I’m a church lady.

I hinted last week that I might post about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this week, but after watching the Blu-Ray, including the deleted scenes (which were enjoyable  but didn’t fill in any of the story gaps I’d hoped they would), I found that I don’t have a whole lot that’s new to say about the movie, except that I still love it, story gaps and all.  I will briefly mention, however, that I now have a favorite sequence: the one in which Newt and Jacob work together to catch the Erumpent in Central Park.  It starts off with that lovely little scene in which Newt does the Erumpent mating dance, showing that he has no problem making himself look ridiculous for the benefit of his beloved beasts (and making us love them too, vicariously).  After that, it’s a well-paced, purely fun caper through the park that solidifies the partnership between Newt and Jacob–at the end, the latter puts out his hand as if they’re meeting for the first time and finally says, “Call me Jacob.”  The music is also perfect in this sequence; it’s beautiful and sounds like something that should be in a ballet, but it has just enough of a sense of humor to fit the tone of the events.

But that’s not the topic of today’s post.  Instead, I want to write a little bit about the wonderful time I had this past weekend at my church’s women’s retreat at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Ashville, NC.  I think I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m a mountain lover, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed my surroundings, especially the feeling of being enveloped by the woods while zip-lining on Saturday.  I also enjoyed The Cove’s gourmet meals, the music and teaching sessions, and getting to sleep in almost total darkness and quiet.

But my favorite thing about the retreat was looking around and realizing just how many women from my church I recognize and, of those, how many I can call my friends.  This is significant to me not only because I belong to a large church, but also because for a long time, I didn’t think I was a “church lady.”  During college and for a number of years after that, I did not consider myself the type of person who would go to a women’s retreat–nor who would attend a Beth Moore Living Proof event (which I did last fall) or who would wear a piece of jewelry inspired by a book from a women’s Bible study I participated (and I love my necklace pendant that looks like the bird’s nest on the cover of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts).

Now, when I look back on the period when I thought I wasn’t a church lady, I realize that my attitude largely stemmed from pride and prejudice.  (I promise that was not an intentional Jane Austen reference, but I decided to run with it.)  I had a very narrow definition of what a church lady was.  Although I couldn’t have pointed to one person who fit this description, my stereotyped mental image of a church lady didn’t like to read non-Christian fiction, hugged everyone who came across her path but didn’t really know them, would have considered me unspiritual and just plain weird for liking Harry Potter and rock music, and used Bible verses in all of her decorating.  She was also, although I may not have ever articulated this is a verbal thought, intellectually and spiritually inferior to me.

Of course, I was wrong, not to mention lousy with pride.  My erroneous thinking derived from two main problems.  First, I was forgetting that the true definition of a “church lady” is any woman who belongs to Jesus Christ, even if she lives in a country that doesn’t have a single Lifeway.  Second, I didn’t know very many women from my local church.  It took me a long time and some deliberate actions–serving in various ministries, becoming an official church member, deigning to attend Wednesday night Bible studies–before I really started getting to know some of them.  Now, in my church, I have running buddies, I have fellow Harry Potter fans, and I have women who may not have any superficial interests in common with me but with whom I can have a genuine conversation about life.  It was beautiful to look out over the crowd in our sessions over the weekend and realize that.

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the thankfulness book

This is the next in my series of posts on crafting a rule of life.  Those of you who have been following this series will be interested (and maybe a little sad) to know that I am probably going to wrap it up after next week’s post.  However, I’ll continue to add to my rule of life and will probably blog about it from time to time in the future.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the three hours I spent in solitude, meditating on my struggle with anger and how, with God’s help, I can implement practices into my life that will help me to become less angry and more gentle.  One of the action steps that came from that session was to begin writing daily in the thankfulness journal that I started last summer during a Bible study on Ann Vosskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, a book I heartily recommend.  Like thousands of other Christian women who have read the book, I chose a beautiful journal (mine is a handcrafted one from Nepal, with a colorful woven cover and soft, fibrous pages) and started making a list of things I’m thankful for, with the eventual goal of reaching one thousand.  Like thousands of other Christian women, I faithfully wrote 2-3 items daily for a few weeks and then petered out, starting and stopping again sporadically throughout the year whenever I happened to notice the journal under a pile of other books.

As I mentioned in my solitude post, the authors of Taking Your Soul to Work connect anger (the sin) and gentleness (the fruit of the spirit) with surrendered contentment (the outcome).  After I recognized this unexpected connection, I decided that picking my thankfulness journal back up and making it a habit this time could be an effective strategy for becoming more content with the gifts I have and thereby feeling less compelled toward anger about what I don’t have and/or can’t control.  Too, writing about those seemingly out-of-nowhere gifts that come to me more often than I usually notice (e.g., a good conversation with a friend whom I “happened” to walk by when leaving a blood drive early after an unsuccessful attempt to donate) may help me see how good it is that I’m not in control of every minute of my day.

Keeping a thankfulness list isn’t just for angry people, or for women, or for people who have been inspired by Ann Vosskamp.  It’s for anyone who wants to rewire their brain circuitry to look for good things.  (There’s real science that says you can actually do this; maybe I’ll write a post about it sometime.)  And it only takes a minute or less to jot down a few items every day.  This practice can also be done with other people.  My family has a now-threadbare journal that we’ve pulled out every Thanksgiving since 1991 to record what we’ve been most thankful for during the previous year.  Reading our entries aloud together has led to much laughter, many happy tears, and deep fellowship with each other and with God.

If you think it sounds cheesy, have you actually tried it?  It won’t change you into a different person overnight, but it will gradually train your brain–and your heart, and all the rest of you–to see gifts where you didn’t before.

If you have experience with keeping a thankfulness list, or if you have ideas about how you might incorporate this simple discipline into your life, let me know in the comments!