We've got a 10 year old Norwegian boy living with us, right now. He lives with us because his mother and foster mother no longer wanted him. He showed up on our radar because my husband worked with a friend of the woman who fostered him.
We also have a three year old boy living with us whose ancestors came from Spain. He's a very active youth, some might say he has ADD or ADHD. His story is similar to the 10 year old's. He lived on a farm near Portland, Ontario and when he was six weeks old, the farmer decided that he could no longer care for him and put him up for adoption.
Sounds like a couple of pretty sad stories, doesn't it? Actually, don't feel too badly though. I think they are both living in good homes now (our's that it) and they are definitely both loved and treasured and will be with us for life. The other thing I didn't tell you was that they were animals. The 10 year old is my Norwegian Forest cat, Kingdom and the three year old is our Springer Spaniel Spritzer. We have another cat as well, Cinder and she's almost 20. Her's really was a sad story but that's for another day.
I go through this ritual each day when I get home from work. When Spritzer hears my key in the lock, he immediately runs to the front door. So, as I'm coming in, he's trying to greet me. Our front hall isn't very big and leads directly to stairs which either go up to the main floor or down to the basement. Spritz jumps around the foyer in greeting, just so happy to see me (more because he has to go to the bathroom than at the joy of me being home, I suspect) and I'm perpetually saying, “Get back, Spritz. Get out of the way, Spritzer. Let me put my stuff down, Spritz.”
When I finally get in, set my purse and briefcase down, I usually bend down and pet Spritz, who does the little welcome home doggy dance and tail wag that dogs do. But then after relieving himself outside, Spritz expects a treat. As soon as I open the door to the spare room, he knows he's getting a doggie biscuit.
And that's when I hear from Kingdom. The minute he hears the dog goodie bag rattle, he is standing at the door of the master bedroom, and not standing patiently but almost as expectantly as the dog. He wants a goodie, too. He has associated the rattle of the bag with cat treats . In fact, he's kind of a glutton so has also associated the ringing of the alarm clock, the sound of the bathroom door opening, the click of the CD player as I put on an audio book to listen to...
The one thing I can always count on from both Spritzer and Kingdom is an honest to goodness "Thank You." Oh, not a verbal, "Why thank you kind madam." But Kingdom gives me gentle head buts and rubs against me whiling purring. Spritzer does what dogs the world over do – wag their tail in appreciation (and if you've seen Spritz's tail you'd laugh at this because rather than leaving the tail as it naturally grows or cropping it as most breeders do, the farmer removed half the tail, so it gives the dog a freakish wiggle when it wags).
I'm sure in animals it's a learned trait but they both express or appear to express a sense of gratitude. It all focuses mainly around food, but there's also a sense of gratitude for the petting and attention they get.
Now if animals, who have traditionally been called dumb, although I don't believe that for a minute, can show gratitude on a daily basis for something as trivial as a treat and some appearance of affection from humans, why do so many humans have difficulty expressing gratitude to God for the numerous blessings we have?
There's an old story about an Irishman who was down on his luck and was panhandling on Fifth Avenue before the annual St. Patrick's Day parade got underway in New York City. As a couple strolled by, he called out: "May the blessing of the Lord, which brings love and joy and wealth and a fine family, follow you all the days of your life." There was a pause as the couple passed his outstretched hand without contributing. Then he shouted after them, "And Never Catch Up To You!"
That's the way a lot of us live our lives. We're thankful but only when we get something.
Let me tell you about someone I read about in HeroicStories recently. It was in a story titled, "The Ticket" by Tony Keyes and edited by Joyce Schowalter.
It happened in July when Japan's west coast was hit by a typhoon. It was the latest in a record-breaking series of 16 typhoons to hit the mainland. TV news featured pictures of roads washed away, bridges collapsed, houses half-buried in mud and debris, cars washed away by the flood waters. Along with pictures of people on rooftops, waiting to be rescued, waving and calling for help to the helicopters filming them. Thousands were evacuated until the flood waters receded.
A few days later, there was a story that illustrates thankfulness in the fullest. Somebody sent a letter to the Fukui disaster management center, one of the prefectures or states which was hit the hardest. The letter was addressed to the Governor. The letter expressed condolences to those who had suffered loss, and offered assistance in the form of a lottery ticket. They apologized for sending the ticket without cashing it, and for not delivering it in person, but they wished to remain anonymous.
The Governor found out that while the return address on the letter was bogus, the ticket was real. It was a ticket for the nationwide lottery held a month before. It wasn't just any ticket, it was the top prize ticket of 200 million yen (US $1.8 million).
After the taped news report, the announcer wondered aloud what kind of person would do such a thing. That person had held this winning ticket for over a month, probably planning all the ways they could enjoy their new found wealth. Probably wondering how to invest it, how much to splurge, what to buy first, whether they could quit their job, how their life would change.
And yet this person, who received a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of good luck, chose to give it away. They realized that others needed that good luck more than they did. That person was selfless enough to give it all away, and not keep any for themselves. They were humble enough to apologize for not delivering the money in person. And wise enough to realize that helping others is a far bigger prize than any amount of lottery winnings.
And the ticket set the spirit of thankfulness throughout that area. It was a gift within a gift. Because every person helped by that ticket was Thankful and whenever they met anyone else, they had to wonder, "Is this the person who was selfless, wise and humble enough to give up their lottery ticket to help us in our time of need? Is this who I should thank?"
Last week we started a summer series based on Spiritual Practices. Spiritual practices are those activities we do that help to connect and ground us more deeply in the divine. Last Sunday I introduced you to a practice called Lectio Divina, and on the back of your insert, in case you weren't here or need a refresher, is how to go about using the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina to connect with God.
In case you haven't caught on yet, Gratitude is actually a spiritual practice as well. And as practices of any kind work better if they are actually done instead of just talked about, we are once again going to do a form of spiritual practice called Gratitude. This morning you should have received an envelope and if you looked inside as I know all curious humans do, you will find some blank slips of paper. There should also be a pencil. I ask that you leave the pencils behind on the pews after the service but take the envelope with the completed papers home with you. Then during the course of the week, I encourage you continue the practice we are about to do now.
First, remove the papers and pencils from the envelopes. Now I'm going to ask you to spend a few moments in silence. As I said last week, some people aren't comfortable with silence, but that too, is a spiritual practice so bear with it. After a couple of minutes, I want you to write three things for which you are grateful on three different pieces of paper.
When you are done, I invite you to turn to a few people close to you (or if you are by yourself, slide across the aisle and join some others – I know this is a stretch for introverts). Share one of the things for which you are grateful within your group and tell them why you feel that way. To make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, I'm going to encourage the shyer folks to speak first. Again, I know this is a stretch, but if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. If you aren't comfortable sharing, that's okay too.
When the sharing is done, I invite you to put your slips of paper back in the envelopes and take them home with you. My hope is that at home, you will add new slips of people, events, things for which you are grateful. You can also keep a Gratitude Journal if you like. It works the same way. The difference with a journal is that you will be reminded to add something each day to fill up the notebook.
The following is a poem Cheryl Stephens, who died of cancer in 2003 at the age of 44, wrote. Cheryl showed remarkable gratitude despite the struggles she underwent. In fact she wrote this poem in 1984 long before she was diagnosed with cancer.
Remember me not for who I was
But for who Jesus was in me.
Remember me not for the things I've done
But for the things Jesus did through me.
Remember me not as one who loved
Without remembering that "He first loved me.
Remember me not as one who gave
But one to whom much was given.
Remember me not as one who spoke of God
But as one who knew God through His Son, Jesus.
Remember me not as one who prayed
But remember the One to whom I prayed.
Remember me not as one who was strong
But as one who cried out to God to be my strength.
Remember me not as one who died
But as one who lives forever because I have believed.
Remember not my life and death
For they will profit you nothing.
But please . . . remember the life and death of Jesus.
For He gave His life that we might live.
He died that we might never have to and He rose again
That we might have eternal life.
Remember not me, but do remember Jesus.