Giving Thanks When There Isn’t Much To Be Thankful For

I, like most, focus my attention on thanksgiving around this time of the year. With the falling of leaves, the pumpkin decor, and the baking of pies, my heart is most tender towards gratitude. I enjoy reading what others are thankful for as well. Our general focus is on family, friends, jobs, health, happy moments, and so on. We call these things our “blessings”, because well, they are good things.

I, like most, feel nostalgic around this time of year. With Christmas around the corner, memories of childhood and family are easy to access. Shopping lists for our current loved ones provoke emotion that is unique to this season. The scent of a Christmas tree or the sound of a carol can flood one’s face with tears in an instant. Nothing like the holidays to buoy up sensibility.

I, like most who have lived enough years, know the pain of loss. Many of my “blessings” have been peeled away. I think of dear friends who are suffering unimaginably in bereavement and grief. So what do we do when our dreams and hopes are stripped naked? People die. Health fails. Happiness dissipates giving way to depression. Families fall apart. What if we don’t have fond memories to look back on? How do we cope with a bleak future and the powerlessness to change it? What can one be thankful for when sadness wins?

Here is my gratitude list. It is quite short, but it packs a punch! It is not based on any good thing on earth. It includes true blessings that are accessible to anyone upon request. These gifts come from God and do not discriminate. They are not based on family history, personal achievements, or present circumstances. They are the truths that will never pass, change, or fade. So here it goes:

  • Forgiveness. Yes, it is marvelous when our loved ones forgive us for our wrongdoings, but there is no greater power in one’s life than the forgiveness that comes from God himself. Regardless of how others feel or respond, we have access to perfect pardon when we ask. God is merciful and never turns away a contrite heart.
  • Presence. Loneliness sucks. God knows that. So He can live in us when we ask him. This sounds a little fantastical and infantile, but ask anyone who has experienced the presence of God, and they will tell you it is real and powerful. The company of the Spirit is not an equal substitution for human relationships. Loneliness will still suck, but God provides comfort, strength, even joy, in the midst of heartache.
  • Perspective. When life gives us lemons we need sugar. Because, who wants sour lemonade? The story of Job (pronounced ‘Jobe’) is one of pain and misery. And God was totally in it. It is a story of perspective. We can have insight and a unique viewpoint if we can see our lives the way God sees them, not the way they look and feel to us in the moment. Finding perspective is not necessarily easy, but it is available. Sometimes all it takes is a quiet moment with God. Other times it takes diligent study of God’s thoughts and writings found in the Bible. Oftentimes the Spirit communicates through people around us, a counselor, a friend. The point is that when in pain, we often lose our outlook or our footing, and God is willing to share his point of view when we ask Him. When we have nothing else to be thankful for, perspective can be the tipping point from despair to hope. Yay for sweet lemonade!

So from my heart to yours, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving full of real blessings and gratitude for the things we can all have at all times in all places.

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The 12 Months of 15K

On the first month of 15K my true love gave to me

My baby’s graduation party

On the second month of 15K my true love gave to me

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

 

On the third month of 15K my true love gave to me

A fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the fourth month of 15K my true love gave to me

A girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the fifth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the sixth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the seventh month of 15K my true love gave to me

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the eighth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

 On the ninth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the tenth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the eleventh month of 15K my true love gave to me

In the skies with Gabriel

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the twelfth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Hugs, smiles, and presents

In the skies with Gabriel

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

My New Daughter

Children are a blessing; a gift. You birth them, raise them, and watch them grow into adulthood. Then they leave and you feel as if you were losing them. It’s tough. But then new people are added to your life. Your children get married, and so you are blessed, yet again, with the further growth of your family. Your kids’ spouses become your own children. It feels right.

I raised 4 children. I’m gaining a fifth one: Geneva Rose McGee. Even though she has not married my son yet, and there are still 217 days until the wedding (but who’s counting), she has already become a living, active, and energetic part of our Ledon clan. After a three year long-distance relationship with Daniel, she finally relocated to VA, and it didn’t take long for her to fit right into our lifestyle, schedule, habits, and goals. Effortless.

Geneva is a pretty fantastic person. Steve and Adanna should be very proud of the woman she has become. She respects her parents and loves her family. She reveres God, is driven by lofty values, and relentlessly pursues her goals.  She is intuitive, smart, disciplined, organized, responsible, and kind. She not only loves Daniel, but our entire family as well. She works with Gabriel with great dedication and commitment, she has fun with us, and she serves and helps in whatever way she can. Like a cherry on top, she sings beautifully and has a passion for worship. Can she be a greater match for our family?

I do not know what the future holds for Daniel and Geneva. Whether they remain in town or are employed elsewhere, I feel joy and contentment in realizing that my son has found a good wife, and I have gained another daughter. I am truly blessed.

Engagement Day :)

Engagement Day 🙂

I was congratulating Geneva on her engagement to Daniel. Her mom, Adanna in the background.

I was congratulating Geneva on her engagement to Daniel. Her mom, Adanna in the background.

Daniel and Geneva with Juan and I. Happy day :)

Daniel and Geneva with Juan and I. Happy day 🙂

Geneva's last visit to VA (before she moved)

Geneva’s last visit to VA (before she moved)

Siblings <3

Siblings ❤

Christmas Eve! Typical Geneva laugh :)

Christmas Eve! Typical Geneva laugh 🙂 Elise photobombing and Tita very amused.

Her new job as Gabriel's caretaker. He is very excited to hang out with Geneva!

Her new job as Gabriel’s caretaker. He is very excited to hang out with Geneva!

To read other posts in my “Living Tributes” series, click here.

For Laura

Entry No. 4 from the Tributes Series

I have so much to say about my dear friend, Laura. I’m having a hard time condensing it all into one reasonable post. She is just that amazing!

I met Laura many years ago through homeschooling. She was the one who introduced our family to speech and debate, which ended up becoming a huge part of our lives. Laura is persistent and persuasive when she really believes in something; Thus, she insisted that we attend a conference. We did, and the rest is history.

Laura is one of those women who seems to know everyone and loves to connect people with people, as well as people with causes. I discovered this early on in our relationship, so whenever I organized a speech and debate tournament, I delegated all the PR to Laura. Let me tell you, no one can recruit judges like Laura can! The politicians who came to her door promoting themselves for the next elections, had no idea they would end up judging a round of debate the next day. But she had her way of persuading them, and sure enough our beginner debaters were being adjudicated by congressmen and mayors!

Laura has strong convictions and pours herself out wholeheartedly for the things she believes in. She is a strong believer and loves Jesus passionately. She believes that the Gospel saves and that people need to hear it. She unashamedly pursues unbelievers in order to share her faith with them. She was a missionary in Guatemala many moons ago, and now a missionary in her own city. I just love that about her.

Her love and service of others is simply outstanding. Yes, she is a loving mom and a wonderful wife, but more than that, she befriends anyone in need of friendship and nurses anyone needing care (oh yeah, I didn’t mention she is actually a nurse and she has helped me a bijillion times with all my health consultations 😉 )

If I ever need a friend, I know Laura is just a text away! She will lend me a listening ear, and she will also tell me her opinion plainly and simply. She’s a no-nonsense, down to earth counselor, and she’s not afraid to speak the truth. Her love is evident, and she follows through with much grace.

Laura endures hardship with strength and optimism. Auto-immune disease, loss of job, career change, and other difficulties she face are not enough to sway her from her steadfast joy and hope in her God. She doesn’t crumble under pressure but becomes a problem solver. She is not only self-motivated, but creative and resourceful. And when she finds something good, she gets everybody to join her! She can’t eat wheat. No problem! She finds a million recipes for delicious gluten-free foods. She discovers a fun way to exercise and soon enough her entire neighborhood joins Zumba classes. She can’t practice nursing any more, so she becomes a great salesperson (something she thought she would never be able to do) and she recruits like a pro! And hey, why not do some Uber driving on the side?

I admire you, Laura. I deeply appreciate your friendship and I love you very much. When we are old and… OK, I was going to say wrinkled, but with that Nerium you sell, that may never happen to you ;). Anyway, when we are really old, let’s move to the same community (Cristen, Leslie, and Carmen, you come too!). You can make your amazing chips and salsa, we can go to adapted Zumba-with-walkers classes or stroll together every morning, like we used to do at the lake, except a lot slower. Then we can visit in the afternoons and I can help you practice Spanish so you don’t forget it. Our kids all love each other, so when all 7 visit, we can have parties with lots of Ecuadorian/Guatemalan/Japanese/Cuban/gluten-free food. It will be a blast, I tell you 🙂

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

At Les Miserables :)

At Les Miserables 🙂

Laura with her man :)

Laura with her man, at my house, in some sort of a party…

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

<3

10,000 Hits

Today my stats show my blog has been viewed 10,000 times in the span of about a year. I usually do not notice that number in the middle of my admin page, but that number just jumped out at me! While I know that there are blogs out there that are viewed a thousand times a day or more, I do feel honored that my writing, though often times uninteresting or irrelevant, has been followed and read so many times.

Thank you, readers, for all your “likes”, “comments”, and words of encouragement. Writing is a form of therapy for me. This blog is the place where I express my thoughts and emotions, and I am grateful there are people out there who sometimes feel encouraged and entertained by it.

Ode to Joy

A friend on Facebook shared how she is going to pay tribute to meaningful people in her life, not after they die, but while they are still alive. I deeply appreciate this reminder to give words of gratitude and encouragement to those who have blessed me throughout my life. Therefore, I am purposing to write a tribute a week. If I keep up with this goal, I will have expressed my appreciation to 52 of the amazing people in my life, by this time next year 🙂

The first person I have decided to pay tribute to is my friend Joy Osborn. She is my boss. And she is a keeper.

Joy is enthusiastic, and her energy and positive attitude are infectious. In spite of pregnancies and babies, Joy doesn’t skip a beat. She compliments me every time I wear my yellow jeans and she answers my emails at 2:00 AM (I mean, really, does anyone else have a boss who does that)? She greets me with a smile every time I see her in class and her bit of sarcasm suits me well ;). She wears miss-matched socks to camp, comes up with crazy games for the kids, and bends over backwards to make sure everything is well planned and delivered. Joy has helped me when I didn’t know what to do, covered for me when I dropped the ball, and even sewn costumes for my students… because God knows that me and the sewing machine do not get along all that great.

Thank you, Joy, for your love for God, your commitment to integrity, and your passionate dedication to your job and the people in it. You have influenced me way more than you probably are aware you have. In fact, I have subconsciously adopted your way of communicating, by often ending my sentences with “You know what I mean?”

I’m gonna miss you when you move away. If it weren’t because your equally awesome husband is waiting for you elsewhere, I would try to sabotage your departure…. somehow.

I couldn’t find a picture of you and me, but I did find this one from the day you made your way into the hair and makeup room to help with Elise’s “White Witch” hair extensions.

This is not my picture, but has been all over the internet. I just “borrowed” it from you, Joy lol. This picture says it all!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Perfect Description of the Past Week

This week has been some week. Seriously, a week of extremes, in circumstances, emotional reactions, and spiritual responses; a week of utter failures and amazing victories. Care to know what happened? Here it goes!

THE BAD

How about we call it, a series of unfortunate events, too many to list. Among others:

  • While the family was out enjoying Christmas activities last Sunday evening, the adorable, cuddly Bosco (the pony-sized puppy which has been living in our house the past two weeks) managed to wreak havoc by plentifully peeing on our rug, eating massive amounts of chocolate cake which in turn produced profuse diarrhea, and drinking out of the toilet bowl (I’ll spare you the details). Two days ago, I came home to chewed up carpet, because, what is more fun to a puppy than tearing up the carpet, of course.
  • On Monday, while getting ready to go out and do some last minute grocery shopping before Christmas, and while trying to maintain enough self-control to not kill the adorable, cuddly Bosco, I heard the loud crying of my oldest daughter who had twisted her ankle outside and was now not able to walk from pain, resulting in a trip to the emergency room. (This run-on sentence describes the run-on emotional toil on my already overflowing cup). Oh, and, get this, while preparing to rush Lizette to the hospital, the puppy bolted out of the house, happily galloping at the speed of sound, while all the kids (except the injured one) ran after him like mad people all over the neighborhood, to the amusement of our neighbors. At the hospital we discovered Lizette had injured ligaments and would then begin a period (which has not ended) of immobilization of the leg, as well as the use of crutches. I do not recommend crutches in a split level home….
  • My original plan was to have a peaceful Tuesday: I would take time to prepare and organize my music, as I was leading the choir for our church and we would have our dress rehearsal that evening. I would also begin my preparations for our Christmas Eve dinner, cooking some, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house. But then life happened and my Tuesday looked nothing like I had pictured it. It was rainy and cold, and I was out purchasing pain killers, doing the shopping I had not gotten done the previous day, and dealing with relational and emotional, family issues. So I panicked. Yes, I totally panicked. And what do I do when I panic? I pass it on to the husband and the kids, of course. But more on that on the “UGLY” chapter… (how’s that for a transition?)

THE UGLY

Here’s where it gets really good. You see, ugly is so ugly. As I was saying, panic, and worry, combined with perfectionism and pride, make the ideal recipe to, well, let’s say, kill the Christmas spirit. It began on Tuesday as I started anticipating I would not be ready for Christmas Eve. I transferred this pressure to my family (oh, and did I mention that my lovely, future daughter-in-law has been visiting us and watching me in “action” this whole week?). I wish I could blame my hormonal changes. But even though hormones can (and probably do) accentuate my emotional responses, they are not to blame for the sin that so reigned in my heart, putting my family in great distress. After my initial mini-fit on Tuesday, I told myself I would have a good, peaceful day on Wednesday. I got up that morning with a new resolve to be positive and stable. Ha! My “good” attitude lasted for most of the day, until BOOM, I completely lost it! I’m talking hyperventilation, anger, frustration, and worst of all, blaming and shaming. My family had been nothing but helpful and cooperative all day. But the enemy of my soul knew where to get me. A comment. A look. A tone. An unfinished task. A feeling of being out of control. Fear of failure. Pride. You name it!

And so just as our family was leaving the house to go to church, where I would lead the choir in the entire service of Lessons and Carols, in “joyful” celebration of the birth of our savior, I was acting more like a dog with rabies than a daughter of God. I arrived at church in distress and in tears. I then proceeded to lay guilt on my sweet daughter, who had been so loving towards me all day. The choir assembled in the appropriate room at the previously assigned time, ready for their warm-up. I did not show up on time, but walked in 10 minutes late, still red-eyed, as I barely composed myself to lead them in a short warm-up. My incredible sinful attitude was being displayed for all to see, and I needed to get a grip within the next 12 minutes.

THE GOOD

Praise the Lord, the good outweighs the bad and the ugly! The only reason it outweighs it, is because the good comes, not from me, but from God himself. He is perfectly good, and kind enough to shower his children with goodness, not once or twice, but always.

  • Grace: I am a recipient of it. Everyone who saw me at church on Christmas Eve knew I was not well. But every single one of them smiled, said a helpful word, and encouraged me. There wasn’t a single complaint, even if well deserved, but even as I walked in late, I was greeted by happy, forgiving faces and patient hearts.
  • Forgiveness: Boy, did I have to ask for it! Sitting at the table on Christmas Day I asked my family to forgive me, and was blessed by their immediate willingness to do so, without reservation.
  • Rescue: I don’t know how I led the choir on Christmas Eve. Honestly, my mind was only present half of the time. But the service was not about me. It was about Jesus and the goodness and love He displayed so openly by leaving his rightful place in heaven to become a human being. So God took care of it. He enabled the choir to sing their hearts out, he helped me to not be lost or make mistakes, and in the end, He received the attention and the glory, the way it was meant to be.
  • Love and friendship: Despite the disaster earlier in the day, our Christmas Eve dinner was lovely. Our family was happy to share this time with wonderful friends. The food was amazingly delicious. The caroling around the piano was uplifting and sweet, and the joy of God was evident. He had compassion for me and gave me what my heart so deeply desired, even though I did not deserve it.
  • Prayer: Our need has been greater, so prayer has increased. The ability to pray is a gift from God. Because Jesus was born in a manger and grew up to become the sacrifice for our sins, our Passover Lamb, we now have full access to him! We pray and he listens! It’s quite amazing. Not only has our family prayed more, but I have been specifically touched and encouraged by Lizette’s prayers. You see, she has gone years without praying… or believing in God. But God has begun a great work of inward transformation in her. At every turn this week, Lizette was the first to say, “Let’s pray”. No amount of bad or ugly can outweigh the joy of hearing her words and seeing her heart being poured out to God in faith and trust. Isn’t God good and merciful?

Today has been quiet, happy, and peaceful. Bosco is still alive and, somehow, still here (It’s a Christmas miracle). We are learning to keep him away from food and toilet bowls. This morning Lizette, Geneva, and I prayed and laid hands on him so that God would help him as well ;). We are eating delicious left-overs and Lizette’s pain is not as intense any more.

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

With my 3 daughters on Lizette's birthday, last Friday

With my 3 daughters on Lizette’s birthday, last Friday

Shopping is NOT for Thursday

How and when did this happen? It took me completely by surprise! Did I miss something?

Did Black Friday move to Thursday?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a sale just as much as the next guy. I’ve actually put myself through the madness of Black Friday a few times. But this! What in the world? The ads I’m seeing for Black Friday are advertising opening hours starting on THURSDAY. Did this happen last year or is this a new trend? Since when does Old Navy open their stores on Thursday at 4:00 PM or Macy’s on Thursday at 6:00. Is this a joke? Can we not celebrate Thanksgiving first? Can we (and by we I don’t mean my family because we’re not going anywhere on Thanksgiving, but the nation as a whole, including the employees who work for these retailers) not take a day to give thanks, eat turkey, and celebrate a day of rest with our families? It was bad enough that if we wanted to catch the good sale prices, we had to camp out at midnight in order to be first in the storefront lines. But I guess if you made it a fun night out with friends, it could all be worth it. You would first celebrate a nice, family, God-centered holiday, and hopefully gave thanks for all the blessings in your life, and then, with a full belly and a happy heart, bring coffee, blankets, and card games to the “let’s begin Christmas” sale line at Best Buy. Fine. I get that. But what do we do now? If doors open at 6:00 PM on Thursday, does that mean that thanks-givers will be leaving their thanks-giving tables at, say, 2:00, or at noon, and begin their not-so-thanksgivinish shopping?

It is ridiculous.

President Abraham Lincoln instituted a national day of gratitude back in 1863. In his proclamation, he stated that it was “fit and proper that the [gracious gifts of the Most High] be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the American People.” Thanksgiving Day has been a praise worthy, instituted holiday. Its purpose has been to gather in groups of families and friends, to remember the blessings bestowed on us by God. This holiday does not exist in other countries. When I first moved to the United States I was deeply touched by the idea that the entire nation would stop for a day and count their blessings.

But now retailers are hoping to cut the day in half. Hurry up and eat your turkey, make it a brunch if possible, because you will need the rest of your day to hustle and bustle and save, save, save!

I sincerely hope that the American people will resist this demon and boycott the Black-Friday-on-Thursday business. I desire for stores to be empty on Thanksgiving Day, causing businesses to lose precious income they would have gained had they waited until the next day. Let us remember that giving thanks is more valuable than any Christmas sale. There is a time for everything, and shopping is not for Thursday.

Gratitude: Pain killers and the like

I’ve been making it my habit to write on a daily basis. Today, as I sit here with my laptop, I have no witty posts to write, no philosophical analysis or family anecdotes. In fact, I’m tired and out of creative juices. See, this week has been full, preparing my Spring student recital, having rehearsals and singing with the praise team, directing the men’s ensemble (fun bunch of guys), taking one child to the hospital and the girls to their respective doctors, having two of my molars extracted, dealing with internal family crisis, and even buying a car! Not sure how I made it through this week, but I did! And now I sit here with a sense of peace and accomplishment (I attribute this to the pain killers), and a strong desire to sleep in tomorrow.

I’m proud of my students; They sang beautifully. I’m thankful that my son’s bronchitis is better. I’m relieved that the molar that was causing me pain has been put to death. I am relieved that we finally found the car we needed. I’m blessed by friends who love me and my family and the support they give us. God allows me to see him and hear him even in the midst of turmoil. For that I’m so grateful. 

Oh, and as a bonus, The Miami Heat just won the second game of the finals. Great way to end my week 🙂

Gratitude: The Book

My life is far from perfect. I often go through periods of depression or anxiety; I focus on what is not working for me, or what I am lacking; I self-indulge; I live life as if others (including God) exist to fulfill my purposes and dreams. Thankfully, I do not live like this all the time (I praise God that HE constantly and continually rescues me from my self-centered choices), and by God’s grace I can also see the good and lovely in my life, regardless of my circumstances. For this I give glory to Christ, for without him, I would live only for myself and in the end, drown in misery.

I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” With this in mind, I purpose to be more thankful, and I ask God to open my eyes to see His grace, goodness, mercy, and love in ALL circumstances.

So today I am grateful the Bible, which speaks to me, to the core of me. Many have been persecuted, killed, and ostracized in order to preserve this book. I reap the benefits of reading it, hearing it, confessing it, and being transformed by it. In it, I find God’s words to me. Without it, I would lack purpose and direction.