Tag Archives: gratitude

Small is Huge

Peace LilyRob and Ruth asked if we’d like houseplants they can’t move to their new home.  “Sure!” I responded.  Ruth, with a green thumb and a love for gardening, has a gazillion plants in her home.

While Rob fixed us Saturday brunch, the rest of us walked from room to room, choosing plant after plant for the brand new homeless shelter my husband manages, Compass at First Presbyterian Church of Seattle*.  We loaded 7-foot palms, Christmas cacti in bloom, weeping begonias and Aspidstra; plus tables and artwork, African masks, Peruvian baskets, and two bags of clothing into our pick-up.  The stark white, newly renovated rooms of the shelter need softening.  These would make a good start.

Of the four of us, only Mark realized how much this would mean to the shelter guests.

When we arrived at the shelter, guests emptied the truck in minutes.  One guest with a horticultural degree called each plant by its botanical name as it came in the door.  Another was reminded of the Christmas cacti that filled the deck of her childhood home in California.  A man whose calligraphy decorates the dining area brainstormed where to hang a large, colorful Picasso.  Yet another removed a safari shirt from a bag and, beaming, told me, “This is my Christmas present.”

As we drove home, we were a stew of conflicting feelings:  joy, humility, and gratitude, horror and rage.  We wiped silent tears and blew our noses.  We were lost for words.  How does one speak of the unabashed joy and gratitude we encountered as we delivered what seemed to us like mere plants?  How does one not feel humbled by the guests’ appreciation for the beauty such seemingly small things bring?  How does one articulate awe at the joy of such folk as they decorate a warm, safe, hope-filled shelter for themselves and future guests?   And how does are society justify throwing away people when they or their circumstances become difficult?

HomelessTents_Seattle_KIRO7_620-620x370The next morning, we brought a second load of plants.  It was like walking straight into a geyser of joy, gratitude, and pride.  Guests showed us plants from the day before which they had trimmed and watered as beautifully as if they were in an expensive nursery and which made the rooms softer and more human.  The shelter was full of hardship, resilience, joy and community.

Mark and I headed upstairs for worship.  The scripture read and discussed was a fitting close to Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of our preparations for Christmas.  As you proceed through the month of December, I pray it will stay with you as it has with me.  Even the small can be huge in impact.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Matthew 25:31-40

*The newest shelter in Seattle, Compass at First Presbyterian, provides a safe temporary home 24/7 for 80 men and 20 women from homeless encampments in Seattle.  Staff works intensively to locate permanent housing in 60 days, assembling documents such as photo IDs and birth certificates and helping with employment, medical and psychological care as needed.   King County has the third largest concentration homeless in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles, 11,643.


Ten Tips to Keep from Showing Your Feathers on Thanksgiving

In the hope that you and I will not add to the number of turkeys present at our Thanksgiving feasts, here’s a reprise of my Top Ten Thanksgiving Tips .

  1. Ask others about their life more than you talk about yours.
  2. Say, “It’s good to see you,” instead of, “Wow, you’ve gained weight.”
  3. Ask the host(s) periodically, “May I be helpful in some way?”
  4. Say, “You look fantastic” instead of, “Wow, you’ve lost a ton of weight.”
  5. Ask someone in a painful life circumstance, “How are you doing these days?”  Most people appreciate the inquiry, even if they choose not to share.
  6. Cut up your food, not people.
  7. Advocate for children not to be pressured for hugs and kisses.
  8. Avoid the turkeys in the room – except the bird on your plate.
  9. If you become a turkey, apologize and eat humble pie.
  10. Most important:  Put a pebble in your pocket and, each time you touch it, give thanks for something. Gratitude is the best antidote for feathers.

    Photo credit: http://bpdbd.net/turkey-bird/

Thanksgiving 2010

After the Thanksgiving feasts were finished yesterday, I sorted the day’s newspaper:  news in one stack, Black Friday ads in the other.  The front page of the Los Angeles Times caught my eye.  A large photo featured Mrs. Glaspy, mother of a former NFL player for the Cincinnati Bengals, Chris Henry.  Henry died one year ago at age 26 after falling out of a pick-up truck.

Mrs. Glaspy donated Henry’s organs for transplant after his death.  Recently she met several of the people who received her son’s organs.  The transplants had saved their life.  Families retained their loved ones and children still had their parents because of the good Carolyn Glaspy brought from Chris’s death. (For information on how to become an organ donor, contact Donate Life America at http://www.donatelife.net or 804-782-4920.) 

According to the article, Glaspy, the recipients, and their families spent a long time talking about the meaning of life and the ways Chris Henry’s life will always be with them.  David Zucchino closes the article with this image:

“Before Glaspy left, there was one more thing she needed.  She asked Elliott if she could listen to her son’s lungs.  Someone found a stethoscope.  Elliott inhaled deeply.  The mother of the late Chris Henry put the stethoscope to [Elliot’s] chest and heard her son’s lungs breathe, flowing cleanly, delivering life” (Lost Life Revives Four Others, David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, 11/25/1010).

Chris Henry’s life-giving transplants were the perfect antidote for the Black Friday ads sliding off my coffee table.  As I thumbed through ads, none of them seemed as important as they had before I read the Henry/Glaspy story.  Although there are items I want, there are none I need, I realized.

It sounds trite, but I already have what I need: life, family whom I love, good enough health, a home that’s more than comfortable, food to eat, and medical care.  There’s beauty in the world around me, friends with whom to connect, and faith that puts my life in a context larger than myself. I still need to find a tangible way to help others, but I won’t find that in stores.

As I reflected on the difference between want and need, one of my dogs stretched contentedly in the warmth coming from my fireplace.  The slippery ads went in the newspaper basket and I decided to stay home on Black Friday morning.  The replacement items we need will be on sale another day.

Thanksgiving evening was the perfect ending for a day given to gratitude:  a quiet candlelight dinner and a front page story about that which has value beyond money—love, life, and giving to others.  It was a Thanksgiving to remember.