Prayer Practice- The Gratitude Tree

It’s my joy to welcome my friend Jen Willhoite to the blog today. We met through a book writing collective called Bookwifery. Everyone there is in the process of birthing books. (What a terrific metaphor. It’s definitely labor!)

Jen is brilliant, tender, and one of the funniest people I know. One minute you’ll be trying to write down every ounce of beauty and wisdom pouring forth from her soul, the next you’ll be in the middle of a huge belly laugh.

Jen lives in California with her family and pets. She loves pizza, rollercoasters, and sports.

Jen’s main ministry is sharing how-to’s on the Ignatian examen (her main discernment tool) as well as illustrated stories featuring existential quandaries and her own friendship with the Divine.

Be sure to check out Jen’s illustrations and prayer resources available at her Etsy shop. I absolutely love her step by step examen cards and highly recommend them to you. And be sure to follower her on Instagram @cobbleworks. You’re also most welcome to subscribe to her newsletter.

May you have a powerful experience with God through the simple prayer practice she provides below. It’s perfect for Thanksgiving and throughout the year. – Lisa <><

Gratitude Tree complete Jen Willhoite

A One-Step Examen: Gratitude Blooming Even in the Struggle
I invite you to practice the examen for a week and just do step 1, gratitude. I’m sharing something with you and my hope is that it helps build this faith muscle for you. It is my Gratitude Tree and I use it regularly to write down all the things that I cherish in a day, but especially on tough days where I’m running out of hope, answers, and light to live by.

I intentionally use a tree for this exercise because it lets me give thanks for things in various stages of growth.

  • For opportunities peeking out, but not yet ripe and present in life, I write them at the end of the branches.
  • For small seeds of hope I hold deep in my heart, I write them under the soil.
  • For the stable things I can count on nearly every day, I write them on the trunk.

You get the idea.

Although it might sound counterintuitive, I also invite you to write down your challenges—let them live among the things you hold dear. Draw them close to big blessings. I do this as a reminder to myself that God welcomes my whole life and loves my whole self just as I am.

The examen, in its entirety, asks us to look at places in our lives where we feel connected to God’s love and places where we feel separated from it. Acknowledging both of these places helps us accept our reality, share it with God knowing it is held in loving embrace and make room for the possibility that even challenges can be transformed into blessings. It is a step toward surrender and trust to let our worries mingle with that which we are grateful for. It shows us that our lives are still unfolding, there is still hope and love is growing always and in all ways.

CLICK HERE for a PDF of a blank version of Jen’s Gratitude Tree to use yourself

For those of you who’d like to go deeper
Gratitude is expansive, a spiritual yeast that grows reality right before our eyes. It often starts with courtesy but quickly deepens into our daily bread because it feeds our hope and lets us share that hope with the world.

When we practice gratitude, we might name one singular thing only to awaken to the fact that it is connected to the universe of things. From this intertwined place of comity, grandeur, vulnerability and particular joy, we begin to realize that we have entered an intimate conversation with the Holy and that we are safe here. We call this process “prayer” and its effect is relationship. The Ignatian examen guides us through and to both. Its first step, unsurprisingly, is gratitude.

Gratitude is a potent form of honesty. When we give thanks, we are telling the truth about ourselves, if only in part. In our appreciation, we admit that something matters so much to us that we can’t let it slip by without recognition. So giving thanks is deeply personal and revelatory. And like truth, it is freeing rather than controlling. Consider this:

Gratitude does not diminish or soften our desolation. It is not a pair of rose-colored glasses.

Gratitude does not pretend our suffering away. It is not a form of denial.

Gratitude does not encourage us to ignore the negative and only look for the positive. It is not a pair of blinders or a silencer.

It is a giant conjunction, a companion. It comes alongside our pain and confusion and expands our horizon so that we see a fuller sense of reality in the present moment. We might say, “I feel disconnected from my work. I am grateful I have friends I can share dinner with tonight.” Our friends may not heal the fracture we have with our jobs or have an answer to the existential reality of what we are doing with our lives, but appreciating and acknowledging them even as we feel discomfort somewhere else immediately shows us that while suffering is a part of our reality, it is not the whole of our reality. (Personally, I consider this a small form of deliverance and salvation and I rely on it regularly lest I live in glass-half-empty consciousness.)

This thing that seems to start with mere pleasantry can root us quickly and firmly into a foundation stronger than ourselves. Simple and honest statements about what we cherish about our lives nurture joy within us and our vision expands. This helps us feel safe. This helps us find sanctuary. This helps us consider that there may be more than what our initial desolation told us was going on in life. We start to wonder, “If the sunshine is present even when storm clouds are in the sky, could it be that life is more than sheltering from the storm?” Hope lives in the “could it be…” bit. Hope lives in that space where we wonder if the shadow may not be the whole picture. And it’s gratitude that gets us wondering.

With practice, naming what we are grateful for ushers us into a place of deeper connection where we can admit more of our feelings and more truths about our present moment—the shadowy cloud parts and the sunlit parts. It’s not long before we find ourselves falling into honest conversation and union with our deepest selves and the Sacred (which is what the examen is—a structure for a sacred conversation). No wonder St. Ignatius made gratitude the first step in the examen! It gets us out of our corners and reaching out to God…within our hearts and around us in life.

A question for subscribers

cropped-Lisa-profile-picture-2018Greetings Dear Ones,

I’m so thankful you’ve decided to subscribe to the blog. It’s my prayer what you find here will draw you closer to God and that you’ll feel more confident in your spiritual practices.

Please respond to 3 subscriber questions so I can improve this blog.

1. Recently, I changed what you receive via email when I make a post. My hope was that you’d click through to the website to finish the post and stay to explore more resources.

I realize my intentions may have been unclear and that this new format might be frustrating or discouraging.

When I post, do you want to receive the entire post or just a portion which you would need to click through to read the rest? I want to send you things in the way that is most helpful.

2. Also, what are your thoughts on a newsletter? Would this be valuable to you?

3. Content questions: What content is most helpful to you? What would you like to see more of? What questions would you like answered, topics or themes covered?

Thank you again for being part of this community. You are important to me and important to God. Peace be with you.

Your sister and servant in Christ- Lisa <><

Prayer for Violent Times

call to prayer and action

It breaks my heart to be posting this prayer yet again in the face of another mass shooting. The school shooting in Parkland, Florida marks the 29th mass shooting in the US in 2018, in just 45 days.

Yes, we need to pray.

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

But we must not stop there. James 2:14-17 reminds us

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.Prayer changes things and changes us. It calls us, leads us, and empowers us to join Jesus in his saving work.

It is time to pray and to act
To seek God’s wisdom and empowerment to respond
To call on God for peace
and to care for bodies before they are zipped into body bags.

This Lenten season I invite you to break from the usual custom of fasting or other form of self-denial and, instead, to fast from apathy. That means you set aside all your noncaring attitudes and move closer to the caring love of God. Even in its mildest form, apathy is a spiritual illness. The cure for apathy is also a spiritual one. … We must move from prayer to action.
– George Hovaness Donigian, A World Worth Saving

How are you responding in prayer and action? – Lisa <

Psalm 46:1 NRSV
God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble

God our Refuge, calm our hearts when evil abounds
They run to lonesome places, screaming an alarm
Calm our hearts so we can find you above the fear

God our Strength, calm our hearts when evil abounds
They race to revenge, pounding with anger
Calm our hearts so we can hear you above the hammering

God our Help, calm our hearts when evil abounds
They rush to human strength, grasping for control
Calm our hearts so we can hold to your way, your truth, and your life

Calm our hearts so they may beat in unison with yours
So healing may flow over bodies and spirits broken by the chaos
So hope may fill families and communities devastated by violence
So compassion and peace and unity may rise up among all people

God our Strength, our Refuge, our Help
We entrust our lives to you
We step forward with you in your saving work


Prayer for Violent Times © 2013 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

The Tools You Need to Stop Procrastinating and Start Focusing on What Matters

You can bravely do the next thing, because God’s got this thing. Perfect Love terminates The Perfectionist Terrorist — which eliminates the Procrastinator — which liberates you, the Presenter…. to unwrap the gift of right now, your one life. – Ann Voskamp

If you haven’t found Ann Voskamp, stop everything and run to her blog right now. There you will find a woman of deep authentic faith, a kind and generous and vulnerable soul whose writings and resources prepare the way for God to move powerfully in your life.

As we step into a new year, it’s my joy to draw your attention to three Voskamp resources which help me focus on what really matters. One I use daily and the other two I use monthly.

Her free daily planning page template is a Godsend. It’s far more than a scheduling page. It’s everything you need in one place for holistic living- meal planning, hydration reminder, exercise reminder, gratitude journal, relationship building reminder, memory verse, to do list … you get the idea. (Click here for an article on this resource from Voskamp’s blog.)

2017 this is the year voskamp (2)

My 2017 Purpose Page

I’ve been using Voskamp’s daily planning page for a couple of years now, but 2017 was the first year I used her Purpose Page and Monthly Cue Cards. (Click here for an article on these resources from Voskamp’s blog.)

Each month you’re provided a prompt to help you focus on what really matters. You can fill out the entire page at the beginning of the year and live into those intentions or fill it out month by month as the Spirit leads. Once you have your focus words, you write a prayer based on the intentions using the cue cards. Be sure to post your intentions and prayers where you can see them regularly.

I chose the month to month pattern in 2017. Looking back on this list at the end of the year, I can see God’s leading throughout the year. I can remember specific promptings from God- doors opening and others closing, the finetuning of perspective. It’s incredible how something so simple can break through the distractions and excuses.

Here’s my 2017 list. I’m seriously thinking of keeping it for 2018 as well.

  1. Embrace Ceasing: Silence, Solitude, Sabbath, Slowing
  2. Engage Injustice: Speak Up, Pray Up, Speak Out, Show Up
  3. Be Healthy: Track Meals, Drink Water, Move, Go to Meetings (I joined Weight Watchers)
  4. Believe God for the Growth: I trust You. Renew a right spirit within me.
  5. Break the Chains: Poverty, Prejudice, Jealousy, Addiction
  6. Daily Grace: Mind, Body, Soul, Heart
  7. Do the New, Hard Thing: Try, Prioritize, Courage, Focus
  8. Let Go of Fear: Not good enough. Not pretty enough.
  9. Learn to Prioritize: No Time = No Priorities
  10. Live Expectant: Faith, Hope, Trust, Eyes to See
  11. Give it Away: Simplify, Downsize, Bless, Generosity
  12. Grow the Seeds: Nurture, Shine Light, Water, Stake Up

I pray these resources are a blessing to you. Leave a comment with your favorite resources or about these resources. May the grace of a new year draw you closer to God, your true self, and the fulfillment of God’s purpose for your life. – Lisa <><

Advent and Christmas Bible Reading Plans

Live Hope, Give Hope: A Plan to Share the Goodness of Jesus at Christmas
Readings from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, John, and Psalms
Also includes a sentence prayer and action prompts to Help, Offer, Pray, or Encourage
December 1-31, 6 days per week

Comfort and Joy: A Simple Bible Reading Plan for Christmas
Readings from Matthew, Luke and Johnbible luke 2
Some of the readings are even repeated so you can go slow and go deep. Also includes a sentence prayer for each reading.
December 1-31, 5 days per week

Jesus, the Coming Messiah- Advent Bible Readings from Old Testament to New
Old and New Testament Readings
December 1-25, everyday
This reading plan highlights the Old Testament names and prophesies concerning the Messiah which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus.

The Advent Door Reading Plan
Based on Jan Richardson’s book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas . Her book is structured in the style of a classic Advent calendar, with 25 scripture reflections, each with an original piece of art. This is a true Advent reading plan, with the first 18 readings focusing on the repentance and the 2nd coming of Christ.

Countdown to Christmas
Old and New Testament Readings
December 1-25, everyday