Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gratitude, Chopping Onions, and the REAL Meaning of Thanksgiving!


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order,
confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a
feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
                                              -Melody Beattie

The snow is gently falling on this early Saturday morning in Spokane, flakes drifting here and there illuminated by an outdoor lantern. I made the coffee and added some egg nog to my old over-sized Starbucks mug with the word Italy across the side. Ah!... memories  It has been a full and over-flowing Thanksgiving week and I am finally taking a moment, just a moment, to reflect on it all.

When you are a college professor, or a teacher of any grade, you know the stirring and anxiousness
that resides in the heart of every student as a holiday approaches. Part of each of my sweeties has already left the building while their body is forced to stay in captivity and complete the day. I could feel the anticipation build last Monday. Every heart was playing the "I can't wait to get out of here" blues. Yet there was still work to be done and onions to be chopped. The onions would come on Tuesday.

While I am an early riser, the night before going to Spokane's House of Charity to help put on a Thanksgiving dinner, almost always keeps my eye lids from closing. I am at once excited and a little bit anxious. I needed to get there Tuesday morning by 5 am. I was up at 2:30. 

The House of Charity, run by Catholic Charities in Spokane, is located in a part of Spokane that would  make Grandma squirm, as she would call it, and have her calling out warnings almost uncontrollably. If she knew I was going there she couldn't help but tell me to "look both ways, keep my eyes and ears open, carry yourself like you know what you are doing, and if necessary use your purse as a weapon."

That was always her advice, even when I just went out on a date. My date this time was at a place that takes care of Spokane's dear homeless. Just like for Jesus, there is often no room in the Inn for the homeless. And as the Spokane temperatures drop, and each tree branch is outlined with frost hunkering down for a long cold winter, Spokane's homeless count on the House of Charity to welcome them with open arms. All are welcome.

Each year I go there with some of the students and faculty from our college. We leave our more professional clothing in the closet, dress for the cold with quilted vests and ear muffs, and arrive ready to work. The tasks are huge. Peel a thousand potatoes. Chop six huge bags of onions. De-bone 400  already cooked turkeys. Gone are the days where we cooked the turkeys ourselves, ah...health department regulations, and barely got them in the doors before spilling turkey juice all over ourselves.

We come to give, those of us who are so blessed. And yet every time, and I mean every time, we are the receivers.

This year I was on chopping onion duty. It was a challenge since holding the onion with my
"lucky fin" left hand is a bit precarious. One of the homeless men tried to help me.
"Here sweetheart,"he said gently, "just hold the onion like this". Then he looked down, saw my smaller hand with few real fingers, looked at my face and said with a twinkle in his eyes and a chuckle in his voice, "Well, you can't loose any more fingers so we'll just have to go a little slower than usual."

He said it with such kindness, such knowing. He knew about missings, sweet Reggie did. He knew about adapting when you didn't quite have a full deck to play with. And so Reggie and I chopped onions, lots and lots of onions. He instructed me in just how to do this properly. I was the student, completely enamored by his chopping skills. Even more, his open and compassionate heart touched my soul. The time flew, we chatted, we talked about what this dinner meant to his "street buddies", as he called them. He loved, loved, loved seeing college students and their teachers get out of their comfort zones to come help the needy. We said that we were all needy, we were just needy for different things. I asked how he kept such an open heart. He said, pure and simple, that God loved him. He asked me, a little tentatively, did I really know that. Did I know that God loved me? I smiled and said that I did.

He took a deep breath, let the air out slowly, smiled and said "I'm glad that you do."

When it was time for me to leave, and go teach a class albeit smelling like pungent onions, Reggie
gave me a hug and a Thanksgiving greeting that still brings tears to my eyes. He said, "Thank you girlie for coming down to my home. I am so grateful today that I met you. I hope our paths cross again before I go to meet my sweet Jesus."

His sweet Jesus. My sweet Jesus. Gratitude flowing over the onions for all that Jesus gave both of us.

I said and I meant it, "Reggie, if we don't meet again on this side of Heaven, I know I'll see you on the other side." And he smiled. A gorgeous smile. A smile that hasn't seen a dentist in years and years.

A radiant smile that made me want to weep for all he has seen and all he has been through.

You see Reggie radiated gratitude. He radiated the message, "Be grateful in ALL circumstances."
He radiated a sense of being grateful that turned what he had into enough...and more. He radiated such acceptance of me, just as I am. Reggie practiced gratitude, lived gratitude, breathed gratitude. There in that kitchen, with my eyes dripping from cutting onions, God's child reminded me that gratitude can turn chaos into order, a meal into a feast, a stranger like Reggie into a friend. Reggie taught me about the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

Melody Beattie would have loved to meet Reggie. I'm ever so grateful that I did.

May God bless you and keep you and hold you in the palm of His
almighty hand.
Love, 
Linda




                                             

Friday, November 22, 2013

Coming Home!

Thanksgiving approaches, with Christmas not far behind. Next week my college students will scatter to the far corners as they anticipate a home-cooked meal, a down comforter on an old and friendly bed,
family gathering, favorite receipes pulled from grandma's old time-worn box of "How to make this" secrets, wrinkled with time, turkey splashes, and well loved corners bending from sticky fingers. Glancing one more time... Now how did she make that world-famous gravy?

My beloved students will put down their books and backpacks, set aside their pressing homework, and come back to a sense of ease about who they really are and what family can really mean.
They will look forward to the smells, sights and sounds that signal...
All is well, all is well.

They may feel a touch of nostalgia, pure and simple. For another day. A simpler time. When we watched, barely breathing, as the Thanksgiving morsels were minutes from being plated. Ah, the sense of wonder and a feeling of...
coming home.

I don't take those words lightly.

I love the song lyrics that say,

"Feels like home to me,  feels like home to me. And I'm all the way back where I belong."

My students are not hankering, as my Grandma used to say, for the latest sale at Kohls or the next new technology device. They are longing for a sense of coming home, a sense of belonging.

Yet for me, the words coming home are not just about a Thanksgiving spread or Christmas around the corner. Those words are not just about yearning for a season of gratitude and authenticity. Those two small words, coming home, resonate with the Savior's whisper in my ear. They vibrate as a still small voice in my heart.

With each passing day I am all the closer to coming home to my precious Lord.

I have never been so acutely aware of how much I need Jesus. The Jesus I know and love and serve
feels like home to me. Feels like all the way back where I belong.

If I am completely truthful, I spent large parts of my childhood not feeling like I belonged. It's not about not being loved (because I was). It's not about not being cared for (because I was cared for)...
It's all about being truly loved, just as I am. Unconditionally. I finally and completely came home
when I met Jesus. face-to-face and gave Him my heart. A God loves you and you are okay kind of coming home. Jesus making the most of me kind of moments.

Coming home to Jesus, and inviting Him to make the most of me, answered all the questions and filled the deepest longings of my heart. To be seen. No matter what. Jesus is there. No matter what. Jesus holds me in the palm of his hand. No matter what. Jesus has got my back. No. matter. what.

I saw this video the other day and it spoke to my heart about truly coming home and Jesus making the most of me. Perhaps it will touch yours as well.

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=KGWKD7NX

May God bless you and keep you. May this be a season of coming home...for you.
Much love,
Linda


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Please Be Gentle With Us...


Recently I listened to one of my students tell me their story. Their world had fallen apart. They had been betrayed and hurt and shunned by people who loved them. I could barely breathe as I was witness to what they had been through. How had they survived? How were they even standing? No wonder their homework, and getting it in on time, wasn't a top priority. Survival was.

And then, as I was driving home, I went past a corner under a bridge where homeless men hang out. I had seen them almost daily, felt helpless to do anything for them, and usually tried to smile and catch their eye. Yet this glance was different. This look chilled me to the bone.

One homeless man had a sign around his neck. It read
"Please be gentle with us. You don't know our story."

I couldn't breathe as I saw that sign. It was almost as if Jesus was standing on that corner with the sign around His neck, looking directly at me. The tears started to flow. I went to the nearest McDonalds and got six happy meals. I went back to the corner and gave them the food. I told them I was sorry that I had driven by them day-after-day and done nothing to help.

The homeless man, amazingly enough and not a surprise, was a Veteran who had once been in my class. I just didn't recognize him until he told me his name. I asked if he had ever been to SCC and he had. He looked at my hand and said, "You're Linda, aren't you? I was in your class, but I've fallen on hard times." I knew, for certain, that this was what we call in our family.."A God thing." God reaching down to teach me a lesson about me, and not a very pretty one I might add.

What follows in this post are a few of the life-lessons God is teaching me right now. This isn't easy for me to write about as I am still in the midst of the lessons. So here goes:

I am convinced that we never truly really know another person's story. 
Oh, don't get me wrong. We think we know who someone is, what someone has been through, what someone should be doing with their life, what their story is. We often have agendas about how their life would be better if they just did X, Y, and Z. We may even be a bit mad at them, or a lot mad at them, and withdraw ourselves physically and emotionally because we have judgments about their messy life and how they have made it a mess.

We hold ourselves up and compare ourselves to them and feel somewhat inflated. Look how well things are going for me. It's an opportunity, however disguised, for one-ups-man-ship, for a moment of false pride. We may even whisper, to those who will listen, "There they go again. I just knew they would never learn. Isn't that just like them?" We present them in our own minds and hearts as flawed people we need to avoid. Or if not avoid, be sure to let them know of our not-so-subtle criticism of who they are, the choices they make, all said, or shouted, with contempt disguised as caring.

I am convinced that we have NEVER, EVER really walked in their shoes.
In our not so subtle ignorance, we make them wrong. We feel better about ourselves because we sit as judge and jury. Instead of embracing them for who they are, where they are...we want them to be something different, someone different.

I am convinced that giving grace to others mean seeing them the way that Jesus sees them.
When I say we, in this discussion, I really mean I. I do this. I want certain people to do XY and Z and not do XY and Z. I want them to fit what is comfortable for me. I am disapproving, if only in my heart, of the choices they make. I have subtle criticism in my tone of voice.

Sadly, I am convinced that I do not, do not, do not see them the way that Jesus sees them.
I'm not sure when this disgusting arrogance surfaced in my life, but I remember its re-emergence when I was in my mid-thirties. Yet for some time now it has been bubbling up again, from time to time, and when I see it and own it I am truly ashamed.

How arrogant is it to assume I know what is best for someone else? How arrogant is it to have my focus be on what they should be doing instead of changing my own heart? How arrogant is it to lack empathy for the unfathomable pain they have been through?

I recently apologized to someone I know and love for trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole.
Truthfully, I have probably felt sort of baffled by some of the choices they were making in the aftermath of their life being turned upside down. I loved them completely and with my whole heart, yet I wanted them to be more like me. They have recently been very, very hurt by someone they loved, yet I seemed to have questions about how they coped with this unspeakable pain.

Would it really take them wearing a sign that said,
"Please be gentle with me. You don't really know my story." for me to get it?

I feel so ashamed as I write this. I wonder what hurts I have caused them by my questions and inference, probably not too subtle, that they should do their life differently. I told them I was sorry. In truth, I probably added more pain to what was already heart-breaking. Owning that, and imagining how that may have hurt them even more by not offering completely unconditional love, leaves tears streaming down my face.

I am convinced that God made ALL of us in His image and that we are uniquely created by Him.
God did not intend to make everyone like me. How DARE I have anything but love toward His creations!

I have felt the nudging of Jesus in this area, and the nudging has not been easy. It is not easy to own arrogance and distance and judgments, everything I HATE when they are done to me. And I am not immune to the fact that others I know also heap criticism on them. WE have taken a hard situation and made it worse.

The... if you don't do it the way I think it should be done, or you'll feel my contempt and I'll be angry at you...speaks of a part of my childhood that turned me into a people-pleaser for all the wrong reasons.

I am convinced that when Jesus said "Love is patient, love is kind." that He really meant that! 

And so as this journey unfolds, I am so grateful this Sunday morning to be loved by a God who loves me just as I am, but loves me too much to leave me this way. I am grateful for the Veteran on the corner
who gave his all for his country and has fallen on hard times. We have a plan to get him some help.
I am so very grateful for the forgiveness of of those I have hurt by my assumptions that they should
do it my way.

As the gospel song says:
I want to walk like Jesus walks
I want to talk like Jesus talks...

I am praying for an even more compassionate heart and that I might love people the way Jesus does.

I have a loooooong way to go to do this, but I am making progress in inches.
God Bless!
Love,
Linda




Friday, September 13, 2013

Words and Rituals Matter... and They Last a Life Time!

I LOVE rituals, comforting traditions that give life a sense of continuity and well being. 
Every morning I have rituals:

* I am the first one up. 
* I make the coffee. 
* I have Jesus be my first cup and say "Good morning" to God as I spoon in the granules      of  eye-opening, blood-awakening... soon. to. be. liquid. joy. 
* I say "Hi, Reverend Himes!" who has gone on to be with the Lord. His sermon, "Have Jesus be your first cup of coffee!" changed my life.
* I read today's message from Jesus Calling
* I go through my prayer list,  focusing on who is on my heart to pray for.

And then, I read several blogs of folks that matter to me. I always start with the blogs written by my precious daughters, Jessi and Amy, and get a small but meaningful look into their lives. I especially love their photographs, as they speak to my heart.

And then I read Vicky Westra's blog. If you had told me ten years ago that I would have a dear friend that I have never met in person, I would tell you that you were crazy. If you went on to tell me that I met this friend through her blog, I might have even chuckled out loud. Yet what I know for sure is that God brings amazing people into our lives, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. I got to know Vicky since we had a mutual friend in common. Sara, otherwise know as The Gitzen Girl. We both supported Sara in her journey home to be with the Lord.

Long story short, Vicky loves Jesus with all her heart. She is a wife (to Rick) and Mom to Colton and Nolan. Colton and Nolan are young boys, soon to be young men, who love hockey, life and their parents.

And...Vicky has stage four breast cancer. What draws me to Vicky, and why I call her my friend, is the grace and AMAZING courage and faith she shows in this very hard  journey. Vicky is REAL, she is authentic. She doesn't sugar coat how tough this is...all the chemo, drugs, MRI trips, peeling feet. She wants two more weeks plus two more weeks plus.... She
wants a future with her husband and boys. 

Yet in the midst of it all, Vicky is grateful and focusing day-by-day on what brings her JOY! She is choosing JOY, no matter what! Vicky is an amazing writer and more gracious
about the challenges of cancer than most of us would be. Vicky inspires me to love Jesus more and appreciate even more every moment I have with my family. 

Vicky also comments on the comments left by those who care about her. 
It's mutual, this love of Jesus we share. It's mutual, this desire to pray for each other. It's mutual to be authentic and share what really matters.

In a recent blog, Vicky talked about the ritual of how she says good bye to her boys when they head off to school.  She loves the phrase, "I love you to the moon and back!" and wondered out loud what her boys would take into the future. Would the things she said to them matter down the road.? The unspoken question that hung in the air was...

Will they remember that I loved them? Will the words I share as they leave for the day
stay with them after I am gone? 

While I didn't tell Vicky that I  cried when I read her words, so lovingly shared from her heart, the tears did fall. Isn't that what most Mamas wonder? What lessons am I teaching my sweet darling children, the loves of my heart? If I am a role model, what will they remember of what I have said and what I have done? Will they know, can they possibly know, how much I loved them?

I told Vicky, and I believe this in my heart-of-hearts, that words matter... that words last a life-time. When I hear my daughters with their children, I hear snippets of what I told them when they were little. I hear one-liners that were etched into their hearts.
I hear rituals from my Grandma, my Mom and from me...being replayed generations later.

And I told Vicky that just as God has etched words on our hearts, one liners that remind us and comfort us in good times and bad, the whisperings of a parent's heart, the bedtime rituals, the pray-at-the-table rituals, the read to each other rituals, the "love you more!"
rituals....they all matter. They last a life time. They are played back long after parents
have gone home to be with God.

What I also know for sure is that, looking back, I wish I had been even more intentional about using MORE positive words, more positive memories, more positive rituals. I wish I had taken the time to have more fun and planted more positive seeds. I wish I had known, even more, the power of my words. My girls might say, "You did great Mom, no regrets." Yet I hope they learn from me that their words, and the fun and lasting rituals they establish, are powerful and last a life time. 

And if they are reading this... I LOVE YOU both, to the moon and back. I always have and always will! Yup, there's another ritual!

God Bless!
Love Linda

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Theme for 2013...Words to Live By.

                   


                                Live so that
                           
your children
                               can tell
                          
their children
                              that you
                                 not only stood
                        for something
                             wonderful-
                             you acted
                                
on it.
                                     DAN ZADRA

Sometimes life just leaves me speechless. Life's glory, miracles, heartache...all of it.
I'm not sure how many times I have been tempted to write on this blog in 2013, but I have
listened to my inner voice about where the conversations should happen.

More often than not, they have been in person. 

When I started this blog I wanted to record my life lessons. Some days they come in small droplets from a faucet not turned off quite completely. Other days the lessons feel like rushing bath water filling up the tub with hot foamy bubbles. I have learned to welcome them all.

I am wanting ALWAYS to live my life authentically. To be truthful to who I really am and who God Almighty made me to be. I am wanting to be OPEN to life, even when I am truly baffled at the losses
and the twists and turns, unexpected. How did it all end up here? What am I supposed to learn from this?

Bert and I are more nostalgic. Old stories abound with their laughter and tears. We find great comfort in each other, like an old throw that wraps you up in knowingness. He is the love of my life.

That's for sure.
That's for always.

And JOY....
It's everywhere!

This summer, grandchildren, reading great books, jumping off the diving board with my clothes on?
I wouldn't trade any of it.

And many times a day I find myself asking...
How could I ever do this without my Jesus, the saver of my soul.
In truth, i just couldn't.
I turn to Him, often minute-by-minute...
Mad, sad, glad....
He is my trusted companion.

That's for sure.
That's for always. 

And all of you dear ones? How are you?
Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers whether you read this or not.

My sweet daughters, Jessi and Amy, do you have any idea how much I love you?
If you take in how much you love your precious babies, that's how much I have
always loved you.

That's for sure.
That's for always.

Time to get ready for church, time to see Boppa sing in the gospel choir!
God Bless, dear ones.
I love you to the moon and back!
Linda







"Just Plain Hard"...

                  Stand up straight and                   realize who you are,                   that you tower over your               ...