Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Grief, Thanks

The Gifts of the Darkness

“What gifts?”

A question I have asked myself over and over and over again this week as I settled my mind on “springing ahead,” even the clock speaking of the hope of longer daylight and warmer spirits.

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

I am usually someone who rushes over the grief and wants to spring right to positivity and happy things. I like that. I’m definitely a “spring-forward” girl.

But I am learning that it does NOT work. I can’t just rush to JOY. Nor should I.

So when that question came, I paused. I really paused.

First, I need to speak of the darkness.
Of the soul.
Of the cocoony, wintery, messy, middle-of-the-muck-and-mire-stuff.
Of the death of life as I knew it almost exactly a year ago.
Of all the loss in every facet of society and in my little world.

Losing friends to this monster (youngish ones).
Not having family reunions on both sides.
Isolation and disconnection.
The tearing away of peace of mind.
All the complicated choices to see people safely.
The sheer exhaustion from the stress.
Judgment from everywhere, even my own, about all. the. things.
Lack of motivation.
The constant survival mode feeling.

It’s all been hard. Too hard in many ways. DARK. Really dark.

But my heart (my spring-forward heart) also sees the gifts that can only come as a result of the darkness.

Even the darkness of a horrible-terrible-no-good-very-bad year.

The dark night of our collective souls.

I’ve been watching our rhododendron sleep through the winter, the buds closed tight, hunkering down.

At one point in the coldest and snowiest and darkest of days, the buds were covered with ice and the leaves were droopy and frozen.

I stood there looking at it through my big window, marveling that when the light and the warm and the spring finally comes, each frigid bud will burst forth into all the purple blooms that shout beauty and hope.

The blooms are the gifts of the darkness.

So right back to my question.

“What gifts?”

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

Then another, more clarifying question came as well.

“What gifts do I want to bring with me out of the darkness and into the “spring,” into the light?

To be honest, there are many.

Plenty of rest for this recovering-workaholic.
Moments to stare out the window at my sleeping rhododendron covered in snow.
The freedom from all the soul-killing expectations to be busy, busy, busy.
Deep connections with those most important to me.
White space that grants margin for creativity.
Extra time with the Tender Lover of my soul.
Long walks in every kind of weather and the appreciation of nature that comes with them.

Simple thankfulness for things like paper towels and meals with friends.
Discovery of parts of myself that I hadn’t known before and I now like (a lot).
The narrowing of priorities to what really matters.
Deep empathy from and for others in suffering.

There are more and more and more.

Life-changing “terrible gifts” (as CS Lewis calls them) that have only come as a result of the darkness.

Gifts I will continue to unwrap for the rest of my days.
Gifts I will hold onto like a treasure box only meant for me.

Gifts.

Terrible, beautiful, sacred, horrible, hard, holy, very very good gifts.

The gifts of the darkness.

Have I hated this year?
A resounding YES in many ways.

Do I wish it never happened?
A thousand times NO.

I’m peeking out an my rhododendron on this bright, sunny day.
It’s reaching for the light and its leaves are glorious.
The buds are still closed, not quite as tight, and I can see their faint color through the green.

Soon, the purple will unfurl into all of its goodness.

It won’t be for a few more weeks, but I can feel the gift of incredible beauty as if it is right now.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Thanks

Pennies From Heaven

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard)

My husband hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and was captivated by an anecdote about a game she played during childhood. She tells how she hid her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Dillard reminds us that, just like her game, there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Our family mission was born:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a conversation starter for the table ended up literally changing our lives. Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies, frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, a goal scored on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  Truth be told, doubts creep in about this God and I question if His love and care for me and this beautiful, but hurting planet.

Sticking my head in the sand and pretending the “bad” does not exist is NOT a good idea, but being swallowed up by it is worse.  I am wise to navigate the tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, allowing them to sit side-by-side, both having their rightful place in my day, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

I would still venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  I must open my eyes to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” are just what I need.  They quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is fully alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, surprise “pennies hidden” just for me.

“As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures from God that have been strategically placed along the way.  God lovingly goes before you and plants little pleasures to brighten your day.  Look carefully for them and pluck them one by one.  When you reach the end of your day, you will have gathered a really nice bouquet.”  (Sarah Young)

From my heart to yours.

P.S. My penny already this morning was the sun streaking through my window, casting its rays across the floor. How about you? Any pennies?

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

Pennies

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Allen hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading the above book (worth the read) and was captivated by an anecdote about a game Dillard used to play in her childhood. She tells the story of how she used to hide her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Allen’s favorite thought, just like Annie Dillard, was that there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Thus came Allen’s mission for our family:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a game ended up changing our lives.  Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies (those were super fun to find), frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, scoring an unexpected goal on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

Maybe I’m the only one here, but I have a confession to make.  My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that  consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  And really, truth be told, it causes me to doubt whether or not there is a God who is alive and who actually loves us people down here on this beautiful, but hurting planet.

As the events of the past week unfolded, my mind traced back (and thankfully did so) to the game we played for a whole year at our dinner table, the one that changed my life and maybe can change it again.  Are there terrible things?  Yes.  Are there sad things?  Yes.  Are there things that are just downright wrong?  Yes.  But are they the only things? NO!

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to be swallowed up either.  I want to wisely navigate that tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

One does not negate the other.  They both matter.  They both have their place in my day. I would venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  And that’s why I want to open my eyes, like Annie Dillard implores me, to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” might be just what I need.  And they just might quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, pennies just for me.  This is a soothing and healing balm for my soul.

Will you play this game with me, even if it’s just for today?  Pennies from heaven.  Mine today was a beautiful view of the James River from outside our train window on the way to Florida taking Rachel to college.  What was yours?

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Posted in Thanks

TT (Season #01, Episode #01)

“It’s not happy people who are thankful.  It is thankful people who are happy.”  (Unknown)

Several years ago, our women’s group (we call ourselves the Beautiful Mess, which couldn’t describe us any better) read and walked through one of my all-time favorite books, One Thousand Giftsby Ann Voskamp.  The author had gone on a mission to find three things a day for one year for which she could find grace and beauty, gifts as she came to call them, and give thanks for them.  By the end of the year, she had accumulated over 1,000 of these gifts (for you non-math people, that’s 365 x 3 = 1,095), hence the name of the book.

This began my journey of thanks.  Since I am thankful-challenged, I downloaded an app simply called “thankful”, a private gratitude journal.  I began to keep track of one thing a day because my phone buzzed every night at 7 pm to remind me and I received one of those red notification circles that forced me to get rid of it. (How many are on your phone as you read this? I have to get rid of them at all costs.  It’s my mission in life.)  As of today, I am at 385 (and to confess, it’s been about 3 1/2 years, and now it’s your turn to do the math).

This prodded me to take another small step, this time posting one “someone” each day this past November on social media for which I was grateful.  It brought me great joy and kept me grounded during the holiday rush and gently reminded me of the people in my life that are true gifts (I can see you right now checking my Timeline to see if you might have been one of them).

My thanksgiving ritual extended beyond November as I started to share a “something” or “someone” each #thankfulthursday on social media.  Still not having overcome my thankful-challenged ways, I set a reminder each Thursday at 12 pm to receive another one of those very annoying red circles (yes, I deem them the bane of my existence).

And now here comes the “giant leap for mankind” in my gratitude journey.  After all, I do believe the quote above and certainly could use a little more happiness in my life.  I hope to send some your way as well.

Now, with no further ado, and what you actually came on the site to read, my week of thanks:

  • Headspace App (For those who have the same delightful disorder of anxiety that I do, this has been worth the cost.  In fact, last night when I was awake at 3 am, this was a life-saver and a sleep-giver.  Whoever you are, you British man with a soothing buttery voice, I could listen to you all day.)
  • Clematis in full bloom (This beauty welcomes me every time I open my garage door for three blissful weeks in late May, early June.)

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  • Our Penguins winning the Stanley Cup (When we were getting married, my father-in-law was our best man.  His toast was the following:  “The three most important words in any marriage are the following:  Pirates, Penguins, Steelers.”  This has, I hate to admit, proven to be true.  Congrats to Syd the Kid and all the rest.  And to my adopted home city of Pittsburgh, PA.)
  • Some of the sweetest words ever spoken in our home on Wednesday by my son Josh:  “Sure Mom, I can make dinner.”  Enough said.
  • One of my “fifth children’s” bridal shower and having the privilege of mentoring her and her fiancee on their marriage journey.  #marriedtothemax
  • Hanging out at Lincoln Center watching my niece make our family look smart by becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.  You go Court!
  • Lastly, all of you, my readers, my life-giving and hope-sharing readers (you just might be on this list every week).

You know the question I am going to ask today (and every Thursday for the future as we know it).  What are you thankful for this week?  Can’t wait to read all your comments below.  After all, I long for this to be journey we are sharing and the gifts you have received in the past few days matter to me!  I would be thrilled to hear them!