86,400 seconds

blogger’s note: If you’ve been following me for awhile, you willl recognize this post. There are many iterations of it on this site as it is one of my favorites. The season of Thanksgiving is here, one of my favorites, and I’ve begun focusing on gratitude in my daily devotions. In doing so, I want to express my appreciation for you and this opportunity to share my journey and lessons learned with the world. I am grateful for your support and fellowship.

When I first read this quote, I quickly thought, “Ugh, that one sounds like it comes from the front of a greeting card.”  I stopped for a moment and read it again, and that’s when I caught the word “one.”  Not “one” as in you only have one opportunity per day, but “one” as in you have this multitude of moments to say “thank you,” and have you even taken the time to just say it once?

We go through our days consumed by worries, concerns, and expectations.  Rather than looking for the grace God offers us, we complain about what is missing in our lives.  Rather than focus on the positive events around us, we see the glass half empty and wonder why we got short changed.   At times, we may feel broken or overwhelmed or stressed, and we wonder, “What do I have to be thankful for?”

Several years ago when I was in a dark period of my life, a guardian angel gave me a book about healing quilts, each one designed and crafted by a person experiencing a physical or emotional challenge.  One of the blankets had been created by a woman who had kept a list for a year.  Each day she named one thing for which she was thankful then at the end of the year, she printed them on fabric and created a work of art to celebrate her gratitude.Paragraph

That quilt inspired me to start a new journal.  Every day, I found five items for which I could give thanks.  Even on the most challenging days, I found 5 things~the checkout lady smiling at me as she rung up my groceries, the child hugging my leg as I entered a classroom, the feel of warm socks on a cold night, and so on.  After awhile, it didn’t seem so hard to find things to be grateful for so I took the next step and challenged myself to express my gratitude daily.

That is when the healing and forgiveness began.  Just letting others know how much I appreciated their help, their time, and their support encouraged me to stop focusing on the negative and start living in the positive.  It also reminded me that gratitude is not a feeling, it is an action—a practice we should engage in regularly.  Doing so not only nurtures our spirits but the spirits of others as well.

Let “thanksgiving” be a daily practice for you—there are 86,400 opportunities to practice thanksgiving daily—have you used just one?

lessons learned: resting in the Spirit (World Mental Health Day, October 10)

I shared this sermon at our contemplative service a handful of years ago during Mental Health Awareness Month in the UMC (May). In honor of World Mental Health Day (October 10), I’m reposting.  ~cameron

This week, I’ve been struck by the intermingling of mental health and spiritual health in several situations that have come my way.  Sometimes as people of faith, I believe we forget that “resting in the Spirit” can take many forms, including accessing supports for our health.  Let us not forget:  God is working through those avenues as well.  In this way, we, as a wounded people, can be assured that healing and help come in many forms.

When I was a child, my mother and I read several of the books from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie series.  I remember when she gave me the book entitled Farmer Boy, I looked at the cover with concern.  The cow on the right seemed to be in pain and struggling, and I thought maybe the thing around the cows’ necks was hurting it.

My mother explained that the “thing” was a yoke and was not made to be too tight; rather, it actually helped the cow.  Instead of one animal having to do all the work, the yoke allowed each animal to carry the burden of the work equally.  The animals’ journeying side-by-side could share the load.

28 Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Put My yoke upon your shoulders—it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. 30 For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30, The Voice

As I prepared my message for the contemplative service this week, I remembered this book cover.   When I revisited it with fresh eyes, I was drawn to the cow on the left.  The face, calm; the body, relaxed; the eyes, peaceful–it waits patiently and knowingly as if to be thinking, “Once you stop struggling, the pain and the burden will lighten.” The word that came to me was “gentle.”

As people of faith, we are quick to use the phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Sometimes, we use it as a way to console people when we’re not so sure what to say.

When I became a single parent and would break down crying at work, people shared these words with me.  I remember thinking, “It’s not God who’s giving me all this, it’s a grumpy preschooler and an overwhelming job and a life unexpected!”

What I came to realize over several months time, is that it’s not what God does or doesn’t give us that’s the issue.  Challenges, struggle, and pain will always be a part of life.  What’s important to remember is that God is there with us and beside us as we make the journey.  Even as we struggle or face challenges, God is there to lighten the load by sharing those burdens.  All we are asked to do is to surrender them.

In the United Methodist Church, May is lifted up as Mental Health Awareness month, and I share this information because of the scripture we are contemplating in our service today.  Surrendering to God takes many forms, including asking for help from those can be of support.  Just as doctors and nurses are instruments of God’s healing for our physical bodies, therapists, social workers, and spiritual directors are God’s instruments for the nurturing of our minds and spirits.  Taking care of ourselves should not be a stigma; rather, we are simply living out what scripture calls us to do–resting in the presence of grace and mercy to help ourselves heal.

As we live out our lives in the day-to-day, it is my prayer that we will not forget God’s invitation–sharing our burdens by turning to the gentle hands of the Holy Spirit.  It is there that the load is lightened.  It is there that we we find rest.

If you are seeking support for your own spiritual health, you can learn more about spiritual direction and access trained professionals at Spiritual Directors International.

If you are seeking support for emotional or behavioral health services, you can search for professional licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), licensed professional counselors (LPC), psychologists or psychiatrists in your area via several websites:

American Psychological Association

National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI)

Clinical Social Work Association

image in header for this blog post is a stock photo with photo credit

lessons learned: balance and sneezeweed

About a week or so ago, I had hit my limit–spiritually, emotionally and physically. Broken ribs, cluttered home, never ending projects, new transitions–all a part of life, I know, but my soul couldn’t wrestle with another thing.

On the way home from an event across town, I took a detour up to Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I needed space and air and light. I wanted quiet and peace and solace.

When I long for these things, I head outside. To paraphrase John Muir, to the mountains I must go.

Sitting with the flowers, trees, and sunset, however, I still felt restless–I couldn’t seem to find my breath or my center. I decided to spend some time with the bits of nature at the edge of the picnic area–the bee balm, the bitter sneezeweed and the mountain angelica with the evening sun and sleepy bees resting on their petals.

In one patch of sneezeweed, I found a series of weedy vines, reaching up with tiny tendrils and choking several of the wildflower stems and flowers. In a rush of emotion, I realized that’s how I felt–I was choking. Even though I knew in my head that this time in my life was a “season,” my heart struggled with the grasp of those tendrils of transition and injury.

I needed balance.

In the time since that epiphany, I have learned some important lessons–

  • when my world gets topsy turvy, I need to be more intentional about finding spaces that offer silence, solace, and sabbath, even if it means that I put everyone and everything aside and leave for awhile
  • if I think of a challenging time as a “season,” then I can see it for what it is–a period of time with a beginning and end
  • giving up my small daily routines, like morning devotion or evening yoga, make a sizable impact on my centeredness and balance; even the small routines have a steadying force when challenges or transitions come along
  • asking for help when I am emotionally choking is no different than someone asking for help when they are physically choking; sometimes, you just can’t go it alone

As I headed back down the mountain that I night, I settled into the peace of a cleared head and heart. I was able to return home, not necessarily re-energized but definitely feeling a little more hopeful and having a little more perspective.