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.

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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.

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

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Thankful Thursday – Neighbors

Our dog has been sleeping on two beds.

A few days ago, our neighbors drove away in their cars and rental moving van, all loaded to the max. They took their funny cat and sweet black lab.

Of course they did.

But over nine years, our neighbors have become our friends. We borrowed onions and bought each other flowers. We enjoyed regular parties with the other neighbors on our court. We celebrated holidays and occasions. We sat on each other’s front porches to shoot the breeze. We shared meals and drank wine around the fire pit. We walked our dogs together.

We actually co-parented our dogs.

Their dog and our dog have been besties since puppyhood. Neighbors took a board out of our shared fence so the dogs could be together constantly. Jessie (their dog) is an early riser; most mornings she came over to wake Izzy (our dog) and tank up on water, which she seemed to prefer at our house. They had morning play time with Guy before we all went to work and dogs went outside.

Unless someone was working at home–between our houses, that happened often–in which case dogs stayed in. In the evenings, dogs followed Neighbor room to room, begging with anxious eyes, until he took them onto the hill, the open space behind our homes. When he wasn’t home, our boys were enlisted to doggy hill duty, despite the fact that dogs (usually) had already had a walk or two that day.

Most nights dogs slept on their own beds in their own homes. But we had an extra bed for Jessie since she was at our house so often. Our dogs even had regular spontaneous sleepovers, more often than my kids and their friends!

This week has been different. Izzy doesn’t play with toys; she played with Jessie who played with toys. We should probably clean up all the toys scattered around the floor. Tween spilled some dry cereal, and we don’t have Jessie as our doggy vacuum cleaner (Izzy’s picky that way). I thought I heard Jessie chomping on a bone; nope, just Tween making some odd racket in the next room.

Izzy keeps asking to go outside. She looks toward the fence separating our properties, the one that used to have an opening through which her friend appeared. She turns around and flops by my feet. She follows me from room to room. We stacked Jessie’s bed on hers, and so she sleeps on two beds, our princess puppy.

We’re excited for our friends in their new adventures. Change is hard. Change can be good. Change brings new opportunities. In Jessie’s absence, we’re keeping Izzy busy– she’s been out on the hill, on a run, and to the dog park twice. Good for her, and for us.

And today we have new neighbors. They have little kids, which makes for different sounds drifting through the windows. We also have new neighbors on the other side; a mom and three daughters, one of whom turns out to be a school friend of Tween’s, are moving in to the house below us.

Maybe, with time, our new neighbors will also become friends. Now, if only they had a dog…

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Thankful Thursday – Summer Quiet

Kids are at camp this week. I should be tearing it up, cleaning all the nooks and crannies, (re)organizing, school prepping.

But I’m not. I’m working (mostly from home). I’m exercising and reading. I’m procrastinating on the shoulds. I’m enjoying time with my Guy and myself.

I’m thankful for the sunflowers Tween chose at the market last week, still hanging on this week and adding a sunny burst of joy to our kitchen.

I’m thankful for OPI nail polish, and especially my new OPI Red purchased on sale at TJ Maxx. It’s a delicious raspberry red, perfect for summer (the Amazon link makes it look way more orange-red).

I’m thankful for my rose bushes, and the magical appearance they take on covered in morning dew drops.

I’m thankful for new-to-me books feeding my soul:
The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp, teaching me to be the GIFT (Give It Forward Today)
With, by Skye Jethani, asking me to ponder anew my view of God and how I live my relationship with Him

And Guy, loving our family through service and taking advantage of the hot weather to steam the year out of our sand-colored carpets. Life is good!

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Thankful Thursday – Spring Break Through

A friend emailed: “Are you ok? Your ‘miracles’ are sounding like you need a lot of hugs.”

Hmmm… Good feedback, since I hadn’t intended to sound like a downer. I am okay, generally. This has been a month of long work hours unbalanced by enough fun or activity as I’ve recuperated this ankle sprain. Every day has presented new adventures in parenting, especially as Teen moves through his last few weeks of high school. “Unbalanced” might be just the right word–my head, heart, and body have been out of sync, a mishmash of misplaced forms, overlooked details, new questions, full emotions, and injury.

But “unbalanced” is temporary. My ankle feels significantly better after last week’s visit to the chiropractor. I’m not running yet, but last night I did yoga without pain–hooray! Work projects are winding down and the school year is winding down. Summer is within sight.

Spring has arrived, and my roses have exploded.

I’m not much of a gardener but I do enjoy time spent dead-heading roses, inhaling the sweet fragrance of these blooms. Our front entrance has never smelled more delightful, and I get such a kick out of my white roses flaunting their rebellious pink streaks.

Since January I’ve been carting around my gratitude journal, attempting to record at least three unique points of gratitude each day in addition to Bible verses, quotes, etc. Truthfully, I’m not very good at it–I’ve skipped too many days–but I know gratitude is a helpful discipline so I keep plugging along.

I tucked here and there between the pages little cards, some with quotes to encounter and reflect on throughout the year, others with a word/phrase for the month. They cause me to pause, to say thanks, to ponder the holy ground on which I stand.

The word for May is “Break…” to which I added, “Through,” and–like “unbalanced”–that, too, feels right: at the end of the school year, May has the tendency to knock me off my feet; this year, I am choosing to break through.

So what am I grateful for today? 

A friend who asks if I’m really okay.
Healing.
Movement.
Roses.
Another friend who visited from out-of-town and slotted time for me on her full itinerary.
Coffee in the morning, tea before bed.
A neighbor who gave away her zucchini plant “volunteers”–and three new plants for our veggie garden.
New library books.
Easy something-out-of-nothing still-healthy meals from the pantry (I really do need to go grocery shopping…)
Significant life-processing conversations with Teen.
Tween’s new brace face, and the miracles of orthodontia.
Squirrels who make me laugh as they zoom along tree branches, and the quail who visit our bird feeder.

How about you? What are you grateful for, and how are you breaking through?

And by the way, I’ll take those hugs anytime!

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Thankful Thursday – Love Thyself (Body, Too)

Arguably the only good thing about injury and illness is their capacity to increase one’s gratitude for health and wellness.

Almost four weeks ago I went for a run (over a year later, that I run–ever!–still gives rise to my surprised giggles). A few miles later, having run and walked in turn, feeling better than ever and enjoying each step, I limped toward home.

I didn’t fall. I don’t remember a bad step or an “OUCH!” moment, just a gradual then growing discomfort above my right ankle.

It didn’t hurt as bad, nor swell as much, as last summer’s sprained ankle. I thought I’d heal quickly. Since gentle walking helped last time, I’ve tried to carefully and regularly walk around the block.

I have to think about how I move and work hard not to limp; I wouldn’t dare run yet. My whole body has felt out of whack as it compensates. To boot, the severe drop-off in physical exertion has caused indigestion and nasty heartburn; I get hungry but I can’t eat much. My shoulders have inched up to my ears and I’ve stopped sleeping deeply. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Bleh!

Mind-body connection, of course, and I’ve been feeling (literally) lame and a wee bit depressed, knowing that I’m missing out on fun fitness and time with friends. The irony of finally discovering joy in movement and developing injuries from said movement has made me flat-out mad at my stupid body.

That’s not helpful, I know. Accepting limitations and working through them, that’s the way.

Today a friend met me for a chair yoga class. She’d never done yoga and felt nervous. So did I my first time. But if I can do chair yoga–a gentle introduction to stretching and yoga poses–while out of shape and in an ankle brace, anyone can do it.

As I had hoped, she loved it.

At the beginning of class, we set an intention. Mine was simple: Love. I was at yoga to love my friend into a safe and loving practice. And I was there to love this body I haven’t even liked much of late (historically: ever).

We stretched and breathed deeply. I felt my body realigning and muscles releasing their tension.

Later, I visited the chiropractor where, for the first time, he didn’t work on my shoulders. Instead he focused his healing ministrations on my ankle. Because my shoulders have been such a chronic pain, I had No Idea he could offer such quick relief to my stupid injury. I almost felt as though I could run out of the office.

I know it will still be a while before my ankle has healed. So meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop disparaging this lug of flesh that is me and instead be grateful. Life is good. Health is better, and I’ll get there.

I found this quote today while cleaning my desk. It doesn’t, and yet does, apply directly:

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms…

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to love them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
–Rainer Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

I have to be patient with my body while it heals, and patient with my heart as it struggles with the body’s less-than-wholeness. For now, I choose to live everything: injury and frustration and healing. Who knows what other good gifts life has in store through this process?

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