How I Learned Thanks From a Faraway Blog Friend

Several years ago I stumbled upon a blog that impacted me deeply. I was new to the blogosphere and really found it because I was doing some research for a retreat at which I was to speak. It was filled with the words of a Canadian farmer’s wife and homeschooling mama to six. God used her words and her photos to stir my heart. Our lives were as different as day and night – me living in a liberal college town, a preacher’s wife, and public school mama to just two. Nevertheless, our love of Jesus and His grace made us sisters and I felt like I had “met” a kindred spirit.

When she started blogging about everyday graces and being purposeful about giving thanks, she planted an important seed in my heart. It was a seed that I desperately needed to let take root – in a place that had been given over to grumbling and criticizing. For I am a woman who loves to evaluate ideas and think critically. I know that critical thinking can be beneficial. But, it’s a good quality that can lead to bad character if left unchecked. To being judgmental and critical. To looking for the next, better thing instead of enjoying the current situation. In a nutshell, it can lead to a lack of gratitude.

Of Blogs and Books

So, I joined her in keeping a journal of thanks. I started soaking in the everyday and thanking God for even the little blessings or the hard moments. As I began to really notice my life, even the way I took photos changed. A pile of laundry became a thing of beauty. An unmet expectation transformed into an opportunity to trust.

And then, I read her book. It was the food and water that brought the seed to fruition – gave it roots and a place to grow.

Since then, it’s been a process of embracing gratitude and seeing all of life as grace. It’s not a new concept – it’s clear as clear on the pages of Scripture. Right there in the beginning. Pretty much all sin, right back to the first sin, stems out of an unthankful heart. A heart that demands more is a heart that can’t see the bounty of God’s goodness. It’s a heart that doesn’t trust the Giver. And, a lack of gratitude is an easy companion to pride and selfishness.

Ann says it this way: “Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

No, it’s not a new concept at all. It’s just that Ann wrote into a void. There’s just not a lot out there about gratitude. Just take a look at the most-read articles or the most-popular books on the shelf. Most people want to know how to get more, not be happy with the less you already have. We compare and we covet and we fantasize about another life. And unless we do something obvious like rob a bank to get that life, we can hide these “little” sins behind a good work ethic and the American dream  – maybe even hide them from ourselves. An extra-marital affair at work usually gets discovered; but you can be envious of your friend’s life for a lot of years without ever recognizing the lack of gratitude (and the damage it does to your heart).

So what?

Yesterday I told you I was going to give you some tips and traditions for November. I did compile a list of links and ideas to help you celebrate gratitude. I think I’ll actually save them for this weekend.

For now, the only tip I’ll give is the one I gleaned from Ann. Start counting. On a scrap of paper. In a journal. Use her printable. Just start jotting them down. And be specific. Maybe it would go something like this: #1 the way his breath sounds next to you when you wake up in the middle of the night, #2 the bright green of the moss that grows in-between the bricks of your walkway, #3 seeing her handwriting when the mail came last week… etc.

When Ann first started counting, her goal was to record 1,000 gifts. But once she started, she decided to never stop.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live life this way – not just in November but all year round? No matter the circumstance? Sometimes, I like to imagine all of our thanks rising up to heaven like great big bowls of incense. Wafting up before God and bringing Him great pleasure.

For He delights in giving to us.

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.  – James, the half-brother of Jesus

Could we try it together?

To help with the counting, you can join me over at our Facebook page. Each day in November, I will post  a new quote about gratitude on the In A Mirror Dimly page. Below it, you can comment and list another thanks (or two or three) for the day. I know some of you are already doing this on your personal Facebook pages. But, how cool would it be to also do it together in one place? To rejoice with each other and see a growing list of thanks?

 

Sunday Night Reflections

The rain falls constant now. Warm, crisp Thanksgiving days give way to cooler temps. A steady rhythm of rain splashes on the pavement outside. I’m nestled in one of the cozy chairs at Starbucks. Sipping my Awake tea latte and savoring this time alone. To write. To reflect. To give thanks.
 
Thankful for a Thanksgiving visit with in-laws in Cinci. Watching cousins play. Listening to the banter over Bananagrams. Ribbing Uncle Bill for the way he spoils our Madison – the only girl in the family. Air-soft wars and boys running around the backyard. Uncovering five more letterboxes as we hiked in short-sleeves – in November in Ohio!! The best apple pie recipe ever and freshly whipped cream to top it. Knowing that God’s goodness goes beyond anything we deserve.  
 
Thankful for coming home. For loving home and just the four of us again. For laughing in the kitchen with my Rick. And tucking kids into their own beds.
 
Thankful now for some time alone for this introverted girl. Soul stirring as iTunes plays Fernando Ortega. Heart settling. Advent thinking as I Watch For the Light. Blog pondering.
 
 I write. I listen. I settle. And I thank God for Sabbath rest.
 
 
 
 
 

 

When Our Goals Cloud Our Perspective

Goal Setting
Goals. They’re a tricky thing, aren’t they? In one breath they can inspire and motivate us to new heights. In the next, they can terrify us, leaving us riddled with insecurity and discouragement.

Perhaps you’ve heard about swimmer Diana Nyad and her goal to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida. At the age of 62. She attempted it last month and made it nearly 30 hours before she had to stop. A shoulder injury, an asthma attack, and vomiting finally exhausted her to the degree that sheer willpower…

Ummmm. Sorry for the interuption… Want to know how I finish this one? Join me over at The Better Mom (as in, we’re all striving to be better moms; not I think I am the better mom) where I am a contributing writer. This is my first post there! Kind of excited. Kind of. {wink}

A Sidewalk, New Tires, and Some Sparkles

So, this is what’s new at the McKee house lately…


Yep. New sidewalk along the side of the house.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about it. We need it. And it will help water shed away from the house. Which will make it possible for us to finish the basement so that I’m not staring at cinder blocks when I’m working. I’m for that plan.

But, it’s sort of like getting the tires changed on your car. Necessary. And it does look a little nicer. But, let’s be honest, it’s not very much pizazz for your buck. No sparkles. Or “oohs and aaahs.” Just concrete. To walk on.  

But, I’m adding it to my gratitude journal just the same. {smile}

Because life is mostly like that, isn’t it? Not always very glamorous. Mostly a lot of unnoticeable, foundation-strengthening stuff.

I suppose that’s what makes the sparkles so sparkly when they do come.

The Gift of Saturday

Saturday morning came softly. Our little corner of the world blanketed yet again with a layer of snow.

Surely last week’s warmer temps started to awaken bulbs deep underground. We know Spring will come. Really. It will come.

But for this morning the partially melted snow looked like great clumps of white cotton candy on the end of our branches.

Yes, Saturday morning came softly. The kids stumbled from bed a little later than usual. Nowhere to be. No backpacks to load or showers to be had. Time for longer snuggles and just playing.

This afternoon we’ll walk to my nephew’s basketball game. Then Mexican food and games with dear friends tonight.

In between, the kids will play legos and tackle a few chores. Rick will put finishing touches on tomorrow’s sermon. I will tend to our home. Papers to sort. Laundry piled high.

And I will savor every moment that all four of us are here together. In this home. In this small Midwestern town. With these kids, ages 11 and 9. All the quirks and joys that come with all of it.

Sure there will be other Saturdays. But not this one. This Saturday won’t ever come again. And so I will receive it. With gratitude.

From the Potentate of Time.

Just Because…

Because there is always beauty to be found….

Because Spring always follows Winter….

Because hope does not disappoint….  

When It’s COLD Outside…

It’s COLD outside. Really cold.

This was the temp when I drove home last night…

When it’s this cold, the gratitude list is very practical.

  • All of our winter gear: coats, hats, gloves, boots, and snow pants.
  • The steady hum of the furnace.
  • Staying warm under down comforters and cozy quilts… and for the incredible deal I got a few months ago on the comforter for Madison’s bed before the snows even hit Ohio!
  • A family that likes to snuggle up together.
  • Nights in.
  • Warm drinks. Especially Irish Breakfast tea in the tall mug that Rick bought me in Seattle.
  • My favorite red hand-me-down hoodie.
  • Fuzzy blue slippers for cold toes – especially when I am in the basement doing laundry.
  • Ministries like Haven of Rest who help provide a warm bed to those who don’t have one. What a joy that we can participate in showing mercy and justice to others!
  • The hope of knowing that spring will eventually come…

 

Linking up with Ann’s gratitude community today. Won’t you join us in the list of gifts? You can link up with us here…

Why I’ll Be Stalking UPS This Week…

This book. This perspective. It’s been transforming my heart.

I first stumbled on Ann’s blog two years ago. God has been using her words to shape my thoughts about rest and gratitude. In many ways, I think she was the catalyst for my Year of Rest.

She speaks the things that make my heart leap and I wanted to share them with you.

Rick pre-ordered the book for me – my sweetest Christmas present. Because in it, he was saying “I see you, Shan. I see what goes on in that heart of yours. And I hear the things that move you.” A fine present indeed.

It’s releasing today and I’ll be watching for the UPS guy all week.

Do you think it would be a little much if went out to greet him everytime he drives down our street or stops in the general vacinity of my house? Perhaps I’ll just wait at the window with my mug of tea…

365 Photos and A Myriad of Moments

I’m trying a new thing this year. One photo every day. When I originally agreed to do it with my friend Shannon, I just thought it sounded fun. Nothing more, nothing less. We both like to scrapbook and as the keepers of our family memories, we thought it seemed like a fun way to chronicle our family happenings.

As a side perk, I thought it might also help me continue to grow as a photographer. (A very amateur photographer, mind you; but a photographer none the less.)

What I didn’t foresee was the way it would help me notice the small stuff that makes up this thing we call life. The day to day. The way the snow lies on the letters of our school sign. The way Madison’s cute little plaid skirt looks with snow boots and leggings instead of her sparkly high tops. The way it feels when we hide from the winter winds by lighting candles and baking bread for a day. These are the things that make up our days.

This is our life.

An old college friend recently echoed my thoughts with these words: “Today in our adult Sunday School class we talked about how our lives are lived out in the mundane moments of life. We really only make 3 or 4 huge significant decisions in our lives, but the rest is made up of thousands of everyday moments where God wants to meet us.”

Deb didn’t even know about my photo project but my heart resonates with hers.

As I make 2011 my Year of Rest, I want to be more aware of the things God is already doing all around me.

 Instead of striving to make the “perfect” family gathering, I want to revel in the moments with my family. To look across the table and notice the way Caleb’s dimples finish his smile. To hear the quiet whispers behind Madison’s blue eyes.

Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, I want to see. Not only the people at my table but the ones all around me. To breathe thanks for Mr. Paul who crosses us through the busy intersection, school day after school day. To hear the words behind the words when a friend says she’s “fine”. To offer warmth and a ride to the Chinese grad student struggling up the snow-covered sidewalk under bags of groceries.

Instead of bemoaning the snow, I want to appreciate the way it looks against the night sky. Instead of sighing at my pile of laundry, I want to shout thanks for clothes and family members who wear them.

I want to notice. Really notice the myriad of moments that make up this life. And to rest in them. Because they’re the ones God picked out for me.

Taking 365 photos will be a fun adventure. But, it’s really not about the photos, is it? It’s about the moments behind the photos and the simple glory of this life to which God has called me.

 

ps – You can learn more about the idea of taking a photo a day and even follow our photos at http://365project.org. It’s not too late to start… or maybe you’ll just pause and take a snapshot in your mind’s eye as you go about your days. Either way, here’s to reveling in the moments! Won’t you join me?

The Best Gifts

Gifts. We talk about them a lot at Christmas. We wrap them up and decorate them pretty.

But, I wonder if some of the best ones aren’t under the tree at all. Perhaps the most precious gifts are the moments. Time spent and memories made.

Some of my favorites from this weekend:

* Christmas Eve with Crossroads Community Chapel and the seemingly endless stream of kids coming to hear about the Gift of gifts.

* Sebring cousins bunched together at the Christmas Eve service. I still can’t get over what a blessing it is to go to church with my sisters and their families.

* Holding Baby Stella in her Christmas finery (those cute silver shoes!) and loving that I’ve gotten to watch her momma blossom from an unsure college sophomore to a godly wife & mom.

* Making snowball cookies to the delight of my family and friends.

* Puzzling with Mom McKee.

* Space. Quiet moments. No schedule.

* Building Legos – just me and my Madison.

* Laughing, laughing, laughing. It’s one of our family’s  love languages.

* Christmas hymns and rich lines of truth. Words pregnant with meaning like “Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.” Pure poetry.

* The constant parade of photos tucked into Christmas greetings from dear friends sprinkled around the globe. Our lives are better for knowing them.

* Cozy under our new Christmas quilt fresh in the mail all the way from Mississippi. My mom’s love stitched in. Did she envision snowy Ohio days and us under it as she labored?

How about you? What were your gift moments this weekend? Will you join me in the gratitude?

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