Tag Archive | gratitude

Are you wearing sewage stained glasses?

It’s a lovely day out there and the little man is headed to school having recovered from a bout with the stomach flu over the weekend.  Although he was feeling better, this morning he woke up with a spirit that was lacking in gratitude. He’d forgotten all about his excitement on Saturday at finding an Army duffel bag from the Korean War, and many other treasures, when he helped clean out a friend’s garage.

He’d also forgotten about all of the board games, books, and DVDs, that we had gotten for free after a yard sale closed yesterday, on our way home from a ginger ale and Jell-O run. What did he feel he was missing in life? Television… He had a sleepover at a friend’s house Friday night and was able to watch copious amounts of television.  Suddenly something that we have not had for nearly two years was all that he could think about.  I am considering it, television, but it is not a top priority to say the least.

Flowers from the front yard!

Flowers from the front yard!

When we go through a day feeling lack…lack for what we do not have, or lack of gratitude for all that we do have, it is like putting on a pair of sewage stained glasses, and everything we look at is tainted by the color and stink of that sewage. We become blinded to all of the goodness in life, and close our hearts to gratitude.  However, it does happen to the best of us at times, even me. 😉

A sense of lack often leads to thinking that we lack even more, as we continue to compare what we have to what others have and end up feeling even more ungrateful and lacking, whether it be lack of personal attributes, or lack of things.  Comparison almost always leads to a feeling of lacking in some way or another, which is why God cautions us not to compare ourselves with others.  It this world, that is hard not to do, but not impossible.

The little man is only 8 years old and at his age, comparison at school, and out in the world, is common.  He is using comparison to figure out how he fits into the world.  His teacher tells him not to compare, and I do the same, but it seems to be human nature, whether we are 8 or 80 years old.

I know several people in the late 70’s who constantly measure their own worth by what they have that others do not.  At 8 it is something that is fairly natural, and provides many teachable moments to help the child value who he is as an individual, and to help him to know and appreciate just how blessed he truly is, and how he can use his blessings to bless others.  At 80 years of age, it is a sad sight seeing someone who feels that the only way to measure up is to outdo everyone.

God loves people who are content with what they have, and who feel as if they are lacking for nothing.  God loves people who feel that they are enough, and have enough, and likewise, other people are drawn to those who are content within, and without, both literally, and figuratively speaking.  Gratitude does not come naturally to everyone, but I believe that it can be nurtured within, and learned over time, and strengthened into a habit.

Once you begin to appreciate all that you do have, it is amazing just how much more begins to show up. You will find yourself surrounded by grateful, content, people, and as you open up to feeling that you have enough of all that you need, you will also open yourself up to receive the things that you may have been blocking with those sewage stained glasses—opportunities that you just could not see, or did not believe existed will become visible, and obtainable.

So, today, put on a spirit of plenty, and glasses stained with the color of joy and gratitude, and don’t be tempted to take them off.  If you need to wear a pair of blinders for a time along with your joy tinted glasses that is perfectly all right.

Once you establish your focus on gratitude, goodness, and plenty, and make it a habit, the blinders will naturally fall off in such a way that your view of life will be brighter, balanced, and the scent will be so sweet that you will not believe that you lived with the scent of sewage for so long.  Take the time to develop a habit of contentment and gratitude.  It is a very worthy summer project with such beauty all around!

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The month where it seemed as though nothing went right.

Where have I been, you ask?  Maybe you have not asked, but I sure have.  I am right here, waving at all of you!  This has been the month where it has seemed as though nothing has gone right, and I am still recovering.  Actually, it began before Christmas, but who is counting, anyway?  I haven’t written in many weeks and yes, as much as I have been dying to do so, it feels as if there is just so much emotion that has been trapped inside of me I am afraid I just might blow to bits, or cry.  It will likely be the latter, so you can all relax now a bit.  I still have not entirely pinpointed what caused this disturbance in its entirety, but that is probably because it was just a myriad of “one thing after another.”

Prior to, and during the Christmas holidays, every plan that took me weeks to construct seemed to fall apart within a minute’s time, and need to be reconstructed in even less time.  Visitation schedules were confused.  When you are working to two former spouses, and seven kids, it is hard to begin with to get everyone in one place at one time.  Things just kept changing and changing and changing, and while I am so much better now at rolling with the punches than I used to be, I felt as if I were rolling, and ducking, and jumping, and side stepping, and having to give up a lot in the process.

My Christmas Kid

My Christmas Kid

Many things simply did not happen, or if they did happen, I had to let a lot go just to get it done.  As much as I loved having all of my kids home, and as much as many, many good things did happen, like my younger daughter getting engaged on Christmas Day, and wedding dress shopping with my two girls the day after, I was dizzy from all of the rolling and I felt that everything was helter skelter.  I felt that I had lost control…the control that I wanted, anyway.  I could not find my joy.  Looking back, I think that I had lost it somewhere even prior to all of the going with the flow.  I still feel sad looking back, as if I missed an event that I had attended.

After New Year’s, my little man returned to school for a couple of days and I looked forward to life returning to normal, whatever that is around here.  The following Monday, he came home with a bad sore throat and by Thursday night, I had fallen ill.  This was no ordinary cold.  Nope, this was an honest to goodness siege of influenza that had befallen us, causing him to miss more than a week of school, and causing me to miss more that a week of work.  No work, no money.  No money, no way to pay the rent or bills.   We had suddenly become like lepers trapped in our own little germ filled colony.  No one wanted to be anywhere near us, and I do not blame them.  I didn’t really want to be anywhere near us, either.  I totally lost whatever good humor I had and I was a less than delightful person to be around.  As is so often the case, the little man was starting to feel better just when I was at my worst.  Visitations with his Dad were cancelled, ah, but we finally made it back to school and work, only to have me relapse with a bronchitis/asthma thing.

Add to all of this snow, and bitter cold, and school holiday, and teacher work days, and a car misbehaving, gastroenteritis this past weekend, and more missed visitation, my computer broken down for over a week, and finally on Monday, my car broke down.  That is what it has been like day after day and it has been hard and draining and then some.  Every day, I would pray, and every day I would try to find my gratitude–to count my blessings, but my blessings felt limp in my hands.  I knew that I had so much to be grateful for, but trying to hold onto the gratitude was like trying to get a tight grip on a handful of Jello.  I felt awful for not feeling grateful.  I felt lonely, too, as well as sleepy, dopey, and grumpy.

Today, I am not working because my road is an ice slick.  I will work tomorrow and I dearly needed this day to find perspective.  At no point during any of this was I ever truly alone.  I have God, my family, and my wonderful friends. My rent did not magically pay itself.  My rent got paid because of many kind, wonderful, and generous friends around the world.  I have never met most of them in person.  One of my son’s took care of my electric bill.  My first ex-husband got us an Omaha steak gift pack at Christmas that gave us a lovely New Years dinner and many breaks from pasta.  My beloved probation officer and friend has put me in touch with a woman who runs a counseling service and she is pursuing me for a job as a case worker, working with people with substance abuse issues, and coming out of incarceration situations.  It is a dream job if it works out, and as my P.O. said, “You know, I don’t just do this kind of thing for just anyone.”  Oh, yes, I DO know that!

When my car broke down on Monday, a friend was a phone call away and there to pick me up in 10 minutes.  I had AAA within the hour, and my car was towed home within two.  A friend is coming over to fix it this weekend, and my son fixed my computer.  I am loved.  I am so well-loved that it is crazy and now tears of joy and gratitude are rolling down my face.  I do not know why I could not see this, or feel it sooner, but I think it has a lot to do with not being able to write.

I get my footing back when I write.  I find my hidden emotions and bring them out into the light when I write.  Something overtakes me, and the blur of life totally disappears and it is just me and God when I write, and when I write, even if my hands may tremble, and my eyes may cloud over with tears, obscuring my earthy vision, I see much better when I write.  I may have to stop at times to let out a long-held sob, pain mixed with joy and hope, but I find release when I write.  I find hope, and joy, and gratitude when I write.

I need always to write.

My Life is an Embarrassment of Riches

I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past day or two, and it has been a rather eye-opening experience.  (Yes, that is all of the smoke you have been seeing—my brain is smokin 😉 While I have known what I am about to tell you for a while, today I am feeling it all very intensely.  Sometimes it takes a while for important tidbits of information to make the long trek from my head all the way down to my heart.   As much as I am a true “feeler,” I am also highly intellectual, so I can intellectualize a lot of things for years before I actually feel, believe, and know them at the heart level.  I am having a full heart day today.

Today, I am feeling absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude, and love, and pure joy that is simply bubbling out all over the place.  I have the best life in the whole, wide, world.  I know that sounds rather cocky, but it is true.  For me, I have the best life I have ever had.  I am the most blessed person that I know, and I am also the most blessed woman alive today.  Again, I am fully aware of the cockiness of these statements, but for me, they are so inherently true that I literally ache inside with happiness and joy.

Look at that glorious sunrise! Look at those than less than stellar picture-taking skills!

I got out of prison, after a six month stay, on September 15, 2011, so it has been a little over a year now since my release.  While it became very apparent to me while I was in prison that the reason I had to go there had little to do with me, but something much greater that God had in mind, there was still a lot of fear and trepidation coming out of the prison doors.  On one hand I firmly knew that the rest of my life was going to be the very best of my life, and that was very exciting.  Over on the other hand, though, there was a lot of trembling going on.  I was walking out to a child and a car that I could not drive yet and a bag of clothing.

I had a place to stay with some lovely people, but I was technically homeless and penniless.  I was also walking out into the middle of a very yucky divorce and custody battle.  That was a very scary place to be.  I was not especially helpful to open the trunk of my car to get into some non-prison clothing only to find that mice had taken up residence in my car over the time I was away, and much of my clothing was ruined.  I have never cared for mice and this did nothing to change my opinion of them, I can tell you.  I craved a place to call home, but how would that happen?

I will tell you how that happened.  My adult children, anticipating my need, all pitched in and suddenly I was far from penniless.  I had enough money to find a place to live and to get some essentials, to boot.  No mother wants to take money from their adult children, but I knew that this was something that they wanted to do for me badly and it was my job to humble myself enough to accept their gifts.  Before I had even been out of prison a week, I had secured the perfect place for my son and I to live, with landlords that have been nothing but kind to me, even knowing my background fully.

Home!!

I realized this morning, as I prepare to sign the lease for another year, that we have been here now for a little over a year, with another year in front of us.  That is the longest we have lived in any one place since we left my marriage, and the house of horrors.  Do you know how good that feels—to have a home?  It feels absolutely wonderful, that is how it feels!  It also feels absolutely wonderful to know that in the three years since we left, we have never been cold, have always had running water, and a fully functional bathroom, and we have had those things every day since we left.  We had not had those things for a very long time prior to that.  That feels super fantastic, too, as does not having had to do a single load of laundry in the kitchen sink.  Last year, I got many random firewood drops from people just because they could, and they cared.  I was beginning to see that coming out of prison has not made my world smaller, it had made my life become much bigger than it had been in decades.

I had employment cleaning houses almost immediately thanks to a friend and word of mouth.  My writing career, which I thought would disappear while I was in prison, had only grown, expanded, and gotten better.  We have not wanted for one single thing in the past year.  New people to love and care for us were entering our lives at an amazing rate.  These are people who I can call at 2 a.m. for any reason, and sometimes I had to do that due to my inability to drive for 9 months after my release.  The people who I work for were more than happy to pick me up so that I could clean for them, but more than that, they we also happy to take me to the grocery store, or ER with a sick child, or anywhere else we needed to go.  My son now has many surrogate grandparents who adore him and spoil him and treat me like their own child, too.  Love was, and is, everywhere, and that is an intense feeling in the best possible way.

The whole fam-dam-ily, Christmas 2011

I had all seven of my children with me last Christmas.  I think it was the best Christmas of my entire life.  I will have all seven children home this Christmas, too, plus my new son-in-law, who I love.  I get all weepy just remembering seeing them all walk in the door last year.  I got all weepy then, too.  I love them so much, and they are the best children on the planet.  Smart, accomplished, yes, but much more importantly, they are kind, loving, generous, and funny as all get out!  They are all also safe after Hurricane Sandy, and all I can say to that is Thank you, God!  I love you so much!

My lovely daughter and her husband.

My oldest daughter got married last summer.  She was the most beautiful bride in the history of mankind.  Her wedding will go down in history as the most perfect, fairytale, wedding the world has even seen, and she did it all on a tight budget, too!  My son-in-law is the best son-in-law any woman has ever had, or ever will have—that is until my younger daughter gets married, then I will have the two best sons-in-law God ever created.  The wedding was a blast, and another chance to have all seven of my kids all in one place.

Don’t bug me! I am on vacation!

My little boy and I had a three-day vacation at the beach this summer.  It was a gift to us from one of the women I clean for who owns a little cottage with the most spectacular view in all of  Maine.  It was the best, and first, vacation he and I have ever had together.  We caught tons and tons of crabs who promptly ran back into the water, but when you are seven years old, that just never gets old.

Last night, I took my little zombie trick-or-treating.  There was no random, pick a neighborhood and go there, element about it this year.  We had many stops to make and we had many people we had to see—people who would have been so disappointed if a zombie had not shown up at their doorstep, or their floor at the hospital.  When you are a kid with a ton of surrogate grandparents, you get some surrogate older siblings to stand in for the siblings who are not around to go with you on Halloween.  Life just gets richer and bigger and swells with so much love that I feel like I might burst right open.

Be very afraid!!

Best of all, among all of the glorious, wonderful, fabulous things I see, I see one very happy child.  I see a child who has been through so much in his little life and he has triumphed over it all at the tender age of seven.  It was a hard-fought battle, but everyone sees the triumph now.  His principal at school sees it and tells me how happy he is this year.  He comes skipping off of the bus every day.  He is making friends.  He tells me all of the time now that he loves life.  I think he had the best Halloween of his life last night.

One very happy zombie!!

Last year at this time, I was still very much getting back on my feet.  I did not know what the world would think of a woman who had just gotten out of prison.  I started learning quite quickly that, amazingly, the world could and would think no less of me.  In fact, my world has grown in ways words cannot express, all because I went to prison.  Soon after I got out, I wrote a three-part series for Yahoo! Shine! about my prison experience.  I wrote it fearlessly, as if called to do so.  However, when I shared the first article, the fear did hit, for as many people who knew where I had been for those six months, there were many more who had no idea where I had been.

I did not know how all of those friends would react.  Those people who did not know read that article, and rather than turning away from me, I was hit with a love avalanche unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life…love and admiration.  I think it goes without saying that I have the best friends and family in the entire universe, and more and more keep coming!  The avalanche never ends, but who would want a love avalanche to end, anyway?

Once or twice in the last year, I have had someone who is just getting to know me say something like, “Oh, what a terribly tragic life you have had!”  When I have heard this, inside I was shouting, “Oh, pah-leeze!”  My life is not tragic—not one bit.  I have had some pretty intense life experiences, but God has taken each and every one of those experiences and He has woven them into something magnificent.  My life is an embarrassment of riches, and I would not trade a single one of those crummy experiences for anything in the world.  If that is what it took to get me where I am today, then all I can say again is, “Thank you so much, Lord!  I love you for everything!”

I am the single most blessed woman alive.  You can try to fight me for the rights to that title, but I am not giving it up!  I worked hard to earn that title.  In my world, I am the most blessed woman alive. You can be the most blessed person in your world, and I hope and pray that you are!  You earned that title, too!

Joel 2:25-26

25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm[a]
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.

Celebrating life every day

Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living!

 Amanda Bradley quotes

Today I am celebrating life because life is good every day, and God is good every day.  As a culture, we tend to wait for a holiday or a certain event to feel as if we are allowed to celebrate, but this way of thinking robs us of the opportunity to celebrate every single day.  We need to give ourselves permission to find cause to celebrate each day no matter the date, or the reason.

Perhaps you are thinking right now that there is no real reason to celebrate–that you have nothing worth celebrating.  That sort of thinking usually stems from a lack of gratitude for the miracles present in each moment of life.  It can take practice to develop an attitude of gratitude, but it is something that will change your world, and your view of life in general.  Even on a day filled with annoyances, distractions, and unfortunate events, there are things for which you can be truly grateful.  Start small by making a list of five things that you are grateful for and do this every day.  Over time you will find that your list begins to grow and then it will grow again some more.  Look around you, wherever you go, specifically searching for often unseen things to dazzle and amaze you.  As you begin to notice more, your gratitude will increase yet again, and as your gratitude increases, so will your desire to celebrate life daily.

Certainly, there are many conscious choices that you will need to make if you are not in the habit of celebrating life.  Deciding to feel grateful is one of them, and deciding to be responsible for your own happiness is another choice you will need to make.  You will have to choose to slow down and look around.  You will have to choose to begin to work towards becoming someone who sees the positives in life more than you see the negatives.  You are going to have to let go of grudges, and complaining, and blaming, and feeling sorry for yourself.  Those are big choices filled with huge responsibility to yourself, and others, and it will take work.  Begin by believing that, step by step, you can do it.  Choose not to get discouraged, or berate yourself if you have to keep starting over.  Just begin again and keep moving forward.

As you make headway with these thought changes you will find that you will begin to celebrate life without having to force yourself to do it.  Sometimes you will find yourself swept over by random gratitude waves so big they nearly wash you away.  You will feel joy and wonder for reasons others cannot quite comprehend.  Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.  Go on and celebrate anyway!

What does celebrating life look like in practice?  That will differ for each individual, so be creative and follow your heart in how you celebrate.  As you become a happier, more grateful, and celebratory person, do not hide your sparkle and shine, not that you really will be able to hide it.  Imagine what a gift you are giving your family and friends with your new way of life!  Think of the many excellent and valuable lessons you are teaching your children each time you dance with them for no reason, or bake cupcakes just because it’s Friday, or watch a special movie together just because you are so happy to be with them.  Your personal changes will have a huge ripple effect on the people around you, and you will find more and more to celebrate effortlessly, and so will the people around you.

For me a celebration can be as simple as painting my nails, or watching a movie, or dancing in my living room with my son, or outside under the stars by myself.  It may mean making a nice meal, or baking cookies, or cupcakes, or counting Lady Slipper’s as I walk up my hill.  I counted 43 yesterday.  I think that is cause for celebrating life, and I am doing that today, all day.  How will you celebrate this amazing life that you have been given today?  When you think about it, there is no reason not to celebrate!

What if today…?

I saw a graphic on Facebook today that said, “What if today we were grateful for just…everything!?” I really like that, because that’s how I try to live my life everyday. I work hard, though lately it’s not that much work, to be grateful for everything, even the less than totally pleasant things. I have an old friend who calls me “sunny side up kind of gal.” She’s know me for over 30 years, so sometimes I am a little shocked and surprised to be reminded that I have always been optimistic and grateful, though there were times in my life where I felt a lot of anger, and gratitude does not grow well in angry soil.

Gratitude cannot grow in angry soil.

Angry me was not a terrific person to know. I deflected oncoming people and potential friends with an invisible force field that was tough as steel and three feet thick. I didn’t know that I had this deflector shield until it was gone. Anger bred depression and depression and drinking are a terrible cocktail. I wrote really well when I was drunk and angry, though, so there’s the sunny side of that period 😉

Yet I know if I had to choose a lifelong motto, it would be something akin to, “Hope springs eternal.” That truly idealistic view is a double edged sword. It has kept me alive, and moving forward, and growing, and because of it I developed a certain passion and tenacity that is almost like having a super power. On the flip side, it has kept me places that I should not have been long after I should have left them. But, there are sunny sides to those bad places, too.

Take my marriage to the sociopath, for example. I stuck that out long past the point where most, less hopeful, less springy, people would have left. However, there was a gift in the staying, which I have only recently realized. I found my worth by staying in that marriage for so long. I finally realized that I really do deserve better. No, I deserve the best, despite my past. I deserve happiness. I wonder if I would have figured that out had I not stayed so long?

And so we circle back to being grateful for everything. I am truly grateful for everything, the good, the horrible, and that middle ground we tend to ignore. Like most, I learn best from my mistakes and poor choices. Today, I am grateful for all of those mistakes, unfortunate life experiences, and bad choices, for if I had not had them, I would not be who I am today. Embrace your mistakes and bad choices and see just how far they’ve brought you!