Tag Archive | thankfulness

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

Remembering the Saints – the most significant people in my life who are now dead

Lots of my relatives - the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture - in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

Lots of my relatives – the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture – in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

 

Thursday of this week is Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. On Sunday, some churches will read a list of members of the congregation who have died over the past year. This is a time of year to remember the people who are no longer with us who have been significant to us in our own lives, and to thank God for these people.

As I was curled up under the covers in bed this morning thinking about what to blog about today, making a list of these people came to mind – not just the people who died this year, but all the people who have died who have been significant to me. I started making a mental list of them, and I realized I’d better get up and write them down – the names were coming to me too fast to remember and organize in my mind. So I got up and quickly jotted down the names as they came to me, and I realized I’d better limit the number of people to include in the blog. So I crossed off a few names and settled on 13 people for this blog (a good number for Halloween), plus one bonus. I’m still going to thank God for all the rest, too, even if I don’t tell you about them today.

Here’s the list – 13 people who have been very significant to me in my life, and who have moved on to their next life:

  1. Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom. I think the most significant thing I learned from my mom is about love. I always knew she loved me, as well as my siblings, her grandchildren, her Sunday School kids, the UW students who stopped in to see her at the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison where she worked, the starving kids in Africa that she read about in her mail and sent checks to every month, and everyone else who touched her life – she loved us all.

  2. Dad. My dad taught me about work. As a farmer, he knew that he was responsible for getting all the work done. If the hay baler broke, that didn’t mean he didn’t have to bale hay that day. It meant he had to figure out how to fix the baler as quickly as possible so that he could still bale the hay and get everything else done he had planned for that day. His attitude taught me to be a problem solver as well as a hard worker.
  3. Nancy. My big sister (11 years older than me) taught me to set aside some time every day to read the Bible and pray. When she went away to college, she ordered me a subscription to a children’s daily devotional booklet to help me keep on track.
  4. Helen Knoblauch. My first grade teacher was a very kind and loving person. Everyone in her class knew that she loved them. One way she showed that love was by being the kindest of all to the kid that was hurting the most that day. I remember one day when I was that kid. A leaf had blown into my eye and scratched it when I was playing on the playground after lunch. My eye really hurt and I was crying. Mrs. Knoblauch had me sit on her lap while she read a storybook to the class. That made me feel a whole lot better – so much better that I still remember it almost 60 years later.
  5. Marion Gilberts. She was our church organist and my piano and organ teacher. In addition to using the typical lesson books, she had me learn every hymn in both of the hymnals we used in church. She also gave me the experience of playing in church by having me play an offertory at least once a year. She didn’t just teach me the piano and organ, she taught me to be a church organist.
  6. Aunt Edith at the piano. (In the 1930s she married the happy little boy pictured above, my Uncle Helmer.

    Aunt Edith at the piano.

    Aunt Edith. She was the most creative pianist I ever watched tickle the ivories. She was a self-taught gospel pianist who could play any hymn she had ever heard, in any key you wanted to hear it. The only printed music I saw her use was a hymnal or songbook, yet she improvised all over the keyboard. She is still my inspiration to learn to play more by ear and to improvise.

  7. Rev. Royal Bailie. He was the pastor that confirmed me in the Methodist Church. As a confirmation gift he gave me a different kind of Bible, the J. B. Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament. That’s the only Bible that I completely wore out the binding by opening it too much.
  8. Auntie Emma. Also known as Emma Prescott. She was my grandma’s sister. I always thought of her as the most generous Christian I knew. She and her husband, Uncle Don, supported many children through World Vision and other missions. She once made a comment that I’ll never forget. She said she was glad she didn’t have as much money as one of her daughters had. Stewardship of that amount of money was more than she could imagine handling wisely. That comment has always made me think seriously about my stewardship of all the resources God has given me.
  9. Rev. Bill Leslie. He was the pastor of one of the churches I attended in Chicago for several years. I didn’t know him very well personally, but I learned a lot from his preaching. He prompted me to think for the first time about what my responsibility as a Christian is for dealing with the problems in the city, particularly the problems that resulted from the injustices that are inherent in our culture.
  10. Mark Hjermstad. Mark was a loving pragmatist, and that’s not an oxymoron. He taught me to relate to the world the best way you can. He was a closeted gay pre-kindergarten teacher for special needs children in the Chicago Public School System. We met Mark in church, shortly before his partner died of AIDS. He became one of our best friends. He always encouraged his gay friends to be as open as they could about who they were – although he couldn’t be out as a gay teacher and still keep his own job.
  11. Mary Borgerud. Mrs. Borgerud was my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. She taught me history, geography, kindness, and generosity. She also taught me to have fun with writing. I still remember one of the essays I wrote in her class – “I’m a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” We also laughed a lot together, especially when she came to live with Mim and me at Country Comforts Assisted Living for the last year or so of her life.
  12. Eileen Scott. Thanks to Eileen I’m a church organist again. Between 1975 and 1999 I didn’t play the piano or organ for anyone except myself at home. In 1999, Eileen learned that the Methodist pastor in town discouraged me from playing for a Christmas program in his church because of my sexual orientation. As a very strong take-charge person, Eileen approached me about becoming an organist in her church, the Presbyterian Church in town. Being a church organist has been a significant part of my life ever since.
  13. Selma Jacobson. I guess now I can say Selma is my mother-in-law. Shortly after Mim and I moved to Wisconsin, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. After several months of rehab, she came to live with Mim and me. Despite all her physical losses, she always maintained a positive attitude and a very pleasant disposition. She lived with us for the last five years of her life, and was a daily inspiration to me to accept life for what it is, and to always trust in God’s love and kindness.

And now, for one bonus saint – Megabyte. She was the first dog that Mim and I got together, and she enriched our lives for 15 years. The one thing that dogs know better than anything, and better than anyone else knows, is how to love.

Many names are missing from this list – Grandma, Uncle Helmer, Gary, Clark, Steve, Nicki, Hiram, Joe, Donnie, and more. If I kept naming them I wouldn’t get this blog posted today. There’s also an equally long list of people who are still alive that I’m thankful for. God has truly blessed me with loads of wonderful people – and dogs – in my life. I am so thankful. I guess it’s appropriate that Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day, starts off the holiday season. Then comes Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. All three holidays are times to be especially thankful for all the good gifts God has given us.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

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)

Enjoying Gifts – Both Yours and Mine

Gift - Gold

Yesterday I saw and heard something wonderful! Mim and I went to the Overture Center in Madison to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform with Gabriela Montero as guest pianist. I had never heard of Gabriela Montero before yesterday, but she was going to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and we knew we would enjoy the music enough to compensate for the frigid Wisconsin weather we’d have to tolerate to get there.

We were right! The whole concert was absolutely beautiful, but the real highlight was totally unexpected. After the standing ovation for the performance of the piano concerto, Gabriela Montero came back on stage and asked the audience to sing or call out a musical theme, and she would improvise on it as an encore. Someone called out, “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad.” Montero (a native of Venezuela) looked a little surprised, laughed with the audience, then plunked out the tune on the piano one note at a time and asked, “Is this it?” The audience responded with a hearty “Yes!” She said, “No one has ever asked for this tune before.” Then she paused about ten seconds and began an amazing improvisation on that tune for about five minutes. She put almost as much exuberance and variety into improvising that tune as Beethoven had put into writing his Piano Concerto No. 1.

I looked on YouTube this morning to find an example of Gabriela Montero’s improvisation on a familiar tune. This link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6Aa92cZToI) is to an improvisation of “Happy Birthday.” This video might help you imagine what she did to “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad” yesterday.

Gabriela Montero definitely has the gift of musical improvisation. And she uses it well to bring joy to many people – from the “birthday girl” honored in the above video, to the thousands of people who marvel at her spontaneous improvisations in concert halls around the world.

Gifts…. That subject was on my mind yesterday because of the second Scripture reading in church, I Corinthians 12:1-11. I’ve been reading THE MESSAGE paraphrase a lot more lately to try to gain fresh insights into familiar Bible passages. Here are verses 4 and 7 from THE MESSAGE. “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit…. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!”

After yesterday, I know that one of the gifts God has given Gabriela Montero is musical improvisation.  But the Scripture says that each person gets something – everyone receives gifts, and there is tremendous variety in what these gifts are.

That prompted me to think about some of the gifts the Spirit has given me. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I described the prelude I played on the piano in church yesterday morning as improvisations on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The same word, “improvisations,” does not describe the same thing Montero did with her tune and what I did with mine. I think the gift God has given me is the sensitivity to figure out what hymn tune will help someone in the congregation draw closer to God. Generally I choose music that complements the Scripture readings of the day, and that is arranged in a style that reflects the mood of the text. That certainly is a very different gift than what the Spirit gave to Gabriela Montero.

The last verse of Sunday’s reading (verse 11) puts some perspective on the different gifts we each receive, “All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what and when.”

I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given me, and even more, I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given others.

small blue christmas gifts