Gratitude for the Merit of the Age – My Dream on April 26, 14

This dream came to me as a result of my internal (spiritual) goal to choose gratitude over complaint.  I see this effort bearing fruit in my life.
In my dream, I’m visiting Chapman University. I meet the University President, who gives me a tour. I’m telling him about how my Dad worked at the college when I was in 2nd grade. We used to play on campus while waiting for him to get off work. The President shows me around, pointing out all of the improvements made over the years.

It strikes me that countless people were involved in working together to build something wonderful. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for each person who contributed over the years toward making Chapman University what it is today. As the parent of a college student, I realize the magnitude of the blessings conferred on every student by the investments of these predecessors.

I feel that the value of each person’s efforts should be appreciated, from the anonymous groundskeepers and janitors, to the construction workers, and all of the alumni who contributed, from the smallest donation to the largest.

A profound sense of gratitude settles over me. As I wake up I feel the implications of gratitude for all of our predecessors who invested their love and effort, not just in Chapman, but for all institutions, such as my own company, UC Berkeley, Dartmouth, etc., and for all the saints who trod this path before us.

Curious Effect of a Grateful Heart

Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~Thessalonians 5:13-18 (ESV)

Usually I would be commenting on Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.”  I love The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, and strive to live in constant prayer.  I said “strive” because I usually fall far short of the pilgrim’s standard. It’s hard to mix accounting with constant prayer.

But today I want to reflect on a different section of Thessalonians 5, verse 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

I have recently been blessed by having a grateful heart in the midst of a really difficult time.  How many have a gratitude journal, or a habit of counting blessings?  It’s hard to be grateful when chaos is swilling around and stress is maxing out unless you are standing on the foundation of a solid gratitude habit.

My gratitude habit blessed my deeply during a recent challenge.  On a Saturday In late February my Dad suddenly had a heart attack and ended up in the Cardiac intensive Care Unit. Monday morning I was on a flight to be with him.  There was plenty of emotional chaos and stress swirling around with undertones of unspoken and unresolved conflict.

As an introvert (INFP) I don’t do well around conflict, and prefer to retreat into my inner space for prayer and reflection.  Our time with Dad was limited, so there was lots of time for prayer & reflection.  I spent a lot of time reflecting on things about my Dad that I’m grateful for.

When we were growing up, Dad seemed to be a strict disciplinarian.  He was always on us about saving money.  From a kid’s limited perspective, I thought he was mean.  I daydreamed a lot about running away from home to find loving parents.

I remember that when I turned twelve he got me signed up to deliver papers with the Denver Post.  I thought that was really harsh at the time, but it turned out to be a great experience.  Looking back on that and many other experiences I see that he valued self-reliance, and wanted us to live up to that ideal.

When Dad was growing up, he was a Boy Scout in Phoenix, Arizona.  He eventually became a troop leader. He would tell us about camping in the Superstition Mountains and regale us with tales of how many people died in the search for the Lost Dutchman’s mine.  Us three kids became his personal boy scout troop, never mind that one of us was a girl.  We went camping and fishing in the Rocky Mountains.

Dad even went to the Army surplus store and got a bargain on a 12 man army tent.  When folded up, it weighed a ton and almost filled up the entire trunk of the car. He had us practice setting up the tent in the back yard so we would know what to do in case we had to set it up in a dark and stormy night.  That actually did happen on one camping trip.

What I hated the most was “policing the campsite” at the end of every camping trip. We had to go all over picking up the trash.  The worst injustice was having to go back and pick up a piece of trash that wasn’t even ours to begin with.  He was such a meanie! Boy Scout rules say, “Always leave the place better than when you found it.”    That is totally ingrained in me now.  (I was brainwashed by a retired Boy Scout Troop Leader.)  When I see trash on the ground on my daily walk I have the urge to pick it up, even if it’s not mine!

Dad led us on ghost town tours in the Rockies. We even rode the Narrow Gage Railroad from Durango on my birthday.

I’m really grateful for those many experiences: learning to bait a hook and gut a trout, summers spent reading science fiction in that huge 12 man army tent, and so many others. Through it all, Dad was always trying to teach us a lesson.  He was passing his values on to us, self-reliance, a lifetime love of learning, while pouring out his love for us in the process.  Those values were engraved in Dad’s DNA.

Maybe we would get tired of his lectures at the dinner table on Greek and Latin roots, but we learned in spite of ourselves.  I even have Latin on my license plate!

Maybe I got bored spending hours and hours in the basement workshop learning about capacitors, resistors, and vacuum tubes, but I feel proud that we built our own TV.  Forget that it was only black & white with no case around it.  It worked!  We had a blast as a family watching F-Troop and the Wild, Wild West on that ridiculous naked TV.  I learned about electricity, morse code and electromagnetism in spite of myself.

Choose Gratitude.  Yes, I am mourning Dad, but also celebrating his pure, enthusiastic, and loving heart.  The older I get, the more I am grateful for the love that he invested in me.  When he was grumpy after work, or scolded me for a bad grade on my report card, I would swear to myself that I would never treat my kids that way.

DNA.  Everything that I treasure in my own character came from my Dad (Well Mom, half of it anyway.)  I had a lot of time to reflect during those long hours in the CICU waiting room.  Most of it was on gratitude for the many things that I inherited from Dad.  None of it was cash, but it was all priceless.

Saint Paul gave us good advice.  Give thanks in all circumstances, even in the CICU waiting room.

And don’t forget,  “Be at peace among yourselves.” Thessalonians 5:13

 (Dad passed away on March 10th, 2014.)

Where you don’t want to be on the Stairway to Heaven.

Someone posted a question on Facebook recently: “What question about the bible would you really like have answered?” When I first seriously read the new testament the summer I turned eighteen, I was surprised by the Jesus that I met through the Gospels.  He said a lot of challenging things that made me uncomfortable or plain-and-simply scared me to death.

Sometimes we treat the Bible like comfort food for the soul.  We prefer the nice, loving Jesus to the scary challenging Jesus.  We would rather hear, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11:28 (ESV) instead of “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25 (ESV).

Spiritual comfort food has its place, but we need to face the challenging stuff if we want to grow in faith.  (I’d love to hear what Bible verse challenges you the most, and how you came to terms with it.)

Here is the challenging verse that has bothered me since my conversion in 1974:  Why did Jesus said about John the Baptist, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  Matthew 11:11 (ESV).

I keep imagining the stairway to heaven that ends at the threshold of the Pearly Gates. The poor soul who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is standing just inside the gate.  He barely squeaked in past St. Peter and his big book.  Then there’s John the Baptist, standing on the stairs, just below the gates.  He wants to get in, but can’t because he is less than the least, less than that guy over there, just inside the gate.

John the Baptist must have made a pretty imposing figure, in his camel-hair suit, leather belt and fiery sermons.  Aside from Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, John was among the first to recognize Jesus as the anointed one.  He was the first to publicly testify that Jesus was the Lamb of God,

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (ESV)  “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:34 (ESV)

Most Christians would love to have been there in John the Baptist’s sandals, giving that testimony.  You’d think that would earn you a seat pretty near the top tier of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So how did John the Baptist, the greatest born of woman, end up less than the least, outside the gates of heaven?

In Matthew 5:19, Jesus defines who is least in the kingdom of heaven. 

“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  

That’s pretty serious stuff.  So what did John the Baptist do that made him less than the least?  

Maybe John’s mistake was that he knew Jesus was the messiah, but turned his back on Jesus and went his own way, somehow thinking his path was more important. John’s disciples were reportedly at odds with Jesus’s disciples.  Only two of John’s followers (Andrew and one other) joined up with Jesus.  John had ample opportunity to testify to Herod about Jesus, but Herod knew nothing about Jesus, thinking that John had resurrected.  It seems to me that John the Baptist missed the salvation boat and led all of his own followers away from Jesus at the crucial moment.  Instead of leading his people to salvation, he led them astray.  Could I be right?

Answered Prayers

Prayer works.

I was getting bored and frustrated with random reading.  There’s too much dystopia in the bookstores these days, don’tcha think. What happens when the lights go out?  Or an asteroid hits the moon? Or the rapture comes and I’m Left Behind?  I get enough dystopia just reading the newspaper every day.

It’s depressing.  Vampires, shmampires. It seems like everyone is trying to write the next The Twilight Series. Yawn.  “What does this have to do with prayer,” you ask? Hold your horses.  I’m getting to that.

I did enjoy Justin Cronin’s The Passage and The Twelve (Book Two of The Passage Trilogy).  It’s quite different from the usual smarmy vampire romance. The characters are interesting and engaging.  Enough interesting things happen and with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter the story keeps rolling along. What will happen in book three I wonder.  (Hurry up Mr. Cronin!)

Now that’s done and I need a new fictional fix.   I’m craving something without vampires for a change.  There’s a certain kind of story that just makes you feel good. Hmmmm.

Here’s my list of feel-good favorites that I turn to when I’m burned out.  Like Mom’s baked macaroni and cheese, they’re comfort food for the brain.
The Hero and the Crown & The Blue Swordby Robin Mckinley.  I can never get enough of these two stories.
Dances With Wolves 
Watership Down
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Random Harvest, by James Hilton

I found myself standing in front of my bookshelf, looking at this collection.  I wasn’t really in the mood to re-read any of them, but wanted something like them. I prayed a little prayer and it trickled up to heaven. I prayed quietly, so silently that I almost didn’t hear it myself, feeling guilty that I wasn’t praying for something more providential, like ending world hunger, or for an end to human trafficking. (That’s whole ‘nother post.)

Somebody upstairs must have been listening. (Maybe Saint Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of libraries?)  While browsing the online audio book collection of my local I found an available copy of The Hollow Hills (Book 2 of The Arthurian Saga by Mary Stewart).

After a quick download on the Overdrive Media Player app, I started listening to it on my commute.  I could tell right away that this would be another of those feel-good favorites. But I really hate to start a series in the middle (pesky spoilers).  Book 1, The Crystal Cave, was not on audio.  Eager to start at the beginning, I checked out a really beat up first edition (1970) hardback from the library.

Yep, it’s an answer to prayer. It’s not even Christmas yet, and God has given me a personalized gift of love, a new book by a new author, custom made for me.

In my devotional this morning I read,
“Without God’s love, there is no way to establish [a foundation for a true family]. Without God’s love, there is no way for us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Love is truly the source and wellspring of our life and happiness.”Exposition of the Divine Principle

I have received many answers to prayer over the years. They are usually related to work or mission.  More like a, “Let’s get this job done,” kind of answer (James 2:18); a soldier’s marching orders.  But this answer was special, because it was purely unconditional, from God’s heart of love to my heart.

I want to abide in Your heart of love always,
To be inundated, overcome,
Swept away by that sweet love.
No agenda,
Just Your loving presence.
With every beat of my heart,
Every breath I take.
Every day fresh and new.
Every morning amidst the sparkling dew.
Soak my feet with Your love as I walk barefoot in the grass.
Freshen me and breathe me in,
as I breathe You in
to dwell in the altar of my heart.

Review: The Hidden Hand of God – Remarkable Answered Prayers

The Hidden Hand of God I just finished reading a wonderful book, The Hidden Hand of God – a selection of true stories of prayers answered from Guideposts Magazine. Reading through these stories takes me back thirty seven years to the summer I discovered the real Jesus. I’d been sick that summer and was recovering at the home of an elderly church lady who had been a lifelong subscriber to Guideposts Magazine. While I was recovering, my heavenly prescription was to read one whole issue of Guideposts, one chapter of the New Testament and pray before going to sleep. Many of the stories in this book seemed familiar to me. It is very encouraging and inspiring to read these stories. That summer these stories taught me to hope that my Heaveny Father would also listen to my prayers and answer them. Reading them now they remind me of the many personal experiences I have had over the years of answered prayers. What do you think? Does God answer prayers? Has He answered any of your prayers? Post a comment with your stories or questions.

Thank You Notes as a Spiritual Practice

What kind of writer are you?  Do you prefer pen and paper, writing longhand or is typing easier for you?  Are you an extroverted writer that shares with everyone or an introverted writer who keeps it private?  I’m a pen and paper writer.  It doesn’t really seem like writing without the tactile experience of the ink flowing onto the paper.  I’ve also been a very private writer, hardly ever sharing with others.

Writing in a journal has been my primary form of spiritual practice for years.  It’s personal and intimate, but something that I don’t share.  Blogging has caused me to consider how my writing is received by others, real readers.  Does my writing really express what I mean? Only real readers can say.

 The Art of the Handwritten Note

I used to write a lot of handwritten letters, but over the years I got out of practice with advent of email. I was reminded of this when I discovered The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd.  This quick read inspired me to revive my practice of writing personal notes in my own handwriting.  I am normally not a very goal oriented person, but I set a goal for myself to write two or three notes each day.  This challenged me to be more observant, and look for opportunities to express my appreciation to coworkers, friends and even strangers.

Many books and articles on gratitude recommend writing down five or ten things per day that you are grateful for.  I even read one article that suggested making a list of one hundred different things that you are grateful for.  This stretches your concepts beyond the usual default things on the list, like spouse, kids, yummy food and sunshine.

It is one thing to write your gratitude list late at night alone in your room or in the privacy of your journal. No one will ever see it (unless you have a snoop in the house) so you don’t have to sweat the penmanship, grammar or spelling.  It can even be in a personal shorthand.

It is quite another thing to write out a thank you note that you are going mail to someone.  You want the recipient be able to read your handwriting, understand your grammar and spelling. You want them to feel appreciated.  You want to make their day.  
Thank you notes are the simplest notes to write.  As a recently diagnosed Celiac patient, I started writing thank you notes to considerate and helpful wait-staff at restaurants with gluten-free selections on their menus.  It’s like saying grace after the meal.

Synchronistically, while starting on this grateful journey, I ran across Almost Home, a cute story of a homeless sixth grader about Sugar Mae Cole and her adopted dog.  The author, Joan Bauer, won a Newbery Honor Medal for an earlier novel, Hope Was Here.  This is a story with epistolary elements that spice it up and give this serious subject quite a bit of humor.  I have a thing for epistolary literature (blog post to follow). The story is sprinkled with poems, homework assignments, emails and thank you notes.  She also describes a thank you note game, that inspired this post.

I’m not going to spoil your fun and let the cat out of the bag by describing the game.  I’ll let you dig for this nugget of gold on your own.  The description of the game encouraged me to redouble my efforts to find reasons to send thank you notes.  Sugar Mae even finds ways to send thank you notes with a twist by finding unique ways to thank people for negative experiences.

That’s where I received my epiphany on the thank you note as a spiritual practice.  It is a quite a challenge to find the silver lining in a difficult situation or a negative interaction. Expressing it gracefully with the sincere intention to turn the situation around and brighten someone’s day isn’t easy.  It requires mindfulness, intention and prayer.  Writing the note, and sending it, is where the spiritual rubber of gratitude practice meets the rough road of daily life.

If you want to get started on your own journey of gratitude, has quite a selection of delightful note cards that will help you get inspired.  At the time of this writing, Peter Pauper has a 4-for-3 promotion on select note cards and thank you cards.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a nice selection of note cards with reproductions of fine artwork.

Please share your feedback and experiences with gratitude practice and writing thank you notes.  Thank you!

Dystopian Fiction or Dystopian Reality?

Santa Olivia Audio CD cover

While reflecting and praying about my post last night I realized that dystopia isn’t fiction for a lot of people, it’s reality. There are a lot of hot spots that must be pretty dismal, Kabul, Baghdad, Gaza, Sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to these global dystopias, many people are living in their own personal dystopia.  Check out this blog on Domestic Violence Survivors, Donna’s story

We can curl up in our easy chairs next to the fire with our favorite dystopian literature while sipping hot chocolate, safe in the knowledge that it’s only fiction.  Our world is safe.  But what about the children in a refugee camp in Gaza who don’t even have a book to read or a chair to curl up in.  They may not know where their next meal is coming from, or even where their parents are.

I’m sure that God, called by whatever Name, hears every prayer.  But who can He count on to help answer those prayers?

What can we do to help our Heavenly Father relieve the suffering of the countless non-fiction dystopias around the world?  How can we Pay It Forward?

I can’t believe that I forgot one of my favorite books from last year.  Senior moment!  I stumbled upon Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey.
Loup Garron is a girl with superhuman strength living in a kind of buffer zone between the USA & Mexico.  This is a modern twist on the classic wolf-man tale.  Her dad was the product of a military experiment in genetically engineered fighting men.  She has to keep her abilities under wraps, but joins a boxing gym to work out.

The sequel, Saints Astray, was just released.  I’m looking forward to it.


Favorite Christmas Stories

What’s your favorite Christmas story?  Do you have a tradition to read stories for Christmas every year?

The traditional Christmas story comes from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2. Illustrated Children’s Bibles, such as these English Standard Versions (ESV), are good read-aloud versions for the kids in the family.

How about other stories?  Some people may like A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. We watched the recent animated Jim Carey version last week. It may be too scary for younger kids.  It’s like watching Ebenezer Scrooge’s two-hour nightmare.
 An illustrated book may be more appropriate for younger kids.

I have my own favorite read aloud story, The Shepherd, by Frederick Forsyth.  It’s the story of an RAF pilot flying home across the English Channel on Christmas Eve.  Just as you would expect from Frederick Forsyth, it is suspenseful and mysterious, but heartwarming in the end.  Mr. Forsyth wrote this short story as a Christmas present for his wife.  It is my personal Christmas story tradition.

I recently read another cute Christmas story called, Gabriel and the Hour Book, Kindle Edition.  It’s about a peasant boy, Gabriel, who grinds colors for a monk at the monastery.  They are working together on a prayer-book that will be a gift from the King to his Bride.  It’s a touching story about the Christmas Eve answer to Gabriel’s desperate prayer.

Do you have a tradition to read stories for Christmas every year? What’s your favorite Christmas story?  What are you reading for Christmas this year?

Praying for Your Enemies

In Matt 5:43-48, Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies.

Love for Enemies
Matt 5:43 (NIV Thinline Bible) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

When you read daily Christian devotionals, they tend to encourage prayer for people who need or deserve prayer, like cancer patients, their doctors, disabled people, stressed out soccer moms or people facing bankruptcy.

Isn’t that like praying for “those who love you”? It is easy to pray for people we love, family, friends, people suffering, homeless or facing difficulty. It feels good to pray for those we love. It grows our hearts in a warm and fuzzy way.

Praying for people like this is surely commendable and we shouldn’t stop. Please don’t stop. If you haven’t started praying, this is a good place to start.

But if we want to take our prayer life to a new level, we should try to pray for our “enemies”. (There is no ‘try’. -Yoda)

It feels counter-intuitive to pray for your enemies. When I first started to pray for “enemies” I gravitated toward more sympathetic, disadvantaged or unjustly treated enemies.

Pray for telemarketers, bill collectors or that insane person who cut you off in traffic this morning. Don’t you think that they might need prayers? I’m sure that telemarketers and bill collectors would appreciate a prayer or two thrown their way. And that wacko driver, there must be a reason that God loves them and wants us to pray for them too.

How do you feel about praying for serious enemies who really need prayers, like suicide bombers or terrorists? Should we pray for them? Or would Jesus have us draw the line there? What do you think?

Do you pray for your enemies?  Who do you pray for?  What do you pray will happen to them or for them?  Post a comment and let me know what you think.  Thanks!

ESV Study Bible [Kindle Edition]
Vemma – Vitamins, Essential Minerals, Mangosteen & Aloe
My Utmost for His Highest – (DELUXE CHRISTIAN CLASSICS)
Praying Dangerously: Daring Prayers for Meaningful Faith
Adventures in Prayer (This is one of my favorite books on prayer!)