Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Indispensable Attitude of Gratitude

Today is the anniversary of my father's passing in 1993. We miss him every day, with gratitude for all he was and gave. In the goodness of God his life lives on and we want to do the same, live beyond our years in the lives of those we love.

Below is a piece that ran in the local paper for a weekly ministerial article to which I contribute. Some family asked me to share it and I do so in the happy memory of my Dad, Larry Huff.

The Indispensable Attitude of Gratitude

The joy of Thanksgiving has been deep in my soul since a teen-age November on my Grandpa's Kansas farm. While Grandma, Mom and others prepared a feast in the warm kitchen, Grandpa fired up the old John Deere and powered a buzz saw with a long, heavy belt. My Dad and Uncles joined in and we cut limbs for hours. I loved the work so much it hurt, a deep joy I hoped would never end, a sense of grasping the immortal for a moment before it is gone. Those times are the right stuff of life. They feed body and soul: teach, nurture, strengthen. They remind us why it is good to be alive, and they keep us going, even on our worst days.

I needed that thirteen years later when my Dad died the day after Thanksgiving. He had been recovering from a terrible injury and was due to begin rehab the next week. And then the call came: “Your Dad suffered a seizure and did not recover. I am so sorry.” My wife and I embraced and wandered through the mist, arranging a flight back to Kansas. In those hours my Grandma called, the one who always had the right words. “I am sure there is nothing I can say to help you work through these moments.” And she was right. There were no words. In the midst of hopeful expectation, two young boys still at home with Mom, one grandchild and another on the way, my Dad was gone. This was zero-option full stop, the deep pain of soul known by those who have lost.

And so I reflect on this at Thanksgiving time and wonder how we navigate life with these extremes. Joys that make life rich, mixed with pains that can make one wonder, on the worst days, why we are even here. A simple answer would not be an answer at all, but we seek answers still. In Peter Kreeft's winsome book “Making Sense out of Suffering” he wisely refuses to give answers but instead offers “clues” to this problem. And so it is true. We make it through with clues, possibilities, hopes. Such is the nature of faith, an impossible belief that the impossible, after all, will come to pass.

The remarkable British journalist of a century past, G. K. Chesterton, offered clues about the whole gamut of life, and he was often keen to remind us gratitude is indispensable. “Gratitude,” he said, “being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.”  

Indeed how can we be grateful in the midst of death, suffering and disappointment? One clue is to remember life itself is an incomparable gift, something we could never create and which we should celebrate with feasts and work and laughter. Even watching – (better to play!) – football helps us celebrate this gift of life and remember our blessings.

What can you and I do to cultivate this vital attitude of gratitude? Here are a few things I will try this year:
  • Find someone who feels the ache of loneliness and share a gift and a listening ear. “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” The best gift you have is yourself. When you give you affirm the value of yourself and others, and you say “thank you” to the God who gave us both.
  • Dare to celebrate, even with a feast. But don't enjoy gifts and pleasures without gratitude for God who gave them. After all, we do not create them on our own, and thinking we do is it's own painful dead end.
  • Say grace before a meal, even if you are not accustomed to it. This simple gesture reminds us our life and livelihood is a gift, and it directs our attention to the Giver, helping us see the world as it really is.
Do you long for the eternal, the joy for which there is no word, only yearning? I do. And I believe Thanksgiving offers a window, a reminder that we can know this joy even in the midst of death and loss. But we can never see the world aright without this “difficult duty”, gratitude to God who made life possible. This year I want to learn again to be thankful and taste the surpassing joy of a grateful heart. 

One of my favorite pictures of my Dad, ever in my heart.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

New Post n.i.

"Effective writing springs from the creative joy of the writer. Readers gain the most when they are an unintended audience; not a target, but a happy participant in another's joy."

When one insists on inspiration to write, one insists on not writing much. Thus, I am a learner at writing n.i., that is, "no inspiration."

Of course the kind of writing I now indulge is mere string-pushing. I take a thought, such as the idea of writing itself, and push it as one would push a string. It goes in unpredictable ways and yet remains connected to itself.

This, as observed elsewhere, is close to real essay style. Establish a beginning thought and pursue it in a meandering fashion.

So what is my thought? That writing needs to be done. Maybe I'm like the natural-born chef who sees culinary affections on the random grocery store aisle; or the carpenter who imagines architectural wonder arising from a stack of lumber. For me, the writing bent results from jumbled thoughts begging for clarity. My mind resists from laziness because this is hard work, sorting out ideas. But now and then it simply must be done...because.

What needs disentangling at the moment? A thousand thoughts, and one. If I were to grab one from the thousand flitting by it would be, "What makes writing effective?"

A few bullets may address this helpfully so I'll give it a go. To be effective here are three essential ingredients for writing:
  • The writing must be real, a clear and honest reflection of the writer's mind and heart. In this way it partakes in the universal human reality of life, the most common ground for connection. How to do this? Just explore what you are thinking or what you have experienced and then talk of it candidly, artfully, transparently. This transparence includes openness to be sure, but you needn't let all your guts spill. If you learn to be appropriately real and open, you will find yourself writing well.
  • The writing must be clear, exhibiting a creative and experienced grasp of the language. Quality and beauty co-habitate: where you find one you will have the other.
  • Finally, the writer must hold loosely the opinions of the reader and even of herself. Writing is a glad expression of the human heart, much as Creation is an overflow of the grandeur of God. It is not foremost to win or cajole, persuade, entertain, enlighten, impress. Rather, writing springs from the creative joy of the writer. Readers gain the most when they are an unintended audience; not a target, but a happy participant in another's joy.
Writing n.i.? Indeed! But these thoughts help me be more clear about what matters. And so I will leave be, joyful to have written, glad if an unintended reader is helped along the way!