Category Archives: Gratitude

Feeling thankful…

In 2010, I posted a gratitude per day on my blog.  Last year, I tried to do it on Facebook, but couldn’t keep up.  This year, several friends are participating in the Facebook meme of posting something they are thankful for as their status every day. The month is more than half over already and I haven’t jumped on that bandwagon!  Since Thanksgiving is just a day away, I thought I would just write one blog post about being thankful.

Despite having lost my Dad a couple of weeks ago, there is a lot to be thankful for this year.  First, I am extremely grateful for the care he received, both last year in Memphis and this past year in Delaware.  The staff at Cadbury, particularly the nursing staff, was amazing, caring for his physical needs while treating him with the kindness and respect that he deserved.

I am thankful that I was able to see him as many times as I did this past year.  The cost of travel, especially by air, can be quite prohibitive, but my mother made sure I was able to get there several times by paying for my tickets.

I am incredibly lucky to have a job that, first of all, allows me to have time off in the summer and secondly, offers family medical leave during the school year so that I can spend time with my parents when they need my assistance.

I am always grateful for my loving wife (I can say that for real, now!), who loved my dad almost as much as I did and who supported my need to spend time with him.  She has been my shoulder to cry on when the grief threatens to overwhelm me.

I am thankful for my brother.  Even though we don’t have a lot in common and rarely talk, we know we have each other’s back and that counts for a lot.  I hope he knows how much I love him.  I am also incredibly thankful that he met and married his wife.  She has become one of my dearest friends – I can call her any time, day or night, and know that she will listen, offer advice when asked, keep my confidences if I need her to, and give generously of her time and talent.

I am also grateful for my students, who teach me something every day, if only how to be a better teacher.  They are kind, smart, interesting, caring, amazing young women who will help shape our community and our world in the years to come.

I am thankful that I am making healthier choices (most of the time) when it comes to what I eat and the activities I participate in.  Over the past year, I have made many positive changes and hope to continue in my journey towards fitness and health.

I am thankful that I have found a family of choice so far from my family of origin.  Without relatives closer than 800 miles, it could be very lonely here in the south.  But I have some wonderful friends who treat me like family and for whom I would do just about anything!

One of the best parts of this past year was the privilege I had of marrying the woman I love.  I am extraordinarily grateful for the members of the LGBT community and all the allies who have fought for marriage equality over the years.  Without their hard work, we would not have been able to legally declare our love and commitment.  As it is, we still have work to do, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of history – I have faith that some day (soon), we will be able to look back and say we were there.  And that the next generation will be able to look back and think “what was the big deal?”

As we head into the frantic holiday season, filled with TV ads, mailbox-filling catalogs, and incessant Christmas music from every conceivable corner of retail locations, I took a moment today to just sit.  Sit in silence, looking out at the water in Lewes, DE, and contemplate all that I have to be grateful for.  That includes you – my readers.  Thanks for reading about my life here in this little corner of cyber space.

Revisiting an old post

I first posted this 2 years ago… it was a sermon I gave at Neshoba UU Church and was one of my first blog posts.  A comment on another blogger’s site made me think of it.  I have added a bit of information and tweaked a few other details, but I thought I would share it again for those who are new visitors to The Spirit Within.

I have a Jewish friend who forwards emails to me on a regular basis. Occasionally, her emails make reference to God, and I have noticed that she spells His name G – d. From what I have read, observant Jews follow this practice out of reverence for the Almighty.  One reason it is done is to avoid desecrating His name by crumpling, tearing, or otherwise destroying the paper on which it is written.  The other reason has to do with the belief that we as humans are not able to fully understand Him, and so we should not use his full name. In this interpretation, the dash represents all that they don’t know, can’t know, about their god. Think of all the various names that different faiths and different people use for God. Yahweh, Allah, Father, Almighty, Spirit… the list is too long to name. To me, the dash represents the fact that we all have different understandings, different interpretations of who or what God is. The differences between us – the important distinctions – are all in the dash.

Even within each of us, there can be different, sometimes conflicting understandings of the idea of God. There can be the God of our childhood – the one that our parents believed in and taught us to believe in. For some, that was a vengeful god, keeping a tally of our sins for the day when we would be judged. For others, it was a God of forgiveness, full of love for His children.

Click on image for source

And yet others might remember a God that was 3 in one – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I grew up being instilled with the concept of a trinity and with an image of God, the Father, as an old man sitting in the sky. Even as a young person, I just couldn’t accept that as plausible. It seemed too far-fetched to be real, so for a long time, I was very uncomfortable with the whole idea.

Whether or not we were raised with a concept of God, as an adult, we might have a whole different understanding of the Holy. Individually, we may each have different names for the Divine. One may profess faith in a living, loving God, another in a Holy Being that transcends life; still others, in the Spirit of Life that we sing about each Sunday, or even in a Goddess of the earth… Some may disavow the idea of God all together. However we conceptualize God, if we do at all, it is our own understanding that is important. As Thomas Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

I still have some hesitation over the term God. It seems to carry a connotation that I am uneasy with. On the other hand, I have come to appreciate the concept, borrowed from many 12-step programs, of a “Higher Power” or a “god of my own understanding”. I like the phrase “Higher Power” – it provides another perception of the Holy, the idea that the word G – d doesn’t have to refer to a being at all – it can mean the power of love in a community, the life force that joins us together, or – if you think of the dash as standing for “OO” – the GOOD in each other.

So for me, the dash in the word G – d represents the divine, the spirit, the spark that resides within me – within all of us. I do believe that there is something holy in all of us that only gets bigger when we give it away. Your spark, your love, your spirit only grows stronger when you share it with others. So how to we recognize the divine in ourselves? In each other?

Consider this poem by Linda Ellis.

The Dash 

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars….the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spend your dash?
 

Examining how we spend our dash can help us find that spark. Do we fill it with things? With people? With money? With service? Is it about whom we love, or what we have, or even how we worship? Forrest Church, a UU minister who is widely quoted, says, “Religion is the human response to being alive and having to die.” So is religion how we should fill our dash? Personally, I tend to resist the word “Religion” – much as I used to resist the word God. It brings back memories of childhood and the hypocrisy I felt when attending church. A better word for me is Spirituality, so perhaps I can paraphrase Reverend Church by saying that Spirituality is the human response to life and death. Spirituality is what should fill our dash.

But what exactly is Spirituality? For some, it is about a belief in a supreme being – in G – d. For others, it is less about “god” and more about the Spirit within themselves. Spirituality, our dash, is a path we are all on, a journey towards truth. Each path is a personal one and as truth evolves, the path can change. This spiritual journey is a search for one’s core beliefs and for ways to demostrate those beliefs through actions. It is also a recognition of those moments that speak to us on a level sometimes beyond description.

Spirituality is about noticing the small things – the soft skin of a newborn baby, the smell of the salt air by the beach, the colors of a sunset flooding the horizon. It is also about noticing the big things.

When I was in high school, I spent many weekend hours with my dad on the farm he owned about an hour outside of town. One Saturday, the work that needed to be done took longer than he expected and we were still there after dark. As my dad continued to work in the barn, I climbed up onto the roof of our station wagon and laid back, staring up at the sky. As the light faded away, stars began to emerge, first the biggest and brightest, then the smaller and fainter. Out there in the country, far from the lights of the city, the sky was darker than I had ever seen. I tried to count the stars and quickly realized there were many more than I could even begin to number. When it seemed as if the sky couldn’t get any darker and the stars any more numerous, a cloud of dust emerged across the sky – the Milky Way! I had heard of it, but being a city girl had never actually seen it. I think that was my first, and possibly most vivid, spiritual moment.

I realized then that there was something out there, larger than each of us, larger than all of us. I feel that we are like the stars scattered across the sky. Some are bigger and brighter, some smaller and fainter, but each one adds to the beauty and together we create moments beyond description. These moments are the stepping stones on our journey, but we still have to fill the space in between.

For me, filling my dash is about finding who I am and examining how I live my life – it is about finding the spirit within myself, and how I share that spirit with others. Lois W., co-founder of Al-Anon, defines Spirituality as “living a life that has deeper meaning than the search for daily necessities.” I strive to live a spiritual life, a life that has meaning – that will leave an imprint on those whose lives I touch.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a celebration for a woman who was retiring from my school after 40 years of work. It coincided with her 75th birthday, so the event was truly a celebration of her life. Current and former colleagues, students and administrators spoke fondly of the dedication she had shown the school and the love they felt for her. They told funny stories about things that had happened over the years. They spoke of her faith and her spunk, of her laughter and her hugs. We were surprised to learn that she had taken up the piano in her 60’s. And that she planned to travel now that she was retired. And you might be surprised to learn that she was not a teacher, not an administrator, not even an office staff member. She was on the housekeeping staff – she spent 40 years helping to set up for receptions, cleaning up afterwards, keeping the halls and the classrooms neat and tidy, and generally taking care of all those who passed through them. But through it all, her life – her dash – touched many people. And how wonderful it was for her to hear that celebrated while she was still there to receive that gift.

I have been teaching for 26 years, and can only hope that I have touched a few students and colleagues along the way. I counted up the other day – give or take a few dozen, I have taught almost 1600 students. One of those former students was at the celebration for this woman, and how heartwarming it was to have her come over to me to give me a hug and let me know she had fond memories of my class. If there is someone in your life whose dash has touched you in some way, I hope you can find a way to say thank you, to let them know that their life had an impact on you. And perhaps one day, someone will come up to you and say thanks. Thanks for being an inspiration. Thanks for being a role model. Thanks for helping me through a tough time. Thanks for being there when I needed a friend. Thanks for being you.

Remembering a lesson learned and the teacher who taught it

A fellow teacher, Renée Schuls-Jacobson,  blogs over at Lessons from Teachers and Twits, and last year, she invited other bloggers to write guest posts about memorable teachers.  This year, she is running more guest posts – this time, specifically about lessons learned.

When one of my favorite teachers from high school passed away back in December, I wrote a piece about him and some of the things I had learned, both in and out of the classroom.  I sent it in to Renée and she has graciously included it in her collection of guest posts.  Today is the day my post will run on her blog, so I invite you to visit, read about Mr. Tibbetts, and check out the other posts from Renée and her friends.  You won’t be sorry!

3 lessons

I have heard the same message 3 times, from 3 different sources, this week.  I think I am supposed to be paying attention.

Samhain (pronounced sau’-in) was this week.  In more mainstream circles, it is known as Halloween, but it began as Samhain many years ago – a yearly marking of the turning of the seasons, often celebrated by those who identify as Pagan.

The Sunday service at my church was about this annual festival, at which the Celtic people celebrated the harvest and honored the souls of their departed, loved ones.

click for source

We were reminded in the service that we are a product of all those who have touched our lives, living or dead, friend or foe, intimate or acquaintance.  We are even a product of those ancestors we haven’t met – the many people who knew and loved the ones who knew and loved us.

Sunday evening, a friend posted a quote on Facebook:

Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming. Not a single interaction with a single person is left out of the process of your becoming.

Many assume that only pleasing relationships have value, but that is not the case. Your awareness of an unwanted situation evokes from you a clear Vibrational request for something different. And so, even those uncomfortable interactions with others form the Vibrational basis of your expansion.

People often believe that the value of interacting with others is mostly about combining talents and actions in order to accomplish the things that need to be done in a society, but your interaction is much more important than that. You are helping one another define the attributes of your individual and collective expansion. In other words, even the briefest of encounters with another person is actually contributing to your expansion as an Eternal Being.

I really like the first line of this quote.  “Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming.”  The idea that we are shaped by those who are in our past is not unfamiliar, but the idea that we are continuing to become the people we are going to be helps me realize that we are all a work in progress.  We are still being shaped – not only by the people in our lives now, but by the interactions we have experienced throughout our lives.

November 1st is All Saints Day in the Christian church.  I teach at an Episcopal school and we had a Eucharist service yesterday.  We sang a hymn I have always loved – “I sing a song of the saints of God”.  It is about finding “saints” not only in ages past, but in everyday life.  The homily from our chaplain was also about people in our lives, what the Old Testament refers to as our “cloud of witnesses”.   She reminded us that we all have people who are in our cloud – those whose lives had some influence over who we have become, both living and gone.  The image of a white fluffy cloud in a blue sky is a metaphor for those who have had a positive influence, those who have lifted us up and helped us grow.  She also used the image of the storm cloud, heavy and dark, to represent those people and situations that bring us down.  She asked us to remember, when faced with the dark clouds of life, the challenges and obstacles that get in our way, that we always have that other cloud with us and to hold the light of those who love us in our hearts.

I have been touched and shaped by so many people – family members, close friends, acquaintances, even strangers.   Some of these interactions have been positive, others negative, but they are all a part of who I am and who I am becoming.  For those in my “cloud”, I am grateful.  They help lift me up when I am down, bringing light to the darkness.

Hearing this message 3 times over in the course of 3 days can’t be coincidence.  I think I need to pay attention to it.  I need to remember those who have played a part in my life, being grateful for what they have taught me – what to do and what not to do.  I need to remember that I am playing a part in others’ lives, and can only hope they are paying attention too.  My wish for all of us is that we all be surrounded by our own personal “cloud of witnesses”, finding peace in the turmoil of life.

Proud to be a part of history

Last Tuesday, October 11, was National Coming Out Day (NCOD) – a day for members of the LGBT community to take a brave step out of the closet and share their authentic selves with the world around them.

click for source

This past Saturday was Pride Day for the Memphis & Mid-South area.  It used to be held in June, but was moved to October last year to coincide with – or at least be close to – NCOD.  I think the cooler weather also may have played a role in the date change!

For years, the festival and parade was held in a part of town known for its liberal-minded residents and its large gay and lesbian population.  This year, we came out of the “mid-town” closet.  For the first time ever , the festival was moved to a park in downtown and the parade marched up one of the most famous streets in Memphis, if not in the whole country – Beale Street.

Our church's parade contingent

The whole event felt historic – we had more vendors and organizations with booths in the park, more groups and people marching in the parade, and more spectators than ever before.

There were two 100′ rainbow flags, carried by members of faith communities and by members of youth- centered groups such as GSAs from schools and a support group known as MAGY – Memphis Area Gay Youth.

My small church, with just over 100 adult members, turned out 40 adults and 11 children to help set up our booth, hand out information, walk in the parade, and/or break down our display.

Me and our minister at our festival booth

The response from the public lining the sidelines of the parade was tremendous!  Applause, cheers, flag waving, and affirming signs greeted us as we turned the corner from 2nd street onto the cobblestones of Beale.

There is really no way to describe the feelings I experienced that day.  The beautiful weather, the friendly faces, and the party atmosphere made it one of the most memorable days of my life.  It gave me hope that, step by step, moment by moment, one person at a time, we are changing the world.  The time is now.  We are out of the closet.  We are who we are, and we aren’t ashamed to let the world know.  Be proud of who you are… that is what Pride Day is all about!

Not enough time in the day…

I know I shouldn’t feel guilty.  But there are days when I do.  I feel guilty that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I need to and everything I want to.  Including visiting Dad.  I wish I could go see him every day.  For a while, I tried.  But life got in the way, and it has become every other day, every third day, sometimes just once or twice a week.  I know in my head that he is being well-taken care of.  The staff at his Assisted Living residence is wonderful.  They all adore him (of course – everyone does!).  When I do go by, even if it is just for a quick 15 minute visit, he always seems to glad to see me.  I know that he doesn’t really have a sense of how much time has passed, but it breaks my heart when I haven’t been there for a few days and he says “I haven’t seen you in a while”.  In my head, I know he says that even when I was just there the day before, but in my heart, my guilt over how little time I can spend with him sometimes makes me feel like I am not doing my job.

But then I remember that I am grateful for the time I do get to spend with him.  I am grateful that he is here and not 1000 miles away on the East Coast.  I am grateful that I know how important it is for me to get there as often as I do, and I realize that I am doing what I can and should not feel guilty for having other responsibilities as well.  If he was located more than 20 minutes from my house or from my work, it would be so much harder to get to see him, even once or twice a week.  So I give myself an emotional break. I shake off the guilt and let it be OK that I didn’t get there yesterday.  And probably won’t get there tomorrow.  But today, I plan to go have dinner with him and enjoy the time we have.  I am glad I can make the time today.

Gratitude – Days 26 & 27

Yesterday and today, I am thankful for the Christmas season.  I love the lights, the decorations, the food, the smells, the brown paper packages tied up with strings.  I love the spirit of giving – finding just the right present to light up someone’s face.  I loved the look on Jeanne’s face last night when she opened up her “big” present from me and realized she had finally gotten the Wii system she had wanted for months and months.

I hope that you have a wonderful day today – whether you celebrate Christmas for religious reasons or just because (even if you don’t celebrate at all) – may today be a day filled with joy and love for each and every one of you.  Today and every day, I am thankful for you!

Gratitude – Day 25

Today, Thursday, December 23rd, I am thankful that Jeanne and I are able to sign all of the Christmas cards to our friends and families together.  Our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles are all aware and supportive of our relationship.  I realize that there are members of the LGBT community who are not able to be open with their families (immediate and extended).  We are very fortunate to be able to share our Christmas letter (yes, we write one almost every year) with everyone on our list.

Gratitude – Day 24

Today, Wednesday, December 22, I am thankful that, as a teacher, I am off work this week and was able to spend 3+ hours taking my Dad to his doctor’s appointment and back to his rehab facility today.  I was glad to be able to talk to the surgeon about his recovery from hip replacement, and to know that he is doing well.

Gratitude – Day 23

Oops – got so busy yesterday that I forgot to post!  My gratitude for yesterday would have to be that I am thankful for having finished my Christmas shopping.