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Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

Gratitude

harvard yard autumn light leaves

Send some rain, won’t you send some rain?
‘Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade

Would you send a cloud, thunder long and loud
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down?
Surely you can see that we are thirsty and afraid

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for you
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If you never send us rain

I have loved Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude” for a long time, since the days when I listened to K-LOVE religiously and went to several Christian concerts a year. As a high school student, I saw Nichole open for Avalon, quietly playing the piano in a college gymnasium full of eager, revved-up teenagers. In a culture always impatient for the next thing, her music prompted us to slow down and listen.

Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger’s view this time

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
A lesson learned to hunger after you
How the starry sky offers a better view
If no roof is over our heads
And if we never taste that bread

I later saw Nichole play at a megachurch in my college town, still quiet, still soulful, still disarmingly honest about the gaps that sometimes appear between faith and reality. I own three of her albums; this song comes from Woven & Spun (which also provided the name of my original blog). I know every word, every piano chord, and I always pull out the CD around this time of year. But it is particularly apt as we approach this Thanksgiving.

Oh, the differences that often are between
Everything we want and what we really need

My nephew, Harrison, was born on Nov. 13, and he and my sister have both been in the hospital for going on two weeks now, fighting infections (first her, then him, then both of them). They are going to be okay, but it has been hard and stressful, and I can hear the strain in my mother’s voice every time I talk to her on the phone.

In a certain sense, we have what we need – Harrison is here, and he and Betsy will both be all right – but it is so far from what we want.

Grant us peace, Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
Between alibis and enemies tonight

But maybe not – not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in you
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need
If you never grant us peace
But Jesus, would you please?

I am far away from my family this Thanksgiving (though I will be there next month, for Christmas). It is hard to be far away, to get reports from the hospital of tears and pain, and still be grateful. (It is even harder when I hear bad news from other places too.)

But I am trying – we are all trying – to offer prayers of thanksgiving alongside repeated pleas for healing and peace. We are doing our best to practice gratitude, even while we can’t help worrying. And frequently, this song is the best prayer I can offer.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a Thanksgiving filled with loved ones, joy, peace and gratitude.

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sunset cape cod

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

—G.K. Chesterton

We often say grace before meals at our house – sometimes a spontaneous prayer, sometimes the old Lutheran blessing I learned at my grandparents’ kitchen table when I was a child. We fell out of the habit for a couple of years, but have come back to it. I like the ritual, the brief pause to give thanks before plunging into a meal and an account of our days.

We say grace, too, before Sunday night dinners with friends, joining hands in a wonky circle around a long wooden table. When it is Amy’s turn, she always says, “We are so thankful for all that we have been given.” When she says, “Thank you for our family,” I know she means both her blood family and us, the family we have chosen, the family we have become. Tomorrow, when we gather in our church basement with Amy and her kids and some other friends, to eat and celebrate and be together, we will say grace, and perhaps we will sing about thankfulness.

I don’t always say grace verbally at other times of the day. But in one way or another, I am saying grace all day long.

I say grace at the sunset and the sunrise, at the streaks of gold on the horizon and the deep cobalt twilight of the Cambridge sky. I say grace before snatching half an hour with a cup of tea and a good book. I say grace before traveling to places known or unknown, before spending time with family or friends.

I say grace when I receive a text or an email from someone I love, and when I walk across Harvard Yard to Morning Prayers, the bells of Memorial Church ringing through the crisp, cold air. I say grace when my colleagues make me laugh, and when I pull off a complicated piece of writing, and when a package of shiny new books comes in the mail. I say grace when I cook a delicious meal or wrap up in a warm sweater or watch a good movie.

Every year around this time, I reread W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks,” which admits a prickly truth: saying thank you can be difficult in a world that is often dark and dangerous. But I believe the very act of saying it, and Chesterton’s parallel act of saying grace, both create pinpricks of light in the darkness. No matter how dark it gets, or how mundane the days can seem, we have much to be grateful for.

This week, as I bake treats and wash dishes and laugh with my husband and call my mother, I will be saying grace, and saying thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. See you next week.

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Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

―Frederick Buechner

Lindsey tweeted this quote the other day, and I’ve been thinking about the deep truth of it, the “both-and” nature of our lives, where joy and grief are the only guarantees. We don’t get to choose the timing of either, the ways in which they will come, or the ratio of joy to pain. We only know we will encounter deep darkness, dazzling light, and many ordinary days in between. The challenge, as we walk through the glory and the heartache, is this: Don’t be afraid.

graffiti heart boots public garden

This year has been full of beautiful things: the births of my nephew and niece, an idyllic week at the Glen Workshop, trips to Maine and Texas, to New York and D.C., to see people I love. It has also held terrible things: the loss of my grandmother and my cousin, missing faraway loved ones, knowing many people who are struggling against cancer or depression or other ills.

On a more mundane level, each day holds joys and frustrations: lunchtime walks in the park and crowded subway trains, books I treasure and books I toss aside in frustration (fewer of those, thank goodness). It is hard at times not to grow weary or depressed, to remain brave and open, not to be afraid.

I couldn’t come up with a traditional “gratitude” post this year: a list of blessings seemed too facile, oversimplified. Instead I am reading and rereading the W.S. Merwin poem I posted last year, its final lines echoing in my head: “we are saying thank you and waving / dark though it is.”

As I gather tomorrow with my husband and our friends around a table, I will carry Merwin’s and Buechner’s words in my heart. I will give thanks for the beauty, and give thanks for having made it through the struggles. And I will do my best not to be afraid.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a happy (and delicious) Thanksgiving.

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leaves yellow orange fall boston common autumn

On Halloween night, on my way home from work, I stopped at the pharmacy on the corner for a last taste of candy corn. I couldn’t find any small bags (and my husband doesn’t like it), so instead I bought two slightly squashed (but still delicious) Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins. And then I looked up, above the gaudy orange bags of Snickers and M&Ms, and I saw boxes of candy canes.

The next day, I walked by the Starbucks shop in my building and saw those ubiquitous red cups. Already.

November is tough for me: the days turn suddenly short and dark, when the clocks flip back an hour and the clouds start to gather. I struggled with this seasonal shift in Oxford, but I find it more difficult here in Boston. Having survived two Northeastern winters (one unusually rough, one unusually mild), I am not sure what to expect this year. But I’m bracing for it anyway, and rather dreading the chill, grey, snowy days to come.

It would be easy to skip ahead to the relief of holiday cheer, to start playing the Christmas music I love, to ease the darkness of these days by living several steps ahead. Just a couple of weeks until Thanksgiving; just six and a half weeks until Christmas. Part of me would relish the chance to gloss over the days in between.

But this year, as last year, I am choosing to be present in November, to savor the trees still aflame with orange leaves and the crunch of their dried counterparts underfoot. I will keep taking walks at lunchtime, even when it’s wet or chilly. And I will practice gratitude.

Of course, I’ll be planning for Thanksgiving, which we’ll celebrate for the third time with friends in the basement of our beloved church. I’ll make pumpkin bread and sip chai, and yes, I’ve started my Christmas shopping. I’ll celebrate Candletime, which seems like a holiday (albeit a made-up one) custom-made for me. And I will take my Vitamin D pills and keep using my new light box, because I am already feeling the effects of the shorter days.

As the holiday rush revs up, I know I’ll be affected by it: the ads and songs and those red cups (which I do love) will become impossible to ignore. But I will keep trying to live in the present, no matter how mundane or hectic it seems. I will do my best to savor November.

Will you join me?

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I know I said I was thankful last week (and even pulled out a favorite poem and song to mark the occasion). But after a lovely, mild, peaceful, fun weekend, I am even more thankful. A brief recap:

Thursday began with breakfast at Abi and Nate’s – cranberry-orange scones, fruit, tea and pumpkin muffins:

We eventually moved into the living room, to watch Friends Thanksgiving episodes (The One With All the Thanksgivings, The One Where Ross Got High [known to us as The One Where Rachel Makes the Trifle], and The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs, for those of you keeping score at home):

(I love Kristin’s face there. Clearly she’s excited.)

Our church hosts a Thanksgiving potluck – “Turkeypalooza” – each year. It could just as well be called Casserole-palooza, or Yumminess-palooza:

Mmm. So much goodness. (This doesn’t even include the turkey cooked by Shanna’s brother Bryan, who is a chef – he was visiting her for the week, and decided to wow us all with his culinary skills.)

After dinner and cleanup, there was a long, hilarious game of Apples to Apples:

And the rest of the weekend? There was sleeping in, a long walk on the beach (in 60-degree weather!), bowls of jalapeno soup and chicken enchilada soup, cups of tea, games of Bananagrams, episodes of Mary Tyler Moore. There were pine wreaths and poinsettias and candles, as we decorated the church for Advent. There was the new Muppet movie (which was inspirational, celebrational and completely Muppetational). There was mending, knitting, lighting candles, digging out Christmas decorations. And so much love and laughter and thankfulness.

Clearly I’m easing back into work – and the holiday season – with a smile on my face. If you’re in the States, how was your Thanksgiving? I hope it was lovely.

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Gratitude (Woven And Spun Album Version)

I’ve long loved Nichole Nordeman’s music – I named my first blog after a lyric from her song “Healed.” And this song is one of my very favorites. I carry its lyrics in my heart. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving.

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In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season (as I peel sweet potatoes and chop pecans), here’s a list of the blessings, big and small, that fill my days and my heart.

1. My husband, who for eight years this week has said “yes” to facing this adventure of life with me (and three years ago promised to do so forever).
2. My family, who are far away, but who love and support me always.
3. My friends, literally scattered across the globe – some of whom I’ve never met in person, but all of whom bless me, all the time.
4. A steady job – I may grouse about commutes or tough projects, but I’m grateful for health insurance, a reliable paycheck and an office right near the Common.
5. Boston – so much history, so many cool cultural opportunities, so many reasons to love living here.
6. Our church, where we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow at a hilarious, delicious event called “Turkeypalooza.”
7. Journals, pens, books and computers – all those low-tech and high-tech gadgets that let me do what I love most – reading and writing.
8. Having enough – really more than enough – food, clothing, money to pay the bills, etc. I have more than I need. And I’m grateful.
9. Morning walks across the Common, currently filled with colored leaves, church bells and ever-changing skies.
10. Tea – how I love the warming ritual of a good steaming cup, and the flavors of my favorite blends.
11. Public transport – because I sure wouldn’t want to drive to work downtown.
12. Good news, whenever wherever however I hear it.
13. My reviewing gig for Shelf Awareness – good books and smart, funny co-reviewers.
14. The chance to make things, via baking, cooking, knitting, crafting or simply making the bed.
15. A few TV shows that make me laugh out loud (Friends, Castle, The Muppet Show, Mary Tyler Moore).
16. Music to work by, cook dinner by, listen to J play on the guitar, and sing on Sundays with friends.
17. Possibilities – like Dickinson, “I dwell in Possibility.”
18. Email, phones and social media – all the ways I keep in touch with the folks I love.
19. The new Muppet movie, which we are totally going to see this weekend.
20. The fact that I live in a country with a day set aside to practice gratitude – may we carry that spirit into the rest of the year.

This is not an exhaustive list, but now it’s your turn. What’s on your Thanksgiving list?

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(“thank you” seals available from K is for Calligraphy on Etsy)

Thanks
by W.S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

(from The Rain in the Trees, 1988)

I first read this poem as the epigraph to Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, and since then I’ve come back to it again and again. It captures so perfectly the practice of gratitude in an often dark world, where evil and good, darkness and light, heartbreak and hope, live side by side and (this is key) don’t always cancel one another out.

I also love the poem’s rhythm, the refrain of “thank yous” and the way it builds and builds in a mighty wave. And the last lines send chills down my spine every. single. time.

I’m saying thank you perhaps more than usual this week – it is Thanksgiving week, after all – but in some way or another, perhaps especially when confronted with darkness, I am always saying thank you.

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The red cups are back at Starbucks, the Salvation Army bell-ringers are jingling their cheer on the streets, and my inbox and mailbox are full of holiday gift guides. And November hasn’t hit the double digits yet.

I love the red cups (see above). I love the whole Christmas season – from decorations at home and around town to buying and making gifts, to the books, movies and music I revisit every year. I love the glittery-warm-fuzzy anticipation and the quiet reverence of Advent. And when November fades to grey, and the days are even shorter than they are now, you can bet I’ll be welcoming the holiday season with a cozy scarf around my neck and a cup of mint hot cocoa.

But meanwhile, this year, I’m determined to savor November – this month caught between the full glory of fall and the austere, stark, chilly beauty of winter. The leaves that haven’t fallen yet have finally reached their full brilliance, and my morning walks across the Common are a blaze of red, gold and orange:

In my kitchen, the flavors of apple crisp and pumpkin bread and butternut squash soup are still in their first flush. I’m making cranberry-orange bread too, and pulling out my cache of soup recipes (and adding a few new ones). The weekends are still warm enough to beckon me out for local adventures, and I’m storing up sunshine on every lunch break I can.

We tend, as a culture, to rush past the now in favor of anticipating the future, and we miss the moment – so many times. I’m definitely guilty of this, and while I’m looking forward to Christmas (and girding myself for the winter ahead), it isn’t here yet. And meanwhile there’s a whole month left to savor everything I love about fall.

Besides, in a couple weeks, J and I will celebrate our second Thanksgiving with dear Boston friends. I’ll make Mom’s sweet potato casserole topped with pecans and brown sugar, and bring it to our little church, where we’ll gather around folding tables in the basement and talk and eat and laugh and give thanks. I don’t want to gloss over Thanksgiving – either the day or the practice – this month. I want to enjoy all of November to its fullest before it’s gone.

Who’s with me? (And if you’re with me, how are you taking back November?)

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An odd, beautiful mix of old and new. My mom’s sweet potato casserole, topped with pecans and brown sugar; Abi’s cranberry-mandarin sauce; Fei-Ying’s Cajun chicken; Jill’s green bean casserole; a huge turkey; Desiree’s sushi. Candles and confetti leaves on a long table in the Brookline basement. Singing “Give Thanks” all together, a cappella, before the meal, as both prayer and blessing. Board games after dinner – Bananagrams, Sequence, Rock Band and Krokinole. Cups of tea from Abi’s enormous stash. Peanut butter balls and pumpkin pie.

Breakfast at Abi and Nate’s on Thanksgiving morning; scones and sausage and tea, and Thanksgiving episodes of Friends. Kelsey and Bailey, getting their first taste of Boston and nearly doubling the size of our little Boston coffee night on Tuesday. Wade and Kristin, playing tour guides on Friday; Daniel, insisting that the girls try Mike’s famous cannoli. (So. Delicious.)

Some quiet evenings with J, since we neither traveled nor hosted guests, and some attendant loneliness. Remembering Thanksgiving in Oxford, the only other one I’ve ever spent away from my parents and sister. A bit of sadness because I’m a grown-up now, and I live far away from my family, and things can’t ever be the same, not really, as they used to be. (And a teeny bit of jealousy for my sister, who spent Thanksgiving on the beach in Hawaii with her in-laws.)

I found it sometimes hard to be thankful this year. Since I am jobless and our community here is small, I spend a lot of time these days focusing on what we don’t have. But I am still deeply thankful for family, even if they are far away, and for our small, loving Boston circle, and for all the tastes and smells of the season. I’m thankful for my health, and for sunny, crisp autumn days, and for all the small blessings that abound here, and which I notice perhaps more since some of the big blessings are different or absent.

How was your Thanksgiving?

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