Fill every day with thanks and giving…

This little poem by Karl Fuchs fell out of his book today:

The table is almost brimming with good eats;
We’re surrounded by family and friends; what a treat!
The feelings that fill us simply can’t be beat;
It’s Thanksgiving Day, and it all feels complete.

But other days, sometimes, things don’t seem so fine;
Those days are not polished and don’t seem to shine.
It’s then in our minds, we forget all the good,
And think of the things we would get, if we could.

On days when our thinking causes us dread,
If we could remember, it’s all in our head,
And not let our minds take our gratitude away,
Then we’d make every day like Thanksgiving Day.

Nope; it’s not November; it’s not even officially spring at this point.  It IS an unprecedented time in our world history filled to the brim with ever-changing news, updates, instructions, guidelines, hand-washing, anxiety, cabin-fever, toilet-paper hoarding (why?), information overload, and so much more.  In a word…overwhelming.  But as dad and I sat together at the table this morning drinking coffee and talking about the book he’s “reading,” he quietly reminded me how his generation, and especially the one before him, “went off to war, fighting for the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ we likely take for granted each day.  Why can’t everyone just keep things in perspective now?  This too, shall pass, Beth.”  It was truly a beautiful moment of pure clarity…

Dad doesn’t understand COVID-19, or why he needs to incessantly wash his hands (when he “took a shower today, didn’t I?”), or what it means to medically self-isolate and be socially-distant in our home due to his high-risk status.  He  can’t remember why he’s even high risk.  He doesn’t care about stocking up on pantry items so we have a meal each day, whether we have gas in the car, or why everyone is working remotely from home.  Instead, dad focuses on the present because it’s all he knows in that moment.  Sometimes he looks at me and clearly states, “I don’t know what I don’t know, but I’m good just not knowing.  I don’t forget things; I just can’t remember them.”  🙂

Dad has structure each day mixed with relaxed freedom.  He’s not afraid to be alone, even though he never is.  He’s teaching me yet again how it’s okay to not be rushed, to stop and just be still a while.  And without knowing it, he’s reminding me how everyday is a present, a gift of new beginnings in boundless hope and endless possibilities.  It’s important not to allow my own mind to take away my gratitude.   So in these uncertain times when anxiety and irrational thoughts begin to take hold, may we all remember to take those deep cleansing breaths, set our minds, and keep moving forward in kindness, grace, hope, and love, while finding ways to fill each day with thanks and giving…even if it’s just the middle of March.  🙂

A Living Legacy…

We often attempt to live our lives backwards…wanting more things, more education, more money, more order in an attempt to do more of what makes us hapLaRue Miller017 01py in this life.  The way it actually works is the reverse.

“You must first be who you really are and then do what you need to do in order to have what you need and want in life…smiles and trials will come and go; your true self should always shine.”  ~ LaRue Miller

For as long as I’ve known her (all my life, so, several decades now 🙂 ), LaRue Miller chooses to embrace and actively live this pearl of wisdom with grace and unconditional love.  And while she shares and remains as sharp as my Wusthof knives, she chooses to do so more comfortably from her favorite chair at home most days.  I gratefully had the opportunity to sit and visit with her in person this past week; what a treasured time indeed.

It is interesting to note how Mrs. Miller’s personal philosophy lives on in the generations of lives she has touched throughout her teaching and volunteer work in the very town where she grew up and stayed to give back.  To hear her talk is to participate in a master class of communication and collaboration from deep within her soul.   Her obvious passion for learning and teaching, her quiet strength, her pearls of wisdom discreetly dropped into conversation, and her determined ability to see and bring out the personal best in each soul…these are all touchpoints in the powerful legacy she continues to create.  And while she would never admit it, she remains a critical part of something profoundly extraordinary because she is a catalyst.

Mrs. Miller will tell you she is humbled and honored to have her legacy carried forth in the classrooms of the school bearing her name.  When you visit or volunteer on her campus, you will still find telltale signs of her subtle influence:  a picture or book here, a quote there…all small reminders of her majestic influence and continuing inspiration.  She deeply loves her community, her namesake school, her church, and her family and friends.  As the first principal of her namesake school for the last eight years of my educational career, I remain forever grateful for her wisdom, enthusiasm, stories (especially when she taught with my mom), collaborations, and hugs; she is so generous with those hugs!  🙂  She knows her story, she communicates her story so incredibly well, and she continues to lead with her story every single day!

There is a beautiful book in every classroom on her campus called The LaRue Miller Legacy, written by students and staff about her incredible story.  It is heartwarming to know her legacy project continues today to assist young leaders in practicing speaking skills as they develop language and communication skills through shared conversations while documenting for future generations the life and legacy of the school’s namesake.   Thank you, Mrs. Miller, for honoring us with your legacy and this important generational project.  Thank you for being a personable living legend with so much grace and unconditional love.  As you always remind me, “the goal is simple…to help you achieve yours!”  🙂

Seeds of Promise…

“If we had no winter the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome…”  ~ Anne Bradstreet

Every year at this time (and especially because Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year), my hands begin to itch to dig in the dirt, sowing seeds for flowers, herbs, and veggies (and new ideas) to blossom and flourish.  While the cold and snow of winter lingers, there’s always hope of a spring that waits to be.  Even in the midst of long and dark cold days filled with uncertainty, changes, and daily transitions on a personal level, there are small seeds of promise emerging as the mind processes all that is.

As a little girl, I marveled how seeds and bulbs would surrender themselves in the ground to be used for a greater purpose.  Even today, as I find myself uncertain of the next steps in this overwhelming journey with dad, I stubbornly plant myself in order to be used for a greater purpose.  After all, Momma herself observed, “when you plant yourself to make a difference, you grow as a person whose harvest will benefit others and, in your unique way, blossom into your own greatness.”  (I still marvel when finding her pearls of wisdom jotted down in unusual places, like this little jewel written inside a book cover hidden on dad’s shelf.)

In this daily journey with dad, I’ve come to see firsthand how many days pass in semi-unawareness, a busy oblivion if you will.  Ironically, we both find value the mundane and the magical moments, especially when dad is truly present.  We both appreciate we are here together and the most important thing we can do in the situation is just show up.  Nothing about Alzheimer’s or his journey in it is a straight line…everything curves, dives, turns, and twists.  It is filled to the brim with mystery, obstacles, defeats, victories, dead ends, delays, detours, and too many questions.  The one thing I’ve come to personally realize is my immediate purpose may not be the ultimate purpose, but it serves as a catalyst to live and share in this time with him.  And just like the process all seeds and bulbs go through in order to become all they are destined to become, we each continue to go through a unique process to become and do what we are meant to do at this time and in this place.

With all that’s swirling in 2020 so far, having little seeds of promise helps to refocus my energy and hope in the days ahead.  This particular season of winter has not been so pleasant, yet the coming spring is planted in seeds of promise.  It’s time to get busy and continue sowing… 🙂

A Star is chosen…

“We ARE the Magi, searching, resplendent in this world’s accouterments of knowledge and wealth and achievement…but we search and seek something more.”  ~Ann Weems~

Epiphany. Three Kings. The gifts of the Magi. Star Sunday.  I had the privilege to worship this morning from an colonial pew in my sister’s church, a blessing since she continues to recuperate from a recent major surgery.  Today is Epiphany, and affectionately known in this church as Star Sunday, where everyone is given the opportunity to choose a “star gift” to guide them through the coming year.  Each “star gift” is a cut-out star with one word printed on it.  Words like creativity, caring, imagine, healing, grace, patience, acceptance (and so many others) are prepared in anticipation of this annual opportunity.  As you leave the worship service, you prayerfully close your eyes and select a star (without seeing the word printed on it).  Like the Magi who chose to follow a Star without truly understanding where it would lead, we take a leap of faith to use the “star gift” in guiding our journey through the year ahead.

For the past three years, my “star gift” has profoundly complemented my personal “one word” for the year.  While my annual “one word” comes to me gingerly over a period of reflection in preparation and anticipation for the new year, the “star gift” word chooses me at random.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Each new year presents new challenges, new hopes, new opportunities; suddenly it’s time to actually embrace all this new.  With the gift of new beginnings (and new words) in a new year, we need opportunities to ponder them in our hearts and to take action as well.  Exactly how my “one word” and now my “star gift” interact and help guide my journey in 2020 remain to be seen, but I accept the clarity and purpose of each.

So may we all carry the faith to gratefully accept the star we are given this year and the courage to follow where it leads…and may grace and peace be yours in 2020.  🙂

20/20 in 2020

In just a couple of hours, we set our sights on new beginnings for a new year and new decade…the 20s!  WOW; truly remarkable!  While the “auld lang syne” literally offers “old long since” for “old time’s sake,” this new year and decade offer sacred opportunities.  The changes, growth, triumphs, missteps, JOYs, and sorrows of prior experiences bring a fresh and clearer perspective to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and to love more.  As we observe, our traditions are the stories we narrate and write together as family and friends; gratefully, we all begin another year of building on those traditions while continuing our stories.  After all, it is said no gift is too small or simple to receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.  So…I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2020 to:  BE in the moment, breathe deep and fortifying breaths, forgive with grace, share softer answers, encourage one another, keep promises, forgo grudges, apologize, work to understanding, walk more, seek adventure, smile at strangers, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be gentle and kind, laugh more, learn a new skill, observe the beauty and wonder of the world, ask questions, explore nature, express thanks, welcome others, and speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again!  The spiritual gift of actively living this challenge with grace and gratitude fills my soul with hope as time marches onward, and hope, my friends, constantly prevails in all our daily humanness.

May this new year and new decade bring to you and yours bountiful blessings filled to overflowing with hope, peace, JOY, and love.  Happy New Year 2020!

The blessing of music…

The chords are so grand they send shivers down the spine.  The sound of familiar melodies fill the air with emotion so sweet the heart and soul feel warmly wrapped in the glorious blessing of music…

We’ve all known this feeling when the JOY of a Christmas carol or holiday song swells deep within our souls and rises through our senses.  It brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eyes.  Each year we bring out these musical favorites to dust off and tune up, and like a fine antique, they become more priceless with the passing of time.

Many of my most powerful Christmas memories and blessings are firmly stored within the refrains of beloved carols.  Such was the conversation with Pop recently as we listened to various Christmas carol renditions while decorating and packing up holiday treats for him to share at his art class party.  While not a musician (he was the BEST audience member ever), his long-term memories surrounding music focus strongly on momma and her solo work in our church for over 50 years.  He reminded me how she sang the inaugural service dedicating the beautiful Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ on Christmas Eve 1966.  I remember sitting between both grandmothers sucking on Lifesavers with my eyes closed while listening to momma sing a beautiful story about the birth of a King.  The organ in all its new majesty and her powerful soprano voice in all its glory…whew!  What I wouldn’t give for a recording of this event to savor once more.

As the mystery of the season rings and sings all around:  What does the blessing of MUSIC mean to you?

“I think music in itself is healing.  It’s an explosive expression of humanity.  It’s something we are all touched by and no matter what culture, everyone loves music.”  ~ Billy Joel ~

May the blessing of music bring hope, peace, comfort, healing, and JOY to your world, my friends.  🙂

Christmas blessings, anyone?

It’s a cold, rainy, dreary day outside, but warmth, music, and twinkling lights bring a feeling of comfort and JOY inside.  Once dad officially begins the day and joins us in the kitchen, he’s amazed at the holiday transition taking place inside our home.  Stockings hanging from the hearth, the Wise Men traveling way-from-afar (that’s another story), the smell of cinnamon and orange burning on the stove, and the first candle of Hope burning from the Advent wreath for the season of anticipation greet him.  He smiles, pats my back, and notes, “Ahhh, Christmas…more than just a day on the calendar; it’s a warm place in my heart everyday.”  We stop and embrace in this flurry of Yuletide preparations; a seasonal blessing of warmth in our hearts and soul in that particular moment…then, he immediately wants to know what I’m getting him for Christmas! 🙂

WARMTH… As one who frequently suffers from “personal summers,” moderate heat is not necessarily a blessing all the time, however, let us concentrate on the “affectionate” part of the definition for this blessing today.  Fervor, enthusiasm, and zeal come to mind when reflecting on the blessings of warmth.  Having a conversation with someone who gives eye contact when speaking and listening is warmth.  Showing empathy by grasping the perspective of another is warmth.  What does the blessing of WARMTH mean to you? 

As we transition from one season to the next (even though the calendar shows another 19 days until the Winter Solstice), may we challenge ourselves to take precious moments to breathe and reflect gratefully upon the WARMTH of simple blessings during these final days of 2019.