From Michael’s side of the bed…

January 23, 2017 | My Jottings

“Mom, I only miss Daddy when I’m breathing.”

— Mildred the Schnauzer

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How I Keep a Gratitude Journal

January 20, 2017 | My Jottings

I have shared a few times on my blog how I keep a gratitude journal, and what this discipline has done in my life. I know many of you already do this as well, but I have had enough comments from people through the years about how they’ve had difficulty establishing this tradition in their lives, so I thought I would write about how simple and life changing I have found it to be. My hope is that you might be encouraged to begin keeping your own journal full of thanksgiving to God, and that it will become a joy to you. And to the Lord.

I grew up in a home where I knew I was loved, but I can’t say I was surrounded by thankful people. I heard a lot of negativity and critical comments, not so much toward me, but in general. I think my temperament leans toward melancholy, so viewing the glass half empty always came more naturally than seeing it as half full. There have been many times in my life when I’ve been overwhelmed with depression or anxiety (the latter of which usually manifested itself in my trying to control situations). I can honestly say that when I started diligently writing my thanks out to God in 2011, things slowly began to change for me. My mind didn’t stay in the same ruts as long. I became slightly more resilient, emotionally. I consider it my antidepressant, and I honestly believe it changes my brain chemistry. I still need improvement there, but just to have seen God work in that area is such a blessing.

I had tried writing in a gratitude journal years ago, but when I didn’t write in it every day (I remember Oprah sharing how she wrote three things every single day for which she was thankful), I thought I was failing at it. See? You don’t finish what you start. You can’t even stay with it for a week. Thoughts like this were the enemies that made me feel I just couldn’t begin a discipline and stick with it.

After I read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts in 2011, I was so inspired I wanted to try again. This time I told myself the truth, that it didn’t matter if I wrote in my gratitude journal every single day, that I just needed to write in it regularly. If a week or even a month went by, I could still come back to it and write out my thanks and it wouldn’t be failing. It seems so sad to write those words, but this is the way I have thought at times. If something isn’t done just right, then it’s all wrong. Gah.

My friends Pat, Gail and Lorna gave me a gratitude journal in 2011 and I began right away, with a prayer that the Lord would open my eyes to all He has done for me, and all the gifts He continues to bestow each day. And prompted by what Ann Voskamp wrote in her book, I decided to look at each thing I wrote down as a personal gift from God to me. I rejected the thought that anything I listed was random, and decided to focus the eyes of my heart on God’s loving hands in my life, minute by minute.

I am now on my third gratitude journal. Here they are, lined up from first to current. I’m almost at the end of the black leather one and will be going to choose the next one soon. They have come to mean so much to me that I’m very intentional about picking one out — I know I will hold it and sit with it for months and months, so I want to like the way it looks and feels.

Everyone’s tastes are different, but I like a journal that is bendable and soft, so I will probably buy leather again. I also don’t want it to be too big. The black one above measures 6 inches wide by 8 1/4 inches high. It’s just the right size to handle my rather large writing, and small enough to tuck into my purse. I also know that I prefer blank journals with lines in them. By blank I mean that there aren’t printed sayings or quotes on the pages as you’ll see in one of the photos below. You might like that kind. Others who have artistic ability might like unlined journals so they can draw and doodle as they write.

I keep my gratitude journal by a chair in my bedroom, where I often sit in the mornings to do my Community Bible Study lesson — it’s the place where I read and pray most. If you have a chair in your bedroom but you rarely sit there, you might want to put your journal in a place where you are most frequently. Maybe the kitchen counter, or by your living room couch. Or your nightstand.

Sometimes I write two things down. Sometimes I write twenty. Sometimes I go for several days and don’t pick it up. Other times I might not miss a morning for a long time.

As often as I can, I try to remember the scripture verse from Psalm 100:4:

Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
   and His courts with praise!
   Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

And I remind myself that when I sit down in that plaid chair after I’ve seen my two foster women off to their jobs, I am entering the gates of God when I give Him my thanks. And if I praise Him, I’m going a little further in, right into His courts. I’ve tried picturing how that must look in the unseen realm and my imagination falls short, but I can tell you it’s a comfort to know that He tells us if we give Him thanks and praise, we come right onto His holy property, into His presence.

I have also learned to use my gratitude journal as a springboard for prayer. My prayers aren’t very long or eloquent, but sometimes what I write prompts me to end the thanks with a prayer. Below, on March 6, 2011, I was struck by being able to just buy groceries. What a lavish gift that was, when there are hungry people in the world. I don’t understand all of God’s ways or whys, but I want to thank Him for what I see. (You can click these photos to enlarge them if you like.)

For #336, I must have been quite aware of being sick with a sore throat, so I just thanked God in faith for what yet another sickness that year might have brought me to. If that sounds spiritual, it’s not very. I had been in bed off and on for weeks with a virus my body couldn’t shake that year, and I was feebly trying to preach to myself to give thanks no matter what.

The next photo is from my second gratitude journal in 2013. On April 4th I was looking at Michael napping, and saw our older Schnauzer Edith near him, snoring away. Why not thank God for that? My beloved husband, though already on the Parkinson’s decline that would eventually take his life, was next to me, and God had given me that blessing from His gracious hands that very day. And to top it all off, He let us have dogs we were crazy about, who made us laugh and delight in His sometimes quirky creation.

You can see that I also thanked God that He tells us to “fear not” hundreds of times in His Word — a fearful thought about our future must have intruded into my thoughts, and so I wrote down the antidote in my journal and made it a tiny prayer. That day the lemon juice in the chicken noodle soup made the list, as did being able to finish a foster report that was weighing on my mind. And who isn’t grateful for garbage pick up? Right at our curb!

I thank Him for friends and ask Him to bless them — short but heartfelt prayers. I thank Him for snow. For how able He is to bring light to darkness and life to deadness. You can see how random my thanks are.

In the photo below, this was some of what I wrote during the week of Michael’s dying, in February of 2015. There were nurses who helped us, visits from family and friends, kind words…all were gifts of mercy and compassion to me, from my Heavenly Father. Then I finally returned to my journal a couple of weeks after Michael’s move to heaven, and although I was so full of grief I wanted to thank the Lord for all the ways He showed Himself faithful and kind to us, even in such a huge loss. I consider even wanting to give thanks a grace from God. It is His doing.

And if you decide to keep your own gratitude journal, I encourage you to be sure to number each thanks you give to God. There’s something powerful and reorienting about seeing that He has blessed you thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of times, and that He is giving us eyes to see those blessings.

If you ever sit down to record God’s gifts and have a hard time, don’t be discouraged. Ask Him to help you. There have been hard times when I’ve sat in my chair, tears streaming down my face because of my husband’s illness or drama with a child, and I can’t think of what to write. During those times I have written my thanks for being able to see the color red on a pillow, for water coming out of my faucet, for mobility, for the gift of being able to pick up a pen and write words. If you can only scribble out a terse thank you to God for the simplest, barest of things, I believe there is deep beauty in that.

I’ve been asked several times if I ever thank God more than once for the same thing. Yes I do! If I’m thankful for it more than once, I write it down if it comes to mind again.

Below you can see that I thanked God for “peeing without pain.” Years ago I had bladder surgery and could not easily or comfortably pee for several horrid days. I promised the Lord I would never take the simple act of urination for granted again, and apparently that morning, I remembered to thank Him for such an overlooked blessing in #4539.

Couscous salad, deer, peeing, salvation, financial provision — they have all found their way into my thanks to the Lord.

Below, I was grateful for tree roots, for a tiny bird, for His power to change me, for a granddaughter… I write it all down.

Even though I may not write the words “thank you” in each numbered thing I’m grateful for, I’m making them a prayer in my heart as I write. Blue hydrangeas in my front yard — thank you Jesus! You designed them, you gave me this home, you give me the sight to see them. I don’t want you to place delights and graces in my life and be saddened by my ignoring them, Lord.

Often on the same page, I move from reveling in hydrangeas, to thanking God for a dear friend, to despairing about myself. I try to turn that into a prayer, as you can see in #5250, from October 5, 2015.

Below, I saw that the Lord brought protection, a paying vocation, time alone to work on a presentation, a wonderful group of women at CBS to lead in a core group, a comforting time at a grief support group meeting, a visit from a friend, an invitation from a daughter.

Some might ask, how do I know these are all specific gifts that God literally planned and gave to me on any given day? James 1:17 says: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 

Sometimes the things God allows don’t always feel like “good gifts,” but we know that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, so when those times come, I ask God for the grace to write something anyway, and to make it a prayer.

There are many words in my gratitude journals that I wouldn’t want to make public, and I think that would be the same for all of us. There are days when I have written something similar to this: #6073 — Lord, I thank you that you are able to break through my sorrow and that there is purpose to my life no matter what I feel. Or #5914 — Lord, you know how paralyzed I feel by what is happening. I thank you that I can trust you. Or #1745 — I thank you that your well of mercy never dries up, Lord. Forgive me again. Help me, dear Jesus. I’m trying to be honest with Him, yet am still determined to give thanks.

One of the most convicting verses in scripture I’ve ever read is Romans 1:21:

For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

I see a sobering progression there — someone can know God, but not honor Him or give thanks to Him, and then something dangerously real happens in their mind and their thinking becomes futile, and then their foolish hearts become dark. Whoa. I have been there. I have gone many years without actively and intentionally giving thanks to God, and I can remember my futile thinking and my darkened heart.

The converse of that verse could be: He/she knew God, honored Him and gave thanks to Him, and their thinking became productive and fruitful, and light blazed in their hearts. I believe that’s what can happen when we practice the joyful discipline of keeping a gratitude journal.

And you probably know these verses:

Psalm 9:1:

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

I believe keeping a gratitude journal is a way to recount all of the Lord’s wonderful deeds.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The converse of the above two verses from Philippians could be: Be anxious about every little thing and worry about things constantly, don’t pray, don’t bring all your cares and concerns to the Lord with thanksgiving, and then the most desperate anxiety and misery will imprison your hearts and minds.

I have been there. The misery and pain cannot be overstated. I know some of you truly understand what I’m talking about.

And in all honesty, I am not sure I won’t go there again. I am a human prone to perceiving things darkly, always thinking the worst is yet to come, and I have not by any means arrived in terms of always rejoicing and always giving thanks. Just last week something happened that almost did me in. I felt paralyzed with grief and fear and could not bring myself to give thanks. It took a few days for the desperation to fade so I could sit down and pick up my gratitude journal again. But I am asking God to enable me to keep this blessed discipline for as long as I live. I feel more mentally stable than I used to when I was a young woman, and I believe God has touched my mind and taught me how to stay in hope and thanksgiving.

Even though giving thanks has been such a blessing in my life, I truly want it to be a blessing to my Heavenly Father. I have too many times been an ungrateful daughter. I want to give Him a gift in return for all He has given to me. I want Him to see me thanking Him over and over, and I dare to hope that it has made Him smile. Too much of my life has not been pleasing to Him.

How about you? I would love to know if you have ever kept your own gratitude journal. If so, what kinds of things do you record? If not, would you like to begin?

And today, what little (or big) things are you thankful to God for? Take all the space you need in the comments below. It will be a joy to read!


Wednesday’s Word — Edition 133

January 11, 2017 | My Jottings

“God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones”

“God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances — things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.”

–Joni Eareckson Tada

Countering the white, grey and cold

January 5, 2017 | My Jottings

My mom used to make a marinated salad she called gazpacho salad, and when I was young I didn’t think it was that great, because I didn’t like tomatoes, cucumbers, onions or green peppers. Now that I’m old and have come to my senses in some areas, I love those vegetables.

I make this salad pretty often, especially in winter, when the bitter cold of northern Minnesota closes in and makes one feel like everything is white, grey and dangerous. This salad feels the opposite of white, grey and dangerous, because it’s so colorful and healthy. It’s definitely not a dangerous salad, I think I can declare that with some confidence.

Here’s a photo of someone else’s chopped gazpacho salad that looks close to what I’ve made for the past few decades, but not exactly. I don’t use parsley, although it would be good, and I use green onions instead of the purple in the picture. And my cucumber ratio is higher. 🙂

Let me tell you how I make my mom’s chopped gazpacho salad, and what I serve it with.

You’ll need only six vegetables. Sometimes when I’m grocery shopping and at the last minute think of making my mom’s chopped gazpacho salad, I remind myself there are six vegetables, and count on my fingers until the items are all safely in my cart, because I’ve come home with five before and then the whole week is ruined. For the huge storage container I made of this deliciousness yesterday, I used:

2 large (English, ridged, in plastic wrap) cucumbers, unpeeled
8 ripe Roma tomatoes
2 green peppers
6 green onions (or scallions), green and white parts
6 stalks celery
12 radishes
red wine vinegar
olive oil

Wash all the vegetables and remove stems, roots, leaves, where applicable.

Cut all the vegetables up into small cubes, slightly smaller than a pair of dice found in a game. They don’t have to be perfect, but the more uniform they are, the prettier. Of course you can’t cut celery or green onions into perfect cubes, but keeping the pieces around that size is good.

Toss everything together and then add about 1/3-1/2 cup of red wine vinegar, 2 T. olive oil, 1-2 t. sugar, 1 t. salt and 8 grinds of black pepper. Toss again, and put in the fridge to marinate for a while. Taste the salad to see if you think it needs more seasoning. The salt helps draw out the moisture from the vegetables and makes the most delicious juice — just stir the salad when you’re going to serve it, to coat everything a bit.

Serving suggestions:

On baked potatoes
In omelets or with scrambled eggs
As the perfect side salad with tacos, enchiladas, lasagna, spaghetti
Serve a spoonful on top of your homemade tacos or in burritos or on a taco salad
On top of crusty, warm slices of french bread
Pressed into the bottom slice of the soft roll used for sub sandwiches, before adding meat, etc.
Piled in a bowl and eaten plain (and a slice of French bread to soak up the juices is yummy too)

My fosters enjoy this salad, and it never lasts long when I make a big batch of it. If you make it, don’t ever skimp on the tomatoes and/or cukes. I’ve made batches with fewer radishes, but I usually wait until I have all six veggies before making it.

Yesterday as I sat at the kitchen counter and chopped everything, I listened to this song on repeat. It’s one of those nostalgic, yearning songs for me. Michael used to listen to Christian radio when he worked and drove, and a few months ago the memory of this song came back to me, so I found it online. I remembered that it used to be played quite a bit at night, and we often heard it on his clock radio by our bed as we drifted off to sleep. Is anyone familiar with it?

It got so cold here last night my house started booming. Apparently when the temperatures plummet (it was -15 Fahrenheit, -26 Celsius here), it’s not unusual for wooden rafters, joists, outside walls and roofs to contract enough to make loud sounds. I read online that some people say it’s like a gunshot. I would describe the sounds I hear as booms — deeper and scarier. Like a boulder was thrown against the house or dropped on the roof. The booms are so loud they cause Millie to go from a sleeping circle-dog to a vibrating pooch on all four legs in a split second.

I’ve said it before — January in Minnesota feels dangerous to me.

So I think making a very non-dangerous salad is what is called for.

Pity New Year!

January 1, 2017 | My Jottings

It’s 2017, and like the futuristic movies of decades ago predicted about the 2000s, we are not living on other planets, do not have little space cars to zip us around like The Jetsons, and communication with alien beings has not been established. At least to my knowledge. In spite of this, I do hope 2017 brings you many joys and much answered prayer.

In the grief support group for seniors I’m attending, I keep hearing how the second year of grieving the loss of a spouse is often harder than the first. I wasn’t sure that would be the case with me, because the first year of being without Michael brought such depths of sorrow I couldn’t imagine year two being worse. But I am finding that it’s true. Somehow the second year seems longer, drearier, bleaker, and more real than the first. I don’t know how to explain it well, but I feel it. And in spite of being a very thankful person, I have been awash in pity these last couple of weeks. In a sadly self-focused way, I have been dwelling on all the things Michael used to do in our home and for me, and all the things about his presence I miss. Were there things about Michael that weren’t perfect? Oh yes. And the same with me. I remember some hard times. I think that’s probably true for most people. But he was a man who let the Lord mold and refine him over the years. And I was the blessed recipient of that work.

I miss how he used to get up before me and get all the meds ready for our fosters, start breakfast, make coffee.

I miss how he whistled and sang every morning of his life after coming to Christ, setting the tone for the day in our home.

I miss how after our fosters were safely off to their jobs each morning, he would say, “Let’s go upstairs and read,” and we would sit in this spot with our tea, and read the Bible and pray together.

I miss hearing Michael pray. I can’t think of one person I would have rather had pray for me, because he prayed humbly and fervently, and I believed by listening to Michael pray that God was going to quickly answer those prayers in beautiful ways.

I miss that Michael shoveled the snow and enjoyed doing it.

I miss how after dinner he wanted to sit on the couch and watch a British show together (Foyle’s War, Pride and Prejudice, Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, to name a few), and he would rub my feet as we watched.

I miss going out to lunch with him each week, and how we used to share the little dolcini desserts at The Olive Garden after our soup and salad meal.

I miss our walks in the Lester Woods and how he knew so many trees and plants and insects.

I miss how he would say nice things about me to our children.

I miss how he used to kiss me almost every time we had to wait in a line at the grocery store.

I miss how hardworking he was, how he provided for our family and took pleasure in his work.

I miss how he loved church, and singing and praising the Lord with other believers.

I miss how much people loved Michael.

I miss how he always smelled good.

I miss how he always believed the best about people.

I miss how he never once in 33 years neglected to thank me or compliment me on the meal I had cooked.

I miss how he told me he felt “twitterpated” when he would see me drive into our driveway after running errands.

I miss what an example he was in never complaining about things.

I miss how birds and animals were drawn to him in remarkable ways.

I miss seeing him refill our bird feeders, and smile when the tiniest chickadee would flutter to the new seeds.

I miss how much he loved his sister Patty. He loved her so much that just to talk about her brought tears to his eyes. I have two brothers who have not truly loved me (in fact have treated me hatefully), and Michael’s tenderness toward his only sibling was a joy to behold.

I loved and miss how forgiving he was. When he forgave, that offense was gone. Forever.

I loved how his voice sounded on the phone, asking me to marry him before we ever met.

I miss keeping company with a man who thought of the troubled young man’s soul who killed Michael’s parents in a terrible car accident, and how Michael went to the jail to visit him and tell him there was hope and love in Jesus. And that he (Michael) ought to know.

I miss his huge, kind eyes, and his smile.

I miss that no one has ever loved me like Michael did. Which says a lot about his strength of character, since at times I’ve been a high-maintenance wife.

I love and miss how rugged and masculine he was — he never apologized for being a hunter, a fisherman, and for his closet full of plaid flannel shirts and torn jeans.

I miss how soft his heart was underneath that ruggedness.

I miss how Michael was never afraid to apologize when needed.

I miss his generosity. I miss him getting excited and seeing the twinkle in his eyes about picking out someone to bless, like the single mother at the grocery store who needed her bill paid anonymously or the harried waitress who needed the $50 tip.

I miss my husband. And I guess I’ve got some pity going on. I know I won’t stay here. But this is the truth today.