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3 steps to a more grateful life

German mystic Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you said your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Gratitude has that kind of power, not just in prayer, but in the most ordinary moments of our lives. When we are thankful, grateful and appreciative of what we have — even the things that don’t necessarily warrant a special thank-you prayer — we tend to be more generous, loving, patient and kind toward others.  Read more

Giving away Thanksgiving: How much cheap stuff do we really need?

The thought of people shopping on Thanksgiving, working on Thanksgiving, fighting each other over cheap cell phones and cheaper TVs on Thanksgiving makes me so sad. Every time I sat down to write about it, no words came out because, really, what can I say to a world that values products over people, bargains over blessings, retail over relationships? One day. That’s all. Can we have just one day where we don’t have to be on the quest for more junk to fill our closets and drawers and basements to overflowing? I guess not.  Read more

What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner?

We’re taking a survey at our house this morning: What’s the best part of the Thanksgiving dinner?
Here’s how the votes are breaking down… Read more

Foodie Friday: Cranberry-pear sauce. Yum.

This recipe comes to you courtesy of my friend Michele B., but it has become a Poust family favorite. Everyone loves it, and it’s so easy and so much better than the stuff that comes out still shaped like the can.

Put this on your Thanksgiving table and you just may be called on to make it every year, no matter where the holiday dinner is being served.

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Dying wishes and regrets

My OSV Daily Take post from yesterday:

A couple of events this week got me thinking about my own mortality. First, I spent some time visiting a friend who is in the end stages of ovarian cancer after a valiant years-long fight. She is now in hospice home care. As I sat in her living room, I quietly soaked in my friend’s strength and faith and courage and grace. It was only when I got back in my car that I broke down in tears at the awesomeness of being in the presence of someone who is very much aware that her time on this earth is coming to an end.

That was enough to start me thinking about life and death, but then along came today, June 2. My mother would have been 71 today, but she died of colon cancer more than 23 years ago at the age of 47. Reflecting on the gift of her life makes me ponder my own life and eventual death –that I have already lived longer than my mother, that any day I, too, could get a diagnosis that changes life permanently and ends it all too quickly, that my children might find themselves marking the milestones of their lives minus their mother.

Just the other night, I was so preoccupied with all these thoughts I couldn’t sleep. At all. I remembered how my mother had so many long, sleepless nights at the end of her illness, and I wondered if that is the case for my friend as well. So I did what my mother used to do during those difficult hours. I pulled out my Rosary beads and prayed — for my friend, with my friend — allowing my minor bout of insomnia to lead me into a moment of connection with someone who knows true suffering. I can’t begin to know what my friend is going through, and yet in the hidden hours of night, in those prayers silently whispered, I felt a spark of grace, a second of recognition, a flash of what my mother must have felt, what my friend must feel now.

So today, when two Facebook friends posted a link to a column about deathbed regrets, I saw it as an invitation to explore further what I’d been mulling over in my head.

What do you think terminal patients regret most as they lay dying? Not the job promotion that was missed or the raise they didn’t get or the car they didn’t own. The top five regrets had to do with the way they’d lived their lives, the people they didn’t keep in touch with, the way they spent their time:

From a blog post at Inspiration and Chai:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence…

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

After my mother died, having witnessed her last breath, I was sure I’d never go back to taking life for granted, and maybe for a few months after her death I didn’t. But then life went on and it became easier and easier to slip back into the notion that we have a limitless amount of time to get things done, to make amends, to play with our kids, to fulfill our dreams.

If today was my last day, I know my regrets would have nothing to do with any work project or household responsibility. My regrets would be, like those of the patients who were surveyed, about the time I didn’t spend with my husband and children, the friends I didn’t call, the time I didn’t take for prayer or gardening or all the things that bring me joy, the times I gave up the opportunity to laugh because I thought it was my job to worry.

What would you put on a list of regrets?

To read the full list at Inspiration and Chai, click HERE.

An unchanging message: Drive-by lessons in faith

Here’s my post from OSV Daily Take today:

I’m not one for pithy quotes posted on big signs outside churches. I typically find them distracting at best or silly and inane at worst. But when I drove by the local Reform church in my town yesterday, the posted comment hit home:

“You don’t change the message; the message changes you.”

I found myself giving a little “Amen!” as I turned onto a side street. Sure this sign referred to the general Christian message, but I think it applies even more appropriately to the Catholic message.

We live in a world where everyone tries to change with the times, and too often society thinks the Church should follow suit. We should be more flexible and fluid, more “modern” and adaptive, we hear from sources of every stripe, Catholic and not. And still we attempt to stay true to the message, even when the message is as counter-cultural as it gets, from abortion and embryonic stem cell research to capital punishment and war.

Why don’t we just change the message and take the heat off ? Because our Church knows — we know — precisely what the signage tried to convey in one line. If we keep moving the goal posts, changing the message to suit the times, we don’t move closer to the Kingdom or according to Jesus’ teaching. We move according to our own needs and desires. But, if we allow the message to sink in and to become part of us, even when it’s not easy to accept or practice, slowly but surely the message will, in fact, change us.

In her beautiful book “One Thousand Gifts,” writer Ann Voskamp writes about discovering the fact that living the Christian message means being grateful — counting our blessings — even when the “blessings” are painful or difficult experiences that we don’t want in our lives and can’t understand. That’s some hard teaching, but it’s at the heart of this idea that we can’t change the message. The message is what it is, and it will change us if we let it.

Ann writes:

“Thanksgiving — giving thanks in everything — prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ.

“The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God — even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion — this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him. At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours — Christ, the complete accomplishment of our salvation. And the miracle of eucharisteo never ends: thanksgiving is what precedes the miracle of that salvation being fully worked out in our lives.”

So the message doesn’t change. The message can’t change. Not if we hope to be changed by it, to be made new in Christ. His message must be our message.

That’s a pretty powerful faith lesson for a little church sign on a hot May morning. I hope I remember it, not only in good times but in the bad times that are an inevitable part of life. Thanksgiving, Eucharist — an unchanging, life-changing message.

A Thanksgiving Day to remember

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I got to thinking back to the first Thanksgiving Dennis and I spent as a married couple. We had moved to Austin just a few months before and decided to give thanks in a different way that year. So today, I am rerunning a favorite Life Lines column in honor of the holiday and in recognition of all those folks who will not sit down to a feast of food on Thursday. Here it is:

In the past, whenever the dolls and Legos would overflow our kids’ toy bins, we’d give things away to charity. We figured it was a good way to do something nice, clean our closets, and teach our kids the importance of giving to others all at the same time.

Ever since Noah turned 2, he knew that many of his toys would eventually go to “the poor.” We never really put a face on “the poor,” but whenever a toy was conspicuous by its absence, Noah would ask if they had it.

We thought we were teaching him a valuable lesson in Christian charity. Then one night he took the globe off the coffee table, spun it around and randomly put his finger on Egypt. “Is this where the poor live?” he asked.

I tried to imagine what was going through his head. I had visions of hungry children on the other side of the world opening boxes filled with Teletubbies and beeping plastic steering wheels.

And so began our quest to teach our kids just how many people are desperately poor, not just on the other side of the globe, but on the other side of town. We tried to find ways to drive the point home: a brown bag full of cans from our pantry at Thanksgiving, a gift for the Giving Tree at Christmas, an Easter basket for a needy child. They were all lovely sentiments – and important in their own ways — but hardly enough to convey what the Gospel challenges us to do.

The first Thanksgiving after Dennis and I were married we volunteered to serve breakfast to hungry men and women who didn’t have plans for a home-cooked meal, or a home for that matter. A woman who ran the Catholic Worker House was happy for the extra hands and told us to be at the day labor corner at 7:30 a.m. to hand out hard-boiled eggs, tortillas and hot coffee.

The woman was known around town as “The Egg Lady” because she was out there with her eggs not just on Thanksgiving but every day. She drove homeless people to AA meetings, let them shower at her house, gave them clothes and offered them prayers. She reached out a hand where many would recoil in fear. She told us how one man she’d been helping stole her car. She said it without a hint of anger, without an ounce of regret. Then she boiled more eggs and went back out to the streets.

Now that is a lesson in Christian charity. Talk about living the Gospel. It’s not nearly as neat and easy as throwing some canned corn in a paper bag. In fact it’s the kind of charity that I find downright scary. But it’s exactly the kind of charity we need to embrace if we’re going to teach our kids about compassion and our duty to make sure people have eggs and coffee and a generous serving of dignity and respect.

Maybe this year we’ll hold onto the extra Elmos and try a different approach – like talking about the fact that there are poor people right here, that they’re just like us except they don’t have a way to pay for food or doctor visits or heat during the winter. Bags of food and boxes of toys are a good start, but they won’t end poverty. We end poverty, and not just with a checkbook but with a change of heart. Maybe that’s a naïve idea, but people like The Egg Lady put it to the test every day.

Unfortunately there are plenty of opportunities to test our mettle. Spin the globe. Put your finger down. Anywhere. That’s where the poor live.

Originally published in Catholic New York, November 2001. If you would like to learn more about the real “Egg Lady,” click HERE.