Monday, November 25, 2013

A Month of Gratitude: This, Too, Shall Pass

In visiting with a friend of mine and discussing the theme of gratitude, he expressed his thoughts regarding the subject in this way:

""This too shall pass" has summed up my attitude of gratitude through years of chronic pain, depression, PTSD, becoming fully disabled, and dealing with various degrees of pain each day. "This too shall pass."

"What is a comfort to me should be a reminder to those who are not reveling in the good times. (And) If these are your good old days, remember they, too, shall pass. Enjoy them while in season."

It reminds me of the words of another friend who, when my eldest daughter was a toddler and the youngest yet-to-be-born: "Enjoy every moment. They grow up way too fast." I took those words literally and to heart. When my baby was colicky and I spent all night with her in the rocking chair, or when one of the children was sick all over the floor... the wall... the bedding... and me... those words would come to mind. (Sometimes as, "Oh, 'enjoy every moment' you say? Yep, you betcha, I'm enjoying the heck out of this... NOT."). While a colicky baby or sick-room cleanup is not anyone's idea of fun, I did find real purpose and meaning in the process of comforting and caring for my children, even in some of the most mundane (or stomach-turning) tasks. 

Of course there were (and occasionally, still are) times I had to remind myself, "Enjoy every moment... enjoy every moment... enjoy every moment...", sometimes through clenched teeth and with a horrible headache and having little sleep for days. Now, however, I look back on those days with great thankfulness. I DID "enjoy every moment" even if I didn't particularly enjoy every task. And while the hard days did pass, as all days and trials do, the fact that I was fully present in those moments with my children makes it so I look back on their early years with little regret. As they grow and spread their wings and start making their way in the world, it seems easier to let them do so knowing I gave their upbringing everything I had to give. 

These theories apply regardless of where you find yourself in life, not just to the days of parenting small children. Whether battling illness or grieving a loss, enduring a long and stressful legal fight, suffering the pain of betrayal or finding yourself overwhelmed with financial woes (or all the above... it happens), there is always, always, something for which to be thankful. The trick is to find it, to acknowledge it, to feel the gratitude. On the worst of days, it may be the smallest little thing: the smile of a stranger, a hot shower, a moment of quiet solitude.

The past few weeks have been busy for my family and punctuated by events that should have been rather stressful. Among other things, my vehicle broke down (nearly a $1,000 bill), my oldest daughter underwent a (planned) surgery and three-day hospital stay, and today we learned that someone used a duplicate of my husband's credit card at a bath house in Thailand... to the tune of $2,600 (that must have been some bath!).

Do I look at these things and bemoan the fact that life is not fair, breakdowns are inconvenient, having a child in the hospital is stressful and identity theft is not only the theft of money but of one's good credit and peace of mind?


Sure, those statements are all true, but here is how I look at it. In regard to the vehicle, it quit while sitting in my driveway just minutes before my husband arrived home. He was able to drive our daughter to the meeting she was to attend, and we arranged our schedules so that we could share his vehicle for our various appointments over the next few days while mine was repaired. And, it was fixed in time so that I could use it while our daughter was in the hospital.  

My daughter's surgery went phenomenally well; she has displayed a great attitude and her recovery has been remarkable by even the surgeon's standards. The dedication displayed by her surgeon was unbelievable; he showed up at the hospital at 8pm the evening after her surgery to check on her, gave us his home and cell phone numbers (what doctor does that these days?), and personally called us at home on a Saturday morning to check on her.  

Dear friends of mine offered their home as a place to stay if needed, while she was in the hospital; though my maternal instinct just would not let me leave her overnight, I was incredibly grateful to see them and use their shower after spending the night in a recliner in the intensive care unit. 

My mother and sister and good friend from high school came to the city to visit my daughter and have lunch with me; what a wonderful treat.

As for the credit card charge from the bath house in Thailand? Thankfully, the fraud department at the credit card company realized that my husband has not perfected time travel and could not enjoy a "bath" in Thailand, then attempt a purchase at our hometown Walmart five minutes later. They caught the fraud, canceled the card and assured him he is not liable for the charges in question.

My point here is that while any one of these events could be construed as stressful or inconvenient, something to gripe and complain about, I really don't look at any of them in that way. In each situation I remember that "this, too, shall pass", seek something for which to be grateful, and it seems to turn lemons into lemonade. My daughter's surgery and recovery, for example, has given me such joy in taking care of and fussing over her again, as when she was little; what a gift.

I haven't always been this gratitude-filled; unfortunately there have been plenty of moments when I've acted like an ungrateful brat. The "attitude of gratitude" is a skill cultivated over time in order to survive various hardships and heartbreaks, and one which I will continue to work... because it WORKS. 

Gratitude does not prevent bad things from happening, but just happens to make them seem not-so-bad, after all. It helps us to live life to the fullest, enjoy each moment for the gift it is, and remember that this, too, shall pass.

For that, I'm grateful.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Month of Gratitude

Fig Lake Sunset © Amy M. Dagen
It has become a tradition among many bloggers to write of gratitude during the month of November, and so I thought it fitting to dust off my keyboard and join them.

If you've read any of my posts in the past, you already know that the expression of gratitude is very important to me and a central part of my life.  A few years ago, a friend shared the practice of keeping a gratitude journal, and using it in which to write down ten things for which you are grateful, six times a day. While I will admit that its not a practice I follow religiously (being somewhat of a free spirit, there is little I do "religiously")... the "counting of blessings" eventually became like breathing.

Through some of the darkest moments of my life, it has been the counting of blessings, the expression of gratitude in the midst of difficult circumstances, which has brought light to overcome darkness, healing to defeat illness, joy to conquer despair.  The expression of gratitude is my lifeline and parachute and safety net.

When one looks at life through the lens of gratitude, somehow it shifts ones perspective from "I'm poor and will never have enough" to "I'm rich and so incredibly blessed". It doesn't matter whether in regard to money or time, health or relationships or career; when viewed with gratitude, it seems the good things in life multiply exponentially, and the bad shrink and fade into the background.

This does not mean bad things will not happen to those who live in gratitude; surely, and unfortunately, they will. Rotten, awful, tragic, inconvenient... stuff happens. Life happens. And those bad things really stink. This is, after all, earth and not Heaven... and we are all fallible human beings who make mistakes. Tragedies occur, natural disasters and financial pitfalls and personal betrayals and disappointments abound. People say and do crummy things, loved ones fail us. Beloved friends and family pass away. Quite often, it rains on our parade.

So what's to be thankful for?

Everything. All of it. Every single day.

You may be thinking that to be quite a Pollyanna view... thankful for EVERYTHING? Really?

Yes.  Because it is in the darkness that we learn to appreciate light.  It is while we are in pain, that we learn to appreciate the absence of pain.  In the lean times, we learn to appreciate abundance.  Challenges and disappointments are what spark creativity and transformation.

I'm grateful to have learned this, and yes, it was the hard way; by fighting through darkness, living with pain, enduring lean times, experiencing tragedy, healing from heartbreak. Its a lesson I need to keep revisiting because life still keeps happening; in no way am I perfect in my expressions of gratitude and there are days when darkness creeps in.

What I am pretty good at, however, is bouncing back. And through the month of November, I will attempt to share some of the ways in which I experience gratitude, in the hope that someone, somewhere, will benefit from it...

and maybe even learn to bounce.