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Last Christmas I was given a 2014 diary with a cheerful bird on the cover – a book with a week on two pages.  I already use a smart phone and a huge family calendar in an ongoing struggle to stay organized, so a third daybook was going to add to the confusion.  But it seemed like the ideal book for a gratitude journal.

Many people encourage the use of a gratitude journal to focus on the positive in your life.  I started on January 1.  Many of my entries focused on practical essentials: A furnace that works.  Warm, sturdy boots.  Electricity.  Sunshine.  Warm mittens.  Enough money.  A home.  Sleep.  Smoked salmon.  Chocolate.  Definitely chocolate.

2014 diary book

Blessings are not shared when they are trapped inside the pages of a gratitude journal.

I was often grateful for family and community: My son, such a wonderful kid. An inspiring teacher. A helpful colleague.  Bright new interns full of enthusiasm. Church. My creative daughter.

And the world around me:  God’s love, birds singing, a bright red cardinal, laughter, snow melting, singing, a puppy next door, a cellist playing a haunting melody in the subway, and the time to sit with someone in the last week of her life.

But after a few months, I got bored with the whole gratitude journal thing.  Sitting down at the end of the day writing down what I was grateful for was too passive.

It is not enough for me to count my blessings like Scrouge counting his coins.  I need to do the harder work of actively living out gratitude in my life.  Blessings are not shared when they are trapped inside the pages of a gratitude journal.

I think blessings are a bit like coins – sure, we can count them, and we can share them. But blessings are much more powerful than coins, because when we share our blessings they multiply.

 

 

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How are we blessed?

The other day I met a tiny elderly woman from Greece.  Her husband, she explained with great pride, had gone home to Greece to pay their taxes.  They emigrated 40 years ago but every year they go home to pay the taxes on their small Greek property.

berries on a branch

God has blessed us with a fruitful and wonderful earth.

After bemoaning the state of the economy in her home country, she pointed out that here we have a good economy, roads, transit, hospitals and schools because people pay their taxes.

We are so lucky to live here, she said, very lucky.  She lives in a modest one bedroom apartment in a low-income area of the city.  Yet she counts herself lucky.

We are lucky.  Some would say blessed, but the word “blessed” in this context troubles me.  How is it that I was born to this family, and not to an impoverished family in the developing world?  Did I get an extra dose of blessing at conception?  Are others somehow less blessed because of their birth family?  Does God bless some of us more than others?

What I do know is that we have enough resources on earth to feed everyone.  Maybe God has blessed us with a fruitful and wonderful earth, and we’re supposed to figure out how to care for it and share it.

As for me, I don’t need to buy a lottery ticket.  I have already won the lottery just by living here with so many advantages.  The challenge is how to share.

 

 

Our mission in life

My daughter has been doing a high school careers course. It is inspiring to watch her strive to understand her gifts and talents, and dream optimistically about her future.  But how many of us have shared our dreams and been ridiculed or told “there’s no money in that”?  How quickly we learn to hide our dreams deep in our heart, and settle for a practical, and sometimes soul-crushing,  path!

God does not laugh at our dreams.  Nothing delights God more than when we use our God-given gifts for God’s purpose.  Whether our passion is for numbers or writing, building or art, counselling or cleaning, God wants us to use our talents to their fullest.

At each season of our lives we may take our shriveled dreams off the dusty shelf to revisit them – perhaps with regret, or perhaps with renewed resolve.  For some a mid-life crisis may cause us to muster the courage to pursue our dream, having developed enough faith to step out into the fog, hand-in-hand with God, trusting that he will lead us safely in the right direction.

Mountains looking into the distance

We may wish for a life-changing voice from the mountain top, and a clear view of our destination.

Chances are you have a copy of What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles on your bookshelf.  With ten million copies sold, you will find it in every bookstore and used book sale.

The exercises in his book will guide you through identifying your career direction and job search, but last chapter goes further.  In my 2009 edition it is titled “Finding a Life that has Meaning and Purpose.”  I commend it if you want to explore your mission on earth, God’s purpose for you.

And although we may wish for a life-changing voice from the mountain-top, it is more likely we will walk through the fog in faith, hand-in-hand with God.

As Bolles puts it:

When the question, ‘what is your mission in life,’ is first broached, and we have put our hand in God’s, […] we imagine that we will be taken up to some mountaintop, from which we can see far into the distance. And that we will hear a voice in our ear, saying ‘Look, look, see that distant city? That is the goal of your mission: that is where everything is leading, every step of your way.’

But instead of the mountaintop, we find ourself in the valley – wandering often in a fog. And the voice in our ear says something quite different from what we thought we would hear. It says ‘your mission is to take one step at a time, even when you don’t yet see where it is all leading, or what the Grand Plan is, or what your overall mission in life is. Trust me; I will lead you.’

 

I have been reflecting on this text by Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun who was a mystic and a writer.

 

collage of hands and a cross

We are God’s hands in the world.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

 

The image is my collage expressing the idea that we are God’s hands in the world.

red squirrel

Squirrels act as nature’s alarms.

Squirrels in the forest chatter and scold if they see a problem. They act as nature’s alarm bells. Today I met one of society’s alarm bells: a woman who scolded and nagged non-stop at me about accessibility problems for people with physical disabilities. She was deeply passionate about the issue, and I could see how she might annoy administrators and politicians.

In just 20 minutes of listening – I couldn’t get a word in – I learned about the challenges of getting to work from outside the city on our commuter train. I hadn’t quite realised that when someone with a disability gets off the accessible commuter train or subway downtown they are on their own, unless they are lucky enough to wait on a street corner for our para-transit service, assuming their train was not delayed.  Many struggle with streetcar stairs and impossibly long walks to get to work.

In one case, staff located at a building near a subway station were moved to a building a 20 minute streetcar ride away. The commute is now hugely challenging for those who cannot manage the streetcar stairs.

Like a squirrel in the forest, this woman acts as one of society’s alarm bells. Someone who gets right in our face and demands answers. And we need people like her. People who scold and push and insist that we are not doing enough for accessibility, or homelessness, or food security, poverty, special education …

Through them God works for change in our world.

What are you expecting for Christmas?  Presents, a family meal?  A sad lonely day missing loved ones?  What about God coming to visit in person?  I bet you are not expecting that!

This video tells the story from a delightfully different perspective.

God comes to share our humanity, to live as one of us.  To share our very human joys and suffering, born to a peasant woman.  And God visits us every day in ordinary people, in our daily interactions.  Look out for him.  Be awake.

 

An angel on the bus

For the last few months I have been travelling on Wheeltrans, our transit service for people with physical disabilities.  I have met all kinds of people – sad, discouraged, bitter, but also optimistic, cheerful and inspiring.

sketch of an angel with a cane

Be alert, for you may encounter an angel on the bus.

One inspiring woman works as a receptionist.  She always has good things to say about her employer, her colleagues, her husband, her nieces and the bus driver. She is brightens my day every time I share a ride with her.

Yet I see how much she struggles to walk slowly and painfully, leaning on a sturdy white cane.  I have to introduce myself every time we meet, for she is blind and cannot see me.  I wonder that a person beset with difficulties can be a beacon of joy to those around her and, frankly, I wonder if I could do the same.

One day she told me how she used to babysit her nieces when they were very young.  Before the babies could talk they knew their auntie couldn’t see them, so they would come straight to her when they needed a hug or wanted their diaper changed!  Laughing, she described how she fed them with her fingers because it was impossible for a blind person to feed a toddler with a spoon.  “Can you imagine,” she exclaimed, “the mess that would be?”

I am grateful for these chance encounters with God’s beloved people.