Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: generosity (page 1 of 4)

The Subversive Act of Gratitude

For years I’ve been curious about Thanksgiving and the idea of gratitude. One of my earliest posts, Thankshaving, (which hilariously looks a lot like Thank-shaving instead of Thanks-having) attempted to parse through this. I’ve remained a student of this idea of gratitude for years. This year, I think I graduated to 8th grade in the subject, as I’ve begun to realize what a powerful act it can be to cultivate a sense of thankfulness in any situation.

Thanksgiving is the day we sit around the table and say what we’re thankful for, the stuff that we readily forget for the other 364 days of the year. Our homes, our families, and our jobs move high on the list because we often only complain about these things, but on Turkey Day, we are glad to have them and cannot imagine life without them.

On the 4th Thursday of the eleventh month, we corporately and individually declare what is right in our world. Hidden beneath our gratitude, we find a layer of acknowledgement that life isn’t perfect, and we still find space to be thankful for what is good. It’s our way of saying, what I have, and what I am, is enough. Maybe, even, (probably!) more than enough.

In our culture, one that tells us how we aren’t beautiful enough, or successful enough, or loving enough, this is a radical act. We’re led to believe that we’re constantly without enough time, money, friends, power, control, and love to be worthy of our existence, and yet, on a day full of White Carbs of Happiness, we have the power to look at the Black Friday ads and say, “liar.”

When you begin a month full of shopping from this posture, you hold all the trump cards, my friends. You can play the right and the left bower as you see fit. You are free to enjoy a month of giving and receiving because you get to do so as a response to – not a source of – gratitude.

No one really disputes the consumerism of our society, specifically in the month of December, yet it continues to progress. Some propose downplaying all the gifting, and taking a “minimalist” approach (which I appreciate and even integrate). But I’m not sure it actually gets to the root of it. It can slightly shift us from the financial burden and the overcrowding of our homes, but it doesn’t return us to center. Making enough holiday gifts can keep us in the same rat race of earning our worthiness as the old fashioned way of buying it. In fact, now it’s so trendy to reduce the holiday consumption that we’re adding more stress by needing to find that perfect amount to spend and give, so that it’s not too little or too much.

I’m really digging the idea that moving from gratitude will provide much more peace and joy to our Christmas season because we’re not trying to do it right. The perfect gift isn’t necessary, because we’re practiced in saying “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.” We’re moving from a place of enough. We already are enough, and any gift we give is just gravy on the taters (and stuffing and turkey).

This year, as the children write their wish lists and I start my Amazon (and local!) purchasing, I’m finding a new kind of excitement about the season. I can’t wait to look for the things my kids enjoy, and not because I need to provide them perfect presents or risk ruining their childhood. All of heaven knows they don’t need anything. Gratitude reminded us: we are enough. We have enough. We’re simply celebrating our enoughness, and the result is joy.

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Put your Prime to work for the good of humanity

Dear friends,

I have an idea. (I have a lot of those.) But this might be the best one yet. Actually, it’s much too good of an idea to be original to me, but I can’t say that anyone told me about it.  This involves online shopping and being a better neighbor. Also, it’s an excuse to upgrade to Amazon Prime.

So, our local shelters need things regularly – toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, tampons, socks, diapers – and we, the People of Good Intentions often know this and even remember it at the store from time to time, but lack the wherewithal to actually get it where it needs to go. Right? Please tell me I’m not the only one who has lugged around a few cans of beans in the trunk for two months before shamefully adding it to her own pantry.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Call your your nearby resource center, food pantry or woman’s shelter to find out what their top needs are and if UPS can deliver to their site. (It’s always a good idea to ask if you can help.)
  2. Log into Amazon Subscribe ‘n Save.
  3. Choose 1 or 50 items you’d like to regularly offer your friends and neighbors who lack necessary resources. Check the center’s website for a list of current or ongoing needs. Note:  Prime members get an additional percent off and I know how you love to get a good deal.
  4. Decide how often you want them to ship. You can buy in bulk and send just 2-3 times a year or keep it consistent and send monthly.
  5. Create a new monthly subscription for these items and ship them direct. If you’re local, consider Open Door Resource Center at 212 W. Wyandot Ave. Upper Sandusky, OH 43351.

Follow up with your site to make sure your helpfulness is actually meeting a need or if you need to change your contribution in any way. (Maybe they don’t need 83 toothbrushes a month but they’re constantly out of socks. You won’t know unless you ask.)

This idea is totally transferable to Amazon Prime Pantry, where you can order items and ship for a flat fee. (Or, if you choose the no-rush shipping on your other purchases, you get to stockpile free Pantry shipping!) You lucky ducks living in cities with one-hour Prime delivery can even add the benefit of perishables, making meals more nutritious for those who need it most. Locals, consider talking to City Mission about their ongoing needs.

You can take this a step further and if you know a family who needs some help, you can ask what they need most and ship it to them. Diapers, formula, detergent – think of the things you gripe about most to your spouse when it comes to price and then buy those things.

And there you go. You’ve now become thoughtful without having to think. Or, as I prefer to think of it, continuously thoughtful but never forgetting.

(As a side note, when I get the email telling me that my shipment is about to sail, I like to say a little prayer for the recipients, just as I would if I had put it in my grocery cart.)

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On Being Helpful

It’s my fault, really. I bought the children’s probiotics in the shapes of “fun animals.” Thus we need to pick through them every morning for matching giraffes. Every single child must do this. Rue the day that one of them doesn’t get to rifle through for their own vitamins.

Like today. Rue.

The oldest was trying to be helpful, dispersing the “fishies” (because the first time I purchased children’s probiotics, they were in the shape of fish. Now we’re eating jungle animals, but we still seem to have “fishies.”) but Miss M wanted to get her own. She refused the fishies in front of her. No! Never! I shall not! She insisted. 

During the pursuant intervention, I realized a few things about both the situation and the children.

  1. I set a precedent with a one-person-dispersing standard and the oldest was simply trying to follow the rules. He is a rule follower, like his mother, and in his mind, anyone bucking that system needs called out.  Resolved: Asinine rules for the sake of one person’s (read: MY) convenience clearly aren’t helpful.
  2. The oldest wanted to be helpful. That was his true heart. Allow me to do this for you, sweet sister. It is helpful for everyone if I just take control of this. 
  3. The sister didn’t want his help. This help, in fact, was a tad insulting. She was perfectly capable of getting her own damn vitamins, even the two-year-old can do that, thank you very much.

While his heart was pure, eldest child inadvertently sent a message to his junior: you cannot do this. You need my help. I am the capable, wise, giver-of-the-things. His helpfulness overruled her humanness. The helping became the priority, not the person whom he wanted to serve. In that moment, his actions, done in the name of help, actually hurt her sense of self and well-being.

I recently read The Active Life by Parker Palmer. Though not the premise of the book, he mentioned in passing how the best way we can help a person is to simply ask. Ask how we can help, if we can help. You preserve a certain sense of dignity  and worth of a person when you ask permission to serve.

So, this became the morning’s lesson: the oldest is to simply ask. May I get you your fishies this morning? Would that be helpful? This gives her the chance to respond and receive gracefully, or politely decline. To her, we began to instill that receiving help is not an indicator of your own worth or abilities, but sometimes someone’s good and pure heart. Some famous writer, (I’d like to attribute it to Brennan Manning, but he’s not alive to defend himself in case others disagree, so please add salt) wrote that if we cannot receive from our fellow man, how will we ever have the humility to receive from God? In our culture, it’s not common to see a graceful reception of unsolicited help. We hardly solicit it, even when it’s most needed.

All this thought on asking took me to God, as is my habit. God so rarely forces his help upon us. I believe he sees us each as capable human beings, letting us daily get our own fishies. Perhaps he would love to help us, if we were quiet enough to hear him ask, Can I do this for you?

Jesus said more than once, “you do not have because you do not ask.” I think this falls into the category of gracefully receiving help. Our willingness to let others do on our behalf. We’re such a bootstrappy culture, fixated on our own drive and self-preservation that often the idea of allowing others to intervene on our behalf provokes anxiety or even shame. We feel perceived as not good enough or capable.  The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter.

Whether we can or cannot, help is usually coming from a good heart. Yet that good heart must not force its goodness on others.

May we be willing to receive the gracious love of others as they try to be helpful. May we not perceive it as an indicator of our own worth or ability. And may we help lovingly, graciously, and honorably – by first asking instead of insisting.

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