gratitude · photography

Day 1: Sharing the treasure of gratitude

*Today begins my “28 days of love” project on this blog, a project to explore the connection between love and gratitude in our lives. Special thanks to Linda Unger for sharing her spiritual insights on how to share gratitude as well as a bit of her wonderful photography with us today.*

Photo by Linda Unger
Photo by Linda Unger

For me, gratitude comes in waves. Very much like the storms we have here on the Gulf Coast. Wild, overwhelming and consuming at first, then retreating slowly as life takes back over. Early in recovery it was easy to find these storms of gratitude, but as the years go by, as my life has evened out, there are fewer high highs and low lows.

So today gratitude is something I have to work at. I have to make a deliberate effort to remember that I am blessed. It’s very easy to fall back into a state of comparing myself to others. It’s very easy to look outside myself and find someone who seemingly has more “stuff” than me. I love what the next to the last paragraph of the Seventh Step in the 12 x 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous says.

“Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration.” That to me is life without gratitude.

I can’t begin to tell you the gifts that a state of gratitude has brought to me. If we could bottle that feeling we would be rich! But I can’t give gratitude to anyone; I can only practice it myself and hope that somehow it rubs off!

There is a spiritual event that happens when we practice gratitude. I know of an instance where I had called a friend complaining about my life and this friend suggested I start a gratitude list. Starting the list was hard. I had to get down to fundamentals. But as the list progressed it became easier and easier to find those things that are gifts in my life. My anger and sadness were strong, though, and it took over 100 items in the list to break the spell of resentment. I think of that time often and realize that each time I do a list, it takes less and less items to break through.

I talked to a friend last night, who was telling me about some clouds she saw. They were pink. But the sadness on her face said she was still troubled. I made a pact with her. Each day we will search for God and take a photo of it. Each day we will treat gratitude as if it’s a treasure to be found, a gift that is hidden or a prize to be won. Each day we will send what we have found to each other. You see, that is how it works… reaching out to another and sharing.

Blessings to you,

Linda Unger

gratitude · photography

28 days of love

Photo by Phoopla Photography in Dallas, Texas
Photo by Phoopla Photography in Dallas, Texas

Starting February 1st, I’m stoked to announce that almost 27 of my favorite people will be serving as guest writers for the blog. They were asked to submit posts related to love and gratitude and to run in any direction with that topic. I can’t wait to read the variety of posts as they come pouring in, and I’m really grateful to all the writers who’ve agreed to take a stab at it and join me in this endeavor.

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I believe very strongly in focusing our minds, hearts, and eyes on what we have to be grateful for–to focus on the solutions, not the problems, and to choose gratitude over grumbling.

Love is a touchy subject for many people. Some people never feel that they’ve been loved at all, or they beat themselves up for mistakes they’ve made that have cost them relationships with people they loved. Or they have been victims of abuse by people who “loved” them.

I’m hoping that, by reading 28 different perspectives on love by people from varying walks of life, you’ll find something to relate to, some hope to hold onto, or inspiration to love others well. And ultimately, I hope that this month, you’ll come to believe that True Love has been there waiting for us all the time–we just have to open our hearts and our eyes.

So happy loving, folks!

gratitude · photography

God with skin on

Photo by Phoopla Photography

Chicken pocket filling for a ready-made supper.

A visit from two hours away.

Shadow box shopping with a crafty friend who is creating something special for our daughter’s nursery.

Eight hours slaving away over a stubborn sewing machine.

Countless encouraging comments.

Genuine prayers.

Two different sets of people planning baby showers.

A phone call–just because–from a 17 year-old who, I’m sure, has more exciting things to do than talk to me.

Meals prepared and renovation work completed in spite of sore muscles.

These are just a few of the blessings I received from the very valuable people in my life within one week. Once, a wise woman I know referred to people who bless us as “God with skin on.” I can’t think of a better description. My friends, family, and loved ones constantly extend their helpful hands and hearts to me, adding items to my gratitude list and strengthening my faith in God. How much must He love me to place so many precious people in my path?

Who has been “God with skin on” in your life?

gratitude · photography

Worth

*Thanks to Linda Unger, inspiring writer and photographer, for serving as today’s guest contributor. To view more of Linda’s amazing photography, visit her website.*

I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, a wife and many other things. But the most difficult to believe “role” has been child of God. So many times I calculated my self-worth by the grades I got in school, by the scores I got in sports, and by the looks of others. My heart just felt unworthy of the love of God.

Today I am treated no differently than anyone else in recovery. I am no lower than child of God. I am afforded the same opportunity to recover as the next person. My words are heard and acknowledged. I am valued as an employee and as a friend. Today I have a new appreciation for the hard road I have traveled, as it has brought me to this point of self-examination.

Photo by Linda Unger

I’ve learned to look for the beautiful things in other people, and by doing so, I find beautiful things in me. I’ve learned to be grateful for time spent with friends and family as time is the most valuable gift. I’ve learned to pick out one special thing about every person I meet, keeping me from sinking into anger over minor issues. I am forever amazed at the changes in perspective that the program has given me. If I spend my time being grateful for all the people that have brought me to where I am today, good or bad events, I can keep a better handle on “life’s terms” when they arise!

 

If I ever doubt who I am, the truth is as close as the words spoken to me by God, through you.

gratitude · photography

It’s about time!

Photo by Sarah Crowder of Phoopla Photography

For the first time in four years, I’m going on vacation.

Four years is considerably too long for a person to go without taking a real break from real life for a really long time (well, at least for a week). But life happens–at least, my life happened to me, and I found myself pinching pennies, getting divorced, and working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Thankfully, when James and I moved in together, he decided that I’d spent way too long taking care of other people and working myself into a tailspin. When I searched for a job after relocating back to my hometown, he suggested that I look for something that would give me flexibility, a lower level of stress, and bring me some level of happiness.

It took me a while to climb aboard the S.S. Wallace, kick up my heels, and hold onto a tall glass of lemonade (or a nice cold beer) and let go of the ingrained notion that if I weren’t making more and more and more money, I must be doing something wrong. Choosing to make less money–by choosing a job which brought me happiness and plenty of flexibility–proved to be the right decision for me at the time. Later, when I started working part-time instead of full-time, I decided to spend the extra time going back to graduate school.

Now, having just finished my first semester of school and feeling pretty darn proud of myself for pulling excellent grades, I’m heading off to the beach with my new handsome husband to kick up my heels and grab a glass of lemonade (hold the beer. . .  I’m pregnant :).

I couldn’t be more grateful.

P.S. Please forgive the temporary lack of posts while I build sandcastles, fish right along the beach, and consume as much delicious seafood as possible.

gratitude · photography

Cool Hand Liz

*Today’s blog is written by my friend, former professor, and talented author, Dr. Teresa Murphy, for her sister Liz. Happy birthday, Liz!*

Today is my sister’s birthday.  I won’t say how old Liz is, but she’s two years older than I am.  Consequently, just about the time I was making my debut, Liz was hitting the terrible twos.  Luckily for our parents, Liz was an unflappable and take-charge kind of girl.  Though I’m sure she initially regarded me with a healthy measure of contempt, she quickly realized that I was someone she could (ahem) mold.  Liz’s careful attention to my character manifested itself in all manner of situations, and I think it’s safe to say had it not been for Liz I would not be the person I am today.  In fact, I might not have survived childhood at all!

One of Liz’s greatest accomplishments was helping me become more patient.  An early lesson in patience occurred when Liz was five and I was three.  Liz was a fearless kid, and she’d been a tree climber pretty much her whole life.  I was a nervous Nellie and preferred to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.  When Liz decided it was time for me to branch out, she chose a very tall tree in our backyard.  Reluctantly, I agreed that it might be time for me to brave up a bit and at least try to climb that tree.  Liz was lithe and lean.  I was more Winnie-the-Pooh shaped, and it took a lot of coaxing and tugging to get my tubby little cubby body into the upper branches of the tree.

When we finally got to a branch we could sit on, Liz proudly exclaimed, “Look how high up we are!”

I was not aware that I had acrophobia until I looked down and indeed saw how high up we were.  It didn’t take long for my nervous Nellie nature to kick in, and I started to cry.

Always the optimist, Liz went to work immediately trying to convince me that I could climb back down. “Just grab the tree branch and turn around.  Then put your foot on the lower branch.”

“I caaaaaan’t!” I wailed.  “I’m stuck!”

Initially, Liz was calm. “Sure you can.  Just try.”

Eventually, she realized I was not going to budge and went inside to fetch my grandmother.  It wasn’t long before my grandmother came bustling out of our house, taking up where Liz left off and trying hard to convince me that she’d be there to catch me if I slipped – which she was sure I wouldn’t –  but just in case.  Unfortunately, my grandmother was around five feet tall, and there was about a three-foot gap between her outstretched arms and me. That was way more space than I could imagine navigating.

After spending some time pleading with me to come down, my grandmother finally realized I wasn’t going to and said, “Hon, you’ll just have to wait until your dad gets home.”

I assured her I could wait.  My dad was much taller than my grandmother, and he got me down when he got home from work.  Liz, I believe, received a talking-to about how things might seem like a good idea at the time, but often require further thought.

In addition to patience, I learned other lessons from Liz.  When she noticed that I was singing a bit too enthusiastically at church, she leaned toward me and whispered, “Don’t open your mouth so wide when you sing!”  Back then, I was insulted.  I now realize she was merely trying to save me from the humiliation of looking like a big-mouthed Muppet.  Without Liz’s constant admonition, “Don’t be so stupid,” I’m pretty sure I would never have made it out of elementary school.

There were other times that had Liz not been nearby, I quite likely would have perished.  One such incident took place a year or so after the tree-climbing debacle.  Liz and I were playing our game of crawling through our dad’s spacious Ford sedan.  We found it great fun to hoist ourselves up to the open window on the passenger’s side, scramble into the car, crawl across the front seat, and finally vault out the driver’s side window.  This was during those loosey-goosey days of car-making when seat belts and airbags were considered superfluous, and gears could be shifted quite easily even though the engine was turned off.  As I was scrambling across the front seat, I managed to kick the gear shift into reverse, sending the car rolling down our steep driveway.  Luckily, cool hand Liz was close on my heels and put the gear shift back in park.  Once I started breathing again, we resumed our game.

So, here’s to big sisters everywhere who have taught their little sisters so much and have occasionally saved their hides.  I’m certainly grateful to mine.  After all, Liz could have easily jumped out of the car as it lurched toward the busy street in front of our house leaving her scared stiff sister hurtling down the hill alone.  Instead, she stood by me.   For this and a million other reasons, I’d like to wish Liz a very happy birthday and many happy returns!

 

*To check out more by author Dr. Teresa Murphy, check  out her website.*

 

gratitude · photography

The Sound of Music meets Paul

This is slightly embarrassing to admit, but I sometimes make up songs.

Okay, quite frequently, I make up songs. Especially while driving or singing to my pets. What can I say? Part of me is still 10 years-old.

I’m not sure when, but I’m sure that several years ago on some drizzly, depressing day as I was stuck in commuter traffic for an hour, I decided to combine “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music with one of my favorite verses, Philippians 4:8.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Isn’t what Paul suggests in that verse essentially the same thing as singing a song about your favorite things in order to chase away biting dogs and stinging bees?

I never understood how the Von Trapp kids could be so afraid of the storm when they were having so much fun and singing about German food (yum), kittens, and ribbons. Listen to your own song!–I’d think to myself while watching the movie as a child.

Isn’t that how I used to be, though? Just like the Von Trapp kids, I was surrounded by blessings and could have constructed an impressive gratitude list. But most days, I didn’t. I focused on the storm, the dogs, and the bees.

Sometimes I catch myself dwelling on whatever is dark, whatever is depressing, whatever is in the past, whatever is scary, whatever is dirty, and whatever is painful. When I do, I’m grateful that I’m more easily able to recognize my own tendency to focus on the drone of the bees rather than the quiet hum of What Really Matters in my heart. And then I swap out those “whatevers” for those listed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

And then I don’t feel soooo baaaaad . . .