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, 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.


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.

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

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!

Finding Comfort in Kindness...sharing from the heart

                                If every person made it a rule that                          wherever you are, whenever you              ...