommend that “It’s time for us to take a step back, to detach from the frantic and frenetic tumult that has swept over our society, and re-center our souls.”

Like everyone else, I have been facing the “frenetic tumult” that Granberg-Michaelson describes. My experience has been complicated by the recent death of my husband. I don’t want to “stuff” my grieving nor do I want to be buried with it.  Recently, I received two totally unexpected gifts from two different people: a stunning autumn floral arrangement in a basket and a sympathy card with a gift card of $25. These gifts totally changed my outlook that day.  I went from sadness to gratitude – and stayed that way the entire day.

In the quote at the beginning of this post, Joan Chittister describes gratitude as an “alleluia point,” a reminder that we grow from dark experiences as well as happy ones. Reflecting on my change in mood and outlook described in the anecdote above, I decided that my “step back” would be collecting and celebrating my alleluia points in a gratitude journal.  

I wish that I had begun this journal when my husband became so sick; it took me a while to broadly document all the instances when joy entered my life from the outside world during his last few months and after his death.  But now that the habit is firm, I eagerly look for the moments of gratitude that enter my life and record them in my journal. In another version of celebrating alleluia points, I now have a tradition every Sunday of reviewing the dozens of sympathy cards that I have gotten since Fred’s death. Every week a different verse of scripture strikes me or a lovely note on the card warms my heart or the beauty of a drawing or photo on the card catches my attention. 

The Thanksgiving season, the Christmas holidays, even the beginning of a new year can either bring us down or can fill us with gratitude – or both. Perhaps a gratitude journal will brighten these dark days for you and yours, including your children or grandchildren.

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