Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: gratitude (page 1 of 7)

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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Celebrating a birthday in the mourning

Last year I bought myself flowers, for my birthday.  I have historically celebrated a birthday week (or two) and have been known not to do it quietly.  My last year in Troy,  I planned my own GNO party, and even created my own facebook event – this year I did the same with a text picture of yours truly. I’m that person who will try to use every free marketing gimmick in my inbox. (Related: who’s free for Red Robin this month?!)

This might come across sounding quite brattish, as if I make all the noise in order to get people to celebrate me. But that’s not the case. I am surrounded by loving and friends and family who remember me, without my noise. I don’t have to celebrate my own birthday; I get to.

My special day falls amid a string of October dates that my favorite people on this earth marked with black pens. My husband and his family lost his 16-year-old sister suddenly. My best friend buried her mother after a hateful illness. A dear patron saint of our church died abruptly years before we were ready for her to go. Another young boy in our local school system fell to October’s cruel grasp a few years ago. A former employer will face the dreaded two-year mark of grief for her husband. All within this span of 31 days.

Needless to say, no one in my town likes October anymore. Pumpkin spice can’t wash away the bitter taste of loss. My dear friend Kristy says you can step into the crisp morning and smell death in the air.

And here I am, buying flowers and drinking margaritas and asking everyone to smile for the picture. Rude, right?

Living in the wake of loss with those close to me has provided me new wisdom, such as,  people say stupid things from a good heart. “Heaven needed another angel” is at the top of the Don’t Say That list. Folks like me who believe in an afterlife in heaven seek to take comfort in those celestial promises. Of course, they’re “in a better place.” But the distance between there and here hurts. Real bad.

Which can only lead me to one conclusion: life, here, matters. If it mattered little, it would hurt little. The more you love, the more you fill days with joy and curiosity and adventure with other people. And the harder it is to see them end.

So if life, here, matters, then… what? I’m only left with one option: to live it in celebration and in gratitude for another year at living it.

I give my loved ones plenty of space to grieve throughout this horrid month. I really do. I try my hardest to be attentive to the calendar, to give space, to nod in solemn agreement that this sucks. We miss her. Grief knows no expiration date and I’ll never ask others to chipper up for the sake of a party – that’s simply not fair.

What I will do is attempt to honor the lives that left too early by approaching my birthday not with disdain at “getting older” but with appreciation that they keep on coming. I’ve got another year on this globe, so what will I do with it? I’m facing 36, an age that others didn’t get. How can I do it justice?

For me, it’s not skydiving or rocky mountain climbing*, but rather the way in which I sow love into my life. It’s more hugs, more forgiveness, more gratitude. It’s acknowledging another work of art in the sunset from my front porch.

It’s also mandating a friend eat unnecessary amounts of nachos with me. It’s acting surprised when my kids hand me a haphazardly wrapped gift. It’s requesting your parents spend too much money renting a cabin in Hocking Hills for the weekend. It’s drinking one more because “it’s my birthday!”

Not in my honor. But in honor of life. In the honor of the gift of another year, another month, another day. I’ll wear the birthday sombrero for a chance at that. I’ll blow out the candles and hold the hands of people I love, at least one. more. time.

 

 

*Thanks Tim McGraw for setting that up for me so poetically.

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Ordinary Magic

When I was growing up, our friend Erica had one of those big backyard trampolines. Because her parents and my parents were beyond  BFF, we spent many hours trying to conquer the butt-knees-back-up and playing add-a-trick.  It was magical.

It wasn’t until late elementary that my dad decided to get us a trampoline for our own backyard. We loved it. This set of springs got plenty of wear. Then we reached a point when the only time we played Popcorn was when our friends were over. We didn’t dislike it nor were we bored with it; the trampoline simply lost its magic. It became ordinary.

Watching my own children jump with glee the other day, I reflected on how frequently this happens. We allow the magic to dust off when we make it commonplace, which I believe to be the real reason God tells us to “be holy.”

Much of the first testament gives instruction about how to keep certain things separate: men from women, wheat from beans, cotton from polyester.* Often we read this with a cultural lens that one of those things is less than the other. Not good enough. Even, dangerous. We approach the idea of holiness as if the ordinary makes the holy dirty; hence “unclean” (literally, “polluted” in the Hebrew).

I see this change through the words of Jesus. He tells people, often through parable, to let the weeds grow among the wheat. He says God will sort the sheep and goats. This makes sense, coming from a ridiculously terrible farmer who believes good things can grow in hard places.

The common, the seemingly less-than, can do nothing to change the nature of the holy. Like a life-long islander, we get used to the scenery and forget its magic. The mountains aren’t less majestic or the waves less soothing. We’ve simply made the holy, ordinary.

The good news: we can reverse this. Actually, when you read many of God’s commands and you find this great reversal at work.

Three meals a day, every day, often made from the same thing? The people could complain of another bowl of lentils but God says to bless them. Give thanks for the rain and the sunshine, miracles outside of your own control, required to make them grow. Did you know that the most devout Jews pray a toilet prayer (my term, not theirs), thanking God that all systems work like they’re supposed to? If ever there was a place to mix the ordinary and the divine, the bathroom is a good starting point.

My cousin works in the bridal industry. Every day, she sees young women on the cusp of what they imagine to be the most amazing day of their lives. Each and every one of them are special and unique; yet she can see 5 of them in a day. The 300 dresses hang on the rack as inventory. They’re numbered.

But when a bride walks out of the dressing room, sometimes with happy tears, it’s no longer a pile of satin or lace – it’s the dress. At least, to this bride, it is. Laura’s job is no longer to take measurements and find a matching veil; it’s to honor the magic amid one of her most ordinary days.

And this is the work for most of us. Teachers may tie shoes or plan lessons on long division or recount the events of the first world war. Ordinary, everyday stuff. Or, they’re inspiring children to ask questions, to follow their curiosity and find solutions to problems. Inspiration. Literally: to breathe into. (You know who did that first, don’t you? That first, holy work of making things come to life? Oh, yes, I just compared teachers to Genesis 1.)

A dentist or a doctor might feel as if they’re diagnosing or prescribing, but to the person who finally feels relief, they’re doing the holy work of healing.

We tend to make the magical into the monotonous. It’s just another day, another school year, another student/customer/patient/client. But we can seek the divine spark in the most ordinary of all things. By the nature of creation, God’s fingerprints cling to every day, person and place. The work of holiness is to see it and honor it as such.

 

 

*I’m being funny. I know the cotton/poly blend was not an ancient stumbling block. But something was, because Deuteronomy 22:11 exists.

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