Grateful for God’s artistic hand

Holy Week started yesterday, and on Sunday we will celebrate the end of Lent with Christ’s resurrection. Today I watched the 36th video of my Lenten journey with Dynamic Catholic. The video, Blessed and Grateful, was about counting our blessings  when we’re feeling down. By counting our blessings, we’re inviting positivity back into our point of view. We’re reminding ourselves to focus on the good that outweighs suffering.

“When I get discouraged or when I get down, the thing I’ve found that works—and works every time, and works the best, and works the fastest—is gratitude.” – Matthew Kelly

Every time I sit down to pray, the first thing I say is, “Dear Lord, thank you for all the blessings in my life.” I have led a very blessed life filled with family, friends, countless opportunities, essentials (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.), a strong faith life and a functional body, mind and spirit. I’m grateful for the protection my guardian angel provides me and the unconditional love God gives when I’m feeling alone. It’s hard to focus on what’s making your life tough when you start thinking about the things that make your life wonderful.

Over the past week, I’ve had two experiences with nature. I’m not a professional photographer, but I enjoy capturing nature’s beauty. My favorite photos involve sunsets or interesting cloud activity. However, this week I focused on ground-level subjects. The first batch was taken during a walk. I was having a terrible day, so I decided to take a walk to clear my head. I ventured to the woods near my house, and here is what I saw.

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Yesterday my sister needed to go to Mill Creek Park in Shawnee for her Environmental Science class. While she was working, I walked a shady trail along the creek. I couldn’t believe how serene and beautiful everything was. The recent rain transformed the bushes, grass and produced small flowers. I knew I couldn’t leave without snapping a few photos.

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As I look at these photos, I can name one more blessing – God’s artistic talent. He paints breathtaking sunsets, colorful flowers, soft grasses and flowing streams. He never stops surprising us with endless sources of wonder.

Facebook, fingernails & forgiveness

With Lent starting in two days, I’ve narrowed down what I plan to give up. I’ve decided on two bad habits: Facebook and fingernail biting. I do both things without thinking and each cost me something. Facebook costs time and fingernail biting costs my nails (duh). Research says it takes 21 days to develop a habit, so when April 16 arrives I should no longer feel the need to pick at or chew my nails or surf through Facebook. Two negative habits will be conquered though discipline and sacrifice.

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If you asked a non-Catholic to associate a phrase with Lent, most would say, “A time to give something up like sweets or TV.” They’re not 100% wrong, Lent is a time of sacrifice, which means giving up something that you enjoy. Lent is also about forgiveness. Forgiveness is becoming less meaningful. When someone screws up and says they’re sorry, half the time they don’t even mean it. The words float out of their mouth out of habit. While the offended may nod and say it’s ok. Have they really practiced forgiveness? Not quite.

An article from Christianity Today highlights three steps for forgiveness: surrender the desire to get even, rediscover the wrongdoer’s humanity and wish them well. There’s no way someone who says “It’s ok” right away has had time to complete these steps. You should take time before you forgive someone – your response doesn’t have to be immediate. You also don’t have to forget what the person did, just don’t let it cause a grudge. When I’m hurt by someone, I try to force it out of my mind. But the more I try to push it out, the more engrained it becomes.

I’ve never been skilled at forgiving. I’m guilty of saying “It’s ok” after being hurt or wronged, and when I do that I’m depriving myself and the offender time to reflect on the transgression. A fake line of forgiveness doesn’t help anyone. The key is time. Even though God forgives us in a single breath, we don’t have that ability. We require time to pray, reflect and listen to the Holy Spirit.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” – Micah 7:18-19