Gratitude

Live

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Photo by Tim Cooper on Unsplash

“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.” Georgia O’Keeffe

My husband and I began our quarantine for the coronavirus over four weeks ago on Friday the 13th. The first week started off with intense fears: fears about being separated from my kids and family, the reality that I may lose an older family member, the reality that either my husband or I might not make it to the other side.

I sit with my fear. I realize the reality of impermanence. I am not in control, not that I have ever been. This awareness of our fragility is staring me in the face. But this is the way it has always been throughout human history, especially during times of plagues, natural disasters, and war.

What do I need to hear? What do I need to receive? What am I forgetting? As I open my blog for the first time in over a year, I make space to connect with myself.

What is it to be human?

  • To be in control? No.
  • To know what tomorrow brings? No.
  • To be certain? No
  • To be entitled to relationships, health, and money? No.

Then… What is it? What is it to be human?

  • Offer kindness.
  • Love and receive love deeply.
  • Trust and let go over and over.
  • Be afraid.
  • Be sad.
  • Be brave.
  • Be vulnerable.
  • Be comforted.
  • Be angry.
  • Forgive
  • Give
  • Receive
  • Learn
  • Unlearn
  • Make mistakes.
  • Be messy.
  • Be forgiven.

I need to live, to be fully alive in this moment without preference that it should be different. Wishing does not make it different. Learning to receive the gift of “live” is the path that opens us to the gift of life.

This moment is my life. Here. Now. A gift from God. This moment of isolation and uncertainty, silly Zoom calls, virtual meditation with friends, church services on videos, toilet paper shortages, joys over toilet paper found, masks, rising death tolls, empty streets, acts of kindness, virtual concerts from living rooms, Instagram home workouts, delivered groceries, heroic acts from doctors, nurses and first responders, comforting words from ministers, media coverage of incessant bickering, media coverage of life-saving guidance, spring blooming, birds chattering, puzzles, extra naps, hand washing, intense grief, distress, food creations made with abundant rice and beans, watching love sprout all over the place, acts of kindness crossing every neighborhood, country, and continent.

Beautiful humans everywhere join together, rising to the challenges facing us.

The invitation of this moment, a moment filled with unshakable love, is to be here. Present. Now. Everything is held in love. Open our eyes. Open our hearts.

Live.

You are loved & cherished dearly forever. You have nothing to fear.” Eben Alexander

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Art by Cole Christian
Gratitude, Transitions

The Space In Between

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Photo by James Wheeler

I am currently in transition at the cusp of the second half of life. My primary focus for the past twenty years has been a 24/7 adventure of homemaking where my two children could grow, thrive, and develop into functioning adults. As my son and daughter become more autonomous, I celebrate, but simultaenously feel confused.

This time of launching is messy, marked with insecurity and periods of grief, relief, and fatigue. What do I want? Who am I? Where do I belong? What is important to me? What am I supposed to be doing? As questions spin in my head, I realize that I rely on the roles of motherhood to provide my identity. I feel anxious to be doing something, but I do not have clarity. Plus, I am tired. Where did my creativity go?

I believe a big source of this anxiety comes from a dominant message in our culture that our value comes from being productive. For example, I have heard from many women about how they feel guilty in this undefined transitional space. Some of them have told me about the messages they receive from Bible studies about how they have to serve all the time in order to be “good.” Sure, service is meaningful and honors God. However, much of the Bible also implores us to be still, wait upon the Lord, and meditate on the word.

As I talk to women going through times of transition–loss of a marriage, health issues, leaving the workplace, entering the workplace, empty nesting–I hear the same confusion.

“I can’t keep pushing myself in the same way; my body won’t let me.”

“I don’t know where I am going.”

“I don’t recognize myself in this place.”

One friend told me how she risked sharing with another woman in her church group how she found herself in this disorienting “holding pattern.” She immediately felt like something was wrong with her when the woman just stared at her blankly.

savor gratitude.blogI want to be brave and lean in to this space. This space in between is a necessary time-out, a time of reflection and reorientation. I have an impulse to get busy and keep moving as a way to stave off the anxiety of disorientation. But, I have learned the hard truth: moving without discernment is movement without meaning.

Moving without discernment is movement without meaning.

Have you ever gone hiking, and the path ended to reveal a space with several trail-heads? In this “trail-head space,” you have to pause, learn about the possibilities of each potential path, choose a path, and then move again with a sense of direction.

I am settling down internally as I imagine pulling up a rock and sitting in the middle of this trail-head marked space. As I sit, I ponder the path I just finished. I give myself time to reflect on what I learned from this leg of the journey. I allow time to grieve the parts I will leave behind.

What is important that I need to bring forward?

What parts of the journey were life giving?

What sucked the life out of me?

How can I be kinder to myself as I move forward?

Can I honor God as I sit still and wait, seeking guidance and a sense of direction?

Moving without discernment is movement without meaning.

I recently shared this metaphor with a dear friend and it gave us both comfort. We had so much fun settling into this “trail-head” space together. She pulled her rock up to mine, and we sat together enjoying good company in the midst of the disorientation. I discovered the encouragement of sharing the journey with a few trusted friends, sojourners who will simply pull up a rock and wait together. I am grateful for friends who love me right in the middle of what feels messy. What a gift! It feels easier to be brave. No one is telling me to run as fast as I can to the next busy task.

We all experience this “space in between” several times in our lives. May this reflection bring you peace if you find yourself in a similar place.

Transition feels messy. You matter. You are not alone.

Here are a few of my favorite books that have held my hand through this experience:

friendship, Gratitude

Red Sea Road

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Photo by Tracy Kolenchuk

I woke up this morning to share breakfast with a dear friend at one of our favorite Indian bakeries. We savored each other’s company and the food. We laughed. We created whimsical ideas while we made plans together for an upcoming ladies’ retreat. I came home to my daughter who was dressed in overalls, potting two plants on the back patio while her curly headed schnauzer puppy danced circles around her. I feel myself settle… relief… emerging joy… hope.

Two years ago during the first week of December, my daughter withdrew from her high school with serious medical issues. For almost two years, she has had trouble functioning in her daily life.

A little over a year ago, Houston experienced Harvey. Three of my dearest friends lost their homes and most of their worldly possessions in the flood, including the one I shared breakfast with this morning.

Throughout these many months, I have struggled to find my compass. On the darkest days, sleep was difficult to come by. I found rest when I imagined I was sleeping on a cloud of prayers created by my precious friends and family.  I clung to those comforting prayers.

I clung to the prayers of our community and sweet strangers, prayed on behalf of those most impacted by Harvey.

My gratitude journal laid lifeless on my nightstand. I had no words. I had no thoughts in my head. My brain could not hold the words I sometimes attempted to read.

Last year, as part of an Advent celebration, Ellie Holcomb came to Houston for a concert. She shared how her community has also experienced a wilderness of disorientation over the past year. So much confusion, sadness, and pain. She leaned on the story of the Israelites fleeing from their slavery in Egypt, the only home they had known, into the desert filled with  fear, uncertainty, and a promise. God parted the waters of the Red Sea and made a way for them. She was inspired to write her next album, Red Sea Road, as a reminder that no matter the struggle, God makes a path and walks before us.

Red Sea Road

We buried dreams
Laid them deep into the earth behind us
Said our goodbyes
At the grave but everything reminds us
God knows, we ache

When He asks us to go on
How do we go on?

We will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road
When we can’t, see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road
How can we trust
When You say You will deliver us from
All, of this pain, that threatens to take over us
Well, this desert’s dry
But the ocean may consume
And we’re scared, to follow You

So we will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road
When we can’t see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road
Oh help us believe
You…

Continue reading “Red Sea Road”

Gratitude, Loving Kindness

Lenten Balance

bluebonnetsIn the previous post, I wrote down my hopes for my personal kindness lenten practice. Since Ash Wednesday, I have had ample opportunity to practice kindness in the face of hopelessness and daily frustrations. So far so good… but, the thing that surprised me the most is how this practice has begun to open my eyes to the beautiful, life-giving kindness shown toward me on a daily basis. I thought the intention was about “exhaling” kindness into the world and what I learned is how much I often forget to breathe in the kindness that others so graciously impart.
 
Over the past few weeks, I have had moments of tears when someone listened…. moments of joy when someone celebrated with me… moments of fear when someone was present… moments of disorientation when someone was patient and kind with me…. moments when someone provided a space for me… moments when someone smiled. I am so grateful for the sweet comfort of kindness that is all around us in a world that acts like a world.
 
Exhale kindness
Inhale kindness
 
Give
Receive
 
Balance
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

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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!