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.
On our last day, I knew something was askew with you. You were quieter. You didn’t tell as many jokes and stories. You didn’t make eye contact as often. You didn’t even wrestle the kids.
I couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Maybe you felt left out of our chitchat. Maybe you had more trouble hearing. Maybe your blood pressure was off. But something wasn’t the same, and I sensed it.
With my best dad
Other parts of our last day were perfect.
We drank a glass of red wine together. We always did that. You commented on your failure to perfect the gravy’s consistency, and I insisted it was perfect already. I always insisted your cooking was great (it was). I scooped up a huge spoonful of succotash and claimed I loved it. I didn’t. But you made it, and you loved making it, and I loved you.
Our last day…
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Today’s post is written by one of my students, Roy Meisinger, as a token of appreciation to his wife.
I would like to take the time to tell you how thankful I am that God chose you to be my wife. I think sometimes I take you for granted, but truthfully you do and have done so much. I am thankful about how supportive you have been especially in the last five months. Being laid-off caused big changes, and you have tried so hard to be positive about it all. Not only am I thankful for being supportive of me through though times, but I also appreciate how much you do for our children.
It takes a lot to raise our kids. Practices, art classes, and modeling is a lot for one person to run around to and from constantly. Yet you do it each week and have shown me in the last five months that though it is exhausting, it is also worth it. Allowing our children to do all these different things will better them in the long run. Sometimes I wonder why you push yourself to let them do so much, but you are letting them do what they love. I know as their father I have agreed to let them do everything as well. What I did not realize at the time of these decisions is that school was going to keep me from helping with it all. You have taken on the challenge, though, and I could not be more thankful. It is hard to understand what all it takes to care for a house and kids. The time I have been home these last months have shown me how much work it actually takes. It truly makes me more grateful for you each day.
You did not stop with just me and the kids though. This semester while I had class, you took on Wednesday nights with the youth. I am so thankful that you are ready to step up while I go to school in hope of bettering our future. You have done a great job with teaching them. If I am completely honest, it is not just Wednesday nights that you have helped me. You have been such a huge help with the youth over the last year. From scheduling every event to just adding your thoughts during a lesson, you have helped me do the best for them all.
This is not just for brownie points; I am seriously most grateful for you. Supportive of me, a great mother to our children, and an awesome youth minister’s wife, I am thankful that God sent you to me. I look forward to many more years and many more reasons to be thankful.
” I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” Philippians 1:3-4 (ESV)
Today’s post is written by my student, Katrina King. As a mother, I can relate to the love and pride she expresses for her daughter in this letter. I hope to write a letter like this to Maggie someday.
Hey girl, so I got an assignment in my Comp class, and I think it is the best assignment yet, in my opinion of course. We were given an assignment to write a letter telling someone how thankful we are to have them in our life (on the topic of gratitude). I feel really comfortable writing this because I knew before I finished reading the assignment that I would be writing about you.
I know that I am your mother, and we will always have that special bond that so few share and so many others could relate to, but not many know what we have gone through just this fall semester. You had a full course load with 14 hours, me working two jobs, taking my first online course and attending an in-class lecture so I can finally finish school. To say it has been tough is most definitely an understatement.
I appreciate how hard you worked to try to maintain a good GPA in a very unfamiliar territory. I know you have had your struggles; I couldn’t imagine some of the fears you may have faced, especially since you are a deaf child, leaving your mark in a hearing world, a world that does not always understand you. You are doing your best to have your voice heard. You have helped me with getting your brother back and forth to school–practice, tutoring, feeding him–the whole nine, while I work some crazy hours, and you have done it all with a smile and not too many complaints.
Your grace and beauty defines the way a young lady should act and carry herself. I am so proud of you. I am thankful the Lord saw fit to pair us up to do this life together. There will never be enough words to tell you how truly grateful I am to have you as my daughter, and I thank you for being a positive role model to not only your brother but to others who cross your path as well. I pray you continue to strive for greatness; your hard work will not go unnoticed at times when you think you just can not go any further or things start to get rougher than you had hoped. Just know that you have not come this far to turn back.
I love you to the moon and stars and back.