Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons

The distance around my elliptical driveway is one tenth of a mile. I know this because I drove around it, watching the odometer—and then did it again just to be sure. This fall I’ve been doing a careful jog-trot around its leaf-strewn gravel, a compromise intended to jump start a flagging metabolism without putting undue wear and tear on aging joints and narrowing spinal interstices. Five times around with the dog makes for a half mile of elevated heart rate, deep breathing, and an uncluttered brain. Of course, the gift of those empty mental parentheses is that I get to decide what I’m thinking about while I’m avoiding loose stones in the path and thanking God for the fiery red Virginia creeper and the rusty orange of fading marigolds. Lately, I’ve been following the example of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet who watched the nation of Israel disintegrate before his very eyes.   In Lamentations, he records the morbid details around the sacking of Jerusalem and the devastation of siege warfare:
  • Chapter 1 — The Lord is punishing Jerusalem for her serial idolatry.
  • Chapter 2 — Yes, it is time to lament the sin, the death, and the loss.

Turning a Corner into Gratitude

Then, twenty verses into Chapter 3, Jeremiah turns a corner and makes a choice. He leaves his mental parentheses open just long enough for an act of the will, and, shutting out the evidence for despair that lies all around him, he “calls to mind” a new thought that gives him hope:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  (Lamentations 3:21-26)
You’re invited to join me today at the writing home of my friend Jeanne Takenaka to ponder along with me the nature of a sinewy faith that summons gratitude when chaos reigns. Every blessing, Michele Morin
If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page. I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers. Photos by Vanessa von Wieding and Rich Wooten on Unsplash
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Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Musings — November 2017

This has been a year of complicated math. With one son having spent a snowy spring semester plowing through an online Technical Math II class (every bit as bad as it sounds) and another presently working his way through geometry, we have had some fairly intense conversations around operations and theorems, but it’s also been a year of family members coming and going, being added and subtracted from the membership. We’ve welcomed a new daughter-in-love and a new baby granddaughter. We’ve said goodbye to my mother.

On My Nightstand

In this season of pluses and minuses, I’m working my way through a small treasure of a book on my Kindle that is teaching me a new math just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holidays in which we think and talk and even sing about peace and joy. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremy Burroughs is challenging me to add contentment to the holiday equation with stunning wisdom such as this:

“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.”

This is not the message that is showing up in my inbox from Amazon everyday (or in my mailbox either with its daily shipment of multiple catalogs), but the truth is that there is hardly anything I can add to my life without it leading to a desire for more. So . . . Burroughs suggests subtracting from our desires to bring them into alignment with our circumstances.

As a Puritan man firmly planted in the 17th century, Burroughs’ temptation to discontentment certainly would have been different from mine or yours, but even so, he felt the reality of it and apparently, even in his day, “the world [was] infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have.” For those with advanced math skills, he moved on to examining “the proportion between our hearts and our circumstances” urging believers to bring them into alignment.

What strategies in fostering contentment are working for you as we fly headlong toward the Christmas season?

On the Radio

At some point in 2017, the only classical radio station accessible here in Midcoast Maine disappeared from the airwaves, so we are rejoicing in the expansion of Maine Public Radio’s signal to include us here on the fringes! This won’t be relevant news to anyone except Maine readers, but 96.7 FM is now pumping lovely sounds into our lives each day, giving us one more reason to be thankful!

 

On the Blog

It’s been great grace to enjoy the hospitality of friends at (in)courage, The Perennial Gen and SheLoves Magazine this month:

Faith Going Forward for The Perennial Gen encourages readers in mid-life to jettison anything that slows our growth and keeps us stuck in our safe and familiar habits — whether it’s cleaning out a closet or establishing new and healthy habits, there’s always room for improvement here.

For All Who Have Chosen Wrong Roads addresses regret with the good news that, used well and with its sharp edge pointed toward the task at hand like my favorite garden hoe, regret can be a salutary thing. It can be the gift that sends me in search of a better plan.

DaySpring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc., has a blogging ministry called (in)courage which is formed around a community which shares the life-giving tools to equip women right in the midst of the chaos. They graciously shared my story about the first Thanksgiving my husband and I celebrated together, a season of celebration and lament that continues to shape the way I give thanks each year. You can read it for yourself here.

I reviewed four books in the month of November. If you’re looking for reading material as Christmas gifts — or for your own heart — you can get a preview by clicking on the titles below:

Fiercehearted is the expansion of Holley Gerth’s manifesto that the true gift of fiercehearted living is the freedom to admit to imperfection, to accept it in those we love, and to live genuine, messy, and imperfect life in community.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites readers to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

I was thrilled to share the story of fellow Mainer and fellow Redbud Meadow Rue Merrill. Her international adoption of a severely disabled daughter is a story of faith and disappointment; loss and redemption. Redeeming Ruth is a valuable resource for anyone who is learning to trust God’s motives and struggling to live well in the tension of pursuing a dream while holding it loosely. The unfolding of Ruth’s story rebukes the notion that God is made visible only in happy endings

I’m ever intrigued by personality inventories, and Alice Fryling’s Mirror for the Soul is a guide to the Enneagram that encourages a slow and careful pondering in order to understand one’s type and what it means for spiritual formation and transformation.

Coming to the end of Jayber Crow, the discussion group concluded that, among many other things, Wendell Berry wrote a book about love. Our friend, the “married ineligible bachelor barber,” reflecting on the benefit of sacrifice, concluded that the good he derived is this:

“I got to have love in my heart.”

In this season of serial celebrations and rubbing shoulders with our once-a-year friends and relations, it behooves us to frame our hearts in the direction of loving well and with no strings attached.

Around the Table

Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my patient husband makes an early foray into Christmas shopping with all four sons, and he’s done it since there were only two tiny boys, so it’s quite the tradition in these parts. Meanwhile, I make pies, peel vegetables, and prepare for the Thanksgiving feast in lovely peace and quiet.

This has been our first celebration without all four of the guys present, because the two married sons synchronized their inlaw rotation. Even so, we filled the seats with family and friends and gave thanks with gusto, another opportunity to adjust my expectations and to find contentment within the gift of my present circumstances.

I hope you’ll share in the comments about your own season of Thanksgiving and how you are bringing contentment forward into your celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Blessings to you and thank you for the encouragement of your friendship here in this gathering.

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Image courtesy of Unsplash by Hedi Alija

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Thanksgiving Prayer

For those of us in the United States, this is a day of thanksgiving. However, gratitude is not circumscribed by geographic boundaries. Nor do we need a calendar’s permission to leave room for gratitude, so . . .

LORD, we thank you!
We confess that our hearts are often full of ourselves, for we mistake self-importance for self-worth and make much of every burden, so today we thank you for all the good that you have piled into our lives by your grace.

Thank you for the successes and the victories that embolden us to risk more.
Thank you for the setbacks and disappointments that send us in new directions.

Thank you for the people we enjoy who bless us and enrich our days.
Thank you for the folks who require a concerted effort and Outside Help in order to love them as we should.

Thank you for the steady stream of blessing that comes to us through your love: healing, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, renewal, welcome, peace.  May we “enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise” no matter what the season of the year.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Thanksgiving Celebration and Lament

Nearly thirty years ago, I married into a family that celebrated Thanksgiving Day with All-American fervor, featuring a day-long gathering and a loaded table. As the new bride, I was eager to prove that I had what it took to be the holiday hostess. Having done my research, I had planned all the best sides, multiple-choice pie selections, and a huge bird to fill the oven — but I had not planned for my mother-in-law’s life-threatening illness.

We rejoiced when she was released from the hospital on the Wednesday before the Big Day and decided to take the party to her place. As we rose early to prepare the feast, she was delighted to be present for all the kitchen activity, savoring the aroma of fresh rolls and roasted turkey from her recliner. We set the table with her best china, rolled out the amazing feast, and gathered for the celebration.

It sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

But read on . . .

CaptureI’m sharing the whole story over at (in)courage today, and the truth is, I have spent the years since that first fiasco of a feast slowly learning that whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the flawed execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans.

And then to give thanks.

I’m giving thanks for you today! May your season of Thanksgiving be filled with joy and an abiding gratitude for all that God has given — and for the Giver Himself as He presides over your celebration.

To finish reading this post, click here and join me today at (in)courage!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

 

November Musings — 2016

4988 — Warm zucchini bread smelling like a cinnamon candle

4989 — Church supper to celebrate our new pastor and our family connection

4990 — Clanging of wind chime in the chill autumn breeze

On the Monday before Thanksgiving Day, I recorded gift number 5,000 in my gratitude journal — confirmed evidence of God’s goodness to me every single day of the past year.  November always seems to mark a collision of holidays, but it’s especially true this year since I spent quite a few hours of the past month working on a new Advent banner (just like ours, of course!) for my oldest son’s family.  I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am that he wants to lead his family in remembering the Greatest Gift Who entered this world in an ordinary moment, in the fullness of time.  We’ll be doing the same thing at our house in December, just as we have for the past twenty plus years . . . such good memories and such promise for the future.

On the Nightstand

I can’t get enough Christmas poetry this time of year, and Luci Shaw’s Accompanied by Angels is a faithful friend.  Poems of the incarnation, these have been collected from Luci’s other books AND from her annual tradition of sending a Christmas poem to family and friends. (What a great idea!)

And even though I’ve finished reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, I keep going back to The Broken Way because of the breaking and the giving away, the timely exhortation to “live given.”

On the Blog

I have been overwhelmed this month by encouraging comments from friends who have read A Legacy of Striving, my reflections on our Sister, Eve.  As usual, I am grateful for the hospitality of the SheLoves community where I was able to share the truth that Eve’s story drives home:

Only God is equipped to be God,
and when I trust Him for the unknown quantities that furrow my brow,
when I say the words, “Your will be done,”
I join hands with Eve in remembering
And in waiting for the plan of God to be fulfilled,
For He will stop at nothing to restore and to reconcile.

Do we need any further evidence of this than the story of Christmas?

The most viewed post in November came out of our collective frustration and angst surrounding the election here in the United States.  As I was bracing myself for the difficult task of going behind the curtain, it occurred to me that my choice of words, attitudes, and responses on the day after the election was over would be even more important than the choices I made in the voting booth.  In the aftermath of the political hurricane, maybe this Prayer for November 9th is still relevant?  Certainly, the Scripture that inspired it will carry us a long way into grace:

“Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You,”  (Psalm 33:22).

Just for Joy

Is it just my imagination, or is there more music in the world the closer we get to Christmas?  Since September, our family has been practicing to sing in the Living Christmas Tree, so the carols and the beauty of the Word made flesh have been singing their way through these autumn days.  (Yep, that’s me on the right in the next-to-the-top row!)

And thanks to my friend, Susan Shipe, here’s a first for Living Our Days!  We held a drawing for the giveaway of her lovely book, 31 Days in the Gospel of John, to one reader on Thanksgiving Day.  My adorable grandson reached his tiny hand into a blaze orange hunting hat (we are pretty high tech here on this country hill!) and selected . . .  drum roll, please:

Ariel Tohme

Congratulations, Ariel!

I hope many of you will visit Ariel’s writing home, His Grace Goes Deeper, for a blessing in words.

Thank you, Susan, for stirring things up around here, but even more for compiling your reflections on the life of Jesus just in time for Advent, a reminder to 21st-century readers of the Gospels that Jesus is not a two-dimensional Savior, trapped on the page or in the past.  He is alive and active in our day, and a commitment to read about him for 31 days is only the beginning.  God has given us an eternity of days to savor the beauty of Jesus, to turn the Truth over in our minds, and to let it sink deep into our prone-to-wander hearts.

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!  Please weigh in below with your thoughts on the discussion group.  Have you read Till We Have Faces?

Thank you once again, friends, for another month of encouragement through our conversations about books and about Truth.  As we begin our celebration of the mercy, the forgiveness, the promise, and the welcome that flow from the birth of our Savior, may our hearts rejoice together in this spectacular evidence of God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”* 

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Photo credit for Living Christmas Tree:  Beth Birmingham at Village Soup

* Quote from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ amazing words in The Jesus Bible Storybook.

Be sure to hop on over to Leigh Kramer’s place to check out what she and others have been into and up to during the month of November!  I’m also sharing this post at Emily P. Freeman’s Let’s Share What We Learned Fall 2016.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Three Thousand Gifts — A Thanksgiving Checkpoint

#2967 — The sweet and tart of cranberry bread.

#2968 — Peach colored dawn behind silhouetted branches.

#2969 — Phone call from far-away friends . . .

. . . and so I approach the end of another year of giving thanks, another record of the day-by-day goodness of God in my Gratitude Journal.  Giving thanks is definitely not my default ( My husband just might have called me “Eeyore” a time or two in the past twenty-four years.); however, the discipline and intentionality of naming and numbering three gifts every day is changing my thinking.

It all started in 2012, a year of seismic upheaval in our family — good changes, yes, but huge and life altering:  a graduation, a wedding, a college enrollment.  My bearings were absolutely gone.  Everything that had been obvious and routine up to that point (“How many plates do I put on the table for dinner?”) had suddenly become ponderous and complicated.

Rattling around in my subconscious (from having read a book review of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts), was the idea of keeping a list of blessings in order to fight the darkness and to sharpen the focus on God at work in the dailiness of life.  I had not yet read the book, but I was grasping at straws on that mid-August day, because it had become very clear to me that I needed to take myself by the scruff of the neck and turn my eyes toward blessing and away from negativity.  So, there was the phrase, dormant in my brain:  “one thousand gifts.”

I realize now that it’s a good thing I had not yet read the book, because I would have given myself a year to come up with the list of one thousand blessings as the book prescribes.  For me, at that time, desperate measures were required — not just a pace-maker, but a defibrillator for this dead heart that could not find the words of thanksgiving.  Reaching out from the fog, I asked:

“Lord, can you help me to find one thousand things to be thankful for?

With His help, I set my face in that direction, and resolved to name one thousand gifts in time for Thanksgiving Day. With just over ten weeks to do the job,  I would fight the fire of panic and despair with the fire of gratitude.  From that moment, whenever my mind was still and my hands were free, I would write, combing my minutes for evidence of grace and pinning them down with my pen, desperate for evidence of God’s love and goodness in the midst of my chaotic and unhinged days.

#1 — Tomatoes in a basket on the counter

#2 — Birdsong coming through my window

#3 — A noisy house with three boys at home

Car trips in the passenger seat with my driver-in-training yielded:

#348 — Beautiful double rainbow

#349 — Autumn leaves on wet pavement

This was just the medicine my ailing soul required, because slowly it dawned on me that, like the recipients of Paul’s letter to Rome, I had become “futile in my thinking.”  Although  I knew God and had taught others about Him and had introduced Him to my children, I did not glorify him as God when my foolish heart was choosing to focus on fear, negativity, and mourning.

Somewhere around #697 I encountered the words of William Law from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life:

“If anyone would tell you the shortest and surest way to all happiness, he must tell you to make a rule for yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you.  It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing.  If you could work miracles, therefore, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit.  It heals and turns all it touches to happiness.”

This was realism and grace to look at the hard things of life, and still to give thanks:

#701 — Tough math lesson in school today

#718 — Friday!  At the end of a hard week

I carried my journal in my purse, and suddenly, I was hot on the trail in a daily scavenger hunt.  Where would God show His goodness next?

When I reached one thousand gifts on November 22 (Thanksgiving Day 2012), I noted the milestone in my planner with  I Timothy 4:4:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with Thanksgiving.

The new little journal I started in 2013 sits quietly on my cookbook shelf above the counter where I stand to prepare meals.  I try to write my three gifts first thing in the morning to set my brain in the right direction at the outset, or, as Jonathan Edwards has said, “to stamp eternity on my eyeballs.”

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but now, much more, it has become my checkpoint.  As I approach #3,000 in 2014, I will challenge my heart with these questions:

During times of disappointment, am I able to see and count evidence of the grace of God?

Can I communicate a spirit of thanksgiving to those who know me best when the immediate evidence does not support it?

Does saying thank you for small, every day graces serve to heighten my appreciation for them?

By writing the truth in ink, bold, I let God correct my wrong thinking as, together, we name and number His goodness:

#2972 — Three red hens scratching under a green pine

#2973 — Time to write, read, and think

#2974  . . .

As the list goes on, the greatest gift is a renewed awareness of God’s gifts — daily.

November 2017 Update:  Today I recorded gift #5997!  Still counting, and still grateful!