Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “relationships”

Precious in God’s Eyes

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The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes. 
–Psalm 116:15 (Common English Bible)

I attended the funeral of one of our retired pastors this weekend and also learned of the death of a dearly beloved former parishioner. In both cases I was reminded of the briefness of our time here on earth in contrast to the vastness of eternity, along with the impact both of these dear saints had in their respective communities. I did not know the retired pastor; I’m relatively new to this area and to my particular call to serve, but the pastor and family did a wonderful job in word, in song, and in presence of painting a vivid picture of this pastor, father, grandfather, husband, friend, and faithful disciple.

By contrast, I had come to know, to appreciate, and to love Virginia. She was one of those dear saints of God with a twinkle in her eye, a prayer in her heart, and a smile and kind words on her lips. Whenever I visited her in the nursing home, I cam away feeling like I was the one who had been ministered to in the short time of our visit. Oh, and she could tell some powerfully good stories–from her childhood, about our parish, and about her contentment in life and love for her family.

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Early on in my ministry in that small central Pennsylvania parish, Virginia took a fall and almost lost her life. Yet this strong woman rallied. She never quiet got back to her pre-fall physical condition, and the anesthesia and severity of the fall fuzzied things ever so slightly for her, but she was not one to complain. Yes, Virginia knew a thing or two about thanksliving, about how to be grateful for life in all circumstances.

“…for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11b-13 (Common English Bible)

Like Paul wrote to his dear disciples in Philippi, Virginia was strong in her conviction that she would be content with whatever life brought. After it became clear that she would not be able to return home and live independently, she determined to make her room “home in every way.” The staff loved her. She often had half a dozen visitors gathered around her on a Sunday afternoon. And she smiled and made the best of it–even on the rare days when the clouds of physical pain shadowed her face.

One day she told me “I have been trying to remember what my kitchen looks like, and I just can’t any more. I can picture some things, but…” she paused. “I guess it doesn’t matter. This is my home now, and I don’t want my children to feel any guilt about me being here. This is where I need to be.” And how do you answer that as her pastor? There aren’t really any adequate words for that kind of grace-filled living. You just tuck away the lesson and pray you’ll be able to approach life with the same bold resoluteness when it comes your time to “downsize.”

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Virginia also knew more than a few things about love. She taught me some wonderful lessons about the power of the human spirit to adapt, to accept, and to thrive. She was way ahead of her time when it came to issues of inclusion and social justice. Her approach to such issues was always wrapped in love and the sure and certain knowledge that her Lord didn’t come to judge the world but to save it (John 3:16-17) and that love covers pretty much everything. Oh, and with her love for flowers and all things living, she took to heart the words that God created everything and proclaimed it “good.”

Now lest you think I’m painting a grief-tinted overly positive picture of this dear saint, let me put your mind to rest. I also spent time with Virginia when she was in deep pain, when she was afraid, and maybe even once or twice a bit miffed and irritated. She was, just like the rest of us, simultaneously saint and sinner, but nonetheless redeemed and being made righteous with every passing day.

And now she, like so many beloved saints before her, has attained the prize, has taken that one step we all have to take alone, and has crossed into eternity and the vast cosmos that cannot begin to contain the love and mercy of God. She’s on that mountain with a feast spread before her in the presence of God. There is no more crying, no more pain, no more sorrow. She has what we who are still here only grasp at and see dimly by our fragile faith.

Her death–passing from this life to eternity–leaves a hole, a rip in the fabric of all whose lives she touched. Her family, friends, and fellow disciples will mourn, and that includes me. Yet, at the same time, I for one will give fervent thanks for her life and for the lessons she taught simply by being Virginia. Thanks be to God for all the strong women and men who are now part of that great cloud of witnesses. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Photos: Internet Book Archive, Creative Commons

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Giving Time

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Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. — Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Rick Warren is spot on when he says time is our most precious gift. Money comes and goes (too often it seems to go!), but time is finite and cannot be regained, reinvented, or recaptured. Time is the Creator’s precious gift to us, so how we choose to spend our time also says something about our understanding of this gift with which we have been entrusted.

Remember those Mastercard commercials that illustrated the priceless nature of spending time on relationships? They ended with “For everything else, there’s Mastercard.” Being generous with time is foundational to cultivating and nurturing relationships. The gift of time is critical to keeping a marriage or partnership strong. Time spent with children is love made visible. Time invested in strengthening one’s faith life and spiritual relationships is of eternal importance.

We have no way of knowing how much time we have left to live on this earth–how long this phase of our eternal journey will last. Therefore, steward time wisely. Give it generously. Treat it with the care it deserves. Do with your time what really matters. Don’t squander and fritter it away on frivolous activities.

Here are seven suggestions for how to be generous with your time:

1. Call someone you love who lives in another town or state. Really listen to them. Don’t have an agenda. Don’t set a time limit. Let that person know how much you care even though you can’t be there in person.

2. Devote an entire evening or day to your partner. Put away the work. Take a digital sabbatical. Talk. Laugh. Love.

3. Have a “date night” with your child. Even if you would really rather not go to Chuck-e-Cheese or play yet one more game of hide-and-go-seek do it. Be there. Be fully present. These are the kinds of things your children will remember more than what was under the Christmas tree from Toys-r-Us.

4. Go to worship regularly. Make this a priority for spending your time. Not only are you giving God your best, you are setting an example for others and walking the walk.

5. Invite friends over for a meal. You don’t have to do anything extravagant; just get together. Try a potluck or progressive dinner.

6. Give time to your favorite charity. Work in the soup kitchen or food pantry. Play with the dogs and cats in the animal shelter. Visit the elderly in your local nursing home. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Do something for others.

7. Read a book. It’s a vacation for your mind. Reading isn’t your thing? then do something for yourself other than veg out in front of the television. Go for a hike. Ride horse. Plant flowers. Work out at the gym. You matter, too. If you don’t take care of your physical and emotional health, you won’t be much good at giving time to others.

Thanks for taking time to read this post. This is my gift to you. Time is precious. Thanks for spending some of yours with me. Blessings on the journey!

Photo: kojotomoto, Creative Commons

The Year of Living Generously

Happy New Year

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.    Acts 2:46-47

It’s a new year, a new day filled with promise and possibility. What will you do with the minutes, hours, and days ahead? How will you shape and craft the time entrusted to you? How will you use your gifts and talents to make this world a better place?

I’m not talking about resolutions. Those are well and good if you make them, but our culture and human tendencies work against their care and keeping. I’m not even talking about goals. Setting goals is vital to achievement and essential to moving forward in ways that are productive and measurable.

What I hope to do–and I invite you to join me–is to commit to live intentionally and deeply into a fresh way of being for this new year. This year I want to build a life that is deliberately joyful and generous. I’m talking about a deep culture shift that begins on an individual level and ripples outward into community.

Living generously begins one person at a time, BUT…living generously has the power to change the world and to heal and cultivate relationships, one life at a time, one small group at a time, and one community at a time. It starts with you. It starts with me. It starts now.

The Year of Living Generously has two parts. First, I’ll be posting three to four times a week to offer ideas, share experiences, and plan and dream with you. I invite you to comment and share your ideas and experiences, too. Secondly, I invite you to participate in a Lenten discipline called With Glad and Generous Hearts. This 40-day faith-based study is designed with both individuals and groups in mind. It features daily reflections and questions for individual use, as well as a weekly group study. More information about how to participate will be available mid-January.

I hope you’ll consider joining me for the journey and will share this information with your friends and in your communities. Together we can craft a year of living generous lives, marked by prodigal love, and seasoned with gladness and joy.

For today I leave you with this thought:

Divine time is infinite and fluid. Human time is finite and marked by artificial constraints of our own creation. The key to a glad and generous life is to acknowledge our human reality while embracing and living into Divine (or Kairos) time. In doing so we have the potential to maximize our days and hours by living fully each precious moment.

Happy New Year! Blessings on the journey.

Press On!

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Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  –Philippians 3:13-14

It’s pretty easy to get stuck in the past. We humans all too often step into the quicksand of old ways of doing things and outdated thinking. Why? I’m sure there are a host of logical (and illogical) reasons, but the illusion of security seems to be one of the bigger quagmires into which we oh so willingly step. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard words like these: “Why should we change? We’ve been doing it this way since 1961? Oh, that’ll never work; our folks don’t like change. It’s too (fill in the blank with whatever rationalization comes to mind) to change.” The list could go on and on, but you get the picture. By blanketing ourselves with the vestiges of our sentimentalized or glorified pasts, we avoid stepping out into an uncertain and rapidly evolving future. Looking backward prevents us from seeing the things ahead that make us uncomfortable and that challenge our notions of how things ought to be. In short, and I’ll make a bold claim here, we open ourselves to the insidious nature of sin whenever we dig in our heels and circle our wagons.

People running in city marathon..

Take a look at this week’s gospel lesson (John 12:1-8). Jesus is dining at the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. In less than a week, Jesus’ life and ministry will take a turn that changes both history and humankind forever, yet right now life is going on as usual. Life as usual, that is, until Mary steps out of the circle of acceptable community behavior and chooses to anoint Jesus’ feet with a pound of expensive perfume. Judas Iscariot just can’t stand the act he sees taking place before his eyes. How dare she “waste” something of so much value! What a prodigal show of devotion, this anointing. Jesus reminds Judas of the bigger picture, a picture he cannot fathom in the present moment.

Yes, fear stifles us and prevents us from moving forward in ministry and mission, from following the one who holds the cosmos in his hands. Succumbing to the “what ifs” keeps us bound and blinded to new possibility. This is not what God intends for God’s people. God desires good for us, but we must keep pressing on in faith and listening for the voice of the Spirit’s guiding. We must quiet our own hearts and minds and stifle our angry, fearful voices to even begin to discern God’s will for our lives individually, our congregations corporately, and the church universally. Listen to the words of the Lord as recorded through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not remember the former things,/or consider the things of old./I am about to do a new thing;/now it springs forth, do you not perceive it (Isaiah 43:18-19)?

Finish Line, Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Sky, Clouds and Sunburst.

Our God does new and wonderful things through ordinary people like you and me and calls us to look forward into kairos (divine) time. Yes, it is a step of immense faith, but do we really have any other palatable option? All of our fearful clinging to the past will get us nowhere but the future anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to press forward with purpose rather than cling to a pitiful illusion? We are all of us invited to join the great parade of the faithful who trust God enough to follow into the future, press on in the light of Christ, and sing good news with the psalmist:

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. (Psalm 126:5-6)

Note: This reflection originally appeared on the Stewardship of Life Website in 2010.

Photo Credits: © Warren Goldswain – Fotolia.com, © Chee-Onn Leong – Fotolia.com, and © Andy Dean – Fotolia.com.

Life on Loan

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. — Native American Proverb

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… — Psalm 24:1

“You’re not in charge!” Most human beings I know chafe under such an imperative statement. Sure we’re in charge, each one of us, right? Do you remember the Bon Jovi song “It’s my Life” and its siren song to individuality: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just wanna live while I’m alive…”? This song has inspired people of all ages and become an anthem to the idea of controlling one’s own life and destiny.

It’s true that we don’t live forever on this earth, and it’s laudable to desire to really live instead of go through the motion, but it is not true that this life is ours to do with as we please. Our life is a loan. We didn’t dictate our birth , and we’re really not completely in charge of our terminus post quem. And what we do while we’re here–every choice and decision–matters and affects the course of our journey.

Our choices and life paths also affect others, an important point to ponder. How we treat our bodies affects how long we may potentially live, how much we will have to invest in health care, and what our quality of life will be. How we treat our economic resources affects our security, the futures of those we love, and even the future of our community and our nation. How we treat our earth may potentially affect everyone. We are, in effect, “borrowing” the earth and all its resources from future generations.

Yes, we live on borrowed time with lives that are merely a loan. Each breath, each day, everything is pure gift, but the gift is shared. Our gift of life is lived out in community for good or for ill. How will you enjoy your gift, steward your loan, and care for what is not yours forever?

Thanks-Living Action:

1. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see for your children or your children’s children. If you do not have children of your own, what kind of world would you like to leave as your legacy?

2. How can you be a better steward of your time, talent, and resources?

3. What does it mean to live life as gift?

Finally, ponder these words from a sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

Photo by Damanhur, Federation of Communities. Thanks!

Service Saturday

Everyone can be great, because anybody can serve. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow is the National Day of Service in the United States of America. President Obama started this tradition before his first inauguration in honor of Dr. King’s legacy of service and desire to help better the lives of others. Activities and community-wide efforts are planned in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

What do you plan to do? Can you find a way to give back to your community? If there is not an organized activity in your immediate area, don’t let that stop you. Look around. What needs to be done? Can you clean up the sidewalk and street in front of your house? Can you take food to your local food pantry and volunteer to help? How about checking in on that elderly neighbor? Know someone who is recovering from surgery or the flu? How about cooking a double portion and taking them a meal? What non-profit agencies are looking for volunteers? Do local faith communities have needs? A few phone calls should yield plenty of opportunities for you to help.

Don’t let it stop with just one day. Take the pledge to serve all year. Can you imagine how much better and stronger our communities could be if everyone pledged to serve just one hour per week? According to the A. C. Nielsen Co. the average American watches more than four hours of television a day. Surely, one hour per week of service is not too much to give. Plus, giving feels good when you do it. In giving, you also receive–your level of happiness and well-being increases, you make connections with others and with your community, and your sense of purpose is enhanced.

So give a little thanks tomorrow and every week of the year. Give a little of your time, your energy, and your resources to serve others. No matter what our politics, religious beliefs, or economic status, we can all serve. If you don’t live in the U.S., serve wherever you do live. Make your own corner of the world just a little bit brighter. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Serve others. You’ll be glad you did.

Photo by vastateparkstaff. Thanks!

Hungry

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — Mother Teresa

Last night a teenager in the school district where the church I serve is located completed suicide. Evidently she posted her intentions on Facebook. I don’t know the details, and I didn’t know the young woman, but I do understand the incredible hunger for love, acceptance, and appreciation that so many people feel.

Not everyone has strong families, wide networks of support and friendship, and vibrant faith communities to combat the pain, emptiness, and utter loneliness of depression, bullying, addictions, or difference. Life can be really, really hard.

My heart hurts for this young woman, for her family, her friends, all who knew her at school, and for the community left behind trying to make sense of this deep sadness and painful loss of a life cut short. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, five children or teens commit suicide each day. That’s a lot of pain and hunger for love and acceptance.

My prayer and hope is that we would all find ways to feed those who are hungry both in body and spirit. May we seek ways to be more compassionate and merciful. And may we make our schools and houses of worship safe spaces where all may be fed–without judgment and with open arms.

Thanks-Living Action

Beginning tomorrow consider doing three things each day:

1. Tell the people you love that you love them. Really look at them. Smile. Give them the gift of your time and attention.

2. Do at least one kind act for a stranger. Spread kindness and compassion lavishly; in doing so you will make the world just a little bit better.

3. Do something kind for someone you find difficult to love. Listen to that person. Try to see life from his or her perspective. Remember that your smile or kind word may be a lifesaver to someone in the midst of despair or loneliness.

And remember these words…

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.  ― Thomas Merton

…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

Photo by tjook and Charles Kremenak. Thanks!

How Then Shall We Live?

As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way. -Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is one of my heroes because she not only talked a good talk; she lived a life of love, compassion, and mercy. Her faith was forged through her own trials and pain, a reality that also led her down a path to help others. Day was a truly amazing woman and a faithful witness to the gospel. You can read more of her story here.

When I read the above quote today, I was reminded again that each day we wake to answer the question “how shall I live this day?” Our western culture affords us myriad choices and opportunities. Most all who read this reflection are blessed to have enough to eat, living quarters that are dry, warm, clean, and spacious, more than enough clothes and possessions, and transportation. Yet still many of us wonder about purpose, direction, and meaning.

Do we live for ourselves, or do we live for one another? Are we only here to live for the day (Carpe Diem) and what we can amass, or are we here to live in community and share? Are we entitled to however much we can get, or do we use only what we need and share the rest with those who have need? How then shall we live?

I cannot answer that for anyone but myself. What I am learning in life is that how I answer that question really does matter and that my needs are pretty simple. People matter; stuff does not. Relationships last; possessions come and go. We come into life empty-handed, and we go out the very same way.

How will you live today?

Photos by Jagz Mario and christiantimeless. Thanks!

 

Faith in One Another

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I’ve given up on so and so. It/he/she just isn’t worth the effort anymore.” It might be a friend, a faith community, an organization, or even a family member. Or maybe you’ve been privy to conversations about the dire state and depravity of humankind in general. When the mind starts spiraling in this direction, it becomes easy to become “oh, so negative,” as my friends Allen and Sally are fond of saying.

Of course, negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts, and pretty soon the person thinking them becomes a real “Debbie Downer.” Think, I’m exaggerating? Try this little experiment: for 24 hours watch nothing but news channels (FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or any other 24-hour news outlet or combination thereof). I guarantee you’ll feel more agitated, negative, and nervy than before you began.

Instead, vow to believe in the innate goodness of humankind, indeed of all creation. For folks who read the Torah or Old Testament, the first chapter of Genesis repeatedly chronicles the Creator proclaiming the creation “good” and “very good.” That means God doesn’t create bad, broken stuff.

Sure, we can get bumped, scuffed, scraped, and broken as we journey through life. Some folks are REALLY broken and as a result do horrible things to innocent people. Some individuals act just plain mean. Evil is very real. Still…for the good of all  of us, I believe we must never, ever give up faith in humankind. Gandhi’s words are every bit as true today as they were when he first spoke/wrote them.

Or as the unknown Johannine teacher wrote in 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).

Believe in the presence of good and in the restorative power of love. Keep the faith–and the faith in each other.

Thanksliving Action:

Need some positive information? Check out dailygood.org for good news that inspires and uplifts.

Photo by lel4nd. Thanks!

Time to Take Care of YOU

One might assume that because the United States spends more on health care than any other nation ($4,500 per person in 2000) Americans should also be the healthiest folks on the planet. Unfortunately, according to the UC Atlas of Global Inequality, that is far from the truth. In terms of life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 27th (77 years). An even more alarming trend is a 30-year pattern of decreased life expectancy, a high infant mortality rate, and the reality that U.S. youth have the “highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes” among 17 developed countries studied in a recent report produced by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

An article by Sabrina Tavernise in the January 9, 2013 edition of The New York Times summarized the report’s distrubing findings. Particularly troubling are the findings that Americans under 50 had a higher mortality rate from gun-related homicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and car accidents than any of their counterparts in the other countries studied. We also posted the second highest rate of death from heart disease and lung disease.

Despite our many strengths as a nation, the United States also has the highest rate of poverty among the 17 developed nations in the study, limited  primary care resources in a fragmented healthcare system, and a high percentage of uninsured citizens. Cuba, despite its many economic challenges and limited resources, has made healthcare a priority. The country has a universal healthcare system and one of the world’s highest doctor-to-patient ratios. The average per person healthcare expenditure in Cuba is a mere $186 or about 1/25 of per person spending in the United States. Cuba comes in just behind the United States at 28th in terms of life expectancy (76.9 years compared to the U.S.’s 77 years). Go figure.

The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for your health. No one is going to force you to be healthy or to make good choices. Some health issues bear no relation to lifestyle, but most of the truly pressing health issues in the United States are indeed related to lifestyle, income, and education. The playing field is not a level one, but we make it even less level through choice and public policy.

Controversial filmmaker and best-selling author Michael Moore made the simple choice to start walking 30 minutes each day. As Moore notes, it’s free and it feels good. Don’t stop there! You can bypass the cigarettes and save money. You can cut out the sodas and drink water or green tea. You can brew your own coffee at home and moderate your alcohol intake. You can prepare simple, fresh foods and cut out the highly-processed junk. If you don’t know how to cook, you can learn.

No one is asking you to make a 180 degree change in how you live overnight–although if that’s how you work, go for it! Try to change one thing and see where it goes. Don’t go out and get an expensive gym membership; take that walk around the neighborhood. If you hate going outside, turn on a music channel and dance like a fool where no one can see you. Instead of driving eight blocks to the post office, walk there. Plant a garden. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Play ball with your kids. Walk through your neighborhood and get to know folks. Just do something.

Don’t wait for a better or more convenient day. Get started right now. It’s time to take care of YOU because YOU are worth it!

Photo by Green_Mamba. Thanks!

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