Sometimes it is difficult to understand why we have to go through pain, suffering and trials in life. It often feels unjust, unfair and unexplainable. We question God; we rail against Him: Why is my son’s concussion not getting better? Why is my mom sick? Why were the lights out for so many Ontario residents over Christmas? Why did I have to go through a divorce?
Why, why, why?
I remember during the pain of my divorce, sitting in my rocking chair and praying. My most constant prayer was, “ Lord, please don’t make me suffer all this for nothing. Make it that my suffering will be fruitful for someone else, somewhere, some time. If you can do that, at least I will be able to see a reason for what I am suffering now.”
The years passed and I did help some people with the legal aspects of their divorce. And I discovered a new sense of compassion for people who are suffering. But I wished that God would use me to really be a help to someone. I spoke to my pastor about starting a divorce recovery course but that didn’t really get off the ground because I didn’t care for the course format that was available and it didn’t really suit my personality. I figured that if this was what God wanted of me, I would be more excited about it.
So I quietly let that go.
And then during the past year I received a desperate call for help from a close friend. She was in trouble; her marriage was in trouble, and she called on me for non-judgmental advice, a shoulder to cry on, and some hope. Through many phone calls and over a period of several months, I listened, counseled from my own experience, and cried with her. I realized what great confidence she had in me to ask for my help and I took that fact very seriously.
As the months passed, her soul healed and her marriage slowly healed as well, until the day she called me, voice choking, to express gratitude for my being there for her. She said that I had saved her marriage.
I have to say that this experience was one of the most humbling of my life, but also it made me incredibly happy to see how God had answered my prayer from eight years prior.
Something very positive and life giving had come out of the ashes of my divorce. This is my most cherished experience and privilege of 2013.
It made me think of a passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson, called Compensation. In it Emerson is saying that not in spite of, but because of the tragedies that may befall us during our lifetimes, these tragedies can bring about changes which could ruin our lives, but which, instead, give us the chance to change and grow into a much stronger person who can be of much more value to mankind. I think that’s what happened to me.
This is one of my most favorite pieces of literature. It means so very much to me, and I hope that you will understand calamity a little better after you read it.
The compensations of calamity are made apparent to the
understanding also, after long intervals of time. A fever, a
mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of
friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But
the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts.
The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover,
which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes
the aspect of a guide of genius; for it commonly operates
revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy
or of youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a
wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, and
allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character.
It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances
and the reception of new influences that prove of the first
importance to the next years; and the man or woman who
would have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no room
for its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling
of the walls and the neglect of the gardener is made the
Banyan of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to wide neighborhoods of men.
Happy 2014 to you, dear Reader. I hope your year is happy and blessed.
Today I am grateful:
1. For a beautiful last day of 2013
2. For a brand-new start
3. For gas in my car
4. For an earlier Dr. appointment for my son
5. For a supper of haddock and potato wedges, prepared by Dave
The past week has been a joyful family time of laughter, card games in the evening and eating those special meals that are only made at Christmas time. It was my first Christmas in four years to have had the house full at this time of year and I relished every moment.
It seems that when family members come for only a couple of days you try to cram in all the activities and food imaginable into that time, and all too soon they are gone and you realize that you didn’t show them a certain thing or that you didn’t get to talk about a pressing issue. However, when they come for a longer time it is a little different. After the initial flurry of excitement comes the time for show and tell and deeper conversations.
It was absolutely wonderful!
This morning we will be taking my son and his wife to the airport for their trip back to Toronto. The bags are packed and all that is left to do is to make lunches for on the plane and cram that last Cherry Banana Bread into their suitcase.
And when we come back home, the house will be a little emptier and it will be time to get back to our regular little life, with normal meals and activities. It’s not always easy to get back on track after ten days of feasting. It reminds me of a line from Mrs. Miniver:
“Not that she didn’t enjoy the holidays: but she always felt—and it was, perhaps, the measure of her peculiar happiness—a little relieved when they were over. Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back.”
I’m sure I’ve packed on a couple of pounds over the season, but I won’t be getting on the scale for a few days. Not before I’ve had a couple of days to scale down the sweets and rich foods and pump up the activity.
This is where the mindfulness and finding joy comes in. In order to stay positive you have to get back into a regular and healthy routine.
Today I am grateful:
1. That the weather is amenable for flying today
2. To have had a great family time this Christmas
3. That the skillful Sara hemmed up two of my coats
4. For health
5. For a beautiful Christmas pageant at church yesterday
Now that the New Year is about to begin, most folk will be making New Year’s Resolutions. The more common ones will include losing weight, decluttering the house, getting finances in order and quitting smoking.
You know the routine: you start with guns loaded and the best of intentions on January 1st but by Valentine’s Day most resolutions have become a fading memory. And then with guilt and negativity, most of the bad habits creep back in and you’re back where you started. I don’t think I’ll get on that merry-go-round this year.
Instead I will have a couple of themes for 2014. Having a theme has been much more beneficial to me than making resolutions or setting impossible goals. I started doing this a couple of years ago. My first theme was WTF, or in a less shocking word, whatever. I had found myself getting caught up in what everyone else was doing and worrying about other peoples’ expectations of me. I decided that rather than meddling in what my adult children were doing, or trying to control or change someone else’s behaviour or opinion, I would say to myself, “Whatever!”
And then get on with my own life, rather than pointing a finger at someone else.
Another year my theme was ‘reconnect’. That year I decided to get back in touch with people who used to be part of my life with whom I had lost contact. I tracked down some of those old friends and mentors and made a point of writing them and following up with getting together.
They were delighted and so was I. It made for a very positive and enriching year.
I find that ‘lose weight’ or ‘quit smoking’ are two common New Year’s resolutions that have negative connotations. They imply that something is wrong and needs fixing. How about changing those two things to the theme of ‘make healthy choices’? And then write down what those healthy choices would be, such as eat more fruit or go for a walk. At the end of the day, decide whether or not you’re happy with the last 24 hours; did you make healthy choices?
I found that having a theme like that was much more sustainable over the year than rigid resolutions I have made in the past. I have chosen two themes for 2014, which I hope will make for a very positive year.
Mindfulness is the first theme. This will include mindfulness with my food intake, thought patterns and activity level. I will practice mindfulness as I prepare meals or making choices in a restaurant. I will be mindful of my spending, asking myself if I really need this thing or am I buying it just because it’s on sale.
My other theme is Finding Joy. For this one I will look for the joy in my activities and add social encounters and activities that bring me joy. For example, if I am reading a book that someone has highly recommended but that I am not enjoying at all, I will put it down and find something to read more to my liking.
These two themes will be posted in my agenda and on my wall so that I won’t forget about them. And then at the end of each day I can ask myself two questions:
1. Was I mindful of my food, activity and words today? If not, what can I do better tomorrow?
2. Was there joy in my day? If not, how could I have injected joy into my activity?
How about you? Will you be making New Year’s resolutions, setting goals or making themes for the next year? Or will you let the year unfurl, as it will?
Today I am grateful:
1. For a lovely family gathering yesterday
2. For the winter wonderland that is my neighborhood
The past few days have been filled with warm family times that involve food, conversation and laughter. It has been just delightful having my children at home this Christmas. I was thinking how times have changed and now everyone is connected to his online toys pretty well most of the time. It gets kind of aggravating when you’re trying to have a conversation amid the beeps and dings of cell phones and computers.
I wonder why it is so hard to just enjoy the time together and close all those devices. Is it possible to live without them now that we have gotten so used to being available 24/7 and being connected with people all around the world?
Why can’t we enjoy the moment we are in right now? Is this a phenomenon of our times?
And then I remembered something that happened several years ago that reminded me about distractions an how they intrude into the present moment, whether by mobile devices or by our thoughts.
On a beautiful spring morning my husband asked me for the umpteenth time to go for an early bike ride with him. It was 7AM. My mouth said yes but my mind was on all the things I had to do that day, the next day and the next week. I was a busy homeschooling mom without much time for so much as a complete thought.
Off I went, more to please him than me. Within a short time, we were out of the residential area of our town and passing by rolling fields of grass, hay and vegetables. My husband kept pointing out the beauty of it all and the wonderful morning smell of freshness in the air.
I had to agree with him that it was great, but I was thinking, “Let’s get this ride out of the way so I can get back to all the things I have to do today.” I just couldn’t enjoy the ride and the company; so busy was I with my thoughts.
I kept that attitude for some time, and then a thought came into my already cluttered mind: ‘Live in the moment.’ Okay.
I decided to forget about more pressing matters and looked around me. Indeed the scene was lovely, one that could have been made only by our Creator. I actually started to decompress and to enjoy the ride, the moment and the experience.
My attitude did a complete about face. What a wonderful ride I had that morning! All too soon it was over and we were home, back to the urgency of the moment and the day’s tasks. I realized that I often tend to miss out on the good things in life because I worry about all the other things that I cannot do anything about right now anyway.
I guess yesterday’s lack of focus on the moment is today’s staring into mobile devices. Really, the more things change, the more they are the same. I know that when I am talking to someone and they are ‘not all there’, I don’t feel very special. It’s a negative thing.
So we have yet another aspect of life to help us to be more positive: “…and whatever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord” Col 3:23
Do you remember when learning to drive a car, being taught about the blind spot? A visual blind spot is the area around the vehicle that cannot be directly observed by the driver while at the controls, under existing circumstances. So to drive safely, you have to turn your head in order to see whether or not there is a vehicle in your blind spot before changing lanes or turning. Failure to do this has resulted in many car accidents.
The tricky thing about a blind spot is that we are blind to it.
In the same way we have to be aware of visual blind spots, there are also psychological blind spots that play a large role in how we relate to the world. Because they are ‘blind’ spots, we don’t usually see them, but others do. They are aspects of our personalities such as annoying habits, like interrupting or bragging, or they might be deeper fears that we don’t, or won’t acknowledge. It is not always pleasant, but usually very beneficial to confront these aspects of ourselves.
Recently a reader pointed out something to me.
“I noticed, as one of your buddies from the Internet that I am, you start worrying before an event. Then you share it and we all wish you well, and most times things work out well…”
Ouch! Talk about a light bulb moment.
I realized that it was true! I started thinking about what he said and I realized that this blind spot, this fatalistic, self-defeating attitude has contributed to my negativity time and again. I realized that some of the things I have worried about in the past couple of months have not come to pass. It’s as if I needed to have a ‘worry time’ to validate whatever it was that I was concerned about. If I worry about a family member it would show that I love them. If I worry about a situation it would show that I am 100% there.
Why not believe the best and hope for the best, and if the best doesn’t happen, then deal with it at that time?
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the Sermon on the Mount which is the place of most of Jesus’ greatest teachings. In it he gives a blueprint for a good life. His words about worry struck home to me today:
Matt6:27 “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature…34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
And replace negative worry with positive, live-giving thoughts.
Do you have some psychological blind spots? Would you be willing to hear what others might say if you asked them to name some?
Today I am thankful:
1. For my friend who pointed out a blind spot
2. For a most delightful and love-filled Christmas Day
3. For a Skype call with my son who could not be with us in person
4. That my concussed son was able to enjoy most of the day with us
I am happy to report that my son and daughter-in-law did make it home for Christmas! With much prayer, patience and waiting they got put on another flight and now my little crew is celebrating and we’re all having a good family time.
I once received a Christmas greeting from a friend with a message that touched my heart so profoundly that I saved the card for many years. I tucked it away in a drawer and from time to time I would take it out and read it. Its message is one of love and caring, stated in such a way as to make the receiver feel very special. I know I did. Over the years I have sent the message to my mother and also to various friends along the way.
And today I give it to you.
I am thinking of you today because it is Christmas, and I wish you happiness. And tomorrow, because it will be the day after Christmas, I shall still wish you happiness; and so on throughout the year. I may not be able to tell you about it every day because I may be far away, or because both of us may be very busy, or perhaps I cannot even afford to pay the postage on so many letters; or find the time to write them. But that makes no difference. The thought and the wish will be here just the same In my work and in the business of life I mean to try not to be unfair to you in any way. In my pleasure if we can be together, I would like to share the fun with you. Whatever joy or success that comes to you will make me glad. Without pretense, and in plain words Good Will is what I mean. May the spirit of Christmas be yours throughout the year.
– Henry Van Dyke
Today I am grateful:
1. To Porter Airlines for getting my children here safely
2. For a surprise gift of live lobster left on our deck by a friend
3. For sharing a beautiful Christmas Eve service with my family
Three storms in seven days should make a record somewhere. That’s what we had in the past week: two snowstorms that shut down the schools last Monday and Wednesday, and 12 hours of freezing rain yesterday that closed church doors and small businesses. The list of cancellations started around 6h and just got longer as the morning progressed. It was kind of sad really, to see all the Christmas pageants, concerts and presentations for which children and grownups had diligently prepared, cancelled without further notice.
It was also mine and Dave’s fourth wedding anniversary!
I was thinking of our young marriage at midlife and how grateful I am to have had this second chance. I would be lying if I said that it’s been four years of ‘happily wedded bliss’. We each came into this union with our own suitcase full of good things, bad things, memories, children, traditions and expectations. So the past four years have been a process of sorting out our separate lives and making them into a new life together. It hasn’t always been easy, but as we go along, we understand each other better and our love for each other has deepened.
Getting the negativity out has helped a lot.
You could say that our plans as well as most other folks’ plans fell down mid-flight yesterday. So instead of going to church, buying lobster for Christmas and going out for an anniversary meal, we stayed inside and had a quiet day at home, and a supper of fajitas.
It was a day of quiet reflection and thankfulness.
Today I am grateful:
1. For a crackling fire on a stormy day
2. For four years of marriage and a deepening understanding of each other
3. For no power outage yesterday
4. For a good night’s sleep
5. I was going to write, For my son and daughter-in-law’s arrival this afternoon, but we just got notice that their flight from Toronto was cancelled. We are praying that they will make it here before Christmas…