Giving Thanks

“Is everyone unhappy?” the child Lovejoy was to ask Vincent in despair.

Vincent said, “Everyone,” but after a moment, when he had thought, he added, “That doesn’t prevent them from being happy.”

An Episode of Sparrows, Rummer Godden

For the last week I’ve been reading about people in the US who are gearing up for Thanksgiving. I feel far away and detached, an interested on-looker, fascinated by the movements and ruminations of people doing something I’m not.

When our family moved to Ireland in April of ’96, I was homesick now and then but the worst moment was on the first Thanksgiving Day. It had been my favourite holiday, because it was simple and happy, and now no one even gave a nod to it. I was devastated and felt sure that this was a heartless, cruel, God-less place to live.

Now, 13 years later, it’s ok. Thanksgiving as a holiday seems like a foreign entity, like part of another lifetime (which it is), like something I can be an observer in without being a participator. And, because I don’t have to be at work til this evening, it’s sort of like a holiday anyhow, only without turkey and cranberries, and I’m ok with that.

Part of the change of heart has come about because of the passing of time. Other people and priorities precede the importance I once placed on my favourite holiday. Now, Thanksgiving is something I try to observe daily.

Every night, before I let myself turn off the light, I harness my memory to eek out and write down at least one thing that I’m thankful for, one thing that happened that day in which I heard God say “I love you” to me. It is the best, most helpful spiritual discipline in my life. It is the one thing I urge everyone to do, and is required of my students in Godly Womanhood class. My Thanks Journal is a tangible record of many intangible things. It turns my mind to God instead of letting me dwell on all that makes me unhappy. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness and my dependency on Him. Sometimes I think a long time before deciding what to write but that’s not God’s fault.

Today I am thankful for:
-the toasty warm evening and sibling camaraderie last night at my brother’s house
-a pleasant job environment
-books and pens and my laptop
-sparkling good health after a year’s illness
-girlfriends who I can call whenever I need a sounding board and wise words
-Godly men who believe in my book project and support my calling to teach
-my parents who have ‘marinated’ me with life-priorities of love and service
-dreams and ambitions and plans
-grandfathers whose worlds are big, and who forged a path that led beyond their ‘back forty’
-God, who in all times and in all ways, showers peace and joy in dews of blessing

Tribute to Billy

When we first met Billy over 13 years ago, we said to each other: “He’s Captain Jim!” (from Anne’s House of Dreams) Billy really was like a story book character, and looked the part with his grizzled beard, knee-length britches, and long stockings. He grew up in Waterford, but spent most of his life in England, and developed a most impressive, distinguished English accent. He married Sarah from there, a most patient, smiley, competent lady. She must have heard the stories of his escapades a million times, but as we’d listen, she’d always sit there smiling and nodding knowingly at him and us. I would so like to know what kind of person he was in his days with the RAF and in the class room as a teacher.

His turn of phrase and insight and story telling was unlike anyone I know. He was a perfect gentleman, tipping his hat when he saw me, asking how I was. When we asked him, he’d favour us with a song or poem. His scratchy, gravelly voice would recite “The Sea is a Dog” and make it come alive. Billy is infamous for having checked himself out of the hospital and walking 10 miles home. He did things his way. When the doctor told him he’d lose his legs if he didn’t stop smoking, Billy stopped smoking. To do it right, he walked all around Ireland as a fundraiser for the Life Boats.

Billy lived by the sea and in his boat. When he was diagnosed with cancer some years back, he kept his boat as long as he possibly could manage it. This spring, he and his wife came to church for a service, and I sat beside him. Instead of staying for tea afterwards, he politely told me he’s not feeling well, and left immediately. Billy died in July, and it was a huge honour that he had asked us to sing a particular plain chant rendition of Psalm 23 at his funeral.

My sisters and I sang it from the balcony of the little country church. We had learned the song from a recording Billy had made of himself singing it. The antiphon: “His goodness shall follow me always, to the end of my days.”

Billy and Sarah had a lively, lovely family, and Ben, the youngest, shared this story at the funeral. I share it here as I remember the account as a tribute to a rare soul who I was privileged to have for a neighbour.

When I was 11 or so, my siblings, along with our neighbour’s children, would meet the school bus at the end of our lane, and it would take us to the village to school. One morning I had the great idea that when we heard the bus coming, we would jump behind the hedge, and wait out of sight until it gave up waiting for us and go on without us.

It was a great plan and it worked. The bus came, waited, and waited, and waited…and drove off. And we were free from school for the day! But the eagle eye of the neighbour lady saw us and reported us to our mother, who was VERY cross with us. My mother told me that my father would have some words for me when he came home.

When my father came home, I was terrified, and as he walked toward me, I wondered which limb he would tear first from me. But all he said was, “Get in the car, son.” He drove to Dower’s grocery on the corner, and bought two cans of Coke and a packet of crisps. Now, a packet of crisps in those days was like winning the lottery!

We sat outside the shop at a table, and we ate our crisps and drank our Coke, and my father said, “So tell me what you did today.” I told him, and he said nothing. We finished our treat, got back into the car and went home. He never said anything more about the escapade, but I can tell you that I never again tried to skip school. That was the genius of my father. I never knew a man who could think outside the box like he did, and have a solution when no one else had one.

Strategies at the Job

This is the end of a marathon 3 weeks when 2 and sometimes 3 regular workers were gone from the store and bakery. I knew it was going to be a Big Job and tried to plan accordingly. I found a good book to read in spare minutes, which helped time go fast. And I asked God for nice customers.

In the 12 years of being at this store, I have never had a 3 wk stint when the customers were so super nice. The weather always makes a difference in making people happy and pleasant, but I know these good customers came because God answered my desperate prayer. The children were jolly and happy. The grown ups were polite and appreciative and smiley. They chatted and told stories and took time to let others go first. They were delightful and funny and happy. They made me laugh more than ever before.

Something I love about Irish people in general is that they are great story tellers, and can always chat about something. This used to annoy me, but no longer. I am fascinated and amazed at how they can talk and talk, and maybe it’s not about something profound or substantial, but they’re communicating more than we who are silent.

I would like to learn how they do it. What kind of thought processes it takes to be able to effortlessly talk forever about nothing in particular. Guess I’ll keep watching and listening.

Jetlag, MRI, and a book

It was a flying trip to the US, and I was going to take it in stride, but it has made me tired-er than I expected. But it was worth it. It was a significant trip in several ways. The focal point of the week was Oasis Ladies’ retreat at SMBI. A lovely, refreshing, inspiring one-and-a-half day. Other high points throughout the week were being with old and new friends and my aunts, singing with friends, brainstorming writing and art projects, hearing each others’ dreams.

It was also an amazing trip because I didn’t go to WalMart even once!! Thus, I have proved it is possible to live, yes, even to visit America, without shopping there.

Today I finished a lovely book: The Soloist, by Steve Lopez. A true story, gripping and beautifully and sensitively written. I was sorry it ended. I’m going to add it to my list on the book page. It makes me want to write a good story…

Also today I went to Dublin for my (last) MRI to assess the success of last October’s embolization. The dr. showed me the pictures then dismissed me, saying things are good, and don’t need further treatment until there are more symptoms–which I hope never happens. I thank God for Dr. Brophy and his amazing skills.

Then I trotted over to Trinity College and met Jenn whom I’d never met before, but who has just moved to Dublin with her husband. We found a cute little tea room and drank tea and ate cake and chatted easily and felt better for it.

Tonight’s Hymn

I have very decided views and opinions about contemporary Christian music and Gospel songs versus the old hymns that have stood the test of generations. Music is an emotional issue with all of us, and among other things, we are influenced by memories attached to music.
I have a lot of memories of CCM and Gospel music, but nothing feeds me and communicates as deeply with me as the old, rich words of the hymns.
This evening I came to one of my favorites:

The day Thou gavest, Lord, has ended:
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended;
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

(My favourite verse, as I live on an island)
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord: Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
–John Ellerton

The first time I heard this was when the nuns sang it at Vespers once when we visited the convent at Mount Melloray. The flowing tune captivated me and then I found the words equally beautiful. It’s like a hymn and lullaby simultaneously.

Where is Home?

Thirteen years ago this eve. we were at friends’ house for dinner–friends I’d never met before. They live beside the sea, and were ever so gracious, and afterwards all of us went to their upstairs room for prayer meeting, and I cried during the prayer.

It was my first day in Ireland, and everything was green and moist and foreign. Now it’s 13 years later, and this is home.

I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived at any other place, so maybe that’s why it feels like home. But I’m still a foreigner. As soon as I say a word, my accent gives me away, and people know I wasn’t born in Waterford but am a ‘blow-in.’ And when I go back to the US, it’s always most enjoyable and happy, but I feel like a foreigner there too. I forget the American terms for ‘tar macadam’ and ‘foot path.’ And when I want to drive somewhere, I tend to head toward the wrong side of the car.

So I really am not home yet. Because next week I plan to move into another house, but even that won’t be Home, Home.

Even after 13 yrs in Ireland, I’m Homesick tonight.