A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘blessings

At special times—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, a wedding, the birth of a child—giving thanks seems natural. Surrounded by family and friends, we recognize just how blessed we are.

And then there are the other times—the times when we feel worn down by a tough work week or a family situation or even world events, and gratitude seems out of reach and blessings hard to count.

In Psalm 50:14-15, 23*, we read these words:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

and pay your vows to the Most High;

and call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

 

“He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;

to him who orders his way aright

I will show the salvation of God!”

God knows we go through challenging times, and yet he still calls us to offer “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” and honour him because he promises to hold us up and carry us through it all when we call on him:

Cast your burden on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)

Even when we struggle and find it hard to be thankful, we are dear to him and he cares for us and longs for us to share with him what is in our hearts. Even when we feel broken and doubt our own abilities and worth, he never leaves us. He is always faithful, always merciful, always loving—and for that alone, he is always worthy of our praise and our thanks.

I pray that we would take time each day to give thanks for the blessings we’ve enjoyed, such as good health and the love of our family and friends, and the blessings of that day, no matter how small they might seem.

And blessed be Your name

When I’m found in the desert place

Though I walk through the wilderness

Blessed be Your name

~ From “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

The first grey or white hair.

The first laugh lines.

Income tax deadlines.

Weight gain.

Things can creep up on us until, with a shock, we notice them. But then that’s true of good things, too, like warmer weather and longer days, plants beginning to sprout in the garden, or a child’s fifteenth birthday.

Yes, my son recently had a birthday. As I said to my mother in an e-mail, “Can you believe that your baby’s baby is 15?”

When he was a colicky baby, or a toddler throwing tantrums, the days could seem pretty long, and I wondered whether I’d make it till he was grown up. No other challenge I’d faced could measure up to the challenge of parenting.

football warmup

My son warming up for a football game last fall

I can hardly believe that I’m the mother of a high school student who needs to shave regularly and can beat his dad at basketball.

Of course there are challenging times now and ahead of us: grumpy mornings, discussions about homework, the prospect of another driver in the house (less than a year away, my son has taken to reminding me). But I wonder whether I sometimes miss the small blessings while caught up in the day-to-day details.

When children are young, there are so many firsts to be thankful for: the first smile, laugh, step and word; the first haircut and first day of school; the first game or recital. We fill albums, real or virtual, with photos of every big or small moment. As they get older, the more gradual changes may pass almost unnoticed. And then, one day, we’re driving in the car, talking about dating or university or racism or the environment, and we realize this child is nearly a grown man or woman.

I pray we would notice and give thanks for the ways we are blessed each day that our children are part of our lives—and that we would share these blessings with our children.

Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

~ James 1:17*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

greatgrandparents

Some of my great-grandparents were tall, and so I could dream, right?

I’ve always wished I were a little more graceful. I also used to wish I were six feet tall (not impossible, since I have some tall people in my family) and had brown hair and brown eyes (impossible, with my genes). I remember telling a brown-eyed brunette classmate that, and she admitted she wanted red hair like mine.

Sometimes we’re not satisfied with what we have. But as Sheryl Crow sang in “Soak Up the Sun,” “It’s not having what you want / It’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Our culture encourages us not only to want more, but also to want to be someone we’re not.

How often do we wish we were taller, athletic, artistic or musical? Sure, we can take lessons to try to develop or build on our skills, but some things will only ever be for our own enjoyment and not a career. For example, I take piano lessons because I enjoy playing, but it certainly doesn’t come naturally to me—and I get nervous playing just for my teacher!

Which brings me to another question: how often do we thank God for the gifts we do have—for our talents and personality traits, and those of our family and friends?

I have a knack for organizing the house, although my family may not always see it as a blessing. (In fact, I’m fairly certain they consider me a neat freak.) My son is naturally athletic and strong, and my husband is known for being kind and generous. One friend of mine has a beautiful singing voice, another always has words of comfort and advice, and another has a gift for praying for any concern.

Do we dismiss our talents and traits because we see others’ abilities and qualities as better or more valuable somehow?

I pray that, as Jennifer Rothschild encouraged us to do in Self Talk, Soul Talk, we would remind ourselves of this truth: “I am God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).” And I pray that we would see our talents and traits as blessings from God and ask him how he would have us use them.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

~ Ephesians 2:10*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Little things seemed to pile up and sit right on my shoulders this week.

My car went in for repairs on Monday, but the part didn’t come till Wednesday and wasn’t installed until today. As I drove home, I was actually happy to be able to go grocery shopping—although I did my best impression of a whirling dervish as I rushed to finish before picking my son up from football practice.

My senior cat threatened to use the unfinished area in the basement as a litter box last night and I frantically scraped the actual box so he’d use that instead.

My son was home sick yesterday. Today, we couldn’t find the form for school photos and the shirt my son wanted to wear wasn’t clean.

And so I wasn’t as patient or polite with the service advisor at the auto shop as I should have been and found myself apologizing today. And when my husband phoned as I picked up groceries, I suspect I was a little abrupt.

With school, work and extracurricular activity routines in full swing, I imagine many of us are feeling stressed out and looking hopefully at the calendar to pinpoint the next long weekend. (Note: it’s just three weeks away.)

But if we wish the days away, we miss out on what’s happening now.

cat in sun patch

Skittles, appreciating a sun patch

Sometimes we need to push away the stress with a side order of worry and ask God to help us see the small blessings.

For instance, I’m glad the weather is sunny and feels a bit warmer today. I’m glad to have a car to drive and a restocked fridge again. I’m glad my Skittles is still a feisty and happy 13-year-old cat (don’t let his crabby meow fool you). I’m glad my son feels better today—and we can always get a photo retake if necessary. I’m even glad I have dish soap again so I can tackle those hand-wash-only dishes!

I pray that we would take a minute on one of those Calgon-take-me-away days to think about the small blessings in our lives and thank God for sending them.

happy English bulldog

Molly, happy to have us home

Ferris Bueller quote

A quote print from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (spotted on http://www.chapters.indigo.ca)

For almost a month, I’ve been keeping a journal where I list three good things each day. Not in the Martha Stewart sense of “It’s a good thing,” but in the sense of small blessings that I took the time to notice.

And I’ve found my definition of “good” encompasses some simple things:

  • getting the recycling and yard waste to the curb in time for pick-up (with the paper bags intact)
  • noticing a hot spot on my dog before it was large and getting her to the vet before the long weekend
  • serving a meal where my son actually ate some beef and unpeeled cucumber slices
  • arriving at church before the announcements started
  • getting shrubs planted just before it started raining
  • spotting a toad in the garden while weeding
  • finishing back-to-school shopping in just a couple of hours

As we head back to school, back to work, and back to routines, time can slip by so quickly that one day in this short life seems to blur into the next, and we stop noticing the good things—and stop thanking God for them.

We complain about having to supervise homework but overlook the fact that our children like their teachers or are doing better in math this year. We dislike having to be out the door for early-morning practices without thinking that it’s because our son or daughter had the skills to earn a spot on the varsity team. Or we long for the house to be quiet at the end of the day but don’t consider that it’s noisy because our teens have made some good friends and feel comfortable inviting them over to work on projects—or that maybe those friends need a welcoming place to go after school.

Before we prepare our young ones to start kindergarten, send our youth off to university or college, or start packing those first-day-of-school lunches, I pray that we would make a habit of taking a minute each day to notice the little blessings in our lives and praise God for the way he loves and cares for us.

 

 

All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,

and all your saints shall bless you!

~Psalm 145:10*

candy bag

Treats for after the braces came off

Today was another big day for my son. Not as big as Confirmation or the start of high school, but an important day nevertheless. His braces came off today.

Those who have worn braces themselves or had a child with braces know what this means. No, I’m not talking about the need to take care of a retainer, but about the world of forbidden foods—those sticky, chewy, crunchy and hard items—that opens up again once the braces come off.

In fact, the orthodontist sent home a treat bag with my son that includes microwave popcorn, gum and various kinds of candy. And on the menu tonight? Nachos. Bagels, pretzels and nuts will most likely be requested for next week’s grocery trip. My son is very happy to be done with brackets, wires and elastics.

Sometimes we forget to appreciate these little things. Like being able to eat something from the bulk store again, walk the dog around the park now that much of the snow has melted, or hear the songs of birds in the backyard (or, in my case, the home office—our zebra finches sing when we’re in the room).

If we can’t see past the bigger blessings we’re waiting and praying for—perhaps a life-changing event such as a promotion or the birth or adoption of a child—we run the risk of missing the little blessings, where we can also see God’s work in creation and his love for us.

We can take a cue from Psalms 145 to 151, where the psalmist praises God’s care for his people, his healing and his power and calls on all of creation to join in praising the Lord. We can be thankful for the ways God blesses us and our loved ones each day.

Right now, I’m thankful that we had a good visit with my in-laws and they had a safe trip home. That my son’s braces are finally off and I can stop nagging him to use the floss threaders and reminding him what he can’t eat. That I can lace up my sneakers and get some fresh air with my happy English bulldog. And, of course, that I can process my thoughts through this blog.

I pray that we would see God’s hand in the small blessings in life as well as the big ones.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make melody to our God upon the lyre!

He covers the heavens with clouds,

he prepares rain for the earth,

he makes grass grow upon the hills.

~ Psalm 147:7-8

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Thanksgiving Monday may be well under way and the long weekend nearly over, but I’m still thinking about thankfulness and gratitude today.

At Mass yesterday, we heard about the ten lepers Jesus cleansed, only one of whom turned back to thank Jesus and praise God for his healing (see Luke 17:11-18*). Our priest reminded us to do two things: thank God for our blessings and remember that all we have is a blessing from God and not simply the product of our own work.

Often we hear about “self-made” men and women who rose from humble roots to wealth and power. What we may not hear about is the teacher who encouraged that person as a child, the employer who gave that person a much-needed job and thus the means to pursue his or her dreams, the valuable contact that person made at a key moment. And if these people are mentioned, the timely meetings may be chalked up to “luck” and “good timing.” Not to blessings from God.

But as our priest pointed out in his homily, if we are born alive when others are stillborn, if we have hearing or sight or the ability to talk or walk when others don’t, if we have children when others can’t, if we have a job when others don’t, these are blessings that we should thank God for.

We tend to take life, good health, and physical and intellectual abilities—our own or loved ones’—for granted until they’re in jeopardy or lost. Instead, we focus on what we lack or would like to change.

For example, I could dwell on the fact that I’m 40 and not at my ideal weight—or I could be thankful that I’m alive and in good health overall. That I can still see a beautiful sunset and hear my favourite music.

Or I could focus on the challenges of parenting a teenager and the fact that we don’t always see eye to eye—or I could thank God that he is healthy and active, knows his own mind, and has goals and dreams to pursue.

Whether we celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday or plan to do so today, I pray that we would recognize and be thankful every day for the ways God has blessed us.

Praise the LORD!

For it is good to sing praises to our God;

for he is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. (Psalm 147:1)

(*Scripture reference and quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Count your blessings while you may

The big or small, whichever comes your way

“Count Your Blessings” by Richard Morgan and Edith Temple

Last fall, I took a course on creating and maintaining a blog. After I shared my Thanksgiving dinner story with the other students, they encouraged me to use it for a post. Since we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, I’d like to share some of that story here.

My parents were joining us for Thanksgiving dinner, and so I cooked a turkey raised by Dad. That turkey was Goliath: he tipped the scales at 24.5 lb.

The microwave was too cramped for Goliath and he went right into the roasting pan. Sort of. Goliath lay on his side in the pan, covered in tin foil so his skin wouldn’t crisp up too quickly.

Trying to turn Goliath was a Herculean task. I wished I had roasting forks as I heaved Goliath onto his other side while my husband gripped the pan to keep it from shooting onto the floor. After six hours, Goliath finally fit in the pan. After I’d snapped off one wing and tossed it into the drippings, that is.

At long last, the turkey was ready. I heaved Goliath onto the platter to serve…three people, since my father had the flu and my parents stayed home.

That was one big turkey. We were thankful for our dinner and for the many containers of leftovers we put in the freezer that night.

Thankful and grateful and are words we don’t hear often these days. But I think we could be inspired by Henry Smith’s praise song “Give Thanks” to have a more thankful attitude:

Give thanks with a grateful heart,

give thanks to the Holy One;

give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ, his
 Son.

We can be thankful that we know about God’s love. That we have food, clothing and shelter. That we can spend Thanksgiving with our loved ones. And we can express our thanks by supporting our parish, donating to the food bank and outreach programs that help care for people in need, and welcoming extended family and friends into our homes for Thanksgiving dinner.

From the large (such as the ones I’ve mentioned) to the small (such as the fact that my husband fractured rather than broke his finger during his taekwon-do test), I pray that we would be grateful for the blessings in our lives and take time to count them and thank God for them.


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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