Psalms of Thanksgiving

We are now entering the month in which we celebrate the national holiday known as Thanksgiving Day here in America, which takes place on the 4th Thursday of the month of November.

From the National Archives, here is the account on how Thanksgiving became a national holiday in America:

On September 28, 1789, just before leaving for recess, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President of the United States recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. A few days later, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin”–the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution. Subsequent presidents issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and even months of the celebrations varied. It wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation that Thanksgiving was regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.

In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving–the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.

To end the confusion, Congress decided to set a fixed-date for the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday. (Quote source here.)

The Thanksgiving Day proclamation made by Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, for Thanksgiving Day 1863 (referenced above) can be read at this link.

In keeping with the last several blog posts on this blog that have focused on the topic of Psalms, I want to share a few of the psalms of blessing and thanksgiving from the Old Testament to start off the month of November:

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord.

I will extol the Lord with all my heart
    in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

Great are the works of the Lord;
    they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.

He has shown his people the power of his works,
    giving them the lands of other nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever,
    enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
He provided redemption for his people;
    he ordained his covenant forever—
    holy and awesome is his name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise.

Psalm 95:1-7

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
11 and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea asunder
His love endures forever.
14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures forever.
15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

17 to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
18 and killed mighty kings—
His love endures forever.
19 Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures forever.
20 and Og king of Bashan—
His love endures forever.
21 and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures forever.
22 an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures forever.

23 He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
24 and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
25 He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

And one of my favorites psalms of blessing/thanksgiving is this next psalm:

Psalm 103–A Psalm of David

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord executes righteousness
And justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.

19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
22 Bless the Lord, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Years ago I came across the idea of keeping a “gratitude journal” as a way of keeping gratitude at the forefront of not just any given day but life in general. As we all know, that’s not an easy thing to do especially during extremely challenging times or even in everyday living. However, I came across an article published on October 9, 2021, titled, 14 Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude According to Science,” by Kori D. Miller, researcher and writer at PositivePsychology.com, in which she states:

What are the Benefits of Gratitude?

The Greater Good Science Center offers a plethora of information on this subject. In a white paper titled,The Science of Gratitude(2018), they outline several benefits to gratitude practice.

For the individual:

  • increased happiness and positive mood
  • more satisfaction with life
  • less materialistic
  • less likely to experience burnout
  • better physical health
  • better sleep
  • less fatigue
  • lower levels of cellular inflammation
  • greater resiliency
  • encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom

For groups:

  • increases prosocial behaviors
  • strengthens relationships
  • may help employees’ effectiveness
  • may increase job satisfaction

Those sounds like some very good reasons/benefits to cultivate gratitude into our daily lives. Her complete article is available at this link (which is also the quote source for the above information).

Need some suggestions to start cultivating gratitude into our lives? Here is a list of seven ideas to get us started in that direction from an article published on November 6, 2016, titled, Seven Ways to Cultivate Gratitude,” by Danna Markson, LCSW. Her article contains descriptions for each item listed below which can be accessed at this link. She states:

Here are seven simple ways to cultivate gratitude in your life today:

  1. Take notice
  2. Keep a gratitude journal
  3. Switch your point of view
  4. Be humble
  5. Share your appreciation
  6. See the silver lining in every situation
  7. Donate

(Quote source and descriptions for each item listed above are available at this link.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul found in Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

Will guard your hearts . . .

And your minds . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Time to Reboot

“Because your future is not chained to your past.” –Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, Rosh Hashanah 5780Back on August 25th, I published a blog post on this blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days.” The Jewish month of Elul is now almost over, and the celebration of the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah begins this Sunday at sundown, September 29, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. It is also the beginning of the month of Tishrei and the beginning of the High Holy Days on the Hebrew calendar.

Rosh Hashanah is all about rebooting. “Reboot” is one of those techie terms that, according to Urban Dictionary, is defined as follows:

To start anew with fresh ideas in a way that is consistent with the principals of the original, but not unnecessarily constrained by what has taken place before. (Quote source here.)

In a brief article titled, Reboot,” by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, senior editor at Chabad.org, he writes:

Time is not a train of cars hitched one to another.

A year is not dragged along by the year preceding. The present is not hitched tightly to the past. The future is not enslaved to the present.

Rather, every year arrives fresh from its Creator, a year that never was before and could never have been known before its arrival.

That is why we call Rosh Hashanah “the birth of the world” in our prayers. The past has returned to its place, never to return. With the blowing of the shofar, the entirety of Creation is renewed.

From this point on, even the past exists only by virtue of the present. (Quote source here.)

I like the idea that “the entirety of Creation is renewed” on Rosh Hashanah. Much like our New Year’s celebration on New Year’s Eve and January 1st for those of us who are not Jewish, the New Year in both cases offers a “clean slate” to begin afresh from the past. However, Rosh Hashanah is just the beginning of the celebrations that take place during the month of Tishrei.

In an article titled, Happy and Sweet New Year,” by Esther Rosen, contributor on Chabad.org, she writes:

Tishrei (Tishri), the first month of the Jewish year (the seventh when counting from Nisan), is full of momentous and meaningful days of celebration. Beginning with the High Holidays, in this month we celebrate Rosh Hashanahthe Ten Days of RepentanceYom KippurSukkot and Simchat Torah. Each one is filled with its own meaningful customs and rituals. Some are serious, awesome days set aside for reflection and soul-searching. Some are joyous days full of happy and cheerful celebration.

But all of these days, throughout the month of Tishrei, are opportunities to connect, to be inspired, and to become more fulfilled and in tune with our true inner selves. Tishrei is considered the “head” of the year, and the reservoir from which we draw our strength and inspiration throughout the year ahead. (Quote source here.)

Specific to the High Holy Days,” also known as “The High Holidays,” Rosh Hashanah begins these days and culminates with Yom Kippur, which is quickly followed by the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. An article titled, The High Holidays: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipper,” (the author’s name is not mentioned) states the following:

What Are the High Holy Days?

If the year is a train, the High Holidays (AKA High Holy Days) are its engine. A delicate blend of joy and solemnity, feasting and fasting, prayer and inspiration make up the spiritually charged head of the Jewish year.

The High Holiday season begins during the month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded every weekday morning, a clarion call to return to G‑d in advance of the sacred days that lay ahead.

The two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah is the head of the Jewish year, the time when G‑d reinvests Himself in creation as we crown Him king of the universe through prayer, shofar blasts, and celebration.

A week later, the High Holidays reach their crescendo with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Like angels, we neither eat nor drink for 25 hours. Dressed in white, we pray in the synagogue—united as one people, children of One Father.

But it does not end there. The other-worldliness of the High Holidays is then channeled into the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which bring the annual fall holiday season to a most joyous conclusion. (Quote source here.)

As a Christian, I must admit that I never gave much thought to the Jewish holidays until I stumbled upon Tisha B’Av(also known as The Ninth of Av) in June 2012 which “commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day set aside by G‑d for suffering” (quote source and a list of those catastrophes is available here.) Since that time, I have written a number of blog posts on my regular blog not only on that particular Jewish holiday but others, too.

Christianity has it’s roots in Jewish history, and Jesus celebrated the Jewish holidays during his lifetime on earth. In fact, his death and resurrection take place during the Jewish holiday of Passover with his death taking place on Passover and his resurrection taking place on the Feast of Firstfruits(see article titled, The Timing of Jesus’ Deathat this link).

The significance of the Jewish holidays to Christianity cannot be understated. They are very much intertwined with Christian history, and the Old Testament (Jewish history) is filled with prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah which were fulfilled by Jesus Christ (see article titled Biblical Prophesies Fulfilled by Jesus at this link). Also, check out an article titled, What Proof Do You Have that Jesus is the Messiah?” by Jews for Jesus at this link.

In an article published in November 2011 in HuffPost.com titled, Dreams, Renewal and Rosh Hashanah,” by Levi-Ben Schmuel, contributor, writer, singer-songwriter, and inspirational speaker, he writes:

As we know, life is seldom a smooth road. Our dreams do not always manifest in the form we had hoped or in the time we imagined they would. As you reflect on why your dreams have not been realized, and perhaps look to place blame for them not working out on yourself or others, how will your frustrations and disappointments impact you moving forward?

The Jewish tradition counsels that before arriving at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year also known as the Day of Judgment, it is wise to reflect back on the previous year. The opportunity is to honestly examine where you have fallen short, then go through a process of asking for forgiveness that allows you to become renewed before God, ready to face life’s challenges in the new year. But in the process of renewal, will you simply wipe the slate clean, forget about your dreams, perhaps go for something less grand and safer, or continue to believe in your vision for your life?

Sister Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic nun, was ready to enter a graduate program in creative writing as a step to fulfill her dream of becoming a novelist. Before the program started, her order directed her to serve God and the church in a more traditional way. Regarding the loss of her dream, Sister Joan wrote in her book “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” “There is no one who has not known what it is to lose in the game of life…. There is no one who does not have to choose sometime, some way between giving up and growing stronger…. The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than simply to become older…”

Sister Joan did not let her disappointment and loss get in the way of moving forward with renewed strength. In her case, she chose to let go of a dream. Her story also points out some important things to consider as you reexamine your dreams and hopes for the New Year. Where does your dream come from? Is it inspired by God, or simply a desire of your ego? And does your dream conflict with God’s plans for you?

Joseph, the great dreamer from the Bible, did not have an easy time with his dreams. Early in his story, sharing his dreams led him to slavery in Egypt and eventually jail with no end in sight. Through his dark times, he went through a healing process that led him to devote his life and his dreams to God. His childhood dreams became reality many years later, certainly in a form he never imagined. Through partnering with the Divine, through weathering challenging times and gaining strength from them, Joseph renewed himself and became a great blessing to a foreign nation and his own family.

Dreams and hopes are wonderful things. We need to be on guard not to let the disappointments in life sour us on them. Yes, it takes work to clear away the results of our mistakes and failures. Therein lies a great beauty in life: When we clear away the debris, genuinely ask for forgiveness and recommit to work in partnership with God, God answers us with open arms. We can be renewed and energized to follow our dreams for another year trusting in God’s plans and our ability to work with the Divine in creating them.

Happy New Year! (Quote source here.)

In an article published just 21 hours ago in The Times of Israel titled, Rosh Hashanah: The Gift of Life, Hope and Renewal,” by Bonnie Chernin, pianist, writer, certified professional coach, and founder of Jews for Life (now known as Jewish Life League), she writes:

Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us, and we are preparing for the High Holidays with hope, reflection, renewal….

Rosh Hashanah means the Head of the Year, and there is a mission that is sometimes hidden that each of us as a unique human being needs to fulfill. Think about revealing your mission so you can achieve renewal and positive change. Change requires action. How can you change your situation today when you are so worried about what will happen in the future?

For change to happen in 5780 [the Jewish year starting on this coming Sunday evening], welcome each day with a new understanding of doing teshuvah, and that means returning to G-d every day for renewal. The year 5780 is called the year of redemption. Consider your most redeeming qualities. Cultivate your good qualities and do something meaningful every day. When in doubt about something, show restraint in your speech. Letting go of limiting beliefs is a liberating experience.

G-d did not intend for us to seek His forgiveness when we are preoccupied with personal judgments, insurmountable shame, fear or guilt. This is the time to remember what went wrong, how we can correct past mistakes and improve our lives.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, it is important to be introspective and commit to doing good deeds. By giving charity, attending services and connecting with others in the Jewish community, we can effect positive change in the world. We ask for forgiveness from people we have hurt. Sometimes it is not possible, so do what you can.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates G-d’s creation of the world, and of Adam and Eve.   Tishrei is a month of creation. According to tradition, the blast of the shofar is a call to repentance for the Jewish people. G-d is accessible to us and He is listening. During the Ten Days of Repentance, He is especially aware of the prayers of each and every one of us.

The best way to know that G-d is there for us is to be there for G-d. Teshuvah [repentance] should not be a temporary thing. Show up all year for G-d, not just on Rosh Hashanah.

Why not see today–this unique day that you are alive–as a day to experience growth, self-examination and improvement. What is your mission and purpose? My mission is to end abortion and provide resources that can help heal post-abortive women. My hope is to see a day when every unborn child is protected as a human being with potential. My purpose is to continue to involve myself in pro-life activities until a “Personhood Amendment” is passed to protect unborn children.

If I only lived for that future and got anxious over pro-abortion politicians, abortion policies, elections and obstacles in my way, I would not be able to do the pro-life actions that I take each day. I always keep my hopes high and my expectations in check. You can do the same.

Don’t think about what you will do tomorrow or for the entire year. You only have today, and no one is infallible. Did you know that by January 9th most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions? Likewise, on October 18th (nine days after Yom Kippur) will you give up on your resolutions to G-d? Will you forget about the promises you made for self-improvement in 5780? Or will you embrace each day with joy, enthusiasm, a sense of purpose and appreciation for the life that G-d created just for you?

If you can answer that one last question with a resounding “YES!”, then you are all set.

Shanah Tovah! (Quote course here.)

By including the above article, it is not meant to try and “guilt” anyone, but rather to cause us to reflect on our own personal relationship with God and what He means to us. In a brief article on the meaning of Shanah Tovah (that ends the article above) written by Rabbi Menachem Posner, staff editor at Chabad.org, he states:

Ever wondered what to say on Rosh Hashanah when you meet a Jewish person? Here’s what you need to know.

The Jewish new year is not just a time to renew our resolve to lose another fifteen pounds. Rather, it’s the time when our fate stands in the balance as G‑d reviews our past year and decides whether or not to renew our lease on His planet. As such, Jewish greetings for this time of year (the Jewish New Year is in the fall) reflect our prayers for a good, sweet year up ahead.

The catch-all greeting you can use for the entire season is “Shanah tovah” (שנה טובה), which means “Good year.” The word “u’metuka” (ומתוקה), and sweet, is sometimes appended to the end….

No matter what we say, the main thing is to wish each other a good, sweet year with all our heart–because that is what G‑d values the most. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post by saying “Shanah Tovah,” 🙂 and quoting Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice…

And to love kindness . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem” by Aish.com:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

It’s All Good

“Always loved… Never forgotten… Forever missed…”AnonymousIt has been said that the death of a parent changes us forever. It does. I wrote a blog post on this blog titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” on the day Dad died on June 22, 2019; and later I wrote a second blog post on July 21, 2019 on my other blog titled, Forever Changed,” after I returned from a week-long trip to my hometown to attend Dad’s funeral on July 13, 2019. And, I published a blog post on what would have been Dad’s 96th birthday, July 23, 2019 on this blog titled, Remembering Dad.”

It has now been six weeks since that last blog post I published on July 23rd, and even in this short amount of time, it is true, at least in my case, that time has a way of softening the negative stuff. For one thing, Dad and I didn’t have much of a relationship after my stepmother died in 2011. Before Dad’s death on June 22, 2019, the last time I was physically around Dad was at my youngest nephew’s wedding in October 2015 (for one thing, we lived in different states). It was Dad’s choice, not mine, to keep me at a physical distance these past several years. I wanted a relationship with him and I would have liked to visit him during those years.

I’ve had time to reflect over these past seven plus weeks since Dad’s funeral, and I realized that as time passes that I have many good memories of Dad especially from my younger years, and I’ve decided to let those memories overshadow any of the strains in our relationship especially over the past decade, and since my stepmother died in 2011. The only choices we get to make in this life are our own choices. We can’t make choices for other people. They make their own.

Just four days ago I wrote an email to a friend stating that a funny (not in “ha ha” funny but funny as in “unusual”) thing has happened to me since Dad died over two months ago. It’s as if all of the “bad” stuff in our relationship has just sort of faded away, and only the good stuff remains. And it has brought about a major peace in me regarding our relationship (between Dad and me). I also feel like a different person now in some ways. The somewhat perpetual anxiety I felt over my relationship with Dad while he was alive (because I couldn’t “fix” whatever it was on my own) has totally evaporated now. It’s very “freeing”  which is the only way I know how to express it. I only have good feelings towards Dad now. Of course, I will never know what caused the friction in the first place as he never would tell me.

So this is the last blog post I will be writing regarding my relationship with Dad. Call it closure. I love Dad, and that’s all that matters. For his funeral he requested three songs be played. I’ve included two of them previously on the blog posts mentioned above. This last one is the most fitting, and it was one of his favorites. Nat King Cole sang it back in 1951 (before I was born), and Michael Bublé sang the latest version of it in the YouTube video below. It’s titled, “Unforgettable.”

Unforgettable . . .

That’s what you are . . .

Dad . . . .

YouTube Video: “Unforgettable” by Michael Bublé:

Photo #1: Pic of Dad as a Navy Pilot/Instructor during World War II
Photo #2: Pic of Dad (2014) and second pic of Dad and my stepmother and their dog (circa 2000)

Remembering Dad

“Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”Mitch Albom, internationally renowned best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster, and musicianToday (July 23, 2019) is Dad’s 96th birthday. Dad passed away on June 22, 2019 (see post titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” published on that same day on this blog, and Forever Changed,” published two days ago on my regular blog) just one month shy of his 96th birthday, so this is the first milestone of many that will be celebrated without his physical presence.

It still doesn’t seem quite real yet that Dad is really gone (as in “never coming back” gone). While Dad and I lived one thousand miles apart and our relationship was somewhat strained especially during the past decade, I always knew he was only a phone call away, but now not even the internet or cyberspace can reach him (not that Dad ever owned techie stuff except for a cellphone, and he never had an email address or used text messaging). Technology may be the 8th Wonder of the World,” but not even all of our techie wonders can reach Dad now.

Dad (circa 2014) & Dad and my stepmother at Manhattan Beach, CA, in 2001

Despite our differences, my feelings and love for Dad never waned. While Dad went to his grave with me never really understanding what it was that he let come between us especially in these past ten years, it never stopped me from loving him. He’s the only dad I’ve ever had, and he has left an indelible mark on my life for the better even though at times he tried to make it for the worse (I say that humorously). He may have divorced Mom many years ago when I was only 12, but he can’t divorce me. I’m his own flesh and blood, and I’m his only daughter made from his flesh and blood.

Dad and I did not get into a lot of arguments (none, actually, when I was very young), but he was the son of a hellfire and brimstone preacher and he could dish it out with the best of them once he got started. There was no getting a word in edgewise when Dad got started on one of his tirades. Fortunately, they were few and far between, and the physical distance between us after I moved to Florida when I was 40 as the recipient of a doctoral fellowship at a private university helped to keep the heat mostly turned down to lukewarm.

I never understood his anger (maybe discontent is a better word) at me, and he was often quite critical even when I was very successful at something that I had accomplished, but beneath his anger I knew that he loved me. Our relationship went fairly well during the almost 32 years he was married to my stepmother until she died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2011. She softened him towards me and I was forever grateful to her for that. Dad could blow up at me when I was just sitting in a chair watching TV when I visited them, and I never knew what I did to set him off. She was a sort of buffer between us. After her death, the distance between Dad and me grew again, but not because I wanted it to be like that. I always wanted a close relationship with Dad, but he was the one who built the wall between us, and he kept it in place right up until he died a month ago.

I am not a fighter and I hate arguing with anyone. I will walk away from an argument before I try to fight back especially when I know it is a fight I’ll never win or that a compromise is not possible. And with Dad, I never won that fight as he would just shout over anything I tried to say, so a couple of decades ago I stopped trying to make him see that I wasn’t the person he perceived me to be. I felt like I was fighting against a phantom image he had created of me, and that’s about as effective has punching at water.

I can’t tell you how many years I prayed that we could be reconciled and have a real relationship as father and daughter. I watched him have relationships with other women like my sisters-in-law, and later my stepsister, and my niece, and even Dad’s girlfriends between his marriages. I didn’t even come close in comparison to them in his eyes. It was brutal, and I never understood why he felt the way he did about me. I could only assume it had something to do with my mother who he divorced when I was 12. He never let me be who I was. I was always this phantom image he had created in his mind that he did not like, and he never got to know the real me. And because of that, I never got to experience the side of him that he showed to everybody else in life, either.

It takes two to tango, and I know I wasn’t perfect either. I have my flaws as does every human being on the planet. There’s a line near the end of the movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” (2010) where the main character, a Wall Street guy named Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), who had a very strained relationship with his adult daughter in the movie, says to her, “Human beings… you gotta give ’em a break. We’re all mixed bags.” He and his daughter reconcile at the end of the movie. In real life, Dad and I did not reconcile before he died, and it was his choice, not mine. I was told that he didn’t even want to see me on his deathbed, but he said he knew that I might need the “closure.” I didn’t need the closure; I just wanted to know that he really loved me, and I wanted him to know that I really loved him. After all, we are all mixed bags.

I knew Dad loved me at some level, although we had only physically seen each other twice in the past dozen years before Dad died (both times were at two nephews’ weddings–one in January 2008 and the second in October 2015), and I was the one who made the effort to “show up.” When my stepmother was still alive and after I moved to Florida when I was 40, I called home and talked to Dad and my stepmother every Sunday for all of those years until my stepmother died, and then Dad no longer showed much interest in talking with me by phone once he started a relationship with a widow he met several months after my stepmother died in 2011. This widow was really good for Dad and she no doubt had a big hand in keeping him alive for as long as he lived as he was devastated after my stepmother died. I have no hard feelings toward her whatsoever, and she has her own significant health issues going on right now, too. I was glad she brought life back into Dad for those few years they were together before Dad died, and I was happy to see that she was able to make it to Dad’s visitation and funeral with her family.

My grief for Dad is not only because he died but when he died so did the last opportunity to try to make things right when I didn’t even know what was wrong. My grief is also for the relationship we could have had if he had only gotten rid of the phantom image he created of me that kept him from having a real relationship with me all those years, and especially in the past decade.

Dad really was a great guy and he really did have a great life. He never knew a stranger; he was an honest and very successful businessman; he was enormously proud of his WWII service as a Navy aviator and his military career, and he loved being a Mason (he was a “33rd Degree” Mason which is part of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry) and a Shriner during the years he was active. He did love his family, and he had a great sense of humor, and he was loved by many including me. That is the dad I will always remember, and I refuse to let the negative stuff get in the way. We all make our choices in this life, and he chose to keep me at a distance. I would have made a different choice if I could have but, as I stated above, it takes two to tango, and his life wasn’t a dance he was interested in sharing with me.

Dad’s death might be a little easier on me then my two brothers because of the difficult relationship Dad chose to have with me (actually, that could make it harder on me if I let it, but I won’t), and also due to the physical distance between Dad and me from the time I was 40 and moved to Florida for that doctoral fellowship. Dad was very close to my two brothers and their families, and he communicated with them either daily or weekly right up until his death.

As stated above, I only actually saw Dad twice in the past dozen years–the last time being in October 2015. I asked Dad if I could come home to visit many times but I was repeatedly told “no” after my stepmother died. I will never understand why Dad did not want me around nor will I ever know the reason behind it. I sometimes felt like an orphan long before Dad died especially in the past decade.

I do love Dad with every fabric of my being. I love him as much as I love Mom who died over 36 years ago. I was very grateful I was able to make it back to Dad’s funeral even though it required me to drive 2000 miles in my almost 15-year-old Honda. It was a very positive and uplifting time for me from start to finish as I got to see family again along with folks who came to the visitation and Dad’s funeral that I had not seen, in some cases, in over 40 years. It was truly a celebration of Dad’s life and it was a wonderful celebration amidst much crying. Dad will be missed by many including me.

To those who might be reading this post who knew and loved Dad, I do not want what I have written above to in any way affect the way you knew him and loved him. Life is full of difficult relationships for most if not all of us at some point, and just because Dad and I had a difficult relationship does not mean it has to affect anyone else’s view of Dad. I wish I was able to get to know Dad like you did, and sometimes I did get to see that side of him (I saw it a lot more when I was much younger). I want you to remember him just as you do–as a great guy who didn’t know a stranger and who celebrated life right up to the end.

And life . . .

For the rest of us . . .

Still goes on . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night (this is the last of three songs that Dad requested to be played at his funeral):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit–personal photo
Photo #3 credit–personal photo

He Who Laughs Lasts Longest

“Humor is a rubber sword–it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”Mary Hirsch, HumoristFour days ago when I wrote my blog post, A Eulogy for Dad,” on the day Dad died one thousand miles away in another state, I ended by saying that Dad, if he was still here, would end his own eulogy with a funny joke–probably more likely a funny story.

Later, I got to thinking about the term “funny joke” as I thought maybe it is a bit redundant to use the term “funny” with “joke” as most jokes are supposed to be funny, aren’t they? Of course, that lead to a Google search for an answer as I hate being redundant, and I tend to use too many words as it is. One of the links that came up in my search lead to an article published in 2006 titled, When the Truth Hurts, Tell a Joke: Why America Needs Its Comedians,” by  and . The article opens with the quote at the top of this blog post by Mary Hirsch, a humorist. Farther down in the article is found the following:

Most of American comedy has its roots in the stand-up routine.  Nearly all of the great comics of television, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, David Letterman, and Jamie Foxx, to name a few, started their careers as stand-up comics. Characteristic of a stand-up act is its fast string of amusing stories, short jokes, one-liners, and the occasion of spontaneous interaction with the audience. Normally, the stage contains nothing more than the microphone, a stool, and perhaps a glass of water.  

What makes stand-up comedians worthy of research is that their search for laughter leads them to seek out, explore, and articulate the unspoken taboos of society. Much like Adam Smith’s observation in the eighteenth century that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest,” it is through the comedian’s selfish pursuit of the laugh that society receives its social critique.

“Comedians don’t start out to change the world, but in the end, that’s what they do,” says Stephen Rosenfield, founder and director of the American Comedy Institute in New York City, where he teaches aspiring comedians the art of writing and performing comedy.  “Comedians are aware of the power of jokes to change societies, but they’re not necessarily idealistic about it.  A comedian’s first concern is to find funny material. That is his job.”

“A good joke provides tension, and then, release of that tension,” says Greg Giraldo, (1965-2010), a Harvard Law School graduate turned comic who hosted Comedy Central’s Friday Night with Greg Giraldo show.  “You build the tension by saying things that are controversial. The release is the laugh. The bigger the surprise or insight in your joke, the bigger the laugh.”

This anatomy of tension and release ensures that the comic is going to discuss material that is at the fringe of what polite society will talk about. There’s plenty of controversy to confront, said Giraldo, enjoying a meal of sushi after a Tuesday night appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York’s Greenwich Village. “A lot of racially charged [crap*] happens here in New York City. Yet mainstream culture likes to pretend that race issues don’t exist. Ninety-five percent of white people and ninety-five percent of black people live on different planets. They don’t speak the same language. They don’t interact. They’re not comfortable around one another. That’s [screwed*] up. It’s the sad reality of our culture. Unfiltered honest talking on race is rare, but comics are comfortable with race. Comics are honest.” [Note: * indicates expletives in original article were changed] (Quote source here.)

Comedians can “bring down the house” with gales of laughter but also make us squirm in our seats. I think of George Carlin (1937-2008), an American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic, who was a master at making us squirm in our seats. Reality can be hard to face most of time. Comedy makes it palpable.

In an article published on September 20, 2016 in The Chicago Tribute titled, Policing humor is not funny–keep the offensive humor coming,” by Karith Foster, a bicoastal comedian, speaker and author who is featured in the documentaryCan We Take a Joke?” which “explores the plight of comics in an age of political correctness” (quote is at bottom of the article) she writes:

There are no rules in comedy, save for one: It has to be funny. That has always been the attraction and the challenge.

Until a few years ago, I assumed everyone stuck to this simple standard. Then the “war on comedy” erupted. We’ve seen the battlefield pop up everywhere in the past few years: students protesting visiting comics over perceived sexist or racist sets, the social media storms after a seemingly off-color joke, the explosion of think pieces over the insidious intent behind a thoughtless retort.

Although outrage vigilantes waging these battles claim to be stomping out bigotry, instead they have become hypersensitive to the point where they have gone, hard, after just about anything. The mob rarely suggests starting conversations — instead leaping to cries to cancel sitcoms, boycott comedy shows, or blacklist comedians as unequivocal misogynists or racists.

Take what happened when talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted an edited image of her piggybacking on Olympian sprinter Usain Bolt. The joke was a caption that read “This is how I’m running errands from now on. #Rio2016.” Because he’s the fastest man in the world! Get it?! Well, thousands did not get it, saying the image of a white woman on the back of the black Jamaican runner echoed the old tradition of slaves carrying their masters. They called for DeGeneres’ head on a platter.

As a black woman, I’m attuned to instances of everyday racism that can seep into the lives of African-Americans. This wasn’t one of them. This was a funny image of an adult getting a piggyback ride and making fun of LA traffic. (It really is hell!) The cacophony got to be so much that DeGeneres actually had to reassure the public that she was not a racist.

I would never be so bold as to tell someone how to process humor. It’s as subjective as taste in fashion or food. Based on a complex web of experiences and worldviews, some people are left in stitches, while others are left with a shrug. But in the case of DeGeneres and in so many other examples, the outrage that follows these jokes seems to be more a reflexive hunt for things to take offense at rather than thoughtful critique.

The real problem, however, isn’t the wasted energy of the political correctness patrollers or the hurt careers of comics. The danger of this outrage phenomenon is that, in the process of policing every sensitive subject, we lose comedy itself — one of the only tools we have to grapple with our testiest issues. Humor is an entryway unlike any other for talking out things we’re too afraid, too uncomfortable or too pained to broach head on. If we can’t joke about issues such as ethnicity, sexuality, class, politics, pain and death, we may never get through them or find ways to heal.

I see this power of comedy first-hand when people approach me after my sets. Whether it was a joke about race, size, age or sexuality, people who say something almost always tell me they are grateful that someone is addressing, rather than shying away from, one of these taboo issues. For example, I have a joke, inspired from real life, where I riff on the less-than-strait-laced members of my black family:

“My cousin just got married, had a baby, and names the daughter … Daijanera.

“Someone asked me what that means? What does it mean?! She made it up!

“No, I’ll tell you what it means. It’s apparently African-American for ‘I never want my daughter to have a job in corporate America.'”

When my audience laughs at that—and they do, even if it’s uncomfortable laughter—I follow it up with:

“I’m so glad y’all laughed at that because that joke did not go over so well in Atlanta. I know this because after the show, Ryshaneequa came up to me and she had some choice words.”

Then I’ll proceed to go into a litany of other names given to Caucasian girls that are equally absurd—showing that this name game crosses all color lines and ethnic barriers. It never fails that at least two people come up to me after a show and either share their name or a family member’s name and we all have a laugh. The joke works because beneath the surface, it’s more of a knock on the racism in corporate America—and on the stereotypes we’re all willing to pile on certain names—than it is on my cousin’s first-born. I’ve heard from audience members about how the joke opened up conversations that made them rethink their prejudices or consoled them that they’re not the only ones unfairly judged for their unusual name. Reactions such as this remind me why I fell in love with comedy.

Comedy is an intricate art that often relies on getting a laugh at the things about which we’re most afraid to talk. If we lose our sense of humor about the difficult issues, I’m afraid we may lose our nerve to bring them up at all. (Quote source here.)

A quote from a January 6, 2016 article titled, Jokes and Social Commentary: Comedians Who Stirred Controversy, by Manas Mishra, author on The Quint, states:

Jokes and comedy are very powerful tools of socio-political commentary, and under a layer of humor may be a profound statement on our society. A country’s ability to take a joke is often a reflection on that society’s openness and the actual freedom of speech. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 21, 2014 in Christianity.com titled, Why We Need Comedy,” by Daniel Darling, Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC), author, contributing editor to Christianity Today’s CT Pastors, and a contributor to The Worldview Study Biblehe writes:

“Are you sure about that?”

This was the remark a very conservative professor made to me, over lunch, during my freshman year of college. He was responding to a flippant and hyper-spiritualized comment I made, something I was want to do in those heady days when I knew everything there was to know about the Bible and about the world. These were the days before I got married, before I had children, before I pastored. In other words, I thought I knew everything, but I really knew nothing.

The comment I made was about the death of a comedian. I said something callous like, “Can you imagine a life spent making people laugh? What a waste!”

Yeah, I really said that.

Thankfully my conservative professor at my conservative Bible college offered this subtle, but pointed rebuke.

I thought about this conversation afresh as I considered the recent death of comedy great, Robin Williams. What struck me about the response to his death was how comedy unites the social classes.  As tributes poured in about Williams, they came from Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious. Much of this can be attributed; I think, to the kind of raw, real-world comedy that Williams employed. But mostly, I think, it reveals to us just the importance of laughing in a flourishing civil society.

The Scriptures tell us that laughter is a kind of medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). The very fact that God made us as creatures who have the capacity for laughter, who instilled in us the very desire for joy should tell us that laughter matters and matters more than we might think it does. This is why, I think, the writer of Ecclesiastes, perhaps Solomon, reminded us that there is indeed a time to laugh.

Of course there are darker types of laughter or laughing at things God hates or laughing so as to mock and disrespect someone. Comedy at the expense of someone’s dignity isn’t really comedy at all. It’s a kind of rhetorical assault.

But I’m talking about genuine, hilarious, soul-refreshing laughter. This is good for us, good for our well-being. It helps us get through difficult days and it, often, humbles us enough to be vulnerable to let someone see us as human. I think back on the days after 9/11, when comedians gingerly stepped back into the fray. I remember seeing David Letterman cry, but I was really glad when our country had the strength to laugh again.

I’ve often thought that my best friendships were built by two things: enduring hardships with someone and enjoying laughter. Laughter breaks down barriers. It penetrates walls of pride and prejudice and distrust.

I like to think, in my sanctified imagination, that Jesus was someone who was unafraid to laugh. The gospels don’t record it, so I can’t be dogmatic about this, but my guess is that if you spend three years with 12 guys from different walks of life, you are going to have moments of sheer laughter and joy. Imagine the stories we might hear in Heaven about the things Peter said that didn’t get published in the gospel narratives. We know little about what their conversations were like in those three years, but if they were like normal, human conversations among close friends, we have to imagine there was much laughter. (Quote source here.)

In the opening statement in an article published on March 16, 2014 in HuffPost.com titled, Why Laughing is Good for Your Health,” by , cardiologist, author, and founder of Revitalize-U, she states:

An old Yiddish proverb says, “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Everyone knows that laughter makes you feel good and puts you in high spirits, but did you also know that laughter actually causes physiological responses that protect the body from disease and help your vital organs repair themselves? A good laugh can be compared to a mild workout, as it exercises the muscles, gets the blood flowing, decreases blood pressure and stress hormones, improves sleep patterns and boosts the immune system. Furthermore, a study by the John Hopkins University Medical School showed that humor and laughter can also improve memory and mental performance. Yet despite the fact that laughter has so many benefits, far too many of us forget to even crack a smile every once in a while, let alone laugh. (Quote source here.)

The title of this blog post comes from the Quote Investigator which states that this expression comes from a 1917 poem by W. E. Nesom, and it is the fifth stanza of the poem which states:

If laughter be an aid to health,
Then logic of the strongest
Impels us to the cheerful thought
That he who laughs lasts longest.

Dad lived almost 96 years, and he enjoyed comedy and laughter and “kidding around” all of his life. He is a testament to that poem that “he who laughs lasts longest.”

I’ll end this post with a quote from Mark TwainAgainst the assault of laughter…

Nothing . . .

Can . . .

Stand . . . .

YouTube Video: “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Eulogy for Dad

“Life, if well lived, is long enough.”Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD), Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist.Three days ago I wrote a blog post on my regular blog titled, And Life Goes On.” I didn’t give a reason for writing it, but then I usually don’t give any reason for writing most of the blog posts I have published over the years. However, And Life Goes On,” is different. I had a reason.

My dad died today.

Dad lived a good and full life. He was loved by many, and he died just one month shy of his 96th birthday, which is a lot longer then most people live. He outlived my mom by 36 years, and he outlived my stepmother who he was married to for almost 32 years when she died in 2011, and my stepbrother who died much too young back in 2008 at the age of 45. He is survived by me and my two brothers (one older and one younger) and their families, and our stepsister who has lost everyone in her family except for us, her step family.

In January of this year, Dad had to have a pacemaker put in to keep his heart going, and he needed heart valve surgery four months later that was supposed to “fix” everything. But it didn’t. He still had breathing issues, and he completely lost his appetite and essentially stop eating. He didn’t want to go back to the emergency room nor did he want to be tube fed. Hospice was called in. He lived with my younger brother for the past few months since he had the pacemaker put in until his death this morning.

I live in a different state from where my dad was living. It wasn’t until just two weeks ago that I finally realized that Dad was dying. I kept thinking if he would just get his appetite back again or at least force himself to eat, that he would get better. That is known as  “Stage 1: Denial” in the Grief Cycle (see my blog post, And Life Goes On,” for the five stages of grief).  I knew he was going on 96 and that his body was wearing out, but some folks live to be 100 or older, and that was my wish for him. “Just eat, Dad” is what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t there, and it would have only made things worse.

You see, I wanted Dad to walk me down the aisle if I ever found the right guy to marry, and I didn’t care how old he was or I was when it happened. But more then that, I wanted us to be like we were back when I was 21, when on my 21st birthday Dad took me out to dinner and then asked me if I wanted to go bar hopping to some of his favorite hangouts. It sounded like fun, and while it might not be what most fathers would do with their daughters on their 21st birthday, we had a blast and at our last stop at a ballroom type place we had a father and daughter dance. I guess I wanted my “younger” father back before the years wore on and the image of my mother took the place of me in his eyes. They divorced when I was 12, and there was no love lost between them right up until my mom died in 1983 at the age of 54.

Dad in Oregon 11-26-17

Dad was a great guy and a very honest businessman who got totally screwed over by a business partner when he was 52, and he literally ended up on the street with nothing more then a suitcase full of tools that he used to repair typewriters in the business he and his partner started a few years earlier. His partner had yanked it out from under him. But Dad didn’t let that faze him, and with hard work and a stellar reputation around the city for being an honest businessman, he built up his own business from scratch that eventually put his old partner’s business out-of-business. And he was so successful that he was able to retire from his business at the age of 64.

Dad married my stepmother in 1979 and they were perfect for each other, and they fit together, as Forrest Gump said about Jenny in the movie, Forrest Gump,” like “peas and carrots.” They traveled and took cruises and went out every summer to see my older brother and his family in Oregon, and they had the time of their lives. When my own mother died in 1983 (my parents divorced in the mid-1960’s and Mom never remarried, and she acquired some horrific health issues starting at the age of 36 that took her life by the time she was 54), my stepmother became like a second mother to me, even though I was 27 at the time they married.

Dad could tell stories from his WWII years as a Navy flight instructor training cadets to fly in Corpus Christi, Texas, that would keep you spellbound. And he had framed pictures of the planes he flew in WWII hanging on the walls in their home. He was rarely at a loss for words, and he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t know a stranger. And everybody loved him.

Unfortunately, by the time he reached his current age (95) most of his friends and the people he knew from his past had all died. But I think what hit him the hardest was when my stepmother died. That really took a toll on him. So did losing my stepbrother back in 2008. But Dad was a survivor, and he never complained, and he moved on with his life.

He was raised as the oldest son of my paternal grandparents, who were actually his aunt and uncle as his birth mother died a few days after giving birth to Dad. His birth mother and my paternal grandmother were sisters. His dad was a Free Methodist minister who could give “hellfire and brimstone” sermons with the best of them back during that time. I remember Dad talking about all the times his father made him walk down the aisle at church when he would give an “alter call” hoping to inspire others in the audience to follow. Or when he did something wrong and he ended up being taken to the woodshed and whipped by his father (a common form of punishment for kids back in that time), or worse yet, being forced to pray for hours on end as penance. Needless to say, once he got out from under all that hellfire and brimstone preaching when he joined the Navy during WWII, he became more of a party guy. I can’t say that I blame him since I was raised in the church, too. It’s a fine line we have to walk between extremes on either side. He tilted on the party side of that fence. I tend to sometimes, too, but not as extreme as Dad did it as I acquired too much guilt when I was a kid, and I was sure if I had sex outside of marriage that I’d be struck by lightening, and that one alcoholic drink would lead to hell. The church could be a very tough place to grow up in.

While there were extremes in the church when I was growing up, just like Dad had when he was growing up, at least Dad was not a hellfire and brimstone preacher like Grandpa was which was my saving grace. But my parents’ marriage hit the rocks when I was way too young, and the division that started between us back then ended up lasting a lifetime. Dad always saw my mother in me, and it made our relationship difficult. I loved both of my parents but they were as opposite as night and day. I got caught in the middle as the only girl in my family and Dad thought I always sided with Mom. Little did either of them know that I didn’t want to have to pick sides at all. I was only 12 when they divorced.

Life is what it is and we have little control over the things or people we think we should be able to have control over. We can’t control others. We are lucky if we can control ourselves most of the time. When I was awarded a one-year doctoral fellowship at a private university in Florida when I turned 40 and I left Iowa in 1992, I ended up finding work in Florida after my fellowship year was over and I remained there for over two decades. It was during this time that the divide between Dad and I widened, but I never wanted it that way. Still, as I said above, we cannot control others. Dad was not happy when I left for that doctoral fellowship in Florida, but my stepmother was thrilled for me. She was the buffer between us although I am sure it was an awkward position for her at times.

I always wanted to mend the rift with Dad and I prayed that it would happen. In fact, I felt sure that before he died (or if I died first) that we would come to some type of reconciliation because I desperately wanted it. He just wasn’t able to ever separate me from my mother. I was told that he didn’t want to see me when he was dying.

And life goes on.

I love Dad with every fabric of my being. I loved Mom, too. And I loved my stepmother, who was the best “second mother” I ever could have asked for. I can’t fix what was or what is, but I can accept life as it has been handed to me and move forward. Dad had a great life, and I am grateful for that and for him, too. I learned a lot from him over the years; he just didn’t know it or he didn’t choose to believe it (even though I told him often enough). That was his choice.

I’m not exactly sure how to end a eulogy as I’ve never written one before. Dad would want it to be upbeat. He’d probably tell a funny joke. I guess I’ll just say that despite our difficulties over the years, I am grateful that he was my dad, and I learned a lot about life from him. I love you, Dad. I really, really do…

And life . . .

Goes . . .

On . . . .

YouTube Video: “Talladega” by Eric Church (“Talladega” video makes a visual out of a song that is about a lot more than racing. The clip spans one man’s entire lifetime while he lays in a hospital bed, reminiscing before his death–longer explanation available at this link):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit: family photo

A Psalm for Travelers

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.Psalm 121:8 (NIV)

Traveling at this time of the year (one of the busiest times of the year) can be a harrowing experience especially for the infrequent traveler who isn’t used to traveling long distances on a regular basis. Even for the seasoned traveler, crowds and lines at airports can be daunting, as can also be the case on crowded highways if traveling by car. Even weather is a major factor in traveling at this time of year with winter quickly approaching.

While I am not traveling this year during the holiday season, I came across an article published by The United Methodist Church titled, Psalm 121: A Prayer for Travelers,” that I thought would be a great comfort to those folks who are traveling at this time of year (or at any time during the year). The article states:

Whether traveling overseas or around the corner, starting a new job or a new family, we embark on all kinds of journeys. Life itself can be a long and winding road, but as Christians, a life dedicated to God is not one defined by standing still, and our faith assures us that we will never travel that road alone.

Titled “A Song of Ascents” in Scripture, Psalm 121 marks life’s journeys. The sacred song is believed to have been sung by pilgrims traveling the ancient road to Jerusalem but, over the ages, has become known to many by a more familiar name:The Traveler’s Psalm.” The words serve as a guide for the journey and a reminder God is watching over us every step of the way.

You are encouraged to use this video meditation [see YouTube Video below] as a source of comfort as you commence, continue, or conclude your journey. This short segment is easy to share or download and can be used in a wide variety of church settings, such as before or during worship, in Sunday school classes, or in small groups. (Quote source here.)

[The video at the bottom of this blog was produced by The United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN. Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458. This video was first posted in July, 2015. The images in this video were taken by photographers from various United Methodist conferences and agencies.]

Here are the words from Psalm 121 (NIV):

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel

    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

A decade ago I placed a small magnet with the words from Psalm 121 on the refrigerator door in an apartment I had just moved into in a new city and state where I was starting a new job. Every morning when I got into my refrigerator it was a constant reminder to me that nothing was going to happen that day that the Lord wasn’t watching over.

The job only last seven months, and I only lived in that apartment for one year (I had signed a one-year lease never dreaming that the job wouldn’t last even that long). Ten years and a whole lot of miles and experiences later, I am very much aware of just how true these words from Psalm 121 have been and continue to be in my life.

May these words be a daily comfort and constant reminder as we travel through life’s journeys wherever they take us. And as I’ve experienced in my own life, some of those places are totally unexpected. However, God is there in the midst of every single one of them.

I will lift up my eyes until to mountains–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord . . .

The Maker . . .

Of Heaven . . .

And Earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 121: A Prayer for Travelers” by The United Methodist Church:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit
here

Journey Into Thankfulness

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer       (1906 -1945), German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident
Thanksgiving (the holiday) is less than two weeks away, and Christmas will quickly follow. While many people spend the holidays surrounded by family who sometimes travel very long distances to be together, the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be a somewhat stressful time for others due to their particular set of circumstances. Take, for example, the black sheep in the family–and most families have one.

I ran into an article titled, Embrace the Family ‘Black Sheep’ This Holiday,” by Kristen Fuller, M.D., physician, author, and senior staff writer at Sovereign Health, published on October 21, 2015.  She writes:

The holiday season is filled with decorations, food, presents, family photos, and social and work gift exchanges. The holidays can be a fun time, full of food, festivities and gifts, but for many people the holidays can be a stressful time. Although the holiday season could be a time to celebrate friends and family, some are at a loss when family members do not get along and they feel like they have to survive the tension while sitting at the table, drinking apple cider and eating turkey. Almost every family has ablack sheep,” that one family member who is isolated because he or she is too eccentric, too smart, too outspoken or too opinionated with views not shared by the rest of the family….

Many family members who are outcasts are actually not bad people; they may have different views and values. Many black sheep are actually lovable people who are either extremely bright or creative. These family members are the ones who think outside the box and may get into a little trouble once in awhile. For example, a nephew may have gotten suspended from school for missing too many days, or the older cousin is labeled as a “party girl” because she often stays out late with her friends, or the young doctor in the family is the black sheep because of her success at such a young age. These are not necessarily bad people, and they do not deserve the black-sheep label. The holidays would not be the same without them.

For many it is not specifically the individual with the problem, instead it is the family’s perception of that person. Just like co-workers and strangers, family members will also judge each other. Instead of judging, it’s vital to find the value and good in every family member and give thanks for having that person around. Instead of shaming the black sheep at the holiday table or forcing him or her to sit at the kids’ table [if they get included at all], take a moment and be thankful for sharing a meal with loved ones for the holidays, a luxury that some people do not get to experience. (Quote source here.)

So, embrace your black sheep, families!!! They would, no doubt, be ever grateful to you if you would… 🙂 And stop treating them like they either don’t exist or their lives don’t matter just because they don’t view the world exactly like you do. We are not all made from the same mold, and that is something to be thankful for, too… 🙂

On the subject of being thankful in general, I have found, especially over the past decade, that maintaining an attitude of thankfulness is not an easy thing to do. It’s like forgiveness–it has to be revisited over and over and over again.

Here are some quotes to get us started in the right direction on our journey into thankfulness. They come from an article titled, 30 Christian Quotes about Thankfulness,” compiled and edited by the Crosswalk Editorial Staff and published on November 14, 2016 on Crosswalk.com:

Thanksgiving is not just a holiday, it’s an attitude we can practice every day. Here is the opening quote from the Thanksgiving Proclamation signed by George Washington, President of the United States of America, October 3, 1789:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

We have freedom in this country to express our thankfulness publicly and to celebrate with others on a special day.

Here are 30 Christian quotes to ponder on thankfulness and gratitude:

1. “God has promised to supply all our needs. What we don’t have now, we don’t need now.” –Elizabeth Elliot

2. “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” –Charles Spurgeon

3. “God says to give thanks in everything. That doesn’t mean you need to give thanks FOR everything. You don’t need to give thanks FOR that bad day. Or FOR that bad relationship. Or being passed over at work. Financial hardship. Whatever it is – you are not to give thanks FOR the difficulties, but rather IN the difficulties. That is a very important distinction, and one I think we often miss. Giving thanks IN everything shows a heart of faith that God is bigger than the difficulties and that He can use them, if you approach Him with the right heart and spirit, for your good and His glory.” –Tony Evans

4. “We need to discover all over again that worship is natural to the Christian, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and that the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal.” –J.I. Packer

5. “No matter what our circumstances, we can find a reason to be thankful.” –Dr. David Jeremiah

6. “There are three requisites to the proper enjoyment of earthly blessings: a thankful reflection, on the goodness of the giver; a deep sense of our own unworthiness; and a recollection of the uncertainty of our long possessing them. The first will make us grateful; the second, humble; and the third, moderate.” –Hannah More

7. “If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace.” –Max Lucado

8. “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!”  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

9. “God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.” –Kay Arthur

10. “A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the Spirit of God. It prevails with Him unspeakably.” –John Bunyan

11. “In happy moments, PRAISE GOD. In difficult moments, SEEK GOD. In quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD. In painful moments, TRUST GOD. Every moment, THANK GOD.” –Rick Warren

12. “A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.” –John MacArthur

13. “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” –C.S. Lewis

14. “Be thankful. God has commanded it—for our good and for His glory. God’s command to be thankful is not the threatening demand of a tyrant. Rather, it is the invitation of a lifetime—the opportunity to draw near to Him at any moment of the day.” –Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

15. “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” –A.W. Tozer

16. “Genuine thankfulness is an act of the heart’s affections, not an act of the lips’ muscles.” –John Piper

17. “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that, I still possess.” –Corrie ten Boom

18. “Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray that we have His Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.” –Andrew Murray

19. “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” –Tim Keller

20. “When we choose thankful prayer over wallowing in anxiety and worry, we are demonstrating an unwavering trust in God.” –Priscilla Shirer

21. “A spirit of thankfulness is one of the most distinctive marks of a Christian whose heart is attuned to the Lord. Thank God in the midst of trials and every persecution.” –Billy Graham

22. “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –G.K. Chesterton

23. “’Gratitude’ comes from the same word as freedom (gratis = free). Gratitude is the freeing expression of a free heart toward one who freely gave.”  –Ravi Zacharias

24. “Gratitude produces deep, abiding joy because we know that God is working in us, even through difficulties.” –Charles Stanley

25. “Edwards [Jonathan Edwards] calls the deeper, primary form of thankfulness ‘gracious gratitude.’ It gives thanks not for goods received, but for who God is: for His character — His goodness, love, power, excellencies — regardless of favors received. And it’s real evidence of the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life.” –Chuck Colson

26. “Yes, give thanks for ‘all things’ for, as it has been well said ‘Our  disappointments are but His appointments.’” –A.W. Pink

27. “Gratitude is a decision of the will, and if a decision of the will, the choice resides squarely with us. Deciding to be thankful is no easy task. It takes work.” –Chuck Swindoll

28. “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us — and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.” –Thomas Merton

29. “I’m just thankful for everything, all the blessings in my life, trying to stay that way. I think that’s the best way to start your day and finish your day. It keeps everything in perspective.” –Tim Tebow

30. “If there was ever a secret for unleashing God’s powerful peace in a situation, it’s developing a heart of true thanksgiving.” –Lysa TerKeurst  (Quote source here.)

If that doesn’t get us started well on our journey into thankfulness, nothing will… 🙂 I’ll end this post with a few of the many verses found in the Bible on being thankful: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus; and 2 Corinthians 9:11You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us…

Your generosity . . .

Will result in . . .

Thanksgiving to God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Whenever God Shines His Light” by Van Morrison:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

The Journey of Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” . . .King David, Psalm 23

There are times in everyone’s life where we no doubt feel like we are fighting an uphill battle that just doesn’t seem to end. Add to that any additional burdens we carry up that hill, and we have a perfect recipe for weariness, discouragement, fatigue, and defeat. We may even look for the first exit door that we think might bring some relief.

Well, don’t go there (as in going through the exit door that we think might bring some relief) as it will most likely only lead to a dead end. Also, it’s too easy for others who are not going through our particular set of circumstances to advise us on what to do, like pray more, or read our Bible more, or (fill in the blank with any advice that just adds to our burden).  We don’t need spiritual appeasement at these times; we need genuine help. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with praying more or reading our Bibles in search of help; but people often giving that advice are not walking in our shoes, and too often that advice comes off sounding trite or even “holier-than-thou”  (not that they intentionally mean it to sound that way).

At the risk of sounding like I’m giving advice, I’m only stating something that I have found to be very valuable to me personally when anything comes along that I don’t know how to handle or know which direction to take. I don’t remember when I stumbled upon it but considering some of the challenges of the past decade, I have fallen back on it time and time and time again. In fact, at this time in my life it has become a daily prayer. It never gets old and it never fails to bring calm in a trying situation, and I mostly pray it silently at any time of the day or night with my eyes open or shut. It does not require any particular “formal stance” to pray it. It is not long, and I memorized it a long time ago. It even brings calm in the midst of situations that don’t seem to relate to the words in this particular psalm.

The 23rd Psalm is probably the most recognizable, the most memorized, and the most treasured psalm in the world. My favorite translation of this psalm is taken from the NKJV:

Psalm 23: A psalm of David

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures;

He leads me beside
the still waters.
He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths
of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me

All the days of my life;
And I will dwell
in the house of the Lord

Forever.

Thanks pretty much it. That’s what I pray when I don’t know what else to pray. I do personalize it by replacing “He” and “His” in the first few verses with “You” and “Your” (meaning “God”) as in “You, Lord, are my shepherd; I shall not want. You make me lie down in green pastures; You lead me beside the still waters. You restore my soul; You leads me in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake.

The following is some information I found on Psalm 23 to include in this post. For example, I ran into a 8-part audio series produced by The Journey Church in New York City titled, The 23rd Psalm: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear, recorded in 2011. That 8-part audio series is available at this link.  The opening statement to the series states: “This powerful Psalm written by David in the Old Testament has given comfort and inspiration to countless people throughout history” (quote source here). I have not listened to the audio series but offer it as a resource.

I also found the following list regarding Psalm 23 that I first heard years ago from an article appropriately titled, 17 Facts You Need To Know About Psalm 23, on Nairaland.com:

The Lord is my Shepherd (That’s Relationship!)
I shall not want (That’s Supply!)
He makes me lie down in green pastures (That’s Rest!)
He leads me beside the still waters (That’s Refreshment!)
He restores my soul (That’s Healing!)
He leads me in the paths of righteousness (That’s Guidance!)
For His name sake (That’s Purpose!)
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (That’s Testing!)
I will fear no evil (That’s Protection!)
For You are with me (That’s Faithfulness!)
Your rod and Your staff they comfort me (That’s Discipline!)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (That’s Hope!)
You anoint my head with oil (That’s Consecration!)
My cup runs over (That’s Abundance!)
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (That’s Blessing!)
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord (That’s Security!)
Forever (That’s Eternity!)
–Author Unknown (Quote source here.)

Year ago when I first heard that list above, I thought it was attributed to Dr. Charles Swindoll, pastor, author, educator,  radio preacher, and founder of Insight for Livingbut I could not locate an author for it from a Google search or on the link to the website where I found it. However, I did find in a February 2018 devotion titled, In the Shepherd’s Care, by Dr. Swindoll the following that he had written on Psalm 23:

I shall not lack rest or provision—why? He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I shall not lack peace—why? He leads me beside quiet waters.
I shall not lack restoration or encouragement when I faint, fail, or fall—why? He restores my soul.
I shall not lack guidance or fellowship—why? He guides me in the paths of righteousness.
I shall not lack courage when my way is dark—why? Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil.
I shall not lack companionship—why? You are with me.
I shall not lack constant comfort—why? Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
I shall not lack protection or honor—why? You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
I shall not lack power—why? You have anointed my head with oil.
I shall not lack abundance—why? My cup overflows.
I shall not lack God’s perpetual presence—why? Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
I shall not lack security—why? I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Quote source here.)

I hope this is a source of encouragement for whatever you may be going through right now. I’ll end this post with the last verse found in Psalm 121–verse 8: The Lord will watch over . . .

Your coming and going . . .

 Both now . . .

And forevermore . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 23” by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir ft. Shane & Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

“May the road rise up to meet you . . .” –Traditional Irish blessing (see more below)


I ran across this Irish blessing (see below) and YouTube video (see above–it’s a very cool video 4:35 minutes long and nice piano music starts at 2:01) this morning, and I thought I would post both here on my “journey” blog. Here’s a little background information on the blessing:

This traditional Irish blessing is an ancient Celtic prayer. Celtic literature is famed for using images of nature and everyday life to speak of how God interacts with with His people.

“May the road rise up to meet you”
 is about God’s blessing for your journey–may your walk be an easy one–with no huge mountains to climb or obstacles to overcome. It alludes to three images from nature – the windsun and rain – as pictures of God’s care and provision. The “wind” can be likened to the Spirit of God, who came as a “mighty wind” at
 PentecostThe sun’s warmth in the prayer reminds us of the tender mercies of God, “by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven” (Luke 1:78, NIV), whilst the soft falling rain speaks of God’s provision and sustenance. Finally, we are reminded that we are held safe in God’s loving hands as we travel on our journey through life. (Quote source here.)

Here is that Irish blessing:

May the Road
Rise Up to Meet You

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back. 
May the sun shine warm upon your face; 
the rains fall soft upon your fields 
and until we meet again, 
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
(Quote source here.)

There are four Irish blessings on the website where I found this copy of the Irish blessing above. Here is some additional information on Irish blessings taken from that website titled Lords-prayer-words.com:

One of the main characteristics of Celtic Christianity (approximately from the fourth to the seventh century A.D.) is that of a strong connection between the spiritual (what is godly and heavenly) and the earthly (nature and living). In Ireland, St Patrick established monasteries that were hubs of community life, were both monks and married people lived and worked together. The “cities” (as St. Patrick liked to call them) also often produced beautiful art and craft. The prayer life of the early Celts reflects these aspects of life together and closeness to nature, and is some of the most inspirational church liturgy in existence.

In recent times, Celtic spirituality has witnessed something of a revival in the modern day church. There are now thriving celtic communities (such as the Northumberland Community) and hymns such asBe Thou My Visionand other, more modern songs based on celtic writing have become popular in contemporary worship. (Quote source here.)

Lords-prayer-words.com includes an extensive resource of traditional and contemporary Christian prayers. As noted on the website:

Central to this site is The Lord’s Prayer, as this is where Jesus, the great master and Lord of all, teaches us how to pray. Here you can discover many versions and translations of this famous prayer, as well as commentaries and interpretations on the ‘Our Father’ by several classic biblical scholars and theologians. The site is also packed with other free resources on prayer – with videos to meditate on and several hundred prayers on topics such as healingstrength, prayers for children and for various times and occasions. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the last few words from the Irish blessing posted above . . .

And until we meet again . . .

May God hold you . . .

In the palm of His hand . . . .

YouTube Video: “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” by Celtic Thunder Inspirational:

Photo #1 credit (YouTube Video at the top) here
Photo #2 credit here