A prayer of thanksgiving

Dear God,

In Exodus 20:12 and again in Deuteronomy 5:16, you gave us the following commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” 

Fortunately, you blessed me with parents who made following that commandment easy. My life has turned out pretty wonderful. I have been blessed with a good marriage, a successful career and good friends. I owe that in no small part to having a good upbringing by parents who were loved and respected by the entire community. 

But this holiday season is the first that I will be facing without either Mom or Dad, except in my memories. So I’d like to take the time this Thanksgiving to offer thanks for their lives.

As a child with disability issues, I had problems in school, especially with other kids. In those days, diversity was NOT considered beautiful, and I was bullied pretty relentlessly. Compounding the problem was the fact that there were no good services 50-60 years ago – no IDEA, no Individualized Education Plans. Parents and their special-needs kids were pretty much on their own, and my parents just had to do the best they could without the help parents and kids can take for granted today. Despite these obstacles, they raised an honor student who graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.

It’s amazing how a small gesture can change a person’s life. When I was in junior high school, and didn’t have much belief in my abilities, I showed Mom a poem I had written. Without telling me, she sent a copy of the poem to Carol Burnett and it wound up getting published in a book. Then Mom gave me a typewriter, even though it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas or anything, and said, “You could be a famous writer someday.” Okay, so maybe the “famous” part didn’t happen, but I did grow up to be a successful professional writer. I even managed to win some writing and journalism awards. And it started with someone believing in me and telling me I had talent.

I appreciated my parents’ sense of humor when conveying life’s lessons to my sisters and me. Instead of lecturing us extensively about the need to avoid peer pressure, they’d simply say, “If 10 of your friends jumped off the top of the Empire State Building, would you do it too?” Once when I was complaining about a mean boss, Dad said, “You know, you can learn as much from a bad example as you can from a good one.” I took that advice to heart, actually, as I progressed through my career. When I became a boss myself, I thought about the bosses I’d liked, and analyzed what they did right. But I also learned a lot about what not to do from the bosses I didn’t like so well.

Mom and Dad took just about the right approach when I ran into problems. If I found myself in a situation that really and truly wasn’t fair, they were my best allies, and more than once they went to school to help me straighten out misunderstandings with one teacher or another. But if I got into trouble and was guilty as charged, they allowed me to experience the consequences rather than bailing me out the way some parents would. I can still remember when I got into a water fight with a classmate in the home-ec room, and our punishment was staying after school for 10 afternoons to clean ovens. When I complained that the punishment seemed excessive, I didn’t get much sympathy, but was told, “The exercise will do you good.” 

But perhaps the best gift they gave me was their example. 

My parents showed me what a good marriage looks like. I’ve now been blessed for 34 years with the kind of marriage they had, and I know it is possible to have a relationship with someone who loves and respects me and treats me well.

They showed me how to overcome adversity. I was not a happy camper when I got diagnosed with diabetes. But Mom had it for 60 years, and showed me how to live with the condition and accept the dietary restrictions with good grace.

They showed me it was possible to disagree without being disagreeable. One of my favorite memories was of Dad and his brothers arguing about politics, for two or three hours at a time. But they’d all be smiling while they argued, and they’d still be smiling when they got done.

Mom and Dad taught me to be generous and to give back to our community and they walked the talk. Whether it was serving on the school board, teaching Sunday School, or donating $1,000 to help a family at church, both parents were generous with their time and money. Helping others has been a big part of both my career and my volunteer work, and I learned that value from my parents. 

Their generosity has extended to hospitality. Pete and I are both grateful for how nice my parents were to my mother-in-law, making her feel like part of the family after her husband died. They made sure she felt welcome and loved.

And the community loved my parents back. During their funerals and visitations, I was blown away by the outpouring of love and respect from everyone who knew Mom and Dad. Literally hundreds of people lined up to tell my sisters and I what our parents meant to them. Here are just a few examples of the comments:

“Sweetest lady ever!”

“He’d give the shirt off his back.”

“So special, kind and caring.”

“Always so nice to everyone.”

“They changed my life.”

Finally, my parents taught me by example to count my blessings. On my 50thbirthday, I remember joking, “Now that I’m finally mature enough to listen to my elders and believe them, what advice would you pass on? If you had one thing you could do differently, what would it be?” I remember Dad, who was 75 at the time, saying, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” I only hope I can say the same thing when I’m 75. 

So now I try to remember to count my own blessings, and I definitely count my parents to be among those blessings.

With love and gratitude,

My Gratitude List for 2019

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 

It’s November, which means it’s time for me to make my annual Thanksgiving Gratitude List. 

I’m tempted to say this year has been a ring-tailed monster. It began with both me and my little cat being diagnosed with diabetes, followed by a stint in the ICU with massive internal bleeding caused by my blood-thinning medication. My beloved mother was placed in hospice care in May and passed away in September. Then came two more trips to the hospital for me in the fall – first for gallbladder surgery and three weeks later for more testing after I developed complications.

And yet I do have plenty to be grateful for this year:

My husband. He’s been my absolute rock this past year as I went through three hospitalizations and the loss of my mother. I love that man to the moon and back!

My parents. During Mom’s visitation and funeral (and Dad’s a few years ago), I was awestruck to realize how many people loved my parents and to hear story after story about their generosity in the community.

My family. Having sisters really helps when one goes through the grieving process. Even though the occasion was sad, I also got to visit with a number of cousins I haven’t seen in years. And I can’t begin to express enough gratitude for the amazing team of women who cared for Mom during her final months! They became like family as well.

Good friends, our church community and other supportive people. I’m not sure we’re expected to be grateful for affliction – after all, I’m not a masochist. But I’m certainly grateful for the people God puts in our lives to help us through the sad and scary stuff – the friends, family, church people and total strangers who prayed for us this year. The steady stream of get well-cards and sympathy cards and visits helped more than people know!

Our kitties. I’m learning to count each day with Oley and Champaign as a blessing, now that both have been diagnosed with health problems. And I’ve decided whoever invented pill pockets deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

My health. I’ve absolutely stopped taking my health for granted. I’m committed to practicing better self-care and am grateful for the Stay Fit exercise program at our local hospital, not to mention the existence of fat-free cream cheese, sugar-free peanut butter cups, the buffets full of delectable vegetable dishes at our two local Indian restaurants and other little things that make sticking to a healthy eating plan (slightly) easier.

Our home. The fireplace I sit next to during my morning meditation and the flower beds in my backyard offer a perfect balm during all the days I’ve spent healing.

Financial security. I’m grateful we can afford health insurance, which means I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay all those medical bills. Being able to hire someone to clean our house and mow our grass has certainly made my life easier, especially since my time was taken up with the job of healing from surgery and making frequent six-hour round trips to my parents’ farm.

Being alive. God has granted me another year. While many folks complain about aging (and I must admit I do this myself from time to time), today I choose to be grateful I’ve been able to grow old. Especially after the adventures of the past year.

And last but not least … SPRING IS COMING in 125 days!!!

For all of this, God, I thank you.

And so, I resolve to keep reminding myself each day: Today is the day our Creator has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Blessings,

Gratitude, Part 2

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my husband Pete and I went to North Carolina for a long-anticipated visit with some favorite cousins who live near Asheville. Two previous attempts to visit had been foiled – the first time by wildfires burning in the area, and the second time by illness. Maybe, we hoped, the third attempt would be the proverbial charm.

The photo above was taken just as we entered Tennessee. Yes, the sign below points to the “Rocky Top” of bluegrass and country music fame. The town of Rocky Top is just down the road a piece from Pete’s hometown of Norris in the eastern part of the state.

We stopped at a bluff overlooking Norris Dam, one of Pete’s favorite places. From this location, one can observe breathtaking scenery. On the day after Thanksgiving, the mountains were covered with trees still hanging onto their blazing multicolor fall leaves. I got to shoot several photos of the beloved Smokies. So far, so good. We were only a couple hours from our destination.

Then we ate supper at one of our favorite restaurants in the area, and dropped in at a Walgreens pharmacy to check my blood pressure. I had experienced a brief A-fib episode earlier in the day and was still feeling a little bit “off.” Among other things, a blood pressure monitor can detect an irregular heartbeat and I wanted to make sure my heart rate had stabilized. Alas, my blood pressure had skyrocketed and I was promptly sent to the emergency room.

I expected the ER folks would give me some medication to bring my blood pressure under control quickly, then release me. This was the treatment usually offered by my regular doctor at home. Instead, they admitted me to the hospital for an overnight stay and more tests. Needless to say, being in a hospital 500 miles from home was not part of our vacation plans and I began to feel downright surly, especially when there seemed to be no guarantee I would be released the following day either.

We relayed the news of our “detour” to Pete’s cousins. They immediately offered to come visit us at the hospital in Knoxville. Since this visit involved a two-hour drive for them, I resisted the offer at first. But Pete pointed out that a visit from the cousins might possibly set Murphy’s Law in reverse.

So John and Anne, Lise and Nate made the two-hour drive. And sure enough, Murphy’s Law-in-Reverse was activated. No sooner had we posed for the photo below (that’s me in the hospital gown worn over a pair of jeans), the doctor came in and announced that the tests were normal and I was free to leave.

So on we went to North Carolina, where we stayed in a hotel room at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, a beautiful resort tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mission of the conference center, owned by the United Methodist Church, is “to be a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body.”

The folks at the conference center seemed to practice Christian charity as well as hospitality. Although we called after 7 p.m. to let them know we wouldn’t be coming the first night of our reservation (way past the deadline for a cancellation), when they heard my story, they didn’t charge us for that night. My husband and I have stayed at the conference center several times now, and love the place. Below is one breathtaking view, as seen from our hotel room.

In the end, we got to spend two days with our fabulous cousins after all. We enjoyed cousin Anne’s fine cooking on Saturday night. On Sunday, we all piled into their van to take Nate back to his college in Charlotte, where he is studying to be a chef (the school actually offers an entire course on chocolate). Along the way, we stopped at a restaurant and I enjoyed a meal of Cajun-style barbecued salmon. It was delicious and the company was delightful.

As an added treat, I got to visit the horses who live next door to our cousins. When I held out some apple cores, they walked right up to me. If anyone thinks cats and dogs are the only pets who beg for food, they haven’t interacted with horses. These two have begging down to a science.

So I ended up with plenty to be thankful for, after all. I’m especially grateful for our cousins’ visit while I was stuck in a hospital 500 miles from home. They certainly didn’t have to go out of their way like that, especially when they had another all-day trip to make the following day. But they did – and revived my faith that there are plenty of kind and generous people left on the planet.

My Gratitude List for 2018

    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.            1 Chronicles 16:34

In what has become an annual tradition, I like to celebrate Thanksgiving by making a Gratitude List. And I have plenty to be grateful for this year:

My husband. As usual, my sweetie tops the list. After 33 years of marriage, I still consider him a gift from a loving God. He’s kind, generous, decent and caring, my best friend, the wind beneath my wings, proof positive that there ARE good men, and the best thing that ever happened to me. I love that man to the moon and back!

My family. I have sisters and cousins who double as friends, along with wonderful nieces and nephews. And I’m fortunate to be blessed with amazing parents. During Dad’s final illness a few years ago, I was awestruck to realize how many people love my parents and to hear story after story about their generosity in the community.

Good friends, past and present. These irreplaceable people – including one special angel now in heaven – know my quirks and flaws and love me anyway.

Our kitties. My life has been graced with some fine cats, dating back to earliest childhood. These sweet fur babies curl up next to me while I sleep, sit in my lap while I work at my desk, comfort me when I’m distressed, and love me unconditionally. 

Our church community. We belong to a congregation where people actually try to live out the values they profess. They agree to disagree about volatile political issues. (I’ve been in churches with an unofficial litmus test, where people could and did get ostracized for not taking the “right” stance on an issue.) They even still speak to each other after surviving the merger of three congregations. And … after a two-year search, we finally have a new pastor!!

Other supportive people. Those who mentored me over the years – from my grandparents to my favorite teachers to supervisors at work – helped me become the successful person I am. Now I have a patient and nonjudgmental spiritual director mentoring me as I approach Senior Citizenhood – the next phase of life.

My health. My relatively good health lets me stay active, a minor miracle considering the not-so-good things I did to my body earlier in life – the cigarettes, the junk food, the lack of proper exercise and my talent for burning the proverbial candle at both ends. After repeated bouts with flu and other viruses last winter that landed both my husband and my mother in the hospital, we’re all healthy for the holidays. Thanks be to God!!!!! 

Our home. Our beautiful dream house has a cozy fireplace I sit next to during my morning meditation, a sunroom, eat-in kitchen, piano, office space for each of us and plentiful storage and closet space. Our yard is filled with flower beds. We live in a lovely neighborhood with a bike path leading to a nearby park and botanical garden.

My writing ability. I’ve known since third grade that writing would play some role in my life’s purpose. From young adulthood on, this gift from God has assured me I’ll never starve, or get bored even after retiring.

Financial security. We have not had to worry (at least not too much) how we’re going to survive our retirement years. We can travel to places like Ireland, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Israel and Palestine. And being able to hire someone to clean our house and mow our grass has certainly made my life easier.

Mother Nature in all her majesty. This year I enjoyed one of the most gorgeous falls in recent memory – I swear the leaves were rioting! No matter which season we’re in, I love the wildlife that populates our backyard – the birds and squirrels that visit our feeders, the foxes that live under our deck, the butterflies and rabbits.

Little things. The first ripe tomato of the summer. Gentle rains at the right time. “Ordinary” days when broken appliances are all I need to fret about. Not to mention low-calorie food that actually tastes good.

Being alive. God has granted me another year. While many folks complain about aging (and I must admit I do this myself from time to time), today I choose to be grateful I’ve been able to grow old.

And last but not least  …  SPRING IS COMING in 120 days!!!

For all of this, God, I thank you.

Here’s hoping everyone has a happy Thanksgiving!

My Gratitude List for 2017

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! I figure this is as good a time as any to compile a gratitude list, and I have plenty to be grateful for this year:

My marriage. As usual, my husband tops my gratitude list. After 32 years together, I still consider him a gift from a loving God. He’s kind, generous, all-around decent and caring, my best friend, the wind beneath my wings, and the best thing that ever happened to me. I love that man to the moon and back!

My family. I have sisters who double as best friends. Good parents (it was an awe-inspiring experience to hear story after story about their generosity when I stood in the receiving line at Dad’s visitation a few years ago). And wonderful nieces, nephews and dozens of cousins I’m now in touch with thanks to Facebook.

Our kitties. I have two sweet babies who come running whenever I sit down so they can hop into my lap, who curl up next to me in bed, who love me unconditionally.

Our health. After a cancer scare for my husband, a cardiac scare for me, and a lengthy hospitalization/convalescence for my mother, we’re all still here alive and well (or at least recovering) for the holidays. Thanks be to God!!!!! And while our medical bills this year would pay for a small house, we’re fortunate to have insurance that covered most of it.

Our dream house, with its cozy fireplace, sunroom, eat-in kitchen, office space for each of us, yard filled with flower beds and lovely neighborhood.

Good friends, past and present – those irreplaceable people who know my quirks and flaws and love me anyway.

My writing ability. I’ve known since third grade that writing would play some role in my life’s purpose, and from young adulthood on, this gift from God has reassured me that I’ll never starve. Or get bored even after retiring.

Our retirement fund. It has been so nice to be able to retire and not have to worry (at least not too much) about how we’re going to survive. To travel to places like Ireland, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Israel and Palestine. To afford household help.

Mother Nature in all her majesty. This year I’ve gotten to enjoy wildflowers along the roadsides in summer. Gentle soaking rain after a period of drought. Fall leaves that riot! Beautiful sunsets. Sixty-degree days in late November.

Our new church home. We belong to a congregation where the people actually try to live out the values they profess. Our brothers and sisters in Christ have even survived the merger of three congregations and are still speaking to each other. Amazing!

Supportive people. I’m not sure we’re expected to be grateful for affliction – after all, I’m not a masochist. But we certainly are grateful for the people God put in our lives to help us through the scary stuff – competent medical professionals, and the friends, family, church people and total strangers who prayed for us this year.

Little things. I’ve also decided to be grateful for “ordinary” days when broken appliances are all we need to fret about. For the sprinkler system in our yard that saved me so much time over a long dry summer. Not to mention low-calorie food that actually tastes good.

I’m grateful the things that caused fear and worry over the past year have been resolved, that my husband and I are doing well, and that tomorrow brings new adventures.

And so I resolve to wake up and remind myself each day: Today is the day our Creator has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!