Faith, Family, Gratitude, Personal Reflection

Waking Up Grateful

sunrise-1634734_1280For the past week, I have woken up sad, or angry, or worried. As often happens, the mindset with which I awakened then lasted for the day. I carried myself through the workday, the tasks of home life, and even enjoyable time with my family, all with the sadness or anger or worry somewhere between the background and foreground.

Yesterday though, I woke up grateful.

Let me back up. A few weeks ago, my sister Cheryl, the oldest of our seven-sibling bunch, was diagnosed with cancer for the third time in eleven years. It was last Wednesday that she was informed that the cancer was not localized in one spot like the prior occurrences but had metastasized to numerous areas of her body. She’s still waiting to find out if the cancer is treatable at this point, and what the treatment plan could be. So, that’s the basics of where the sadness, anger, and worry were coming from in recent days.

I’ve written plenty of posts about mindset and perspective, and their critical role in handling all that may or may not come our way. I’ve written about choosing hope and joy and peace even when our emotions resist. I’m not sure how much I’ve mentioned the need for it all to be genuine though. And in order for the hope and joy and peace to be genuine, sometimes you have to slog through the other realities first.

I allowed myself to cry. Alone, with my siblings, at my office desk with my head bowed. I avoided conversation and interaction with people to some degree. I took every hug my husband offered and wet his shoulder with a few tears. I sipped on a couple more drinks than I normally would in a week’s time. Truthfully, I didn’t really try to climb out of the initial reactions. I wasn’t striving for anything other than letting myself feel the sadness and anger and worry.

But you know what else I’ve mentioned on this blog before? Maybe more than a few times? That God knows better than we do.

God’s eyes sees farther down the road than our eyes can see.

God’s mind comprehends realities that are beyond our grasp.

God’s wisdom is untainted and unbiased.

God is never, never caught by surprise.

So yesterday, by His grace, I woke up grateful. My eyes fluttered open to see the last pink streaks of sunrise out our bedroom window and my spirit felt happy. There have been plenty of moments in the past week that I’ve felt happy, but it has consistently been happy and. Happy and still feeling the rest of it. In that first waking moment, this time I only felt happy. Just happy. The other things came charging at me within seconds, but that moment lasted long enough for me to recognize the gift. Long enough for gratitude to rush in ahead of the rest.

God knew. He knew I needed the gratitude to shape my perspective as I continue to feel everything else. He knew I needed the thankfulness to feed the fortitude to be there for my sister in whatever lies ahead.

Last night, mixed in with prayers for Cheryl’s healing and strength, I added a new prayer. I prayed that I would again wake up grateful. And this morning, I did.

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Because the Saints Said So, Friendship, Gratitude, Saints

Because the Saints Said So: Find a Friend (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

“Even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.” Isn’t that the truth? What is your agreeable, tedious pursuit? That aspect of life that is rich with worth, a source of joy, yet as days pass there is an element of the mundane. For me, it is motherhood and writing. Both endeavors are reservoirs of goodness in my life, but, boy oh boy, can they become tedious. The nitty gritty becomes a nuisance. The repetitive details become boring. The depth to which I must dig to find my motivation becomes deeper.

With friends, though, what a difference there can be.

Friendship is indeed a source of great pleasure. Genuine friendship is life-giving. It builds up. It highlights and enhances your strengths, while meeting you in your weaknesses. Friendship finds common ground in the agreeable, yet tedious bits of life. Besides that, friendship is just plain fun! It offers laughter, smiles, mutually loved activities. Friends are shoulders for leaning, hands for holding, minds for collaborating. “Iron sharpens iron; one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

I don’t think I need to expound on this much further. It rings too true for us all to require a lot of explanation. I’ll only add, say thank you to a friend today. Or two, or three. Love them, and be grateful.

Dignity, Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

Do Not Laugh – Thoughts on Compliments, Selfies, and Psalm 139:14

My three and a half year old son walked into my bedroom as I finished combing my hair. Mentally, I was running through what remained of readying ourselves for the day. I was distracted and about to send him back out with instructions to brush his teeth so we could leave on time.
 
He cut me off with his words, “Mommy, you look beautiful. You should take a picture.”
 
Immediately, a voice spoke in my head, “Do not laugh.”
 
I had to close my mouth because that was the exact response I was about to make. I looked my son in the eye and smiled. I said, “thank you, peanut,” and put my comb away.
 
He remained at my side, waiting. “Take a picture.”
 
The voice was there again. “Do not laugh.”
 
Don’t laugh at his admiration for you. Don’t dismiss the clarity with which he sees you; clarity that is fogged up in you by years of insecurities. I didn’t laugh. Instead, I took the picture. He asked to see it. Satisfied, he gave me one more heart-stealing smile, then bounded away to see what his sister was up to elsewhere.
 
Honestly, I almost deleted the photo. What did I need it for? I saw the roundness of the belly where I’d love for it to be flatter; the softness of the arms where I wish they were toned. I saw the gray hairs I don’t pull out anymore. I saw the migraine behind my eyes, and the thick glasses because I didn’t feel like putting in my contacts when I could barely stand to have my eyes open in the daylight. I saw the awkward half-smile because selfies seem meant for younger, perkier people.
 
Why didn’t I delete the photo? I didn’t delete it because of a hunch that every mom ever caught off guard by their child’s admiration could relate to the thoughts filling my head. I even had a feeling that the dads out there can relate to it all, perhaps when their children look at them with unwavering confidence in their strength and capabilities. I didn’t delete the photo because, while the things I saw in it are real and true, the things my son sees are real and true as well.
 
I not only saved the photo, but decided to share it here because of Psalm 139:14, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it well.”
 
Years aged.
Extra pounds carried.
Hair grayed and thinned.
Body tired.
Pains and illnesses endured.
Patience lost.
Voice raised.
Mistakes made.
Weaknesses experienced.
 
None of these eliminate the truth my child sees and accepts about me, or your child about you: that I am, and you are, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
 
The next time you encounter that truth, whatever the source, don’t laugh it off. Don’t dismiss it or argue against it, mentally or aloud. Hear it. Be grateful for it. Let it sink in until you can say, “my soul knows it well.”
Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Love, Marriage

The Paper in My Purse

There’s this paper that I keep folded up and tucked away in my purse. It is a bit of treasure that I bring with me practically everywhere. I think I’ve gone through five purses in the last seven years, and that paper has found its place in each one. Today, I unfolded it for the first time in perhaps a year and read each beautiful word printed upon it.

The black ink is still clear on the paper, but the yellowing of its edges has begun. The creases are tearing. It felt a bit delicate in my fingers today. 

The lines that fill this page were written by my husband, long before he was my husband. I still remember my awe when he sent me the first two stanzas, a mere two weeks after our first date. If I’ve ever come close to swooning, that was the moment. Here I was, lingering in the dawn of our coupledom, wading in and testing the waters. Then, he offers this collection of words born in his heart and pulls me under.

Love requires taking chances. It requires wading into deeper waters and losing sight of your former shore. My husband more than anyone else has taught me this. Love also, for me, requires words. Words of beauty and truth. Every time I look at this worn page in the pocket of my purse, I’m thankful my husband understood that from the start.

Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Gratitude, Holiness, Intentionality, Saints, Simplifying

Because the Saints Said So: We Shall Be Content (St. Timothy)

I have a love affair with rocking chairs. They are the bubble baths and comfort food of the furniture world. It is a dream of mine to own a home with enough space for rocking chairs in nearly every room, plus the front porch and back patio, of course. I was in an airport once that had a row of about twenty white rocking chairs facing the windows, backs to the bustling crowds. The time spent there waiting for my flight was one of my trip’s highlights. There are days when I have a hard time slowing down to pause with my family instead of continuously attacking my to-do list. If I can direct myself to a rocking chair and sit, I am much more likely to lengthen the pause. Balanced by the rhythm of the chair, I can breathe a little deeper and allow my heart to feel content.

As human beings made by God for life with God, we crave contentment. We long for the peaceful satisfaction that can only come in full when we reach our eternal home. Oh, but how great a share of contentment can be ours now!

We must pursue contentment. The usual take on the matter tends more toward the idea that we have to stop doing, stop moving, stop trying at so many things if we are to experience contentment. Essentially, we must simply do less. We must suspend our pursuits. I am suggesting that we need not suspend, but rather change. Change what we are doing; change what we are moving toward; change what we are trying at if we are to exist in a contented state.

There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8

“Godliness with contentment,” i.e. becoming our true, full, made-in-God’s-image selves with peaceful and grateful hearts and minds: this is a goal worthy of us all. It requires a purified perspective on life’s genuine needs and true purposes.

Pursuing contentment means rooting out the things that detract and distract from contentment. What those things are will vary from person to person, and even change from year to year during the course of life. Right now, for me, the biggest detraction is things, literally. Stuff. Unnecessary belongings taking up the precious space of our family’s small home. So, I am pursuing contentment. I am detaching myself from objects. I am realizing what we don’t need, or even want. I am letting go and clearing out, and it is a relief. This process is leading me to greater satisfaction with our home and gratefulness for our needs being met. It feeds contentment.

Your pursuit of contentment may look quite different than mine. It could be detaching yourself from damaging relationships. It might involve setting your feet toward a calling that requires the sacrifice of a comfortable (or dissatisfying but secure) job. Maybe it is changing the way you spend your time, or doing whatever is needed to eliminate immoral habits. Maybe it is taking an honest look at how you treat yourself and your body, then altering both your perspective and your actions.

Contentment is blocked by a variety of things but it coexists consistently with three things: detachment, gratitude, and perspective. Cultivate these and contentment will sprout in abundance.

Meanwhile, if you want to feel the contentment as it takes root, I recommend a good rocking chair.

Catholicism, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Holiness, Intentionality, Jesus, Love, Motherhood, Saints

Apostles of Joy

Yesterday, I witnessed the appearance of pure joy on the rosy cheeked face of my daughter. Again and again, her expression lit up like she was standing in the path of a sunbeam. Her smile flashed as wide as she could make it. Her laughter burst forth contagiously until I was giggling in unison.
St. Teresa of Calcutta stated that “joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.”
“Man cannot live without joy,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Pope Francis advised that all Christians ought to be “apostles of joy.”
What brought on my daughter’s supreme display of joy? Bubbles. That’s all. To her two year old mind, they were wondrous works of art, wrought by magic and created expressly for her. I sat in a chair on our little deck outside the living room blowing bubbles. Even when she was ready to move on to other activities, I kept going. I didn’t want it to end. I needed to witness her joy.
In the hours since, I’ve contemplated both her joy and my reaction to it. That sort of joy arises when something unexpected and incredible appears before us. It’s easy to see why it exists in children as young as my daughter: everything is still new and unexpected at that age. Young children are easily impressed and easily pleased.
 
I am already sad for the days when I begin to recognize in my children a departure from this manner of encountering the world. It will happen though. Fewer and fewer things will feel unexpected or incredible. Must it be that way though? Could I, at 35 years old, experience that uninhibited, simple joy more often? Could joyful become one of my trademark attributes?
 
It’s worth finding out the answer to those questions. Joy adds vigor and spirit to daily living. It inspires gratitude, hope, and contentment – as well as arises from the same. It spreads from person to person, improving the quality of life further and further down the chain of people with whom we are each linked. Rediscovering a way of joy is worth the effort.
 
How do we become characterized by joyfulness in a manner that harkens back to that abundant childhood joy?
  1. Realize every earthly beauty was made for you but you have not earned any of it. Do you realize the world didn’t have to be made beautiful? God could design creation however he pleased. Purely functional might have been the only standard. Beautiful, enjoyable, fun, wondrous, exciting, incredible – God gave creation these aspects for our edification and, most importantly, for us to know Him through creation. He did it for you. He made the colors, textures, scents, and sounds for you. He gave you comprehension of these realities so that you might share in His nature. This He did entirely out of love for you. Encountering your world with this perspective can cast it all in a light that leads to joy.
  2. Engage now and do so without self-consciousness. We are trained to multi-task; to be efficient and productive. We plan. We prep. We do, do, do. We miss so much. Engage in the present moment as thoroughly as you can manage. My husband has been working on teaching me this for years now. Be present and don’t apologize for doing so. A reaction of joy can feel embarrassing, and what a sad statement that is about our accepted mentality! Lose the shame over experiencing joyful wonder at the bits of beauty and goodness that are taken for granted by many people.
  3. Believe your joy is a gift to others. They need it. Your family, friends, coworkers; the person sitting in the church pew with you; the cashier at the grocery store; the elderly man hobbling past you on the sidewalk; the tired parent handling the kids at the park. All of them need your joy. Your children need you to derive joy from their silliness. Your spouse needs to laugh with you and perhaps be reminded of the beauty shadowed by the daily grind. Your friends need a voice that replaces cynicism with joy. It is no surprise we become numb to the goodness available to us in life. Our senses are battered by harshness at every turn and joy is a healing balm.

An apostle of joy is a person who allows joy to be a defining theme of their life and who will carry that joy into the presence of anyone within their influence. If you don’t know where to begin, start with gratitude. Gratitude begets joy. And when you need an extra boost, watch a the face of a child chasing bubbles. I promise you won’t be disappointed.