Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Everything, Give Thanks

Early evening sunbeams pouring through the clouds, landing on the lush green tree tops and full corn fields. It's a scene I've seen a thousand times through the car window, a photo I've taken at least a dozen times. Why does it still take my breath away? Why does it not yet seem "generic," as one person called it? I can only call it grace. I can only attribute it to the Lord forming my eyes and heart over time to see the uniqueness of that particular view. He knew before I was formed that I would be a person benefitted by appreciating such scenes. He knew I would need to be built up by glimpses of beauty on ordinary days.

Last week I began reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and this week I became a copycat. Immediately moved by the author's dawning realization of the value of giving thanks, day in and day out, I chose to take the dare she laid out on the pages. I am writing down in a small notebook the moments that produce thanksgiving. What I quickly understood is that I tend to reserve my offerings of thanks to the times when I come to pray - on the occasional mornings when I take a few minutes to pray and read Scripture, in the evenings as I lay in bed at the close of another day, and especially at Mass, my knees on the kneeler, my forehead resting on my folded fingers. The challenge I am taking up is to give thanks all day long... to maintain a riveted awareness of all there is to be thankful for in my life.

For the first time ever I feel like maybe what St. Paul describes could actually be possible: "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)," I've been able to explain all I want what those verses mean but I can't claim to have had success at living them. Setting my standard at "pray daily," I measure myself in a lesser manner. But as St. Francis de Sales pointed out, "You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves." And so, we learn to pray without ceasing by praying without ceasing. We learn to give thanks in everything by giving thanks in everything.

If God allows me to see/hear/touch/encounter something beautiful, something meaningful, something joy-giving, something that makes me smile or laugh or sigh happily, then He has given me reason to give thanks. If in an experience of difficulty or negativity, He keeps my perspective in check, or causes me to exercise compassion, understanding, or patience, then He has given me reason to give thanks. Perhaps eventually I'll be able to see that God never isn't allowing those things to happen, only I didn't always recognize or accept them.

Ribbons on gifts
Dark red raspberries bobbing in a carafe of cotton candy pink lemonade
The softness of warm kisses
Cold orange juice
Waves from the neighbors as I leave for work
The scratch of pen on paper
Baby pictures on coworkers' desks
Morning thunder
Patience in traffic

Thankfulness gives rise to joy. Do we not all crave a greater well of joy in our lives?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Unexamined Life

Most have heard that age old Socrates quote, "An unexamined life is not worth living." For many months now I have lived that unexamined life. Caught up in the whirlwind of discovering love and now planning a wedding, I inadvertently slipped into a new mode of operation. The reflection and contemplation that characterized my previous days was discarded in a subconcious assurance that I'd reached what I'd been aiming for with all that internal effort. It felt as though now I was in the era of action, rather than thought. That I'd built up toward all this and now I could simply do it. Reflection seemed the proper accompaniment to waiting. I was done waiting. Sadly, I now realize I was also done reflecting. It has produced havoc, this forsaking of examination. Damage. Each struggle I'm facing right now - in my heart with God, in my relationship with my fiance, in so much more - no matter which path of excuses I take it inevitably rounds a bend to reach this truth.

So what now? The contemplative version of myself seems but a distant acquaintance, one that cannot be brought back to intimacy in a mere moment. Yet I can take a step toward her. Right now. And in the next hour. And in the next morning. And in the next night. That first step to regain her presence took me to the Scriptures, thankfully.

I found myself in 1 Corinthians 13. Talk about age old statements, right? Love is patient and kind... not jealous or rude or arrogant or insisting on its own way. Hits me in the gut as I recall it again. St. Paul was naming off what I'd become in certain aspects of my love relationships! A point by point list of how I'd chosen to be in my words, actions and thoughts.

Then, by the Holy Spirit's help, I stumbled upon this devotional blog post: That Holy Spirit, He knows what He's doing. The author presents a perspective on "choice points," those moment by moment choices we make that seem insignificant but in reality affect our lives and those in our lives to a great degree. I have a serious tendency to focus everywhere but the moment I'm currently dwelling inside and so lack awareness of the immediate effects wrought by my words and actions. This choice points lens has the potential to change my daily vision.

As it has in the past I've no doubt that this blog of mine can be useful in the quest for reflection and awareness. I don't know if I have any readers left, absent as I've been. If I do though, I thank you and I welcome your input.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Breaking Through

I promised myself that "The Year of the Wedding" would also be "The Year of the Manuscript Submissions." Wedding planning would not be allowed to entirely eclipse the writing. That dusty list of potential publishers would receive submissions from me this year. Alas, it turns out I'm as typical as any excited bride. I look at my to-do list and have the hardest time choosing any of the tasks that don't have to do with the wedding. Rationalizing it isn't that difficult... These eleven months are the only eleven months, God willing, that I will experience planning a wedding. My writing projects will be waiting for me on October 21st! But will I continue to ignore them long past the day after the wedding? That is the question that nags me. The longer I put off the discipline of writing, the greater difficulty I will have returning to it. I'm certain of that much. The struggle I experience when creating a bit of written work is already causing me anxiety. I've made meager attempts to return to blogging before this month. It took me this long to get past staring at the blank text box and hitting cancel after a few minutes. My most recent parish newsletter articles have been weak and piecemeal at best.

The neglect and difficulty involved in writing in recent months is not only a worry, it is a disappointment. I miss it. I miss being a writer. Rarely have I liked myself more, been prouder of myself, been as encouraged by life, as when I am actively living as a writer. I am well and happily occupied with other things and so the missing isn't felt until I have a slowed down hour or two of stillness. Then it comes and I remember all the hours of satisfying effort I used to enjoy on a regular basis.

Today I came across a quote that sums up my state as a writer quite well. “A creative block is the wall we erect to ward off the anxiety we suppose we’ll experience if we sit down to work” (Eric Maisel). I have reached the point of being afraid to try very hard again, fearful I will disappoint myself even more by not being able to write well again. That would indeed be a deeper disappointment than continuing to not try. This recent return to blogging is a step, at least; an inching movement forward.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Welcome, Spring!

It's Spring, it's Spring, it's Spring! I don't know that "Spring" is supposed to be capitalized. I've never been too good at remembering rules like that. Now that I think about it, I habitually capitalize Spring and Fall, but not winter or summer. You're welcome to analyze that if you wish. Spring, of all the seasons though, deserves capitalization. It deserves announcement and fanfare. Even with the mildness of our winter this year, there was enough dreariness to warrant this excitement at Spring's arrival. It's a season of dewy freshness. Even the mud seems friendly and encouraging this time of year. Now, I am in Wisconsin, which means that this series of sunny, warm days could very well be followed by new snowfall or a good ol' freezing rain storm. Our temps could drop back down, forcing me to put that jacket and those gloves back on. Alas, there is no denying this fickleness of midwestern springtime. The sunshine is so damn wonderful though that even those lingering reaches of winter hold no sway. Windows demand opening, flowers demand blooming, birds demand feeding and fresh air demands deep breathing. I begrudge them none of their demands, for it is Spring and it is impossible not to feel generous toward all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Letting Go Of What Isn't Worth Holding Onto

Every so often I get the strong urge to get rid of things. To purge, to strip away, to simplify, to decrease. Occasionally, very occasionally, I follow through on it. The last month has set me in motion for some excellent decreasing. Our old roommate, who moved back to our home area a few years ago, has returned to the house. She decided to un-relocate and so we are once again a trio. When she left, she'd acquired very little in the way of possessions. The transport to her new rental was easy and quick. In the meantime though, she has furnished a small house. Moving her back in with us required some long overdue organization and purging on our part. I grumbled and procrastinated enough but in truth it effectively propelled me into readying for the move that is to come after the wedding. For that, I'm quite thankful. Boxes of household goods have been transported to his apartment and we are gradually finding places for it all in his rooms and cupboards. The work of it is making me very grateful to not have as much left to be done when the final move happens in October. The weeks before a wedding are full enough, I'm sure.

Anyway, my original point was the urge to strip away and simplify. It has lingered in the weeks following that round robin transferrance of belongings. I look in my tiny, stuffed to the gills closet, then think of my fiance's large, more than enough room for one person closet, and realize that with some reductions on both our parts, we can share that closet just fine. I scan my bookshelves and picture the walls of Matt's apartment, knowing full well that there are not enough empty spaces for the arrival of all my shelves. Many books will have to be stored. This brings a frown, a deep one, but I remind myself that there is likely a heap of books that I could reasonably choose to give up. It'll be hard enough deciding which ones to pack into storage and which to keep at my fingertips. Having fewer to choose between is essential if I'm to do it without much sadness.

Maybe it's a Lenten thing, maybe it's just a starting-a-new-stage-of-life thing, or maybe Spring is to blame; whatever its root, I am becoming surer every day that I can be content with far less than what I have at present. I can reduce my wardrobe to what I actually wear and will never miss what I would like to but never do wear. I can give up the books that I enjoyed but not so much that I would ever read them again or even recommend and lend them to friends. I can surrender the dozens of CD's and DVD's that are rarely or never played and those too will not be missed. Yes, I'm becoming quite sure of it. I feel less locked into my material frivolities already, and that's never a regrettable feeling.