Attitude of Gratitude: Day 11 — Motherhood

 

The Fisher Family circa 1996  - My 40th birthday -- the heart of my stay-at-home mom years. .  Caragh, age 9, Geoff, age 7 and Grace age 3. And Doug with brown hair!

The Fisher Family circa 1996 – My 40th birthday — the heart of my stay-at-home mom years. . Caragh, age 9, Geoff, age 7 and Grace age 3. And Doug with brown hair!

Today I am grateful for the privilege of motherhood.  27 years ago today, I became a mother (Happy Birthday, dear Caragh!).  It was a day of hard work ,exhaustion and complete exhilaration.  And the only thing I knew that day was that I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into!

Before my children were born, I thought that when I became a mother, I would be the one dispensing the knowledge and insight and wisdom (the arrogance of youth!).  Never did I imagine how much these three little people would teach me!  Doug and I always said our kids were like our little Zen masters.  It was as if they knew exactly what it was we needed to learn to expand, go deeper, and love more authentically.  Because they were all so different, they each taught us different things.  Caragh taught me to let go of expectations and allow things to just be (still working on that one as I write this :)).  Geoff taught me how to NOT be a helicopter parent by insisting on independence and autonomy from a very early age.  And Grace taught me how to live in each moment with a real sense of joy — she was a child just filled with joy!  All of them reflect the love and wonder of God for me.  And all of them really, really make me laugh! Raising our kids was a true experience of holiness for me — chaotic holiness, but holiness nonetheless!  My years as a stay-at-hom mom weren’t always easy, but they were a true blessing, and all in all, very, very fun.

As I watch my kids now become their own adult selves,  I am delighted to see them find their own ways in life.  And I am humbled that God lent me these little people for a period of time to help Him launch them into the world.  I am so much better for having mothered them.  My heart has been broken open to such a deep and abiding love.  And for that today, and everyday, I am most grateful.  Thank you Caragh, Geoff, and Grace. Thank you, Doug, for taking the journey with me.  And thank you, God, for everything.

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 10 — Five Things

Today I am grateful for “Five Things”.   When my kids were little and they would get on a roll of complaining about life, I would listen for a while, and then I would say to them, “OK.  Five Things.”  That was the signal for them to change gears and think about five things they were grateful for in their life.  It was a great way to thwart the negativity and get them thinking in a different direction.   They didn’t always like it (I remember 5 year old Caragh standing with her hands on her hips and declaring very definitively “I HATE FIVE FINGS!” ), but it did help move the day in a different, more grateful direction.

Today is one of those days for me. Maybe it’s the grey weather, or lack of sleep, or hormones, or who knows what.  But I didn’t awaken feeling grateful today.  I awakened feeling a bit like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.  I awakened wishing I had 12 more hours of sleep in front of me instead of my very full day.  On a day like that, one needs to resort to Five Things!

Five Things doesn’t need to be anything complicated.  Sometimes it simply the fact that I am here and breathing.  Or that I have the ability to move around and live independently.  Often I find the best Five Things are those things we take for granted everyday — our health, our freedom, our independence, our ability to remember and use our minds.   Five Things are the simple things for which we often forget to say “thank you”.  They are the things we assume will just be there each day.  But everything in our lives — absolutely everything — is a gift from God.

So today I am making this a Five Things Friday! (which seems to be a thing in the blogosphere — who knew? 🙂 )  Here are my Five Things:

1) I am much healthier today than I was a year ago

2) I am loved by a great family

3) I have work that feeds my soul

4) I am loved by God as I am (even on these dreary days)

5) I have enough.

Five Simple Things — that put everything else in perspective.

So what are your Five Things?

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 9 – Small Acts of Kindness

Today I am grateful for small acts of kindness — those little things we experience or witness that seem insignificant but that pack a powerful punch.   Yesterday’s post about my mother got me thinking about how often she encouraged us to be kind.  And I thought of how often in a day I experience the kindness of other people.  Little things, like when you are at the supermarket and you are late (like I am most of my life!), and you have just a couple of items and the line for the checkout is out the door.  But then that person who is about to be checked out eyes you with your two things and says “Go ahead” and let’s you go in front of them.  Seems like a small gesture, but those small gestures have made a huge difference in many a day of mine.  It costs the person little or nothing to do that small gesture, but oh what a difference it made in the recipient’s day!

I was recently talking to friends who had traveled to South Africa and met Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa and a world renowned peace activist.  During their conversation, Bishop Tutu spoke about the moment that changed his life forever.  He told the story of walking down the street with his mother and a tall white man wearing a black suit was walking toward them.  In those days in South Africa, when a white person was walking toward a black person on the same path, the black person was supposed to step off the path into the gutter and nod their head to the white person as a gesture of respect.  Tutu sees this white man approaching, but before he can step off the path into the gutter, the white man steps into the gutter and as Tutu and his mother pass, he tips his hat to them. Tutu’s mother told him the reason that man tipped his hat and stepped aside for them was because he was a priest and a man of God. Tutu never forgot that moment.  And from that moment on, Tutu knew he wanted to be a priest.

The white man’s name was Trevor Huddleston.  I would bet most if not all of us have never heard of Trevor Huddleston.  But without Trevor Huddleston’s tip of the hat, the world may never have had Desmond Tutu.  That tip of the hat cost Rev. Huddleston nothing.  But it changed Tutu’s life and our world forever.

Sometimes we are given invitations to share small acts of kindness, but we don’t recognize them.  I had that experience seven years ago. It was my first year at St Thomas Church.  They had never been a full time church before I got there.  When I arrived, there were 16 members of the church.  Just 16.   One day I was working in the parish house and the phone rang.  It was right around Thanksgiving.  A woman with a very small and sweet voice was on the other end of the phone.  She asked “Are you giving out anything for Thanksgiving dinner?”  And I said, “No, I’m sorry, we are not.”  She thanked me and that was the end of the phone call.  About ten minutes later, the phone rang again, and again the woman with the very small voice asked, “Are you giving out anything for Thanksgiving dinner?”  and again I said, “No, I’m sorry, we are not.”  Ten minutes later, the phone rang again, and again the sweet small voice asked if we were giving out Thanksgiving dinners and again I said no.  This went on three or four more times over the course of the next hour, until finally I looked up to heaven and said  to God, “OK. I got it.”.   And when the phone rang the next time and the sweet small voice asked if we were giving out anything for Thanksgiving dinner, I replied, “Yes we are.”

That was seven Thanksgivings ago.  And every year since then, St Thomas has made sure that this family has a meal for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.  I almost missed the invitation to get to know that family and to see each year how happy they are to have something to celebrate the seasons.  i almost didn’t tip my hat.  But I am so glad I did.

So this day I am grateful for all those small acts of kindness that have saved many a day for me. And I’m grateful for all the invitations I am given each day to give small acts of kindness. Because I believe with all my heart that when you put all of those small acts of kindness together, they have the power to truly change the world.

So what small act of kindness did you receive today?  And what small act did you give?

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 8: Eileen Buckley Byrne and the Power of Words

A light moment with Mommy and me -- circa 1980

A light moment with Mommy and me — circa 1980

Today I am grateful for my mother, Eileen Buckley Byrne.  There is not enough blog space in the world for me to tell you all the things I loved about my mother . She was the best.  Ask any of my siblings.  They will tell you the same thing.  We got a great mother and that is a great blessing.

But today I was very aware of the wisdom my mother passed on to me about the power of words.  Writing this blog everyday, I’ve been feeling a bit “wordy” lately.   And it’s made me think about things my mother used to say when it came to what we said and how we treated people.  It was an important lesson for us to learn, because our family is filled with lots of talkers!  Most (but not all) of us are extroverts.  All of us are very articulate and fairly witty. Great gifts to have.  But those gifts can get you into trouble if you use them the wrong way.  There must have been times as we were growing up when my mother looked at these six kids, five of them girls, and thought “This could all go terribly wrong…..” (!).

So she passed on her wisdom.  Almost everyday I heard her say to one of us as we were growing up: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t’ say anything at all.”  I remember when each of us graduated from elementary school, we had these autograph books that all your friends signed.  My mother signed each of our autograph books with the same quote:

“Be kind, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.”

It’s a quote from an old British poem entitled “A Farewell” by Charles Kingsley.  And it was my mother’s very gracious way of telling us “Don’t be a smart aleck.”   Be careful what you say.  Words can hurt.  Neve get a laugh at the expense of someone else.

My mother did not expect us to be silent or not to use our voice to speak our minds. On the contrary.  She was very outspoken about those things in which she believed and felt strongly.  She was a master at writing letters to CEOs of corporations with poor customer service. She wrote her senators and congressmen (they were all men in those days!) about the social issues that were important to her.  She was never afraid to speak her mind.  But she always did it with grace, with dignity and in a way that was utterly respectful of the person to whom she was speaking/writing. It’s a gift that often  seems  lost in our day and age.

My mother taught me that words have power.  They can hurt, or they can heal.  They can humiliate or they can inspire. And everyday, we have the choice of how we will use our words. What will be put out into the world?  Will the world be a better place because of how interacted with those around us today?

I had no idea, all those years ago, how much a part of my work words would be.  I am so grateful for my mother’s wisdom.  I’ve never come close to mastering it the way she did.  But I am so grateful for the example to look to everyday.

How did words influence you today?

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 7 — Thin Places

Today I was grateful for the “thin places” in life.  No, i’m to talking about diet centers or workout gyms!  I’m talking about a whole different definition of the word “thin”.  “Thin places” is a phrase used by the Irish to describe the places and times in our lives when the separation  between this world and the next is very thin.   It is those places and moments in our lives when we have a real sense of the presence of God. There’s an old Celtic saying that says heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places, the distance is even less .  For some of you that may sound far fetched.  But for this Celtic woman, it makes perfect sense.

These deep days of winter here in the Hudson Valley/ Berkshires are thin places for me.  I’m not sure if it is the quiet, the starkness of the landscape, or the desire to hunker down and turn inward on these cold days.  But I definitely experience God in the silence of these days.   It’s not an exuberant experience of God.  It’s a silent knowing that I am not alone, that there is a presence here with me in the cold and the quiet actively leading me, loving me.

Driving through the countryside today, I was filled with gratitude for the silence and the Presence in the midst of it all.  And grateful that the wonder of life and of God is so beyond just what we can see and hear and touch.  Sometimes it takes the stillness of these days to recognize that.

Where are your “thin places”?

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 6 — This Fragile Earth, our Island Home

 

Today I am grateful for our planet.    Truth be told, I’m not a real nature person.  I’m not a lover of the great outdoors. Nature doesn’t move me the way it moves other people.  I’m a people person.  I meet God in other people.  I like conversation and ideas, preferably in a comfortable, climate controlled environment! 🙂

But this past couple of years I have gotten to see more of this planet than ever before, and the beauty and intricacies of creation were not lost on me.  I hiked the rainforest in West Africa, and spent an afternoon sailing down the Thames in London. I’ve experienced record breaking heat in Indianapolis,  and record breaking cold in the Berkshires.  I witnessed the majesty of Yosemite and the expansive beauty of Napa.  It is truly an amazing planet.

But lately, it feels like the planet has become a sick friend.  The weather is, in a word, bizarre.  This morning it was 55 degrees here in the Berkshires.  Now we are experiencing heavy snow.  The high temperature tomorrow is expected to 11. My son is, at the moment, stranded at the Denver airport because, as the airlines told him, New York is an inhospitable place to land a plane right now. He is one of thousands of people who had their flight cancelled yesterday due to severe weather.   What is going on?

Some people in our society say “nothing”. But I don’t think so.  Something is not right. I’m not a scientist. I don’t pretend to be able to explain the changes in our weather patterns. But, clearly, we have not cared well enough for this fragile Earth, our island home.

In an article in yesterday’s Huffington Post entitled Cold as Hell:  The Chilling Effect of Global Warming , the Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite says that the term “global warming” has little or no effect on people anymore.  She says:

” “Global warming” has no emotional pull whatsoever. “Global Warming” sounds like we’ll all just be wearing bathing suits earlier in the year, and “climate change” just sounds like taking a trip from Chicago to Miami. The emotional case has not been made in the public’s mind for the catastrophic effects of our lack of creation care…….. I argue that instead we should use “global weirding,” a term credited to Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the Colorado based Rocky Mountain Institute.The climate is where the weird things are. You may not know the cause, but everybody knows the weather sure has gotten weird. ”  

Read the article in its entirety here.

Things certainly are weird here on Earth.  But it is all we have. So today I am grateful for our planet, and promise to learn more on how to help our sick friend.

 

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 5 – The Blessing of Community

Today I am grateful for the blessing of community. After a day of worship with my parish, St Thomas, Amenia Union, watching the youth take part in the family service, sharing laughs and good conversation at coffee hour, doing great work at our vestry meeting with the most dedicated vestry members I have ever met,  my cup is overflowing with gratitude.  I am inspired by the people I see each day who give so much to bring God’s kingdom into this world.  I couldn’t ask for more from this wonderful community.

I don’t know where I would be without the support of a faith community.   People have all different reasons for going or not going to church. For me, being part of a church community has always been a lifeline.  It is in community that I not only sorted out who God was for me. It is also where I discovered who I am.  It is where I discovered my gifts.  It’s where I sat at the feet of people older and wiser than I and learned how to live this way of Jesus, especially through difficult times.

My first experience of community was in the Roman Catholic Church, in the vibrant parish of St Brigid in Westbury, New York.  St Brigid was life changing for me.  It’s where I learned to develop a daily prayer life.  It’s where I met my husband and  my best friend, Chrissie and so many other of my oldest and dearest friends.  It’s where I observed my parents live out their faith, which was an amazing thing to behold.  I am forever forever grateful for my years at St Brigid’s.

But the greatest gift of my faith  life has been the Episcopal Church.  It is the various Episcopal parishes where we have been members and I have worked  —

St Peter’s, Peekskill

Church of the Holy Innocents, Highland Falls, 

 

Grace Church, Millbrook,

 

 

Church of the Messiah , Rhinebeck,

 

St Matthew’s, Bedford,

 

 

 

 

 

For the past seven wonderful years, St Thomas, Amenia Union

And, of course, the good people of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts

 

—  it’s these communities that have helped me discover and live out my call to priesthood. They have embraced and loved my children and shown them the importance of being part of a community. And all of them helped me see Christ alive in the world.  I always tell people I didn’t join the Episcopal Church.  I was loved into the Episcopal Church. Each one of these communities were instrumental in that loving.

It hasn’t all been perfect.  There have been ups and downs, disappointments and frustrations.    They are all human organizations run by imperfect humans.  That’s who Christ left in charge of the kingdom — humans.  You and me — imperfect, flawed, well intentioned but prone to failures of loving now and then.

Community living is messy.  And I really love the mess!  The mess is where I have found God to be most powerful,  and I am grateful for it.  If you are reading this and do not belong to a church community, for whatever reason,  I urge you read the link below.  It’s great.

Hello, My Name is Church

And I hope you will give a faith community another chance.  Don’t worry if you don’t know what you believe.  You are exactly the kind of person who should be sitting in those pews.  Church is where we ask the big questions, and meet others grappling with their own big questions.  Church is where we venture into the mess of our doubts.  And amazing things happen. If you are local, come experience St Thomas in Amenia.  We are a community of radical hospitality.  Everyone is welcome.  We mean it.  Everyone.

What has been your experience of faith communities?

 

Attitude of Gratitude: Day 4 – Radical Generosity

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Today I am grateful for radical generosity.  The kind of generosity that changes lives.  That is what I experienced today. A little backstory…….

Last summer, Doug and the girls and I traveled to Ghana in West Africa to meet the people in  the Diocese of Kumasi, the companion diocese to Western Massachusetts, where Doug is bishop.   It was a life changing experience for me.  One particular experience really impacted me.  That was visiting the Women’s Vocational Center (see earlier blogposts for more info.)  This place takes women who would otherwise live lives of extreme poverty and teaches them a skill — seamstress work, or hairdressing or catering.   What I loved about this program was that by lifting these women out of poverty, you save their children as well.  They needed money to build a new teaching kitchen so they could accept more students.  Their goal was $30,000.  I decided it was my goal, too.

So I spoke at the Diocesan Convention for Western Mass and invited people to tie their joy to the joy of these women.  I told them the bishop had pledged $5000 from his discretionary fund.  All we needed was 500 people to give $50 each, and we could build that kitchen.  I shared my goal with my friends and family.  I wrote an article about it for the Springfield Republican, the local newspaper in Springfield, MA.  I encouraged people to give donations in loved ones’ names as Christmas gifts.

This morning I found out we have raised $20,372 — 2/3rds of the way there!!!!  And that is because over 70 donors decided to tie their joy to the joy of these young women.  Some gave less than $50.  Some gave so much more.  But all gave what they could.  And their radical generosity has helped us get ever so much closer to realizing a dream.

The picture above is a picture of our daughters, Caragh and Grace, with two of the girls who are students at the Vocational Center.  As they stand side by side, you see they are the same — young, beautiful girls with hopes and dreams.  But the world has been much kinder to our daughters.  And I know God wants that kindness for all of God’s children.  70 donors decided to make sure these girls experience that kindness.  That blows me away.

if you would like to help us reach our goal, click on this link to make a donation:

Women’s Vocational Center

Or mail a donation to :

The Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, 37 Chestnut Street, Springfield, MA 01103

I am so grateful for your radical generosity!

Attitude of Gratitude – Day 3 – Hope and Fellow Travelers along the Way

 

Today I a grateful for hope — the hope I get from other people’s journey along the way of life and the way of God.

The world can be a harsh place.  We read and see and hear each day about the struggle of so many throughout the world.  It can overwhelm us, make us feel like we don’t know where to begin to help.  So we retreat.  It’s easier to read about the latest celebrity antics or fashion trend or sports news than to deal with the harsh realities of our world.

But, in my line of work, I get to read all sorts of things.  Hopeful things.  Stories about ordinary people and groups of people joining together to make a difference.  People who light candles instead of curse the darkness.  People who take the risk of throwing that one pebble into the stillness of the lake, trusting the ripples will go out to places they can’t even see.  I read these stories and it gives me hope.  It makes me want to get up once again and work for peace, and justice, and forgiveness, and reconciliation.  These people embody Christ for me.  They are the light that the darkness cannot extinguish.

Today, I read about a group of people who are forming a Circle of Protection around the poor of our country.  They are joining their voices together to protect those among us who have no voice.  All they ask for is a signature, to stand with them in that Circle of Protection. Here’s the link:

Circle of Protection

I am grateful for the voices of fellow travelers along the way — that includes you!

 

 

Attitude of Gratitude – Day 2 — Shelter from the storm and out-of-the-box thinkers

 

Today I am grateful for shelter, for warmth; for a roof over my head and heat in my home as we face a huge snowstorm and some of the coldest days in years.  And because i live with the spirit of Ubuntu, and I know my joy is tied to the joy of others, I am saddened by the numbers of people who will spend these next days without shelter from the storm.

But I am also grateful for the state of Utah.  Did you know that by the end of 2015, the state of Utah will come close to completely eliminating homelessness in their state?  It’s an amazing story, one brought about by people willing to think outside the box and still find ways to address issues AND save taxpayers money.  A win-win.  Jesus would like this.  Read more about it here :   How do you end homelessness?

I am grateful for out-of-the-box thinkers who helped my fellow humans lift themselves out of homelessness and into possibilities. That warms my heart on this cold, cold day.