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Count Your Blessings

As my mother’s dementia deepens, I have tried to find ways to reach her that seem pleasurable to her. She loves the moon, so finding it is a way to bring her joy. She enjoys flowers, so being sure she has some in her room seems important. She has always appreciated hymns, so I often leave hymns playing in her room when I kiss her goodnight in the evenings. And she loves all the old sayings she remembers from her beloved mother. “To bed, to bed,” I begin and she ends, “Said Sleepy Head.” “Stop a while,” I continue, and she says, “Said Slow.” “Put on the pot,” I say, and she replies “Said Greedy Gut,” and together we say, sometimes with laughter, “We’ll eat before we go.”

Recently, I found a sheet in her belongings listing sayings my maternal grandmother often quoted. My mother had typed them on the manual Royal typewriter she loved and used, no matter that I had given her an electric one that stayed forever in its case under her bed. One of the sayings on her list of sixty-six is “Count your blessings instead of sheep.” From Irving Berlin’s song of the same name used in the 1954 movie, “White Christmas,” the line is the advice of Berlin’s physician when Berlin complained of insomnia.

I have been witness to a number of blessings lately that when counted not only might encourage sleep but, more importantly, one’s spirit. I think of the blessings I heard at the recent wedding of Ben and Abi Cohen. Abi’s rabbi shared what a delight Abi had always been to him and their congregation, and then spoke words of blessing to Ben, thanking him for the support Ben had been to him personally since he moved to Atlanta. A retired rabbi blessing a young groom before his wedding guests with such words of vulnerability and love was deeply moving. In reciting their personally crafted vows, Ben said to his bride that he “could not imagine even a breath without her.” Such an expression of love! Later that evening Ben’s sister, Ashley, spoke a blessing to her brother, thanking Ben for all he means to her and thanking Ben’s now wife, Abi, for the joy Abi gave her brother. There was blessing in the laughter, the dancing, the singing, and the sharing. It was an evening filled with blessing.

That same weekend, my congregation had a “blessing” shower for a beautiful young woman I have known since she was a child. I baptized Elyse and have been her pastor for the past 14 years and could not be prouder of the woman she has become. I was moved by the words of blessing that my congregation showered on Elyse and her fiancé, Ellery. Couples who had been married for as long as 60 years shared some of the ways that their love has been sustained through the years and encouraged Elyse and Ellery to be intentional about nurturing their love. I found their willingness to be so vulnerable and transparent with this young couple a blessing.

I was privileged to attend an engagement party for the couple and as her father-in-law to be proposed a toast to the bride to be, you could feel the love in the room. He spoke of her beauty internally and externally and of the strength of her spirit to teach children who need her gentle way of encouragement. He shared just how delighted he was to welcome her into their family and how pleased he was for their son. Though the son did not speak a word, his adoring look at his bride was a blessing in itself.

In Hebrew Scripture, life and death are paralleled with blessings and curses. The instruction is to choose life, which by parallel implies choose blessing. In our adversarial world where daily our differences are magnified and curses abound, it seems more important than ever to choose life, to choose blessing. If we are intentional about blessing others we not only wish wellbeing for the ones to whom we are extending a blessing, we also expand our own sense of love and wellbeing. You cannot bless and judge at the same time, which may be why Jesus encouraged his followers to not judge others.

During this Thanksgiving weekend there is an opportunity for all of us to bless others. It does not require any authorization or any prescribed form. It simply involves being intentional about wishing all others well, those we know and those we do not know, those with whom we agree and those who challenge us. Blessings extended in formal settings and at the traffic light or grocery store. Blessings to my mother in seeing her smile at her mother’s words of wisdom. Blessings to you and yours!