Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Daily Dose of Thanksgiving

I spent some time last week writing my thoughts on gratitude (Thanks Be to God). This week I came across an article by a psychology professor from Rutgers University who wrote about the positive impact gratitude can have on your health. Though not a faith-based article, the suggestions echoed some of the advice I gave to families in last week's post. The author, Maurice Elias, said,

Researchers . . . as well as studies . . . Have found that keeping a daily gratitude journal, showing appreciation when others give you even minor help, and delivering overdue gratitude to someone who helped you a long time ago all have beneficial effects; those expressions of gratitude that directly involve others often move them to be more appreciative of and helpful to the next people they may meet. (Elias, Maurice, Gratitude Builds Character and Health,

No surprise here . . . gratitude is good for you! 

Giving Thanks in Prayer
Many of the biblical psalms are messages of thanksgiving, like Psalm 118 that praises God's goodness and kindness: "Give thanks to The Lord, for He is good, His mercy endures forever." (118:1) At St. Pius V Catholic School, we teach the students to offer thanks as part of their prayers-- not just petitions asking God for His intervention. Our goal is not just to develop "Healthy People" (one of our Schoolwide Learning Expectations) in body, but also in mind and soul. In my own home, our family prayer begins with "Thank you, Jesus" after which we recall even the littlest things with which God has blessed us-- a call from a friend, special time with a grandparent, or a great dinner. 

A daily dose of gratitude in our children's prayer time before bed or when waking up each morning can help them develop the attitude of gratitude necessary not just to by physically and emotionally healthy, but also spiritually healthy and focused on God's will for their lives. 

Photo credit: muffintinmom via photopin cc

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanks Be to God

Examples of Thankfulness
Probably each of us knows someone who just oozes gratitude and thankfulness. I'm talking about that person in your life who never seems to focus on what he or she doesn't have, but is always grateful for the gifts and blessings of his or her life. Even in dark or difficult moments, this person has an attitude of gratitude that often surprises us and leaves us in awe. 

Although I've met many people like this in the last few years, one stands out. She came from what many people would consider humble beginnings, and she lived with energy and enthusiasm, loving life no matter what the circumstances. She'd often punctuate her sentences with a "Praise God" or "Thank you, Jesus." For her, each moment-- whether positive or negative-- was a gift from God, drawing us closer to Him. Even during a struggle with illness, she remained positive. Clearly, gratefulness was not something she put on occasionally like a jacket or hat, but it was part of the very fabric of her being.

Gratitude Genes
As I get older, I long for that same kind of gratitude to run deep into the core of my being, to be ingrained into my DNA so that I might be grateful without thinking about it. I'd love to be focused not on what is missing, what I don't have, what could be better, or what needs to change, but on the gifts God has given me, no matter how small.

I don't have all of the answers, but I think the key is what (or whom) you're looking at. As long as my eyes are focused on the gifts, it's easy to become negative and disheartened during those times when the gifts don't seem to be flowing my way. However, if my eyes are focused on the Giver of those gifts, and my heart is focused on the way He loves me, then everything becomes a gift, whether positive or negative on the surface.

Thankful Children
As for our kids, it becomes pretty obvious that giving them the "gratitude gene" isn't something that can happen during the last few days before Thanksgiving (although it's never too late to start!). Gratitude can become part of the family DNA over time through a daily focus on "thanks giving" that becomes part of the family history, and by keeping the family's focus on the "Giver" and not the "gifts."

  • What are those big family milestones with which God has blessed us?
  • In what ways has God brought healing to our family? Happiness? Sustenance? Joy?
  • How was God present during our difficulties? Where was He in the midst of the storm?
  • And most importantly, How has God promised to care for us and be faithful to His promises? How has He demonstrated His love for us?  
Bringing these reflections into family prayer time regularly just might help our children develop the gratitude gene.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and God Bless You.

Photo credit: rustiqueart via photopin cc

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Space Alien Sitting Next to Me

As I sit at my kitchen table composing this blog, something resembling a miniature human being (left) with a familiar face is sitting in a high chair next to me yelling, giggling, and gurgling "AhhhDadadadada!" 

Of course, the only logical explanation is that extra-terrestrials exist and they've invaded my home. 

Yes, I typed "logical." 

After all, she can't be my daughter (left). My daughter was just born in February. My beautiful baby girl was only a little longer than my forearm. I could carry her like a football! She could occasionally muster up a blood-curdling scream, but she spent most of her time sleeping, blinking, soiling diapers, and such.

At some point, this E.T. must have transported into the kids' bedroom in the middle of the night, replacing my little infant. (They took her brother years ago.) This creature that now lives in our home and masquerades as our daughter is over three times the weight and twice the length of my missing infant! It holds its own bottle, eats at the table with the rest of the family, pulls itself up on its knees to look over the side of its crib, and has two teeth jutting from its lower jaw.

It Happens So Fast
As a parent I don't have to tell you twice. Tempting as it is to go with the space alien/E.T. excuse (how else to justify their behavior sometimes?), they really do grow up that fast. 

So no matter how much we think about it, pray about, read blogs and books about it-- the fact that it happens so fast means that an essential ingredient in growing faith-filled kids is letting go and entrusting them to our Lord (who is beyond time . . . In other words, He can keep up with them).

Now go hug your space alien, tell 'em you love 'em, and while you're at it, tell them that God loves them, too.  

Have a great week. God Bless!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What My Garden Taught Me About Parenting

About six years ago, a certain type of weed began to crop up in my backyard. I didn't think too much about it at first. After all, there were only a few scattered throughout my lawn. At first I just mowed it with the rest of the grass and moved on to other weekend pursuits. I didn't want to take the extra time to do what was necessary to remove the weeds. As the season passed into summer, the weed seemed to disappear, and I believed the problem to be resolved.

The following year, that same weed came back . . . with a vengeance. Obviously, it hadn't gone away by itself but had actually been seeding and preparing to grow again when the weather turned warm and the soil moist. Ignoring it and just mowing over it like last year was not going to work. That approach had done nothing to rid my yard of the intruder. In fact, ignoring it like that had actually given the weed an opportunity to spread. 

My first attempt at removing it was unsuccessful-- I grabbed at the stem and pulled. Little did I realize that the base of the stems remained firmly implanted in my lawn, so within three days, the weeds had grown back. Apparently, I'd have to go after the roots. After digging down to the roots I discovered something amazing. This seemingly harmless weed had been able to infiltrate my entire lawn by shooting out stems (rhizomes, for you science-types . . . I did the research) sideways underground that then sprouted another weed a few inches away and created a subterranean network that required extensive work to remove. 

By now, you are probably questioning my gardening skills (as well you should). I'm no green thumb. I was never one for spending too much time in the yard, and I definitely learned a lesson the hard way about tending my garden. However, my gardening failure resulted in a spiritual insight: just as natural gardens require constant, regular attention to prevent them from becoming overrun by weeds, our "spiritual garden"-- our soul-- requires similar consistent, vigilant attention to keep them from being overrun by sin.

The Garden of Our Souls
Just like those few, untended weeds spread throughout my yard and almost ruined it, a single harsh thought not combated can grow and spread through our consciousness like a subterranean network of weeds. As the familiar saying, normally attributed to Charles Reade, goes:

"We sow a thought and reap an act;
We sow an act and reap a habit;
We sow a habit and reap a character;
We sow a character and reap a destiny."

That's why this warning is issued in the Book of Proverbs: "With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life."(4:23) Good advice for us as adults, but also a great guideline in growing faith-filled kids.

Tending Our Children's Souls
We parents and teachers can start by modeling this kind of behavior for our kids. Perhaps this means doing our best to control our temper, to refrain from saying angry words in front of our children/students, to forgive or ask forgiveness when necessary, or to be respectful toward authority.

We can then actively seek to develop vigilance within our children or students. Simply put, this means attempting to make them mindful of the spiritual implications of their daily actions. For instance, we can take the opportunity when a child has spoken out in anger to remind the child (if old enough) of a time when an angry word led to a fight with a friend or sibling. In nightly prayer (or at the end of each school day), we can guide the child in a simple examination of conscience: 

  • What did I say or do today that hurt someone's feelings? 
  • How did I not follow my parents' (or teachers') directions? 
  • Did I have any angry thoughts about someone today? 
  • How can I show that person my love/forgiveness?
Vigilance against spiritual "weeds" like anger, dishonesty, or hurtfulness is a necessary part of living a life of faithfulness to God.

Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via photopin cc