Finding Hope Through Gratitude

I believe in the message of hope. I believe in hope in the midst of despair. I believe when we are despairing, God despairs with us. And that underpins hope, because if God suffers with us, there is meaning in that hopeless experience.

A compassionate God offers us a steady supply of hope, but we do not always avail ourselves of it. Our means to do that is through gratitude. Gratitude is what brings hope into the present moment. Hope may seem a distant promised land but gratitude gives us awareness of the manna we are eating in the wilderness at this very moment.” 

These words were the opening of a paper I wrote for a ministry class some years ago but the words ring as true to me today.  As we wander in the wilderness of Covid 19, there are many for whom gratitude may seem a stretch.  Maybe you have lost a loved one and the virus has prevented having the closure of a celebration of life surrounded by friends and family. Maybe your job has been shut down and you have children to feed. Perhaps you are experiencing deep depression or panic attacks fueled by our present circumstances.  How do you find gratitude within yourself in this present moment?

“In this present moment” is the key.  In this present moment, ground yourself.  Take some slow, deep breaths.  Ask yourself: where are my feet? That may seem silly.  Do it anyway.  Recognize your feet as connected to solid ground (or imagine them connected if something prevents your putting them flat on the floor). 

Ask yourself:  where is my head? What thoughts am I feeding?  Name at least one thing for which you are grateful.  Continue searching if something doesn’t come immediately.  You might look to the book of Psalms or some other reading that you find uplifting.  I have sometimes turned to Psalm 42: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?  Hope thou in God, for I shall yet again praise him for the help of his countenance.” If all else fails, think of someone you can do something for and be grateful for that motivation. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.

            Shalom, Kate

P.S. Bonus healthy snack from Hope’s Cafe:  slice an apple and sprinkle cinnamon on it. Dip it in yogurt. 😊

Just Breathe!

As I exercised to some Silver Sneakers videos today, I was impressed by how often the leaders would remind folks to breathe!  Would you think we would need to be instructed to breathe?  And yet we do.

As part of my therapy practice, I focused on stress management, relaxation, breathing techniques.  I made a CD of relaxation exercises.  However, I am noticing lately that I am often taking in shallow breaths, even at times unconsciously holding my breath.  You may be familiar with the term “monkey mind, a distracted condition frequently experienced when people seek to meditate.  One of the directions in that circumstance is “return to the breath.” 

In my Face Book memories today, I had a post I had shared from Marci Richards Suelzer, a Licensed Professional Counselor who focuses on trauma, depression and anxiety.  One of her suggestions for coping with terrible things going on in the world, was to learn breathing techniques to calm both body and mind.  If you create such a peaceful place within, you can call it up when you need it.  One client I worked with myself, found it helpful to imagine sitting on the ocean floor, all the clamor above the ocean stilled down below.  Ms. Suelzer mentioned Insight Timer, which I have written about before and use almost daily.  If you have not discovered that app, I highly recommend that you check it out.

Although we think of breathing as natural,  there are many breathing exercises and particular methods called pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing  which  are recommended to be practiced 5-10 minutes daily.

A person can perform the following steps while lying down or sitting up straight in a chair.

  1. Place both hands on the abdomen, feeling the rise and fall of each breath.
  1. Close the mouth and take a slow breath in through the nose, while feeling the abdomen rise and inflate like a balloon.
  2. Breathe out slowly through pursed lips, as if blowing bubbles, with each expiratory breath taking about two to three times as long as each inhalation.
  3. Repeat these steps for 5–10 minutes. Keep the hands on the abdomen to help improve awareness of the correct breathing technique.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Some other recommendations include sleeping on one’s side with pillow under the head and pillow between the knees;  proper posture; regular meditation; and even singing!  (People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease—COPD—who sing regularly reduce their shortness of breath and are better able to manage their symptoms.)

The Storm Within

In response to last week’s post, one reader wrote “The storms that rage within us are sometimes equally powerful with those that rage around us.”  How true!

Brianna Wiest, in an article that I discovered on something called the Thought Catalog, concurs.  “Being in an internal conflict can be one of the most stressful and devastating things in life, far beyond being in an external conflict.  This is because in an external conflict, you ultimately ‘win’ or ‘lose,’ and are forced to accept that outcome.  When you’re struggling with an internal conflict, it feels as though there is no good way to resolve it, because either way you are going to lose somehow.”

Wiest names eight types of internal conflict to include: moral conflict, sexual conflict, religious conflict, political conflict, love conflict, self-image conflict, interpersonal conflict and existential conflict.  On this Memorial Day weekend, I think particularly of existential conflict.  The author uses the example that “someone can believe that war is an ultimate evil and is never excusable, but when certain precedents are presented that necessitate some kind of conflict for the sake of protecting other human beings, that person may find themselves unable to discern what the ‘right’ thing to do is.”

I first knew my now husband when he was in graduate school, only recently having been released from the army, where he had served two tours in Vietnam.  I had no idea how he was struggling to come to terms with having to kill or be killed.  He had the benefit of other vets who were also in the School of Social Work and a field instructor who helped him with that struggle.  A bright student, he threw himself into his studies, another aspect of his healing, as he prepared himself to serve in a helping profession.  He was fortunate to have these resources as this was before PTSD was officially recognized in 1980, which resulted in more services being offered.

We honor those who lost their lives, and those who struggle to manage theirs.

 May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  I may come back to some of the other eight types of internal conflict in future posts.  For now I leave you with this quote from Anatomy of Peace:  “Sometimes we might be forced to defend ourselves….But that is a different thing than saying that we are forced to despise, to rage, to denigrate, to belittle.”

Calm in the Storm

Two days before my sixth birthday, I was sitting in the living room with my family.  We were having family devotions, something my mother had just instituted following a two- week revival at our church.  Somehow one of my brothers had been excused from this and was out on the front porch just outside our living room. 

Suddenly, my brother called out to our father, “Daddy, come look at this funny cloud!”  My father went out and the next minutes are a blur. Clueless as to what was going on, I found myself tossed under a mattress in the hallway.  I’m not sure where everyone else went.  There were only two tiny closets in the house and a small bathtub with an exterior window.  We actually had a basement, but my mother was so frightened she forgot we had one.

We on the southwest side of our small town were largely spared.  The northeast side was devastated. Milli, a girl who would later become my best friend in grade school, lost her mother in the storm, as did a boy in my class named Greg.  As an adult, Milli shared with me the horror of that night.  There were makeshift mortuaries and she and her family could not find where her mother had been taken. 

All the following summer, we kids played “tornado,” running to hide from the storm, intuitively seeking to recover from the trauma. You can google “Blackwell, Okla. Tornado 1955” and find photos and reports of the storm.  The tornado proceeded on to Udall, Kansas, where it caused equal devastation. 

This led to some improvements in developing storm tracking and in tornado sirens.  However, four years later, I recall no warnings as I walked to school.  Arriving a little late, I heard the tardy bell as I crossed the playground.  Despite the beautiful May morning, I remember being aware that not one bird was making a sound.  No breath of air stirred the trees.  Eerie silence took hold. 

I had just gotten to my seat in the classroom, which was by a full-length glass window, when apparently the sirens went off.  I really don’t remember that.  I just remember the teacher demanding we get under our desks.  That window next to me went crashing into the room, cutting my hand and arm.  Our classrooms were arranged in three parallel wings.  The wing in the middle totally lost the roof, soaking everyone there.  We were all crying as we waited for our parents to come rescue us.

Years later, as a recent high school graduate, I had been out one night with a girlfriend getting pizza. We sat visiting in the car after I drove her home.  As it began to rain, the tornado sirens erupted.  She urged me to come inside.  Foolishly, I said “No.  My mother will freak out if I am not home in a storm.”  I can remember vividly driving away from her house, just as every streetlight in town went out.  Such inky darkness I have never seen.  I couldn’t tell if I were in an intersection and I feared someone else as foolish as I would plow into me.  I crept along but eventually crashed into the back of a parked car.  My father worked the night shift at the newspaper.  Over the police scanner he heard the report about the crash and was distressed to hear the driver was me!

The reason my mother was frightened related to her own experience with tornadoes.  When she was four, living in Shawnee, Okla., my grandmother gathered her and her two-year old brother on either side of her as she knelt on the kitchen floor, my mother’s baby brother in my grandmother’s lap, as my grandmother prayed for their safety.  That memory was embedded in her.  She had always preached to us to get home whenever there was a storm coming.  I just overreacted to her admonition without thinking. 

I have lived through many tornadoes since then.  Once my husband Terry was in Texas helping our daughter and son in law prepare to move to Georgia.  Because I had had back surgery, I elected not to make the trip.  When tornado warnings were issued one morning, I gathered our two Great Pyrenees, and one of the cats and headed to the bathroom in the indoor basement. That made for quite a cozy arrangement!  One of our dogs and the cat I had managed to get downstairs, were very anxious creatures but stayed amazingly calm with me.  I myself was quite calm.   

On the other hand, Terry was beside himself in Texas.  He couldn’t reach me because I had no cell coverage due to the storm.   He had good reason to be alarmed.  We lived on one side of White Oak Mountain.  On the back side of the mountain there was not a tree left standing.  Homes within a few miles of us were totally destroyed. We suffered only a few trees down.  Our house was entirely spared.

My calm in that storm must have enabled my normally anxious animals to remain relaxed as well.  There is a saying: “You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself.  The storm will pass.” (Timber Hawkeye)

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Cafe Bonus: Imagine the difference we might make in the world if we all practiced and projected a sense of calm.

Gratitude, Humor, and Ice Cream

I was having such a good day.  I was writing my sermon.  I was in the flow.  Terry asked me for the number to Geek Squad and I just quickly googled and got back to my sermon.  With all the scammers out there, never google quickly!  I had given him a look-alike Geek Squad number and in a matter of minutes all kinds of information was in the hands of a scammer. 

As soon as we realized it was a scammer, we began the process of damage control.  The folks at USAA were very helpful.  Our local banker recommended I freeze our credit on the three credit reporting agencies, which I did.  Our LifeLock put a fraud alert on our account.  All charges that were made on our account were credited back to us. 

So I sought to focus on all the people who had been kind and helpful in the midst of a frightening situation. I thought of all the difficulties we had survived over the years.   Following the practice I put in place when we were defrauded by our business manager in our counseling business, I prayed for the scammer.  I prayed primarily to keep myself from staying agitated or getting bitter.  But I admit I also prayed he might find a better line of work. 

 Despite still feeling rather ragged and a little “edgy,” I decided to attempt achieving a repair on my phone.  For a couple of weeks I had been navigating a maze trying accomplish this repair.    I had been given incorrect information and sent first one place and then another.  Directed by Spectrum to Geek Squad at Best Buy, I mentioned to the employee that we had already been through a scam this week.  He said the previous week a woman brought in her computer, unaware she had been scammed until he checked her device.   She had lost $1800 that couldn’t be recovered.  We were not alone in this misfortune. (Always good to remember that whatever “stew” you are in, others have been there, too.  They might even be there at this very moment.)

 Awaiting Geek Squad to back up my phone, I felt emotionally washed out.   Terry said something very funny and I burst out laughing.  What great medicine laughter is! I felt immediate relief. 

Driving home from Best Buy, we stopped at a favorite ice cream spot and treated ourselves.  I considered that good medicine too!

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Falling into a sense of victimhood is a trap.  Find a way to rise above it.  “Self-Care is how you take your power back.” Developgoodhabits.com

Have a Good Day on Purpose

My great niece posted those words on her Facebook page.  Intrigued, I searched for the quote and discovered the complete quote, which is: “Have a good day on purpose, then elevate your efforts towards other and enjoy a great day.”  Ms. Toni Jenkins, author of a book titled Been Through It All,  is credited with the quote.  Jenkins’ book describes her difficult upbringing in a culture of drugs and abuse  and her ultimate survival.

              I thought of Abraham Lincoln’s statement that “People are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” quite surprising given his propensity for depression.  His law partner gave the description that “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”  His best friend once had to remove razors and any other means of self-harm.  Another time neighbors stood suicide watch due to his talk of self-destruction.  Certainly he had the makings of depression.  At age nine he helped carve his mother’s casket.  His sister died at age 21.  He lost two young sons.  He faced many other challenges as well.

              In an age when suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-24 year olds, and every day approximately 132 people die by suicide, these two quotes would seem to have a common theme of hope.  Life is possible even in the face of the most difficult of circumstances. Lincoln is still regarded as a great man and president. Jenkins is inspiring others to overcome their own obstacles.

              This is not to minimize how painful life can be nor how appealing it might be to someone to be free of the pain.  In the course of my career as a therapist, I had two people who died by suicide.  One was a young man, who at 18 was presented with a list from his mother of everything she had done and spent on his behalf, with the expectation that he pay her in full.  His sense of worthlessness was pervasive and no matter what safeguards we tried to put in place, his intention was to be released from what had been a miserable life.  The other was a widow with a lot of health problems, whose primary reason she felt to keep going was for her pet bird.  When she made arrangements for the bird, I feared she was going to soon seek the opportunity.  She actually was in the emergency room for an overdose when she found meds unmonitored and took all of them.  One must have great empathy for the immensity of the burdens some carry.

              On the other hand, a woman I had been seeing in therapy called me one day to say she had been to her lawyer, written her will and made arrangements for care for her seven year-old daughter.  She said she was on her way to kill herself and wanted to tell me goodbye.  In a voice I did not even recognize as my own, I heard myself say “No! You will come directly to my office immediately.”  Thankfully she did as this was before the era when there were crisis intervention teams and more resources for suicidal people.  She rallied and was able to recover her functioning. 

              It is not our job to be “saviors.”  But we can be companions on the journey.  As Ram Dass said “We’re all just walking each other home.”

              May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  We are urged to be more cautious about terminology when talking about suicide.  “Commit suicide” hearkens to the time when this was considered sinful, in the category of “committing adultery” or “committing a crime.”  Journalists are urged not to sensationalize reporting of suicides as that has the result of affecting vulnerable people inclined to self-harm. 

Bearing Witness

This week I saw an interview of a doctor who keeps returning to Syria as war rages on there, punctuated by the additional tragedy and loss of life caused by the February 6 earthquake. The interviewer asked him what motivates him to come back repeatedly.  His response?  “I consider it a form of bearing witness.  It is about connection, advocacy, solidarity.”

After pondering all week his powerful statement, and even more his compelling commitment, I explored further discussion of the topic of “bearing witness.”  Kristi Pikiewicz, Ph.D.,who has been managing editor of the American Psychological Association’s Division of Psychotherapy DIVISION/Review, published a dynamic, succinct article, regarding this topic.  She speaks of how this term applies in psychology, in the legal arena, in art. 

“  Sharing ourselves with others opens up a space where there once was none… Although the tale of human experience is certainly universal, it contains unique elements for each us and we continue the art of storytelling, both verbally and nonverbally, each and every day. While some stories are sweeter than others, all long for the benefit and necessity of a witness, for a witness assures us that our stories are heard, contained, and transcend time; for it can be said that one is never truly forgotten when one is shared and carried in the hearts of others,” Pikiewicz concludes.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  Maya Angelou

“Let’s Be Enemies”

When I was in junior high, my parents moved from a small town where I had lived since birth, to a larger town very different in character from the one from which I moved.  I struggled through eighth grade to find a place for myself.  In ninth grade, I sometimes had a group of four friends. Sometimes I had two sets of friends when the four would split up in petty arguments.  My favor would be sought by each side, encouraging me to support their “side” of the disagreement.  I sometimes attempted to be peacemaker.  More often, I sat it out on the sidelines, as they were not very receptive to my efforts.  I could hardly believe they could so easily find cause for dissension.     

              Years ago, when my daughter was small, I acquired a battered little book called Let’s Be Enemies.  I think a friend whose children were older passed it on to me.  Ironically, it did indeed look like a couple of “enemies” had used it to bash each other.  The book told the story of two little boys who got into some conflict and swore never to be friends anymore.  Yet in a very short time, they discovered their friendship was more important than their disagreement. 

              As I contemplate the world today, I long for people to see their differences as less important than their commonalities, their self-interests in the context of mutual cooperation for the greater good.  I came across an interesting article on the site “How to Heal Our Divides” by David McRaney,  which addresses the author’s questions of:  Why do we argue? What purpose does it serve? Is all this bickering online helping or hurting us?

              McRaney invited famed cognitive scientist Hugo Mercier, an expert on human reasoning and argumentation to be a guest on his show.  Mercier explained that we evolved to reach consensus.  “Groups that did a better job of reaching consensus, by both producing and evaluating arguments, were better at reaching communal goals and out-survived those that didn’t,” Mercier reported. 

              Consensus seems predicated on the willingness to listen to others and also to taking time to educate oneself on the issues, two characteristics that seem sadly lacking.  Critical thinking is in short supply, a matter for another blog!

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “But just as they did in Philadelphia when they were writing the constitution, sooner or later, you’ve got to compromise. You’ve got to start making the compromises that arrive at a consensus and move the country forward.”

Colin Powell

Days of Joy and Laughter

Easter was rather subdued this year.  This winter has been a strangely hard one, a yo-yo of cold and snow interspersed with warm temperatures that keep the roads muddy from unfinished road work last fall.  The weather seems undecided what it wants to do.  Life itself feels uncertain.  In this post-Easter season which seems perhaps more “aftermath” than “afterglow,” I ponder “Days of Joy and Laughter.”

For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, included “Bright Sunday,” (The Sunday After Easter).  It was observed by the faithful as “Days Of Joy And Laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang and danced.

 This custom was begun by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity and was known as “Holy Humor Sunday.” Still celebrated in some churches, it is sometimes known as “Joke Sunday”, as in the joke is on the devil because Jesus conquered death. 

How do we recapture that sense of lighthearted living, that capability to rebound from disappointment or hardship?  Ironically, or perhaps not, April is National Stress Awareness Month.  (I learned this from my Silver Sneakers site, which was promoting healthful habits like proper nutrition and exercise.  I am now signed up for Zumba online in the morning.  We’ll see how that goes!)

I am reminded that one way to address difficulties is to pay attention to one’s body, the signals we give ourselves of what we need.  I can fight sleep like a child when what my body is saying is “Please take me to bed.  I’m tired.”  I can reach for sweets when I’m fully aware that a dose of protein is what my body is in search of.  I can collapse on the couch when my awareness is that I would feel so much better if I took even a short walk.  Yes, yes, of course, sometimes it can be wise to collapse on the couch or to have that cookie. We can indulge ourselves in some way without making it an habitual practice. 

And, as always, we can stop long enough to ask ourselves, “What am I grateful for in this moment?”  “Count your blessings!” as the old hymn goes. 

Let us live into spring, giving attention to our wellbeing and our blessings. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Recipe for Life from Thrifty Fun (*or I suggest design your own. 😊)


  • 1 cup good thoughts
  • 1 cup consideration for others
  • 1 cup kind deeds
  • 3 cups forgiveness
  • 2 cups well beaten faults
  • Tears of joy, sorrow and sympathy
  • 4 cup prayer and faith

Small Gestures

Back in my therapist days, I went to a workshop that included an exercise  related to self-esteem.  I recall half of us sat in a circle while the other half walked around the circle whispering affirmations in our ears.  One woman whispered “You have the most beautiful smile.”  I had never given any thought to my smile.  But I certainly was aware of it after that.

One day I was at an outdoor café and a woman I had worked with years before called out to me as she walked by.  She came over and said “I would have known that smile anywhere!” 

As I had become more aware of my smile, I was more conscious of taking time to smile at people.  Once, on a break from another workshop in downtown Chattanooga, I took the opportunity for a short walk.  I encountered a homeless man, disheveled looking, hunched over as he walked.  He lifted his head and I smiled at him.  He broke out in a smile and stood up straight.  He went on his way, as did I, never a word exchanged.  Yet something significant seemed to have happened.

As I write this blog, it is Maundy Thursday, the day Christians call to remembrance Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before his death.  Scripture recounts his washing the disciples’ feet, a symbol of humility and serving one another.  For many years, there was a priest in Chattanooga who made a ministry of  washing and treating the feet of the homeless.  What a powerful gesture! What a ministry!

We really have so many opportunities to uplift one another if we take the time to notice.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “Most smiles are started by another smile.”

Saturday Mornings

As a kid, Saturday mornings were fantastic:  grab a bowl of cereal and take in the cartoons and other Saturday morning fare.  As an adult, Saturdays became more regimented:  get the laundry and housecleaning chores underway.  But since I began this current pastorate, some Saturdays have become real treats because periodically we have craft days.

 While we often do a craft associated with the season of the year, today, as we enter into “Holy Week,” I led “Wind of Spirit, Beads of Blessing.”  We enjoyed visiting with one another while we made wind chimes and prayer beads, with beautiful results. 

Prayer beads and wind chimes both have been around for centuries.  The exact origin of prayer beads remains uncertain but their earliest use probably traces to Hindu prayers in India.  Buddhism likely borrowed the concept from Hinduism.  They vary in their use by the different traditions which include Islam, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Bahai, and more recently Protestant denominations.  Jews use knots on their prayer shawls for the same purpose. The intent, however, is the same: to increase focus during prayer time. 

In 1980, an Episcopal group in Texas, exploring methods of prayer, devised Anglican prayer beads, which have 33 beads representing the 33 years of Jesus’ life.  Some traditions use 99 prayer beads, some 108.  Catholics have 54.  All numbers have symbolic meaning to that particular tradition. 

Wind chimes do not have the same purpose but many people experience them as meditative and spiritually uplifting.  The harmonious sounds can represent balance, harmony and blessings.  As chimes sway in the breeze, they symbolize the ever-changing nature of life and the importance of embracing change with grace and resilience.  In Biblical times the high priests’ garments were adorned with bells in the belief that the sound warded off evil when they were in the midst of their sacred duties.  And the use of cymbals was crucial in religious ceremonies.

Of course, as much as I enjoyed the crafts today, it was the sense of community engendered as we worked together that was the greatest blessing. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  (Insert “women” where it says “girls” and you have a description of our time spent as friends together at craft day)  Girls should be strong together. Strong like steel, merry like the tinkling of chimes dancing in the wind. — Kristin Halbrook