Today’s blog post is by my student, Ladonna Williams, as part of a brief writing assignment celebrating her marriage.
To my loving husband:
I want you to know that you have been a great inspiration in my life. Putting our friendship with love, we created our marriage. You accepted life’s responsibility and turned it into a blessing.
There are great benefits of being your wife, including unconditional love. We look upon ourselves as under no obligation. Being your wife has been amazing. Not because of the things that you do for me, and not even because of how much love you have for our family. Just because you are someone special. I am so thankful for the little things that I may have taken for granted. Washing dishes, grocery shopping, and even taking care of me on my late nights. Those days when I didn’t say thank you, count it to my mind not my heart.
I strive to have a heart as big and warm as the one that you share with me. I value the kind heart that has brought sunshine to my life. I thank you for the love and kindness you share with me on a daily basis. I thank you for being my umbrella on the rainy days. When you felt as if I weren’t happy, there was joy pulled from within your heart to share with your wife. I thank you for the encouraging words when situations got a little hard for me. Always there to keep pushing me to the next step in life.
I can’t express enough of how special I feel to get to spend my life with someone as great as you. Someone who always has the next person’s concern on their mind. Standing there ready to do your best to brighten up their day. I thank you for sharing your love with people who may need a kind word. I want you to know I am always grateful for the things you share. I love you!
Big thanks to my lifelong best friend, MeLissa Massey Horseman, for making gratitude a family affair. I love you, MeLissa.
Dailen (9 ½) – I’m thankful for a house, my family, and myself. I feel that thankfulness means you are appreciative and have a good attitude about stuff people give you.
Lexa (8) – I’m thankful for a roof over my head to keep rain, snow, hail, thunder, lightning, and wind off my head. I’m thankful for my dad and mom who take care of me when I am sick, cold, or hot. I’m thankful for my brother and sister because they play with me. Thankful means you are thankful for something like your clothes or you are thankful for something your mom and dad gives you like maybe a bowl of ice cream. Well, thank you for listening to me. Love, Lexa
Lydia (3 ½) – Thankful for Momma, Daddy, music, milk, tea set, (I think we were looking at what was on the kitchen table when we answered, lol), swimming with Daddy, making creative art with Mommy, playing school with Sister, playing puppy with Brother, and that God is strong. Being thankful is loving all around us.
I asked my three kids to tell me a couple of things they are thankful for and what they think thankfulness means. I transcribed my older kids’ answers from what they wrote and interpreted the response of my youngest. I like that my oldest said to be appreciative. I like that my middle child is so specific and fun. I like that my littlest is in the present and happy for the simple things.
Sometimes it is so hard to be thankful. I am thankful every day because I know we are spoiled. Our needs are met, and we are healthy. However, I don’t know that I am truly grateful. I mean, at the end of that day when I am a frazzled mess, I don’t stop and think, I have a home, family, running water, and ice cream. I get short with the kids because they weren’t getting their bedtime stuff done. I get irritated with my husband because he half cleaned up the kitchen. I’m mad we didn’t read Bible stories before bed, again. I worry if my back will have issues tomorrow and when will my shoulder feel better and if I will write that piece for my best friend’s gratitude blog like I said I would.
As I lay pondering the day after everyone is asleep, I think, tomorrow. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I will not be a stress ball by evening. Well, that may be a lofty goal but today, I will put more effort into slowing down and being thankful. I love fall. It is my favorite season. I love cool weather, pumpkin spice, peppermint, and cozy sweaters. As I was walking my kids to their bus stop this morning, the fall colored trees seemed especially stunning with the sun shining down on them. My kids are like trees with God’s love and mine shining down on them. They are constantly growing and changing like the beautiful autumn leaves and there are times I am not thankful for that process. Sometimes I am selfish and want them to stay little and innocent, and sometimes I am so stressed with life I don’t make time to watch the process. I can get tired of hearing people say, ‘enjoy the moment, they grow up fast,’ and ‘you’ll miss it all when their gone.’ In the midst of clutter and sassy attitude, I want everything to be organized and polite. However, I do need to be more thankful of the everyday memories.
This morning I took a picture of the gorgeous trees. I took time to document that my son wrote his name in cursive and be thankful that he is growing up. I am thankful I have a patient God. He may be frustrated that I don’t put the time and energy into Him that he most certainly deserves, but He still loves me. I am thankful for my husband who works hard at his job and strives to protect and defend me and our three children. I am thankful for my son who is so smart with school and still loves to cuddle with me. I am thankful for my older daughter who is a silly spark of individuality and a sensitive spirit. I am thankful for my younger daughter who is a fun little monkey and keeps me smiling with admiration and amazement. Being thankful is slowing down and truly appreciating life in big and small ways. It doesn’t have to be so hard. I may have a few, ‘Today is the Day’ days, but that’s okay because I am thankful I can try again.
When company’s coming, I normally tidy up the house hurriedly, clearing up clutter quickly. Everything must find its home–James’ smelly socks sitting in the middle of the mudroom floor, Maggie’s tiny pile of clean laundry atop the dining table outside her room, the four coffee cups on the kitchen counter. Even if I don’t have time to scrub each surface with bleach or mop the floor with wood oil soap, I can’t relax until the clutter isn’t visible and the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher.
After the mad dash through the house, I typically glance down at myself in horror and jump in the shower. Even if I don’t have time to apply makeup or shave my legs, bathing myself and brushing my teeth are essential.
This Sunday, after caring for a very sick little girl by myself for three days, I found myself staring at the clock in anticipation of my friend Erin’s visit. I looked around me; thankfully, since James had been out of town for three days, the house was already clean. I looked at myself; if I’d had an ounce more sleep, I might have cried after catching a glimpse of my hair in the mirror. However, I’d reached the point of subsisting solely on coffee fumes, and brushing my teeth and pulling my bangs away from my face was the best effort I could muster.
When Erin arrived, I laughed. She looked similarly smocked and just as exhausted. We consumed even more caffeine while halfheartedly entertaining Maggie and catching up on life. She came bearing gifts of a toy puppy, a teeny tiny watermelon from her garden, cranberry cookies, and s’mores dip. We consumed sugar and watched leaves fall while Maggie chased chickens.
That night, I explained to my mentor that I wasn’t sure what lesson I was supposed to be learning, but every time James left town, one of us was really sick. I often reached out to people asking for babysitting assistance or inviting them to visit, but by and large, I couldn’t reach people or found that people had other plans. What was the lesson I was supposed to be learning here? Could I just learn it, please, and stop dealing with this?
While scrolling through Pinterest, I came across a post about oranges.
“The smell of an orange relieves stress. Smelling an orange or eating one can reduce stress by 70%” (ThePsychMind.com).
Is this true? Is it legitimate? Is it scientific? It’s on PINTEREST, for crying out loud. But I know this—when I peel clementines for my little Maggie (which is rather tedious and a bit time-consuming), I love the scent and seem fully present and engaged. Why? I don’t know. I don’t care. I stopped caring about why things work a long time ago. I just do what works.
As I reflected on three long, stressful, sleepless days and nights of caring for a sick little girl (cuddly, but sick), I recognized that I may have done a great job of caring for her, but I was sucking in the self-care department.
Ah. So that’s what I was supposed to be learning here. The age-old adage about putting on my own oxygen mask. How do you do that when your child is hacking up mucus? How do you do that on three hours of sleep? It wasn’t just about meeting my physical needs. I could handle that part and did so most of the time while taking care of Maggie. But was I mindful of my own well-being, mindful enough to stop to meet my needs even if it meant altering our daily routine and plans? When was the last time I did something frivolous and fun for myself—not related to work, an organization, or my family? Do I care for myself with as much love as I care for my daughter?
I decided I’ll start by peeling an orange every day. I’ll peel it for myself. I will enjoy the way it smells and then eat it myself instead of giving it away, which is what happens 89.5% of the time I attempt to eat one.
I think someday, when Maggie is old enough to understand the importance of loving herself—and not laying herself down on the altar of taking care of other people, or losing who she is in the name of trying to save someone else—she will thank me for eating one small clementine every day.
Today’s guest blog post is written by my great friend Debra Dickey. I’m always thankful for her thoughtful reflections and beautiful contributions to my blog. Debra is definitely more than enough, and I’m thankful she’s in my life.
In my prime, there was no limit to how much I could take on and accomplish – I was raw energy and adrenaline in motion. If you grew up at my house, everybody had responsibilities, and we started early! There was a lot to be done, so our days ran from early morning to late, or into, the night. I enjoyed it! Tired, pshaw. I‘ve always been a consummate ‘accomplisher’, so I stuck with it until the job was done. Now….not so
There was value placed on hard work and doing what you saw that needed to be done, therefore, there was a sense of pride connected to accomplishing as much as you were capable of on any given day! It felt like “down time” was ‘time not well-spent’. I used to believe that if I wasn’t actively doing something productive at all times, that I was performing below par, that I was less than I could be. Now….not so much.
From early on, my space of choice to be was outside. I loved doing whatever called me to the out-of-doors — I’ve hoed beans, hauled hay, driven tractor, tended animals, (yes, milked cows!) shoveled feed lots, run the lawnmower, gardened . . . you name it, I did it! And it was great! Manage a busy office? Plan a big get-together? All at the same time! No problem! I’m very good at it. Work two jobs, four jobs? Why not! Used to be so much fun sluicing from one crazy busy thing to another!! Now…. not so much.
Little by little, my service to the world has begun to narrow as natural physiology and temporal physicality hands down imperatives to ‘stop’! Although I still crave that ‘rush’ of accomplishment that comes from having so many things on my plate, and competently juggling them all to successful completion, my physical limitations now intrude much too quickly, and as such, my day-to-day to-do lists have become much more calculated in priority. So how can I be all that I am supposed to be????
Yes, perhaps my house is a bit dusty, and often my yard is probably too ragged, but maybe, just maybe, I am the person that God wants me to be for now, ‘planted’ exactly where He needs me to be, and I am doing just what God wants me to do today. And isn’t that the very best that anyone can hope for . . . . . in this moment, assuredly being all that I can be, now …. a whale of so much!
I found myself whispering, too, even though I wasn’t the one hiding in a closet while a drunken man beat on the door.
“Bridgett, it’s okay. You’ll be okay. You do not have to answer that door. DO NOT answer the door, okay?”
Bridgett cried snotty tears on the other end of the phone.
“But why won’t Tim just wake up? I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here!”
At fourteen years-old, I felt helpless to rescue the nine year-old little girl whose alcoholic stepfather had passed out on the couch. His friend knew she was inside the trailer and seemed determined to enter the home. I may not have been old enough to understand everything, but I knew enough to know something was sinister; when a child expresses that level of fear, reality lives in it.
So I just talked to her, sitting in the hallway of my parents’ home, cradling the old white phone—yes, attached to a cord, which was attached to the wall. In the middle of July, my parents were working, and without transportation, I couldn’t physically rescue her. But I could make her feel a little less alone and give her the option of not answering the door that day.
Ten years later, I worked for a TRiO program at a private liberal arts college. My job included helping underprivileged high school students excel academically and prepare for college. I supervised tutors, coordinated records with high school counselors, taught summer courses in writing, literature, and ACT prep material, and much more. I didn’t go to work expecting a student to disclose his homosexuality to me (he’d never disclosed it to anyone else before).
Jon, an attractive young man, sauntered into my office on a hot June afternoon.
“Miss Bethany, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”
Deep breathing. Lots of deep breathing. A very beloved friend in college had chosen me to disclose similar information during college, and I’d blown it. I mean, I had ROYALLY blown it and had responded terribly, making a joke of the entire situation because I felt uncomfortable. I always wished I could go back in time to respond differently; I just didn’t know any better at age 18. This was clearly God offering me a chance for redemption.
“Oh, Jon, that’s a major thing. Have you told other people? Do your parents know?” The kid was only 16.
“No. No one knows except my… well, sort of my boyfriend.”
More deep breathing. Trying to do the deep breathing without looking like Kristin Wiig on Saturday Night Live.
“Okay. I’m glad you told me. Do you need to talk about it?”
The lock on the floodgates broke wide open. I listened to his story for about 30 minutes. At the end of his story, I referred him to the counseling coordinator. When he left my office, I felt spent and grateful.
Fast forward another decade. While teaching college as an adjunct English instructor, I discovered students feel more safe writing out their secret horrors, traumas, and worries than they do talking about them (try encouraging a college student to schedule an appointment with a paid professional counselor or student services worker and check out the non-verbal response). And what do I teach? English composition and oral communication courses.
Since 2013, I’ve been gasping, crying, and praying while grading certain essays—and not just due to poor grammar and mechanics.
In 2014, I taught Esther, a beautiful non-traditional student. She worked odd jobs to support her children and family. After the semester ended, we kept in touch. She stopped by periodically with books for my daughter, cookies or other baked treats, and cards. She couldn’t afford these gifts, yet she gave anyway. Recently, her dream man (boyfriend) became abusive within their relationship.
“Miss Bethany, I just want you to know you were right… I love you, and I want you to know I’m taking care of myself.”
I shared my experience, strength, and hope with her and suggested options for self-care and protection.
“Esther, no matter what you do, I will always be here for you and love you.”
I could fill an entire book with stories like these (with names changed, of course).
I read an article recently about keeping the awe in our lives. I don’t know how to get rid of it because God keeps using me. God never stops tapping on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.
Every time, I’m blown away. I absolutely can’t breathe for at least a moment because I recognize if I move when He says move, something miraculous happens. What will it be? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. I love it. I just take action—which many times redeems my own past—and God fits me into a gigantic unfinished puzzle.
Let me never say no. Please God, let me say yes. Let me never refuse the opportunity to use whatever You have given me to help someone in need. Let my gratitude for my own redemption fuel me when I feel afraid, hesitant, or greedy.
My friend, former coworker, and confidante Debra Dickey wrote today’s blog post. I never stop learning from this woman. Thank you, Debra.
In my experience, valor is a prevailing and significant part of kindness, faceted, inextricably entwined. Kindness, by definition, is a perfectly generated act; designed especially and wholly specific to its purpose and direction; genuinely presented, without distinction, qualification or condition, expecting nothing in return. Valor described as an act of bravery, never counting the cost, steeped in gallantry, graciousness, conviction, heart and spirit, is kindness with a noble twist. Therefore, by interpretation, kindness and valor incorporate the self-same characteristics within their disposition. Benevolence etched in valor. Parallel objectives; peerless outcomes.
Renowned acts of kindness in their character and dispensation continue to deserve distinguishing mention in the journals of my life. Inscribed with valor, often jagged and irregular in my plebeian existence, friendly kindnesses have always been around me, typically crafted in the form of benign pleasantries and considerations. Yet in shining moments, there have been more imbued magnanimities. Only a matter of degree?
Maybe. Perhaps solely the ‘knight in shining armor’ psychology? Who’s to say! But I do know that once in a while, there have been notable and remarkable, made-to-order, selfless acts of kindness extended to me unsuspecting, some requiring momentous valor, others only requiring love, but all totally unexpected, indubitably unsolicited, yet perfectly tailored to fit, and indescribable in what they meant to me, because . . . . they were meant for me.
Easily recalled: once, a concerned stranger with particular insight; again, more than once, a relative with a huge heart; many times, family generosity; friends, too, with no agenda other than my well-being; and most recently, my children, giving from their hearts, from their own resources, gifts designed for no one but me. Each a pure act of kindness, but none which could happen without their own special brand of valor when choosing to listen with their hearts and act.
Nothing touches me more profoundly than genuine kindness, authentically offered, with no strings attached. Masterpieces in eloquence! Uncommon gems of great value – beautiful, melodious symphonies upon the heart-strings. Not accustomed to such grand gestures, I’m always moved to tears, rendered speechless, and have no words worthy of adequate response to these magnanimous altruisms. Gifts of supreme kindness with actions in valor . . . ‘their price far above rubies’.
Most people do not consider their kind actions meritorious, but I most assuredly do! Valiant, unhesitating, chivalrous, bounteous, without equal – timely gifts perfectly given – nobility at its finest. I am humbled and grateful to be included in this honorable gift exchange program directed by the Almighty! Considering how very little I have to offer in return, it always feels like winning the lottery!
How did they know? How do I express their incomparable value and great importance? How can I explain their incredible significance for me? How will I ever manage to repay them all?? God chooses a few folks and endows them with uniquely wonderful talents as cannot be described, His Wonders to perform. These truly are my ‘knights in shining armor’. I am so grateful for each and every one.
To call Kristi Gray my friend feels like a misnomer. We share more than one secret connection, and I know God has bound us together for the rest of our lives. I couldn’t be more thankful for her. Kristi, you matter to me.
When I first saw my friend Bethany’s request for people to submit posts on gratitude for her blog during the month of November, I quickly skipped over it thinking, I have nothing to be grateful for this year. It’s been nothing but hard. But then as the days grew closer to November, I began to be hit with a flood of emotions, including, yes, lots of gratitude.
Fifteen years ago this week, I was on a spiral downwards. I had just moved to Washington, D.C., three months prior, and I was in a dark, dark place. My drinking led to blackouts, which led to waking up in strange places with strange people. I was putting myself in more and more dangerous situations. I had managed to lose all the friends I had in a short period of time. My parents were no longer speaking to me. I was alone, miserable, hated myself, wanted to die and couldn’t imagine life without alcohol because then I would have to feel all these feelings I was desperately trying to push down and hide. On November 4, 2001, in the middle of a drink, I was struck with the thought that if I continue drinking, I am going to die, and all of a sudden I didn’t want to die anymore.
That night I walked into a meeting of people who had managed not to take a drink for weeks, months, and even years, and I desperately wanted what they had. They offered me a solution and walked with me through the fear and the pain and the tears and all those feelings that I didn’t want to feel. I began to slowly experience peace and contentment and God’s presence in my life. And I haven’t had to be alone again ever since that day. How can I say I have nothing to be grateful for?
Fourteen years from the day I put down that drink, I began walking through perhaps the most difficult year of my life. At the beginning of this year, I was enveloped in a darkness I didn’t think I could ever crawl out of, and worst of all, I had lost all hope. I have been through lots of painful, dark times in my life, but I had never experienced this level of pain. I didn’t know what to do, so I just did what I’ve been taught to do by my many mentors in life and that is to keep walking through it, hang on, and don’t give up. My wallpaper on my phone says “Never Give Up” as a constant reminder to myself to keep going no matter what. And I know God didn’t give up on me because He has been continuously sending me angels to guide me through this dark, difficult year. The most amazing, beautiful people have showed up on this journey to help guide the way and help me face those parts of me I had been unwilling to face.
Just a few weeks ago, with the help of a wonderful mentor God recently placed in my life, I was able to start removing some of those things that had been blocking me from God and from others, and finally, finally the light started to come in and the darkness began to lift. I woke up today with a smile on my face, excited to start my day, and I felt happy for the first time in a very long time. I think I called everyone I knew to tell them I was happy! I didn’t know if I would ever feel peace and contentment and God’s presence again, and now, 15 years after I felt it for the first time, I am feeling all of those things on a deeper level than I’ve ever experienced. On November 5, 2016, I will wake up 15 years sober, and I will wake up in the sunlight and will know that God is with me and is taking care of me and that all will be okay.
How can I say I have nothing to be grateful for? I’ve been given my life back, not once, but twice. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Today’s guest blog post is written by my friend Jeri Wright, a beautiful, free-spirited soul. Thank you, Jeri, for sharing your heart.
As I drove down the street today the sun-kissed my skin through an open window. The perfectly warm breeze gently caressed my cheek and tousled my hair. Every breath was a rush of energy and renewal. On a day like this, you just can’t help but to put your hand out the window and let it surf the wind like you did when you were twelve. Up and down and side to side, there is no resistance. I wonder, could this moment be any more perfect or this day any more beautiful?
A smile grows across my face and tears even think about welling up in my eyes for a minute. The awe and wonder I feel from a simple ten-minute drive on a nice day is almost overwhelming. I feel completely connected. This feeling, this emotion, has happened in my life before.
It happened when I was very young, at an age of total oblivion–that small window of life where all the world is a stage to entertain you. There are no scary things in life, other than monsters under your bed or in your closet. The age when you share pinkie swears with your best friend, and your best friend is either your mom or your cousin. When the biggest challenge you face is choking down your veggies at the dinner table.
My swing set was a magical place in those early years. At around four, I would settle myself in the swing seat with no one else around. Mother would be inside cleaning or folding something. I had no siblings, and the cousins were too scared to play with me. After being sick for years, I had become the family glass doll. I would spend hours on that swing, amazed at how powerful my little legs felt while they shot me off into the never-ending Oklahoma sky above me. I imagined sailing among the clouds, the breeze in my hair and the sun kissing my skin.
This is my happy place. This is where my gratitude lives. Every moment when I recognize a gift in my life, I feel my happy place. Thankfully, as I acknowledge those gifts, I seem to recognize even more of them. My gratitude used to be reserved for “big” things like I’m glad my son’s cancer hasn’t returned, or I’m grateful that the police officer didn’t give me a speeding ticket. But now I feel gratitude nearly everywhere. I feel it in letting others go before me in traffic. I feel it in an uncomfortable situation because it gives me an opportunity to stretch and grow. And I feel it in the simple pleasure of watching my children play.
That abundance of gratitude has made it possible for me to relive my swing set magic every day.
Today’s guest blog post is written by my lifelong friend, Tori Walker Kirk. Watching her journey has been inspiring and filled me with gratitude.
When I read that Bethany needed people to write gratitude posts for her blog, something inside me screamed, “Do it”! I’m not a writer, but I do have my fair share of things to be grateful for, so I told her I would write one.
Recently, one of my friends reached out to me to inform me that she’d been viciously attacked by her boyfriend (now ex). She described the bruises, and she admitted she felt scared for her life.
“You were right about him.”
In the pit of my gut, I winced.
There was a time when I reveled in being right… being right during factual debates, being right at work, being right regarding hot, controversial topics, and being right about you, your life, and your decisions. I thought I knew best for everyone and made sure they knew it.
Over the course of the past decade, I’ve hesitantly accepted that I don’t even know what’s best for myself. I’m rarely right. But for years, I lived in denial, made terrible choices which affected many people, and suffered. I’ve stopped playing God and have turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.
A childhood friend killed herself a few years ago after battling depression and enduring domestic abuse. Two years before, I’d reached out to share my experience with similar problems and offered the solutions which had worked for me.
“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about him.”
Another childhood friend died last year in a sketchy incident involving drugs. One year prior, I’d hugged him desperately in tears at a funeral. I begged him to get himself into a 12-step recovery program. I told him I thought he might not make it otherwise.
“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. I haven’t done anything in months.” Alcohol emanated from his pores.
A woman I know and love came to me and shared about her marital struggles. I shared my experience and encouraged her to seek help and concoct a plan for starting a new life for herself. She stayed for another year. Her eyes are still dead.
Being right is the worst feeling in the world now.
If there’s any time I’d prefer to be wrong, it’s when I’m watching someone I love die. But recovery tells me the path to serenity is simple, but not easy. I wish there were an easier, softer way. But I haven’t found one.
I want to see people I love live. I want them to feel deep-down, unshakable peace and serenity. I want them to laugh. I want them to sleep at night. I want them to focus on the solution and not the problem.
I want gratitude to overwhelm them and cause them to weep without shame every single day.
It’s not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.
And God, I want it.