Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Gratitude Beyond Belief

What did you do for Thanksgiving?  What were the most inspiring moments? What was the most beautiful thing you saw? What will stay with you? For what were you grateful?

Here are some thoughts from BE. Orlando’s founder.  If you’re so inclined, click play on TJ’s video below & listen while you read.  🙂

What did you do for Thanksgiving…

A visit to Cedar Key, a city more beautiful than ever only months after Hurricane Hermine. It was uplifting to feel the strength of their community and connect with old, new, and furry friends.  The first sight when entering town was the wagging of a familiar tale, followed by a slobbery greeting from the pirate pup and a warm welcome from his family – and so began a beautiful weekend.

The town was exactly as expected. Glimpses of the hurricane’s devastation were around to be seen, but the sparked spirit of community and determination to rebuild and thrive were the most evident remnants of Hermine. It is a reflection of the inner strength of humanity. Every face that passes us each day has endured the storms of personal losses and devastation, and has overcome.  The strength of the Cedar Key community is a potential in each person we meet, and in each of us.

What were the most inspiring moments…

1126-90-low-key-evening-9A bonfire concert in a sea-side garden. Everyone singing to the tunes of Houston Keen, young musician from Chiefland, and enjoying the warmth of the fire as the cool front started blowing in.  Houston played a set of favourite covers and some originals.  When asked to play his favorite song to perform, he stunned us with a touching song called “Sleeping in his Dress Blues.”  It was unexpected and touching; a beautiful surprise.  Wondering what personal meaning that song had for him added to the depth of the moment.  There was not a dry eye in the garden.  With the next song he lifted us back up, but he had stopped us all in time for one song that was not only touching in itself, but also a reminder that every face we see has the stories of a life’s journey behind it.

What was the most beautiful thing you saw…

1126-38-flight22-smallOh, the view. Sunsparkles on the water, playful dolphins, soaring birds, spectacular sunrises & sunsets. The most awesome view, though, is from the sky.  The clam farms by Dog Island, the beautiful sands on McCrary Cove at North Key, the peaceful town below. And the dynamic topology of the sandbars around the islands, so different every time – especially after the recent storm. As a kayaker who loves to wander out to sandbars & private beaches, those flights are also kindle dreams of future adventures (and places to nap in the sun).

There were two teenage girls that rode with us – one had never flown before, and neither had ever been in a small plane before. But through the flight, they were in their phones. They’ll never get that moment back – so sad that they missed the experience. One thing i love about that town is the rarity of digital zombies; mostly, people there connect with one another and are present. It is nice to see people talk to each other and look up and around when they walk.

There are beautiful things around us. We can only see them if we are present.

What will stay with you…

1125-20_terry-daily-grindOne of the new stores in town, a coffee shop called the 1842 Daily Grind & Mercantile, is run by Terry and Martin. The place was amazing – beautifully laid out, unique decor (even a record player playing records!), amazingly artistic and delicious food, and great coffee.  They are very passionate about the coffee!  🙂

The day they were to open was the day Hurricane Hermine hit.  That means they had invested time and resources to make the shop perfect for its opening day – and it was destroyed by the flood.  Grief over the loss was no match for strength of character: within weeks they had picked up the pieces, cleaned the destruction, and re-created their dream. Their example of what inner strength means will stay with me.

They weren’t the only ones –  Bonish Studio (the new adventure of old CDK friends Pat and Cindy Bonish), and other businesses were similarly impacted, and rebuilt with resilience and courage. A trip to this place is always inspiring and a perfect place of peace for re-charging; this time, it was so much more.

For what were you grateful…

Cedar Key, for its community and for the beauty of the nature around it, and my great fortune to be able to visit there. The warmth and welcome from Cedar Key friends.  Catching a surprise TJ Brown concert, and for the garden concert by Houston Keen. The ability to appreciate the beauty around us, and the reminder of how important a lifestyle of gratitude and connectivity really is.  Beyond Cedar Key – just too much to list; life is a beautiful challenge. And it passes so quickly; how we invest every moment matters.  I’m grateful for that awareness, for the journey of life, and for connections to others.

live-gratitudeRemember that the best expression of gratitude is action.  I hope for all of us that we have come away from our Thanksgiving reflections with a renewed sense of purpose.

How will you incorporate gratitude into your daily actions?

If you are in Central Florida seeking a positive Humanist community  committed to make a difference together, visit our free member site.





Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving Reflection 2016

We’re grateful not only for the good in our lives, but for our ability to improve the lives of others. Remembering that the holidays are difficult times for many, recognize and increase the ways that you uplift those around you every day.

The stories behind every face would surprise us. Have you taken the time to talk to and learn about someone who wouldn’t normally be in your spheres of interconnection? Have you ever looked at everyone around you in a store and wondered about their families, histories, losses, and the difference that they’ve made for others?

Compassionate connection to others is a skill we need to continually work at developing.  I remember the story of my mother trying to get to the hospital to be at my father’s side for his last breath, and how my brother drove to get her there. No courteous driver awards for him that day. When someone cuts us off in traffic, are we quick to anger, or do we focus on keeping everyone safe?   In our reactions to the world around us, are we coming from a place of judgement and egocentricity, or are we concerned with the well-being of others? Wherever we are on that variable scale, today we can be better – and tomorrow, even better.

live-gratitudeWe can tell how grateful we truly are by how we act; the clearest expression of gratitude is kindness. There are many ways you can expand your kindness footprint. Donations and drives fill needs in our communities; outreach and advocacy inspire an informed public to act; and daily human kindness connects us to others. I have an autistic friend with a talent for making every baby smile.  He can calm a wild tantrum in a store – how’s that for a superpower?  What’s YOUR superpower?

This Thanksgiving, let’s make a commitment together: we’re going to make the world a better place by valuing our own empowerment to do good for others, and putting gratitude into action through both random and intentional acts of kindness.

Are you in?



Thanks4Giving, Volunteers!

img_20161109_192109215BE. volunteers prepared a fantabulous Thanksgiving-themed meal for our November monthly meal service at SafeHouse of Seminole.  Eleven volunteers prepared more than 20 dishes including chicken, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetable dishes, fruit platters, salad, breads, olives & cheese, potatoes, pasta dishes, and more.  Dessert included apple and pumpkin pies and creative turkey cupcakes!

For those in shelters and experiencing other challenges, loss, or isolation, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. Volunteers who invest the time to make a difference provide not only a comforting meal, but also demonstrate compassion and create community. They give the gift of hope.

vbb6Thank you to our volunteers for their time, talent, and donations.  And thank you to EVERYONE who takes the time this holiday season to make a positive difference. Remember that every face you see has a story you don’t know, every heart misses someone, and everyone benefits from the kindness of others. Whether you volunteer, make a donation, or just take a moment to help someone in the grocery store, you make the world a better place.

“There is more good than bad in the world; more light than dark.  And YOU can make more light.” – Robert H. Reynolds

Get involved with us this holiday season!

We have some great opportunities for giving, volunteering, and just plain socializing in the next month or so.

  • dec-iconDonate STEM toys! Participate in our STEM Toy Drive – bringing math & science themed toys to holiday gift programs for at-risk children in our community.  Last drop off is the morning of December 17th. [Read more]
  • Donate blood! Join us at Target in Oviedo on December 10th from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.  Get on the bus with us, drop off STEM toys, or just say hello – we’d love to meet you. Look for the BE. Orlando and the Central Florida Freethought Community community tents in the parking lot near the Big Red Bus. [Read more]
  • Support a scholarship!  Looking for a great way to make a last-minute donation before year end?  Join us in supporting a new local scholarship fund supporting secular students at UCF. [Read more]
  • Volunteer!  Our Christmas Holiday meal serve at SafeHouse is on the second Wednesday of the month. Membership is required and space is limited, so visit soon.  [Read more]
  • Join the Leadership Team!  After five years of serving our community and our members, we are establishing an advisory board to help us increase our impact and achieve some longer-term goals. If you are interested in serving on the advisory board, please contact BEOrlando@live.com for more information.

Secular Gratitude

sgRecently at an advocacy event we were approached by a Christian who wanted advice on including their newly “out” Atheist son in the family tradition of grace before meals.  As the holidays come closer, mixed-perspective family and friend groups can feel stress and fear of being excluded or excluding others.  Please visit our site on Secular Gratitude for information on secular reflection, grace, and “prayer”, as well as a collection of popular secular and multi-perspective inclusive examples.




thankfulThanksgiving Reflection, 2015

Faith in a god is not a requisite to experiencing the benefits of gratitude in one’s life.  While some define gratitude as being directed to a supernatural being, those without religion are simply…grateful.  Gratitude is a personal value, virtue, and a way of life that strengthens us as a community and as individuals, and increases the positive impact we have on the world around us – regardless of our faith or non-faith perspective.  Like kindness, gratitude benefits all humans.live-gratitude

This Thanksgiving, don’t just “say grace”.  Integrate gratitude into all of your interactions with others (yes, even on Black Friday).  Make a commitment to improving your gratitude techniques and be intentional about habituating gratitude in your daily life.

And, yes, there’s an “app” for that: Gratitude Journal App

Whatever your Thanksgiving traditions – a quiet evening with pizza delivery, a raucous dinner with family and friends, retreating to a peaceful sanctuary – BE grateful for the good in the world, and BE part of it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.




Thanksgiving for all.

Gratitude is a ubiquitous human emotion shared by those of all faith and non-faith perspectives;  routine thoughtfulness and mindful living include creating meaningful, personal traditions to honor others and ourselves. There are millions of people in America (20% of Americans, and 32% of young adults in America*) who might celebrate gratitude on Thanksgiving without reference to religion.

Facing faith.

Secular individuals experience many challenges, one of which is Thanksgiving dinner.  People of faith perspectives feel and express gratitude for the good in their life, but often project nonacceptance toward anyone who feels that same gratitude without sharing the same faith perspective. Imagine sitting at a table surrounded by people you love as they talk about – or subtly imply – how they hate people like you.

“Be careful who you hate.  It could be someone you love”

While those who are openly nonreligious may experience this differently than those who are not able to risk that openness, all feel a bit awkward when those around them speak of love and gratitude in a way that perhaps unintentionally vilifies and degrades other human beings. Including everyone at our table means being cognizant and respectful of the many perspectives around us and recognizing gratitude as a positive human experience.

What if i’m asked to say Grace?

If you are among those who share your faith or non-faith perspective, this is not an issue.  When we are among the majority, the comfort of openly expressing our perspective without fear of judgement is part of our privilege. As a minority, however, whether or not to be openly true to yourself may involve risk assessment, safety planning, and acceptance of consequences. Thanksgiving dinner may not be the best time to “come out” to your family as not sharing their faith perspective – unless you assess that it is.  But think it through.

You have choices, and you should feel empowered to do what is right for you in that moment.  You can respectfully decline or give the expected grace. Or you may feel comfortable enough to say grace in a way that expresses gratitude without reference to religion.  There are many examples of secular grace, or you can write your own. Choose words that reflect your appreciation of the good in life; words that everyone present can connect with and find meaning in.

Secular grace for the religious.
…Wait, what?

Secular grace for the non-faith community means, simply, pausing to express gratitude.  The focus is on genuine appreciation for bounty, goodness, joy, and the things in our life we have that others may not.  For this community, doing so without deferring to supernatural entities, powers, or other religious concepts is natural, comfortable, and meaningful.

For the faith community, a secular grace can be a way of including everyone in a diverse group.  The focus is the same, and allows everyone to be empowered to consider that gratitude from their own faith or non-faith perspective. Families, workplaces, teams, social entities, faith/non-faith groups, and other ways that humans come together provide opportunities to benefit from diverse ideas and perspectives. Pausing for gratitude by saying a grace that includes everyone is an act that demonstrates gratitude for everyone in our lives.


*2012 PEW Research Center, “Nones on the Rise“, 2012