How I survived All Saints’ Day with help from an impenetrable fog

The day’s first light disclosed a thick, soupy fog. My initial thought:
Drat! Another bleak, dreary day; so common in autumn around these parts.

The weather matched my mood.

A foggy day on the lake

How appropriate, I thought, for this to be my window-view…

On the day we celebrate “All Saints’ Day” in church – an event that I wasn’t sure I could handle.

But then…

(surprisingly)… upon closer scrutiny of the dark greyness…

I discovered…

amiable beauty in this somber landscape!

Curious coloration.
A softness to edges.
An almost mysterious misty-look.
Peaceful.

So what is All Saints’ Day (and United Methodists? celebrating saints?) and how does it relate to an impenetrable fog with uplifting elegance?

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First, All Saints’ Day…

  • Actually occurs on November 1st but is celebrated on the first Sunday in November.
  • Got started for the Western church, around the 4th century, initially honoring those who had died, who had led holy, laudable lives for Christ. (Think of the capital-S-real-stuff Saints.)
  • Later expanded to include everybody – dead or alive! Anyone who has shared their faith; who has leveled the path before us. Often referred to as the great cloud of witnesses.
  • For United Methodists, “saints” are different than those in the Roman Catholic tradition. In the FAQ about what United Methodists believe, it clarifies our tenets on this matter.
  • Includes in particular remembering those who have died in the past year who were members of the congregation, and… well… those who were close to you who have recently left this earth.

The latter point ties the fog to the memory of saints.

I lost both my parents this past summer. Five weeks apart. I wasn’t ready to face (again) a remembrance of so-close, lost saints. (Are we ever?)

It has been hard. Sort of like being in a deep fog.

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As he receives the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain and “approached the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20:21.

Darkness can contain the presence of God.

The fog this morning was a reminder. In what could be seen as dreary darkness, when I looked closer, I found reason to give thanks for beauty. God was with me in my darkness.

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Photo credits:
An as-it-was, un-retouched photo from my archives.

Why you need a thanksgiving chair

Thanksgiving table clothThis Thanksgiving as you gather ’round the table, I’ll bet there will be a time for reviewing your gratitude. There likely will be lists. Every year we write ours on the table cloth.

There are the usual entries: Our health, our families, our friends, our homes, our stuff. Do we remember to add our skills and abilities; our talents?

Everything is a gift.

Yes, everything.

Even the hard things.

I wonder how the third servant in the Parable of the Talents felt, after he’d been lambasted by his master? Did he consider that a gift?

I wonder how our experience of misfortune can be changed if we consider it a gift?

Watch this short video. It’s powerful. It’s a reminder to always give thanks, for everything.

And to teach our children to do likewise.

(If reading this in an email, you can watch this video on YouTube.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

a blue line


Some of you have seen this before. Is it okay if I do a repeat? I’m using parts of a post I published two years ago… but this one is good. It’s worth the re-exposing. Thanks for grace.

~~ Carol

 


Video produced by Shift Worship.

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Purposeful Gratitude

In reading the story of Abraham and Sarah, have you noticed that Abraham has a habit?

He stacks stones.

A very balanced pile of rocks

No, Abraham wasn’t piling rocks in an artful manner such as the photo above. He built altars. He deliberately heaped soil and rock, forming a reminder. A physical stalwart to remind him of an encounter with God. He would use these altars in his worship to God and to remind himself of God’s promises of blessing.

In the season of Thanksgiving, how about we be as deliberate, and make our gratitude be purposeful. The key is to make this your new normal. Here are some ways to do this with your family:

  • Why not pile some rocks. Go out for a walk to collect stones. Once back at home, in a family gathering (perhaps at the dinner table), read about Abram’s altar building in Genesis 12:6-8 or Genesis 13:3-4 or Genesis 13:18. Make a pile of your rocks naming each one as a thanksgiving to God.
  • Take the next step and write thanksgivings on your rocks with a permanent marker, or use a glue and water mix (Modge Podge) to apply cut out pictures to your rocks.
  • Allow your rock pile to be re-built on a daily basis!
  • A "shrine" of things that invoke the memory of God's goodness

  • The Life Application Bible tells us that Abram built altars to “remember that God was at the center of his life.” Build a different sort of “altar.” Fill a space in your home with reminders of thankfuls. Allow touching and rearranging and additions and subtractions. (Photo on right is at the Nelson home around Easter time.)
  • With older children discuss ways people often build “monuments” to themselves or to their stuff. Why do you suppose we do this? How can we break into a new focus of being grateful?
  • A blessing box - a place to store your blessings!

  • Fill up your family blessing box!
    If your child didn’t get to make one in our Art Workshop for the story of Abraham & Sarah, you can view the lesson here and download the instructions here. Decorate any old box!

What are other ways your family makes gratitude purposeful?


Photo credits:
Balancing rocks by Viewminder, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License. “Shrine” photo from the Nelson family. Used by permission. Blessing box photo from my archives.

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Thank God! The world is a place where one can encounter God. (If we notice.)

The altar last Thanksgiving

In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for?

My gratitude list includes the usual sorts of thankfuls, such as:

  • Greg’s pizza-oven-roasted potatoes.
  • Hearing about Lara’s “Best.Day.Ever.”
  • A text from Scott: safe arrival.
  • Lunch with a friend.
  • …To name just a few.

My list also includes hard things that seem difficult to be thankful for.

  • Tears at saying goodbye.
  • Facing change.
  • Mistakes, and more mistakes.
  • Hard eucharisteo.

And then there are entries on my list of things that I should be thankful for every day… but I just forget.

  • That God has chosen me for my weaknesses. (My weakness amplifes my need for God.)
  • That God is always present with me! (Whether I sense him or not, he is a constant companion!)
  • …So easy to forget!

Perhaps we are all like Jacob who experiences God in his life and says,

Open quote markSurely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.
Genesis 28:16

Our Cool Disciples story about Jacob and Esau is such a large story that we’ve broken it into two parts (part one and part two). With such a big story it is easy to loose sight of the main point. We could become embroiled in the details — who are all of the characters, and what happens, and in what order — which is important to know, but is not the most critical. Here is the point which we hope stands out:

God makes his presence known in our lives.

The world is a place where one can encounter God, reaching out to us.
If we take notice.

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As we head into the crazy-busy days ahead, can we make time to notice God? God seeks an encounter with us; God endeavors to get your attention!

For this I can say:

Thanks God!
Happy Thanksgiving
— Carol


Photo credits:
Photo of the Thanksgiving altar at church is from my archives.

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I dare you to notice God at work

Now that we are turning the calendar page to February, how are your New Year’s resolutions coming? I personally have already given up on daily exercise. (Such lofty thoughts!) There is one area however, where I am going full speed ahead: Noticing and counting God’s gifts.

I’m pursuing the “Joy Dare”

A real dare! It goes like this: in 2012 can I make a conscious effort to write down one thousand gifts? (That means roughly three a day!) These gifts are more than just things, they are graces from God.

Can I mark that many ways that God shows me love?

I’ve been writing down gifts for the last three years. But my annotations were intermittent. (It took me two years to get to 500.) Climbing to one thousand more in 2012 takes an effort! But this dare is aptly named: A Joy Dare, because I’m finding real joy even on days filled with chaos and confusion; I look for beauty in the ugly mess. It’s become for me a habit: repeatedly giving God praise – for everything.

Then it occurred to me that this tallying of thankfuls is a way to notice God in our lives! Exactly what we are trying to teach kids in our current Rotation on Moses.

It’s not too late to start this dare. Perhaps it could be reworded?

I dare you to notice God at work in your life.

share the dare
Click on this button to find out more about the dare.

Some of my list (from its beginnings back in November 2008 but with up-to-date photos)…

a family gathering

6. A healthy family

11. Authentic refried beans

35. Blue sky days

 
a blue sky fall day

702. Texting blessings

279. Family discussion with tears

833. Smiles noted when someone unexpectedly lends a helping hand

1010. Foot pain

1013. A cheerleading friend.

 
Want to start this dare in your family but worried about where to find God’s graces? Might I point you to help? Click here for a wonderful list – a way to capture God’s gifts – three a day all through February!


Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives.
Button from onethousandgifts.com

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An easy way to spend with God

Thanksgiving is on the horizon; followed by Christmas… yikes! ’Tis the season for parents to be busier than ever, stressed out, worried, and cranky. Unfortunately, this rubs off on our kids. (Hopefully my kids won’t comment with too many past details!)

It is appropriate that this month the Cool Disciples are talking about ways to balance our busy lives so as to make time to be with God. The kids are hearing that Jesus scheduled downtime into his life. He did lots of teaching and healing, but then he took time to pray to God. He also spent time with friends. Our Bible story for this Rotation is about Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s house (Luke 10: 38-42) where he taught an important lesson about our priorities. Here is a video of our story. (Created by the sixth graders in the Drama Workshop).

The story of Mary and Martha.

We’ve already talked about listening for God. But how do we make time to listen? How do we spend time with God?

Here’s an easy way: Start a gratitude journal.

Recording thankfuls opens the way to God.

Use this Thanksgiving holiday to start your list of thanks. Gather a notebook and a pen and set aside a time at least once a week to write at least five things the family is thankful for – gifts from God.

Might I suggest that you start off by setting a few family ground rules: Should the entries be numbered? Should the list be signed by whomever is making an entry? Are repeats okay?

Once your family practices daily gratitude you’ll find that it brings benefits such as:

  • Better health
  • Better sleep
  • Less anxiety and depression

Read more about the research in The New York Times.

Best of all: Marking gratitude brings you closer to God.

Is your family keeping a gratitude list?

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Thought you’d like to know about a free app for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android.

Button to access the free app for One Thousand Gifts


Photo credits: Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).

The password is thank you

Is this Bible verse talking about the doors to church?

A church door

'Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Psalm 100:4

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble
Ask that question at the family dinner table. (Or wherever your family is gathered together.)

It happens that this month at Sunday’s Cool Rotation, we are studying Psalm 100. As we dig into this psalm with the kids, our primary focus is to explore what this tells us about how to worship God. After all, the Old Testament book of Psalms is a collection of poems, prayers, and hymns that were used in the worship services of the ancient Israelites.

When we reflect on “worship” we immediately think of what we do once a week on Saturday or on Sunday – opening up those gates (okay, the doors) and coming to church. We are commanded to worship God with loud, vocal praise.

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubbleIs worship restricted to just during a weekly “worship service”?

What if we consider those “gates” referred to above as “doors” to each new day of life? How does that change your outlook on worship?

If worship — expressing our love and our devotion to God — can take place at any time and in any place, then the teachings of Psalm 100 can be applied, not just once a week, but to daily life!

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble
What instruction does Psalm 100 impart to our day-to-day routine? Take a look at how the The Message paraphrases Verse 4 of Psalm 100:

'Enter with the password: “Thank you!”
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.

Do you know what this means? We are to approach our days with gratitude!

The password to wondrous joy is given to us: put into practice saying thanks!

A couple of years ago I started the habit of noticing and noting things for which I am thankful; gifts from God. I got started after reading the thoughts of Ann Voskamp

Button to access the web site: A Holy Experience.

I find it helpful to keep a list.

Yes, it’s a numbered list. I’m working my way to 1,000, but I probably won’t stop there. Sometimes my list keeping is sporadic. But I always come back to realizing its benefits: it’s not enough to just think good thoughts, it takes feelings of true gratitude – seeing it all as gifts – in good times and in bad.

Some recent entries in my gratitude list…

  • 711. A husband who gets groceries.
  • 728. Having something to do while I’m waiting.
  • 735. A son’s smile when I give him a blessing.
  • 743. A job (in her field!) for my daughter.
  • 746. Wild, free-for-the-picking flowers to bring in for the table.
  • 748. An out-of-the-blue: “I’m coming over to help.”
  • 760. Having a mess to clean-up.
  • 789. Tears at saying good-bye.
  • 798. Sheets flapping on the clothes line.
  • 811. Reflecting on a weekend with wonderful women surrounding me as I stepped outside my comfort zone, multiple times!

What about you? Have you considered starting a list of thousands (and thousands) of gifts?

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Photo credits:
Church doors by Jimmy Harris, who licensed this photo on Flickr under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
Button from A Holy Experience.
Rest of photos from my archives.

Practicing Gratitude

When someone gives you a gift, what is the standard, considered-good-manners, expected response?

(Everyone say it all together…)

Thank You!

Unfortunately, kids aren’t born knowing how to be thankful.

Now, I know. You are well-aware of your parental requirement to teach your children manners. (Please, thank you, you’re welcome, and the rest).

How about training them to have a grateful heart?

chalk thankful heart

Need an ingress to this topic? Our June Rotation (for kids participating with the Cool Disciples) offers an appropriate Bible story. We’ve been studying the “Widow’s Offering” from Mark 12:41-44.

We’ve already learned that gifts given to God are called offerings. Our offerings can be time, talents, or money. We’ve also learned that the woman in our story could have given everything she owned (two, small coins!) out of trust that God would provide for her needs.

What about the possibility that the poor widow gave because she was grateful?


For the widow in our story, it probably wasn’t her first time giving an offering. She was likely in the habit.

Perhaps we need to practice being thankful.

Here are some ways…

  • Set up a place for praises. In a noticeable location, place a stack of papers and a pen near a basket or a bowl. (Or post a list on the refridge; or give everyone their own journal.) Encourage everyone to draw or write about things that make them grateful. Once a week ponder your collection.
  • Write notes to your family (the lunch box, posted on the car dash, on the mirror, saying, “Right now, what are you thankful to God for?” Expect a report at the dinner table.
  • While driving around town allow a certain happenstance (every dog seen or every blue car) to spark the announcement of a grateful.
  • Use this mealtime grace: Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you, God, for everything. Follow it up with everyone naming a gratitude.
  • Write short thank-you notes to people who might appreciate a little thanks. Folks at church – such as the person who sang a solo, the person who rocked babies in the nursery, or the pastor; in your neighborhood – the person who lets you pick flowers, or always bags your groceries. The possibilities are endless!
What are your ideas for practicing gratitude?

Need a reason to count your blessings? Click on this button…

Button to access the web site: A Holy Experience.

a blue line


Photo credits:
Chalk thank you by Judy Merrill-Smith, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
1,000 Gifts Button from A Holy Experience.

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Cultivating the soil

Spring is coming! It will soon be time to plant seeds! I’ve been enthusiastically planning my garden; dreaming of lush lettuce and tasty tomatoes. I love growing veggies and flowers!
Packages of seeds - flowers & herbs

Spring is a great time to talk about sowing seeds, so this month the 1st – 6th graders (the Cool Disciples) at First United Methodist Church (FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI), are studying a Rotation on the Parable of the Sower.
You can read this parable in Mark 4:1-9.

Time Out. Talk about…What is needed for a seed to grow? A speech bubble

Soil, sun, water, love… Did you know that there is something else that needs growing, that takes just as much care and attention?

Cultivating the soil of a thankful heart.

How does one nurture such a garden? Here’s one idea: Keep a list. Take up a notebook and start a list of the things for which your family is grateful. Jot a thankful every day, perhaps at the family dinner table. (Make putting out the journal be a part of setting the table!)

Time Out. Talk about…What are you thankful for today? A speech bubble

Here are a few from my gratitude journal.

590. Chickadees, waiting for the feeder to be filled.
594. Friends, both old and new.
597. Sunshine (after several days of gray.)
601. Drawer dividers for organizing.
605. Textures on tree bark.
607. A husband who is a great cook.
613. Opportunities for my children that allow them to stretch their wings.

How does your garden gratitude grow?

Where did my list making start? Click on this button…

Button to access the web site: A Holy Experience.

Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Seed packages by LollyKnit from Flickr, licensed under: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Button from A Holy Experience.