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Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

For the past three years, instead of a list of resolutions, I have chosen a single word to focus my year.  In 2013 the word was trust, and I focused a lot on trusting God acting through me and through others.

snow, trees and sun

I still find it hard to be grateful for snow – even when the sun shines.

In 2014 I kept hold of the word trust, and choose a new word, gratitude.  Well, that word was seriously tested while I recovered from a badly broken leg for the second half of the year!

Still I found so much to be grateful for – from heat and light after an ice storm, to family and friends who fed and helped me for months after my accident, to people at work, and everyone I came in contact with.  I got back in the habit of writing thank you’s … and I ran out of thank you cards three times.

It seemed that each time I expressed gratitude, I received another gift in exchange – sometimes the gift of a person’s time or the sharing of something important in their life, perhaps a life lesson or the opportunity to help others in ways I had not even imagined.

I have been travelling on Wheeltrans, our city’s paratransit service for the past six months.  Often the rides are shared in a contracted taxi.  It’s a big city but eventually I have got to know some of the taxi drivers.

The other day I got in a cab and the driver said to the other passengers – “here’s Louise, you’re in for a great ride.  She always cheers people up.”  I was taken aback. But on reflection I realised my focus on gratitude had changed the way I interact with strangers.  I always speak to the driver or people in the taxi or bus – if they want.

I have listened to a stranger share his grief at becoming too ill now for a kidney transplant after nine years on the waiting list, and to a blind woman share her love for her job. I have heard the worry of a woman on her way – alone – to yet another surgery, and the pride of a taxi driver from Rwanda who has put three children through university – a doctor, an engineer and a teacher.

I learned from a cheeky double amputee from Jamaica that all I need in an emergency is “food, water, liquor and weed,” and from a 95-year-old woman still living in her own home that swimming three times a week is the answer to longevity.  I can’t untangle who blessed whom in many encounters, but I am grateful for every one.

One driver from Sri Lanka asked my permission and then prayed for me and my family – out loud – for most of the trip, then finished with an excellent theological rationale against infant baptism.  I still feel blessed by that experience, even though I demurred from converting to his evangelical church.

So this year of gratitude has reminded me to be grateful for every human contact, never knowing which encounter might make a small difference in someone’s life, including mine.

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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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One special moment of many in the Holy Land.

Camel at dawn

Dawn on Mount Sinai

My camel plods steadily up Mount Sinai in the dark. Her cushioned feet make a soft crunch on the ground as she steps deliberately up the path, one large foot at a time.

I am bundled in a warm fleece jacket against the crisp cold, sitting high up in my comfortable saddle. Holding securely to the worn, wooden pummel, I am accompanied by my moon shadow, riding up the mountain with me. My shadow and I are both sitting tall and easy in the saddle, breathing deeply the cold, fresh air. A slight odour of musty camel and camel dung drifts past on the light breeze. Overhead, the stars shine like brilliant jewels in the clear, dry night sky.

I hear the guttural grunts and grumbles of the camels, and the calls of the camel drivers behind me. A radio blares for a while, then is silenced. I feel alone with my camel on this dark, rocky mountain.

The camel takes a small mis-step and slips a little on the loose stones. I peer down a dark, steep precipice, but I am calm and trust my camel completely. I continue to feel the rhythm of her steady steps up, up, up the mountain. Imperceptively the black sky lightens and I can see into the dark crevasses. Somewhere a bird sings a pure, simple two-note song.

The grace that has brought me here, to this place, to open my heart to God, brings me to tears. And my heart overflows as God pours in all that I need to sustain me on my journey: life and beauty, joy and love, awe and wonder, gratitude and peace, courage and strength.

An hour later, we arrive at the summit at dawn. Suddenly the camel pitches back and forth, settling down onto her calloused joints to allow me to dismount. A little unsteady on the solid ground, I take a moment to find my land legs. Soon I am back to solid reality, two feet on the rocks, my heart singing as I watch the sun rise, knowing that I will carry home the strength of this mountain of God.

Seeker

You shall have a song as in the night when a holy festival is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of God, to the Rock of Israel.      Isaiah 30:29

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