Reliving One's Gratitudes

It must have been sometime in the early part of August when a minister's sermon challenged me to live-out his sermon for a week. If confessions are serious, I can state that I go to church listen to a preacher, and wonder if in a week’s time the sermon will make any difference. That’s my honest admission. Perhaps similar experiences can be expressed by others, whether they worship in a church, synagogue or a mosque. 
Larger than life Japhet De Oliveira, who recently became a pastor in Boulder, Colorado, was sporting his signature pink socks and brown shoes, and that day he was in his element. Pastor Japhet was convincing in his discourse, bringing Jesus Christ alive to his congregants, as he does week after week.
In conclusion, as a point to reenact Jesus’ contemporary influence, he invited listeners to consider taking a moment each day for the following week, and express gratitudes in our personal life, in a similar fashion to those whose stories are recorded in the Gospels.
Take a moment each morning and state what you are grateful for that day, he recommended.
This was Grazyna’s and my new encounter with Colorado. It was an adventure in discovering a place we selected as our destination for our future. So, we drove from the East coast across several states, covering 1,700 miles. We set to begin something new and exceptionally different from our life thus far.
After twenty years living in America, now we created our own new frontier and pilgrimaged into a pretty much unknown space and time. We visited Colorado before, and the Colorado sun was inviting us in a relentless beckoning. The Rockies, capped with a residue of Summer snow, took our sights higher.
Today, I am reliving those challenged-out gratitudes. As I said earlier, I listened to De Oliveira. I caught myself saying: Why don't you do this. Live this sermon out.
This blog piece is an effect of that week’s serious, personal, but also public statement. It was Tweeted then. My August recollections are my new pushing-the-borders blog woken up from hibernation, a few musings adorned with photographs.

Day One: Today, I am truly thankful for Grazyna - her love, care and making each day healthy and bright!

Day Two: A life with Christian faith and hope, and being assured of better things ahead!

Day Three: A Colorado move means enjoying the community, nature, clear air, spring water, and no humidity!

Day Four: For a locally grown food, organic, and natural; this is health maintenance!

Day Five: My teacher and later a mentor once said – Try harder, Ray. I listened. My life has changed. Are we grateful for those who believe in us?*

Day Six: There is little to say when you have a son who is … wiser than you! Grateful for Michal and his life!

Day Seven: Recurring one in seven – when space gives itself into time. Rest!

Thus was and continues to recur a Week of Gratitude! It repeats itself 24/7. Together with generosity, which is a topic demanding my personal unpacking at some other time, gratitude is a building block of a life of quality.

* Dr. Jan Paulsen, was my teacher at Newbold College in England. 


One Eye Only, But "Rescued" Sees More


If you don't have one, get one! Mine is a great traveling companion. "Rescued" is my monkey's name. He was found on a heap of coke in a dilapidated, tarnished by World War II, and then state-confiscated* property I visited with my father in 1955 in Warsaw. 
            No. 1 Turecka Street is located just off the history-rich Royal Route, south of Belweder Palace and mid-way from the Royal Castle Square to Wilanรณw Castle. It was a prime location to house a church headquarters and provide homes for clergy. 
            Years later, I gathered, that very visit in 1955 was a nostalgic.  Perhaps it was the proximity to the Soviet Embassy that pushed the regime to confiscate religious facility, these being the early years of communist rule in Poland. The Turecka location was substituted for a different, and much more central, palatial, and valuable property at 8 Foksal Street. Finding "Rescued" became a saving-grace moment for me. Even today it reminds me of restoration and happy escapes. My stuffed monkey is a joyful companion-reminder of the present and the better things to come. 
            Like many of our small and large mementos, nostalgia oozes out of our special objects, animated or dustable alike. Call me weird or crazy, but no matter where we find ourselves, we talk to each other. He patiently listens to my blabber and interrupts me aptly making me to pause and reflect. 
            "Rescued" travels well. Often he is found on his head as I unpack him in my hotel room, but never jumps out of the suitcase or knapsack. He has manners. As you can imagine, he got that from me, right? 
            The monkey had his life-dramas over his 58 years of toy-life. First, someone abandoned him and in a dark, dusty and lightless basement, and on a heap of coke (koks), a popular heating fuel in a post-WWII Poland. Who was his first and young, I assume, owner? "Rescued" and I still exchange views about it today. 
            Undoubtedly, his next stage in life was in a much cleaner and friendly environ. 
            A little over 25 years later my monkey experienced his next traumatic moment. It came when our 3-year old son, Michal, gave him a shave and attempted a surgery, resulting in a severe chest cut, as well as a thorough chewed-up leg. When I saw what was happening, "Rescued" encountered his second rescue. 
            Then, the missing eye. This was - fortunately an effect of Michal's precision surgery before blinding the monkey totally. The operation was thus successfully interrupted but obviously my "Rescued" lost one eye. 
            Rescued recently returned from a trip to Dubai. It was an exhausting, yet culturally rich travel, including a ride on a camel at the Spice Souk market, and the excitement of crossing the Dubai Creek on an abra water taxi. But an experiment with trying a scoop of camel milk gelato was not what we thought it would be. It tastes the same as your regular milk ice cream. But, the saffron gelato was awesome. Upon seeing Rescued Dubai photos, Michals comment was: "Snip, snip!" Keep him safe when around me, was his reaction.

            No matter what's in store for my monkey and me, my 58 years of "belonging" is rich and certain. Even with one eye, my "Rescued" can still see more! His silent contentment tells me so. 
            Today, as he interacts with his cosmopolitan buddies, he leans proudly on a South African tiger, and winks, as if to indicate that joy is rich in giving yourself to others in friendship and in practicing quality listening skills. [He knows so much about me!]
            My convictions confirm our joint resolve to recognize happy escapes and restoration as being at the heart of our toy-human axis.

*In 1995, as part of the church-state agreement, the property was returned to the church.


Infectious authenticity

Coffee Pot Rock, Sedona, Arizona
With my first day of the year just under wraps, a nagging thought pushed me toward my computer. A voice in my head told me: You will do well if you plan something for the year to come. Knowing myself, it sounded like I needed to take charge of my attitudes, and turn them into a blessing.
         Every new year on January 1, most everyone creates a list of promises to work on. Admittedly, my promises are created to easily transform into feelings of guilt when the good intentions falter. My guilt, and not the fulfillment of promises, has an easier start and finish in my everydayness. So, January quickly turns into February, and so on, with acting on promises turns rusty.
         An experience from a few years ago come to mind.
         We had a dear friend who lived in Sedona, Arizona. She invited us frequently to enjoy “God’s country,” as she called it. Mary Schnack passed away in February last year, but apart from professional interests and collaborations, what remains in our memories are many a moment we spent trekking the red-rock trails of Sedona's God’s country.
         Mary lived just under the Coffee Pot Rock landmark, and a short distance from St. John Vianney Church. It was a chance visit, which provided a reflection as I observed an after Christmas service.
         What’s vivid in my memory is the sound of a nearly empty church, its silence broken by hard-hitting steps of a minister walking from the back of the church nave toward the altar. The sound meant he knew his destination.
         Soon my eyes were drawn to the space associated with the language of the steps, revealing a well-worn-out cowboy boots with a hint of jeans showing slightly below his vestments.
         It was not as much what I saw, but what a short, bearded man in his forties shared in his equally short homily. Later, I learned that many a Sedonian refers to him as J-C, and his presence is felt outside the walls of the church. Stories abound making him a fixture in the local lore.
         A memory of what I heard that morning jumped at me on this New Year’s morning. Father J-C told a story about a good-for-nothing seminary mate of his, who phoned him wondering if J-C lives by what he preaches.
         All of a sudden I was confronted by a lot of stuff, the preacher told the congregation.  
         “What pillow do you have under your head? It’s soft, isn’t it? And what’s your duvet like? Warm, right?”
         Whatever else was said next it was set against the importance of being rather than having, all seasoned with personal honesty.
         My nagging thought of this morning is this: Make yourself useful in the lives of those who will cross onto your path in 2013.
         Instead of waiting for someone else to be love I am inviting myself to make the world better by getting out of my shell in order to become more responsive to the disenfranchised and the needy.
         That’s a challenge I am throwing at myself for 2013.
         And if a wish is in order to all who are pushing the borders with me, may your authenticity become infectious!


Celebrating the Gift that keeps on giving

Have you ever met an angel? 
         My grandmother Janina told me a story of an encounter that made me believe in miracles. Now, decades later, stories of old are being turned into my own encounters with good people, many a modern-day angel.
         Grandma’s stories about hospitality were best. Going back in memory, we, as kids, would listen to her vividly describing events that took us back to her own childhood. In her descriptions the small incidents from the “grown-up” world would grow sky-high in the world of children. Sitting at my bedside she would speak about things and happenings that are all too often missing from our fast-paced life of today. With our child-like imagination we could travel into a world where kindness was ever present and it wasn’t difficult to be happy.
         It was wintertime in a small Polish town of Radomsko. Her sister, Maria Stelak*, lived with three children and for them Christmas meant to be celebrated in a traditional Polish fashion: a table full with cuisine typical for the occasion, well festively decorated, and with an abundance of cakes, freshly baked with blue-black poppy seeds, all laced with laughter and wonder.
         On Christmas eve the table was traditionally decorated, with one empty place left for an uninvited guest, a wandering stranger. Year after year Aunt Maria would play being a hostess to someone at this empty table setting ...

         The house was off the beaten tract, right at the edge of a forest. This particular year, instead of guests there was an abundance of snow. The children had their noses glued to frost-covered window glass, waiting for the guests to arrive in the horse-drawn carriages. But, no-one was in sight.
         The evening games were disturbed by a gentle knock on the door. “They are here!” children shouted. When the door opened, the cold weather revealed a stranger. He looked like a beggar.
         Grandma recalled that the stranger was a Jew, his beard white with frost. Under his arm a bundle. His clothes were torn and dirty. A traveler and a stranger, he was least expected on that very night.
         His frozen feet were soon treated to a tin bucket of warm water. Then he ate, like he never saw food before. Soon his face revealed gratitude, which can only adorn a content traveler. He wiped his face and beard off the bread crumps, stood up, bowed, and walked toward the door. In an instant he was gone.
         Hearing the door close, Maria shouted to bid him come back. “We must give him food to take away.”
         “They went outside,” grandma Janina continued. “There was no-one in-sight. Not even footprints in a freshly fallen snow.”
         It all sounded so real. Did she really experience such an awesome encounter?  Later she would tell stories of her other encounters with miracles.
         I keep asking myself, who was the stranger on that Christmas eve in Radomsko? No answer comes, but I am convinced that angels visit good homes.**
         Generosity – a gift that keeps on giving. Christmas is a celebration of the Gift.
         To all my readers - Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year, safe and full of wonder!
*Her son, Jerzy Stelak, pseudonym “Kruk,” was a cousin, and a contemporary of my mother, Alina. He was a WWII partisan, often pictured on his horse, and with a group of comrades roaming the central Poland countryside, creating resistance attacks against the German army.

**A Bible text comes to mind: You welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. [Gal 4:14 NIV]