Begin Each Day With A Grateful Heart

In the past few days, I have come across a small buzz on Facebook and in conversation with women sharing the word they have chosen to guide this new year. So, in place of doomed to fail New Year's resolutions, I have chosen a word.


Gratitude banged around my head a bit, but it wasn't quite right. Gratitude is a virtue, but I was looking for more action in my word. So, grateful moved the virtue into a state of being, an active state, an active decision.

During a handful of phone conversations I had with my mother, before Alzheimer's stole those moments completely, she often spoke of being grateful. Grateful for her wonderful husband (she said that often), grateful that they had enough, enough to eat, enough to live; enough. I was struck by that because, after all, she was in the grip of a terrible disease, and yet, she was grateful.

I must remember that.

In the years between my mother's death and my father's stroke, my father and I spoke often of how fortunate we each were to have been loved by a spouse who thought we were wonderful. My father recognized these precious qualities in my husband, and that's a pretty good nod from a father-in-law.

Every evening before we fall asleep, my husband thanks me for a lovely dinner, whether I spent real time preparing it, or we had Chinese take-out or even if he cooked (another thing to be grateful for, I married a great cook). When the meal was particularly pedestrian, I laugh, and he responds that he is thanking me because we shared the meal.

How fortunate am I? I cannot possibly calculate that answer.

So instead of counting blessings which stretch out before me and behind me and surround me in every direction. I hope to begin each day with a grateful heart.

Now, before you think I'm auditioning to be Little Mary Sunshine, this word chose me, so to speak, because I need an anti-dote to the creeping hold of ugly vices such as resentment and envy and perhaps greed. (Throw in a little sloth and there's a more complete picture of me.)

They are not called deadly sins for nothing.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. — Meister Eckhart (1260-1329)

A Yearly Ticking

“The colors, the cool breeze, the way the sun sits a little lower in the sky, just there, over the rooftop, in the late afternoon. Red and yellow leaves are mixed with browning ones on her lawn and under the bushes in the garden. They have gathered at the triangles at either side of the garage doors. She is in no hurry to rake and bag them. She cuts across her lawn, noting the crunch as she heads right, around the bend to Webster then south to Hewlett Avenue toward Sunrise Highway and the Long Island Rail Road. Woodbine is her favorite block. The colonial and Tudor houses, the trees and the gardens, are an advertisement for autumn in the suburbs of New York.

There are big lush oaks and elms with patches of bark chipped away and birds calling, still here,awk, still here. This is nature at its showiest, Jenny thinks. Some argue for spring and summer but for her this is the time when earth is at its fullest, its wisest, so to speak. It is the atmosphere for contemplation, for gathering wisdom, for quiet time to put some order on the chaos of the eruptions of spring and summer.

She thinks of the old trees as wise, but smiles as she wonders why wise and old are so often paired. Surely she has known enough old fools in her life, people who managed to tick out the seconds of their clock without softening, without deepening into their wrinkles and soft bellies. Isn’t the trade off for some frailty a dose of wisdom? Is it a choice, she wonders, or a disposition?

 These thoughts stroll through her as she breathes in the sweet air of decaying leaves, delighted at the bit of red, blown and dancing on autumn's breath. Thank you, God, for letting me walk, for letting me see again this beautiful garment of autumn, the colors and the sun splitting its rays through these branches that have survived season after season. Most older than me, older than my mother and grandmother. 

Jenny sees this showing of colors as a message from God to get our attention before we waste any more time. You can still understand, grieve, and allow pain to take root and grow compassion in your soul.

The sun falling lower in the sky and that breeze, just a bit chill, not yet cold, reminds us, grounds us. A yearly ticking, the bass sound of it gathering depth through the blanket of leaves. Forgiveness and generosity and abundance need to be our first things, not our last.GeneMc-8

She winds her way back to her house, goes in and sets the kettle to boil. When it whistles she fills a cup and lets a tea bag steep. The back porch that needs cement work and some new wood around the screens is one of her favorite parts of this house. It is far from perfect and for this she is glad."

Excerpt From: Julianne B. McCullagh. “The Narrow Gate.” iBooks.

Excerpt From: Julianne B. McCullagh. “The Narrow Gate.” iBooks.



It’s been ten years since my mother died. But no, that’s not right. When I snuggle into the cool sheets on a February night I am again seven years old and the heat rises through the grates under the window in the pink bedroom I share with my sisters. Just a few hours before we billowed the just-out-of-the-dryer sheets, the best part of making the bed, and then tucked blankets and stuffed pillows with pink flowered cases. Everything is new again with this simple bit of housework, or is it homemaking? The next morning I will try to repeat the techniques of bed making that my mother performed so deftly last night. The day after I will return to my hasty pull up the covers move that is a poor relation to her expertise. Something I still do, I admit.

There are moments that can get lost if they don’t tap you on the shoulder when you’re not looking and return you, giggles and all, to the most innocent of times. If we are not careful, or if those whispers abandon us, we can color the past in the wrong shades of blue and neglect the light that was there, tucked away maybe, but there just at the end of your fingertips.


Keep the Lights On

Most nights the porch light is on till two or three a.m. while one of my sons goes about photographing interesting sights and lights and shadows.  So, naturally, I do a dose of worry/prayer to keep him safe. Most nights I read for several hours by the light of my I-Pad. I read and think. Think about all sorts of people and situations since my childhood, little bits of this and that, faces, personalities and events. Mini-reviews of my life.

And I pray for them as their faces pop up in the video that runs in my head each night.

I watch the news in the morning; I watch the news at night. There is so much good in the world, yes, there really is. Good people, beautiful days, events filled with love and gratitude, laughter, joy and compassion

Gratitude might be the key here. ‘Gratitude, the Heart of Prayer’, a title of a book and good advice. (That and the ‘Spirituality of Imperfection’ are among my favorite titles in my bookshelf).

Of course, I know there is much that is not good. The doctrine of Original Sin covers some of that: we are good with a propensity for sin. I used to teach Baptism prep classes and at the time the trend was to emphasize community and welcoming and to shy away from the bummer that is the doctrine of Original Sin. One woman, a grandmother I believe, got up and left the class when she asked about when we were getting to that. I explained that we emphasize the welcoming aspect of Baptism. The one-with-community aspect, joining in our imperfect communion of saints.  We were leaving the whole Original Sin thing like an embarrassment in the corner.

I often think of that woman being annoyed with my noveau approach to teaching baptism.  I imagine she was raised in the St Augustine school of thought, as I was, that emphasized our need for grace to strengthen us against the real and present danger of sin and here I was telling the folks to baptize their babies because it is good to join in the community.

It is good to join in the community. It is good to not be alone against the evils offered by the world to ruin our souls. It is good to be washed clean of Original Sin, a doctrine that fell out of favor in the do what you will and its all groovy craze that took hold in the last half of the twentieth century.

But there’s that grandma leaving my come on in the water’s great class to search for someone who could deal with sin.

Good for her.

Because there is darkness and evil and yes, sin. You’d have to be very young or very naïve to think otherwise.  And I'm pretty sure that with every act of sin, the world gets a little dimmer, a little darker: veils layered between the sun and us.

But, wait. That is not what we hope, that is not what we place our faith in.

So, while most of us are feeling virtuous or massaging our own neuroses, there are people in the world who are keeping the lights on for the rest of us.

Pray-ers. That’s their job description. Monks and nuns in monasteries. Parents teaching their children the Our Father; parents staying up nights reciting the rosary or whatever prayers they learned in their youth to get their children home safely. Aunt Jule with her list of people she prayed for each night dating back to the 1890’s. People of all descriptions poking holes in the veil. And, boy do we have our work cut out.

This is how I picture it: with all the prayers against the darkness offered up by pray-ers, those layers separating us from the light are peeled back, worn away. But the darkness is unrelenting, you might say. Yes it is.  But it is our jobs, amateurs and professionals, to keep the lights on.

PS:  I've been away so long from this site because I was finishing up work on my novel, The Narrow Gate. Now, my quest is to find an agent and a publisher, so if you have a minute, could you pray that I find one?  Thanks.

Please visit  Melissa Embry's blog. I am a guest blogger on her post as of last week.