Category Archives: Gratitude

What I learned from my aunt

In honour of my aunt’s 80th birthday, I’m re-posting a piece from a few years ago. Blessings to her again!

A woman on guitar beside a toddler on piano
Aunt Erma and my daughter entertain – 1997

My Aunt Erma celebrates a birthday today. She is a strong woman in a family of strong women. I’m proud to say that when the women in our family have an idea or a purpose, stand back.

From her I learned:

  • How to be authentic – You might not agree with my Aunt Erma’s opinions on any given matter, but you can be certain to know what they are. She never puts on airs or hides her true feelings behind a façade of false politeness. I admire her forthright approach to life and the authentic soul I see because of it.
  • How to tell a tale – My aunt has had many stories published in the local paper, and her writing group—The Henscratchers—published a book. I appreciate her ability to capture life in a story or a poem.
  • How to weather a storm – She has had more than her share of uncommon heartbreaking events in her life—the kind that knock you off your feet for more than a few days. I respect her strength and resilience in bouncing back, picking herself up and carrying on.
  • How to entertain a whole room – Give my Aunt Erma a guitar and some elbow room, and she’ll happily provide the songs for the night. She and her sisters (including my mother) have sung together at community events. I envy her enthusiastic ability to sing out without inhibition.
  • How to teach with calm assurance – My aunt was the kind of teacher who kept order in the classroom and expected the best from her students. She’s petite, so her authority came from her manner, not her stature.

There’s a whole lot of power packed into a diminutive woman in my Aunt Erma. I would say that she’s like her mother in that regard (my grandmother), but I’m not sure she’d like that. .

Like all strong women, she might have ruffled some feathers over the years. More than one person might have shaken their head and said, “Oh, that Erma . . .”

If I can live authentically, inspire with calm assurance, weather life’s storms with strength, live to tell the tale and entertain a whole room with songs, then I will be happy to ruffle a few feathers along my own way.

Book Cover for Pick of the Crop by the Henscratchers
The book published by her writing group.

Pussy willows in the wild

Do you buy yourself flowers?

I don’t. The frugal former farmgirl part of me is uncomfortable with impractical spending. Why spend money on a luxury that will die in a few days?

Praises be, I raised a city daughter who thinks differently. She willingly spends money on touches of beauty: plants with character, fresh flowers and unique throw pillows. (Frugal former farmgirl says, Throw pillows? Useless!)

three throw pillows, one with a Harry Potter Marauders' Map
Useless?

Last week my daughter brought home pussy willows.

Boom! She transported me back to my childhood farm near a wooded area where pussy willows grew wild. In my barn-chore gum rubber boots, I’d walk through the soggy marshland in the spring and run my fingers over the soft pussy willow buds.

I wondered how many people in our oh-so-urban society are lucky enough to have such a beautiful memory. I felt privileged and full of gratitude.

My daughter, spending her money so willingly, bought more than fresh flowers. She bought a long-forgotten cherished memory, an appreciation for my carefree childhood, and gratitude for how her different approach to life makes mine richer.

Those aren’t luxuries, and they won’t die in a few days.

Pussy willow buds

Pussy willows in the wild: Ontario Trees

It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here

There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.

I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.

I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.

I use it at church every week.

I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!

Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,

And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?

  • A service about an Old Testament story:
    • “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
    • “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
  • Communion:
    • “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
    • “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
  • The cross:
    • “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
    • “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
  • The organ:
    • “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
    • “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
  • A short sermon:
    • “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
    • “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
  • Children in church:
    • “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
    • “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
  • The hymns:
    • “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
    • “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
  • The prayers
    • “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
    • I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”

Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.

A pewter communion cup beside bread and a candle
The cup of hope and bread for the journey.

Devotion and transformation

“In every religious tradition there is a practice of devotion and a practice of transformation . . .
Devotion means trusting more in ourselves and in the path we follow. Transformation means to practice the things this path imposes on us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
city street with a large tree in the middle
Trusting in the path, and growing through what it brings us to do.

Jessie’s music: Rejoice and be glad in it.

Last week we travelled to the funeral of a friend who lived for 99 dynamic, gratitude-filled years.

During the service, the leader spoke about how Jessie made notes in her Bible beside meaningful passages.

“This is the day that God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

Beside that psalm, she had written, “I do! I do! I do!”

And she did.

Jessie had learned to persevere and find gratitude through the hardest times, including the loss of a spouse when she was a young mother of four children and, later, the death of one of those children. 

Almost ten years ago when she turned 90, I wrote this poem to rejoice and be glad in a friend. It was inspired by this Hafiz quote.

“I am the hole in a flute that God’s breath moves through.” 

Hafiz
Jessie's Music

The wind blows, tentative at first
Gentle lullabies for new life
“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”
First Steps
Inkwells in school desks
Hopscotch and hide-and-seek.

The breath wafts, bright youthful notes
Transcending the Great Depression
“We Sure Got Hard Times Now”
Never enough
Hand-me-downs
Sweets a treasured treat.

The wind gusts, stronger and unbending
Rising above war years all too real
“Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye”
War bonds
Silk stockings painted on
Evenings by the radio.

The breath carries, steady and assured
Young wife and mother in her home
“Teach Your Children”
Scraped knees
Hands on feverish foreheads
Love disguised as irritation.

The wind slows, a sombre requiem
The loss of those far too young
“Paint It Black”
Tears fall
I heard the news
Hugs shared through hurt.

The breath renews, harmonious and healing
The first laugh after the pain
“A Brand New Day”
Comforts shared
Scars fade
Looking to the future.

The breath moves, celebrating and dancing
Life not defined by age
“Never Grow Old”
Vivid grace
Her music
The breath of God.
Jessie and I sharing smiles and stories. 

Wonder walking in Britain

Last week one of my favourite bloggers, Roughwighting, wrote about adding an eighth day to the week: Wonder Day.

Eight Days a Week

Her Wonder Day would not be for work, worry, doing or wanting. It would be for walking, dancing, holding hands, contemplating and enjoying the sweetness of life. 

This week I’m wonder walking in London, England. As I walk and bump up against history on every block, I wonder and learn. As I meet new people, fall into the magic of West End theatre productions and expand my knowledge of British ales, I appreciate how “wonder” full the city is.

If a full Wonder Day is out of reach, even a Wonder Moment pivots a day from ordinary to holy. 

What in your environment right now makes you wonder about it?

What in your environment right now make you think, How wonder-full?

Enjoy an ordinary, holy Wonder Moment. 

Street Sign for Amen Corner Leading to Amen Court