Tag Archive | Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim

A Roundtable Discussion that Makes My Day

roundtableImagine starting your day almost every morning in a roundtable discussion with six other people plus yourself. In my case, the people are Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen, God, Jimmy Carter, Christine Dallman, and M. J. Ryan – and, of course, myself. Wow! Quite a group of seven we are. Usually, everyone speaks up in the order listed. We spend about half an hour talking about whatever is on each person’s mind.

Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister

Occasionally the participants of the roundtable discussion change, but for the past four years, three participants have been constant – Joan Chittister (speaking through her monthly pamphlet, “The Monastic Way”), God (communicating through the daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary – as listed in the daily devotional booklet, “Christ in Our Home”), and me.

Last year Henri Nouwen (“Bread for the Journey”) hadn’t joined us yet, but Edward Hays (“Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim” and “A Book of Wonders”) was in his place. Jimmy Carter (“Through the Year with Jimmy Carter”) is a newcomer this year, too. Christine Dallman (“The Personal Daily Prayer Book”) is also new this year, and she always prays about something a little different every day.

M. J. Ryan (“Attitudes of Gratitude”) just joined the group a couple weeks ago, and she plans to stay for only a couple months. She keeps telling us inspiring stories of people who exhibit a heart-warming attitude of gratitude. Her stories are really helpful in giving us a down-to-earth perspective on life. Pretty soon she’s planning to leave the group, and someone else will come along to join us as a short-termer. Debbie Macomber has often joined us as the floater. She’s the one who got me into the habit of having a special word for each year instead of doing New Year’s resolutions.

I’ll admit that some mornings the seven of us have an amazing discussion and I can’t help but think about it all day long. Other times, even though we had a great discussion, I don’t think about it at all throughout the day.

Usually I don’t say much in these discussions – I just listen and ponder what’s being said. But I discipline myself about once a week to speak up. Sometimes I transcribe these thoughts for my blog.

Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen

A couple days ago, Joan Chittister talked about something Albert Einstein once said about being careful that we don’t limit God by trying to define God. Henri Nouwen said that we need to be careful that we don’t become too legalistic in defining what we claim to be God’s nature. God then spoke up about how helpful the image of Jesus being the Good Shepherd can be to us, and how important it is for us to demonstrate the love and care that shepherds give their flocks.

Then Jimmy Carter wrapped it all up saying how important it is to remember that God is all about showing love and always being kind. He said that his favorite Bible verse is Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” [New Living Translation] I spoke up when I heard him say that. I said, “That’s my favorite verse, too!” Jimmy Carter and I have something in common beside politics! I didn’t know anyone shared my favorite Bible verse!

Jimmy Carter 2It was Christine Dallman’s turn to speak up next. She prayed, “O God, make us children of quietness ….” I smiled at that. I like to be quiet. Then she encouraged us to “Take time to unwind, time to be silent, time to reflect, and time to pray…” Imagine her saying that, just when I’m in the middle of spending two weeks by myself at our Christmas Mountain timeshare with plenty of time to be quiet – time to read, write, think, and pray.

As usual, M. J. Ryan ended our discussion by telling another story about gratitude. She told us about a woman who had suffered a stroke and had lost her ability to speak. She had been a great communicator and had been able to speak five languages. Now she struggled to find words to simply talk with her adult children. The children tried to help her by suggesting words that she might be trying to say, and the experience for everyone was just frustrating. A therapist, trying to help the family, suggested that when they are frustrated by her inability to express herself verbally, they should focus on her attempts to communicate by touch. This opened up a whole new world of opportunity to communicate the love they felt for each other that they had never been able to express in words.

Ryan went on to say that “the trick is to use a source of frustration as a trigger to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” Then she gave a personal example.

For me it’s standing in line. I absolutely hate to ‘waste’ time; I live my life at a frenetic pace and don’t want anything to get in my way of doing all I have to get done in a day. Until recently, I was the person in the line huffing and rolling my eyes at the wait, jiggling and looking at my watch every few seconds. And when I finally made it to the counter, I was too aggravated from having to wait to be pleasant to the person on the other side of the counter. But since life is full of lines, I finally decided to change my approach. Instead of being annoyed, I decided to see waiting in line as a wonderful opportunity to slow down, to take a few conscious breaths, become aware of my body, and release as much muscle tension as I could. The waits are as long as ever – but now I am grateful for the chance to stop.

Hmmm. That made me think about some of the little aggravations in life that frustrate me… Is there some way I can change those moments into triggers of gratitude? Something to think about…

I’m truly grateful for this roundtable discussion every morning. What an inspiring way to begin my day!

roundtable of books

What Do I Really Do?

Sears Tower

In the 1980s Northwest Industries took up the 62nd and 63rd floors of the Sears Tower – about halfway to the top.

Last week I heard from some voices in my past thanks to social media. A couple colleagues from the late 1970s-early 1980s when I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago emailed me through LinkedIn, the professional networking site. Then I heard from a coworker at TDS in Madison where I worked in the mid-1990s, and then a couple clients from my Cambridge-based consulting practice from the early 2000s.

What prompted all these emails is my “Experience Timeline” on the LinkedIn social networking site.  September of 2012 is when I got serious about completing and publishing my two books, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life and Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality. I added an entry on my timeline for September 2012 of being a “Self-Employed Author.” This week LinkedIn announced my 2-year anniversary of being Self-Employed, which prompted the emails from some of my connections.

I haven’t seen Jerry and Jan in almost 30 years. Jerry was Assistant Treasurer at Northwest Industries. Jerry and I never worked closely together and we were never close friends, but there was mutual respect. Jerry must be pushing 80 by now, and he still does some financial consulting. Jan was a Disaster Recovery Consultant in the Information Technology Department. Jan and I traveled together a lot to work with a battery company in Pennsylvania that Northwest Industries owned. When Northwest Industries was acquired and most of the corporate staff lost their jobs, Jerry, Jan, and I, along with several other colleagues each formed our own consulting practices. It was an exciting time in our professional lives.

During that time, Jan and I collaborated on writing a book, The Virus Handbook. In the mid-1980s, computer viruses were just beginning to be recognized as a potentially serious problem. As a Disaster Recovery Consultant, Jan wanted to publish a manual of guidelines to minimize the risk of being infected by a computer virus, but he didn’t want to write it. We spent many hours together with Jan teaching me everything he knew about computer viruses. I tried to structure that information into a useful format and we copyrighted it. I wonder if the copy we sent to the Library of Congress is still sitting on their shelves… We sold a few copies, but the best part of our collaboration was the time we spent working together. We were a great encouragement to each other as we built our own businesses.

cat chemist heliumThose emails prompted me to reflect on the strange path my career has taken over the years – English teacher, editorial researcher for World Book Encyclopedia, systems analyst and eventually systems manager for a large corporation, independent business consultant, B&B owner, church organist, real estate broker, caregiver, and author. I guess that’s a rather strange progression of jobs. Not a typical career path. It’s no wonder I left high school thinking I would become a chemist. I had no idea what I would become. The closest I ever came to chemistry in my career was a consulting assignment I did for a pharmaceutical company in Chicago. I’m sure when I was in high school there’s no way I could conceive of the twists and turns my career would take.

An old concept that I’ve been thinking about seriously for the first time this year is the idea that my life, day by day, should be viewed as a pilgrimage back to God. This idea comes up frequently in the prayers I’m reading in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. Here’s an excerpt from one of the morning prayers for summer:

Prayers for a Planetary PilgrimWhatever this summer day holds for me,
may I find, among its many events,
signs to confirm and direct me
in my primary vocation of pilgrimhood.
May I be eager to assist my sister and brother pilgrims in their journeys.
May I do nothing by word or deed
that will detour them on their homeward path to you.
May I burn with the fire of the sun in loving all the Earth
and all members of your sacred family.
I bow before you, Divine Father, Holy Mother,
Eternal Source of my existence.
Your heart is my home,
from you I have come
and to you I journey this day.

I’m still not sure what the right answer is for the blank for “Occupation” I need to fill out on my tax returns. I’m afraid “pilgrim” might be a red flag. But I guess that’s what my real vocation is. All the other occupations I’ve had along my path just add flavor and spice to my true calling.

Pilgrim Cat

UFF DA

Yesterday morning’s prayer in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays included these lines:

Grant me the grace to look with respect
upon all I will meet this day
and upon every event I encounter.
Mindful that I am a pilgrim,
may I treat each and every one with reverence and love,
as a manifestation of you to whom I journey.

Uff daAs I read those words, the word that came to my mind was UFF DA. (For those of you who don’t know the expression, UFF DA is a Norwegian expression that is comparable to “good grief,” or “oy vey,” or “Oh no!” It’s a phrase that can stand in for any mild expletive, especially for people who like to avoid swear words.)

UFF DA came to mind because of my plans for the morning. I was going to take “Mary,” one of the three 92-year-olds we care for, to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Madison to get an official state photo ID. She has never had a driver’s license, although she did have an official Illinois photo ID from several years ago when she lived in Illinois. She may need a Wisconsin ID to vote, but more urgently, she recently discovered that she needs a Wisconsin ID to cash in her Savings Bonds. I spent about an hour online Sunday trying to figure out the requirements to get a Wisconsin ID. They’re not easy. I was anticipating a challenging time at the DMV. I wasn’t disappointed.

Mary and I walked up to the DMV clerk with all the documentation we could assemble to prove she was who she said she was – her old Illinois photo ID, her social security card, her Medicare card, and a bank statement with her current Wisconsin address on it.

Waiting in Line 4The clerk said, “Do you have a birth certificate?”

I said, “No, but her Illinois photo ID card shows her date of birth.”

“But Illinois doesn’t have the same standards for guaranteeing authenticity that Wisconsin has,” she replied.

I put my arm around Mary and said with a smile, “I can vouch for the fact that she was born – she’s here.”

The clerk responded, also with a smile, “For any first-time Wisconsin ID to be issued, a certified birth certificate is required.”

I said, “It sounds like elder discrimination to me. What do you think, Mary?” We were all still smiling.

Mary replied, “I’ve never had to show a birth certificate before.”

“Could we talk with a supervisor who might be able to waive this requirement since we have proof of her age on an official government ID from Illinois?” I asked.

“We never make exceptions on the birth certificate requirement. I can give you information about how to get a birth certificate. What state were you born in?”

“Illinois,” was Mary’s response.

I asked Mary, “Do you want to make a scene?” She had a concerned look on her face. “We can do that,” I said to her, grinning.

Before Mary could respond, the clerk said, “I don’t think you look like people who will make a scene.”

So then I said to Mary, “Well, I guess we won’t get your ID today. You must not have prayed hard enough.” Mary prays a lot. I was sure she had prayed about getting her ID card.

“I didn’t pray at all for this. I thought we’d just walk up, show the paperwork, and get the ID. I don’t understand why there’s a problem.”

Unfortunately, being as prepared as we could be and being as pleasant to the clerk as we could be were not enough. I’ll continue to help Mary jump through all the hoops to get her ID so she can cash in her Savings Bonds, and maybe even vote. Uff da. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. As soon as we got home, I went online to read the requirements for getting a birth certificate from Illinois. That won’t be easy either. Uff da again.

A few years ago, Mim created a life mission statement – To nurture and respect, advocate for, and provide hospitality for those who are vulnerable. Today I took on the role of advocate for Mary.

Uff da. I think I’m going to have to keep praying the Planetary Pilgrim’s prayer before and after every interaction I have with Wisconsin and Illinois employees as I try to help Mary jump through all the hoops.

Grant me the grace to look with respect
upon all I will meet this day
and upon every event I encounter.

Uff da mug

My Grade on Giving up Hurry for Lent

2 geese 04-21-14On Easter Abbey spent about an hour out on our deck, watching two geese float back and forth on the pond. She said to me, “Mom, did you notice that two of our geese have finally come back home? Two years ago they were here at the beginning of Lent. This year they didn’t come back until Easter. Why were they so slow in returning?”

“I don’t know, Abbey. Maybe it’s because of how cold our winter was, and how long the cold weather stayed with us this year. I was beginning to wonder if they had decided not to come back at all.”

“I’m glad they’re back, even if they were in no hurry to get here. It’s fun to watch them glide on the water so gracefully.”

“Speaking of HURRY, Abbey, how well do you think I did at giving up HURRY for Lent?”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

Abbey-Marian“Remember, I said I was going to give up HURRY for Lent? You were the one who told me I was always in too much of a hurry to enjoy life. How do you think I did? Did I succeed in giving up HURRY for Lent? What kind of grade would you give me?”

“Well, you did stop saying ‘Hurry up, Abbey’ when we went out for our walks. That’s progress…  You let me take all the time I needed to sniff out the news about who’d been walking in my yard. I guess I could give you a grade of B. Sometimes you tugged on my leash a little, so you don’t quite deserve an A.”

“I really tried to stop living my life in a hurry. I think hurrying has become a habit for many of us. We schedule too many things to do, without really thinking about how much that will make us rush around rather than allowing ourselves to make the most of what we’re doing at the time.”

“Did you read that book you wanted to read during Lent?”

“Yes, I did. The book was An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling. There were some good thoughts in the book, but overall I was a little disappointed in it. The author focused pretty specifically on pastors, so quite a bit of the book wasn’t very relevant to me. What sticks in my mind most from the book is the story of The Good Samaritan. What if the Good Samaritan had been in too much of a hurry going about his own business to help the wounded man? That possibility was pretty easy to relate to. The discussion of that story reminded me of the Saturday morning prayer for Spring in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays:

… As this Earth spins around at thousands of miles an hour,
my mind spins with plans for this day.
At the same time as I use your gift of organizing,
grant me also the gift of openness to what you, my God,
may have in store for me on this new spring day.
May I be open to sacred surprises.
Grant me the readiness to set aside my plans when life proposes another agenda
or the needs of others invite me to unexpected service…

“You know, Abbey, the perfect ending to Lent this year came for me on Saturday night.”

“What happened Saturday night? I know you were gone for a long time.”

Messiah altar

“We had an Easter Vigil at church. This was a first for our church (MessiahChurch.com). Since we now regularly have a Saturday night service, as well as two services on Sunday morning, we had to figure out what kind of service to have for the Saturday night before Easter. We decided to do a somewhat abbreviated Easter Vigil. It didn’t last until midnight, like a traditional Easter Vigil would, but it was somewhat longer than a normal service.

“We gathered in the darkened community room of the church. In the middle of the room was a huge, beautiful centerpiece with dozens of candles of all sizes symbolizing a bonfire.  You would have loved it, Abbey. I saw one little girl, probably about three, timidly walk around some people to get a good look at the pillars of fire. As soon as she saw it, her eyes sparkled and she called back to her mom to come quick and see. She was beaming with excitement.”

“I wish you could bring me along to things like this, Mom. Tell me more about it.”

“After a couple short readings in the community room, the pastor lit the big Easter candle from the “bonfire” and then the fire was passed on to everyone gathered there, each person holding a small candle. The pastor led a procession into the church. When everyone was inside the church, the pastor chanted ‘The Exultet.’

“What did that sound like, Mom?”

“It was beautiful, Abbey. Hearing the chanting made me feel like I was a part of our long faith tradition, like I was joined together with ancestors going all the way back to the time of Christ, even back to the time of Abraham, way back to the time of creation.”

Abbey looking up colorized 2“Wow. If I had been there, I bet I would have been tempted to howl like my wolf ancestors!”

“I bet you would have, Abbey. To remind us of how God has been with us throughout history, there were several Old Testament readings. We sang a response after each reading. There was also a reading from Romans, which was followed by loud joyful singing to announce the reading of the Gospel. After all these readings there was a homily, an adult baptism and confirmation, and communion. The service ended with the congregation joyfully singing ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.’ It was really fun to pull out the loud stops on the organ to accompany the congregation as they sang this Easter hymn. The whole vigil was dramatic and wonderful. And you know what, Abbey? It wasn’t rushed at all. We didn’t hurry through any part of the service. It was wonderful to be fully engaged in each moment of the Easter Vigil.”

“It’s a good thing you practiced not hurrying all through Lent, so that you didn’t feel antsy during the vigil.”

“You may be right, Abbey. But, it really felt good to just be in the moment, to be worshiping God, and to be remembering our history and God’s love for us throughout all history, and even up to today.

“It was also good to end the evening with a party, enjoying time together with our friends in church. We had just been reminded of how much God cares for us. That’s something to celebrate!”

Marian-Abbey faces bronze“Hey, Mom. I’m re-thinking the grade I gave you for fasting from HURRY for Lent. I think we both learned three good reasons for not hurrying through life, to not let HURRY become a habit.

  • First, we need to not hurry for our own good, so that we have time to fully experience the hidden joys in each moment of everything we do.
  • Second, we need to not hurry so that we can take time to respond to the needs of others we happen to run into – like the Good Samaritan did.
  • And third, we need to not hurry so that we can recognize God being present with us – like you experienced during the Easter Vigil.

“I think maybe I’ll give you an A-minus, Mom, for your fast from HURRY. You still need to learn to never tug on my leash, even gently, just because you’re in a hurry. But together, we’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.”

1 goose 04-21-14

The geese on our pond already know it’s best not to hurry.

Flipping Patterns

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

One of my favorite stories that my mom used to tell is about when she was trying to make a dress. She laid out the fabric on the table and pinned the pattern to the fabric. She carefully cut out each piece, but she was having trouble with the dress sleeves. She kept getting two left sleeves. Regardless of how she positioned the pattern on the fabric, she always got the same result – another left sleeve. Finally, my sister, a preschooler at the time, suggested that she turn the pattern upside down. It worked! She got a right sleeve. My mom was a very intelligent woman – she just wasn’t a seamstress.

Working with patterns is how we learn many things. Prayer, for example. Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, and he gave them a pattern that we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father.” It has become a pattern for prayer that’s repeated weekly, or even daily, around the world. In my church, everyone in the congregation holds hands and sings the prayer together every Sunday morning.

When I was in eighth grade and taking classes to be confirmed as a Methodist, we were taught a variation of the Lord’s Prayer pattern to use when we prayed. It was a basic outline for personal prayer:

1)      Praise God and thank God for all the blessings I’ve received;

2)      Confess my sins and ask for forgiveness;

3)      Pray for the needs of others;

4)      Pray for my own needs.

(At least that’s the way I remember it.) I recall serious discussions about whether reading a prayer was actually praying, or if it needed to be completely personal and spontaneous to count with God. (Reciting or singing the Lord’s Prayer was an exception to the spontaneity rule.)

Marian playing BaldwinOver the last 50 years or so, I’ve tried several different prayer patterns. One of my favorite ways to pray is to sit down at the piano, sometimes with a hymnal and sometimes with just the hymns in my mind, and talk with God through music.

The actor Kelsey Grammer described this prayer pattern as, “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you’re listening. Playing the piano allows you to do both at the same time.”

This year I’m trying a new pattern, using a prayer book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, by Edward Hays. The prayer book consists of four sets of morning and evening prayers, one set for each season. Each set includes a morning prayer and an evening prayer for each day of the week.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s morning’s prayer:

Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim… As a planetary pilgrim,
I marvel that I have traveled over a million miles in space since yesterday morning.
My personal journey this day will be small in distance,
but I pray that it will be significant and sacred in my drawing closer to you.
As the Earth turns toward the sun, I turn my whole self toward you, my God,
as I now enter into silent prayer.

Period of silent prayer or meditation

Your Word is written large across all the universe,
in the wonders of creation and in holy books,
written by the pen of your Spirit.
Open my heart to your Word as I now pray.

A psalm, spiritual reading, or personal prayer
[Note: I’m working my way through a new hymnal in this part.]

May this morning prayer and all my prayers this day
be one with all this Earth, which you have ordained to prayer…

I dedicate this new day to you and ask that as spring unfolds before me
I may unfold according to your ancient dream.
As I reflect upon my personal needs this day,
I ask this blessing:_______________________

I ask that you look upon my work this day
as a sacrifice performed in solidarity with __________________
who is (are) in need of your grace and assistance.

Imprint upon my body, and upon all that I shall touch,
your sacred signature as I conclude this prayer
in your holy name
and in the name of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever, ages without end.
Amen.

Personally, I’m finding this more structured prayer pattern very refreshing this year, and a nice complement to my “piano prayers.” It’s kind of like Edward Hays has suggested that I flip the pattern over to learn new ways of talking with God. Just as my mom finally got all the pieces together for her dress, I’m slowly getting more of the pieces together for learning how to pray.

Philip Yancey, a prolific evangelical author, said it this way, “For me, prayer is not so much me setting out a shopping list of requests for God to consider as it is a way of ‘keeping company with God.’”

“Keeping company with God” – that’s something worth learning how to do! I’m thankful for patterns to help me learn how to “keep company with God.”

Lords Prayer

 

 

Thoughts on Gratitude

Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life.
(Jack Canfield, creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books)

Anna in wheelchairAnna, the 92-year-old woman who lives with Mim and me, knows that very well. She is so appreciative of everything anyone does for her. “Thank you” is probably the most used phrase in her vocabulary.

Last Saturday was a beautiful autumn day. It was warm and sunny with a light breeze –more like late August than late September. Mim and I decided to take advantage of the unusually nice weather and take Anna to Old World Wisconsin, a living museum about an hour’s drive east of us.

The first highlight of the day came before we even got to Old World Wisconsin. We decided to take roads we seldom drive in order to see (and smell) some new scenery. About half-way there we smelled onions. Then we saw it – an onion farm during harvest. We saw several wagons full of onions next to empty fields with long troughs where specialized equipment must have dug out the onions. Anna was delighted to see a large-scale onion farm. This was a first for her in her 92 years of living, and Anna is a real onion-lover. The day was off to a wonderful start, and Anna was beaming. So were Mim and I, even if we aren’t as big fans of onions.

When we arrived at Old World Wisconsin we were able to roll Anna in her wheelchair onto the tram. We went directly to the German farm where they were preparing root vegetables for storage in the cellar. They cut up samples of raw carrots, rutabagas, beets, and kohlrabi. Anna tasted and raved about how good everything was. We wheeled her into the various gardens surrounding the house, and she talked with each of the museum workers who were all in character as a German immigrant farm family. From there we followed the gravel pathway to a couple other German farms and to a small Polish settlement. We watched the oxen in one pasture, and sheep in another. Anna had grown up on a farm in northern Wisconsin and really enjoyed being back on the farm like it used to be in her youth.

Sampling root vegetables.

Sampling root vegetables.

After we had explored the German and Polish areas we got back on the tram and rode to the Yankee area and Crossroads Village. We were able to push the wheelchair inside the general store and we looked at the merchandise. It was fun for all of us to imagine what it was like to live in rural and small town Wisconsin in the 1800s. Back outside, Mim and I found a bench to sit on while Anna visited with other museum characters. About 3:00 a Civil War era band marched down the gravel road and set up to play a concert in the grove. After the concert we went home.

Visiting with the gardeners.

Visiting with the gardeners.

Yes. Anna knows that “Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life.” She wasn’t thinking about her arthritic pain. She wasn’t wishing she could walk to get up close to everything there was to see. She was grateful that we had taken her on this outing, and she was as happy as could be.

So why did I write about Anna’s attitude of gratitude today?  Yesterday when Mim and I were out for a walk, Mim suggested that I should write about gratitude today. She said that her heart was just filled with gratitude for all the warm wishes and congratulations we have received for our marriage. We’ve received dozens of cards, emails, Facebook and blog comments, and face-to-face congratulations. Both of us are overwhelmed by everyone’s kind wishes, and we are extremely thankful to each one of you. We are thankful that you are a part of our lives.

Wedding Cards on Buffet

Just as Anna is grateful for the many blessings and people in her life, Mim and I are grateful for the same. One of the readings we included in our wedding was called “Aztec Prayer to God.” It’s from the book Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. It says a little more about gratitude, about being thankful for each other.

O Divine Parent and Gift-giver,
let me not take those I love for granted,
failing to remember
that you have loaned them to me only
for a very short while.

Help me, this day, you who are absolute love,
to love those you have loaned to me,
as if tomorrow you would call them home to you.
Let me not take them for granted
or be blind to the marvel of their presence,
to the sound of their voices,
the joy of their companionship,
or the beauty of their love.

May their minor faults and failings,
which often cause me discomfort,
be seen as trivial transgressions
compared to the marvel of the gift
that you have loaned to me
for only a short while.

One last thought on gratitude. “The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.” (Dr. Robert Holden)

The Three Big Questions in Life

Abbey-MarianWhat a walk! Sunday afternoon was a time for spring fever. Bright blue sky. Snow-covered fields. Temperatures in the upper 30’s. And no wind. Mim, Abbey, and I walked down country roads for well over an hour. The highlight of a weekend of highlights! After that refreshing walk, Abbey and I were ready for the conversation we meant to have for last week’s blog post.

“You’re right, Abbey. We need to take more of these long walks. They are so refreshing. We need to do everything we can to avoid being too busy,” I said to Abbey as we sat down in the living room.

She responded to me, “Now that I’m 70 years old – 10 in human years – maybe you’ll give me credit for having some wisdom. I know how important leisurely walks are for all of us.”

“You’re right, Abbey,” I conceded. “Even though this was an awfully busy weekend, I’m glad we found time for this walk.”

The birthday girls - Anna turns 92 and Abbey turns 70

The birthday girls –
Anna turns 92 and Abbey turns 70

Abbey smiled and said, “Saturday was the really busy day. I never knew anyone else had my birthday. I’m glad we celebrated Anna’s birthday. Turning 92 is quite an accomplishment. My turning 70 is nothing in comparison to that. I’m glad such a nice woman lives with us. It was fun to help Anna open her presents. She appreciated every gift she received, but I think what she liked most was having her family visit – all three generations of her offspring were reperesented. Oh, and getting lots of phone calls from other family and friends, too.”

I replied, “It was fun to see Anna and her family having such a good time together. Birthdays are so important because they bring friends and families together to specifically honor the birthday person. With birthday celebrations, everyone is reminded of how much their friends and family love them.  By the way, Abbey, there’s another person who’s special in my life and who shares February 23 as her birthday together with Anna and you.  My mom would have been 105 on Saturday. Actually, that’s why we set your birthday for that date. We think you were born in February, but we don’t know for sure. All we know is that you were about 3 years old when we adopted you. My mom loved dogs, and she would have loved to share her birthday with you.”

“That’s nice. I wish I had known her.” Abbey hesitated, then added, “I wish I knew more about my past. I’m glad you adopted me, but I wish I knew more about where I came from.”

“Interesting to hear you say that, Abbey.  Mim is reading the book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. She just told me she read that the three big questions in life are Where did I come from? Where am I going? and Why am I here?”

“Well, I guess I’ll never know the answer to the first question.”

“That’s probably true, but you’re not alone with that, Abbey. Last week I read the book, Andrew, You Died Too Soon, by Corinne Chilstrom. Andrew, who had been adopted as an infant, committed suicide at age 18. His mother wrote this book. She said that trying to learn where he had come from was the biggest issue that plagued Andrew throughout his short life. Knowing our family roots is extremely important to understanding who we are and what we will become. Abbey, I’m sorry that you will never know your roots. At least you get to play with some of your distant cousins on the golden retriever side of your family. That must give you some clues about your family history.”

Abbey's cousins out for a ride.

Abbey’s cousins out for a ride.

“Yeah, playing with Holly and Sadie and Piper helps.” Abbey paused, then said, “Let’s talk some more about the three big questions in life. I don’t know about the second question – where I’m going – but I think I know the answer to the third question – why I’m here. I’m here to love. I love you, and Mim, and every one of the grandmas who have lived with us. A long time ago I figured out that my life mission is to love everyone. Remember, I even wrote it down as my personal mission statement.”

“That’s right, Abbey, and you do a very good job of loving everyone, especially all the grandmas who come to live with us. You definitely figured out why you are here on this earth! Now, about the middle question – where I’m going. Pastor Jeff hinted at it in his sermon Sunday. He said that we’re “citizens of heaven.”

Family portrait in our own little heaven - in front of the pond in our back yard.

Family portrait in our own little heaven – in front of the pond in our back yard.

“Do you think that means we’ll ultimately end up in heaven?”

“I think that’s what Pastor Jeff was suggesting. It’s what the Bible says. In The Message paraphrase it says, There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And If I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. (John 14:2-3)”

“Wow. That’s something to think about.” Abbey sighed.  “I’m going to ponder that for a while.Thanks for taking the time for this conversation. This has been quite a weekend – a birthday party, a long walk, and time to talk about the three biggest questions in life.”

“Thank you, Abbey. When I seem too busy to take time for things like this, keep on pestering me till I remember.”