A Different Kind of Gratitude

I cook at church. A lot.  I feed people whenever several gather, when fellowship around a meal is requested. What I don’t do is look for credit, for gratitude, because I know I am really doing it for me. The kitchen has fed my mental health, been my sanctuary, allowed me to get out of the house and serve without engaging too much. No one is ever sure if I am crying because of the onions or a broken heart. It is a blessing for me to be there. Thus as the thank you come in, I feel a twinge of guilt. I deflect, I try to explain how I am given a chance to breathe while I chop and prep and wash dishes. Rarely do folks understand, they still are grateful. It feels awkward, uncomfortable, wrong, to say you are welcome. Yet a gentlemen called me out on this very habit while I was still wearing my coat, when I had just walked into to service this past sunday and I have pondered his words ever since. 

His wife shared with me that someone in the first service had raised me up as a joy for a luncheon I had served the previous week. Yikes, I said. I should avoid first service people I said. Still coated, bearing the weight of my bible and my huge purse, I hadn’t even settled in yet and already someone was saying my name outlaid and telling me thank you. Danger Will Robinson! As his wife and I talked, he said, you know you could just say thank you for the compliment. Freeze frame, all movement stopped, no air in building. So I began to share with him how I am blessed by the opportunities to cook, so i started in the litany of blessings I receive. Yet he persisted, he didn’t let me go. He said it could be both and to say thank you. He said he sees women everyday at the university who have no ability to accept a compliment. He teaches them to do so. I learned in that moment to avoid this man and to also try to block his words but they won’t leave me alone. 

I know that men and women respond differently to praise. Yep, a huge generalization but still. Women deflect, they say “this old thing?” or “it was on sale” or “it is a blessing to me.” Men high five and joke and flex their muscles. and they say thank you.  I have long wondered at the difference, secretly felt pride in the humility women express.  Yes, I know how crazy that sounds and surely comes from some learned behavior as a child. Girls are demure, they look away shyly, they poo-poo praise. And more often than not, they feel under appreciated, they struggle to get recognition for their work, they are paid less and do more. They wonder why men on the same team get the spotlight and the glory. Girls, we are doing this to ourselves, in part because we can’t say thank you when receiving said credit, said compliments, said glory. 

I could argue that humility is Godlike, that our place in heaven will have more Milano cookies and mugs of always steaming coffee than the men who take credit in this world. In fact scripture says we are to do and pray and make food secretly, lest our rewards be here rather than at the feet of Jesus. I do argue that, usually. Yet this man’s words keep bugging me, are still rolling around in my mind days later. Maybe there is a way to have both. He told me, when someone gives you a present, you say thank you. Say thank you now, when they give the gift of gratitude. I personally don’t like wise men much, I prefer to keep my own twisted counsel. How can I argue with this logic?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. A day to show our grateful hearts to all around. Even in a horrible year, my heart swells with thanks for all that I have, all those who love me in spite of myself. Being grateful is not my challenge. Accepting gratitude is. Therefore, tomorrow, I will say thank you when someone says this is the best cheesecake they have ever eaten. I will say thank you when someone says they like my sweater, that old thing I have worn a hundred times. I will practice a new kind of gratitude. Maybe a little girl will witness these exchanges and wonder at my audacity and also say thank you when I tell her she set the table beautifully. Maybe the next time I see this man I will tell him he has been working on my soul, and thank him for it. Or more likely, I will duck into the kitchen and start up the dish machine, clean off the prep table. 

I am thankful for each of you who chose to take a moment and read my blog, for those of you who tell me my words matter to you. I am thankful for friends and family and friends who are family and I am thankful for being convicted before I get my coat off. The pastor can preach every week about our souls and I am truly marked by his sermons. Yet what happens in the hallway sometimes has more impact. Sorry Pastor, your people are preaching outside of the sanctuary and it is good. Thank you. You are welcome. On this Thanksgiving, will you join me in accepting gratitude as well as giving it?

Stella is 30

One of the gifts of finding God again is that I survived a hard day and didn’t crumble.  Yesterday was Stella’s 30th birthday, the 4th anniversary of her wedding and coincidentally, 4 years since I have seen my daughter.  While aching over the loss of this relationship, I was still able to celebrate her life and her presence on this earth. And I found joy.  All day joy as we cavorted with Plum, listening to giggles and chatter.  A bustling day as we sought ways to be occupied that didn’t involve screens on an unexpectedly unseasonably cold day.  We survived.

As we created 8 different colors of slime, as the glue plopped on the table and the food coloring stained our wooden island, I ached over the grandchildren who are not so indulged by grandparents who would foster a curiosity about science as well. As we coated the floor in baby powder to ensure maximum slipperiness, I imagined the day the house is filled with little feet sliding through the room.  As we bowled at the local university lanes and Chef gave up his turns to provide the most opportunities for Plum to practice, I could almost hear the lessons given to all the little girls who have yet to be taught by a patient grandpa.  I trust that one day we will be granted those chances, that our table will be surrounded by family again. I trust.

As I stole away a few minutes to crochet and consider all that my heart was wishing for, the boys took extra skein of yarn and created a disaster of traps upstairs, a tribute to the recent Home Alone binge Plum has enjoyed. Even as I reflected on the ones who were not filling my home, the ones who wouldn’t eat a cake or pie I made to celebrate this milestone birthday, the laughter filtered back down the stairs and into my soul. We love the ones who present, we beg God to bring the others back around. I knew my son was watching from above, relishing the ways we allow his own son to experience joy and fun and learning even as the messes pile up.  We kept living.

I don’t know what it will take, I fear what that might be, in order for her to call, text, email me again. I am sure though that one day it will happen and I will rejoice, forgetting the hurts as we begin anew. I will remember then as I do now all the years that preceded the estrangement, I will focus on the travels and parties and the every days that create a lifetime, that fill scrapbooks and facebook memories. I will glorify the One who builds bridges.

Happy 30th birthday my Stella, my Miss Pie.  I love you most, I love you forever. I imagined your day as you were the center of attention, as you ate some Boston Cream pie and taught your daughters to see their mom as a person also, one who is worthy of celebration and honor. Also, I pray you didn’t have to have pork chops for dinner. When you come back home, I will make your whatever you want, will welcome you as the prodigal daughter, we will feast and rejoice.  Until then, I know God has you.

Arrow Graduated

The first Sunday in November our church recognizes those who have passed on to be with God during the previous 12 months. A picture appears on the screen, a chime rings out as the name is spoken with reverence. This year was personal, this year my son would appear on the screen, just another reminder of what I was missing, how my heart was crushed by this grief. I knew it would be impossible to endure the service without tears, I didn’t expect the sobs that overtook me. More than the memorial services, this was the evidence that he is no longer with us. Yet something unexpected has happened since that chime rang out, since my smiling boy graced the screen. I saw not only what I have lost but what he has gained.

Most of these 11 months I have been angry at God, questioning why He didn’t save Arrow one more time. I felt tricked into believing in His power, I felt abandoned in my love for this child. When my pastor spoke about those people who all appeared on the screen, he opened my soul to a different perspective. Like a group of high school seniors, receiving their diplomas, ready to enter into the next phase of their journey, all those people on the screen, this class of saints, had entered into heaven. I saw the pictures of those my Arrow had joined, there were some real rock stars of the faith in his class. He is in amazing company. Further, my pastor reminded me that Arrow is no longer hindered by the demon of addiction, he is living his best life whole, without misery and pain and sorrow. He is finally who I knew he could be.

I heard a whisper this morning, a question from God, asking if I could see that He had had saved my boy. I realized that God had truly ached alongside us as we worried and cried and prayed for Arrow’s safety, for his freedom from drugs and alcohol. I heard God say, “Lisa, we tried everything and I knew it was time to bring him home, bring him closer to me. I will protect him for eternity. He is safe now.  You will one day see his smile, hear his laughter and you will rejoice as well.”  I know it sounds crazy, I rely on others to hear from our God, my hearing loss has been acute when it comes to the voice of God. Yet, still… today I heard the reassurance from the one who has suffered my anger and nudged others to comfort me in His place. I found a truth so deep in my soul that even I couldn’t ignore it, rebuff the knowledge. My arrow is safe and I no longer have anxiety bout the next phone call, about who might hurt him or who may be in the way of his drug-clouded choices. I know where my son is, I know who he is with.

His graduating class is one of true honor, some friends who I know are welcoming him and letting him know how much I miss him, they watched me grieve as well. I know he will be also be on the welcoming committee for those who come after.  He is safe.  He is whole.  He is watching his children grow, able to give his full attention to them finally. And I am able to forgive God and ask for forgiveness for my hardened heart. I get it. I finally see that he is indeed in a better place and he is a better man now.

I will surely still shed tears, I will spend some days sobbing over what I have lost. I will look at his son and see all the promise that Arrow once held as well. The anger though, that has surely evaporated, replaced with the breath of hope and unexplainable love that  entered my soul this morning.

Changing Time

The wonder of waking to see that my phone and the clock that has rested on the table on my Chef’s side of the bed are an hour apart, understanding that someone somewhere created a program to automatically adjust time while I slept on my device, leaving me with the chore of adjusting all the other clocks around the house to accuracy as time change Sunday arrives. Mentally considering each one that must be pulled from the wall, manually turned back to give an extra hour today, I can’t help but question why I should stop at just one hour, why not go back days, weeks, months. I was given an extra hour to sleep today but what if I had an extra year, 4 years, to go back and redo all the wrongs and the angry words and the missed calls and and and.  Where would I stop?

Ten and a half months have now passed since my son died, 7,665 hours that continuing to accrue and yet I am given this one extra? I want more, I want to go back years. I want to travel to the days of relationship with my daughter, I want to return to when her laughter filled my soul. I want to go back to the days before Arrow’s addiction charted a course we couldn’t alter, back to when he was silly and safe.  How many times must I twist the dial to get back to when life felt sweeter and full of possibility? Each day now brings me closer to the anniversary, December 29, which means all the first times so far have been preparation for this big event, the milestone that shows I have survived without him against what I have often desired. I made it through his birthday, his son’s, mine, Chef’s. Through holidays and spring flowers and starry nights and full moons, through little days and every damn Friday since I got that call that will always mark the before and after of my life. I could go back to before that, but really to set things right, I would have to go much further.

We must be careful with adjusting time, taking only that one hour. If I go back 9 years, I could mess up the sequence and never know my Plum, never hold that tiny baby and sing him to sleep, never teach him to drink from a cup and drop the bottle, never potty train this little boy or help him learn to sleep in the knowledge that he was safe and secure.  I wouldn’t hear his giggles and find Lego everywhere in my home. No, I must only take the 1 hour given, there is still too much to lose by going back which means I must have a reason to go forward. Just as I taught him to tie his shoes and step into the world with confidence, I take the next step and the next, stumbling and tripping and resting often, but moving ever forward.

Looking back is risky. My breathing slows, my thoughts create an impenetrable fog, I miss the sunlight on the leaves. Trusting that timing is above my station, that I cannot return to former days and cannot rush forward to a place where it doesn’t  hurt, I am left with today. One extra hour to wallow, to wonder, to wish, yet still the same 24. A fresh start, a chance to not make the same mistakes and seek forgiveness for those already committed. An opportunity to live into trust, that someone is programming the time to be exactly what I need. I’ll take that extra hour to be gentle with myself, I’ll offer kind words to someone who needs them, I’ll go to bed a bit early tonight and pray to visit with my children at least in my dreams.

How will you spend your extra hour today? May it bring you a sliver of peace and an offering of grace, a chance to tell someone you are sorry and you love them and you delight in their presence in your life. As we move the clocks back, we still must go forward awash in the grace of the Ultimate Timekeeper who understands every minute counts.