gratitude

Gratitude through adversity

Today’s guest contributor is one of my English Composition I students, Ryan Clack. He’s graciously given me permission to share his first essay of the fall semester with all of you. I was inspired and touched by his essay; I’m sure you will be, too.

What Makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?

pexels-photo-1308713Answering the question above is neither simple nor complicated, but somewhere right in between. In order to start this “Who I Am” essay, I’ll begin with an introduction. My name is Ryan Clack. I am a 20 year-old Caucasian red-headed male from Temecula, California. I was born into this beautiful, yet harsh world on May 18, 1998, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have three other siblings. Two are my half siblings, and my parents’ names are Ron and Heather Clack. I am not afraid to admit that I’m a little bit of a mama’s boy and have been that way forever, so it’s safe to say I love her very dearly. My father and I share a huge bond in the game of baseball, and he has been such an important piece to my maturity and manhood throughout the years. With that being said, baseball has been my identity my entire life; it’s where I’ve met just about all of my friends, and it has given me the blessing of an opportunity to play collegiate ball on a scholarship on this very campus.

If I were to ask my friends or peers, they would likely tell me that I’m a very outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart guy. These are some attributes about myself I cherish and am very proud of. My mama always said, “You’re the most like me,” because she is the same exact way.

Throughout this year I’ve dealt with a great bit of adversity, and that adversity is what makes the overall question a little difficult to answer. Why? I’ve had to learn many lessons since January 17, 2018, the date of my mother’s passing. I feel as if my attributes include being outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart. These have not changed due to the fact that those are practically my foundation as a person, but a lot of other things have changed. My mom passed away after a year-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. The messed up part about everything is the fact that she beat breast cancer in 2016 only to find out six months later that she would be fighting another battle for her life, being diagnosed with colon cancer.

Throughout being there for the process of chemotherapy sessions, sores, and week-long streaks of her being so tired and weak she wouldn’t leave bed, I witnessed a woman who was literally dying become the most positive, loving, fierce, and fearless warrior goddess of all time. Whilst on hospice, she would write on paper because she could no longer speak.

One thing she wrote is so beautiful and powerful that it is what I live by and identify with on this day and every other day. She said, “I live every beautiful day and I can find beautiful on even the worst day.” Since the day that I watched her write this on her deathbed, my whole life changed. I learned to embrace the good, bad, and ugly and endure everything with a smile on my face. I learned how to cope with such immense pain and how to overcome the depression that comes with it.

If you ask “What makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?’ today, I’d be able to give you a great answer. Adversity.

pexels-photo-325790Adversity has turned me from a teenage boy to a man, and although going through it is never easy, I wouldn’t want it any other way. With adversity I have learned countless lessons, great and awful, and it helps me learn through real life experiences. Those real life experiences are free, stone cold, and hard life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. As of now, I couldn’t be happier with my situation, and I’m extremely blessed to be a part of such an amazing opportunity for me to continue to grow, obtain a degree, and continue to work on becoming the best person that I could possibly become.

gratitude

Gratitude on a cardboard sign

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.

homeless-845709_1280In 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.

 

 

 

gratitude

Turning points

Dear One,

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.

 

gratitude

Mighty kind

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen 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.

gratitude

Dear Nana

Today’s post is by one of my male students who prefers to remain anonymous. 

Dear Nana,

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.

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Photo courtesy of Pexels

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!

Love,

Your grandson

gratitude

A letter to my wife

Today’s post is written by one of my students, Roy Meisinger, as a token of appreciation to his wife. 

Dear 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.

image1-1It 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)

Love,

Your Husband

gratitude

Oh, to be thankful!

Big thanks to my lifelong best friend, MeLissa Massey Horseman, for making gratitude a family affair. I love you, MeLissa.

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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.

20161114_073150This 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.