In August, 1988, I moved from Portland, Oregon to Dallas, Texas, where I began my career as a Montessori guide. It wasn't long before, in a state of heat fatigue and home-sickness, called my parents and tearfully recited a litany of reasons to quit my job and return to my Oregon home. “Now, c’mon sis…” consoled my mother before quickly passing the phone to Dad, who responded to my whiny diatribe with a stern invitation to "tell me about the blessings." I thought it insensitive when he explained how daily prayers of gratitude had transformed his life. "I begin and end every day by giving thanks," he said with a tone of mild annoyance, and suggested I give it a try.
A few weeks later, an envelope arrived; the one and only letter I would ever receive from my father. Inside, on a sheet of yellow legal paper, the kind he always had on his desk, Dad had written his gratitude prayer. It began, “Thank you, Dear Lord, for this day. Thank you for all of my blessings;” and ended with, “Bless my efforts that they may be good, that they may be productive, and to thy glory.” I put that paper by my bedside as a reminder to recite the prayer morning and night, gradually replacing some of his words with my own, until the twice daily ritual unfolded automatically. Then, I tucked it into my wallet where it stayed for years; until the yellow paper began to disintegrate. I still carry a copy of the original. And we had a copy printed on the order of worship at Dad’s funeral, scattering his blessing a bit wider and further.
A few nights ago I awakened from a dream dialogue with my dad but, by the time I’d located my journal and pen in the dark, only this fragment remained within conscious reach: “You have only one responsibility in life and that is to listen intently for the voice of God, and allow it to show you where you are needed most. It is through the care of others that we evolve.”
In life, my father was all about service so his sage advice echoing across the veil wasn’t surprising; I hear from him now and again. Still, I found it quite profound to receive this particular message in the early morning hours of my 54th birthday. Particularly because the night before, slightly in my cups, I’d written a very long journal entry about my wishes, hopes and dreams for the year ahead.
It is only through the care of others that we evolve... as souls.
It’s easy to fall into an internal dialogue around an unrealized desire; or to become attached to a romanticized notion of a person, place or experience. Such thoughts may distract from the reality that what tethers us to this place is neither the gravitational pull of earth nor the hands we are blessed to hold along the way, but rather the invisible thread to Spirit from whence we came and where we will presumably one day return.
If we are very blessed, we may experience fleeting moments of sheer bliss in relationship to another, or to nature, or to art. In the presence of this kind of love, one cannot help but want to hold it close; letting go feels counter-intuitive. Bless my efforts...
Near the end of my father’s earthly journey, in 2011, my son and I were able to capture a few moments of him on videotape while sitting in the office where he continued to go almost every day until he died. He was shy about the recorder, but reluctantly agreed when I said it was important for his grandchildren and their children. In that dialogue, Dad recited a list of guiding tenets which he credited to his own father and other mentors along the way. What follow is that list as well as a brief excerpt from the interview:
1. Work hard – nothing worth having comes easily
2. Be grateful for what you have – even if it doesn’t seem like enough
3. Tell the truth – even if it means losing relationships
4. Invest in people – join with those who share your values
5. Avoid going into debt – be a good steward of what you have
6. Allow relationships to grow – and take time to nurture them
7. Don’t be afraid to say no – clear boundaries are necessary
And remember to give thanks every day, at least twice.