Balance for Our Existence

To live a life of gratitude
To live a life of gratitude
is to open our eyes to the countless ways
in which we are supported by the world around us.
Such a life provides less space for our suffering
because our attention is more balanced.
We are more often occupied
with noticing what we are given,
thanking those who have helped us,
and repaying the world in some concrete way
for what we are receiving.
-Gregg Krech-

This past weekend was Thanksgiving, traditionally a time of reflection. For me; however, it was more about remaining in a state of gratitude. This state of mind began from a poetry lesson I shared with my students during writing workshop before the holiday. They were to create a poem of thankfulness from a mentor text. Following a discussion regarding the way the poem was structured, we soon began to discuss the author’s word choice. We were most impressed with the author’s ability to describe what she was thankful for without actually printing it in black and white. This became the part of the poem we wanted to emulate in our own writing. 

At that point we stopped, opened our writer’s notebook and for four minutes brainstormed what we were thankful for. I asked my fifth graders to think outside the box on this one – to think beyond what the average 10-year old might write and come up with things they were thankful for from the heart. After four minutes of brainstorming, we met on the class carpet to share—and oh my goodness, it took every thing within me to hold back the tears. Let me share with you a few of the lines from these awesome fifth graders:

For the horn that lets me express my inner soul,

I am thankful. (OK she is gifted)

For the beautiful music my saxophone makes without words,

I am thankful.

For the pleasure of being able to be taught by a woman who has been through so much,

I am thankful. (yep-this one brought a tear)

For the tiniest surprises in life which brighten my day,

I am thankful.

For the courage to stand up for what I believe,

I am thankful.

For the pleasure of expressing my thoughts and feelings through writing,

I am thankful.

For the ability to know bad times will get better,

I am thankful.

This exercise, shared with my class, created in me a most grateful heart. I could have written these lines, but they came from those special children I get to share life with each day. I am an extremely blessed woman. I never want to take that for granted or cease to have a grateful heart, no matter my circumstances. Fortunately being thankful has become a constant state instead of one visited every now and then. Gratitude has created, not only a balance for my existence, but “less space for suffering” as well.

This I know for sure….

Patiently Surprised!

I am terrible at waiting. If you asked anyone who really knows me, they would agree. Patience is not a virtue that I posses. I admire people who are patient. They seem to be satisfied with their circumstances and with life in general. Waiting is an excruciating process for me. Walmart check out lines—-just forget it- waiting for my turn is agonizing. The ugliness of my personality seems to demonstrate itself best in situations where patience is required. This lack of ability to wait seems to extend to my life circumstances as well. It appears that I am not adept to waiting on the Lord either. I want answers – now. I want to know how it will work in the end—-now. I was reading a Henri Nouwen devotional this morning and he alleges that “Patience does not mean passivity it is active waiting in which we live in the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.” Nouwen is speaking of waiting patiently on God in terms I had never thought of before this moment.

If I am to buy into this Nouwen idea of waiting on God, then I truly am more patient than I thought I was. Nouwen continues to write “Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants.” Contently waiting for God is grounded in my ability to grip the difficult moments of life and “suffer” through them in order to fully appreciate when the answer finally comes. I am to experience my circumstances through the lens of how I am “wired”-meaning that each of our journeys will be unique, but I am NOT supposed to simply wait as I  would to check out at Walmart. It isn’t a passive stance. It is actively working through life’s circumstances and embracing the invitation to grow. Yes, this does require a different type of patience, one that is grounded in action and results in blessings beyond our imagination.

This I know for sure….


“The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a ‘happy Christian.’ Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays ‘that they might have MY joy fulfilled in themselves.'”
– Oswald Chambers-

Happiness, what an ambiguous word! If you asked 100 different people the definition of happiness, you would get 100 different definitions. A couple months ago I was eating lunch with my father when he asked me if I was happy. I thought about the question for a moment and answered that I wasn’t sure if I was happy, but I knew that I was content. To me, happiness is directly connected with life circumstances (what “happens”); those conditions beyond our control. The tapestry of life we weave directly affects our temporal happiness. At that moment with my father I couldn’t say that my “life circumstances” were at the “happy” point. Happiness is fickle, it changes as we change. Fortunately, life circumstances do change. If we are at a point where happiness seems elusive, our situation could change and bring us into a happier state.

Contentment, on the other hand, is measured by the ability to rest in our circumstances knowing that we can overcome the difficulties of life and maintain a sense of self though it all. Happiness may not be attainable due to life situations at a particular time, but contentment is always within our grasp. Choosing to be content is within our control alone. The desire to live life, no matter the circumstances, with an attitude of fulfillment paves the road of contentment. For those fortunate enough to experience happiness from life circumstances coupled with contentment from a settled state of mind are then able to experience the final step – true joy.

This I know for sure….

Giving In!

There has been a persistent voice inside my head this past year that seems to have said “How can you possibly go on with your life. The love of your life is gone from this world; you have overwhelming responsibilities as a parent, teacher, friend, sister and daughter. There is nothing electronic that works in your house (sorry-had to add that one). What makes you think you can move past this hurt and pain? THIS is your new life, get used to it—buck up. Your former identity is gone and this is what defines you now. What was is no longer yours.” And, for the past 14 months, I have listened and bought into this load of nonsense. Could there be anything more self-defeating, could there anything more stifling to living life? I don’t think so. 

Fortunately along side this persistent voice there as been a softer one. It sings a much different song—it sings of hope and promise and of living a life again. It is one that is familiar, even though I don’t always listen to it. It reminds me of precious memories, which will always be a part of who I am, but also reminds me of promises made to the one I loved about going on with life and living and loving again. See, Don and I had this conversation. I think it is one that you usually have at some point if you have been married 24 years. It is the “What- would -you- do if- something- happened- to- me?” talk. I remember ours very well. When Don asked me this question, I remember saying “Well, I will NEVER even look at another man—and I will wear black every day, sit in a dark room and sway back and forth because just the thought is too morbid to even imagine”—well, IT did happened and IT was too hard to imagine, and just when I am inclined to go to that dark place and begin swaying back and forth, I am reminded of his answer back to me. In his stern, but gentle voice he said, “Marsha, remember that I want you to be happy. I want the children to be cared for and loved and whatever has to happen to meet those ends—-you have my blessing.” Then, of course I replied with something silly like – “OK—fine but lets not talk about it, because there is NO way you are going before me.”

Fast forward to November 2006 and guess what?—It has happened, and I am left with a wonderful blessing; even if I am just now figuring that out. (SIDE BAR – If you are married and reading this, I challenge you to have this conversation with your wife or husband and truly there is only one way it can or should end and that is with each of you giving the other a blessing of continued life for the one who is left behind). So I am beginning to listen to this softer voice, knowing it has been there all along. I am sure it is the promise that not only Don would want for us here, but one our Heavenly Father always has for us. Each day this voice becomes louder and resonates with hope and joy. It is a new song:

Isaiah 61:3

And provide for those who grieve in Zion-
To bestow on them a crown of BEAUTY instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness 
Instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise 
Instead of a spirit of despair.

I love this new song:
So I am giving in—I am accepting the blessing. This is the song I am now going to sing and hope others are able to sing it along side me.

This I know for sure….

Addendum to Simply Being Present OR A Lesson on Grief.

I just returned from a YWBB (young widow) dinner in Chicago this weekend. I found this one to be quite different from the rest. In talking my feelings out with a friend following the dinner I was able to come to some conclusions.

Grief is extremely self absorbing. It is truly ALL about you because the grief is so personal. I don’t say this in a negative or derogatory sense. It simply is. Grief is not a linear process; meaning that you don’t go through this step of grief and are finished with it never to return. No, you deal with this step of grief and may take 10 more steps forward only to find yourself back to step one in a few days. When I first started this journey I wanted to “fix it”. I am a teacher-a terrific problem solver and I looked for the formula to “fix” the grief I was feeling so that I could begin to heal. Well, it simply doesn’t work that way. I was looking for the “mark” of healing. This weekend it become apparent to me that yes, healing has not only begun, but God’s promise of becoming whole again is real.

I wish I could paint a masterpiece like DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” that would give you an idea of what the YWBB dinners are like (please don’t email me, I am in no way comparing this group to the Lord’s disciples). We sit around a table sharing a meal, but no one, not even the new members sit in the same chair for more than 20 minutes. There is a constant movement around the room that rivals musical chairs. It is as if we can not get enough of each other’s lives, each other’ stories or each other’s insights (“the church” could sure learn something from this group). For months, I ached for this attachment. I needed to go to the dinners because I was hurting and needed to be with those who “got me”. This dinner (November 4, 2006) was different. For the first time, I couldn’t wait to help another going through the initial steps of grief. I wanted to, for the first time, give and not take. It wasn’t until after the dinner that I realized that was my “mark” that healing was underway. It was no longer about me, but about someone else. It was no longer about my support, but about finding ways to give it. It wasn’t about my own self absorption, but actually WANTING to be apart of someone else’s. I believe this is a gauge of healing no matter your circumstances. When you get to the point where it is less about you and more about others—healing can begin to complete its work in your life. Healing can not only begin…….but for the first time becomes possible.

This I know for sure….