Tag Archives: blessings

Thanksgiving: A Time for Giving Thought to Gratitude

“The worst moment for an atheist,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.”

Though any season is a great time for gratitude, Thanksgiving certainly lends itself at least to some thinking about the subject whether we’re believers, agnostics, atheists, or anything-else-ists.

Even an unusually intelligent golden retriever might do well to ponder on Thanksgiving morning the fact that somebody makes sure that food shows up in his bowl and water in his dish (and, well, for goodness’ sakes, what a nice meaty bone! Wonder what’s the occasion? Woof!). At least a little wag of the tail might be in order, I’d think, and I’m betting it would be more than a little one, since dogs seem to know instinctively that tail wags and gratitude are not items they need to hoard lest they run short.

More than “man’s best friend,” humans have, it seems to me, both a higher responsibility to think and to thank, and a much more serious temptation not to.

I’m told that the word “thank” comes from an older word related to “think.” And, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “thank” is “related phonetically to ‘think’ as ‘song’ is to ‘sing.’” So it would seem that even a very little thinking on our part would issue in “a profound sense of gratitude” and a great deal of thanksgiving. Our hearts really do have a song they should be singing, a song of thanksgiving! “Count Your Many Blessings” was a far better song title than “Think and You’ll Be Thanking,” but it really does come to the same thing.

What’s ironic here, and worth noting, is that those of us who seem to have the biggest boatload of blessings are often the very folks who are least likely to be genuinely thankful. Our “thanking” often suffers because our thinking is snotty, shoddy, and fatally flawed.

We tend to think that anyone else who has worked as hard as we have would naturally have as many blessings as we do.

We tend to think that anyone with a corresponding level of intelligence could certainly have made the same sorts of wise or profitable life or business decisions we’ve made.

We tend to think, though I hope we’d not say it, that we’re a “cut above” average and thus more deserving than others. When we say “blessings,” we mean something more akin to “wages, benefits, or dividends.”

We tend to forget how much we have that no one can possibly earn.

We tend to forget about inconvenient items that no one can control such as bad genetics or pesky microbes or crazily dividing cells or hurricanes or dictators or senseless crimes or market meltdowns—and so much more.

Healthy, happy, and more than well fed, it’s good that we’ve not bought into the self-defeating victim mentality that is such a scourge in our society, but buying into the “I’m my own god” mentality is just as deadly to genuine gratitude—and to our souls. We’ve not created a single breath of our own air or spun this world an inch, much less given ourselves life.

It’s a good time to do some good thinking and thus to be moved to lots of thanking. Most of all, it’s a good time to genuinely thank God and try not to confuse him with the dim-witted pseudo-deity under our own hat.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Animal Friends Are Among God’s Best Blessings

 

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I’ve tried to wait a bit before writing this column. Since one of my life achievements is excellence in procrastination, I’ve been successful, although on rare occasions I’ve even put off procrastinating.

But I needed to wait. Some things are hard to keep in perspective. At the top of the list is anything—or anyone—that we love. And, no doubt about it, I loved that lazy furball, the little brindle-colored cross-breed canine critter we had to have “put down” recently.

People can be so crazy—literally—about pets that the excessiveness is obscene. I don’t doubt for a moment that a dog is “man’s best friend.” An incredible blessing.

But dogs are dogs. And though real grief at any level is still real grief, I’m slow to mention “this” grief in the same paragraph—or universe—as theirs.

But if it were possible, my sympathy for those facing severe loss is heightened as every time I walk into the house, get out of bed, open the blinds in the morning, or kick back in the recliner, I miss my friend.

Jesus tells us that his Father is so intimately connected to creation and his creatures that he sees when even a sparrow falls.

Hmm. That makes me wonder a little about grackles. You know, those goose-stepping, ill-mannered Nazi blackbirds. If I had my way, and my aim was better, lots more of them would be falling.

Up on their high branch, above the patio they’ve defiled, Grackle #1 growls to Grackle #2, “Say, did you hear what happened to ol’ Jake last night? Right in mid-cackle, he wing-clutched his chest, went inverted, and hit the deck. His heart? Not sure. One of the boys said he thought he saw something fly by and nail him. Maybe .177 calibre lead. Dunno if he was gone when he hit, but I’m dead sure he was gone once that Doberman down there got to him! The ol’ screecher leaves 42 children and a host of friends.”

Our little gal, Maddie, liked to chew on grackle when she could get it. I discouraged the practice. She seemed to have a hard time keeping it down, and I couldn’t imagine it being a healthy habit.

Son Josh was in high school when he brought the wiggling puppy home and unashamedly begged like a four-year-old to keep it. He said she was a Chihuahua-Shih Tzu mix. Definitely a puppy of the first part. But I’m not so sure about the other part. Some sort of short-haired terrier?

Opinions vary widely as to her “beauty.” But her heart was good—even when twelve years later, her ticker wasn’t. From the get-go, she was sweet, gentle, and, to me, cute. She could jump like a cat, but, at rest, and she was almost always at rest, she crossed her paws like a little lady.

The house was a renovation wreck, two of Josh’s brothers were in the throes of preparing to head to Africa for mission work, and Mom was wisely and firmly against importing a dog at that moment. Tears all around. I backed off to a safe distance, expressing no opinion aloud.

Josh won. Maddie stayed. I’d already fallen for her. When Josh left home, Maddie didn’t. She and I were thick as thieves.

I don’t know what plans God has for our animal friends when “all things are made new.” I’ll not be surprised if He delightfully surprises us.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Commonplaces Never Become Tiresome”

 

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I was not particularly looking for wisdom when a friend and I walked into a Thai food restaurant; I was just looking for food. And I was trying to make sense out of a menu filled with genuine Thai cuisine. What I ended up eating was excellent, but I’m still wondering about one menu item that just sounded interesting.

Larb. L-A-R-B.

I still wonder what it is. A staple item in the Thai diet? A delicacy? The kind of thing a fellow just develops a taste for and says to his wife one evening after work, “Ya know, I could really go for a big bowl of larb right now! Man, that would hit the spot!”

I still don’t know what it is. I plan to try it. Might “Google” before I eat it.

But I think I already found a bit of wisdom. Right there on the wall of the restaurant.

Well, to be utterly truthful, it was on the wall of the restroom of the restaurant, a place where I surely wasn’t expecting to find any wisdom.

It was a quotation at the bottom of a Norman Rockwell print. The words were Rockwell’s words, which is what gave them even deeper meaning. Rockwell, arguably America’s most beloved artist, a man who succeeded in capturing on canvas the warm heart and the living soul of this nation, wrote this: “Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. We find that it is not a new scene which is needed, but a new viewpoint.”

He is so right! Yes, there are times to take a trip, see new things, meet new people. But what most of us need far more is simply to open up our eyes to that which is beautiful and wonderful, joy-filled and life-giving, all around us every ordinary day in lots of ordinary places. Because, you see, there aren’t any simply “ordinary” days or “ordinary” places. And you never met an “ordinary” person. Our extraordinary God never created anything or anyone who was just “ordinary.”

The more I think about it, the more I realize that “commonplaces” are what God uses to make our lives uncommonly rich and interesting, and those who spurn them are poor no matter what their income.

The way your wife strokes your hand during a movie.

The giggles from the grandchild sitting on your lap as you’re singing a song together.

Early morning fog or a blanket of new snow creating a completely new world just outside your front door.

A clear, calm, crisp winter night and the smell of an oak fire warming the heart of a home.

The crackle of that fire in the hearth, its warmth on your back, and a book in your hand.

The taste of chocolate.

The easy laughter and good-natured joking of good friends.

Your favorite chair or your oldest pair of slippers.

Taking a snooze in the sun and realizing your dog is right about snoozes in the sun.

“Commonplaces never become tiresome.”

Thank God for them!

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Eighty Years Blessed, and a Great Blessing

 

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Math has never been my strong suit. So my being 54 for two years in a row and skipping 55 is not that mysterious.

But simple arithmetic points me to a genuine mystery this week. The math says that my oldest brother will turn 80 on February 16. That blows my rapidly-aging mind.

A good bit of mystery has always attached itself to the gentleman herein mentioned. Ironically, he’s both the least mysterious of men and among the most amazing. Absolutely a “chip off the old block,” he is truly my father’s successor in life, in ministry, in character. My father and his eldest son were/are “men without guile,” the gentlest, meekest, strongest, and best men I’ve ever known. What you see is absolutely what you get, uncut, unalloyed, pure—honesty, integrity, commitment to God and service to others.

Ah, but a wee bit of mystery, too, resides in this soon-to-be octogenarian. Not least, his very name.

He’s B. Not to be confused with any other letters of the alphabet. Actually, he’s G. B. Shelburne, III. Our father was G. B. Shelburne, Jr. But family lore indicates some confusion, even between our father and his mother, about whether the initials were truly “initials only,” as legal records might state, or if they stood for names. No room in this space to discuss the options. I’ll just say that the situation allowed my wry mother to poke good-natured fun as she intoned, “G-only B-only” tossing an “e” into the midst of “only” and bringing up images of gaunt skeletons.

Just this week, I asked our youngest brother if we’d ever figured out if the old fellow’s name is properly written (and how do I write this?) B. or B? I mean, B-no period or B-period. Jim says the best research and B.’s own usage indicates the latter. (If Mom & Dad had been consistent, I guess my other siblings and I would’ve been G., R., C., and J.)

Don’t check my math, but when I was born, B. and Ruth (his amazing wife) were recently married. He was almost 21, and I was barely here. (Brother Jim would later be created, mostly to serve as my playmate and partner in mischief.) G. B. & Wilma (“Abraham and Sarah”) had been seriously surprised by, uh, me. While I was still barely a pup, B. and Ruth went to Malawi, Africa, as missionaries, a very mysterious thing to a little kid. Hence my opportunity to get to know my own oldest brother came when he and Ruth were home on infrequent furloughs from the mission field. I know now how seriously B. worked to make sure we got acquainted.

We did. And for a bunch of decades now, you can count me as someone high on the list, the very long list, of folks who have been blessed by this man who is my brother, almost my father, a pastoral colleague, a mentor, a dear friend, and one of the most truly Christlike, spiritually-minded men I’ve ever known.

He’s still a little mysterious. How can my oldest sibling have less gray hair than any of us? What is no mystery at all is that everything he is and does honors his Lord. Eighty years. I don’t think it’s really G-only B-only. I think it’s Great Blessing. For 80 years, he has been.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

  

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Happy 100th Birthday to an Amazing Mom!

 

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On August 15, 2015, Wilma Jean (Key) Shelburne, my mother, would have been 100 years old.

Now this gets dangerous. As an English major, I’m delving into what for me is higher math. But Mom passed away in 1992, over 23 years ago. Amazing that it’s been that long! She was 77.

The grandson born on her birthday, my son, just turned 32 on their birthday. He was 7 when Mom passed away. If some of my math won’t fly, I’ll not be surprised, but time surely does. And, no surprise, I still miss my amazing mom.

I suppose that in one way or another most of us “play to our mothers” all of our lives. Whenever cameras pan across cheering crowds, the signs folks hold and the words they mouth are, more often than not, “Hi, Mom!”

It’s no accident, on a much more poignant note, that many survivors of bloody battles tell of hearing the wounded and dying lying between the battle lines in “No Man’s Land” crying out for their mothers.

Anything we do, whatever we accomplish, no matter how sweet the success, is for most of us sweeter when we know our moms know about it. Moms are, after all, our biggest fans. They are the leaders of our cheering sections, the un-elected but unimpeachable presidents of our fan clubs.

I’m no exception. In a couple of weeks, my third recorded album, a music CD entitled “For Sentimental Reasons” will be in my hands, and I’m pleased and thankful about that. (I hope some other folks want it in their hands, too!) But it would be an even sweeter experience for even more “sentimental reasons” if I could play the record for Mom. She’d like it. A lot.

Mom was, to borrow author Joyce Landorf Heatherley’s term, one of my very top tier “balcony people.” Always encouraging, supporting, cheering, inspiring, motivating. Always loving.

I know she loved the rest of her kids, too. Fiercely. But let’s be honest here. My surviving siblings just need to face the fact that Mom & Dad’s first three kids were basically a practice group, and that when, seventeen years after the birth of the third, #5 came along, it was clear that he was brought on board primarily just to be a companion and playmate for #4 who was, may I humbly say, sort of the culmination, sweet spot, and focal point of the whole process. Even if I did show up as a “Now, dear husband, don’t forget to breathe when I tell you this” surprise.

My little mama was amazing. Smart. Spunky. Faith-filled. Articulate and great with words. She laughed easily when the time was right, which was often. Sometimes she laughed when the time wasn’t “right” but some wise and wry soul needed to laugh to clear the air of nonsense. She was the defender of the underdog and the scourge of the sanctimonious. She taught us not just to know the Bible but to know the Savior.

I don’t know what other amazing blessings God bestowed on August 15 way back in 1915. But the one I know about was enough to make it a really, really fine day.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!  By the way, click “Play” on the bottom of the Home Page for a song sample from the new album! 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


An Odd Calendar and “Merry Thanksgiving!”

 

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I’m writing this column between meals on Thanksgiving weekend. Our family’s absolutely gargantuan meal is still coming, sandwiched between meals that are just really amazingly big, and I’m sitting in a food-induced stupor pondering the calendar.

The calendar is playing some tricks on us this year. Thanksgiving and the turkey, dragging their heels, showed up way late, which means that Advent/Christmas will be upon us way early. By Sunday, Thanksgiving weekend and December will have crashed right into each other, a bit of a wreck with ramifications. If you’re a retailer, you’ll have six fewer days to “re-tail” this year. If you are, say, a guy who has just recorded a Christmas CD, that means six fewer days to sing Christmas concerts (and it’s six days closer to post-Christmas singing depression).

And, yes, if you’re a pastor planning a variety of seasonal church and worship activities, services, sermons, etc., well, it might be helpful to know that this year when the wise men show up it probably won’t be with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. More likely they’ll be bringing turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy.

It is, you know, simply because three gifts were mentioned the first time around that we just assume those first wise guys were a trio. If that first Christmas had been as close to Thanksgiving as this one, I figure our Christmas cards would be featuring an additional wise fellow, the song would be “We Four Kings,” and one more little guy in a church Christmas pageant would need to borrow his dad’s bathrobe to dress up for the journey down the church aisle to Bethlehem under the star up front.

I’m betting that somebody’s wise wife would have packed his camel bags with some cranberry sauce as a gift to go along with the other three guys’ tasty offerings. And that makes four. Four gifts. And four wise men.

Anyway, it’s leftover turkey and dressing for lunch this Sunday, after the service where we light the first Advent candle. Merry Thanksgiving!

But maybe this year’s calendar crash is not as much of a clash as I first thought.
You see, Thanksgiving reminds me that no matter how hard I’ve worked, the most noteworthy thing about my life is how completely needy and poverty-stricken I am when it comes to saving myself. The blessings I need the most are blessings straight from God, blessings that only he could give, blessings that I could never earn, deserve, or procure myself.

Guess what? Here comes Christmas with much the same lesson, written large: “Get over yourself, pilgrim! The Gift given to save you is God’s Gift, not one you could ever have given or even imagined. You can’t improve it, add to it, or in any way deserve it. You can just accept it.”

Peanut butter and jelly. Turkey and dressing. Joy and thanksgiving. Some things just go together. A good lesson from an odd calendar.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Long Surprising Train of Wonderful Blessings

 

Well, we had a great “Listening Party” last Sunday!

I didn’t know what a Listening Party was until Darrell Bledsoe, my friend and producer of my new music CD, said several months ago, “Curtis, when the album’s ready, we need to have a Listening Party.”

“A what, Darrell?”

“A party where we invite folks to come just listen to the CD as we play it on a good sound system and we talk about each of the songs. It’ll be a great time!”

And he was right.

Among the many things I’ve learned making this album is why it’s a great blessing to have the right producer. Any writer, no matter how experienced, needs an editor, a second set of eyes, to help hone the work he’s already done and make it better. And I know now how true that is for music as well—and, come to think of it, life; we all need mentors, teachers, counselors, trusted friends, to help us be better than we could ever be on our own.

Obviously, very early in making a record (yeah, I’ve learned that’s still a good term; it’s short for “recording” whether it ends up on vinyl or polycarbonate plastic), you need a list of songs. I knew pretty well which songs I wanted on this CD, but when it came time to “nail down” the list, Darrell said, “We need to get some variety in here. Curtis, you need a barn burner!”

“A what? Darrell, I don’t do barn-burners.”

Well, okay, I’ve done some fast, zippy, rip-snortin’ songs with quartets and other groups, and had fun, but solos? Nope.

His reply, as I heard it, was, “Curtis, you’re a crooner. That’s your basic style. Fine. That means you have no problem helping people gently drift off to sleep; somewhere on this album, you need a song to wake ’em back up!”

He was right!

“You know what? I think it’d be fun if you’d sing ‘Long Black Train’!”

“Huh? Can you play it for me? [He did.] You’re kidding, right? [He wasn’t.]”

Well, long train—I mean “story”—short, that country-western song by Josh Turner (in Johnny Cash style) is on my album.

At first, my reaction was, “No.” Then my reaction was, “I’m not sure I can.” It would mean surrendering my English degree, clothespinning my nose, and getting as many as six syllables out of words the good Lord intended only to have one.

At one point, I found myself standing out by a railroad track with a digital recorder in hand trying to get “train sounds” to record at the first of the song (I can only imagine what the engineer thought I was about to do). We found a lot better train sound online, and a great engineer—sound, not train—actually “tuned” the whistle to my song’s key! (Two more blessings, by the way. The owner/engineer and assistant engineer at the studio who are amazing and so much fun to work with.)

All of this reminds me again that one of God’s best blessings is not one but many—the many people God graciously puts into our lives to help make us and our work and our lives so much better than we could ever be alone.

 

  

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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