Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gratitude Journal #214

Today, I am grateful for 47 years of breathing in and breathing out, and for celebrating the accomplishment by eating shrimp and rib-eye steaks and cheesecake expertly prepared by my own personal Iron Chef. Yum.

Today, I am grateful for the incredible outpouring of love and kindness for Jonah and his family. I had hoped to gather a few dozen Christmas cards. At this point, we have people from three continents sending cards, at least two teachers who are having their whole classes make cards, and six or seven card-making groups who are spreading the word, in addition to about 55 individuals who've emailed for the mailing address. I've been sniff-sniffing repeatedly reading the emails from so many wonderful, kind, and generous people. It's awesome and humbling to see the Holy Spirit in action! (If you missed Jonah's story, please read this post.)

Today, I am grateful for the Junior High Show Choir performance Sunday. We had front-row seats and what a wonderful performance! Our son Nick is the one in blue.

ETA: Photo by George, who insisted that my failure to acknowledge the
source of this photo represented copyright infringement.

Today, I am grateful for a holiday visit from my mother and nephew. So happy to have them join us for Thanksgiving!

Today, I am also grateful for parties with friends, for the kindness of strangers, and for a warm and comfortable home.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, November 22, 2013

When God Drops Something in Your Lap

A few weeks ago, I posted on my stamping blog about keeping Christmas simple and asked readers to comment about their own plans for simplifying Christmas. One of the more than 50 comments stood out. Here's what a reader named Jane wrote:

Well -- on Sept. 28th my husband fell out of a tree while trying to help his 98 year old mother by trimming her trees. He broke 7 ribs in multiple places and his wrist. A week later we found out that our 4 year old grandson had a cancerous tumor on his kidney and within four days they removed his kidney and adrenal gland. After a second surgery for a bowel obstruction he is now starting chemo and radiation for his stage 3 cancer. So Christmas by necessity will be simple. The first thing I did was to give myself permission to not make my Christmas cards this year. So I have a good start on next year's cards! The other thing is to ask for help. So my son and his wife are coming tomorrow to help us decorate our Christmas trees. I think our simplest Christmas was the two years when we were missionaries in Africa.... we could not give or send cards or gifts... so it was very freeing. Yes we missed family terribly but the tension of the holidays was gone and the focus was where it should always be!

I asked Jane to send me her grandson's address so I could send him a Christmas card, and she did. I stared at that address for at least a minute without blinking. Then I prayed.

Seriously, God? What do You want me to do with this?

Because Jane's grandson, whose name is Jonah, lives ten minutes from me. Could this be a coincidence in the big, big world of the World Wide Web? Perhaps.

But probably not.

I believe God dropped information on my hurting neighbor in my lap, and as I prayed about what to do that might be useful, I realized Jane was my best guide.

Fortunately, Jane shared that Jonah's family is surrounded by the love and support of family, friends, and church. His mom, Molly, started a Facebook group for Jonah. You can read it HERE. Molly combines their daily experience with Jonah's cancer and an amazing witness for faith and leaning on God. Jonah and his parents are facing an unimaginably challenging situation with grace, courage, and generosity.

Most efforts I could make to help are unnecessary and would probably would feel intrusive. But card making brought me and Jane together, and card making feels like the best way to respond.

Because who doesn't love getting happy mail?

I'm asking my readers to shower Jonah and his family with cards for Christmas. Store-bought, hand-made...doesn't matter. If you have children, perhaps you could ask them to draw pictures or make cards for Jonah.

Let's shower Jonah in love and support as he fights this thing.

Email me at susanraihala at roadrunner dot com for my mailing address, or you can click here for an email link. I will collect all the cards and drop them on Jonah's doorstep periodically. If you choose to continue sending cards after the holidays, I'll keep delivering.

Sending cards is one small thing we can do to lift this family up. Another is to pray for them. If you pray, please add Jonah to your prayer list and to your church's prayer list.

God's grace, peace, love, and healing mercy are descending on this family in their time of trial. I'm so happy to be a small part of that. Will you join me?  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gratitude Journal #213

Today, I am grateful for my fourteen-year-old son, a young man with a kind heart and strong will. He's discovered that school isn't so bad after all, that working hard gets results, and that kindness is  important. He's into comic books, action movies, dancing, and Minecraft.  I love you, Nick. Happy birthday!

Today, I am grateful for a week spent with my in-laws. I've always said I am most fortunate in my in-laws, and this visit was one more example of that. What a blessing they are in our lives!

Today, I am grateful for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and for the stores that have stuck to their principles and are not opening for Thanksgiving Day. 

Today, I am grateful that my younger son, Jack, has been released from speech therapy at our local children's hospital. Starting when he was four, he spent three years in physical therapy, five years in occupational therapy, and now seven years in speech. While he continues to receive speech and occupational therapies at school, this release represents the huge progress he has made, the hard work he has done, and the amazing skill of the therapists he has had. Way to go, Jack!

Today, I am grateful that my birthday is coming up, and for some reason I don't even care that it's an odd number...and a prime number at that. I love my 40's. Picasso said, "It takes a long time to become young." Well, I'm a slow learner, but I'm finally starting to understand. THAT is certainly something to celebrate!

Today, I am grateful for all the prayers, aid, and assistance pouring into the Philippines (finally). What horrible conditions the victims of the typhoon have suffered, made even worse by infrastructure problems. I am also grateful for the help and prayers going out to victims of the tornados yesterday. May all who are suffering the loss of homes and loved ones receive the help they need.

Today, I am grateful for the story I'm going to share later this week. God works in amazing ways!

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why Are We Doing This?

If you are reading this in email, please scroll down for Monday's post.

What do the holidays mean to you? Do they mean mangers and stars and shepherds and a baby born? Do they mean menorahs and temple dedication? Do they mean solstice? Do they mean gifts and lights and shopping and Santa? Do they mean lots and lots of good food, parties, and family togetherness?

The holidays are huge on every level of our lives, no matter our religious faith (or lack thereof). That's why I think it's important for each of us to take stock well before we start and ask ourselves why we do the holiday stuff we do. When we truly understand why, we can more easily and intentionally decide what we need to do and what is (surprise!) actually optional.

Like many people, I find that I set the standard of the holidays a little too high. I want to do more than time allows. I underestimate how much time wrapping presents or baking cookies or addressing Christmas cards will take. I then lose sight of what is really important to me and get lost in the busyness of it all.

Of course, each one of you will answer the "why" question differently. There is no one right way to celebrate the winter holidays, although I would argue there are wrong ways. It's wrong to go into debt and it's wrong to be Scrooge. It's wrong to focus on things and not people. It's wrong to be ungrateful. These behaviors are wrong all the time, not just for the holidays.

So, how do we find a right way to celebrate the holidays for ourselves and our families?

I recommend starting at the heart of the holidays for you. Because I am a Christian, Christmas is about Christ's birth...the birth of God, self-limited, who came to teach us about love and sacrifice, mercy and faith. I need to keep my holiday activities centered on Christ. This isn't easy in the land of shiny tinsel and iPods, but it's worth it.

Your center may be quite different. Perhaps you want to focus on your family and friends. Or perhaps on community service. Or entertaining. Or giving.

Perhaps you're not in a happy place right now, and all the joy and excitement you see starting up around you simply makes you sad. Perhaps you're grieving or have lost your job or are going through a nasty divorce. Perhaps you get exhausted simply thinking about all the "pretending to be happy" you need to do for the next two months.

Whether you're entering the holiday season with joy or dread, think about what those holidays really mean to you, what is truly good about them for you. Write down a sentence or two. Then, think of what you need to do to focus on the good in the holidays.

Here are some things I will do to keep Christ in the center.

1. Worship in faith community. This means signing up to be liturgist during Advent and spearheading the Stephen Ministry ornaments for our congregation.

2. Teaching my children about Advent and Christmas and what it means to give, especially through Operation Christmas Child.

3. Writing about Advent and the Nativity for my blogs to help myself and other Christians keep their focus.

4. Reaching out to our community and the world through donations to missions. (I--and lots of other Methodists--give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief every Christmas.)

5. Remembering Jesus' birth with gratitude in all aspects of holiday activities.

For right now, think about what is most important to you for your holidays. Then, list 2-5 activities that are central to honoring that most important thing. Don't worry about a plan yet for achieving those activities, just think about what they should be...those non-negotiable things.

I'd love it if you shared your thoughts in the comments. Who knows what wonderful ideas you might spark for other readers or for me!!!?!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gratitude Journal #212

Gratitude overflows today.

Today, I am grateful for all our veterans and those who currently serve our armed forces. I am particularly grateful for my veteran husband, who spent 20 years committed to his country in the United States Air Force. Thank you all so much for your service and sacrifice.

Today, I am grateful for my mother- and father-in-law, who are visiting. They are always fun to have in town. We've gone to the Dayton Art Institute and the Cincinnati Zoo, and hiked in a metro park. We've stuffed them so full of apple fritters, chocolate chip cookies, steak tacos, tex-mex trail mix, and turtle cheesecake that they say they're going on a water diet when they get home. Food is love, people. At least, according to George.

Today, I am grateful for this amazing autumn...the gorgeous colors have stayed around for what must be a record length of time.

Today, I am grateful for our school district, for the hope of better cooperation between the school board and teachers, and for the many teachers who make a daily difference in my children's lives. So very grateful.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gratitude Journal #211

Today, I am grateful for doctors and medicine, having been in need of both this week.

Today, I am grateful for gorgeous fall colors. Ohio colors are peaking, and we had a wonderful walk in the woods of a metro park yesterday. I so love autumn!

Today, I am grateful for an inspiring All Saints worship service, with a straight-to-the-heart sermon from Pastor Suzanne Allen.

Today, I am grateful for my friend Barbara, who is one of my faith-inspiring saints...for her kindness and encouragement and wonderful example.

Today, I am grateful for my Stephen Ministry leaders, Karen and Zandra, and for all the good work our Stephen Ministers do each and every day, whether they have formal care receivers or not.

What are you grateful for today? Please do share!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Words, Words, Words about Perpetual Thanksgiving

"I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite--only a sense of existence." Henry David Thoreau

What do you think?