It’s Monday November 25

It was an excruciatingly painful week for Gahanna, as well as many of our neighboring suburbs. A fifteen year old high school student took her own life. That was just one of multiple suicides that pierced the psyches of suburban Columbus. Now, families are reeling. Students are stunned and confused. So many questions unanswered, never to be answered. So many emotions unchecked.

Throughout, I was also preparing for our Gratitude Sunday in the church I serve. The contrast was stark and penetrating. How do we speak of gratitude in the midst of such devastation? Then it dawned on me:

Gratitude is not a denial of harsh reality but an affirmation of the ultimate reality.

The ultimate reality is that we honor and worship a God who not only enhances life, here and now, but also embraces us in death. That’s the ultimate reality. We don’t deny the pain of the world, neither do we give in to it as the way life has to be. A posture of gratitude tenaciously clings to life as gift. We rejoice in what others might deem small and insignificant; a child’s laughter, conversation with a friend, words of encouragement we receive or offer, the stunning beauty and complexity of the creation, opportunities to forgive or receive forgiveness.

Those who are studying gratitude have discovered, over and over again, the restorative, healthful, connective benefits of a life posture that leans toward gratitude. They also remind us it is possible to shift what they call our “set-point” of gratitude. We are not just optimistic or pessimistic people, people who are grateful or ungrateful. We can become more grateful by practicing gratitude.

What they suggest is not huge, life-altering work. They encourage small, consistent, soul-shaping practices; keep a gratitude journal, write personal thank you notes to people who impact your life, keep your eyes open to the wonder of the created world, say “Thank you” a lot–to God and to each other.

Gratitude is not a denial of harsh reality but an affirmation of the ultimate reality.

Our lives intersect with God and one another each day, each moment. There are wonders happening around us that are longing to be considered. We belong to a God who enhances life, here and now, and embraces us in death.

It’s Monday. In this week of Thanksgiving, practice gratitude. Talk about it around your tables. Live in it as you journey through your day. See how a posture of gratitude changes your posture toward life. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday November 18

I took a few days off as a stay-cation last week. Loved it. Most of the days I was working with a retired teacher/cabinet-maker/wood type maker/etc. on a few house projects. The beauty of it was that he involved me in every step of the process. I’m an absolute novice when it comes to carpentry but I discovered this week I’m an eager learner. In the process, I re-learned valuable lessons about my life of faith.

In essence, throughout the week, I was an apprentice–watching, listening, passing tools when needed, getting my hands gummed up with glue and my clothes feathered with sawdust. It was awesome. Each day, I gained a little more knowledge of the process. Each day, I grew a little more confident in my ability.

So what are the parallels with my life of faith? Here are a few:
1) Beauty takes time. I had to fight my impulse to throw stuff together. Who cares about the mis-fitting joints or the roughed up surface? “Paint over the imperfections” was my instinctual cry. But, we didn’t. Through it I relearned the lessons of patience and diligence and not-settling for something less. Beauty takes time. So, does our growth in faith!
2) I learned so much simply by watching. I watched how he picked out wood, discarding what wasn’t good enough and being delighted when we found the perfect piece. I noticed how carefully he set the height on the blades so that each tongue and groove joint precisely interlocked. I impatiently waited as he measured and re-measured and then measured again so that the pieces fit flawlessly together. We learn so much by watching. It made me reflect on the lives of faithful people I have known over the years who imparted wisdom in their living. Sometimes they spoke it. Most often, they just lived it.
3) Mistakes still suck, but they can be creative opportunities. His use of scrap pieces of wood amazed me. To me, they were a pile of sticks. To him, they were potential pieces of a greater puzzle. It made me wonder what I do with the scrap wood of my own life, the mis-shaped pieces of my failures that I’d rather consign to the scrap heap than look at again. Can they be useful? Are they important pieces of the larger puzzle of my life?
4) Work is of God. Too often, we separate our work lives from our faith life, our real life from our life with God. It’s all the same. God was present in the talking and laughing, the sweating and rejoicing, the frustration and the satisfaction. Work is good. Sticky fingers and saw-dust covered glasses and paint splattered jeans and shirt-sleeves with snot rubbed all over them because of the dust in the air are good. When God created the world and it was good, work was part of it and God was part of the work.

It’s Monday. Last lesson of the week–the job is unfinished. When that project is done, there will be more yet to do. And I’m unfinished. God knows there is more yet to do in the project I call my life. God also knows there is more work to be done through me. So, I get at it again today. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday November 4

This past week I participated in a retreat entitled, “Exchanging Performance for God for Experiencing Life with God.” Given the conversations throughout, I sensed it was a worthy conversation. Religion, which is meant to be freeing, can become a crippling burden when we judge every action, every thought on the balance of whether it will please God or not. The weariness on the part of many of the participants was just one more validation of religion’s unbearable weight when it is wrongly understood.

“God loves you for who you are, not for who you should be.” The first speaker invited us to re-imagine our concept of God or to embrace it again. All the shoulds or could haves or if I only would haves we pile on ourselves are only self-inflicted wounds. The God revealed in Jesus embodies and emanates love. You can’t win more favor with your righteous acts or lose favor by your wandering or inattention. You can’t out-perform or under-perform God’s desire to love you. “God loves you for who you are.” I needed to hear that again.

There was also an added gift: “God loves you for who you are and gives you grace for who you could be.” We live in response to grace and love, not to activate it. Living in response means we face our imperfections honestly, no reason to hide. Facing our imperfections we consciously ask God for the wisdom and strength to overcome, to set a new course, to re-focus and rejoice in the simplicity of the day.

We all know what it is like to be bound to a particular habit or attitude or mind-set that gnaws at our spirits. I was reminded this week, that God wants us to be free from what holds us back so we can become more of what enlarges our souls and increases our capacity to love.

It’s Monday. What gnaws at your spirit? Name it. Ask God to give you strength and wisdom to change it. Start today. Peace. Kai