What I meant to say

As a writer, I always have ideas and plans and words swirling around in my head, but sometimes, when I actually sit down to write, I forget details I meant to say. Last week’s post is a perfect example.

In talking about resolutions, I wanted to delve into whether our resolutions arise from a sense of lack or a sense of gratitude, but I completely forgot about adding that part in as I sat writing the post. Happily, I remembered for this week’s post.

In thinking of resolutions within the framework of gratitude, an example may help. For instance, if I say that I want to run faster this year, I need to determine whether that desire stems from a feeling that I’m inferior to other runners and should try to catch up or a more healthy desire to challenge myself with a new discipline and goal because I’m running well at my current level but am also blessed with the feeling that I could get even better. Do you see the difference? To the outside world, the result looks the same, but what’s at the heart will determine whether my plan to get faster is worth pursuing.

Toward the end of December, I came across two different discussions about the concept of gratitude that made me think about how and why we make resolutions.

The first came in a newsletter for ZOE, an amazing organization whose mission is “helping orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.” ZOE is all about empowerment instead of hand-outs: helping children gain skills and keep their families together through training and loans that forever change the trajectory of their lives.

I never read one of ZOE’s newsletters without feeling deeply moved and without taking away some piece of wisdom from the children themselves. In this newsletter, a ZOE participant in Mutare, Zimbabwe, said, “I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be enrolled in this great program. The elders have a saying, ‘Kusatenda Huroyi’ (it is a sin not to appreciate good things).”

His statement made me wonder how differently we would live if we embraced Kusatenda Huroyi, if we made it essential to appreciate the good in our lives, even the simple good, instead of taking so much for granted or assuming these things are our right to have.

This week alone, I’ve found myself grateful for (among many) a coat and gloves, a warm home, pipes that didn’t freeze, and a flexible schedule that allowed me to run when the polar vortex was not at its punishing worst. There’s a much longer list of things I’ve overlooked but should be openly grateful for.

The second place where I encountered a new take on gratitude was in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra. Perelandra is the second in Lewis’s space trilogy and takes place mostly on Venus (aka Perelandra), where the trilogy’s hero Dr. Ransom meets and converses with a beautiful lady, who, though she thinks of herself as young and naive, has a lot of wisdom to offer Ransom and us:

“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit
rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds
a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and
another is given. But this I had never noticed before—that the very moment
of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.
And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there.
You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of
turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you
could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.” (p. 59)

How often do I do that in my own life: barely register or even completely miss the good in my present circumstances because I’m so busy reaching for the “good thing” I’m expecting or hoping for? How often do I let my soul turn after the good I expected instead of the good I now have? How often do I make the real fruit in my life taste insipid?

So maybe “presence” needs to be my resolution for the year, a greater awareness that makes me recognize and acknowledge and celebrate all that is good in my life instead of endlessly fretting over the many supposedly better things that I want.

I’m not suggesting that you toss out your plan to run more miles this year or finally organize your closet or exercise at least three days a week or watch less television or whatever other resolutions you have made. I’m simply asking that you look at the why behind your resolutions to see if there are ways you might be missing the good that you have got.

One more thing before I go
By the way, if you’ve read Perelandra, I’d love to discuss it with you sometime (not here, of course, because I don’t want to ruin any surprises for its future readers). There are images that haunt me from it, usually revisiting me when I’m out running and thinking. It’s not action-packed, but it is a beautifully crafted tale.

Lewis had such a gift for capturing our imaginations with fundamental truths that resonate because we know them to be unerringly correct. He was a master at holding up the beautiful mirror to reality that was his fiction, and in so doing, revealing concepts to us that we might have ignored or misunderstood in his nonfiction. But I’m grateful that he wrote both.

An abundance of stress, the stress of abundance

Happy Thanksgiving to you! (Most of my readers are from the US, and so I hope the rest of you non-US readers will also celebrate tomorrow with gratitude, even if it doesn’t mean family gatherings and eating too much turkey.)

I only have time for a short post today, and I’m guessing you may not have time to read a longer post anyway. Family is coming, and my to-do list doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. I was running errands this morning trying to figure out how to avoid letting stress overwhelm me this holiday season.

That desire to get control over what feels like an over-abundance of holiday stress juxtaposed itself with the image of a woman and child waiting with some small suitcases in the vestibule of homeless shelter where I volunteer with a group of church friends once a month. When I was there on Monday, it was a white flag night, meaning the temperature was expected to drop below freezing, and shelters in the area would try to accommodate greater numbers of homeless for the night.

The air was full of scramble and buzz and extra activity as folks waited for word of where they could spend the night – there, at another shelter or out on the street. Residents of the shelter added to the hubbub as they sorted through bags and bags of donated coats that crowded the small lobby, grouping the coats by size to make them easier to distribute.

The scramble that night was entirely different, a more dire kind of scrambling than the sort you may be experiencing today: the scramble for the last trip to the grocery store, or the scramble to wrap up work early, or the scramble to pass everyone else on the highway so you can get to Grandma’s house first, or the scramble to figure out just how everything will fit into a refrigerator that suddenly feels two sizes too small.

Both types of scramble bring stress, but one represents a stress of abundance, a stress that comes from having the option to run to three different grocery stores for your Thanksgiving meal supplies and the option to go to the big box store for extra guest towels and the option to fight traffic to drive to visit relatives near or far.

For too many, though, those options of abundance simply do not exist, and their stressors may mean the difference between life and death on white flag nights. There’s no money for groceries or towels. There’s no car. There are no guests coming to visit because there is no home.

So might I encourage you to take a deep breath when stress threatens to overwhelm you in the coming days? I plan to use those moments as a way to offer up a quick prayer of gratitude for the abundance that is causing the stress. In addition to prayers of thanks, might you consider a donation of food or time or money to your own local shelter? It may be just what you need to put your own abundance of stress into perspective.

Before I close, let me say it again: Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m thankful for you stopping by for a visit today and would love to leave you with a couple of photos from the Orchid House at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, a visit earlier this year that still leaves me filling grateful for the beauty I found there.

ATLOrchids_2013 ATLOrchidsCloseup_2013

What are you most grateful for this holiday?

Gifts of figs and flowers

Those of you who have followed this blog since the beginning may remember how much I love figs. They were the subject of my very first post.

While it wasn’t anywhere near fig season when I wrote that original post, we’re right smack in the middle of it now. I pass by a laden fig tree every morning when I’m out walking the dog and have to fight the urge to pick a fig or two as I go by.

So when a friend of mine emailed me last week to ask if I’d like some figs from her tree, I responded with an enthusiastic yes (and probably a “Yippee!” in my head). She delivered them a few days later on her way to work.


A friend’s gift of figs

I was touched by the fact that she had even thought of me for the figs (instead of not thinking of me at all or instead of offering something I don’t love, like zucchini, for instance). Perhaps she remembered me talking about how much I like them? Whatever the reason, I am grateful she thought of me and even took the time to deliver them to my house.


I had fun photographing them in the morning light, but it was hard to resist eating them before I was done snapping pictures.

Her simple act of kindness and friendship fueled me and fed me. And it made me wonder whether we take time often enough to look around at the simple abundances in our own lives and, instead of letting those gifts go to waste, think, “Who would enjoy this as a gift?”

Garden gifts
My mom always shared what she grew in the garden – including zucchini (which my brother and I wish she had shared all of instead of keeping any for us. Oh, the zucchini trauma stories we could tell).

She made the most beautiful bouquets of flowers to take to people and would even send bouquets of gardenias in to work with me because she knew I loved them so much. She doesn’t garden as much as she used to, but the flowers still bloom and create a beautiful space surrounding my parents’ house, and I like to think of her garden as a gift to her neighbors.

She has rubbed off on me that way. I try to plant flowers each year that will give me enough to share with others. And I save more random glass jars than most people, so that I can always have a “vase” handy.

However, there are still seasons of the gardening year that I haven’t quite figured out, and I hate those times when I want to bring someone flowers and head outside to find that nothing terribly pretty is blooming.

My mother-in-law loves gardening and giving flowers, too. She often sends me flowers for special occasions, and this is what arrived at my doorstep from her a few weeks ago:


A beautiful gift of orchids

She knows I struggle with orchids (I do much better with outdoor plants that have a better chance of surviving my bouts of neglect), but she promised these are easy to care for. I really do hope I can keep the plant alive and blooming.

I love the way the afternoon light filters through the orchid’s petals.


For those of you who garden, do you share what you grow? Do others share with you? Do you think it strengthens friendships to offer homegrown gifts or even store-bought gifts of fruit or flowers? For those of you who don’t garden, I’d love to hear what simple gifts you share with your friends. What ways do you share the crop of kindness and abundance from your own life with others?

Oh, and to my friends who live nearby (you know who you are), it’s baby lacebark elm tree season at my house. Let me know if you’d like one of the elms for your own yard. They’re a gift I’d love to share with you.

After the party, cleaning up the confetti

After every party comes the cleaning up, the clearing away. A few weeks ago, I described the falling leaves in our yard as confetti, as though Autumn were throwing a grand party.

There’s still some confetti left on the trees, but for the most part, the party’s over. We’re fortunate where we live to have street crews that come through the neighborhoods to vacuum leaves we’ve raked to the curb. Here’s what our leaf pile typically looks like right before the crew is scheduled to visit our street:

A typical pile of leaves from our yard, with our dog posing to give you an idea of scale

The crews came through today, and in advance of their visit, the whole neighborhood has hummed a constant melody of leaf blowers with accents of rakes, preparing piles of leaves to be cleared.

It was a week that I would have preferred a quieter neighborhood, but I’m still grateful that our city collects the leaves this way, as it’s the easiest and quickest way to get the yard cleaned up.

Between now and the crew’s next visit, we’ll resort to filling up cans to the brim, as we prepare for the next party coming, the grandest of the year: Christmas, with its own variety of confetti that comes in sparkling lights and snow flakes. It’s another type of confetti and another party I’m excited and grateful to celebrate. How about you?

May I offer another gratitude challenge even now that Thanksgiving is over? As we prepare our hearts for the Christmas celebration, I challenge you to continue keeping track of all the blessings in your life. I’m hoping for a calmer, more sane holiday season, where I can keep my priorities in the right place and my focus of gratitude on the beautiful gift of our Savior’s birth. I’d love to hear some things you’re grateful for in this holiday season.


I hope you’ll forgive today’s shorter than usual post. I’ve been quite sick all week with a stomach bug, but even fighting that, I’ve found plenty to be grateful for: getting home from out of town before getting sick, doctors on call in the wee hours of the morning, 24-hour pharmacies, the best husband in the whole world who was able to work from home for two days to look after me, oyster crackers, ginger ale and a calmer-than-usual dog. And, yes, even the hum of leaf blowers and street crews with vacuum trucks reminding me that life goes on.

Time for pie and gratitude

Did you take me up on the recent challenge to keep a list of everything you’re grateful for? If so, have you found it changing your perspective about the blessings and disappointments in your life? I hope you’ll continue to document your personal gratitude list long after tomorrow comes and goes.

I’ve been trying to list just one thing on Facebook that I’m grateful for each day, but I find myself trying to weave together multiple things into one, because I have trouble picking just one thing each day.

Here’s just one thing I wanted to share with you that I’m most thankful for at Thanksgiving every year:

Vegan pumpkin pie from Whole Foods

Yes, that’s right: vegan pumpkin pie from Whole Foods, a Thanksgiving treat I order from their bakery almost every year.

I’m not a vegan, but I do have a food allergy that keeps me from eating regular bakery items. I didn’t learn of this allergy until one November about ten years ago. I don’t remember the exact year, but I do remember the exact month, because my thoughts had already turned to the anticipation of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. (For the record, my mother makes the best pumpkin pie in the whole world, and if I could only pick one food to have for Thanksgiving dinner, it would be her pumpkin pie.)

One of the initial horrifying realizations of learning about my allergy was that pumpkin pie was off my plate forever. Or so I thought. Continue reading