The #blessed, the righteous, the thankful

Deuteronomy 8:7-18 | Psalm 65 | 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 | Luke 17:11-19

The last time I stood in this pulpit to preach, Lowell spied my iPad at the ready and asked me just before the sermon if it received text messages. I wanted to say “no,” but I knew it could. Lucky for me, it wasn’t connected to the wi-fi, and I got his message that I was doing a good job after the service.

Cultivating a sense of humor, being able to take–or even play–a prank every now and then, and learning how to juggle many things at once are just some of the things I’m grateful to St. Paul’s for teaching me along my path of discernment and formation for ministry. When Suzanne asked if I would be willing and able to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day, my first thought was “of course!” What better way to express my gratitude for all St. Paul’s has been for me than to celebrate the Great Thanksgiving in this place at this time? Whether we’re familiar to one another or not, I’m sure we could agree on many things for which we are grateful to St. Paul’s and The Episcopal Church.

Like Psalm 65 offering thanksgiving for the earth’s bounty, we could count our many blessings, creating a beautiful, bountiful list. Many of us today will do this, likely go around our tables, sharing what we’re thankful for, and I heartily encourage you to do so. Share with family and friends your gratitude, your hopes. Perhaps we could also share our awareness of those less fortunate and what it looks like to take action on their behalf. Perhaps we could also consider our responsibility for the abundance we have and what we do as good stewards of our bounty. I make these suggestions because the Gospel never really tells us to sit around and linger in our comfort.

We could be tempted, of course, to count our blessings and marvel at how #blessed we are. All of us here this morning are definitely blessed. We don’t have work today (well, most of us, anyway; thanks, Jack!). We’re safe. Preparations for our feasts are made. If I could gaze into your hearts, I’m sure I would hear the sound of love coursing through your being: love of God, love of others, and hopefully love of yourself. We’re here offering thanks to God for the ultimate sacrifice. We are praying for those who are less fortunate. We’re living the good life.

When we’re feeling so grateful, why do we get the story of the ten lepers today? Leprosy, a disease that eats away at the flesh, is a most unappetizing sort of image. Could it be that we in blessed comfort, if we’re truly honest, have our own dis-ease eating away at us?

If the greatest self-help guru came to the Town Center, imagine the crowd that would gather. He might call to the crowd for ten volunteers, choosing from the multitude those waving their arms most frantically, desperately: “Pick me!” He calls to the stage those whom he chooses:
~A corporate woman always wanting the next bigger, better thing,
~A warehouse worker who just never has enough,
~A waitress who can’t get ahead and hoards every little thing she has,
~A struggling musician who just can’t get a break,
~A minister who knows he’s struggling to practice what he preaches,
~A stay-at-home mom wrestling with the super-mom syndrome,
~A doctor with a god-complex,
~An entrepreneur who just lost his savings,
~A teacher whose voice is never heard,
~An undocumented day laborer who sends most of his money to his family out of country.

To this group he tells them simply to go somewhere safe, to someone they trust, and to tell that person the truth of their discomfort, their dis-ease. “Go! Go now!” he says. So they run off stage, rushing on their way. He smiles after them, knowingly.

The one most used to being pushed aside and left behind, the one used to waiting for the chance to do a bit of work for a bit of cash, finally makes it to the doors at the back but pauses. He feels it. What has ailed him has left him. The burden he has been carrying has been lifted. Instead of dis-ease, he feels a tingling of . . . Light? Joy? Love? With tears in his eyes, he returns to the guru, falling at his feet, making a complete scene and everyone else incredibly uncomfortable, but he can’t stop thanking this person.

Everyone else is looking on, confused.

“Better already?” the guru asks the laborer. He showingly spans the crowd. “Is this the only person made well? Where’s everyone else?” He helps the laborer to his feet and looks into the questioning eyes with all wisdom and love. “Faith,” he says. “Carry on and keep the faith.” He sends him on his way.

All ten came to the guru believing something could be done to make them well.

But only one had the presence, the awareness to realize that the healing wasn’t necessarily a result of an action he himself had to do.

How beautiful it is to me that seeking healing with an honest, humble, helpless heart puts us in a unique position to be most fully restored to wholeness by “the surpassing grace of God,” “an indescribable gift” (2 Cor 9:15).

Even as we are counting our blessings, giving thanks for our blessedness, what eats away at our joy? What prevents us from living into the fullness of love of Christ? What blinds us to the truth of reality that we are in community with one another, no matter how different we think we are from everyone else?

What is our dis-ease?

Our current and present hardships are real. I affirm and validate your struggles because I know each and every one of us has more than one we’re dealing with. And I hope you can go to a safe place, a trusted person–and maybe that’s a paid professional–to help you figure out what your next steps are. But spiritually, from a place of faith, you bear God’s favor. The very image of you from your DNA to the reflection you see in the mirror bears God’s blessing.

Because God made a covenant. God promised to see the people to the Promised Land. God promised abundance upon abundance, plenty of everything, wealth and health, and all things delicious. There seems to be this condition, though, that our being #blessed is conditional upon our giving thanks to God, not forgetting that all things come from God, remembering to uphold God’s commandments, ordinances, and statutes. Putting God first above myself and all else

That’s where righteousness comes in. Ps. 112 describes the blessings of the righteous, those who are gracious, merciful, and just. Generous. Steady of heart. Unafraid of evil. They rise like light in the darkness. Yes, they, too, have a rich and wealthy house, are blessed and honored, but their homes might look more like a one-bedroom apartment than a mansion complex. Just because people are struggling doesn’t mean we aren’t blessed. Just because we’re going through hardships doesn’t mean we aren’t righteous. Like the ten bridesmaids from last Sunday where the only reason we know five were wise and five were foolish is because we’re told, we know that all the lepers are healed because we’re told. If we were only going by what we saw, we’d only think that one was healed. But only one was aware enough to turn back to the one who showed mercy and healed fully then and there. The rest thought they had to go someplace and do something special. We can go seeking grace and find it in unexpected places, but the most astonishing discovery of all is when we realize it’s right where we are. Because God made a new covenant, one of unconditional love and mercy and grace, through Jesus Christ.

Right here where we are, we practice remembering all gifts come from God. Right here where we are, we bring our dis-ease before God, allowing grace to fill our spirit with renewed seeds faith and hope and especially love, that we might sow them bountifully wherever we go from here. We do go from here, to love and serve the Lord, but first we acknowledge our faith, pray for all, confess our sins, make peace with one another, and, of course, give thanks to God.

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Calendar Lust

The past couple of weeks I have been looking at new calendars/appointment books.  The inkling coincided with back-to-school shopping, and I’m as bad as anyone else about wanting to get something new to mark the transition into another school year.

Having decided on one, though, I wonder what is wrong with the current one that I have which will get me into the first week of January–surely plenty of time to find the next one (or actually to get proficient at using my phone calendar!).  In my current well-worn book, dates are marked for the upcoming semester for the three different school calendars; helpful notes are in the back pages.  I have a good thing going.

It was during an early afternoon walk in the woods, in a moment’s rest and dreaming, that I wondered if it might be that I want another chance to manage my time more wisely.  Maybe a new calendar will help me bring order to the coming chaos that is my last year in seminary and the ongoing juggle of having four active children.  That sounds like me, doesn’t it?  Thinking that something that might bring a little more control, a little more order will surely help.

Yes, it sounds like me, but, no, it’s not likely to make anything any better.  It’s just a book with calendar pages, after all, inanimate, void of all engagement.

These thoughts coincide with another thought: I’m working on a week of gratitude on Facebook.  I’m to list three things I’m grateful for each day, and I’m supposed to tag three friends whom I think will/might participate.  I’ve already given up on the tagging bit, but I’m totally in for being grateful.

Once you’re knee deep in gratitude, it begins to surround you.

“I’m not certain that there are such things as measures of our spirituality, but if there are, then gratitude is probably the best one.  It indicates that we are paying attention.” — M. Craig Barnes in The Pastor as Minor Poet (2009)

Barnes reminds me of my old friend Mindfulness, and I realize that I do not need a new calendar.  Temptation knows how to get to us every time. Marking my days with gratitude as so many wise folks encourage has a way of prioritizing one’s life.  The more I am aware of what I am so grateful for, the more I see where and how God is busy at work in my life, guiding me ever-so-subtly while ultimately allowing me to make the decision in every moment.

Am I paying attention?

This life I have chosen to follow still gives me many choices, plenty of opportunities to mess up like anyone else.  Barnes’ little book is full of the rich reminder of the responsibilities I am taking on . . . and seemingly more and more each day.

I will be getting a new calendar in January, if I find I still need a paper one when my current one expires.  In the meantime, it is perfectly worthwhile to remember that a sense of order in my life isn’t found within the pages of the best-intentioned calendar.  A sense of presence and awareness go a long way to creating the best days and a life well-lived.

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Time to Be Grateful

Truly I believe that there is a season for everything, but I also believe that every day calls for time for gratitude.  After an intense season of waiting (oh, and we’re not done yet!), there are more and more signs that I need to pause and give thanks at least daily.

Often, I have to admit, my thanks don’t come until I finally lay in bed, offering my genuine prayers from a tired body.  The gratitude, the thanks with which I begin my prayers, surrounds me.  I am comforted and renewed, and in this calm and peaceful state, I drift to sleep before I know it.

More often than I probably realize, I am aware enough in my waking hours to realize just how many gifts surround me.  For my senior year in high school, I gave my closest friends a poster with 365 of my favorite things written around a picture of me with the recipient.  I made one for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, too.  The blessings of this life are not lost on me, but I could certainly be more aware.

A friend recently recommended a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Ann has a blog, A Holy Experience, that got her started, I believe.  Her story is rich with her faith and ties into scripture.  Her poetic writing and sense of awareness speaks to a side of me that sometimes feels and gets neglected.  She’s unabashedly intense and devoted.  A kindred I haven’t even met.

Whatever our faith tradition, gratitude speaks deeply and as sweetly as the five-year-old speaking “I love you, Mom” into my ear.

Oh, let me count the ways.

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Day 12

God bless Brenda Ueland; may her soul rest in peace.  Her words from decades ago resonate loudly to me, reminding me why I do what I do, putting in print the cries of my soul.  Sit a while, Sara.  Dream.  Write.  Gaze into the distance and feel.  That’s what my soul says, and I think Brenda would nod approvingly, maybe even give a sly little wink.

Every blessed moment when plans change or tragedy strikes or life seems all off-kilter, we still have a choice.  Thank you for providing us with this choice.  Sometimes I do just want to be a hedonistic sloth or wallow in self-pity.  Thankfully, I don’t prefer this for long.  What it does provide me with is a broader perspective and a greater appreciation for when those other holy, enlightened moments of peace and contentment come.  These aren’t the same as the moment of ecstatic joy (though those are lovely, too).  Moments of peace are like when you realize you’re floating on the water and relax into the flow.  Life is good.  All is well, and I feel it in the core of my being.

I’m convinced this peace does dwell within and through us all.  Our awareness of it is what changes, blinding us with ignorance of its presence.  Help us to know and to feel.  Help us to show this peace to others . . . and to see it in them, too.  Awaken us to the Peace that surpasses all understanding.

Thank you for the rain.  Thanks for protecting my children and animals (yes, even the chickens).

Continually guide us all onto the path that lives into the greatest compassion for everyone, however great or small that may be.  Hear us, O God, in our time of need.

Thanks and glory to You, now and forever.  Amen.

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Ice & Sun

Thanksgiving Eve I found myself at the wholesale club post-dinner wondering why I waited, yet again, until the last minute to do this.  Kids to bed, cooking underway, I spent the night on the couch, falling asleep but for the grace that woke me as the boiling potato sputter burned on the stovetop and the lid rattled in low undertone.  The iPad had gone to sleep, too, but the sweet potatoes still needed time in the oven.  Potatoes drained, oven off, I figured all would be well a few more hours when I would be awake enough to conjure up the salad and casserole.

Thanksgiving morning NPR told me the Macy’s Day Parade was underway.  I grinned to myself, remembering in my childhood the warmth of the kitchen creeping into the living room where the t.v. blared the parade and I watched the floats make their way through the seemingly small streets.  It was a day of rest for me then.  Now, looking through my steamed-up kitchen window at the sink, I realize how much work we do.  But in yet another moment of grace, I realize how much I love my family.  For a moment, it feels again like this is my job.  I’m not a working mother, I am a mother, wholly and completely.  (Still, I have to consciously resist saying “just a mom.”)

I was only joking when a co-worker and I marveled at the warm weather earlier this week.  Our office felt like a sauna, and I was grateful for my layered clothing and the ability for others to open their windows in the old building to give me fresh air.  “Don’t worry,” I told her.  “It’ll probably snow next week.”  I was just joking.  But the weather forecast mentioned freezing weather.  My husband researched about chickens in cold weather, what we needed to watch out for and check into.  We got the wintry mix and a few minutes of all-out snow on our way to the relatives Thanksgiving day.  Snow is forecasted next week, too.  You just never know around here.

There’s something about the ice that coated everything around our relatives’ homes.  There was something different this year that I haven’t been able to put my finger on yet, adhere coherent thoughts to.  I do know that there wasn’t ice on our limbs at home, only 30 minutes away.  Maybe it’s just the memory, frozen in time.

Post-Thanksgiving, I slept until 8:30 or so.  It is cold.  The chickens are still alive, though their water did freeze, even in their coop.  (Husband is winterizing their coop more today, even as I write, and they are all out chasing the same bug apparently, in a frenzy.)  I skip the Black Friday madness.  Not everyone participates in that frenzy, but I mentioned to my daughter that we might stop at the bookstore and a couple of thrift stores.  It is a weekday I have off, and I actually have some energy to something other than laundry.  (Of course, tonight there are a few home projects that might be started to last all weekend.  Watch out bathroom and garage!)

I signed up on Ravelry.  I sent a sincere e-mail to a friend.  I have other calls to make.  My gratitude continues this day.

I’ll hem some pants, make a Christmas list, and fill the Advent calendar with a new list of somethings to build onto the anticipation of Christmas in a meaningful way.

Most importantly, my gratitude continues.  On this bright sunny day, no matter how cold it is outside, my heart is warm.  I am a mother, a wife, a worker, a daughter and granddaughter.  My own daughter plays, softly talking for and with her toys, sweetly singing every now and then.  Life is simple and sweet, some moments more than others.

All we ever have is this moment at any given time.  For this I am grateful.  It is a beautiful life.

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Present Joy

Today’s calendar presented an open slate, which then filled with the simple pleasures of keeping house and preparing an abundant lunch.  The next wave of thunderstorms has rolled in, just in time to go pick the kids up from school.

For this brief moment, I find myself sitting in a quiet house . . . well, maybe not completely quiet.  The thunder, rain, and dishwasher have their voices heard at the moment, along with the clicking of the keyboard.  It is, however, still — especially compared to what it’s usually like with four kids and two adults and a dog and cat running about.

Some days we just have to revel in what is, and I know that this is good.  I don’t know what the next hour or tomorrow or next year holds for us, but I do know that if I can remember the joy and gratitude I feel in my heart at this present moment, that all will be well.

Right now we also get to enjoy eating the few fresh strawberries we have from the garden, reminding us what a real strawberry tastes like, what a fruit of the earth carries in a perfectly packaged little bundle of tender juiciness.  Experiencing and tasting these delights, I know that what I buy in bulk from the store doesn’t even get close to the truly organic variety from the backyard.  Sometimes we just have to be reminded of how good it can be.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves how sweet we really have it, fresh strawberries or no.

I consider myself delightfully spoiled today, and I give thanks to all that is.

(Cloudy skies today contrast with the sunny skies of yesterday morning, when we remembered to collect our first strawberries of the season. 🙂 )

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Oh-so-Grateful

My days don’t always include a to-do list that looks like I’m trying to overtake a small country.  Often I don’t even have a list or an awareness of what all I’m doing until I have to inform others of my whereabouts or share how my day has been.

But sometimes what I do requires the help of a small army.  Balancing this last Mother’s Day’s events, partnered with a doula client’s birth, was one such day.

So while I may not be overthrowing a government, I might be trying to spread a little love and light.  I might be trying to help others feel the love I feel.  I realize I cannot do this alone, nor should I.

I am grateful for all those who brighten my days.  I give thanks for my children and husband who grant me the privilege of being a mom.  I am oh-so-grateful for those who share their love and light not only with me but with all those around them.  So many blessings.  I am oh-so-lucky.

Just had to say that.

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“My Fav’rite”

Right now, our youngest describes things according to her preference.  For example, she says, “Chickies my fav’rite,” and “Worms not my fav’rite.”  (“Fav’rite,” of course, is her way of saying favorite; she just drops the “o” sound.  I wish I had a sound clip because it is absolutely adorable and otherwise completely enunciated.)

In her toddler world right now, she is the sun, and everything else revolves around her.  If you’re not her fav’rite, then you might as well be on the dark side of the moon.  She has a look for you if she thinks that way, and those of you who know her know what I’m talking about.  🙂

In my world right now, I have many favorites shining forth.  Quality time with family and friends, sunshine, gardening.  I don’t get to spend nearly enough time in these arenas, but I love them dearly.  I also love the results of spring cleaning and even the time spent doing so, if I can tap into the right frame of mind.  The skies before a storm.  Watching the chickens find what I cannot see in the dirt.  Listening to others speak their Wisdom.  Feeling that which cannot be seen in another’s suffering.  Watching the miracle of birth unfold in more ways than one.  Learning.  Growing.  Loving.

What may seem like the dark side of the moon in my world is really just like night time or lying fallow in the earth.  The love I feel for everything these days, the compassion I find in oh-so-many places and faces — expected and unexpected, the suffering I know about or stumble upon, all this combines and swirls in the One.  Truly this is a Mystery, but I trust it.  I trust that all things rise and fall in my awareness.  What needs to be done will be done.  What needs to be known will be known.  I hope that I’m where I need to be when I need to be there.

Maybe my busy life is more simple than I realize.  With the right frame of mind and a solid, grounded presence, there’s an altered time, if even time at all.  We can experience life moment by moment, and that is definitely one of my fav’rites.

(photos of some fav’rite moments: Ashton reading, Alexander making artful eggs, Avery & Dino (his chicken), and Autumn making cookies)

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Life of This Parent

celebration_champagne_cheers_240063_l.jpgNew Year’s Eve doesn’t mean a fancy night out to dinner and then a huge party with friends, drinks and loud music for this parent.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a celebration on the last night of the year.  Maybe that’s why, with four kids in tow, I’m not terribly resentful that my plans for the night include a homemade dinner, sparking grape juice, a dvd and leftovers from a 6 pack of pear cider (my fave) for the hubby and me.

Everything in due time.  It’s a good lesson for me.  Be patient.  Enjoy every moment.  Take my time.  If I can’t enjoy it, change my perspective until there’s something to be grateful for. 

I’ll toast to that, if we’re still awake.

(photo from everystockphoto.com, by a_glitch)

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With Gratitude

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with abundance, friends and/or family, and a warm, comfortable place to settle and rest and marinate in the deliciousness of a life filled with gratitude.

My day isn’t quite like that.  Mine is more of the get up and finish making everything, make sure kids and self are presentable, drive half an hour to one part of the family, eat too much, drive to another part of the family, help make more food, eat too much twice (dessert can be its own meal), spend half an hour trying to make a dent in the mess created, collapse on the couch for a bit and then drive home exhausted around midnight.

But I am blessed to have the family I do.  The more, the merrier, right?  I will gladly spread four meals of thanks throughout the month to get to spend time with my loved ones, and I do sincerely love them.

Complain as we might, some of my fondest memories and the best conversations are had while preparing meals and doing the dishes.  It’s like talking to a man while driving; you can get into deeper conversation there. Women talk well while driving, too, but for me, it’s best when sewing/crafting, cooking, dish washing . . . and, of course, over some tasty beverages.

May your love and conversation be rich, and may you be filled with gratitude.

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