If you are not ___________ (fill in the blank) you are not paying attention.
All that stuff out there is all those things.
At least to me.
And, all that stuff out there matters.
And makes a difference.
And demands our attention even if and when we are all of the above.
But today, I also offer this reminder.
Somewhere someone provided food for someone who was hungry.
Somewhere someone went the extra mile to help a stranger.
Somewhere someone called on someone who was sick.
Somewhere someone spent the day helping to make a home safer.
Somewhere someone stopped what they were doing to listen.
Somewhere someone looked another person in the eye.
Somewhere someone said Thank you and meant it.
Somewhere someone promised to love another.
Somewhere someone rocked a baby who was crying.
Somewhere someone read a book to a child.
Somewhere someone took a step towards their dream.
Somewhere someone got back up off the ground.
Somewhere someone spoke up for what is right.
Somewhere someone stood up for what is right.
Somewhere someone broke their silence.
Somewhere someone overcame their fear.
Maybe it was you.
And that matters.
And makes a difference.
And world of difference.
Our eyes met and we nodded at each other.
“How are you?” They said as we passed each other on the sidewalk.
“Fine. How are you?”
I was walking the dog and they were walking out of a store.
Polite pleasantries exchanged, we both went on our way.
But, for me, it turned out to be one of those light bulb above my head moments.
It was a beautiful morning.
Late summer coolness.
Blue sky with just a few clouds.
The type of mornings I love.
As I continued my walk I decided the next time someone asked me “How are you today?” I was going to respond with something I was grateful for. A few minutes later I had a chance to practice. I passed a friend who also was out walking his dog.
“Paul, how are you?” he called from across the street.
“I am grateful for such a beautiful morning.” I responded.
“You bet.” He said.
I haven’t had a chance to try it again…yet.
For years Meister Eckhart’s reflection sat in front of me on my desk.
“If the only prayer you ever say is Thank you. It will suffice.”
If nothing else, the discipline of pausing for a heartbeat and naming what I am grateful for in the ordinary moments of my life instead of just responding with the obligatory “Fine” will be beneficial to me. An unplanned whispered prayer. And maybe, like what happened this morning, it will help another person to respond with their version of “You bet.”
One unplanned prayer becomes two.
Whether it is enough, I don’t know.
But two prayers are better than none.
And, gratitude changes lives.
With the attack in Christchurch and the anticipation of the completion of the Mueller investigation and all the other craziness in the news and in the world around us, I wouldn’t be surprised if you missed this story. Tanitoluwa Adewumi, eight years old, an immigrant and homeless, won the New York State Chess championship for his age group. He began learning chess a year ago. Now, twelve months or so later, he is the New York State champion for his age group. I had seen the headline about this flash through my social media feed sometime this past week, but didn’t pay much attention to it. Then, this morning, I read Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed column in the New York Times. What a great story about people stepping up to help and of life falling into place for an eight year old and his family.
Besides the warm feeling I got reading the article, which not only highlighted what has unfolded for Tani and his family, it provided a much needed and very welcome reminder of the good in the world that too often gets drowned out by the noise. But, what struck me most in Kristof’s Op-Ed piece was the comment by Tani’s father found at the end of the article. When Tani and his family could have taken the money and run, Tani’s father said, “God has already blessed me. I want to release my blessing to others.”
I want to release my blessing to others.
When was the last time that thought seriously crossed your mind?
When was the last time you looked around at the fullness of your own life and rather than just feeling good and maybe whispering Thank you, you opened your heart and your checkbook and moved commitments around on your calendar and changed the top two priorities on your To Do list and did something to release your blessings? For me, it’s been awhile.
I don’t know how it is in your life.
I have a hard enough time figuring out my own.
But today I found myself wondering why it takes someone like Tani’s father to remind me, who, in the scheme of things, has so much, of what gratitude really looks life and feels like and acts like, and the difference it can and does make.
I woke up this morning to six inches of snow.
Boots and coat on, I coaxed our dog outside while I shoveled the front walk.
Then back inside for coffee.
Then outside again for more shoveling.
The driveway this time.
Taking a break
I reread the last chapter of the book I finished late last night.
Allowing the ending to sink in…
This afternoon I went to the state park to let our dog run.
And so I could walk.
Deep breaths of cold January air.
And pausing long enough to pay attention
To the beauty of the snow on the mountains and trees.
Then back home for dinner.
And a phone call.
And sitting for a few moments with our dog in my lap.
Is it enough to do what unfolds each day?
It is, I know.
But sometimes it is hard.
I am so used to being busy.
I am beginning to realize
What I need to do
Is to stop worrying about if what I am doing is enough
And, instead to pay attention to what is.
To say Thank you.
And to notice the grace wrapped up in each moment.
All those days and weeks
All the time gone by and spent
Those moments which once were
But will never again be
Except in some snippet of memory
Until some sight or sound
Pulls them to the surface
Where, for a moment, they live again.
Only to disappear
As I get older
The time in front of me is also precious
Numbered now in months or years
That I can count
The challenge for me today
Is to allow this moment
The one I have right now
With whatever it holds
To also be precious
As precious as those moments past
And the moments that are yet to be.
It was 20 years ago that I took my first trip to Nicaragua with the organization Bridges to Community. That winter we lived and worked in the community of Bilwi helping with the construction of a community center. Since that first trip 20 years ago, I have been in Nicaragua at least one time each year. At 4:15 tomorrow morning the group of us from Bedford Presbyterian who are going on this year’s trip will meet at the church, pile into cars and vans and head to the airport for this year’s trip.
These trips humble me.
For a few minutes I see the world as most of the world really is and not as it looks out my front door. These trips also teach me what gratitude looks likes and feels like. And, I am forced to make my neighborhood a bit larger and more inclusive. For all those things I am deeply grateful. I cannot imagine what my life world be like if I did not have these experiences.
And, because of these trips I understand the Bible in ways I never did before. The people with whom Jesus lived and to whom he spoke lived in situations and conditions much more like Las Conchitas or Nindiri, Nicaragua than Bedford, NY. Jesus saying, “In my father’s house there are many rooms…” (John 14) sounds very different to those who live in a one room house made of scraps of wood and metal and only dirt for a floor than to those of us who already live in homes with many rooms. And, when Jesus talks about a grand banquet (Luke 14 and elsewhere), that sounds very different to those who only have one, maybe two meals a day, consisting primarily of rice and beans than it does to those of us who have a banquet each day. These trips and the relationships I have made and what I have experienced and learned has deepened my faith and has helped me to see the world as God must see the world.
So, we leave tomorrow.
45 of us.
We will help build homes for four families.
And, just as important
We will learn something about ourselves and about the world and its people which God has entrusted to our care and keeping.