Counting Blessings

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.

Tecumseh

Dad and me, July 4th

Dad and me, July 4th

The Bernstein Bears (and my parents) taught me to count my blessings. I would look around the room when I was a little kid for inspiration to fill up the appropriate amount of time for a bedtime prayer. “Thank you for my moooooooom, thank you for my daaaaaaaad, thank you for my teddy beeeeear… thank you for my sooooooocks…” Somewhat scrambled, not necessarily sincere at all times, but hey- practice makes perfect, right?

I live a blessed life. On accident or on purpose, the universe has given me wonderful, beautiful things. Too many to count.

But that’s the secret, isn’t it? To count them anyway. Even my socks (one pair equals two blessings- win). To say thank you for the morning light streaming through my window or for the same light even when I can’t see it. To use that crazy thing called faith to say thank you even for the things that haven’t happened yet.

Right now I am extremely blessed to not only live abroad, but to come home and be surrounded by people I love. There is a hesitation that happens after not being home for a while. Circles of friends shrink, people are married with kids and have less accessible couches covered in baby spittle (adorable baby spittle, mind you). People change. You change. Worry and anxiety kick in and you wonder if there is really anything to come home for at all.

But then I get a hug from my dad as pictured above and I feel like I just jumped in a blessing bubble bath. I get messages from friends, and their unconditional love and excitement for my life that is usually far from exciting melts my heart and reminds me to be the kind of person they are proud of. I am blessed with so many amazing, positive people in my life- how can I not count?

So I do. I count, I smile, I look around and think of even more. I’m surrounded by blessings, and it’s just the beginning of the list.

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Praying Into The Silence

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

This lent, as I disconnect with social media in an attempt to better listen to that still small voice of God, I have heard nothing but deafening silence. The roaring silence surrounding uncertainties in my future, in the life of my friends, in my faith.

This silence has been tough. It has not been the silence of peace, but rather a soul-churning silence. It has been a silence that feels more like crawling on gravel than swimming the the deepest of oceans.

In my fumbling attempt to struggle through this time of silence, I began searching for some new prayers to say. Prayers that might help me live better in the silence of waiting. In my search, I found some prayer cards that I had taken from a special box in my grandmother’s home after she died.

FullSizeRenderI remember picking them at random.Yet now, a message is clear in the ones I chose. Saint Rita and Saint Philomena, patron saints of the impossible, Saint Michael, protector of the faith, and the Holy Mother Mary.

It seems in my blind grief I knew the deepest yearnings of my soul: to achieve the impossible, to be strong of faith, to be comforted by the brave love of a fierce mother.

So as I stumble around in this silent waiting for God’s voice, I pray these prayers. I pray for the impossible reality that is the kindom of God on this earth. I pray for faith that is strong even in silence, even in doubt. I pray for the grace to accept my path the way Mary did, even when it isn’t the path I had planned for.

I pray into the the silence, with all the faith I can muster, knowing that sometimes, it is in these moments of struggle that we see most clearly, that it is in the moments of deafening silence that we hear most clearly.

Types of Silence

Today’s guest post come from John Smith, who writes about leadership, learning, and human behavior from St. Louis, Missouri in the Heartland of the United States at his blog The Strategic Learner.  His post today take a conversational look at the types of silences we find in our lives, and what wisdom we may find in each. So, here’s John on types of silence…

When I saw the thought-provoking questions that Searching Sophia’s Pockets provided to help our creative juices flow on the topic of silence, the very first question in the list stumped me completely:

How do you find silence in your daily life?

After a moment, my brain kicked in with a smart-aleck response:

Which silence do you mean?

Is it the quiet of the world in deep night or early morning as the sun prepares to rise?

This is usually a relaxing silence, in that delicious space between sleep and the start of the day. Of course, nature is not really quiet, anyone raised in the country or who has spent much time there knows that even in the stillness of early morning, a soft blanket of background sounds provides a restful soundtrack.

If it is not that silence, then is it the silence of cowering in the dark of the night, when only the sound of your own breathing intrudes?

This dark-time silences scare me to the limits of my soul. I have been terrified to the core of my being, either through the threat of harm or death to myself or someone I deeply care for several times in my life. I have feared the loss of a relationship and my ability to meet the challenges of living. Yet this silence is made of stuff that wakes you in the middle of the night and does not allow for a return to sleep.

Is it the silence of being with someone when no words could make the moment easier or less hurtful?

This is a painful silence, which I have experienced more often in my life than I like to admit. Sometimes the words just run out and all has been said that can be said. You stare at each other across the gulf of past actions and past words and do not know what to do to make things better or right.

Finally my answer hit me. There are two times when I have experienced the power of silence more than any others:

The silence I have experienced while staring into another’s eyes without talking, and the silence during prayer while I await for God’s response.

The first silence is simple, yet powerful. As part of my counselor training many years ago, we regularly engaged in this brief act. The idea was to help us become comfortable honestly and openly with another person. The phrase we used then was “to be present with the other.”

I found this to be one of the most challenging experiences in which I have ever engaged. Without words to affect or distract us, we would gaze into another’s eyes without speaking for several minutes, although the time felt like hours.

The connection is almost tangible, as we see another human being through what we call the “portal to the soul”.

Then there is the silence during prayer—a silence of waiting for God’s response. This is a different silence, an anticipatory silence, where you have shared yourself with God and await a response.

When I was younger, I saw this as waiting for the answer: “Yes”, “No”, or “We’ll See”, just like I used to lay out logical arguments and wait for my parent to decide.

Now I treat prayer more like a conversation with a trusted friend, where secrets are shared, doubts are spoken aloud, and the other’s felt presence is often all that is needed. The silence enfolds and warms me, because I trust the relationship. Maybe God will answer and maybe not, but I will receive what I need through the silence.

So, which silence does Sophia mean? I suppose it depends on which silence you need in your life…

Lessons Learned from Starting Over

Today we a proud to feature a post from our writing intern, Nermine Mohamed.

I was never afraid of change or starting over. I love beginnings; the fresh, blank page ready to be filled, the glowing eyes, the perky heart, anticipation of what the new road holds for me, the chance to do it again and to do it differently, the hope and faith in a better tomorrow. I live with the “start over” button always ready to be pressed at a whim, on a hunch or simply out of boredom. I don’t settle or compromise in how I want to live my life, so I’ve hopped between different jobs, changed careers, learned new things, with different people coming in and out of my life, and I, personally, have changed quite a few times in the process. But with each new experience, I felt I’m getting a tiny bit closer to finding who I am, what I want to do, and the person I want to become.

Almost four months ago, I’ve decided I need a drastic start over, so I packed my bags and moved to a different continent and started school. Away from the life I’m used to and the people I love, I began to look at starting over differently. I’ve learned a lot about myself; my flaws, my strengths.

I’ve also learned that starting over can be hard and exhausting. Some days I go to bed weary and beaten up by everything that’s not working, by everything I thought would happen but did not. I ache from the bumps in the road, the disappointments, the losses, and I yearn for any sign to assure me that this is the right track. That’s why starting over means doing it every single day. With every morning, I must start over and I should never give up.

Starting over has also taught me to appreciate not only what lies ahead, but also what I’ve left behind; the little things I’ve always taken for granted, the family and friends who always have my back, the people with whom I’ll probably never cross paths again. Everything matters and every person I left behind was a part of shaping who I am now. Starting over means appreciating the “here” and the “now”, and the moments that led me here. I means telling people how much they mean to me, as I might not have another chance.

I’ve realized how blessed I am, and how I should be thankful every moment of every day, for all the second chances God has given me, for the new experiences and the new people coming into my life. It is important to be thankful for the hard times when the world was tight and doors were closed, and for how suddenly everything change and how generous and unexpected God’s blessings are. But mostly I have learned to be thankful for the little hints that appear every once and awhile that assure me that it’s going to be alright, that it’s all worth it, that starting over was the right decision.

The Courage to Start Over

We’re pleased to share a guest post from Aya Nejim who is a young English teacher with zeal to feed young minds and her own passion for knowledge. Aya lives in both Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt and currently pursuing her Master’s degree. Aya shares with us how starting over is all about the courage to write and rewrite your own story as you see fit.

Many of us live our lives without asking or thinking about things that make them happy, until something catastrophic happens to derail that happiness. I mean something that blocks the everyday course of action, in which we are usually robots functioning without stopping for a second to think.

Sometimes it is a loss of a friend, or even someone we don’t know; the mere saddening theme of death or loss. The notion that you know something or someone is gone and will never come back. Other times it could be something more trivial like a farewell scene in an airport or train station. It is in such moments that we actually stop for a second and start to ponder, to engage in a profound contemplation about our lives and suddenly all our dreams float to the surface. Right there, we feel as if we are floating through million clashing thoughts just like waves in a roaring ocean.

Well, for me the wakeup call was a very harsh year in which I lost almost everything; my job, my belongings, my income, almost everything, even my dad I was on the verge of losing him. He suffered from a severe heart stroke; I was alone with him in the hospital, watching him suffer while life being sucked out of him. There were moments when he didn’t recognize me or know where we were. I saw my whole life shatter in front of me, while all I could do was stand there in the middle, watching it all fall apart. My dad was my whole life.

There was a time when his heart actually stopped and I had to stand outside and watch while the doctors revive him back. I will never forget that moment in my life, I never felt so vulnerable or weak before. I started to contemplate on what meant the most to me in life and why? My dad is recovered now, but I looked around me and examined the lives of those close to me and realized I didn’t like nor want any of their lives. That was the moment I realized that I deserve better.

I wanted to start over but I was afraid. I fear it because starting over requires change and I have come to realize that I fear change more than death because I don’t know what lies ahead and thus don’t know how to act. Now I know that as much as it is scary to start over, it is also liberating and fruitful. So, I am not going to be afraid anymore to start over. If I won’t be the writer of my own story, who will? I feel I owe it to myself to be happy, to try and explore myself, to look beyond all these years that passed and re-live my life again.

Some of us are fortunate enough to realize in their moments of contemplation that they are on the right track and actually pursuing their dreams or that they are happy and content with the lives they lead. However, for some of us, tragic moments make us ponder about the “why”, the “how” of our lives. They make us wonder “what happened” to all of our dreams and what makes us keep postponing our plans. For a moment, I thought, what if tomorrow was my last day? What would I do? I could not stop thinking and that’s when I overcame my fear and decided to be free, to be alive, to start over.

When Rituals End

We are pleased to share a guest post from Esraa Mohamed. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim, studying Physical Therapy at Cairo University. Esraa describes herself as “just another soul being passionate about the universe”. Today she is sharing with us her insights about rituals; family rituals, how rituals become “remember whens” and how rituals change over time.

Too many scenes floated into my mind the instant the word “rituals” crossed my sight. I was brought up in a family of four. I was constantly daydreaming back then for a bigger family, a family of six or something. But the bitterness of the small family didn’t weigh much, as our cozy rituals compensated that issue. Friday mornings were on top of all. We, the four, squeezing in the kitchen going back and fro preparing breakfast together. With that homely ambiance, we sat on a small woody table enjoying breakfast together, talking about everything in life. My father, mother and little brother are all I have for a family and those Friday mornings were all that we got.

Winter time. The air is filled with chilling, but warm breeze. 10 pm and I prepared my bag for school. Heading toward my daddy’s bed, I squeeze under the warm sheath, finding my way to his hug. “Hey daddy” I used to say and then I would end up telling him how angry I was about that friend who passed away last week without giving me a chance to say goodbye, and how much I liked physics and hated sociology. We used to make fun of my mum, making jokes about her just to drive her crazy. Daddy used to listen and then, kissing him on the cheek, I wished him sweet dream and headed to my bed.

It shook me to the core to realize that many of these rituals had become only “Remember whens”. I don’t know when we precisely ended up having nothing to say on Friday mornings or when we ceased practicing the other rituals? I always thought that I missed those days but I do not. I feel quite shocked to hear myself say that, but the moment I said it, I knew it was true. I used to love those rituals but now they are gone.

As I grew older, I began to understand rituals differently. Rituals are those deeds you would go on doing when everyone else has given up on them. They could be those murmuring hums before you sleep. Those solo hangouts when you are down. The rituals we come up with are what help us endure pain, so I try to come up with as many of those types of rituals as possible.

The Prayer In The Ritual

Our first post on Rituals comes from our long-time reader, and author of The Strategic Learner, John Smith, who is a teacher and facilitator. He writes to us from the Midwest about the power of rituals, and their to God for him and his family. His post offers a beautiful wisdom about the living prayers that can be encompassed in our rituals.

As a child, I was part of a small family living on a farm in the country, so many of our rituals were unique to us. I recognize now that the unique blend of personalities through my father, mother, younger brother, and I shaped many of these customs. We were living the Smith Family version of life.

As I grew out into the larger world, I found other families with other rituals, some of which appeared vaguely familiar, my rituals “with a twist”, and some of which were downright alien to my eyes. I found myself sometimes comforted, especially by the rituals and behaviors of large families, which showed glimpses of a different world. I came to define family differently: No such thing as ex-relatives, in-laws, or step-anything in our family. You are simply part of the family. With seven children, six grandchildren, and a host of other family members, we now create our own rituals.

When our children were small, we created a ritual around sending them out into the world every day by saying to each in turn “Be good, be safe, be smart, be careful, be happy.” The exact order might vary and at some point, as the world became increasingly troubled, we added “ … and be a force for good in the world.”

The ritual was ingrained and practiced on a daily basis, so we sometimes found ourselves saying the words without thinking about them. We might be rushed or thinking too far ahead of where we were in our day. When this happened, things felt a little off-balance, and I sometimes found myself turning around, walking back, or retracing my driving route, because saying those words intentionally was important.

The mantra we used, like other’s little rituals, served two important and related purposes. Firstly, a reminder to our children of what was important in life, both for themselves and for others. Secondly, our ritual functioned as a prayer by us to God on behalf of our children, that they develop the strength and wisdom to live strongly.

A ritual can be your words, actions, or thoughts. Sometimes a simple gesture, such as touching someone’s hair as you greet them, conveys strong emotion and connection. At other times, a more formal acknowledge of connection exists and we do so through such events as weddings, birthday parties, and funerals.

For me, the core of a ritual is not the magnitude of the behavior, but the meaning behind the words and the actions. I am struck by how often my spiritual beliefs guide my rituals. God helps me, and my family, create meaningful repetitive actions, which both teach and comfort. For me, these rituals have provided bonds between the important people in my life, over years, over distances, and over lifespans.

Hunger For Feeling

We are pleased to share another guest post from Nermine Mohamed, who previously wrote about the fear of liking loneliness too much.  Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, and she currently lives in Germany. Today she shares with us how she hungers for deep emotional experiences and ways to express them. 

Have you ever laughed, truly laughed? The stomach-aching, tears-rolling-down the face, cannot catch your breath kind of laugh.

Have you ever cried, truly cried? Cried your whole heart out, shouted out your pain at the top of your lungs.

What about love? Have you ever felt it, taken it all in? Do you say it “I love you” whenever you feel like it, without over thinking it, without second-guessing it?

Well, I have not, but I hunger for it. I’ve never known how to voice emotions, how to truly live emotions. I have been walking on egg shells all my life, tiptoeing around feelings as if they are a beast I’m afraid to stir.

When I was 12, I lost my mum. She was sick and I was young and I was not supposed to know she was dying until she did. Sometimes people think it is best to protect their children from pain, but I wish I was given the chance to grieve, to fully experience the slipping away of someone dear, to know how precious the little time I had left with her was.

Instead, I cried for a few days and I did not want anyone to comfort me. I did not want to share my grief. And then it was all over, locked-up and thrown away.

Even now, it is not only grief and pain that I don’t allow myself to feel. I do not allow myself to be happy when I achieve something I’ve longed for. Nothing is permanent. Don’t get too excited, it might not work after all!

I’m always stuck midway; a trapeze dancer, swinging back and forth, but never falling, never jumping, never letting go.

But I’m tired of this numbness. I’m yearning, I’m aching, I’m hungry for emotions; raw, deep, acute, soul-shattering emotions. With writing that I can sometimes speak of such things, but I still hunger more.

I want the butterflies-in-my-stomach kind of excitement. I want to be able to get mad. I want to be able to cry. I want to allow myself to love insanely, uncontrollably. I want to have my heart broken, mended and broken again. I want to be able to shout out my feelings.

So, I’ll pray for myself and everyone else out there who feels the same:

May we get swept off our feet by joy, by laughter, by love. May we let go. May we allow ourselves to fall, to get bumped on the head by living every moment, every feeling and emotion to the fullest. May we always have the strength to endure pain, but may we also use it to be more caring, more loving. Finally may we have the courage to seek love, to accept it and to share it in return.

Amen.

Coffee Break Prayer

In honor of our theme of Hunger, we will do a series of food-based prayers this month, including a Dinner Prayer!  Enjoy and don’t for get to submit your own prayers!

Dear Spirit of Divine Energy,

Give me a break.
Let me carve out a moment for myself.
Give me energy to move through my world,
todo the things I need to,
and those things I want to do too.
Let me have time to enjoy a hot drink with a loved one,
and let me be uplifted by that communion.
Help me give myself a break.

Amen

Dinner Prayer

In honor of our theme of Hunger, we will do a series of food-based prayers this month! Enjoy and don’t for get to submit your own prayers!

Dear Spirit of Care,

I hunger for a pause,
a break in my day, my week, my overly-busy life.

Let this dinner bring me the peace I crave,
and let it remind me of the joys of slowing down.

Do not let me forget
those who will not have dinner tonight,
and those who will eat their dinner alone.

Let me be nourished,
so that I can nourish others.
Le me be fed,
so that I can feed the hungry.

Let me enjoy this meal,
let me enjoy those who share it with me,
let my hunger be satisfied.

Amen