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…

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! 🙂

Snuggle Bunny

Our youngest is here with us for a while and bringing such JOY to our pandemic days as we continue our three-generational experience here at the High-Risk-VanAmVilla.  She and her delightful feline companion, Coop, keep things fun, young, and energetic, especially for my dad.  The two of them have a deep connection and she definitely has a special way with Pop.

Gratefully, while staying with us, she is helping me tackle the daunting task of our attic. She understands how sentimental I am, why it is often challenging for me to let go, and how best to navigate this task with me as I recall the story about certain treasures.

A little backstory:  When we moved here three years ago, there was little time to deeply clean out everything from our home of 20+ years (even though MUCH was donated too), so instead of impulse decisions, several sentimental items were stuffed into bins, sealed, and loaded onto the moving truck for the 1,300-mile journey east.  In my defense, my parent’s house of 35 years had been completely cleaned out and sold while at the same time I retired and brought home an office filled with treasures, all within the same year.  Yes; daunting is an understatement.

Fortunately, we have a HUGE, and I mean HUGE, walk-in attic in our current home.  Unfortunately, it allows me the space to store bins of items we no longer require in our lives.

So in true 2020 reflective fashion, it is time to simplify this situation, be grateful for the service and JOY each item has given, and now pass along for someone else to treasure.  There are, however, a few items others will not find so “treasurable,” and sadly, Snuggle Bunny is one of them…

My favorite term of endearment, “Snuggle Bunny,” came into being before I married St. M (not very manly, but it makes him grin even today).  When our oldest was born, we both used the term “Snuggle Bunny” as we hugged her up.  Her first Easter, I stumbled across a t-shirt with this phrase (who knew?) and she “‘gave it” to her daddy as a surprise.  He wore it proudly until she asked to wear it to sleep one night at about age 3.  She wore the t-shirt as a night shirt until her baby sister took it over about five years later.

While I won’t reveal exactly when the shirt was officially retired, let’s just say it has endured multiple years of wearings and washings from three members of our family.  And as you might have guessed, this little jewel was folded on top of the first bin I opened.  Memories, stories, and anecdotes flooded me.  I’m so grateful for the comforting service of this soft cotton shirt stitching together two generations of our family in smiles and sweet dreams, bound in love.

So on Day ???? of our gratefulness journey (in true 2020 fashion, I have no idea what day it really is, but it feels like Nov. 239):  Ponder over a sentimental item in your life and the significance it continues to hold for you. Why are you grateful for it?  And the next time you’re cleaning out and find a special sentimental treasure, take a moment to reflect on your own “Snuggle Bunny” and gratefully remember it will always be a part of you, my friends. 🙂

PLENTY of gratefulness…

There is a quaint old cornucopia sitting in our kitchen these days.  It is filled with yummy seasonal fruits and veggies in anticipation of our impending Thanksgiving celebration.  This particular ornamental basket has been in our family for four generations, and even though it shows some wear and tear, it continues to showcase abundance in my life. As a young child in particular, I was always fascinated by the unique shape, the decorative motif, and the visual reminder it provided as a symbol of nature’s bountiful harvest.  But explaining this to Kindergarteners during Thanksgiving…well, that’s another matter.

It was the fall of 1983 and I was teaching my morning class of 32 Kinder friends when I pulled out my cute cornucopia.  Innocently asking the question, “Now friends, who can tell me what this item is? What does it do?  Where might you see it?”  Everything from “turkey tooter” to “basket whistle” fell out of little mouths.  Not one child knew “horn of plenty” or “cornucopia.”  Being a very young, naive student teacher, I was determined to right this obvious injustice (as my mentor master teacher softly snickered in the back of the room 🙂 ).  Quietly and methodically, I reached into my secret sack to fill my cornucopia with little fruits, nuts, vegetables, a tiny pumpkin, and other harvest foods, asking my learners to name each item as it was placed inside the cornucopia (vocabulary building during morning meeting was critical).  When it was filled to overflowing, a child brilliantly exclaimed, “Well, it’s plenty full of food now!”  This is when we talked about the cornucopia being a “horn-of-plenty.”  Our language experience quickly turned into a lengthy and excited discussion about much more that just a cornucopia.  Each child created a personal cornucopia, filling it with objects or items best representing individual interests as a reminder of all they had to be grateful and thankful for during the season; the results, and their simple writings about them, were truly remarkable!

Even today, this family cornucopia remains a Thanksgiving centerpiece in our home.  So on Day #24, think about filling your own cornucopia.  What items best represent what you are grateful and thankful for in particular this year?

Whether it’s a cornucopia or another symbol of the season, here’s hoping we all find plenty to fill our hearts, minds, and souls with gratefulness, especially this year.  Please stay safe and well as you take care of yourself and each other, my friends!  🙂

Attitude of Gratitude

My Granny B told me, “Gratitude is your best attitude each day because there is calmness and quiet JOY to living gratefully each day.”  Her Granny B’isms, as I’ve come to call them, were her small pondering pearls of wisdom imparted during the important work we did in her kitchen.  I spent a great deal of time with my maternal grandparents during my formative years and there was a great deal of conversation and wisdom imparted!

Granny loved being in the kitchen.  She planned elaborate baking opportunities for us on Saturdays (in between watching Julia Child on PBS each week) as she told me stories about her life while quietly dispensing her B’isms.  Ironically (although never formally diagnosed), she was manic depressive.  Before there were self-help books, talk shows, and the medications used today, she created her own form of self-help and hope.  She believed strongly in her faith journey and in the power of gratitude as her personal prescription toward a deeper gratefulness for life. Somehow, celebrating daily gratitude became her habit, her attitude, and her unspoken effort.  I know she struggled during many dark days, but she kept giving her personal best, consistently applying some element of cheerfulness. Expressing gratefulness was a powerful way to positively connect with those around her.  Besides, who doesn’t like being around a person who’s genuinely grateful?  I asked her one day what motivated her:  “First thing each morning, reflect on your day ahead and aspire to be grateful with an open heart and mind. At the end of the day, think over what you have done, if you fulfilled or rejected your aspiration.  Either way, gratefully rejoice that you are able to see and go forward, no matter the outcome, with renewed clarity, confidence, and compassion in the days ahead…”  Whew…lots to ponder indeed!

So today, think back over your formative years.  Who first demonstrated the power of gratefulness with an attitude of gratitude?  If given the opportunity, what would you say to this person today?

In our complex world and challenging society, it is my sincerest hope we continue to seek and find an attitude of gratitude daily, and as always, gratefully choose to lead with hope and always in the greatest of these…love.  🙂