be ever thankful?

One of the most common pieces of advice I see in those “10 ways to change your life” or “5 practices of happy people” or “17 guaranteed ways to looks as bright and shining as the airbrushed person in this stock photo”articles is to keep a gratitude list.  As I’ve said elsewhere, practicing thankfulness is the first thing my mom always suggests when I find myself in a challenging mental space.

What does it mean to live in gratitude?  Is it simply saying “thank you” when good and/or beautiful things happen or appear?  Is it about being grateful in specifics or in general?  And what are the implications of thanking God for good things?  What about when gifts seem to be withheld, or when bad things come?  Who is responsible?

A couple weeks ago, my sister posted a picture to facebook that showed her plant named Roselyn, a gift from a fellow student.  Her caption read: “I’ve had Roselyn for about a year and half now, and this the first time she’s ever blossomed.  I didn’t know she was supposed to!  For once I think she may not be struggling for her life.”  In the picture, the dark burgundy leafy stalks sheltered a small bloom, pink and tentative and still opening up.  My dad left a comment underneath: “See.  We all bloom eventually.”  My sister had not written the words “thank you” or “gratitude” anywhere in her post, but something of thankfulness was evident in her surprise and delight and in my dad’s choice to see a universal truth speaking through a specific moment.

But what if Roselyn had never bloomed?  Or what if a bud had appeared but never opened?  What if we don’t all bloom eventually?  What if my sister’s plant had died?

dscf4911I am reminded of the kadish prayer, recited at a Jewish funeral, which praises God for the goodness of God and the world God has made.

Perhaps we are called not so much to be grateful for things that seem good and beautiful but for life when it is real and true.  For those times when the blinders of our fear, busyness, self-absorption, pessimism, optimism, dishonest perfectionism, all these fall away for a moment and we are confronted with the rawness of life, in all its terror and miracle.  So we give thanks when we laugh until we can’t breathe, and we give thanks when we shake and heave with sobbing.  We give thanks when a newborn wails its way into being, when a loved one breathes their last, tender words, when we hold a delicate flower and when we ride out a devastating storm.  Our stance of gratitude is based not on how well things are going but on how alive we are in this wild world.  And we give thanks to the One who is the true center of this aliveness.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he told us. Gratitude is the choice to live attentive to God’s aliveness in us.

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Words for Wheels – Blessing for Grandma

My mom commissioned me for a Words for Wheels project (she is my mom, after all) and asked me to write a blessing for her mother’s birthday.  Below is what I sent her way. 

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Grandma with clematis and the memorial plaque for Grandpa

For Shirley Pavy, on the occasion of her 85th birthday by her granddaughter, Cassidhe Hart, with love.

With radiant grace, you have made a welcoming home, a place where memories are made and stories are told, a place where all are embraced and nourished, a place where others learn to open their hearts and homes.

May the stories you tell welcome and nourish you and those around you.
May you see your own hospitality mirrored in your loved ones, who take delight in sharing with you what you have taught them.
May you wake every day feeling held by the radiant grace of the God who is our host and our home.

With persistent strength, you have carried work, family, and church together, you have
walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and you have sought out the good and the beautiful all over the planet.

May you feel the presence of your own strength and celebrate your remarkable resilience.
May you be joined to the strength of your family, who is honored to shoulder your joys and burdens with you.
May you be surrounded by the strength of our persistently loving God, who never stops working for life and wholeness.

With thoughtful love, you have gently soothed our hurts and held our hands, you have
listened to and met the needs of strangers and loved-ones, and you have taught generations of children how to live well in this world.

May you find gentleness for yourself, for the challenges that come with growing older and the changes that come with growing wiser.
May the dance of giving and receiving never cease to bring you with happiness and peace.
May every part of you be filled and supported by the God of deep and patient love, this day and always.

Mom, Grandma, Meemaw, Gigi, we celebrate you, we love you, we give you our blessings and our hearts.