The first time I stayed for a week overnight away from home as a child (at church camp) we had an amazing camp counselor named Pita.  Pita was from Australia and woke us up every morning with a hearty “G’day, mates!” and encouragement to get up, get dressed, brush your teeth, and “let’s get brekkie, mates!”  We adored Pita, and for my part, meeting Pita sparked a dream to visit Australia one day.  Fast forward to being on Sabbatical at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in the Holy Land, and becoming fast friends with a nun from Australia named Gaye.  Gaye and I promised to stay in touch and she extended an invitation to visit her in Sydney.  And now I’ve returned from a wonderful two week visit that felt like a dream come true every step of the way!

There were new experiences to be had and facts to learn.  Australia is roughly the same size as our continental 48 states.  Though the U.S. has a population of around 325 million people whereas Australia has a population of around 25 million people.  (The Outback is not the most hospitable place!)  I had also read that Australians can be a little touchy about their ancestors.  Many white Australians are descendants of convicts who were transported by the British government to penal colonies.  Some were violent criminals, though many were poor and may have been imprisoned for stealing bread for goodness’ sake.  Yet they were also sent to Australia to get them out of Ireland and England.  What Gaye told me is that if Australians can find an ancestor on the original First Fleet of eleven convict ships it’s actually a huge source of pride!  So there was much to learn about Australian history and culture during my visit.

One moment that will stay with me was a moment of pure gratitude.  Now I am a big believer in daily expressions of gratitude—sometimes publicly, sometimes with family and friends, and sometimes with God alone.  Focusing on gratitude every day can ground us in powerful ways.  There’s verses in 1 Thessalonians that remind us of this invitation, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

One evening I was heading back to Gaye’s apartment on the river cat (a boat that we could catch near her place that would dock at Circular Quay.)  I was alone because Gaye had a conference she had to attend in Melbourne for 2 days and I stayed behind to watch her dog Solomon.  So I stationed myself on the front of the boat to attempt some photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.  Everything looked magical in the night.  And on my Ipod came “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy—a favorite song.  There I stood on the boat among the commuters who were going home at the end of the day, watching the Opera House and lights reflecting in the water, listening to “Clair de Lune,” heart bursting with gratitude for being in this place I dreamed about seeing as that young girl at church camp.

Not all our moments of gratitude will play out like this.  On a day to day basis, my acknowledgement of gratitude is certainly not so dramatic!  Yet, rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances—-how do we experience these calls in our own lives?

(This Week’s Thoughts 8.16.18)