Remembering Our Blessings

When we moved to the Twin Cities seven years ago, we bought a house in the southwest suburbs, a choice motivated solely by its location in a school district with a strong high school. (Elena was about to begin high school at the time we moved.) Now that we no longer need to be concerned with what school district we live in, we decided it was time to downsize to a house better located to the various things Dave and I are involved with.

Yesterday we closed on the purchase of a home in St. Paul. It was a very stressful day. We now own two homes, as we do not yet have an offer on our current one, meaning double expenses for however long it takes to sell it. Although I had hoped we could close, do a bit of cleaning and immediately move into the new house, seeing it empty reveals the need for substantial interior painting as well as how ugly and beat up the carpeting on the upper level is. Based on a couple of phone conversations yesterday, it is not clear how quickly we will be able to get the painting done. Oh, and given the configuration of the master bedroom, our bureau and bed (a Shaker canopy bed) will not fit into is, requiring that we get new bedroom furniture. We went into a couple of stores to see that what would entail. It is true I have not shopped for bedroom furniture for almost 25 years (except for a few random pieces, we largely still use the furniture we bought when we got married). In short, lots of unexpected delay and expenditures. None of this put me in a very good frame of mind, thinking of the impact of the continued unsettled state on all of the work I need to get done this summer. “This is horrible,” I said to Dave yesterday.

Whoa! Hold on there, Susan! As I sat this morning with the feelings of frustration and anxiety that arose yesterday, I was able to get a little perspective on this issue.

I have a house; I go to sleep every night in a bed with a roof over my head.

I was able to afford to close on the purchase of my new house before selling the old, not having to cleverly jockey closing dates to sell before or simultaneously with buying.

I have the ability to buy a new bed and bureau (and there are places where they are not so crazily priced) and to donate the old one to someone who can’t afford to buy a bed.

I still have a house to live in while the necessary work is being done on the old one.

When I remember how fortunate I am compared to so many people who have so much less than I do, my complaints seem pretty minor.

And I bow down in gratitude. (And continue to pray for patience.)


Complaining about Manna

In today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Numbers, Moses has to deal with the complaint of the people of Israel. Specifically, the people are unhappy with the manna God has provided for them to eat, lamenting about the various foods they used to eat in Egypt.

It is useful to set their complaint in context. The Israelites, remember, had been enslaved in Egypt – for a very long time. God delivered them from slavery. In the desert, they complained they were hungry, so God sent manna.

Now the Israelites are complaining about the manna. You get the impression listening to this reading that if God responded to their complaints by sending something else for them to enjoy, it wouldn’t be long before they complained about that.

I speak often of the importance of the practice of gratitude. The world would be a very different place if we saw everything as gift.

David Steindl-Rast, in a wonderful video, talks about grateful living. Grateful living means that

every moment of your life you practice gratefulness. You practice awareness that everything is gift, everything is gratuitous, and if it’s all given, gratuitously given, then the only appropriate response is gratefulness What we really want is joy. We don’t want things. We don’t want to accumulate things. We forget that, and so gratefulness can help us see that, can help us realize that.

In the absence of grateful living, whatever we have is not enough. We always want more.

But if we practice grateful living, we don’t complain about the sameness of the manna, we give thanks that we have food to eat. We don’t complain that our water is not hot enough, we give thanks we have water. We don’t complain about traffic, we give thanks we have the ability to travel where we need to go. And so on.

If we practice “awareness that everything is gift,” then we have enough, not matter that is.

We Give Thanks

Today those of us in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The first national observance of Thanksgiving came at the recommendation of President Washington that the people of the United States observe Thursday, November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.” Washington’s proclamation asked the American people to “beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”

Later this morning, we will go to Mass and engage in “public thanksgiving and prayer” with our parish community. But I also rise and begin this day in thanks for so many gifts…

….the gift of friends who love me despite my failings and who support me in times of need,

….the gift of my sixteen-year old daughter, who still likes to hang out with me and who puts up with my bad jokes and worse singing,

….the gift of a husband who accepts my running hither and yon, only sometimes remembering to tell him what I’ve scheduled for me or for us,

….the gift of enough food to eat, a warm bed at night, the ability to see a doctor when I’m sick,

….the gift of God’s love and presence.

And on this Thanksgiving Day when I am so cognizant of the many blessings I have been given, I ask for God’s blessing in a special way for those who feel alone and friendless this day, for those who lack the basic necessities for human flourishing, and especially for those who have trouble finding God in the midst of their suffering. May the Lord bless and keep all of them…all of us…always.