Be(ing) Thankful: A Lesson in Three Phases

Phase I – The long-awaited call finally comes on Wednesday, October 17th. Of course, I am immediately thankful. After all, it has been one year, three weeks, and five days. More specifically, I have been waiting exactly two weeks for this particular phone call. Of course I am thankful! But I am just as quickly flooded. My mind is swimming laps around thoughts of what I need to do next. Who I need to call first. Somehow, I know this isn’t right. This is not how one shows deep gratitude for the end of a year-long drought. “Stop and be thankful”, my spirit warns. But, I already am. Aren’t I?

Phase II – At the tail end of my second unsuccessful call, it hits me: the elation, the relief, the sudden release from a heavy burden that makes it impossible to stop smiling. It’s un-containable, the joy. The realization that something has ended and something wonderful is beginning. I cannot stop laughing. I am succumbed to a complete lost for words. I am overwhelmed with the emotions of gratitude. I am swept away by the attempts to articulate praise. Where could I begin? The last year? The last seven years? The last 32 years? It all seems so much… and yet… I feel it… there’s something more.

Phase III – The uncontrollable joy turns into ceaseless tears. I try to compose myself. I try to find the words to express myself. But I cannot. I finally realize what I am truly grateful for. I understand what I must “stop and be thankful for”. As the memories flood my thoughts, I know what I don’t want to ever forget. I acknowledge that it is not God’s provisions that move me, although they are wonderful and miraculous. No, what is stirring me to blissful tears are His withholding. The comfort He withdrew, the ease He prevented, the peace He frustrated, the resources He withheld, the fiery furnace He did not cool, the prayers He did not answer, the pain He did not thwart… The circumstances, though grim, that brought me to my knees. The heart breaks, though painful, that caused me to love Him more. The fire, though scalding, that refined the gold. That is what I’m deeply grateful for – to have learned to be content with little, to stand naked before my maker with this season’s dross fallen at my feet and know that He is truly delighted; that for that perfect moment, I am purely beautiful… that is what fills me with inexplicable joy. That is when I finally learn how to be thankful.

P.S.: It’s official! I am the new Assistant Director of Student Success – FYE at Palm Beach Atlantic University!!

Advertisements

How to Have a Happy Day

1. Wake up with gratitude
2. Realize that your dog is hyperactive because he is happy to see you after several hours, and even though you’re not a morning person, appreciate it
3. Go for a long walk
4. Enjoy the pink sunrise
5. Be thankful for walks
6. Listen to a chapter of an encouraging book while on your walk (sermon or uplifting music will also work)
7. Have a healthy breakfast
8. Drink a strong cup of coffee (or brown water if decaf is your thing, not judging)
9. Be thankful for coffee
10. Take a nice shower
11. Bother to shave your legs (or arm pits or beard if you’re a guy and mountain man isn’t working for you)
12. Get dressed even if you are working from home
13. Don’t open your mail
14. Be thankful for distractions in the shape of bright-colored stickies
15. Create a “to do” list
16. Call your mom/dad/sibling(s)/crazy uncle/etc.
17. Spend time with at least one friend
18. Make sure to check off at least three things from your “to do” list, even if you had to add some of them after you did them
19. Continue to ignore your mail
20. Decide to ignore Facebook as well
21. Use the fact that your classroom is “flooded” as an opportunity to teach your students about trusting God
22. Use the fact that you forgot your shoes at home as a reason to walk instead of drive across campus
23. Try to have a moderately healthy lunch
24. Use the fact that the network is down and you have to lecture without your PowerPoint presentation as an opportunity to teach your students about God’s faithfulness in teaching us to trust on Him
25. Be thankful for a day where nothing went according to plan
26. Spend a few minutes outside playing with your dog (or cat, not sure how that will work but interested to find out)
27. Set better goals for dinner
28. Open your mail
29. Regret you opened your mail
30. Be thankful

Me and Mr. Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

I, like many other girls before me, had expectations for my husband. I dreamed I would lovingly provide a warm and inviting environment for him to come home to. It would be beautiful with feminine touches and strong masculine furniture. Nothing too dainty so he would never feel out-of-place. And he, would fix stuff. He would be responsible for all the “manly” things I have no interest in being bothered with: unclogging the toilet; mowing the lawn; making sure the AC filters are cleaned regularly; hanging the curtain rods, the picture frames, the fixtures; assembling, re-assembling, and repositioning furniture; installing shelving units; taking care of the cars; cleaning out the garage; getting rid of bugs and critters… You know, all the stuff you imagine the men at Home Depot are confidently going to do at home.

I had expectations. And early Sunday morning – dressed in my pajamas, rain jacket, and gardening gloves, wielding a newly purchased tree trimmer – I pruned my own trees in preparation for tropical storm Isaac. Not exactly what I had dreamed my role would be at 32 and three-quarters. As a single woman, I have had to “be bothered with” all of the above and then some. Tree-trimming in the rain was a cold and wet reminder that my expectations of my “role” have slowly disintegrated with each new task, taking an unfulfilled dream to its ashes.

So Mr. Hughes, “What, indeed, does happen to a dream deferred?”

I have had my share of dreams deferred. Halted. Squashed. Postponed. Laid aside for a better day, a better time, a better economic climate. Some, to my relief; others to my chagrin. Usually I find solace in knowing there are better plans, greater opportunities, more deserving people than what I had foolishly hoped for in my limited wisdom. If that is not an option, I chalk it up to the lesson in the experience. I consider where I veered off course, lost sight of my goals, vow to learn from that and move on. Then, my broken dream will at least have purpose. But what happens when all was going well? What happens when there were no foolish expectations? When the goal was in sight and the prize within reach? What happens when the only lesson is that dreams are sometimes deferred and the pain is just that, painful? Mr. Hughes wondered the same thing.

“…Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”

Something else happened on Sunday, beside my tree-trimming epiphany; my heart was deeply broken. A dream was… snuffed out…

But there is no one to blame. No unkept promise to grieve. No sore to fester and nothing to explode at. It was only a dream. God is sovereign. It was simply not His will for me. I accept that. And yet the pain is still, painful. It still sags like a heavy load and each jagged breath feels like dying. I want to scream it out, like Mr. Hughes! I want somebody to tell me – what do you do with it? I want somebody to know – this hurts! But I don’t know what to say, or who to say it to. So I find myself singing.

Death Comes Unexpected

We received word that my grandmother passed this morning…

She suffered a stroke a few months ago and her health had been quickly deteriorating since… So in some way, I suppose we were expecting it. But does one ever really expect death? No matter how much you “anticipate” it… No matter how much you “prepare” for it… No matter how many times you tell yourself it’s “part of life”… It’s “for the best”… It’s God’s divine will… Do you ever really… Do you ever truly expect it?

A professor of mine once explained that memories aren’t individual snippets of past experiences. Instead, he believed they were like multiple layers, loosely strung together. Each memory, therefore, was easily triggered by seemingly unrelated events. My sister’s call this morning was like that. Triggering thoughts of the last time I saw my grandmother… the last time I saw my mother cry… sounds of women wailing… holding a former student at his mother’s funeral… seeing a familiar face at a church member’s ceremony… a hospice hospital bed in the dining room… And Suddenly I found myself on my bedroom floor, flooded by all the unrelated moments of grieving in my life… Strung together at the core by one, the loss of my older sister.

Does one ever truly expect death? I prayed for healing for seven months. I prayed that I would suffer in her place. And then, in a moment of acceptance, I prayed for peace… And she died… Still unexpected.