Little things in great Love…

Some days, my greatest accomplishment is keeping my mouth shut; not gonna happen today.  Texas…my beloved home state, the place of my birth and raisin,’ where my family roots run deep and wide, and where a piece of my heart forever remains, is in need. Lives have been lost, properties destroyed, homes in every neighborhood in every town have been without basics for nearly a week.  Infrastructure has failed and repair timelines remain unknown.  Basic things like drinking water and warmth are scarce.  As my Grandpa might say about now:“Good gracious sakes’ alive…it’s the largest Texas blue-norther on a team of wild Mustangs chasing a herd of fence-busting Longhorns hell-bent for the open range I’ve ever seen.”     

Texans are hardy folks, y’all; bold, daring, and built sturdy and strong in body and spirit to endure. Their Texas-sized sense of purpose, passion, great pride, and resilience runs fathoms deep.  Whether you hail from the north, south, east, or west of the Great State of Texas, you are a Texan, first and foremost. Texans live tried-and-true by the state motto decreeing us “The Friendly State;” we never meet a stranger. Right now, most Texans are likely plum wore-out.

While the images on national news stories this past week show the profound devastation, loss, and despair, some are finally beginning to focus on those stories of altruistic deeds. Take the iconic Texan, Mattress Mack, opening his doors in Houston once again to anyone seeking shelter and some warmth. Convention centers, sanctuaries, school gyms, and stadiums are shifting from vaccine sites to shelters so Texans have safe, warm places to land.  Texans are driving taco and other food trucks on inches of ice to deliver hot meals and drinking water in communities.  Neighbors are looking after neighbors, checking on each other, huddling up together, and finding creative ways to survive this freakish crisis. The acts of love and kindness grow on and on, but they might need some help and may be too humble or proud to out-right ask for it.

What can we do to help?  In my faith and daily living, I’m called to serve…to do little things with great love. GIVE friends; just give. Give time, money, energy, resources. Give to a TX Mutual Aid fund of your choice working on the ground at this moment. Place local contact information on your social media feed with numbers for those seeking help. Reach out to friends and family in some way to check in and let them know you love them. It’s not much in light of so much disruption, suffering, despair, and more, but it’s something little given in great love. It’s not much when others are cold, exhausted, and hungry, but it’s a place to start. Goodness and grace, happiness and hope, comfort and compassion…these are the warm fuzzies of everyday life. Little things, yes, but given in great big Texas-sized love.

And to my many Texas friends and family members still enduring this storm and processing the task of recovery, please remember no matter what any of us face in life, we can and will endure because we are not alone. Spring and bluebonnets are coming. All y’all keep on your warmest boots and gear, get back on that wild Mustang, and ride like the wind knowing you are not alone!  Be blessed and continue being a blessing to others, y’all. 🙂

How’s the view?

I hung up the phone from a difficult conversation and wanted to scream some not-so-nice words. A text with a picture suddenly appeared. It was my sister on top of a mountain trail (“Look at this view!”); and in an instant, my attitude shifted.

It’s no secret I enjoy hiking, especially with my sister. We have racked up many miles through our years on foot with some stunning scenery, unique experiences, and funny stories along the way.

As little girls, we hiked with our dad in the summers while on family vacation at the same working ranch in the Rockies of Colorado.  Before each trail hike, we always looked up in awe of the daunting task ahead wondering if our momentum, lungs, and little chicken legs would get us to the top (and, let’s be honest, excited to see what snack daddy would have for us at the top too). Of course, when we reached the top, taking in the view, eating our snack, and basking in our accomplishment, our perspectives grew in greater confidence. Daddy innately understood why we needed to climb a mountain every now and then; it was his quiet way of teaching us about life’s challenges and hardships. When we climbed mountains, we faced hurdles, obstacles, and problems to solve while on the trail using our attitude, effort, and strength.  We experienced first-hand how these same personal super-powers on each mountain hike are ever-present within us as we overcome challenges in everyday life.

2021 so far, at least for me, feels like another ginormous mountain after the year formally known as 2020. The view, to this point in the year, is not so pleasant.  Please understand…I’m grateful to be safe, well (so far), and have the resources to be home to assist and care for my dad full-time while keeping our pod moving forward each day in hope. We keep a routine, wear our masks, wash our hands, keep our distance (even on walks and hikes), and find simple ways to be kind to our minds.  But after nearly twelve months of quarantine at the High-Risk VanAmVilla (where, like the Hotel California, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”), this is beginning to wear-and-tear on all of us, y’all! But when we stop a moment, take a deep cleansing breath, and start again with baby steps, we realize we DO have the personal super-powers to keep on climbing.  After all, the mountain, no matter how big it is (and we sometimes swear it’s growing), is no match for our faith and desire to successfully climb it.  Attitude, effort, and personal strength are everything in life (and in climbing mountains). Mountains are meant to be climbed. Diseases are meant to cured (and I’m waiting patiently for my vaccine turn). Wounds are meant to be healed.  Problems are meant to solved.  All are critical learning experiences; some in sorrow and sadness and others in success and JOY. I have to think this pandemic mountain serves a higher purpose in making us stronger, wiser, resilient, grace-filled, and hopeful…physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

While we often can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we see and climb the mountains in our life. We can look at the mountains as being in the way or as THE WAY to personal growth and success (or as momma would sing to remind me to, “bloom and grow forever”). We always have a choice. We can stand at the bottom overwhelmed and initially defeated, or we can dig down deep in our resourceful well and find the very best way within ourselves to climb onward as we encourage one another. Here’s my hand reaching out to assist and here’s to each of us who are finding clever ways to fearlessly hike the mountains in our paths on this journey. Just know I’m singing and hiking beside you.  Continue to be blessed and be a blessing, my friends. 🙂

Reflection for the new year…

In a few hours, we set our sights on new beginnings for the new year.  WHEW; truly remarkable in light of our collective experiences during 2020.  There is little to say as we continue to synthesize it all while looking forward.  After all, the history of each of us has always been in our stories, and 2020 definitely gave us unique ways of crafting and sharing our stories.  Missing traditional celebrations or beautiful moments with family and friends, not being able to hug and comfort each other in person in times of grief or triumph…these created relentless emotions and something I trust none of us will take for granted ever again.  Personally, I’m a hugger and my inability to physically connect with others through a hug is devastating; ZOOM and FaceTime just don’t do it, y’all (and y’all better get ready for us huggers when it’s safe)!  As my momma would remind me, “no gift, especially a hug, is too small or simple to give or receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.”

The Scottish phrase “auld lang syne” literally means “old long since” or for “old time’s sake.”  After MUCH reflection during 2020, this new year in particular offers sacred opportunities to take the wisdom and experiences of this past year “for old time’s sake” forward as we build on its foundational lessons for a stronger future. The changes, growth, triumphs, missteps, JOYs, and sorrows of our experiences bring a fresh and clearer perspective to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and to love more.

So…I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2021 to:  BE in the moment, breathe deep and fortifying breaths, encourage one another, forgive with grace, keep promises, forgo grudges, apologize, share softer answers, work to understanding, walk more, seek adventure, smile at strangers through your mask with your shining eyes, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be gentle and kind, laugh more, help carry burdens, cherish inner dreams, learn a new skill, be bendable but not breakable, observe the beauty and wonder of the world, ask questions, explore options, 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 and gratefully prevails in all our daily humanness.

Challenging paths and trails often lead to the most beautiful of places, so may the new year bring to you and yours bountiful blessings filled to overflowing with hope, peace, JOY, and love. And as always, may you be blessed and be a blessing, friends.  Happy New Year! 🙂

Solstice Blessing…

The longest night; the shortest day…Winter Solstice.

Yes; winter is coming.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we verbalized our collective concerns about caring 24/7 for an aging parent during a pandemic.  After we spoke, she sent an extraordinary poem reflective of the poignant connection between the darkness and the light.  Even as we live through the longest nights of the Winter Solstice ahead, may we trust the blessing of light will always be near us:

Blessing for the Longest Night (by Jan Richardson)

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

On the Winter Solstice tomorrow, December 21, 2020, as with so much this year, we have another “unprecedented opportunity” to see a rare celestial event observable anywhere on Earth where the skies are clear.  Jupiter and Saturn will align in a “great conjunction,” appearing to collide into one super-bright point of light, similar to the rare “Christmas Star.”  Take the opportunity early tomorrow evening to check the sky in the southwest from about sunset to an hour after in your area to be amazed. As always, may you be blessed by this light and be a blessing in return.  Wishing you hope, peace, JOY, and love, with clear skies and wide eyes too, my friends. 🙂

JOY

Fun fact:  Did you know the word JOY has the point value of 13 on the Scrabble board?

On this third Sunday in Advent, on the 13th day of a long month in what feels like the longest year ever so far, it is time to light the third candle of JOY.  Even in the depths of a hurting and troubled heart, I cling to the message of the Angel’s rejoicing:  “I bring you tidings of great JOY that will be for all people…” Yet, JOY, in all its revelry and with its powerful message of hope, is in seemingly short supply these days.  How do we find and sow JOY?

Keeping JOY is good, but sharing it with others is even better.  It may be as simple as greeting someone through your mask, leaving a gift card in the mailbox for your postal worker, dropping a casserole on a neighbor’s doorstep, or creating a full-blown “pay it forward” opportunity.  Nothing extravagant; just sowing JOY to spark more JOY.

The message of Advent and Christmas is never-ending, yet it does not deny sorrow, hurt, grief, and sadness its place in this world.  Instead, Christmas illustrates how JOY is greater than despair or sadness, PEACE outlasts the turmoil and trauma, HOPE prevails in the darkest places, and LOVE, well LOVE ultimately wins.  Norman Vincent Peale issued this challenge:  “I truly believe if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can and will bring JOY and happiness and peace to this world…”  So, help me here… How do we sow JOY in order to experience JOY?  How do we keep telling the story, singing the songs, and living the spirit of JOY every day?

A JOY shared is a JOY doubled.  Perhaps accepting JOY with thanks and giving helps us find ways to sow it deeper for others.  May we always remain grateful for the JOY we spread and the JOY coming our way.  After all, JOY, in all its glory, is really the simplest form of gratitude in daily living, a small yet profound way to interact with others.  It doesn’t hurt either when it earns 13-points on the Scrabble board for the win. 🙂  Be blessed and be a blessing, my friends. #SpreadJOY

What sweeter music can we bring?

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 the 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 not a musician (he was the BEST audience member ever), his long-term memories surrounding music focus strongly on mom 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 in the sanctuary at Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.  I actually 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 along with her powerful soprano voice in all its glory…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, think of a beloved carol, song, or hymn you absolutely must hear each year when the season rolls around.  What does this blessing of music mean and bring 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 restore hope, bring peace and comfort, heal, and shower JOY into your days during this season, my friends.  Be blessed and be a blessings to others…  🙂

The GOODE space in all of us…

As the Reading Goddesses (RGs – or – book club) gathered via Meet yesterday, hearts were heavy thinking about the mutual loss of our extraordinary friend, Alice Goode, this past week.  Each of us took a moment to share, laugh, and lament.

Two of us first met her as a neighbor to one of the RGs; another RG studied music at the college where Alice sang and taught for years.  All of us have a plethora of stories, jokes, connections, and absolutely delightful memories tied to Alice.  Gifted with an glorious singing voice, she radiated pure JOY through her contagious laughter, witty commentary, and vibrant personality.  A literal tour-de-force well into her 80s, she never met a stranger and everyone was her instant friend. I am grateful beyond words for the many years of celebrations, shopping excursions, singing parties, and more I shared with Alice Goode.

Yet, two powerful remembrances got me to pondering…

While consoling me after the death of my own mom, Alice offered her unique view of how this life ceases and the next one begins. She summed it up like this:  “Your brilliant, singing mom hasn’t taken her final bow in your heart or soul, it was just her place in the performance to exit stage left until the next show…she’s just leading a new soprano section now.”  🙂

One of the RGs relayed this powerful story about Alice (I’m paraphrasing): “Alice attended my piano recital and congratulated me afterwards in person. While pleased with my performance, I mentioned to her an item for improvement. Alice pulled out a piece of paper with a dot on it and asked me what I saw; I noted the dot. Alice asked, ‘Why don’t you see all the clear around the dot…all the good from your musical work?'” 

Whew!  What powerfully GOODE analogies for daily living!  Each of us has all this GOODE space within and around us if only we would tap into it.  Why must we focus on those dots first and never on all the clear and wonderful space?

So in this season of hope, peace, JOY, and love, here’s hoping we all find more ways to focus on the GOODE space in ourselves and in others.  And if I know Alice, she will continue finding ways from stage left to gently remind us. Be a blessing, friends, and be blessed…

Seasonal sentiments

On my way into town early this morning for an appointment, two drivers allowed several others to merge into traffic and change lanes on a busy route in our area without offensive hand gestures.  A little later, the usually-stone-faced attendant just inside the medical facility taking temperatures and tracking information actually smiled with a holiday greeting first.  In the lab, the phlebotomist told holiday jokes while drawing blood.  The pharmacist filled two extra prescriptions on-the-spot so another trip into town was not necessary this week.  Carols were playing, folks were smiling with their eyes, and everyone found ways to spread a little cheer in the midst of a COVID world.

Is it me or were others intentionally finding ways to greet and capture all the sights, sounds, scents, and sentiments of the holiday season?  However we celebrate, expressing and actively living the reason for the season is a powerful tool; the challenging part for most of us is finding ways to continue sharing the story in our daily lives.

One of the ways I choose to live and share the story is the annual preparation and sending of Christmas cards with family and friends (this is currently in progress as I type.) Call me old-school (and I’ve blogged on this topic before), but even in the age of social media, nothing compares to sending and receiving cards, notes, and informative letters each year.  In my classroom years, we handmade cards from mounds of scrap art materials, filling them with heartfelt, handwritten notes, decorations, and sentiments of the season.  One of my more creative learners (who successfully endured four years with me in four different grade levels) LOVED this tradition.  His choice of colors and textures along with his written words were personally filled with love for the recipient of each card.  During our final year together, he sadly made a comment I’ll never forget, “You know, I hope someday someone sends me a personal card; I’ll keep it forever.”  It stunned me to realize he was always the giver and never the receiver. (I’m pleased to share we continue to exchange personal cards each Christmas, over 30 years now, while I fondly ponder our conversations about why Christmas cards mean so much to us.)

So on this first day of December, here’s a seasonal sentiment to ponder:

“Picture a Christmas Card or seasonal sentiment you received from a friend or family member. What made it so special to you?” 

As we usher in December and prepare in anticipation to welcome a new year soon, here’s hoping you take a few moments to send some greetings of your own this holiday…the sentimental impact will likely be more powerful than the greetings bestowed.  Especially this year, may we help each other find tender ways to capture the reason for the season through our daily words and deeds; we could all use a little more reflective sentiment as we wrap up 2020.  Be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!  🙂

Giving THANKS

Shakespeare observed:  “I can no other answer make but thanks, thanks, and ever thanks…”  In the spirit of my gratefulness for your participation this past month, please allow me a little poetic license to offer two simple words:  THANK YOU.

A THANK YOU has the power to transform our health, happiness, performance, personal excellence, and ultimate success.  Researchers note how grateful people are happier and more likely to maintain strong friendships.  An attitude of gratitude is shown to improve the heart’s rhythmic functioning, which helps us to reduce stress, think more clearly under pressure, and heal faster physically.  My own cardiologist tells me it is actually physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time!  When you are grateful you flood your body and brain with positive reactions (and those important endorphins) to uplift and energize you body, mind, spirit, and soul.

Gratefulness is similar to a muscle in the body—the more we use it, the stronger it gets.  There are three simple (but not always easy) suggestions I use daily in order to assist in strengthening my grateful “muscles:”

  1. Keep a gratefulness journal:  Take a walk/talk/squawk opportunity to write down, say out loud, pray, or meditate on what you are grateful for that day; it’s a mindset for choosing to focus on gratefulness in a purposeful way.
  2. Take a grateful tour:  Randomly write and send a note, card, or a text expressing your gratitude to others as often as you can.
  3. Say “THANK YOU” to someone every single day: When we take time to authentically express our appreciation to someone, we help ourselves in the process.

While these work for me, choose your own way, but use those muscles gratefully!

On this day of thanks and giving:  What one thing will you commit to do in developing your own personal plan to actively practice gratefulness each day?

THANK YOU for walking this gratefulness journey with me, especially during 2020 when little seems as it should.  THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts, reflecting with me and each other, while sharing JOY in simply being grateful together!  May we continue to encourage and uplift one another while keeping the importance of daily gratitude, gratefulness, and grace alive and well each day.  Happy Thanksgiving, my friends…so grateful for you!  🙂

Have enough?

“Gratitude can turn common days into Thanksgivings…”  ~William Arthur Ward

Days like today, as I’m cooking and baking, fill me to the brim with bittersweet memories, sacred moments, and the humorous recollections of those going before me.  When I turn a page in the family recipe book, pull out a special pie pan, wear Granny’s apron, or squish my hands into the cornbread dressing, I’m humbly reminded how choosing to live in a mindset of gratefulness each day allows me to see there is always enough…

  • happiness to keep us sweet,
  • trials to keep us strong,
  • sorrows to keep us human,
  • hope to keep us JOY”full,”
  • failure to keep us humble,
  • success to make us eager,
  • family and friends to give us comfort,
  • wealth to meet our needs,
  • enthusiasm to look for tomorrow,
  • faith to banish worry, and
  • determination to make each day better than the previous one. 

(These specific words were written in Granny B’s penmanship on the back of a Thanksgiving card from 1939; no indication if she wrote them or someone else should have this intellectual credit.)

It’s a struggle some days to feel we have enough; we are human after all.  Focusing on the blessings while placing the challenges aside is simple, just not always easy.  Saying thank you is simple, just not always easy.  Living in gratefulness and gratitude challenges us to ponder the reality we really do have enough.  Again I say, gratefulness is a mindful place–perhaps THE place–we find our truest and best selves.

So on Day #29 of our gratefulness journey:  If you created your own “have enough” list to share with those gathered around your table, what would you gratefully include on it?

Regardless of who, if any, are gathered to feast at your table tomorrow, may we all be keenly aware of the gifts we pass and receive to and from one another with profound gratefulness.  Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, my friends; you matter and I’m so grateful for you! 🙂