gratitude

No room for failure

Each morning, I spend time reading, praying, and meditating. This morning I started reading the book of Joshua in the Bible. I came across a line in verse five that resonated with me.

“I will not fail you or forsake you.”

I underlined that portion of the verse and meditated on it briefly before gathering cookies for Maggie’s classmates, my cup of coffee, car keys, and cell phone. I whisked Maggie out the door and cranked up the heat. It’s that time of year when I feel false hope about autumn coming until about 10 a.m. By noon, I’m sweating and shedding my sweater.

63910_552312649722_1189983164_nAfter dropping Maggie off at school, I returned home to a peaceful, quiet house. We live in the woods, and the sunlight strives to shine through the grove of trees on the eastern hill. The verse I selected came back to me as I stood staring at the sun.

“I will not fail you or forsake you.”

God isn’t failing or forsaking the leaves on those trees and has provided them with exactly the right amount of moisture since spring. God doesn’t fail the trees either; the only trees that fall are those ready to die, decaying at the core. I looked at the light reflecting off the dew on our grass and spider webs in the forest. He maintains the smallest bits of creation we overlook.

Of course he is not forsaking me either.

He provides me with just the right clients at the right time. Last week, one of my favorite clients notified me that this year, funding wasn’t available to hire me. My heart sank. A few hours later, a potential client called me and said he was ready to start working together. Maybe that timing was coincidental; I prefer to view it as providential. God always knows what I need when I need it, even if it’s just to confirm that He’s going before me and planning in love.

God is not failing or forsaking me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI worried off and on for a year about how my daughter would adjust to starting kindergarten. Each time these fears came to mind, I attempted to let go and trust God. Sometimes I felt relief. Other times I wasn’t sure God would come through for me, even though His track record is stellar. But of course He came through. She was placed in a classroom with the most caring, committed, and well-trained teacher I know. She’s thriving. I’ve seen huge leaps in her ability to write and communicate in just three weeks’ time. And almost every day when I pick her up from school, she yells with glee, “This was the best day EVER!”

God is not forsaking or failing my child. 

There is no space for fear when I focus on the ways God has come through for me in the past.

There is no room for fear when I focus on how God is providing for me today either.

 

gratitude

Small miracles

Today’s post is written by a new guest contributor, my pastor & friend, Rian Puckett. Thanks for this reminder, Rian.

My keys were lost, I was late, and my blood pressure was rising.  I felt compelled to pray. Now I know that there are those who will hear this story and think “coincidence.” Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that at that moment I felt compelled to pray and that which I prayed about was resolved.

That was the beginning of a series of small miracles that week. My daughter, who eats entirely too much sugar, had what we though was a routine cavity. However, when we went to the dentist, she refused to open her mouth. You want to talk about being frustrated? Here we were, taking off work to take her to the dentist and she is refusing to cooperate. A visit to the pediatric dentist in another town was scheduled for the next day which made me livid. My wife took off work to take her, and when they did their examination, they discovered that not one but two teeth on opposite sides of her mouth needed to come out. She had never even complained about the other tooth hurting! Fortunately we were in the right place to deal with the problem. I felt a little ashamed of my attitude the previous day. Because when all the events played out, I could see God working in mysterious ways, and I had to say “Sorry for not trusting you. Thank you.”

mountains-2648796_1280It is easy to forget to be grateful for the small miracles of every day. Those things that “just happened” at the right time. There is a story in the Old Testament about a prophet named Elijah who was looking for an encounter with God and had been instructed by God to stand on the side of a mountain. The account says that there was a great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart but that God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake and then a fire, but God was not in either of those. Finally, there was a gentle whisper, and Elijah recognized it for the voice of God.

I believe that many times the small miracles of our everyday are the whispering voice of God reaffirming involvement in our lives and reminding us that we are not alone. For this, I am grateful.

gratitude

Why gratitude?

I asked my Composition II students to write a brief essay explaining their motives for expressing gratitude and offering at least one example of a moment when gratitude was expressed to them or when they chose to express gratitude to someone else. This essay was written by my student Jessica Whitmire, who is always smiling. Students like Jessica make my job lighter and brighter!

My family has always instilled in me the concept of treating others the way I want to be treated. Generally speaking, if we are kind to others they will, in return, be kind to us. At times this does not always happen, but that cannot be helped.  The Bible tells us to help those who are less fortunate. I believe that it is my responsibility as a Christian to help others when it is needed. I know that at times I have needed a helping hand or encouragement, and there has been someone there for me.

FullSizeRender-2My Granddad passed away two years ago but was in the hospital for two weeks before he passed, and the amount of love that was poured out on my family was immeasurable. People sent food and cards, constantly for those two weeks he was in the hospital and the week following his death. They came by the hospital and prayed with us and so much more. Without all the love and support I do not know if I would have ever made it through that difficult time. From that moment I knew that I needed to repay all the generosity and love that was given to me and my family.FullSizeRender

I feel that if everyone worked together and lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down, our country would be a much better place. There is too much hate and not enough love. Everyone has the ability to make a difference, and no act of kindness is too small or insignificant.

gratitude

Chasing rabbits

I must be brief this morning.

maggie napping while sick 9 11 13My toddler is still quietly sleeping in her crib, curled up in a little pink ball. Last night, she resisted her normal 7:30 p.m. bedtime and wanted to watch an extra episode of Curious George, her current favorite cartoon. After that, she pitter-pattered around the house, dragging her “Good Dad” by the hand, insisting that he follow her and accompany her the entire time. An hour later, after exhausting both of us, we coaxed her back into her crib (not without shedding of tears), sang a song, and reassured her that we’d see her again in the morning.

5:15 a.m. felt early today. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the notion that getting out of bed was a good idea and that spending time reading, praying, and meditating would benefit me. However, having benefited from reading, praying, and meditating and spending chunks of time alone with God each morning for several years in a row now, I knew that getting my tail out of bed was the best decision.

decaf._Cat._prod._pg.So I did. My sister recently gave me a one-cup instant coffee maker, and today was its christening. The chance to use my new gift was almost exciting enough to motivate me to get out of bed without a grumpy attitude. One minute later, presto! I got back into my warm bed with my hot cup of coffee, my Bible and other reading material, and my glasses. I was ready to go.

My normal RPM time–reading, prayer, and meditation time–takes about 30 minutes. I normally read a short passage.  If I read the Bible, I read about one chapter or less. I don’t try to digest too much information because I want to retain something and carry it with me throughout the day. If I read other devotional material, I read a one-page devotional entry, and I read it three times: once quietly, once aloud, and once again, looking for one piece of good orderly direction to jot down to carry with me on a slip of paper. I learned to do this from a woman who is my mentor. This method really works for me, so I continue doing this daily.

This morning, and other mornings when I happen to have lots of extra time to devote to my RPMs, I allowed myself the luxury of chasing spiritual rabbit trails. I did my normal RPMs, and then I just started reading whatever I found interesting. I opened the Bible randomly, and the pages fell to Psalm 84. The entire chapter is beautiful and contains some of my favorite verses, but this morning verse 5 stood out to me. Last night at a meeting of friends, we talked about the fact that one of the definitions for salvation in the Hebrew language is to come home. Verse 5 and the reference to going on a pilgrimage seemed to relate to this in my mind, and I was intrigued. I decided to look at the footnotes; they referred me to Jeremiah 31:6.

It would be silly to read just one verse, right? So I read the entire chapter. And man, what a tearjerker. Jeremiah 31 was chock full of language that spoke to my heart. It must have spoken to my heart many times before, too, because there were several verses underlined, marked, and highlighted. Some of the same passages that brought tears to my eyes this morning were marked, but many of the passages that were significant today were not underlined or marked, which let me know that God is continually showing me new things and deepening my relationship with Him (if I let Him).

At 6:50 a.m., I finally finished my time of reading, prayer, and meditation and had nothing but a few sips of cold coffee left in the bottom of my mug.

At 7:08 a.m., I’m thankful that I decided to get up regardless of my grumpy attitude this morning. I’m thankful for the coffee maker my sister gave me that helped me overcome my grumpy attitude. I’m thankful that I learned how to benefit from doing RPMs from my mentor, and I’m thankful that I developed the habit of spending time with God every morning since starting out my day with God not only benefits me but also benefits everyone who comes in contact with me, too. I’m thankful for the insights God gave me this morning. And I’m thankful that my toddler slept all this time.

I might still have time to brush my teeth.

gratitude

My mother’s Bible

*Thank you, Lorie Mink, for sharing your reflections and gratitude in this post.*

While searching my closet for a pair of slippers, I came across my mother’s Bible. It’s been sitting on the shelf since we moved in the house three years ago. And I can’t remember the last time I opened it. Mama’s been gone for ten and a half years now, and it’s been almost that long since I took it out of its case and looked through it. So I did.

My mother’s Bible is a treasure trove of memories. There are pictures of the grandkids, notes from the grandkids and from her former Sunday School students, bits of paper with Bible verses written on them, even old letters from family stuffed in between the pages.

Even the cover, with her name pressed in faded gold lettering, holds memories. The corners are ragged and chewed on, thanks to a Maltese Poodle mix named Critter, who passed away at 13, just two short years after Mama died. Rubbing my fingers over the jagged edges immediately brought forth the memories of that dog, who Mama swore she didn’t care that much about but loved as much as I, sitting at her feet on the porch, head resting on her house-shoed foot, while she drank her morning coffee and read the Word of God each day.

Ribbons and bookmarks were placed here and there by highlighted bits of scripture that she felt were important to remember. Even Valentines and inspirational cards could be found.

My mother’s life is held in this Bible. The scriptures she liked and highlighted, the bits of paper she felt important to keep, even her driver’s license, birth certificate, and marriage certificate are nestled in the pages.

As I leafed through her Bible, I immediately felt connected to my mother again, as if she sat beside me telling me the stories of what each piece of paper and picture meant. As I read over the highlighted passages, I also felt my connection to God rekindle.

God and I are just now renewing our old friendship. He’s been there patiently waiting for me to come back to Him. I stubbornly held myself aloof. I’ve always believed in God, thanks to my mom, who instilled this belief in me at an early age. But I kind of took a veering path, not necessarily away from Him, but distant to Him nonetheless. Shifting through the pages of Mama’s Bible seemed to shift things in my mind. And suddenly I saw God, sitting quietly beside me as if He’d been sitting there for a long time patiently waiting for my return. As if He had nothing better to do but wait for me to come to my senses.

It’s been a tough two years for me. I’ve had to deal with some situations I really wish I hadn’t. But I mistakenly believed I had to deal with them on my own. Now I know I don’t have to. I talk to God every day. Sometimes, He still seems distant. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to Him as if through a long tunnel, where the voices carry but are faint. I know this is me, not Him. I know He hears me perfectly and answers me in His way. I am the one who is distant, who is unable to hear Him clearly or understand all that He says to me. But I know that the distance is fading every day.

And though I am still going through troubled times, I know He is with me, drawing me nearer every day. I am truly grateful for all He has given me. Especially for leading me back to my mother’s Bible.

gratitude

What I learned from my parents

This piece was written by my former professor, who I like to consider one of my writing mentors, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, as a tribute to her parents. They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this month. Happy anniversary to a couple who obviously understand what it takes to love others well.

My parents outside their first apartment in Long Beach, California
My parents outside their first apartment in Long Beach, California

My parents were both teachers, so there were lessons galore at our house.  I’ve written the following two stories to illustrate what I learned from each parent before I even “formally” started school.

From My Father

My sister, Liz, and I were tucked in our warm bed when the pre-dawn stillness of our house was rattled by the sound of a ringing phone.  I lay awake, listening to my dad’s voice as he took the call, paying close attention for clues as to the identity of the caller.  Then I heard the sounds of my dad’s footsteps coming into the room Liz and I shared.

“Teresa,” my dad said.  “I’ve got to drive the bus this morning.  Do you want to go with me?”

Did I ever!  I sprang out of bed and into my clothes.  The caller had been the superintendent of the school where my dad taught, informing him that one of the bus drivers was ill, asking if he could take that driver’s morning route.  In those days, there were no requirements for school bus drivers to have a commercial license.  They just had to have enough nerve to navigate the twists and turns of rural Arkansas back roads while ferrying a group of school kids.  I knew driving the bus was an unwelcome chore for my dad, but I was always thrilled when he got the call because there was a chance that I would get to ride with him.

I followed my dad out to his car, and we took off through the streets of our small town.  Lights in the houses along the road that led to the school flickered on as their inhabitants woke up and prepared for the day ahead.  The school building where my dad taught was not yet illuminated when we arrived at the space out front where he parked his car. Together, we walked to the area where the buses were kept and then we were off.

I could barely contain my excitement as I slid into the seat behind my dad.  To me, this was as good as a carnival ride, particularly the moment we left the familiar streets of our town, and the bus lurched onto the gravel road where most of the kids on the route lived.  Sometimes, we stopped for a single kid standing in front of a house tucked far back into the woods.  Other times, we collected a whole family of kids, often having to wait a few extra minutes while one of them, struggling into his or her coat, ran across the yard having perhaps overslept or lingered too long at the breakfast table.  Always, when my dad gave the silver handle a yank, and the bus doors whooshed open, the kids’ voices registered both surprise and delight to see “Mr. Burns” at the wheel of their bus.  As they made their way to their seats, some of the kids even spoke to me, and I basked in the glow of these older kids’ attention.

Those bus rides added texture to my mostly monotonous days.  Since I wasn’t yet old enough to attend school, my dad had to drive me back home when the bus ride was over.  In retrospect, I’m sure it would have been much easier for him to have tiptoed quietly out of our house, leaving me in my bed, garnering a few moments of peace and quiet before embarking on his task of driving the bus.  But he didn’t.  He invited me to go along on the journey, and I am all the richer for it – gaining in those few hours a glimpse of my dad’s world beyond the confines of our home.

From My Mother

The year I turned four, my sister, Liz, turned six.  That fall, she not only got to go to first grade, she also got to move out of the nursery at church and into a regular Sunday school class.  I knew there was no way I could go to school with her.  There were laws against that; but, I felt I had a good chance of joining her Sunday school class.  After all, this was church where you weren’t supposed to be a respecter of persons.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that my mother was going to be teaching Liz’s class.

I was sick of staying in the nursery with a bunch of babies and coloring those Bible story sheets using broken crayons worn down to a dull rounded shape, most of them with their paper wrappers peeled completely off.  Some of the crayons were even pocked with teeth marks where either the babies or nervous preschoolers had chewed on them.  I just didn’t think I could take another year of coloring with those gross crayons or pushing thread through those silly little sewing cards and being lumped in with a bunch of drooling, bawling babies while Liz joined the big kids in a class where they’d have actual lessons.  While my mother was no push-over, I felt it was worth a shot to begin my begging campaign to join her class.

“Pleeeeease,” I pleaded.  “Please, let me move up to Liz’s Sunday school class.”

I’m sure my mother finally grew tired of hearing my pitiful appeals because she reluctantly said, “Okay, but only on one condition.  You have to do the work that the older kids do.”

Even though I wasn’t at all sure I could meet that demand, the vision of myself spending another year in that nursery propelled me to promise my mother that I would do everything the older kids did.

I was beyond excited that first Sunday morning when I got to walk right past the nursery and into the first grade Sunday school classroom.  The other kids eyed me suspiciously, but they didn’t say anything for fear of making a bad impression on my mother.  When my mother announced that our first lesson was to learn the books of the Old Testament, my crisp enthusiasm wilted.  I was hoping we’d learn some Bible verses, preferably short ones like, “Jesus wept,” or even the books of the New Testament.  At least I could actually pronounce those names.  I wanted to whine, but I knew a complaint would send me straight back to the nursery, so I kept my mouth shut and focused on the assignment.

All week, I pestered my mother to go over the names of the books of the Old Testament with me.  This would have been going the extra mile for any mother, but my mother was completing her B.A. in English at Arkansas (now Lyon) College.  So in addition to dealing with regular motherly things – like preparing meals, doing laundry, and refereeing fights between Liz and me, she had tons of homework to do.  Still, she listened night after night as I stammered over all those names until I could say them without missing a single one.

I could barely sit still in my chair the next Sunday morning.  When my mother asked if anybody could say the books of the Old Testament, I shot my pudgy hand in the air.  My mother looked from face to face, but no one else moved except to narrow their eyes at me.

Finally, my mother said, “Okay, Teresa.”

To my amazement, I said them all from Genesis to Malachi, and then I held out my hand.  My mother’s pledge to pay fifty cents to the students who could reel off all those Old Testament books just sweetened the deal.  She smiled as she plopped the two quarters into my open palm, while the older kids looked on with what I’m sure were unchristian thoughts roiling through their brains.

Who cared what they thought?  With my mother’s help, I had learned that tenacity plus hard work could equal success even for an underdog like me.

From Both My Parents

Both of my parents took the time to teach me many other lessons, and they continue to teach me lessons even now.  Some of these lessons have been easy to learn.  Others, well, let’s just say I’m still working on them.  Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from them is the lesson of commitment.  Throughout our lives, my parents have remained committed to my brother, Rob, to my sister, Liz, and to me.  And, they have remained committed to each other for many, many years.  This month, my parents will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  The symbol for that year is a diamond.  This hardest of gemstones was known to the ancient Greeks as adamas, the same word they used for anything that was indestructible or unmovable. My parents’ love for their family and for each other has been both enduring and constant, and that has been the most important lesson of all.

gratitude

Untied shoelaces and lost gloves

Today’s post is written by my great friend, Debra Dickey. Thanks for the great reminder, Debra, that God is always faithful to me in the small things, too.

Glove #2I have had the honor of an unconventional amount of both during this past year.  At first, the phenomenon was a bit of a nuisance, but by allowing it to be so, soon it became a point of inter-communication, an inside joke if you will, an almost secret wink between me and the One Who watches over me, causing me to raise an eyebrow at the humor, as He reminded me to not be annoyed, but to be grateful and to take those moments to praise and thank Him.

Although I cannot begin to count how many times my shoelace has come untied, I can count how many times, at the moment when I needed to stop what I was doing, stoop down and bow my head to retie it, that I took that moment just to say ‘Praise God’… EVERY time.  Thank you. Simple, yet powerful.

I do know how many times I have lost that one glove from last winter to this one.  Three!!  Each time, I would get back to the house from walking Maddie, realize the glove was missing, and begin the back-tracking process in hopes that I would be able to locate it, in the snow, in the mud, or who knows wherever I had dropped it during the lengthy and meandering trek we had taken.  And every time, sooner or later, I was able to find it!  A glove?  Easily replaceable, you say.  Not a big deal, right.  But it was, to me anyway.  So I uttered hallelujahs and praises when I saw it, and gratefully said ‘THANK YOU!’

Oh but yes.  Someone is trying to get my attention.  In a comical way, huh?  So much the better!  Someone is trying to tell me that little things do matter.  “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much . . . . .” [Luke 16:10]  (‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much’ . . . . as spoken in the King James version.)

Although this parable from Luke was meant as a guideline for how God, and we, should try to identify a trustworthy approach to the world and its peoples, there is a converse maxim to that as well, a truism that Someone is trying to instill in me:  That He is faithful to me in the little things, therefore He will be faithful to me in the bigger ones.  In other words, if I can depend on Him to help me find a lost glove (and I do!!), He lovingly reminds me that I can surely trust Him in the “much” of my life too.  Ordainment and Promise of Perfect Comfort, Absolute and Supreme; I only need to own it.

With certainty I always ‘know’ this in my heart/ my spirit being:   “But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” [II Tim. 1:12]  It’s my human existence that struggles with the essence of that kind of power, strength and ability.  So for my benefit, He cares enough to take that precious moment to kindly remind me, in the smallest of ways, even with a lost glove or an untied shoestring, to acknowledge His Omnipotence, not only to myself, but to Him.  He is able.  And my faithfulness to Him is nothing compared to His faithfulness to me.   Simple, yet completely overwhelming.

‘Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us’ [I John 3:1] because we are His.