Geranium seeds

Seeds of wellness for body, mind and spirit

A New Year’s Prayer

cardback2012 I wrote this prayer to be published in a local magazine (“Fitness Plus”) in January of 2009. The magazine has since been discontinued and I thought I would share the prayer again… happy new year!

 

God of new beginnings,

We give you thanks for the gift of life.

Help us to welcome the new year with renewal and hopeful anticipation.

 

Forgive us for the hurts we have done to others and to ourselves,

For the love, forgiveness and help we have failed to offer,

For opportunities wasted.

 

Renew our faith and trust in you,

Mend our broken relationships and hearts,

And open our eyes to the beauty of your creation.

 

Help us to sense your presence in ordinary places,

Your image in ordinary faces,

Your peace in the midst of the busyness of life.

 

And as we make plans for another year,

Grant us the courage to hope,

To dream,

And to act.

Amen.

May your new year be filled with hope.

“This I call to my mind, therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great isYyour faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)

 

 

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Life is a gift… with an ode to joy

I’ve said this on this blog before, but after this week it bears saying again. Most nights when I rock Lucas to sleep it is a mostly sweet but still bittersweet moment for me. Having him snuggle up to me and run his fingers through my hair while I sing to him (sometimes he joins in, which is oh so sweet), or rocking this precious baby (toddler) in silence, then watching him fall asleep with that angelic face — that is very, very sweet. The bitter part comes with my full awareness that he will grow up too soon and be out of my arms, the knowledge that one day he will get hurt and I won’t be able to protect him from everything, and worse — my full awareness that we are not promised tomorrow and I simply do not know how many more times I will get to rock this precious child to sleep.

That may seem a little morbid but I can’t help it — I’m a hospice chaplain and I see people dying everyday. Young and old, people of every kind. People like me. Babies like my baby. It doesn’t depress me like many people think it might; knowing this has taught me the value of life and to appreciate it to its fullest.

This week the bittersweet moments have been even more bittersweet due to several events: first, a dear friend died on Monday. She was a happy, hardworking, active, wonderful person, mother, and friend. She had a nine year-old daughter who will miss her dearly. Then, a couple of friends experienced similar losses when two other parents of young children died this week. Finally, the shooting in Connecticut left us all numb and wild with grief at the thought of losing our own children.

A really great seminary professor of mine — John Claypool — used to say that “life is a gift.” His very young daughter died of cancer and he was later diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma — a nasty cancer that eventually took his life. And his response was this: life is a gift. It helped him to appreciate the time he was able to spend with his daughter, and the life he shared with his wife, family and friends.

That has always, always stayed with me. Life is a gift. Appreciate life.

By the way — here’s the back of our Christmas card this year!

cardback2012

And the front:

cardfront2012

And to finish up I have to share this with you… someone shared this on facebook today and I thought it was perfect timing since tomorrow we light the Advent candle of Joy… amidst all the grief! Flash mobs are awesome and this one is really special. Made me tear up! I hope it gives you some joy.

Peace, love and joy this season and always!! XOXO, Alice.

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Pastoral Care Week

Today I am reposting an entry I made for my hospice organization’s blog. This entry was based on a previous post I made on this blog, “Lessons in Healing Spiritual Pain: What Really Hurts,” which you can read in its entirety here.

During the week of October 21-27, we celebrate the work of chaplains and other spiritual care providers. This year, the theme of Pastoral Care Week is “Giving Voice.” Here is what is symbolized by the Giving Voice logo: “Giving voice is like a drop of rain that nurtures the earth, quenching thirst, and giving new birth to a voice that has been silenced. We listen to what is within, to the diversity of voices we hear, and assist in the weaving of voices in the teams we serve. The bird symbolizes new heights and new places to which our voices may soar.” (PastoralCareWeek.org)

When someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness, many questions find themselves bubbling to the surface: “Has my life mattered? Will I be remembered? Am I worthy of love and forgiveness? Have I done enough? Have I loved well? Will I find peace?” It is possible to conjecture that these questions have always been there, under the surface, to be dealt with at a later time or place. Spiritual pain can often be masked by roles or identities we wear, busy schedules, and prizes we collect along the way. When a terminal illness occurs, however, the masks are gradually stripped away as our usual distractions are no longer viable. What remains is our very core, the longings of our heart, and the essence of our soul.

Life threatening illnesses come uninvited, obtrusively into our lives. They are not warranted or deserved. But if we stop to listen, spiritual crises such as terminal illnesses can also be great teachers. They show us what is important to us and what needs to be healed in our spirits. They give us the opportunity to name needs formerly silenced, to offer and receive forgiveness formerly withheld, and to express gratitude and love formerly taken for granted.

Chaplains assist patients and families in giving voice to their concerns and expressions of meaning, and may also help families voice questions and concerns to God. Spiritual healing may occur even when physical cure is not possible. When patients and families feel heard they may find spiritual healing to be more powerful than they can express in words.

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What to do when we don’t know what to do

This is a longer post than usual, because it is the copy of the sermon I preached at my church this past Sunday (8/5/12). My pastor was off on vacation and asked me to fill in. We follow the lectionary at my church, and this week’s texts included Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and John 6:24-35. The sermon is based on these two texts.

What do you when you are struck by a life crisis and you find yourself in desperate need? It is probably safe to say that all or most people in this room would turn to God for comfort and help – but that is not all we do, is it? Some of us may cope with a crisis by arming ourselves with as much knowledge about the situation as we can – diving into books and studying whatever is afflicting us. Others may start problem-solving and attempting solutions on our own. Others may involve the justice system or the media in order to get enough attention and help from other people and means. Yet others may avoid thinking about the situation altogether by pretending like nothing is happening. It’s what it has been called the “flight or fight response.” And in our culture, at least, we give special credit to the ones who choose to fight, or who choose to do something about it.

After all, many of us believe in the saying, “God helps those who… help themselves.” Many of you may have also heard the joke about a man praying to win the lottery. There are many versions of this joke, but one version says that a very devout man prayed everyday that God would help him win the lottery. And everyday he would give money to charity to prove himself worthy of such a reward. But he never did win the lottery. So when this faithful man died, he went to heaven and came face to face with God. He asked, “God, I would have helped so many people if you had answered my prayer on earth and let me win the lottery. Why did you choose not to answer my prayer?” And God said, “My son, I would have done it, but you never bought a ticket!” Have you heard that before? However you feel about the lottery, the point of the joke is that if we want God to do something for us we should also be prepared to do our part. In other words, we should not expect God to do what we can do ourselves.

We believe that, don’t we? I think most of us would agree that it is not enough to ask for God’s help if we are unwilling to do our part. None of us would counsel a student to pray for God’s help with a test and not to worry about studying for it. That would be unwise or irresponsible. If one of us were diagnosed with something like high blood pressure or diabetes, we would pray for them, but we would also expect them to seek medical care and perhaps make some lifestyle changes to be well. It is only appropriate and sensible to do what we can, right?

What we are talking about is having initiative, taking responsibility, and being willing to work. Most of us have taken these values to heart. It seems to me that in this particular time and place in the history of humanity we have also really come to value self-sufficiency, or the ability to help your own self. “If you want something done well, you’d better… do it yourself.” “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” And the American dream is that you can do anything if you work at it hard enough. So we often meet a crisis or need with the expectation that we can and must do something. The problem sometimes is knowing what to do. And even more terrifying is realizing sometimes there is nothing in fact we can do to change things, no matter how hard we might try. And our self-empowering beliefs and inspiring and motivating sayings aren’t much help to us anymore.

We have all been there, in those impossible situations when we find ourselves helpless. We might be paralyzed by too many options; too many conflicting voices telling us what to do, what to try, where to turn for help. Or it might be that we have looked for just one possible course of action to take and have not come up with any real answer. Maybe it’s a relationship that has been broken and the other person refuses to reconcile with us. Maybe it is something that happened in the past which we cannot change. Maybe we are being laid off from a job or diagnosed with a devastating illness. There are some things we simply don’t have the power to prevent or to stop or to reverse.

It really can be anything, although many of you have probably thought about the terrible illnesses which have afflicted our church family lately and our own personal lives and families over the years. When I first started thinking about this sermon several weeks ago, I thought about my father, whom many of you know was diagnosed with ALS three years ago. ALS (aka Lou Gehrig ’s Disease) is a fatal illness for which there is no cure and no treatment. It’s one of those rare diseases that have no definite cause, and there is no way we know of to prevent it. As it often happens, my father was one of the healthiest and most health-conscious people I know: healthy diet and exercise, healthy social life and spiritual practices. He is also a physician so you can say he really believes in and has leaned on medicine and medical practices. When he was diagnosed with this disease, he consulted the best specialist in Brazil and also came to consult with a specialist in the United States to find out what he could do to keep the disease from progressing. All of the doctors said the same thing: there is no cure and there is nothing you can do to stop the progression of this illness. Wow. Nothing.

I remember one time last year when I visited my dad in Brazil and a group from his church came to the house to hold a service. All around the room, people started to share memories about how my father had cared for them as a doctor. It seemed that he had been directly or indirectly involved with the medical care of several people in the room at one time or another. A few people said, “If you weren’t for you, I might not have made it that time”. It was a very special and emotional moment for everyone and you could see that my father was grateful for that. But I could also sense the sadness that went along with that for everyone involved. How can it be that, someone who has helped so many people medically cannot find help for himself?

If you have been in a situation where you feel that helpless, you can appreciate how painful and frustrating that is. You see, we talk about doing our part and helping ourselves as if it is simply a noble and sensible thing to do. And it is. But it is also the way we try to gain some control over a situation that is suddenly out of our control. It’s a frightening place to be – when we have lost control over our lives. And so we may ask for God’s help, but at the same time we keep looking for something we can do ourselves to ensure that we will get the results we want and have some control back.

If you can appreciate the frustration of being helpless, then you can appreciate what the Israelites were going through as they wandered in the desert hungry and without food. And worse of all, there was nothing they could do about it. Just imagine with me those people walking and living in the desert desperately searching for some way to provide for themselves. These were people used to hard work. They would be ready and glad to be able to plant and work a garden, or to hunt for food or to work in any way they could. Only there was nothing for them to plant, no food to be gathered anywhere or animals to hunt.

We often judge the Israelites for complaining about being without food in the desert after God delivered them from slavery in Egypt in such a powerful way. But can you really blame them? They say, “In Egypt we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread… here we are going to die of hunger.” In Egypt they worked hard and were afflicted, it’s true. But they knew what to do then to survive. They knew how to work for their food and how to keep themselves alive. Here in this new world they didn’t know what to do anymore.

It seems to me that we might feel the same way when something out of our control or not of our choosing happens to us. We just want things to go back the way they used to be. Maybe life wasn’t perfect but we knew what to do. We knew the rules and how to survive. When life is disrupted we just may not know how to survive anymore.

Since it is so important to us to do our part, we might expect God to tell the Israelites, “OK; I’ll give you food, but you will have to work for it.” But that is not what God does. Instead, God tells them, “I have heard your grumbling and I will provide for you. I will send you quails in the evening for your meat, and during the day you will have bread from heaven. You can take as much bread as you need but you must not keep any bread for the next day. You will have enough for each day.” It seems that God anticipates what the Israelites were going to do when they found the manna; they would try to stock up as much as they could and hold onto it for when they needed it. Again, the need to do something that would give them some control. And why not? Today we would call that being pro-active. It’s good to plan for tomorrow; that is why we have savings accounts and retirement plans.

But God makes sure the Israelites don’t practices stocking up. The first day, a few people try to keep some leftover bread despite God’s warning, and the next day they found that the bread had become rotten and there were worms in it. The only time they were advised to keep leftover bread was the day before the Sabbath so they wouldn’t have to gather the bread on the Sabbath day.

Why is it that God won’t allow the Israelites to stock up on the bread? The Scripture suggests that God was testing their willingness to trust. We could see this in a very restrictive way: that God was making the Israelites pass this test of obedience in order to receive God’s blessing of food. But we can also see it in another light: that maybe God was offering a gift to the Israelites by placing limits on their ability to provide for themselves. Think about it this way: if God had allowed the Israelites to stock up on bread, surely there would be some who would work all day gathering bread to make sure they would have enough for their families. There might be some competition and people might take more than what they need out of fear that they might not have enough. And it is possible that some might not have enough because they might not be able to gather as much as the next person. But if everyone knows there is no use in gathering bread for tomorrow, there is a freedom in this. They know that their provision for tomorrow does not depend on their health or strength or ability or intelligence or anything to do with them. The next day’s provision depends solely on God’s mercy and compassion, and they can trust the bread will be there the next morning. So you see, maybe the blessing isn’t the bread itself, but knowing and trusting that God is with us and will provide for our tomorrow.

Isn’t this what Jesus was trying to say to the crowd that was asking him for bread? Earlier in the service we read the account of Jesus’ teaching to those who had eaten their fill of bread and fish after Jesus multiplied food for the multitude. They asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the work of God?” In other words, “Just tell us what to do, and we won’t have to come to you anymore. We saw the way you provided for our needs by multiplying that food. Teach us how to do that, and we will do for ourselves.” And what Jesus tells them is this: the bread or the working of the miracle isn’t the blessing. The life-giving bread that God provides is not a set of skills, or a special knowledge, or a physical solution. It is relationship; trust; presence. Jesus says, “The work of God is to believe in me. I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never hunger or thirst again.”

What do we do when we don’t know what to do? We realize that our peace does not come from our doing. It doesn’t mean that we become complacent, or that we stop doing what we know is right. It means that we let go of our belief that what we are able to do is what is most important, or that somehow our lives are worth more if we are able to do more. I can’t tell you how many times in my hospice work I hear people express that they feel worthless because they aren’t able to help themselves or others in the ways they feel they should. Our texts for today teach us that God values relationship more than our ability to produce.

When we don’t know what to do, we make room to be attentive to the moving of the Spirit inside of us. We take a moment to rest from our toils like God invited the Israelites to do on the Sabbath day. When we don’t know what to do, we surrender to the One who gives us life. That means that when we find ourselves very committed to a particular outcome and fearful that we might not get it if we don’t do all the right things, we take a deep breath and we decide to let go of our need for control and to trust that whatever happens will not destroy us. There will be provision for tomorrow because God is with us. Amen.

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I just might have a problem that you understand

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Bill Withers had it right. We all need someone to lean on sometimes.

Every now and then I need a reminder that I can’t do it all alone. I have this tendency to keep my thoughts and issues to myself, and to believe myself capable of handling multiple things without asking for help. Invariably I find myself overwhelmed and disappointed (maybe even surprised) at my not being able to somehow be superwoman. Then something or someone comes along to remind me that I am not supposed to do it all by myself and that relying on others and on God is part of the blessing and journey.

It has been one of these times lately. It’s not been anything big or out of the ordinary; I just found myself wandering again into the land of self-reliance or the fantasy of it.

I know it’s not just me because I run into this at work all the time. As some of you know, I work with people who are terminally ill. There are many painful things about being seriously ill at the end of life. But the one thing I seem to hear most of the time is how painful it is to lose one’s independence. People become very distraught at the thought of having to depend on others (whether loved ones or strangers) for regular functions of daily living.

It’s understandable. None of us would relish the loss of our ability to care for ourselves, or to walk unassisted, or even to drive. But it seems to me that at this particular time in history we have really come to worship self-reliance as if it is something to be most proud of. And the irony is that our sense of total independence is really just an illusion. We all do depend on each other whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. And who says dependence on others is really such a terrible thing? Just the opposite, it can and should be a gift.

I’ve been reminded these past few days that I am not alone and don’t have to try to do it all alone. Have you been there too?

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This has been a special season of Lent and Easter for me. We had such a moving Tennebrae service at church this past Thursday, when we remembered Jesus’ death with symbols such as the dimming of lights and the taking away of the Christ candle. I really wasn’t expecting the emotional response I had to the service. It reminded me of how important rituals really are. This morning, as we celebrated Easter, the symbolism and ritual grabbed me again. As we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection with the bringing back of the Christ candle, and as we rang our bells while singing Alleluias, my heart was soaring. A post from a fellow blogger came to mind, and I thought I’d share it with you.
Wishing you the joy of Easter!

unchained faith

Last week I posted the top 5 things I am tired of hearing in churches.  One of my readers pointed out another one, so I’m reserving it for a future date.  I think I may have to expand my list of migraine-inducing Church-ese.  I need more than a sentence or two for today’s Hated Slogan: “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

Let me unpack that one.  First, I don’t know where this idea that religion is bad came from.  Religion isn’t bad.  There can be people practicing it who do bad things.  There can be damaging theology attached to it.  There can be bad things done in its name.  But religion itself is not bad.

The word “religion” means rejoining.  I like that, because the practice of spiritual discipline, corporate worship, and God-honoring ritual are all things that should help us reconnect both to the Divine and to…

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Welcome, Springtime!

Happy first day of Spring!

My last post discussed the gift of “heightened awareness.” I hope you make time to notice beauty and blessing around you today. Nicole Nordeman’s song, “Every Season,” is a good invitation for this.

Here’s a treat for you as we welcome spring. Enjoy! ( the video and the season)

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Lessons in healing spiritual pain: what really hurts?

Who we are is enough.

Once a month, I meet with a couple of minister friends to encourage one another in our ministries and to simply catch up. We also read and discuss books to have a starting point for our conversations and to hopefully learn some new things. Right now we are reading The American Book of Living and Dying: Lessons in Healing Spiritual Pain by Richard Groves and Henriette Anne Klauser (guess who picked that book? Yes, it was me – the first “hospice”- like book we’ve read so far. And yes, I do recommend it).

At our last meeting, one of my friends pointed out this quote from the book: “The sick live in a different ‘time zone’ where every little thing is magnified. Things do not take on more meaning; the meaning is always there, we just do not pay attention. Heightened awareness is part of the gift.” (p. 104)

A lot of people think that working in hospice care is a depressing thing. At least that’s what I hear from a lot of folks when I tell them I’m a hospice chaplain. And it probably would be depressing if it weren’t for my genuine belief that end of life — whether it be the end of a long life or the tragic shortening of life by disease — brings opportunities, even gifts.

Some of the opportunities at the end of life may include reconciliation, leaving a legacy, meaningful conversations with loved ones, and even growth or transformation. One important (perhaps the most important of all) is that of healing spiritual (meaning-related, existential, relatedness, etc) pain.

When a terminal disease strikes or the end of life is near, it is normal for people to hope and pray for a miracle. I had this same inclination when my father was diagnosed with ALS. I just wanted my father to be rid of this disease and healthy again. Even though I had reflected many times on the subject of divine healing or miracles, this time it was personal (or more personal than it had ever been). It shook my theology again.

I must have prayed a thousand different prayers for my dad. Some for endurance, some for healing, some for discernment, most or all of them for peace. When physical healing doesn’t happen, sometimes people find comfort in their belief that their loved one will be healed in heaven. Sometimes people tell me, “My [loved one] will be healed one way or another.” I think that, for many people, heaven/eternal life is considered the ultimate healing from disease and the end of suffering.

That is fine and good. Here is where I differ: the ultimate healing may not be from physical illness but from spiritual pain. And maybe, just maybe, a terminal illness (or end of life) is exactly what is needed for this healing to happen. I am not saying God sends disease to people or that people deserve disease in any way. But I do believe that some of the best or deepest healing can happen in the crux of disease.

When I started out as a chaplain, I worked with the assumption that disease causes spiritual pain. When people are no longer able to participate in roles and activities they once found meaningful, and when they are preparing to say goodbye to loved ones, they are sure to experience spiritual pain. Now that I’ve been in this work for a few years (and especially since my own experience with my dad), I have come to the realization that life threatening disease may only shed light on the spiritual pain that has been there all the time.

One time I read someone’s description of spiritual care as making the connection between what hurts with what really hurts. It’s that nagging pain we come back to every now and then, the one that keeps us up at night. The very one we try to mask with our achievements and roles, with our labels/titles and gadgets.

Now imagine everything you have clung to as a means of identity is taken from you: your work, your ability to do things, maybe even the ability to think. That is what disease does to people. If we attach our sense of self-worth to any of those things, we are at peril of losing any sense of meaning. And that is why disease (and any other crisis) can also be a great teacher. If we are quickly cured from the disease, we might simply go back to attaching our worth to our job or role as this or that. But if we are not cured, then we are forced to face our pain and to come to terms with who we are at our core. When everything is stripped away, all that remains is our soul.

We don’t have to wait until we meet a crisis to start befriending the pain. I’ll confess my own pain: it’s that of not doing enough to matter, not being enough to be remembered. In the end, I think we all want to know our lives have mattered.

What really hurts for you?

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The power to bless, Part II (the difficult part)

As promised, here is part II of our discussion on blessing… even if it is a week late! (Sorry! We’ve had a crazy house the last couple of weeks!)

On my previous post, I talked about the natural and easy ways I have incorporated the act of blessing into my life (such as blessing my child and the people I serve at work). I say these are easy and natural because these blessings usually flow from a loving place. It’s easy to give my blessing to my child since I love him to pieces (and he is so cute and sweet!).

Lately I have been working on extending my blessings to others when I don’t necessarily feel like it. It takes some work on getting myself to that loving place before I can offer a genuine blessing. Being deliberate about this has made me more compassionate, and I trust that the people I am blessing are also benefitting from this practice.

I have been particularly focusing on when I am feeling judgmental about other people. If I am careful about paying attention to my thoughts, I realize that quite a few of them are judgmental! That is sobering, and it’s not who I want to be. The bottom line is, when I am thinking a judgmental thought, I am feeling better-than someone. That’s not OK. It takes a little bit of leg work for me to get from a place of judgement to a place of blessing, but this is how I’ve been tackling it:

When I first catch myself judging someone, I stop in my tracks by reciting the biblical verse in mind, “Judge not so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1).” Then (because I still need help getting to that loving place), I think of any statement that might contradict or challenge my initial judging statement. So, for instance, if I have thought, “This person is lazy!” I think of something that might render that false, such as “This person may be depressed,” or “This person works very hard on such and such.” Then I usually feel compassionate enough to bless this person in my mind.

This reminds me of that wonderful tradition (I think it’s Jewish – or maybe Sufi?) to ask yourself these questions about the words you are about to speak to/about someone: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

The second place where I have been laboring on blessing is when I am feeling envious of someone. This usually happens when someone close to me accomplishes something extraordinary, or something I’ve been wanting to accomplish myself. It can be something big like writing a book and having it published, or even something like having 100 people come to their zumba class when I’ve only had 25 (yes, friends, if this is you, I was envious). The bottom line is, when I am jealous, I am feeling less-than someone. That’s not OK either.

Fortunately I don’t have to do quite the same amount of legwork to get to a loving place in this situation, since what I am envious about is usually cause for celebration (and inspiration). When I find myself there (at envy) I recognize it for what it is, and ask God to help me celebrate their gifts. Then I usually feel free to send them a genuine blessing from my heart.

Now, the most difficult time for me to offer my blessing is when I am feeling hurt or damaged by someone. I am talking about those people who have really done terrible or unjust things to us or to our loved ones. This is the one time when I feel like offering a curse, rather than a blessing. We all have suffered injustices or abuse, and the worst or more hurtful ones usually come from someone in our immediate or extended family. That can leave us with ambiguous feelings toward people who are closest to us.

This is the one that requires the most work, and I have found that the work is ongoing. I used to think that when Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven, he meant to forgive an individual of 490 different things. Now I think he may have meant to forgive that person 490 times for one thing. At least that is how it works with me sometimes. I do not mean letting that person commit the same evil to you 490 times. I am talking about letting go of the curse, the urge to seek revenge, and the bitterness. And blessing the person — not the sin. After all, blessing is the invoking of God’s grace over someone.

It takes a lot to be able to say, “I bless you” to someone who has hurt us deeply (even if only in our mind). I know it because I still have trouble blessing a couple of individuals. Thankfully it is a work in progress and our efforts have blessings in themselves. Dr. Joan Borysenko (who wrote a book titled Seventy Times Seven — I’ve not read the book but it’s on my reading list) has studied forgiveness and its impact on health. She found that even making the effort to forgive someone is guaranteed to enhance the immune system. Isn’t that amazing? If I cannot get to a place where I can genuinely forgive or bless someone, I then ask God to help me get there. And if I am sooo angry that I don’t want to get there, then I ask God to help me be open to the work of forgiveness. I suppose that, if you do not even want to be open to it, you can go back even further and ask God to help you have the motivation for openness. Baby steps, my friends!

The bottom line is, when we’re feeling hurt/damaged, we’re also feeling victimized. Forgiving someone and extending our blessing also frees us from the identity of “the victim” toward a more empowering identity. Sometimes, when I am bothered by a memory of a time when I was victimized, I tell myself, “I am no longer in that place and am no longer a victim.”

By the way, in all these cases I am usually blessing people in my mind, which I believe does make a difference spiritually (or even energetically, if you will) and sometimes may be the most appropriate thing.  But in many cases, it doesn’t hurt to make the blessing more concrete by sending a note of thanks or encouragement or even forgiveness to the people you’ve blessed. I need more work on this follow-through part.

In keeping with the last post, here’s another video for you…  I love the accoustic version of LeAnn Rimes’ “What I cannot change” song and sometimes use it for the cooldown during my zumba class. I couldn’t find an official video with the accoustic version but here’s a beautiful video from The Harper Studio, promoting Rimes’ book with the same title:

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The power to bless, Part I (the easy part)

Blessings have become somewhat diluted in our culture. There’s the well-meaning “Bless you” when we sneeze, or “Have a blessed day!” when folks say goodbye. Here in the south, we also say “Bless his heart!” when someone does something touching or we feel sorry for them. And then there’s also the dismissive “God bless!” that’s become popular when someone does something with which we disagree — as if saying, “Do what you will. I could care less.”

The kind of blessing I want to talk about today goes a little deeper than that. It’s the kind of deliberate validation of another person that says, “May God’s favor be upon you,” or the deliberate setting of our intentions for extending grace unto another. I know, that sounds murky… I’m having a hard time articulating a definition for blessing. I trust you know what I mean. Let me know if you’ve got a good definition!

The Bible is full of examples of blessings. Sometimes we read about people praying for or requesting God’s blessing. Sometimes they are conferring blessings themselves — sometimes even blessing God. There are even exhortations to bless: “Bless, and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).  It turns out we do have the power to bless. Hopefully all of us have experienced what it’s like to give and receive a blessing, even if we don’t always use the language of blessing. Lately I have been more conscious about offering my blessing and it has really made a difference to me. Today, I will focus on the most natural ways I have incorporated blessings into my life (the easy stuff). Next week, I’ll discuss how I’ve been working on offering my blessing when it’s challenging or not-so-natural to do so (the hard stuff).

The sweetest and easiest way I have integrated blessing into my life is making sure that I bless my child every day. The most common times for me to bless Lucas are at bedtime (right before I place him in his crib) and when I drop him off at daycare. That way, I am blessing him at the start and end of each day, or blessing each day and night. I love the feeling of holding Lucas in my arms and whispering a blessing into his ears.

By the way, some families in Brazil have a neat tradition of having children request blessings from their parents when they are about to leave the house. We didn’t practice this in my family and I don’t know if it’s still practiced, but I remember seeing friends and cousins practice this within their families. It would go like this:

Child (as they’re leaving): “The blessing, Mom.”
Mother: “God bless you, son.”

Another easy way for me to tap into my power to bless is through my work as a chaplain. I often pray for God’s blessing upon the patients I see, frequently invoking blessing upon their bodies, upon the hands of the caregivers, and the instruments used in their care. I started doing this while doing a rotation in a children’s hospital during my chaplaincy training. When praying with children, I thought they needed something concrete to relate to. So, I started asking God to bless the IVs, medicines, needles and whatever else was being used to provide them medical care. Being specific in my prayers for blessing felt so meaningful to me that I carried it over to my ministry to adults. Now I always include an element of blessing in my prayers and I can always find something specific to bless.

In addition to requesting God’s blessing on my patients, I often offer my own blessing to them as well and sometimes encourage them to bless themselves. For example, the other day a patient expressed sadness about the fact that his legs are giving out on him and it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to walk. He described his legs as “weak” and “failing” him. When I offered prayer, I started by leading us into a blessing of his legs. Instead of weak and failing, I called them blessed and recounted all the ways in which his legs have served him well — how they have supported his weight for so many years and have taken him where he wanted to go, and how he has made good use of them in specific ways. And we blessed them in the state they are now to receive what they need.

I hope this gives you some ideas for blessing those around you. I would love to hear how you use blessing in your daily life. One thing I have noticed about blessing those I love is that the act of blessing always seems to involve an element of gratitude. When I bless Lucas at the end of the day, I can’t help but feel grateful for having him in my life. And the blessing of my patient’s legs was really a form of thanksgiving for what his legs have represented to him.

The more we learn about gratitude, the more it seems like it really is the key to happiness. It also does wonders for your health (check out some of the news articles on this compiled by the University of California. You’ll be amazed!). There is a myriad of ways of practicing gratitude, and extending our blessing can be one of them. And what a sweet way to count our blessings — by blessing them back!

With gratitude and blessings in mind, here’s a nice video from gratefulness.org. Watch this every morning and you’re sure to have a good day!

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