Speak Grace

With Thanksgiving only days away, I am thinking about gratitude, grace, and the state of my heart.

Many of us were taught to ‘say grace’ at the dinner table. Something like:

Thank you, God, for the world so sweet
Thank you, God, for the food we eat
Thank you, God, for the birds that sing
Thank you, God, for everything!
Amen

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Still, it breaks my heart every time I realize that so many of us have not learned to speak grace to those who need it: all of us.

At about the same age we learn to say grace before dinner, we also learn to judge. Who is in and who is out? Who is a friend and who is not? Who can I trust, and from whom should I run? Obviously, we need to make sound judgments. We shouldn’t trust the wrong people. Stranger Danger is all too real.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

As we get older, our judgments become more sophisticated—and hurtful. We all recognize the popular kids, the mean kids, and the outcast kids in the middle school lunch room. Sadly, it doesn’t stop at middle school. We decide who is like us, who we like, and we love them—because they deserve it. Others deserve sympathy, compassion, pity, or even contempt. Of course, we don’t like to think of it this way, but it’s true.

James warns: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (1:19). Similarly, Jesus exhorts: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged…why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matt 7:1, 3).

Unfortunately, we aren’t quick to listen—we are quick to judge! We decide in advance that what that person did was wrong, not up to our standards, was something we would never do…so we don’t listen to their story, we don’t hear their heart.

With anger bubbling around our heart and head, blocking our ears, we speak out of hurt or disdain, and never get around to listening. Often we speak the judgmental words only to ourselves, or worse, in gossip; we don’t take them to the source of our frustration, because that would require a vulnerable conversation, which might be uncomfortable for both of us and necessarily involve listening. We cut people out rather than allow them to be human, to make mistakes. We cut people out rather than get real, with them and with ourselves.

Gracious speech can be an antidote to judgment. Paul encourages: “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Col. 4:6). To speak graciously isn’t just good etiquette. It flows from believing in our God of grace, believing that He loves us no matter what, believing that there is nothing we can do—for good or ill—that will ever change His love for us. When you know you are loved, love will flow through you. When you know you have received grace, you are able to share it.

Notice, I wrote “we” all through this post, because of course I am guilty. I can be quick to judge. I need to be quick to listen to the loving whispers of God, and quick to listen to your stories. I need to speak grace to you, and not just say grace before dinner.

Advertisements

Care Packages

Our church has a tradition of sending care packages to college students as a way of continuing to share love with them even when they cannot be with us. Over the years I have enjoyed writing notes to kids I know, encouraging them to hang in there and that, yes, we do notice you’re not here and we care.

This year, just as my kid would be on the receiving end, the project almost fell by the wayside. I stepped up to save it since I knew just how much real mail could mean to kids weathering tough transitions. Truly, any college kid.

When I attended college, I got mail from my mom and my church. The church sent postcards for events I couldn’t attend because I was out of town, which felt insulting: did they not notice my address? And if they did, why not write a quick note? Or at least take me off the list? My experience fueled my desire to encourage other college students.

I’ve written previously that I have never before been to the Post Office so regularly as I have been since the Big Kid started college out of state. And while I am great at writing notes, and encouraging others to write notes, or cheerleading people acting as encouragers, I stink at administering details.

The project became one more stressor in an already stressful season. I often said, “I could use a care package!”

A few weeks ago, I went to visit my college kid. Minutes after we arrived at his dorm room he said, “Oh, Mom, I wanted to show you this…” He held up a reusable plastic envelope filled with cards. He explained, “It’s every card I’ve received since I arrived at college.” The notes from his dad and me, his grandparents, friends, church members and Scout leaders, the cards I was sure were being skimmed and recycled… No, they were being read and reread, treasured.

I should mention: he didn’t know I’d taken up this project. He shared because he knew it would touch me to know how much those cards meant to him. I took his picture, better that than welling up with tears.

Eventually it came together. We gathered 75 college addresses for kids who grew up in our church, or whose parents/grandparents attend our church. We collected donations of microwave popcorn and Halloween candy, and lots and lots of encouraging notes: many written to kids people knew and others written generically to kids no one knew well enough. We also collected dozens of home-baked cookies to send study break packages to small groups organized by our church’s mission partners working on college campuses—and included plenty of hand-written notes to those kids, most of whom we will never meet.

On a Saturday morning, about fifteen volunteers came together to assemble USPS flat-rate boxes, to write yet more notes, to stuff popcorn and candy and cookies into boxes. My morning had not gone according to plan (of course not, because life), and I arrived late and frazzled. Yet there they were, faithful helpers already on task loving on kids away from home.

It had felt to me like details enough to drown me, yet one dear gal said, “We’re like water, settling in to our well-worn spots.” Yes. My spot is encouraging, not organizing. But I stuck it out, I told the story, and people filled in their places in a beautiful whole.

When we finished in less time than we’d allotted, we gathered around the boxes to pray. And there it was: my care package. These friends and servants prayed for our kids, for strength and perseverance and guidance. They prayed for professors and mentors to come around them. They prayed for roommates and suitemates and hallmates, boyfriends and girlfriends, all of whom might wonder why a church would send care packages to college kids. They prayed God’s love and peace would shower over these precious young people. This time, I couldn’t hide my tears.

I couldn’t have imagined the impact on our postal workers. It took two of us making multiple trips with arms full to carry in all the boxes: their eyes went wide. I sensed their initial shock, then overwhelm, then deep breaths as they settled into a rhythm of typing in zip codes and printing labels, restacking boxes along the way. Eventually, they began to laugh, thanking us for supporting the US Postal Service.

They asked what we could possibly be mailing to individuals all over the country; when we explained, they grew visibly happier to have a role to play in this big act of encouragement. When after almost an hour we were done, they were also done for the day. One postal worker declared, “Since everyone should have a little something for joy, here you go!” He reached under the counter and pulled out two Dove chocolates for Guy and me.

Last night I received another care package: my kid, home for the first time, three months to the day since college move-in. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Thankful Thursday – Puppy Joy

Our neighbors moved away, and of course they took their darling black lab with them. But as we more or less co-parented our dogs, it felt like losing not just our friends but also our pet.

Izzy, who had never known life without her next door bestie, became depressed. Her appetite dropped off. Several times a day she’d walk outside and look toward the fence to see if her friend was coming. No matter how much we walked her and loved on her, it still wasn’t the same as having the love of two families.

So we began puppy discussions. Maybe spring, perhaps (definitely?) by summer, when life is more flexible.

But then Tween and I spent a weekend visiting Teen in college. During breakfast in the hotel, a woman holding a puppy walked through the lobby. Teen looked at me and ran. I looked at Tween and ran. Tween followed us both. In an instant all three of us had ditched breakfast in favor of sprawling across a lobby floor to let an eleven-week old dachshund/terrier mix jump and lick and love all over us.

Lowrider had the body of a dachshund and the chocolate-brindle coloring of a terrier. To sit, he scooted backward and did a funny twist-flop with his hindquarters. He was sweet and loveable–and we loved him. A “foster fail,” his mom arrived pregnant to foster care and she and all his siblings had been adopted, leaving him behind in his now-forever home.

Both my boys lit up with puppy joy. Teen’s had (so we’ve all had) a stressful, difficult college transition. Not enough joy in his life, which is so not what you want for your kid in their first semester of college. I thought, maybe puppy-time is now, for the boys, for Izzy, for all of us…

Petfinder.com is my go-to. Other than our four snakes, all our pets are adopted–from neighbors whose kids ‘outgrew’ their pet companions or from shelters. Just over eight years ago, Petfinder found us our darling Izzy.

Izzy was our dog from the moment we saw her sweet picture. Even when I had a middle-of-the-night panic attack, waking Guy to say I wasn’t sure I could do this, that I was afraid I’d be banished to the back deck, outside forevermore with a puppy who would otherwise stain our beautiful hardwood floors. He said, “Too late. We’re going to meet her in the morning. We’ll figure it out,” and we both went back to sleep.

He was right. We fell head-over-heels immediately. So I checked Petfinder, and found a chocolate-brindle version of Izzy. By the time we got home and discussed her with Guy, she’d been adopted. A few days later, I found another sweet face; and again, she was gone by that evening.

The puppy-hunt felt discouraging on top of a discouraging season. I couldn’t do it for long.

I didn’t have to.

After a quick Saturday conversation with our new neighbors, they texted us a puppy picture on Sunday. Within an hour, they had adopted a six-month old puppy and we had adopted a ten-week old puppy.

Meet Jasper, our boxer-shepherd.

He’s a big dog in the making who believes he’s a lap dog. The moment I took him in my arms, he snuggled into my arm pit and fell asleep–well, hello there! With a towel over his (cat carrier) crate, he sleeps through the night; and he’s learning to potty appropriately, though at ten weeks, it will take time.

He wants to play with Izzy, the cats (chasing is so much fun!), the rabbit (more chasing!). Initially, Izzy looked annoyed at Jasper, turning her head sideways with an I could step on him expression. Slowly, she is learning to play with him. The cats mostly hide in our bedroom, although even they, having grown up with two big dogs in the house, recognize he doesn’t pose too much of a threat. Our animal rescue will eventually again achieve equilibrium.

And when Jasper’s had all his shots, when Izzy has grown accustomed to another pet-love under our roof, we’ll re-open the fence and see if our old lady dog won’t mind teaching some younger pups how to be besties.

Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Gratitude
Laughter
Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.

Humble. Yoga. Go!

Friends opened a yoga studio and invited me to try it.

I’d never tried yoga and, other than mandatory (despised, humiliating) PE classes all the way through college and some neon jazzercise in the late-80’s/early-90’s, group exercise—team or class—hasn’t been my thing.

To be honest, exercise hasn’t been my thing. I’m branching out in middle age! (Literally: tree pose, growing branches)

I would have chickened out, but I bumped into my friend. She looked at me, pointed dramatically, and declared: “YOU! It’s time!”

I went. I loved it.

Because my son took a year of yoga in high school, I had heard that final savasana (lying flat on your back as in sleep) is supposedly the hardest yoga pose. Seriously, what’s so hard about lying still?

Proud of myself for making it through an hour of yoga, I was surprised when my yogi-friend grabbed my foot, then lifted, wiggled and pulled on one leg and then the other. I realized: I didn’t even know how to properly lie still. My body had been holding in stress and my legs weren’t fully stretched out. Talk about humbling…

At the end of class, I gulped one big sob: I had found a form of exercise that could unite body, mind, and spirit. Through this practice, hard and humbling as it might be, I could physically practice the greatest commandment: to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Though my body ached, I had to go back. This time, I couldn’t keep still during final savasana as sobs shook my shoulders. Yoga tapped so deeply into my inner being that I felt like I should go home and journal. I knew I needed more yoga in my life.

One of my favorite things about this studio: humility is built into its name. Humble Yoga. As a total newbie, I have no choice but to enter in with humility. And when I wiggle or shake or fall flat on my rear, I laugh at myself. No judgment, always options to modify, and at least I’m trying! (One of our yogis said, “Oh, you just laugh all the time!” With humility I agreed, and laughter is good for the soul).

Another favorite thing about yoga: what I learn on the mat applies to life off the mat. Listen to these phrases I hear in most classes:

What is your intention?
Where is your foundation?
Ground down.
Inhale your intention. Exhale, commit a little deeper.
Engage your core.
Notice your body. Release any feelings of tension.
Grow tall through your crown.
Drop your shoulders.
Find your edge. Breathe through your edge.
Relax your face.
Shake it out.
Find your active pose.
Find something new in each familiar pose.
Gaze up.
Find a focal point.
Are you still breathing?
Option to modify.
Come back to your breath. Come back to your intention.
Give yourself a gentle squeeze.
This is your practice.

I’m sure you can imagine countless scenarios where those phrases would be helpful advice… In a tense work meeting, or conversation with a neighbor, spouse, or grumpy teenager. Any time life feels challenging. Any time you feel stumped or stifled. Any time you feel run down or discouraged. Any time you need a gentle nudge towards growth. How many times off the mat have I reminded myself to notice my body, to remember my intention, to relax my face and drop my shoulders, and just breathe?

Yoga reminds me to be present to this moment. This breath. This stretch. To breathe into the pain or pleasure of this moment without anticipating what will come next. Whatever’s next will surely come, and I will breathe into that moment as it comes, but this is Now. We can do hard things if we are present to what each moment requires and remember to keep breathing.

We do together what we would not do alone. I still walk or run most days in between yoga work outs, but yoga pushes me in ways I wouldn’t push myself. And in the studio I make new friends and connect in new ways with people I’ve known for years. In the studio we build community within our community, and it will strengthen the community beyond its doors.

Currently, my goal is to go 2-4 days a week; eventually that will become 3-5 days a week as I get stronger and ache less between. Still, even the aches remind me to breathe; that I have done and will do hard things; to be intentional.

I may not have a “yoga body,” but this body does yoga.
I am not strong. I am growing stronger.
I am stronger than I was. I will grow stronger still.

With practice.

[Yoga with me! gohumbleyoga.com]

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thankful Thursday – Fall Blooms

About this time six years ago, a few weeks into Tween’s second grade year, his teacher found me admiring bulletin boards in the breezeway.

She said, “Hey, can you give me a tip? Tween doesn’t seem to realize he’s in school.”

I immediately replied, “Oh, give him some time. He’ll realize it’s no longer summer by, let’s say, Thanksgiving.”

I wasn’t joking, but let’s all take a quick moment to imagine her dramatic eye roll…

(In my defense, c’mon, this is California! With the amazing weather, he was in the pool weekends and after school until Halloween…!)

After I’d spoken the words aloud, I realized their truth deep in my being: not only does Tween transition slowly, but our whole family stinks at transitions.

You may see us going through the motions. We may be in the right place at (mostly) the right times, getting things done. But that doesn’t mean we’re organized, on top of things, present to the moment. We may–or may not–be any of those things, depending on the hour, day, week, minute…

Six years and so many transitions post-epiphany, you’d think we’d know to anticipate our bad transitions. You’d think wrong, my friend. Oh no, every time, whatever season, we find ourselves once again thigh-deep in the muck, repeating for the umpteenth time: “Oh, yah, transitions…”

And again, and again, and painful as each one of us has to come to our own conclusions about how we individually and as a family are weathering the current storm.

Locally and globally, we have had a weird-weather fall. In NorCal, we’ve had record-breaking heat (115 should not happen here!), followed by mellow days, then more heat with thunder and lightening storms, now wind and my allergies are threatening to do me in. Still, I’ll take it over the storms that hit Houston, the Caribbean and Florida, or the earthquake in Mexico.

Then, this:

These fantastic flowers burst forth in my front yard. The pink one is the size of a face!

My soul stills in wonder at their beauty, and I remember that all things bloom in their time, in their season.

Including me, us, this family.

Due to date miscommunication-confusion, a friend showed up when I wasn’t at home. She left flowers. Cut flowers from plants I’d purchased for her, that she planted, that continue to thrive. The gift keeps on giving, flowers and friendship keep blooming.

Nine days ago I noticed my gratitude journal, forlornly forgotten in this transition-season; I jotted some thanksgivings, and promptly forgot it again. Today I tucked in a print-out of a poem, shared by a friend and meaningful in this time. I will add more personal items tonight. I need gratitude, especially now when transition makes discipline difficult.

Banksy recently posted on Twitter: “The only thing making you unhappy are your own thoughts. Change them.”

And with our dear St. Anne and the communion of saints we pray: Help, Thanks, Wow!

Any one of us might point to demanding circumstances, taxing days and long hard nights, excuses all–many understandably so!–for being unhappy. Thanks changes our thoughts. It keeps us in the now, present to the moment whatever the feels it holds, and gently/forcefully unfolds in time an as-necessary different perspective.

Let’s give thanks for the season, for its unfolding, its blooming, for the unpredictable beauty here and yet-coming.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thankful Thursday – Road Trippin’ the American West

The longest road trip I remember from childhood took me to Disneyland, which seemed So Far Away, though now I have to admit that the hour-and-a-half drive from San Diego to Anaheim doesn’t truly count.

Guy’s family did real road trips: six weeks coast-to-coast in a Volkswagen Vanagon, a different route each way, every summer.

Our family has been road trippin’ since Guy and I honeymooned, driving from the Washington-Canada border to California’s central coast. We set a precedent on that trip, and most every vacation since has involved a drive (or many) of some length.

So. The Big Kid needed to get to college. With All the Stuff. And we wanted every member of our family of four to participate. Of course we drove.

We made a quick trip out, two days, because Kid needed to just get there. On the way back, we made it a vacation for Lil Bro. We made at least one fun/view stop each day, arriving home with barely enough time to pick up our farmed-out pets, do laundry, and regroup for the start of school.

The first few hours of our trip were beautiful, familiar NorCal roads. Guy and I talked. Kids wore headphones and stared at screens. Once we pulled out of Tahoe/Truckee, I realized we were in unfamiliar territory.

Before we left home, I’d done some reading. Years ago we visited Donner Memorial State Park so our kids knew that story. Our route east took us through historic landscapes, like the 40 Mile Desert, a portion of the Emigrant Trail which saw heavy traffic from 1848-1869. I read the linked article aloud as we drove, a humbling reality as we looked out our windows to the parched landscape.

What surprised me was the beauty. I hear the smack of “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” but I appreciated the changes in color and texture. I am so intrigued by the unheard stories of those who live here and there, by circumstance or choice.

Spontaneously, I began taking pictures. Hightailing it down the highway, through my spotty passenger window, click click click. The view, to me, seemed continually remarkable.

The view mesmerized me.

I know, taken via iPhone at speed through a dirty window, that these won’t be great pictures. But they help me remember how much I like road trips, and our country.

The Good Ol’ US of A may be a friggin’ hot mess. But I saw beauty as we drove, and kindness in the smiles and small talk of strangers. Beauty inspires hope. As a people, we are as diverse as our landscape. Others may see us–ahem, we may see each other–as “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” [insert your adjective here…]. But we are so much more than labels.

Fallon, NV

Lovelock, NV

Coalville, UT

Fort Bridger, WY

Hannah, WY

Idaho Springs, CO

Rangely, UT – and yes, the “highway” became a dirt road!

Talmadge, UT

Wendover, UT – The Bonneville Salt Flats/Speedway. Snapped as the minivan hit 100mph!

Truckee, CA

Follow my blog with Bloglovin