Tag Archive | special word

Gratitude and Surprises

Gratitude words“Gratitude” has been an interesting word to think about for a whole year. Last December when I chose “Gratitude” to be my special word to ponder for 2015 (instead of making any New Year’s Resolutions), I had no idea how much my perspective on everyday life would be altered by thinking about being grateful every single day.

Gratitude jar with note

The first entry in my Gratitude Jar

As you may recall from my blog posts early in the year, I put a “Gratitude Jar” on my desk with the intention of writing down things I was grateful for every day, and stuffing the jar with these notes. I envisioned a jar overflowing with notes by the end of the year.

I just emptied the jar and I had a pretty small handful of notes. After the first week of looking at the jar, I decided I needed to create a little form on the note paper to make it easier to quickly jot down what I was grateful for. When that didn’t trigger me to write things down on a daily basis, I decided I needed to move the jar from my desk to my easy chair where I read my devotional materials. Obviously that didn’t help either. I guess having a “Gratitude Jar” didn’t easily fit into my routine. It seemed like a good idea, but it really didn’t help me.

However, what has worked well for me all year is to think about whatever I’m grateful for every night when I go to bed. This has become a habit that is the best new thing for me in 2015. I don’t limit myself to being grateful only at bedtime – more and more often these thoughts come into my mind during the day, too.

Towards the end of November, around Thanksgiving, several of the daily readings in Sarah Young’s JESUS CALLING book are about being thankful. On November 25, she paraphrases Jesus as saying:

Thank Me frequently as you journey through today. This practice makes it possible to pray without ceasing, as the apostle Paul taught. …

When your mind is occupied with thanking Me, you have no time for worrying or complaining. If you practice thankfulness consistently, negative thought patterns will gradually grow weaker and weaker. Draw near to Me with a grateful heart, and My Presence will fill you with Joy and Peace.

Yesterday in church Pastor Jeff described us as being big winners in the cosmic lottery. He encouraged us to open our eyes and be grateful for all the blessings we have received. To emphasize the point he sang the old camp song, “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory.” That’s kind of what having “Gratitude” as my special word for the day has been helping me do throughout 2015 – to open my eyes to recognize and be thankful for all kinds of blessings in my life every day.

Marian at organ - tall picYesterday was a day of surprises for me – surprises to be grateful for. I went to church alone because Mim was away at a timeshare in Wisconsin Dells for a few days. Before the service started I was sitting at the organ getting my music set up. I looked back at the entrance to the sanctuary, and there came Mim. She had woken up early and decided to drive from the Dells to Madison for the service. Seeing her walk through the entrance was a nice surprise for me.

After church we decided to go out for brunch before Mim drove back to the Dells and I drove home. We were headed toward a Perkins Restaurant, but when we drove by a Hy-Vee Food Store I said, “Don’t they serve breakfast?” Mim said, “I think they do.” So I turned into the Hy-Vee parking lot.

The host was about to seat us in a booth when we saw Kay and Lynn, two women from church, sitting in the next booth, and they invited us to join them. They had just placed their order, so it was good timing.

We sat down and the waitress came right back. She looked at me and said, “I know you.” She was a little familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her. Then she said something about Chaplain Julia, and I remembered. She had been an inmate at the county jail, and we had gotten to know each other from my playing the piano for the women’s worship service in the jail chapel. She told me that she has been out of jail for two full years now, with no relapses. She has stayed sober and she has a job working at Hy-Vee. It was great to see her again, and to hear that she’s doing well. That was another great surprise of the day for me.

One of the things we always do in jail worship services is pray for each other. We sit in a circle, and we go around the circle, praying out loud for the person sitting on our right. I’m sure this waitress and I have prayed for each other many times. Seeing each other today was a totally unexpected reunion! I’m so thankful that Mim and I spontaneously decided to try out Hy-Vee for brunch as we “just happened” to drive by.

Gratitude Jar 11-30-15When I got home and started to write this blog, I pulled the handful of notes out of my “Gratitude Jar” and re-read them. The note dated March 31, 2015 said, “My heart is full of gratitude for people who pray with me and for me! Especially inmates!” I smiled when I read that. Life is full of blessings and surprises.

Yes. “Gratitude” was a good word to focus on this year. And, Sarah Young was right when she paraphrased Jesus saying, “Draw near to Me with a grateful heart, and My Presence will fill you with Joy and Peace.”

Gratitude bird

No Vacuum in this Mind

Vacuum - smilingMy mind is incapable of tolerating a vacuum. It always finds something to be anxious about, or some problem to be solving, or at least some imminent decisions to be mulling over. Often there are multiple urgent thoughts competing for my attention. Then my mind might start thrashing – a technical computer term that kind of means jumping from one thing to another so fast that nothing constructive gets accomplished.

I’ve had some major ponderings in my head this year. One of the biggest topics on my mind throughout the first few months of the year was getting a new car. My 2003 Camry and Mim’s 2003 Matrix were both running pretty well, but my mind decided it was time to start thinking about a replacement for at least one of them. Online, I narrowed my information gathering to 12 models. Then Mim and I started actually looking at cars in dealerships. On April 13, we made a decision on the spot to get a car that wasn’t even on our list – a Prius V. Fortunately, we love the car – especially how spacious it is and the great mileage we get. But most important, since April 13, there’s been one less thing in my mind to be mulling over.

Prius VBut never fear, another major topic took center stage in my mind. For the next several months, my mind worked overtime thinking up all the details I needed to consider for selling our farmhouse. On August 20 we closed on the house, and I could check that topic off my mind’s active list.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven – our farmhouse

Jumping into its place was refinancing our condo and changing banks. We’ve been unhappy with the new management of our long-term bank in Cambridge for a few years, but we knew that changing banks is complicated these days. As of October 12, we are happy customers of Johnson Bank – mortgage, personal, and business accounts. One more thing checked off my mind’s list.

Those are just the big things my mind has been dealing with this year. There are always plenty of little things competing for attention in my mind. This morning my mind is “paging” (another old mainframe computer term) among selecting a new transport chair for one of our residents (the hard rubber wheels are starting to break down on hers after four years of hard use);  finding a new wallet for myself (the leather is starting to come apart); selecting a new computer (probably a MacBook, to replace my Windows laptop that seems to be sputtering again); and choosing a new word for 2016 (I really like choosing a special word instead of having new year’s resolutions. My word for 2014 was JOY. 2015 is GRATITUDE. I’m thinking of KINDNESS for next year but I haven’t decided yet – there’s still more mulling to do in my mind.)

I don’t know why those four items came to the forefront of my mind this morning, but that’s what’s in there.

MacBookThe quote to ponder in last month’s The Monastic Way pamphlet was, “The things we love tell us who we are,” by Thomas Aquinas. Joan Chittister’s pamphlet of daily musings about this quote focused on the choices we make and what those choices say about us and what we love.

Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister

On October 17 she wrote, “No one is born whole. We all get to be wholly mature, developed persons as a result of the choices we make every day of every life. ‘The self,’ the great educator John Dewey said, ‘is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.’”

Well, my mind is certainly busy working on all those choices I think I need to make. As I’ve been writing, a few more things popped into my mind to think about – like what books should I take along with me to read next week for another short Christmas Mountain getaway…

Obviously, my mind is going to keep busy making decisions, big and small. That’s okay with me.

Joan Chittister ended her October pamphlet by saying, “Choice is the holiest of the virtues. It preserves the best of the past and creates the best of the future. Victor Frankl writes, ‘Everything can be taken away from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’”

Grinning from Ear to Ear

Floey is always happy to see me - or anyone else.

Floey is always happy to see me – or anyone else.

Floey greeted me as I walked in the door.

Marian Smiling BW adj

That’s me – grinning from ear to ear.

“Hey, Mom, welcome home. But why do you have such a big smile on your face? I thought you were at a funeral.”

“You’re right, Floey. I was at a funeral. It was the fifteenth funeral I’ve played the organ for so far this year. It was a very nice funeral for a beautiful, kind, loving, 103-year-old woman. There was a lot of love expressed and felt throughout the whole church.”

“That’s nice, Mom, but you’re grinning from ear to ear. Did the funeral really put that big smile on your face?”

“Well, not really, Floey. It was almost noon when I left the church and I was really hungry, so I stopped at the McDonald’s in Cottage Grove on my way home.”

“What in the world did you eat at McDonald’s that made you that happy?”

“Well, I was hungry for their filet-of-fish sandwich, and of course I got the ‘meal deal’ to get fries and a soda with it. The food was good, but that’s not what made me smile. When I pulled into the BP station that the McDonald’s is attached to, I saw that there was only one parking place left. I took it, but groaned when I saw three big construction workers get out of the van next to me and walk toward the McDonald’s entrance. I followed them into McDonald’s, and groaned again. The small restaurant area was packed with over a dozen people in line. I almost turned around and walked out. I probably could drive home and make a sandwich about as quickly as I would get my food here. But by that time, I was really craving a filet-of-fish sandwich, so I decided to wait a couple minutes to see how fast the line moved. I was amazed. In almost no time, I was ordering my meal. The clerk offered to give me my cup while I waited for my meal, so I could get my soda right away. I got my drink, waited just a couple minutes, and then sat down to eat in a clean booth.”

McDonalds Filet-of-Fish Meal

Not the healthiest, but just what I was hungry for.

“You were lucky, Mom. Sometimes you really have to wait a long time to get your food at that time of day, and then when you do, there’s no place to sit – or at least no clean place.”

high five“Yeah, I know. I really was lucky. As I ate my meal, the crowd cleared out. When I was ready to leave, there was no one in line, and the clerk who had waited on me was standing alone at the counter, waiting for whoever might come in the door next. She smiled at me as I got up to leave, and she wished me a good rest of the day. I dropped my empty containers in the trash can and walked up to the counter. I told her, ‘I’m impressed! You are efficient! I can’t believe how quickly and pleasantly you served everyone. When I came in here a little while ago and saw the crowd, I almost turned around and walked out. I’m glad I didn’t. You’re really efficient!’ She flashed me a big smile, put up her hand for a high-five, and called back to her co-workers, ‘Hey, a compliment! A compliment!’ A customer standing nearby smiled, the clerk smiled, and I smiled.”

“Wow, Mom. I bet from the way she reacted, she doesn’t get many compliments.”

“I think you’re right, Floey. And you know what, by taking the time to give a well-deserved compliment, I put smiles on the faces of three people – the clerk, the other customer standing nearby, and me. I bet there were smiles on the faces of the other workers in the kitchen that the clerk had called back to, as well. It was so easy to give a moment of happiness to so many people, including myself.”

Kitty and Floey

Kitty and Floey

“I know all about that, Mom. You know how I always run to the door to greet whoever is coming. I do that to let them know they are welcome in our home. I want them to know that I am grateful that they came to see us. That greeting usually makes them happy, and that makes me even happier.”

“I should have known, Floey, that you would have all this figured out already. You know just how to give anyone a moment of happiness.”

“Thanks, Mom. I really try. I think that’s my mission in life.”

“Floey, do you remember my special word for 2015?”

Floey looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think it’s GRATITUDE.”

“Yeah. That’s it. GRATITUDE. I haven’t written much about my special word lately, but this incident reminds me to be grateful for all the good little things that happen every day. By being grateful for the surprisingly good and quick service I got at McDonald’s, I was prompted to give a compliment, which prompted the clerk to share the compliment, which gave a whole bunch of us a reason to smile and be happy.”

“So that’s it, Mom. GRATITUDE for the good little things in life has you grinning from ear to ear.”

“Yeah. Now you know my secret, Floey – and I know yours,” and I gave her a big hug.

Floey-Marian 01-06-15

New Words for 2015

After one year’s experience, I’ve decided that I really like the idea of having one special word to focus on for a whole year, as an alternative to making New Year’s resolutions. Last year’s word for me was JOY. Knowing that JOY was what I would concentrate on every day from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 helped me to recognize and appreciate how much JOY is in my life. It was an inspiring year.

Joy Cross and snowy pond

 

For 2015, I’ve chosen the word GRATITUDE. I’m quite excited about what a year focused on gratitude is going to look like. To give myself a preview of some of the things I might think about, I googled the word gratitude. This is some of what I got:

  • Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. (William Arthur Ward)
  • Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. (Melody Beattie)
  • It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.

Gratitude fall scenery

But I’m jumping ahead. I have a whole year to mull over this word.

Mim chose the word WAIT, with an emphasis on patience while waiting. She’s planning to re-read Holly Whitcomb’s book, Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting to get her started. I googled WAIT for her, as well, and came up with a quote attributed to Corrie ten Boom, “God has perfect timing; never early, never late. It takes a little patience and faith, but it’s worth the wait.”

wait-for-the-lord

 

Floey chose the word LEARN. Although she has already learned a lot in her first 11 months of life, she is determined to become the smartest dog and best four-legged caregiver possible. In addition to her on-the-job training at Country Comforts Assisted Living, she started a formal class last night. Floey, Mim, and I went to “Beginner” class at PetSmart in Madison to work on canine manners. She’s already good at SIT and DOWN, but she needs to learn more about STAY and COME. She also wants to learn leash etiquette. When Floey and I were talking about her word, she quoted Pablo Picasso, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Learn

With our new words rolling around in our minds, Mim, Floey, and I are charging ahead into 2015. We’ll keep you posted on what impact GRATITUDE, WAIT, and LEARN have in our lives throughout the year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Mim-Floey-Marian 01-06-15

Mim-Floey-Marian in my first selfie.

 

JOY – My Special Word for 2014

JOY Cross“Abbey, Mim & Me – Our Special Words for 2014” was the first blog post I wrote this year. I explained that rather than coming up with any New Year’s resolutions for 2014, I would spend the year focusing on JOY. The idea of choosing one special word to focus on for a whole year came from Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the Difference. The word I chose was JOY; Mim chose ENOUGH; and Abbey chose PLAY. To help me remember to think about my word, I bought an amber-colored glass cross with the words, “The JOY of the Lord is my strength” printed on it, and it hangs from a suction cup on my patio door. Every time I slide the door open, the JOY cross clinks on the glass door and I think about my word. Most nights I lay in bed before falling asleep and I think about the joy I have experienced that day.

I’m sure I’ve been more aware of joy in my life this year than any year in the past. The irony is that I’ve also experienced more than my usual share of sadness. Maybe that’s why God gave me the word JOY to focus on in 2014. I’ve been to lots of funerals for friends this year, and about half of them (4) have been for friends about my age – mid-sixties. But even at funerals, there can be joy, as we get together with old friends we haven’t seen in a long time and remember good times together with each other and with our friend who is no longer with us.

One of the biggest changes in our living situation happened early in 2014. For most of 2013 we had only one nonagenarian living with us. Before the end of January, another 92-year-old moved in. A couple weeks later a third 92-year-old moved in with a neighbor along with the understanding that she can rely on us for the general management of her care. Keeping up with three (now) 93-year-olds is keeping us very busy! All of them are very active. One is an avid reader and enjoys going out with friends and family. She has some kind of social engagement almost every week. The other two go to bingo once a week and have two or three other outings every week. All together, we have lots of good times together – a regularly recurring source of JOY.

The hidden JOY of being somewhat overwhelmed by all this added caregiving responsibility is that we now have six independent caregivers who help us out several hours a week so that Mim and I can take two afternoons off almost every week to do fun things – like going to movies and shopping at resale shops. (The best of many good movies we saw this year was “The Theory of Everything.” We both highly recommend it.) Mim and I were also able to get away for four quick mini-vacations – a first in many years. We visited friends in Wausau for a Wisconsin-style lobster fest. We went to Minnesota for the 150th anniversary of Gol Lutheran Church, Mim’s family church. And we went to our Christmas Mountain timeshare a couple times – once to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and once to just relax for a few days. We had lots of JOY to celebrate with each getaway.

Abbey head-on colorJOY would have been a good name for our dog Abbey. She brought an incredible amount of JOY to Mim and me and to everyone who lived with us during the eight years she was with us. When she had to leave us in November, there was a great big hole in our home. One of the 93-year-olds said the same thing every time she came into the house from one of her outings, “I miss Abbey so much.” Abbey would always be at the door to meet us. All three nonagenarians and Mim and me quickly agreed we wanted to get another dog to love us and be loved by us as soon as we could.

Within a couple weeks, Floey (short for Florence Nightingale, caregiver in training) joined our family. She’s been with us just over a month now, and already she’s taken on the role of bringing each one of us a daily dose of JOY.

Floey sittingJOY definitely was “the perfect word” for me for 2014. Focusing my attention on that special word helped me find and recognize and appreciate how much joy is in my life.

Which leads me to what I think will be my word for 2015 – GRATITUDE. That word keeps coming to mind whenever I try to think of what will be a good word to focus my attention on next year. I’ll decide for sure by January 1 – but I think GRATITUDE will be the word.

JOY Cross and Pond - closer