Beliefnet
Everyday Faith

IMG_0852

When everything seems to be going wrong, the best thing you can do is write a list of what’s going right. I’m a great fan of gratitude lists. After reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, I decided to take on her challenge of keeping a dedicated journal where I number and count my “thank yous” with the aim of reaching one thousand.

What’s the reasoning behind a list of 1,000 rather than the usual list five things?

I believe the cumulative impact of noticing and writing and reflecting on this growing list of 1,000 instances of gratitude that you have created over time will help you understand that you have more blessings in your life than you realize.

Starting this project does not require:

Waiting until New Year’s Day . . . I started on August 8th.

Purchasing a fancy journal . . . I’m using an old blank notebook.

The burden of writing a certain number of items each day, or even writing every day . . . I forget to write some days. When I do write, I might list 2 items or 10 items.

I found an old, dusty, blank book among things that were going into our garage sale. I wrote the date on the first page, turned the page, and began numbering and writing the things I was grateful for in that moment.

On some days, I’ll write ten things quickly. On other days, I can only think of two or three. I don’t think the number matters, or even if you’re doing it every day, although I’m guessing that over time is will become something I look forward to counting and writing.

I started a month ago, and I’m closing in on #100.

A few thoughts on what I’ve found so far . . .

I’ve discovered that if you can express gratitude on a day when everything seems to be bleak and horrible, you’ll find yourself feeling better when you put down the pen. There seems to be real blessing in the effort it takes to consider what you are still grateful for in the midst of a bad day.

Gratitude can be found in the things that surround us. As I sit in my reading space, I lift my pen from the page and look around the room. I’m incredibly grateful for: Henry, my beloved first Newfoundland dog sleeping at my feet. On the little table next to me: my Bible, my journal, and the assorted devotionals, each a form of prayer that has drawn me closer to God.

A list of 1,000 may not be enough. I honestly believe that I once I write that one thousandth item of gratitude, I will want to keep going because the blessing isn’t in the counting, it’s in realizing how filled with blessing our days have become.

Will you join me in starting your own gratitude list of 1,000?

I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

 

IMG_0039

Waiting for a prayer to be answered can be challenging.

Especially when the prayers involve a loved one, one’s own health, or a long-held dream.

When we don’t hear an immediate answer one way or another, our belief can feel like it’s being chipped away as each day of disappointment leaves us a bit more discouraged.

Which is the way I’ve been feeling for the past few months. Or has it been longer than that? When we are in a spiritual desert, our time of waiting can feel interminable.

Lately, it feels like everything is falling just short of where it needs to be and nothing is quite succeeding.

Sometimes, like the people of Israel when they wandered in the desert, we can forget where we came from and that things were worse then, or we might even begin to fool ourselves into thinking we’d like to go back to the way things were.

On my long walks through the woods with my dogs, I’ve had lengthy conversations with God, questioning everything I’m doing.

When I was trying to decide on the cover for this book, I came across a beautiful photograph of a robin’s nest with a couple eggs against an empty backdrop of blue.

I’m beginning to think this photo is similar to the experience of waiting for an answer to prayer.

Waiting for answers to our prayers is like waiting for the eggs to hatch. We know the lovely eggs contain beautiful birds. The eggs themselves represent our efforts. We’ve done the work. That is just the point. We have done all we can; there is literally nothing more we can do.

That is exactly where we have to let go, step back, and believe.

If we tried to make those eggs hatch before they were ready, we’d have the makings of scrambled eggs, not the beautiful young birds that would eventually stretch their wings and take flight.

We cannot make the eggs hatch before the baby within has fully developed.

We can’t hurry the process.

Everything will come together when it’s fully developed.

While we wait, we must believe that God already has the outcome in order and waiting is time to bring us into a closer, deeper relationship with God.

Can we use this time of waiting to believe the eggs are not empty but already hold the perfect answer to our prayers and that their entrance into our lives will come perfectly formed at just the right time?

What answers are you waiting for today?

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

~Isaiah 40:31

 

IMG_1314

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

 

When I worked on Wall Street, mid-80’s fresh out of college, my marker of success was to leave my doorman building wearing a full-length mink coat and step into the Lincoln Town Car that would ferry me downtown to my office.

The other morning, I walked Henry and Max, my enormous Newfoundland dogs (yes, they look like black bears) down the dirt road of my neighborhood. I wore mud-streaked Sorel snow boot, so stunningly huge and ugly they resemble clown shoes. Yet so warm I wear them without socks on the coldest winter day and my toes remain toasty. I wore a sweater I also knit myself and my ubiquitous black leggings and turtleneck.

During my years in New York, my thoughts were of achieving the next big thing. My thought life in Breckenridge is the same. While the clothes and location have changed, my interior life remains enthralled with imagining, planning, and pursuing.

My walk of faith shares this goal-directedness. My prayers are filled with asking God for a breakthrough in my work, a healing for a loved one, a change of heart in a relationship. When the manifestation is not evident, I feel rejected by God. Undaunted, I repeat the prayer again. Day after day. The result is an estranged relationship with God and a low-hum of anxiety that runs in the background, my eyes always on the horizon, my mind always racing forward.

That morning as I walked my dogs, I noticed birdsong in the trees. I closed my eyes and listened, differentiating one bird from another, and discovering the call and response of their conversation. As I walked on, my eyes discerned changing light and shadow that transformed bark on tree trunks from silver to copper to grey.

I walked more slowly, my shoulders relaxed. I inhaled deeply and noted the scent of pine and mud. I perceived the temperature difference between the air surrounding me and the coolness closer to the receding mounds of snow along the road.

When I returned to my desk, I opened my journal and wrote three things I was grateful for and a Morning Page (in the spirit of Julie Cameron).

In the Book of St. Matthew, Jesus teaches:

“So my counsel is: Don’t worry about things—food, drink, and clothes. For you already have life and a body—and they are far more important than what to eat and wear. Look at the birds! They don’t worry about what to eat—they don’t need to sow or reap or store up food—for your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Will all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

This passage is commonly mentioned to demonstrate God’s provision. But Jesus could have used human actors to the same effect. I like to imagine Jesus chose birds in a field not only to show God’s care for the simplest of his creatures, but also as a gentle nudge for us to consider the beauty of our surroundings.

Since my morning walk, I’ve made two changes: I am living more contemplatively with an intention to notice and appreciate my surroundings, and to do small things with great care. Whether this is preparing a meal or conversing with a friend, I want to stop my mind from wandering onto the next item on my to-do list, and instead, give my full attention to this task and this person.

In my faith life, the gratitude list I hurriedly jotted down becomes a prayer of genuine thanks-giving to God. Yes, I still mount tenacious campaigns on my behalf.  But I also meet God and express my gratitude for the overlooked blessings in my life.

This is the sacredness of ordinary time. To live fully present requires living fully in God’s presence. In every moment, past, present, and future, God is already present. Therefore, I am asked to, “Give [my] entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help [me] deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:34 MSG) I can only do this when I communicate with God daily.

Our lives are made up of unheralded moments so unremarkable, change so incremental, we don’t notice it. Until suddenly we face a crisis or achievement and are surprised at our growth. “This is how we make important changes—barely, poorly, slowly. And still, [God] raises His fist in triumph.” (Anne Lamott, Small Victories)

 

Monumental accomplishments usually come after years of hard work. Yet, the joy and accolades can be fleeting. If they are our only source of happiness we will spend ninety-five percent of our lives in desperate yearning. Trusting God’s presence in the ordinary present, I can give my attention to others. I can turn off my phone and focus on the voice of the one sitting next to me. I can take the hand of a loved one and savor the warmth of their skin next to mine. When we cultivate an appreciation of the sacred ordinary, the joy of the journey, we discover it is all a big thing and a blessing.

 

 

Julia Child has been my idol forever. A few years ago, I was as having one of my “I have accomplished nothing in the past year; I am a loser” moments. I wasn’t working on anything, I felt stuck and frustrated. So I went to a movie.

My choice of movie was related to two of my three passions (books, cooking, and religion): Julie and Julia, written and directed by Nora Ephron, based on the book and blog, of the same name, by Julie Powell, and memoir of Julia Child My Life in France.

I loved the film. I’d read Julie and Julia when it first came out in hardback, driven by my love of all things Julia Child and a curiosity to learn just how one woman (Julie Powell) changed her life.

By the end of the film, I found myself thrilled for both women portrayed in the film, inspired, and even tearful in a happy way. As I left the theatre I knew that I’d write about the experience and even began composing an essay on how the film underscored the importance of perseverance: Julia Child’s eight year odyssey to complete, revise, and publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Julie Powell’s in managing to cook all 524 recipes in 365 days.

Then I thought that its message was also about success. How, in the case of Julia Child, it took years of unrequited toil, and in Julie Powell’s life, the success of her blog was quickly followed by a book contract and then a movie deal. Lottery-winning success by comparison.

In the end, however, what it came down to was this: Just Start!

Whether you are unknowingly changing the face of American home cookery on the energy of your passion for French cooking or changing your life by spending a year cooking from that book, the key to a successful life begins with the resolution to do something. And then the resolution to get up the next day and every day after and do something again and again and again.

Whatever you choose should be a source of joy and passion. Otherwise, you will not have the energy to continue the pursuit when the first joy-filled days become years.

No, there are no guarantees that they will someday make a film about your pursuit. But from the look on Julia Child’s face in Meryl Streep’s portrayal and in every photo I’ve seen, doing something with passion brings its own rewards.

Reflecting on your life, what activity has brought you the greatest joy? Can you imagine turning this into your dream? What first step, could you take today to make this dream a reality?