"Happiness is not a function of what we have…"

While reading an article in the Saturday Evening Post written by Russell Wild, I came across the following:

“Happiness is not a function of what we have, but rather a function of what we appreciate. Studies show that people who regularly express and experience genuine gratitude for what they have – family, a meal, work, health – are happier, healthier, and more successful in the long run,” says Dr. Ben-Shahar. He suggests that you might want to keep a journal in which you take daily written notes of all that you are most grateful for.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m likely related to the author somewhere on my Mom’s side of the family, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s right on target including this quote from Ben-Shahar.

Have you taken time today to express your own genuine gratitude for the blessings in your life?

"Living in Heaven will be fun…"

dsc_2044The kids took the news of Granddad’s death pretty well. We had prepared them, somewhat, for what was to come and, truthfully, their ability to cope with news and events of this sort dwarfs mine.

So it was really no surprise, though interesting, when Grace became the self-appointed escort at the visitation. Several times, she’d take someone’s hand and lead them up the center aisle to visit with Granddad. “You can touch him,” I overheard her telling someone.

A couple days later, Char is talking with Jack and he asked, “Mom, will you be in Heaven with me?” Playing on his devilish behavior, she answered, “Oh, Jack, I hope you make it to Heaven with me!” We all laughed, and then Grace and Abby began having a side conversation and Abby said, “Grace, living in Heaven will be fun: Granddaddy and Grandpa will be there. Jesus will be there… And you get to live in a box!”

"It is finished."

“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

On this Good Friday morning, I’m struck by the simplicity of this moment and the tension created by what followed. Jesus uttered, “It is finished” and then gave His spirit over, and it truly was the end of many things… the torture, the crucifixion, his suffering. But it was also the beginning of so much! The true beginning of the Church that would rise from the tragedy, the beginning of so many new lives in Christ, the beginning of our living with the knowledge that all he endured he had endured for us. And yet…

And yet, there is still so much suffering. The suffering of the sick, the down trodden, the oppressed. The helpless, the hopeless, the depressed. The lonely, the broken hearted, the lost. The poor, the hungry, and even the rich and well-fed. We are all suffering in so many ways, all waiting (hoping?) for the time when we might finally bow our own heads and give over our own spirits.

“It is finished,” He said. And it was. And yet…

The Fiery Sermon

[Ed. note: My sister Diane sent this to me recently and I thought it was a great illustration of the role we can all play in building better communities, faith-based or otherwise. /Jim]

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him.

It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited.

The pastor made himself at home but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet contemplation. As the one lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and dead.

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The Pastor glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow, once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.”

A White Envelope Christmas

[Note: I received this e-mail from a friend today and, like so many others, it’s impossible to apply attribution. In this case, however, it doesn’t matter. This is what I want for Christmas…

It’s just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas — oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it — the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma — the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he at tended.

Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church.

These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids — all kids — and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball, and lacrosse.

That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.

For each Christmas, I followed the tradition — one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad.

The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.

May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.