Gratitude, Loving Kindness

Lenten Practice

mike-labrum-151765For Lent I have decided to give up hopelessness and cultivate kindness.

  1. When I experience hopelessness while reading/watching the news, I will write a little note (written/onine) of kindness to someone to let them know they matter.
  2. When I experience hopelessness while caught in impatient traffic, I will recite this breath prayer: Breathe in: “Be.” Breathe out “Kind.” Repeat several times with the breath.
  3. When I experience hopelessness in difficult challenges that occur during the day, I will actively look for something I am grateful for that happened during that same day and hold onto the memory until I absorb the gratitude.

During the Ash Wednesday service today at St. Mark’s Episcopal, Reverend Patrick Miller shared these words of comfort:

We sometimes experience the “trauma of being little people in a land of giants.” Take heart. “Your life has never been lived before. Your existence is a very singular thing. That is why it is a tragedy when you die. You are responsible for such a precious and amazing gift…. you. You are the gift. You are a flash of light, a gift of beauty in a very weary world.”

Today, and tomorrow, and the next day… remember you are a gift. Your kindness is a like a candle, shedding light on a very weary world.

Compassion, Gratitude, Loving Kindness

A Word Imagined

unknown

by Jennifer Christian, LPC and Dr. Jeff M. Christian

Words of hate tear at the fabric of our society; words of kindness mend.

Imagine.

Imagine life without unkind words. Imagine comments sections on your favorite website that only allow constructive criticism, words meant to further the conversation rather than out-shout those who disagree.

Today, online words of hate, abuse, fear, and violence are rampant. The intensity of negativity overwhelms us, a tsunami of words altering our lives without us realizing their enormous power. This new world often feels devoid of kindness. Few of us would choose to pass on this world to the next generations, so we begin this project in the hopes that we can change the future by changing the present.

We have power to create a better world.

Imagine.

Imagine a world that offers encouragement. Imagine a world where people matter. Too often, though, we feel helpless in even thinking about making a change. Where should we begin?

Well, we have some ideas.

Start with some simple things. Appreciation and gratitude, for instance, are powerful tools that can help rebuild this world. Every word of kindness heals, builds resilience, and draws people together.
A Word ImaginedJohn Gottman found that it takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction. Relationships find balance when positive interactions outweigh the negative ones. At times we will misunderstand each other and say the wrong things. We are human, after all. However, for the health of all our relationships, we have the power to create better worlds for ourselves, as well as all of those around us. Our hope that we can do this together is reminiscent of John Lennon’s line, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

 So let’s imagine a better world. One word of kindness can create ripples of healing across our society. If we come together to dedicate building reserves of gratitude in our families, places of work, and all other communities, we can change the tide of negativity.

Here are some other practical suggestions to get us started:

  1. Get creative. We can share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.
  1. Remember the magic ratio of 5-to-1. Each week send five notes of encouragement, whether online or handwritten.
  1. Practice gratitude at home as a family. “Researchers found that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation provides extra incentive to maintain our relationships. In other words, when we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.” (Susan Heitler)
  1. Notice the words you say to yourself. Learn how to offer yourself words of kindness and compassion: “Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!” (Kim Fredrickson)

Please take a moment to share this article and this project with friends and family. Together, we can create the world we imagine.

For Further Reading:

On appreciation and gratitude:

http://www.jenniferchristiancounseling.com/mental-health/7-powerful-ways-gratitude-will-change-your-life/

On John Gottman’s five interactions:

https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-positive-perspective-dr-gottmans-magic-ratio/

On practicing gratitude at home as a family:

http://www.jenniferchristiancounseling.com/relationships/four-ways-to-build-trust-with-your-partner/?preview_id=538&preview_nonce=b7d0d3d768&post_format=standard&_thumbnail_id=542&preview=true

On Susan Heitler’s work on gratitude in marriage:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201207/does-gratitude-matter-in-marriage

On Kim Fredrickson’s work on self-compassion:

http://www.jenniferchristiancounseling.com/counseling/self-compassion-is-vital-for-a-healthy-life/

Compassion, Gratitude, Loving Kindness, peace

Practicing Peace Daily

PeaceI am thinking about practicing virtues. I think about it often. My church family chooses a virtue every year to practice together. Last year it was joy. This year it’s peace. I am grateful to be a part of a community asking what it means to be people of peace in times that feel disorienting. A passage from Colossians 3 is framing our year-long adventure:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)

The text guides me in peace; I am thankful. The wisdom of people in my community broadens me; I am grateful. How do I become a person of peace? Clothe myself daily with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, and gratitude toward myself and others. Okay. Got it. Practice compassion, kindness, forgiveness, gratitude… sounds simple, right?

Well.

I keep getting snagged on challenges. I have been forced to spend some time around people. Frustrating people. Difficult people. I find it hard to access compassion, kindness, or gentleness. Instead, I feel anger, frustration, and sadness. Not peace.

Why is peace so hard? What about compassion and kindness?

Recently, I found comfort from Pema Chodron’s description of her own experience of cultivating love, kindness, compassion, and joy:

“Cultivating these four qualities, love, kindness, compassion, and joy, gives us insight into our current experience. It gives us understanding of the state of our mind and heart right now. We get to know the experience of love and compassion, of joy and kindness, and also of their opposites. We learn how it feels when one of the four qualities is stuck and how it feels when it is flowing freely. We never pretend that we feel anything we don’t. The practice depends on embracing our whole experience. By becoming intimate with how we close down and how we open up, we awaken our unlimited potential.

“It might feel like stretching into make-believe to say, ‘May this person who is driving me crazy enjoy happiness and be free of suffering.’ Probably what we genuinely feel is anger. This practice is like a workout that stretches the heart beyond its current capabilities. We can expect to encounter resistance. We discover that we have our limits: we can stay open to some people, but we remain closed to others. We see both our clarity and our confusion. We are learning firsthand what everyone who has ever set out on this path has learned: we are all a paradoxical bundle of rich potential that consists of both neurosis and wisdom.”

As I practice, I end up coming across my limitations, places where I need to grow and stretch my heart. Like physical exercise, these virtues take effort. When I am in familiar territory, around people I love and enjoy, I can access compassion, peace, and kindness. It comes naturally. However, when I decide to practice all day, every day, I encounter no shortage of opportunities to… well… practice. Even in times of frustration, those frustrations are opportunities for growth.

I am learning that a person of peace has to keep practicing. I need to practice with my spouse, with my children, with my church family, my coworkers, and my friends. It matters.

So, once again, it is time to go out into the world as a practitioner of peace still learning what it is to practice peace:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved… let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

Gratitude, Main Dish

Dairy Free Chicken Tikka Masala (Crockpot)

Chicken Tikka Masala
Photo by Greg Rakozy

I am Grateful…

During worship on Sunday, we sang songs of faith and hope. Singing such songs after what happened in Paris on Friday felt rebellious. I felt like we were saying to all the terror in the world, “We will stand up and hold onto each other in faith. You cannot take away our joy in each other and each precious day we are given.” We may falter… but we are determined to get back up and live… continued prayers for those around the world who are reeling from the terror… we stand together in honor of your grief.

I lean into life with gratitude for precious friends, loving family, kind words, delicious food (especially in Houston), smiles, laughter, chocolate, flowers, acts of compassion, and a loving community of faith.

Today I am especially grateful to try out a new Chicken Tikka Masala recipe inspired by the blog, Table for Two. My daughter is allergic to dairy, so I experimented with soy yogurt and coconut milk. I am thrilled to say the dish turned out fabulous! My kids said to make it again. These seemingly insignificant moments are so precious, moments that make life meaningful.

I would love to share in your gratitude today. Please leave a comment and let me know:

“Today I am grateful for…”

Dairy Free Chicken Tikka Masala (Crockpot)

5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3 lbs.) – cut into 1.5″ cubes
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 (29 oz.) can of tomato puree
1 ½ cups dairy free yogurt
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. Garam masala
1 tsp. tumeric powder
1 tbsp. cumin
½ tbsp. paprika
2 ½ tsp. salt, or to taste
¾ tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 cup premium coconut milk
3 tbsp. cornstarch
Lemon juice from half a small lemon
Chopped parsley or cilantro, for topping

Instructions:

  • Place everything except the bay leaves in a large bowl. With a spatula, stir to combine everything, and make sure the chicken is coated well.
  • Gently place the mixture in the insert of the crockpot and add the two bay leaves.
  • Cover and cook for 8 hours on low (or 4 hours on high).
  • When done, in a medium bowl, whisk together coconut milk and corn starch, then pour the mixture into the crockpot and gently stir. Let cook an additional 20 minutes to thicken. Squeeze half a lemon over the mixture then stir to incorporate.
  • Serve hot over a bed of white (or brown) rice. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.
Gratitude

New Beginnings

Helen's Park, HoustonToday I am grateful for new beginnings.

I see my first client in my new private practice this morning. I am so thankful for the journey, for God’s guidance, and for all of the people who have walked alongside.

I am especially blessed to share this experience with my teenagers.

  • as my strong burly son helped me carry large boxes into my new space.
  • as my daughter helped me put together a filing cabinet while keeping us entertained with her favorite playlist. She had lots of fabulous opinions on how to best use the space.

The evening was filled with much silliness and lots of hard work. And, it felt extra special to be savoring this moment with them. They were so young when I started.

My heart fills with joy as my daughter tells me how proud she is. What a treasure to share this moment with them.

Chocolate, Gratitude, Main Dish

Time to Celebrate: Birthday Cake and Shepherd’s Pie

Grateful for birthdays! We spent the entire day celebrating our seventeen year old son:

  • Homemade french toast for breakfast
  • Some pretty intense battles via Smashbros
  • Our favorite Shepherd’s Pie – recipe below
  • Dark Chocolate Cake
  • And, cozying up with a cup of tea and “The Imitation Game”

At the end of the day, I could not stop smiling. I love birthdays. Everybody needs a special day to be celebrated because each one of us matters. You matter! I matter! The world needs each one of us!!! Many years ago, I got some wonderful advice from a dear friend. She suggested on my birthday each year, I bake my own birthday cake and share it with others so that no matter what, even if no one else has time to plan a celebration, I will already have the party started. If someone else happens to surprise me with a cake, there is just more joy to share! Over the years I have come to enjoy the ritual of baking my own cake and inviting my dear friends over to celebrate together. And, most of all…  I love the ritual of baking a cake for my precious kiddos. I just cannot stop smiling.

I am also grateful for favorite family recipes. One of my favorite Shepherd’s Pie is served at a quaint little British pub, “The Black Lab” in midtown Houston. With some trial and error I think I’ve come pretty close to their recipe. Although, my friends from Britain have assured me that this is actually a “Cottage Pie” because I use beef instead of lamb. Also, my son does not like peas, so I use celery as a substitute. Regardless, the only thing left to say is “YUMMO!”

Shepherd's Pie

Our Favorite Shepherd’s Pie (Glutton and Dairy Free)

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, finely diced
  • 3 -4 large carrots, finely diced
  • 1 cup peas OR diced celery
  • 1 lb ground beef or 1 lb lamb
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme (or 3-4 sprigs fresh, finely chopped)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon margarine (Smart Balance is a healthy alternative)
  • 1 glass red wine (I prefer Malbec)
  • 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 heaping tsp. “Better than Bouillon” beef base
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour
  • 1 large quantity mashed potatoes – Boil potatoes for about 45 minutes. Drain potatoes and let cool until all of the steam is released (makes them lusciously creamy!). Mash with melted smart balance margarine, chicken stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Estimate about 6 cups, fresh or leftover.
  • If dairy is not a concern, 2 cups white cheddar cheese

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
  • Sauté onions in olive oil with a little salt and pepper until tender for about 5-10 minutes. Then add diced carrots and celery to the pan and continue to cook until vegetables are tender 5-10 minutes.
  • Add beef to the vegetables and cook until browned. Drain off any excess fat.
  • If using peas, add after the meat is browned.
  • Add thyme, margarine, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon, and red wine. Stir into the vegetable/meat mixture.
  • Add tablespoon of cornstarch to water and stir until combined. Add water/cornstarch mixture to beef.
  • Cook mixture until sauce thickens.
  • Spray 9 X 13 casserole with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Spread beef/vegetable mixture over the bottom of the casserole.
  • Spread mashed potatoes over the top of the beef mixture.
  • If dairy is not a concern, sprinkle 2 cups of white cheddar cheese over the top. My family sprinkles cheese over half the casserole to give family members the option of cheese or non-dairy.
  • Bake in over for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted or potatoes are browned on top.

Would love to hear what you are grateful for today!

Compassion, Gratitude

My Compassionate Friend

Several weeks ago, I received an email from a woman I have never met, Kim Fredrickson, a licensed mental health counselor in California. In her email, she said that she had found my articles on self-compassion and asked if I would read her recent book on self-compassion from a Christian perspective, “Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic Into a Compassionate Friend” and pass the book along to anyone that might benefit. Before responding to her request, I read through some of her articles and was deeply touched by her personal story, her courage, and how God is at work in her life. She was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and has dedicated to live each day of the rest of her life as a testimony to God’s compassion, truth, and grace.Give Yourself A Break

We began to email back and forth and found so much in common, especially a calling to share God’s compassion in a very personal way. Through Kim’s emails, I personally received words of encouragements and prayers over my transition into private practice. Even as I type, I feel so blessed and grateful that God brought Kim into my life as an encourager and mentor.

Last night, I received her new book in the mail and immediately read over half of it. It is wonderful. I was so excited this morning that I jumped out of bed to write this blog! Here is a little taste of a book packed with wisdom, words of grace, and practical ways to apply compassion:

“As children we’re taught to treat others the way we would like to be treated. But as adults, we often need to turn that old maxim around. We’re good at showing compassion to other people – but many of us have trouble showing that same compassion to ourselves.”

“Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes. It is tough enough to go through a difficult situation, especially when we think we had a part in creating it. It is another kind of torture to never be able to let go of self-criticism and blame… God’s heart is tender toward us in our suffering, frailties, and mistakes. He is our perfect example of balancing truth and grace. He knows we are but dust and is merciful (Ps. 78:38-39).”

I am deeply grateful for my compassionate friend. She has ministered to me personally… and we have never even met. I am deeply grateful for her boldness and courage. I highly recommend her book for anyone who struggles with an inner critic and negative views of self.

I am grateful. God works in marvelous and mysterious ways.

Gratitude

Acceptance, Love, and a TEDx Talk

A few weeks ago, my husband, Jeff Christian went to Abilene to give a TEDx talk called “How My Tribe Created My TEDx Talk.” A caravan of loving friends, family, and myself went along for the ride.

As I watched my husband speak, my heart filled with gratitude as I recalled the journey we have shared and the love and acceptance we have received from so many along the way.

Acceptance…

What a healing experience to be accepted and to offer acceptance… to be enough… just enough… right now in this moment… even with the scars I still carry and the mistakes I continue to make.

And love…

What a healing experience to be lovable right now. To be loved and give the gift of love to others.

One of the most healing messages I have read was from Anne Lammot, “God accepts you just the way you are, and loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

Today, as I watch my husband’s talk, I smile. Grateful for his vulnerability. Grateful to share this moment with him.

Gratitude

Dedicated to the One I Love

Look at the Bright Side

Today I am thankful for my husband. I continue to notice that our gratitude practice is a significant nourishing element and a protective mechanism over our twenty-two years of marriage. The more intentional we are about counting our blessings, the greater our level of marital satisfaction. Woo Hoo!

It is so easy to take each other for granted. We get busy. We get tired. What starts off as little frustrations can build into big irritations.

So, it is important to actively look for the bright side. Pay attention. Seek out blessings. Notice.

According to a recent article published in Psychology Today,

“Couples who had ongoing reciprocal appreciation were less likely to break up in the next nine months and even reported being more committed at the end of that time. The researchers concluded that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation provides extra incentive to maintain our relationships. In other words, when we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.”

Today I am thankful for my husband. He is kind, compassionate, a great dad, a loving friend, and a generous listener. He is funny… really funny… full of adventure, smart, witty, and his eyes crinkle in a special way whenever he looks at me. I am blessed. I am grateful.

Gratitude

Time to Ride

Before we had our children, motorcycles were a big part of our life together. We rode all around Texas having little adventures together. But then small children came along and our priorities naturally shifted. He continued to ride, but our escapades together were put on hold.

We have been talking about getting a new bike for a while. The kids are getting older and we are once again restless for some adventure together.

Over the past year, Jeff has written his own version of a gratitude blog called 10,000 Truths to celebrate life and his experiences of over 10,000 miles of road on his dependable black and chrome steed.

So yesterday, he rode up to the dealership to say goodbye to his old friend and begin a new chapter. I expected another black and chrome edition, but was surprised when he texted me a picture of burgundy and very dark red. Then, he told me the nostalgia he felt when he saw this new bike. It reminded him of the bike we owned our first year of marriage. We lived in a cheap run-down house with no air-conditioning or heat. We occasionally heard gun shots ring from neighboring houses. So, we weren’t too keen on leaving his prize motorcycle outside in the front yard. We would wheel it in at night, right into the living room, and tuck it in to sleep. What a memory. IMG_3500

Last night, as he wheeled the bike into the garage, he beamed. It brought back so many memories for the two of us. Like we were circling back again. Right where we started so many years ago. Two idealistic dreamers ready for the next adventure. I am grateful he wants to share this whole big crazy adventure called life with me.

11015944_10206001841862167_4547999106910022286_n