Today’s post is written by one of my current college students, Kaleb Mendoza. I love his expression of gratitude in this essay.
In everything you do and everything you accomplish, you should give grace for the opportunities you get in life. I am a very religious man, raised from two great parents who taught me the right way to life and to follow God. This one day changed my life for the greater good; it taught me to be thankful and to cherish my life, for some are struggling.
In 2008, on a windy Thanksgiving morning, I was in a car with my family driving to my Grandma’s house. Like always, I had my headset on listing to old school hip-hop, preferably Notorious B.I.G. We finally came to a stop light after about 20 minutes, and I didn’t notice at first but saw a homeless man sitting there with a cardboard sign in his hand. As always, I really didn’t pay any attention to him. The light was taking forever to turn green. Then I noticed the man stand up from where he was at. As he stood up with his dirty blue pants, holey brown socks, red champion sweater, and a black beanie, I noticed him showing everyone his sign. While sitting in the car, I looked really carefully at the sign. I even squinted my eyes a little to get a good view. In light green sharpie, the sign said, “Be thankful, for some will do anything to be where you’re at.” Even though it was just some writing on a cardboard sign, that quote hit me real hard.
During the rest of the ride to my Grandma’s house, I sat there thinking about it. I started to wonder how that man had gotten to where he is at right now, or how much stuff he has been through. I then looked around in my car to see my sister asleep, then looked to my parents in the two front seats while they were talking. I couldn’t tell what they were talking about, because I was still jamming out to my music. Then I realized how blessed I was to have this wonderful family, blessed to be where I am at right now in my life. I could be in that homeless man’s position, watching families drive by on a Thanksgiving morning, lonely.
This one thing was running through my head the whole day, going from one family member’s house to another. I kept thinking about how blessed I was to have my whole family safe, in one place, healthy as can be. At the end of the day, I spoke to my mom about it. She told me, “There are some things that can’t be replaced, and you can’t take these things for granted. Be grateful, son, and give praise to the one who makes it all happen.”
Ever since that day, I have been so grateful for the things in my life that cannot be replaced. I see things differently now; I cherish life a lot more than I used to. I give praise to God, for he makes everything possible in my life.
This life-changing experience was one I will always remember. The outcome of this was very positive, and it affected me in a very strong way. It is positive for many reasons. It changed the way I viewed life, to not take things for granted. To love others, even though they don’t love you. For the rest of my life, I will tell this experience to my friends, family, and my kids so that they can see what I see in life.
When you died about one month ago, you caught me off guard. You became suddenly ill, and 24 hours later, you were eating pizza, fruit cake, and pudding cups in heaven.
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. There was something inside of me that whispered, “Go see her more often” about one year ago. I don’t know if it was in reaction to Big Jim, my father-in-law, moving on to The Great Resting Place, or if it was because Maggie finally became a better traveler and visitor. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for God’s voice nudging me to visit you more often.
Even though you suffered from mental illness, you were almost always pleasant, welcoming, and in good spirits. Your little smile and bright eyes let me know you were enjoying our time together, even if you preferred that I do most of the talking. When you had something to say, it was always smart, quick-witted, and on point.
I remember two turning points in my relationship with you.
One was when Mom and I visited you at the time of her high school reunion. We stayed with my uncle, but we came to see you almost all day long while we were there. As the day evolved into evening, we knew we needed to head to Mom’s reunion.
As we drove away from your apartment, Mom continually expressed that she just didn’t feel right about going and leaving you all evening.
“Mom, then we just don’t have to go to your reunion. What are you going to regret if you don’t do it in 10 years?”
That was about 10 years ago. And Mom still doesn’t regret turning the car around, picking up a pizza from your favorite diner, and surprising you by spending the evening talking and laughing, just the three of us.
The other turning point was when we visited after your mother died. We didn’t attend the funeral, but we’d been invited to look through her belongings to see if we wanted specific items before they were sold or given away. I’ll be honest–prior to that day, I lacked compassion for your mother and only saw her in negative light. Something about sifting through an entire apartment’s worth of silent items spoke to me.
Then we visited Mom’s cousin. I wanted to do nothing–even though I was only a junior high student at the time–but sit and listen to Mom’s cousin recant your life experiences, both as a child and into adulthood. These were stories you had never told me yourself, and chapters you rarely flipped back to, probably in an effort to avoid those memories. Being sent to live somewhere else as a child–not knowing why. Undergoing exploratory, inventive procedures in a time when doctors didn’t understand that what they were doing did more harm than good. Being homeless. Feeling alone.
When we remembered you the evening after you died, these untold stories are what I reflected on in my mind–not because I wanted to focus on what felt sad and painful, but simply because these moments made you who you were. I can be grateful for you even though parts of you were broken.
I do not regret who you were nor wish to change my time with you. I know all of you, and I accept all of you. You were always enough.
I woke up humming a tune.
“Whippoorwills in the willows…” I love that little song. It takes me back to a sweet time in my life when I had fewer cares and responsibilities, a time when love enveloped me like the warm comforter I nestled in as I awoke with the June sunshine streaming in through my bedroom window.
I have always heard “be where your hands are.” My mentor wrote this line to me this week, “Let your head be where your hands and feet are.”
Same essential meaning, but it hit me differently. Yesterday morning, I found myself nearly paralyzed in bed. This inability to move (and unwillingness to get up–it was half inability and half desire) only lasted for about five minutes, thankfully, but it was long enough for me to pause and reflect on the cause. I was unable to get up and make my daughter a cup of strawberry milk and to make my coffee for five minutes because I was humming a little sad tune from a movie I watched during a beautiful time in my life. I was reminiscing. And I was grieving.
When my head and thoughts are reflecting on the past and meditating on memories, I am completely incapable of being in the present. I’m unable to move. I’m unable to go forward. I’m unable to take actions. I’m unable to do stuff. I’m unable to have fun with my kid. The entire time I was floating through the memories of hearing that song then—and humming it again 18 years later—my daughter tugged on my arm, jumped in my bed, and even told me jokes. I half-listened, half-smiled, and half-replied to her. I was half-there. But I’ve been taught that half measures avail me nothing. And living a half life isn’t really living my life, either.
If I’m grateful for the RIGHT NOW, I’m capable of getting up, getting out of bed, and making strawberry milk and coffee in the morning without any problem, without any hesitation. I can do that when I switch my thoughts and focus from back then to right now.
Sometimes I do that easily, as I did yesterday morning, by simply making a mental choice to stop thinking about the past. Sometimes it’s not as simple, quick, or easy. I need to reach deep into my toolbox for help. I pray and work through the Steps of recovery, admitting I’m powerless over my desire to live in the past. I admit that I’m incapable of being where my hands are and ask for God to restore me to sanity. That’s expressing willingness. I say, “Help me, God!” I’ve never known a time when I’ve asked God desperately for help, and He’s pooh-poohed my genuine, unselfish request to make a change.
Another practical way I focus on what I’m grateful for—which switches my focus from then to now—is by paying attention to what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. And I give thanks to God for those things right away, and usually aloud. Does that make me seem like a weirdo? Maybe, but usually I’m home with my daughter, so who really cares? I’ll thank God for the smell of hot coffee as it’s brewing, for the warm sunshine on my blanket, and for the sparkle in Maggie’s eyes every morning. When I’m thanking God with my mouth, my mind doesn’t have as much control over me.
I’m then capable of reading, praying, and meditating and putting first things first. I can make homemade muffins for the cutest four and a half year-old girl in the world. When my head is where my hands are, I’m grateful for where my hands are. When my head is living in 60-second snapshots from the past, I’m not able to see our gray kitten’s fur standing up on end, chasing a bird. I’m unable to hear Maggie giggling while chasing him across the yard. I can’t laugh in response. I choke down fresh farm eggs and homemade chocolate cake; food is bland when I’m in a time warp, either reliving something sad and beautiful or wishing I’d made different choices.
Thankfully, I’ve been taught how to live here. I’ve been taught how to live HERE, where my hands are, where I exist, in reality, where the clock is ticking on the table next to me.
Special thanks to Betty Gail Jones for serving as today’s guest contributor and sharing her reflections with us.
Ajay is now the ripe old age of six and lives in the United States with his parents. I am still learning how to better live by watching him play.
My grandson, Ajay, is four years old. When he got off the plane after evacuation from his home in Nepal due to a massive earthquake, he was clutching the body of a yellow toy passenger jet with no wings. The tail fins and also the main wings had been broken off. Lest you think differently, it had not lost its wings due to the massive destruction of a natural disaster, but due to the natural disaster of a four-year-old boy’s play. I pondered it. He had a firm grasp upon this fuselage, and one knew it must be precious – for he had not thrown it aside nor left it behind as they began their long journey to the United States.
Why would he have kept it? Knowing that he has crossed the ocean on such a plane not less than eight times in his four and a half years, surely he was aware that the main component, which would enable this plane to fly, was missing. It was a broken toy. He had a couple of other nice planes that were whole and complete, yet he carried this small crayon-shaped piece of tin across the ocean as one of his choice toys with which to play.
One day, when all was quiet and he was having “down time,” I observed his intense personal playtime. He had all of his cars lined up as always and had created a masterful airport out of blocks. The planes were docked at their gates. The cars and planes moved at his will. As I glanced over my computer, I could see the broken plane lying on the ottoman airport in front of me. A finger-driven truck rolled over to the plane under Ajay’s keen supervision. In a soft voice, not meant for a by-stander’s ears, he said in his best ‘truck” voice, “OK, now we have to move this broken plane over here to get fixed.” Ah-ha! I had a great revelation with which to make a great application! The broken plane was not only cherished, but could still fulfill the purpose for which it was intended! It was made for play and even in its broken state had usefulness.
I began to think of what I had previously pondered in broader terms. What if we treated people like Ajay had treated his plane? He could have thrown it away when it became quadriplegic, in its own way. When the first wing broke off, really even then, it might have been considered useless as a toy plane. As it became more and more damaged, he could have thrown it into the bottomless pit of broken toys and never played with it again. When scurrying around gathering the most precious items with which to evacuate a devastated country in a possibly compromised apartment with the ground still shaking violently periodically, he surely could have overlooked this already shattered toy. Side by side with the complete and whole airplanes and other precious treasures, the fuselage went into the backpack. And now, he was using the airport crew of his own making to support and fix the yellow passenger plane, which was broken. There was no doubt of its beauty and usefulness… just as there is no doubt of the beauty and usefulness of people who have experienced trauma or pain that has left them disfigured or impaired in some way. They may not be used in the exact same way as before, but if only someone would pick them up and show them they are loved, wanted, and needed, they could still fulfill their purpose for which they were created.
Later, I took that little yellow body, got out my scissors and some black foam board, drew my best idea of what an airplane wing might look like. I restored it using my trusty hot-glue gun and materials that I already had on hand. It wasn’t perfect, and we had several repairs that had to be done over the course of a couple of weeks, but that airplane was now fit to fly in any little boy’s imagination!
One in 10 children lives in a country or region defined by armed conflict. This means about 230 million children grow up in the midst of war and serious conflict, according to the 2015 UNICEF Report. Many of these children experience bomb attacks in their schools and homes. Many of them are kidnapped, raped, sexually abused, recruited as soldiers before the age of 12, if they’re not killed. MANY of 230 million children live this way.
From 2013-2015, at least 70,000 children were born on the floors of refugee camps. These floors are typically dirt floors.
In 1993, the UN General Assembly declared an elimination of violence against women and created an action plan. 20+ years later, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence.
At least 200 million women and girls have experienced female genital mutilation in 30 countries, most of them experiencing infection as a result. Almost all experienced this mutilation before the age of 5.
As of 2012, according to UNICEF, 2 million children were subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. It is estimated that 600,000 to 800,000 women, children, and men are bought and sold across international borders every year and are exploited for forced labor or commercial sex (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).
I don’t always get what I want in life. My life has not always been a cake walk. Yet when I reflect on the reality of the world around me—the WORLD around me—it helps me regain a realistic perspective.
I don’t know why, but I have nothing but #firstworldproblems.
God forbid I ever forget that and unjustly spend my time focusing on or whining about problems—including politics in this relatively peaceful country of mine–which are not really problems at all.
“Kindness is the mightiest force in the world,” according to One Day at a Time (299).
In the past, I didn’t feel kind. I didn’t even feel like being kind. I felt like stabbing my ex-husband’s eyeballs with a handful of forks. If you know me now, you may be laughing and trying to imagine me doing this. You may be thinking, “Now Bethany… surely you’re exaggerating!” No. I am not.
That anger and resentment masked my disappointment, bitterness, depression, anxiety, sadness, and fear. I was in pretty sad emotional shape a decade ago (and in the preceding years as well). Thankfully I chose to reach out, get help, and get better.
I have learned I have a choice in every situation. The truth of this notion made me sigh (or gag) for a few years. Martyrdom had become a way of life. I couldn’t see the efficacy in changing my ways because it was tough to take actions and let feelings follow, and I was afraid to admit my part in problems, particularly in relationships. It was much easier to let men, bosses, or relatives take the blame, allow all of you to feel very sorry for me, and go on with life.
I didn’t just omit the truth of my mean part in situations. I also behaved in mean ways. Just ask one of my exes. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me… I’ve been cruel, cold, and calculating.
I haven’t just struggled with being kind in intimate relationships. I still find it tough to be kind—even courteous—to family members who don’t live life the way I do. When someone interrupts me repeatedly, or when a relative tells racist jokes in front of me, I absolutely do not feel motivated to treat them as God’s precious children or want to pinch their adorable cheeks and bless their little hearts. It’s really my problem because “when I am disturbed, it is because I find… some fact of my life… unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 417).
Kindness blooms from acceptance.
Acceptance really is the solution to all my problems.
Another root of kindness is gratitude. “When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day” (Big Book, 419). Three long years of creating detailed, original gratitude lists helped instill this principle in my heart, but it’s still easier when I feel disgruntled to focus on the problem rather than the solution. When I choose to focus on the solution, I feel better. Many times the quickest way out of a grump is to create a gratitude list. Sometimes I write the items on paper. Many times I pray aloud and say, “Thank you, God, for the chance to stay home and spend time with Maggie right now. Thank you that she cared enough about my reaction that she asked me to quit writing and to come see her new space heater. Thank you for the 30 minutes to write this morning before James left for work.” Hearing myself express gratitude verbally brings me back to where my hands are; the present is where I find the solution.
When I am thankful, I treat people around me with kindness and compassion. When I am thankful, I am more likely to accept others as they are. And lastly, when I am thankful, mindful, present, and accepting, I like myself. This is something I struggle with but am willing to grow toward today. In moments when I like myself, I’m kind to myself. I don’t lash out in my head with judgmental and critical statements. I smile more often. I relax. I listen well. I laugh. And when I love myself, I love others well.
And kindness and love really do cover a multitude of sins.
Here’s my 2016 gift list (top 5 things I’m giving thanks for this year and lessons learned). Enjoy and hope you’ll share your own in the comments.
If I had a dollar for every cynical, ungrateful, and whiny social media post I’ve seen about 2016, I’d be covered in cashmere (and feeling fabulous). I’m baffled by the overwhelming negativity. Sure, things often don’t go our way. But what’s new? As Frank Sinatra crooned, “that’s life,” champ.
I’m quite certain that with the exception of a few people in dire circumstances, most of us are surrounded by beautiful people who love us and have all our needs met (and then some). A little gratitude goes a long way, baby.
Each year I create a gift list as I reflect on how God–and the world, the people in my life, and my circumstances–have given to me generously in various ways over the course of the year. Here’s my list for 2016.
1. I learned to take better care of myself.
While answering reflective questions earlier this year, I was asked…
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Today’s post is by one of my male students who prefers to remain anonymous.
I know I am not the best at showing appreciation to you, but during this time of year thankfulness is a common subject that comes up. I want you to know that I am very thankful for you. You have always been there for me. You have always made sure that I have had everything I need.
I am thankful I got to spend the first four years of my life with you before starting to school. Not having to go to a babysitter while my parents worked was pretty awesome. I also enjoyed the camping trips we would go on during the 4th of July. You were pretty good at making worm beds so my brother and I could go fishing together.
You are also a very good cook. You make the best banana pudding, from scratch, just the way I like it. I am also thankful for your ability to sew. You have patched a few knees for me over the years and have sewn a number of patches onto my letterman’s jacket. We all know my mom can’t sew, and it would have never been done without you.
I also enjoyed all the family time we got to spend together at your house. You have always opened up your house to others. You have accepted my friends and treated them just like they were your own grandkids.
Recently, you purchased a camper for me to stay close to my college so I would not have to drive three hours a day. I really appreciate that you didn’t get mad when I decided living alone was not for me, and we brought the camper back home. I found driving easier than loneliness.
I am also thankful for your general knowledge of “life.” You always have good advice to give, even when I didn’t think I needed any. I have found in the end, Nana is always right!
Thank you for being my Nana!
This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.
I want to let you know how thankful I am to still have you in my life considering all the obstacles we have faced in life. Since Pawpaw died, you have stepped up and really showed me there is life at the end of the tunnel.
I want to thank you, Momma, for helping me with my children even though I know it’s a hassle for you. I want to thank you, Momma, for always inviting me and the kids over for dinner even though you don’t have to. Thank you, Momma, for being my biggest fan through every single stage of my life. I just want you to know I couldn’t have ask for a better cheerleader.
Thank you for becoming my best friend and being my biggest confidant. You always answer your phone with the same friendly attitude every time I call no matter if I call ten times in a row. You have shown me how to respect people and treat everyone with kindness no mater what. You let me know it wasn’t okay to judge people at a young age, and I respect you for that.
You have been my rock through breakups, life decisions, and new chapters. Thank you for teaching me the importance of hard work and the importance of getting your education so I can have something in life. You have always told me if I wanted something in life, I have to work for it. Thank you for making me independent and telling me to never rely on anyone. Every single day I become more confident in myself.
My hope this Christmas season is for you to find joy, peace, and happiness, and let’s not forget to still cook! I just want to say I love you and thank you for being my backbone.