Tag Archives: gifts

Lent reimagined

I have lived through many Lents, and I have my usual ways of observing the season, focusing less on giving up something and more on doing something different.

This Lent, I read of two Lenten observances that were new takes on Lenten practices.

The first was a walking Lenten observance. Since I love to walk—both for exercise and as a meditative practice—this suggestion appealed to me. It came from a Lenten blog called Walking the Path of Lent with Friends which offers different ways to walk through Lent.

One suggestion was to walk with Jesus—that is, to walk 90 miles, the distance Jesus walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The idea of intentionally calling upon Jesus to walk with me during Lent intrigued me, and so I began inviting Jesus to walk with me on my daily walks. I tried to look at my surroundings through Jesus’ eyes, to view my neighbors and nature as Jesus might see them.  

Almost immediately, I was aware that my walks are all circular—I start and end at my house— while Jesus was walking toward a destination, so I adjusted my idea of walking to think more of the path I am walking, because my path has a greater possibility of forward movement, of going somewhere.

What path am I walking? Where is Jesus leading me?

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Then I read an article by Brother Tom Smyth, CFC.  He writes:

This past Lent I decided on a different approach; focusing on my gifts rather than my failings.

About a week into Lent, and after some reflection, I identified a number of gifts that I feel I have and printed them up on 8” x 4” placards. I taped them on the wall, in a circle around the crucifix. Putting them there helped keep me focused on why I was doing this, to recognize the abundance in my life that has come through God’s gifts. A few weeks further into Lent, I came across some files containing worksheets from vocation meetings….Instead of identifying the gifts we saw in ourselves, participants identified the gifts they saw in others. I added those gifts to those I had placed around the crucifix. It was powerful, not just to read what others had seen in me, but to recognize that God has truly gifted me, in abundance…After considerable time in reflection, I realized that there is a whole other side to this gift thing. It’s the why. Why has God been so generous to me? My response became, “It hasn’t been for me; we are gifted for others.” We are called to use our gifts in the service of others. The abundance is given to us so that it can be shared.

I like the suggestion of naming my gifts and displaying them. Also, the idea of being gifted for others has been a recurring theme in my prayer. God gives abundantly for us to share abundantly. How am I gifted for others?

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Where is Lent taking you?

Preparing for Christmas

This weekend, we begin the season of Advent, four weeks of preparing for Christmas. One of my past parish ministries was writing a reflection for our weekly church bulletin. Advent reflections could be my most challenging because the Pastor encouraged us to focus on preparing for Christmas, instead of celebrating Christmas throughout December. “Advent is a season,” he would say.

This was a reflection I wrote at the beginning of Advent one year that resonates with me this year:

“As we begin this time of preparation for the birth of Jesus our savior, I am so very aware of the suffering throughout the world, in our cities and neighborhoods, and in our homes. Peace seems elusive; despair seems pervasive.

“The Advent readings, though, remind us that we are a people of hope from a tradition of hope. The light of Jesus overcomes the darkness of despair.

“Advent is highlighted in the Church year as a time of waiting which is something that many of us are not particularly good at doing. We have become a people of instant communication, instant replay and instant gratification. We have fast food, EZ pass and express lanes. We tend to want what we want when we want it. For many, this is most true during the month of December.

“This Advent, I invite you to try something different. I invite you to deliberately try to slow down and experience the season of Advent. I invite you to put off celebrating Christmas until the end of Advent and to use this time as an opportunity to become stronger in our faith, more rooted in our traditions.

“Here are some suggestions for the weeks ahead:

  • Spend a few minutes every day with the Sunday or daily scripture readings.
  • Save and don’t open the Christmas cards you receive during Advent. Open a few on Christmas Eve and then a few more during each evening during the Christmas season.
  • If you decorate the outside of your house, do not turn the lights on until Christmas Eve.
  • Create an Advent wreath for your home—three purple candles and one pink.
  • If you put up your Nativity set during Advent, wait until Christmas Eve to place the baby Jesus figure in the scene.
  • Simplify your gift-giving practice. Give more handmade and symbolic gifts.”

I remember writing this piece while I was drinking my morning coffee from my Christmas mug, so very aware that I am one of those people who feels uncomfortable with the not-yet, who likes to jump ahead. I am reminded of the words of Teilhard de Chardin.

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I was supposed to be in Europe right now, but I decided against going because of covid. So, the thirteen days I had planned to be away are now free. I will use this time for baking, knitting gifts and writing Christmas cards. I will try to be more patient. I will set up my Advent wreath and ponder light and hope.

How will you celebrate the season of Advent?

Don’t be cheap

I had flown to the East Coast to visit a friend for the weekend, and as she and I were leaving her house for a trip to the Shore, her husband said to her, “Don’t be cheap.” Of all the adjectives I might ascribe to this friend, cheap is not one of them. She is one of the most generous people I know. Already on this visit, she had gifted me with a box of chocolates, a sweater and a poncho.

To be fair, her husband is perhaps even more generous than she. I remember once when she and I were going out to dinner and he was meeting up with friends. We all ended up at the same restaurant, and he put his credit card on our table and said, “Order whatever you want. This is on me.”

I sometimes wonder if this is their competition—to see who can be the most generous. There are worse couple-competitions, and I am often the happy recipient of their big-heartedness, so I am not complaining.

Anyway, his comment came back to me a few days later after I had flown home and was on the parking shuttle. I had meant to get change for a tip for the shuttle driver but had forgotten. Normally, I would give a $3-$5 tip (which I think is the going rate), but a $10 bill was the smallest denomination I had. My interior conversation went something like this, “Ugh, I forgot to get change. Well, that’s on me; this will be an early Christmas gift for the driver,” and I decided to give him the $10 bill.

Just then, the man across from me said to his companion, “A $5 bill is the smallest thing I have for a tip.” His companion reached into her wallet and pulled out two singles.

“Don’t be cheap,” I wanted to say, but didn’t.

I know there are times when I can be cheap, when I act out of a sense of scarcity instead of abundance. I often catch myself after, but by then it is too late.

I shared this lesson with my spiritual director, and she suggested I expand my understanding of the admonition “don’t be cheap” to all the talents and gifts God has given to me freely and abundantly.

I am deeply grateful for all the many good things in my life; my life is rich beyond anything I could ever have asked or imagined.

The admonition “don’t be cheap” will hopefully be a reminder to catch myself when I am tempted toward living out of scarcity and fear—financial or otherwise—so that I can instead live out of abundance and generosity.

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This day

This day starts like every other and

has the same twenty-four hours as every other.

And yet, it is unlike every other day that has gone before it.

This day gifts me with an open space, a clean slate.

How will I fill the space?

What will I write on the slate?

Will I notice the gifts of all that lays open before me?

The birds singing, blue sky, the gentle breeze?

Will I appreciate the dark skies as much as the blue?

Or the rude stranger as much as the kind one?

Will I accept the good and the bad with open hands,

allowing neither to swing me too high or too low?

Will I thank God for all the comes my way and

offer a blessing on everyone I meet?

This day lays open before me,

inviting me to approach with eager anticipation.

It asks me to add kindness and beauty,

to write words of praise and gratitude,

to live this day as if it were my only one.

If I can do that, I will know myself as blessed and

close my eyes at the end of this day

and sleep in peace.

Silver linings

Someone recently asked me: What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

As a person who believes every curse has a blessing, I have been actively looking for silver linings since this time of social distancing began more than three months ago. Some of the blessings I have seen are:

I have had more time for hobbies, and I have read more books, completed more jigsaw puzzles and knitted more than I usually would. I have already knitted two gifts for next Christmas, which is not at all like me—I am usually knitting frantically the week before Christmas (or giving a certificate for a promised knitted article to arrive sometime after Christmas).

I have exercised more than I usually would. I am a morning exerciser and have still be going for my morning walk, but I think that staying in the house all day can make me feel cooped up, so I often go for an evening walk or bike ride.

Ten years ago, I went on a two-week language immersion course in Krakow, Poland. I had worked through the first part of Rosetta Stone Polish before that trip, and I have taken a couple of Polish classes since, but this time of isolation has given me the space to focus on my Polish. Almost every day, I spend time on Rosetta Stone, and most evenings, I practice what I have learned with my mother, whose first language was Polish. She says I am “coming along.”

My garden has gotten more attention this year because I usually go away in spring—on retreat or a vacation—but this year I have been home. I have also enjoyed my garden more this year because I spend lots of time in my sunroom, looking out over the yard. My sunroom doubles as my home office, another gift of this time. I miss seeing my co-workers in person, but even after we return to work, I may hold the occasional staff meeting in my home office/sunroom.

The other day I was reflecting on how these months at home have given me the space to explore new things. I find I am more open to consider different ways of doing everyday things. One of those is my charitable giving. I receive a fair number of requests from nonprofit organizations, and usually I toss the ones I don’t already support. But over the past few months, I have had the time to look at what comes in the mail. As a result, I have sent contributions to two organizations for the first time, even though they have probably been asking me for years.

These past few months felt like a long pause, and I have taken this opportunity to step back and look at my life. Having this extended period to review and reflect has been a gift, and I hope the lessons stay with me when we re-engage.

How about you? What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

Being mindful every day

One of the joys of going on retreat is that I take the time to read the notes and reflections that I keep in the pages of my Bible. I tend to tuck things into my Bible that I want to preserve—notes of gratitude, pictures of special events, prayer requests and reflection notes from past retreats.

Flipping through my Bible this week, I came across two notes that particularly spoke to me. The first said:

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

  1. Free your heart from hatred.
  2. Free your mind from worries.
  3. Live simply.
  4. Give more.
  5. Expect less.

Seemingly so simple, but any one of these five can trip me up. I decided to make a copy of this slip of paper and put it on my refrigerator so I can read it more often and be reminded of how simple it can be to be happy. I also tucked the original back into my Bible to be rediscovered at a later date.

The second reflection was in my friend Jim’s handwriting, and it said:

This is the beginning of a new day.

God has given me this day to use as I will.

I can waste it or use it for God.

What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.

When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it.

I want it to be

gain—not loss

good not evil

success not failure,

in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.

The morning meditation I am using for my retreat this year includes a similar reflection about looking at the twenty-four hours that are before me as an invitation and a gift—a day I have never lived before, a gift of twenty-four hours stretching out before me, inviting me to live each moment intentionally, fully awake, aware and present.

It is a good way to start every day.

And at the end of the day, I can look back with gratitude for all the gifts and blessings I was open to receive.

Do you keep little treasures in your Bible?

How do you prepare for the day? How do you review your day to gather the gifts that were presented to you?

Awareness

A red streak catches my eye.

Another cardinal.

Are there more this year

Or am I just more aware?

So many birds crying out from the trees and

overhead wires,

stopping by my yard,

looking for something to eat.

The downspout on my garage has become home to a robin,

sitting in her nest,

waiting for her eggs to hatch.

I keep vigil from the rocking chair on my porch.

Today a hummingbird visited my yard,

flitting among the flowers that hang from the shepherd’s crook.

I hope she comes back every day and blesses this space.

It is a gift of isolation, to have time to listen, to watch and

to see the gifts that are outside my window.

Joy

I believe that every curse has a blessing, and the invitation is for me to find those blessings. Sometimes, those blessings might take a long time to find, and sometimes, they are right in front of me.

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The other day, a man I used to work with called me. I had not spoken with him for months, and when I heard his voice, my response was pure joy. I still smile when I think of his kindness in calling and checking up on me.

The next day, a woman I worked with in Pennsylvania called and, again, my response was pure joy. We chatted for a long time—a luxury of staying home with no place to go—and I felt blessed by her thoughtfulness in calling.

Similarly, I called a man I had not spoken with in several years. I knew him through a former job; I also knew that his wife had died six months ago. During prayer one morning, he came to mind, and I decided to call him later that day.

I can barely imagine how difficult this time of isolation is for people who are used to living with someone. I imagine their grief is magnified by the loss of human contact, and this man had been married for fifty years.

Anyway, we chatted for a while, and I was glad I had called him. Later, he left a voice message thanking me for calling and saying that my call had brightened his day. That call had brightened my day, too. I still smile when I think of that chat, of my joy at hearing his voice and catching up on his life and hearing news of mutual friends.

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I had thought of calling this man whose wife had died before this pandemic, but I did not want to intrude on his grief, but we are all grieving now, so my call did not feel so intrusive.

One of the blessings of this time of isolation is the time and space to follow up on impulses to get in touch. I often think of people during my morning prayer, but except for my friends in Ireland, the timing is not right for a call (I usually pray before 7:00 a.m.). I do sometimes write notes to people who come to mind during prayer, which is another way of reaching out, and I have appreciated the notes I have received these past weeks. I set them on an end table as reminders that people are thinking of me.

Every friend who calls is a blessing. Everyone who sends me cards or cartoons is a blessing (especially the cartoons about the pets who cannot wait for the isolation to end so they can return to their normal isolation).

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Finding joy during a time of anxiety is a gift. Even small bits of joy—a moment of gratitude, a smile or laugh—can dispel fear for a while.

Where are you finding joy during this time of isolation?

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"I've been waiting for you."

I had just finished making my purchase at Office Depot and complimented the young cashier on her earrings. I asked if she had made them. She hadn’t, and she told me where she bought them.

“Are they something you would wear?” she asked.

“I would.”

“I have been waiting for you,” she said. “Stay right there.”

She bent down, retrieved a package from the shelf beneath the counter and handed it to me.

I thanked her and walked out of the store with my gift—a small bag containing the same earrings she was wearing and a card with “Thank you” printed on the front and this handwritten message on the inside:

A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal. -Steve Maraboli.

Pass the kindness on. The world could use it.

She had drawn two hearts on the card and signed her name.

Since that encounter, I keep thinking of her intentionality and thoughtfulness. I am amazed at how planful she was in her act of kindness. It was only random in the sense of her having no idea who would receive it.

That encounter reminded me of a woman I met years ago after her one-woman show performed in a small chapel at my university. I had approached her to thank her for her presentation and we discovered we had both lived in l’Arche communities.

She shared that she decided to move to l’Arche after meeting a man from my community who was visiting her college for a weekend workshop designed for students to learn about l’Arche. She said that Ross had walked right up to her, lightly touched her arm and said, “I have been looking for you.” She knew in that instant that she was supposed to live in l’Arche.

I didn’t tell her that Ross did that to many people, because it did not really matter. What mattered was that she was the one who was open to hearing his message; she was the one who responded to the invitation.

How many of us are waiting for someone to choose us to hear a certain message or receive a gift? How many of us are waiting for an invitation?

Conversely, how can we be instruments of change by acknowledging someone, by inviting others to see in new ways or by acts of kindness?

After I had met the woman from l’Arche, I often thought about how Ross knew which people to approach. I wondered if he had an intuition that certain people were waiting to be asked.

Now I can see that we are all waiting, even if we don’t know it.

I walked into that store with a list of things I needed to buy; I walked out with a deeper understanding of generosity.

I was deeply moved by that young woman’s act of kindness, and I find myself telling this story with a sense of wonder.

Have you had similar experiences? The world could use more kindness, so please share your stories.

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