gratitude

Dissonance

I remember attending my first Twelve Step recovery meeting ever. It was an open meeting, and I attended with a friend. I listened. I learned a lot and felt that even though what people were sharing didn’t totally apply to me, there was something warm and familiar about it all the same. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

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With my friend Nicole in 2009, not long after I began working the Steps

A few months later, I understood that warm and familiar feeling to be home. I related to the feelings shared, even though the details were different, because I had been affected by similar problems and situations.

I never stopped the Twelve Step movement in my life after that. This summer, I celebrate my eleventh year in recovery. When I attended my first meeting, I was dating an alcoholic (I later married him, and subsequently divorced him). He insisted I find my own program of recovery because I was driving him crazy. Truthfully, I was probably driving him completely nuts, regardless of his behavior and his contributions to the chaos in our relationship.

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How I spend my time today

Fast forward 11 years. A lot has happened in the gap, but one thing has remained steady and constant in my life–my relationship with God and my growth in recovery. Divorce, financial ruin, relocation, grad school, pregnancy, major health concerns, marriage, legal stress, parenthood, entrepreneurship … you name it. Life happens to us, right? That doesn’t change just because we choose to align ourselves with healthier people, attend Twelve Step meetings, and pursue a better path for ourselves. Life keeps happening. Will we avoid as many potential pitfalls if we’re making better choices? Probably. But life rolls on, and we cannot prevent that.

I’ve observed something interesting over the past decade which sometimes seems strange. A dissonance, a distinct difference, even tension between the way I view (and choose) to view the world, and the way others view and choose to view it.

Why the dissonance? Why the difference? Why the vast chasm?

Yes, I follow Christ, and that certainly sets me apart from a large group of people who do not. But it’s not those people I’m referencing here. There are many of my friends and family members, most of whom follow Christ, who truly seem to be unable to relate to my perspective and worldview. What’s changed? Me or them? If it’s me, what is it about me that’s changed so much?

I’ll never get inside others’ heads to figure this out entirely–and honestly, I don’t want to–but I do find it interesting. Here’s one thing God brought to my attention a few weeks ago: When two people have experienced reality entirely differently, it is nearly impossible for them to perceive the world similarly. 

I chatted with a friend of mine who works in Christian ministry a few weeks ago, and that’s when this really hit me. He shared with me a situation that occurred years ago when many folks in ministry conflicted over changing a denominational policy. Some of the people stood by their beliefs without becoming petty or criticizing individuals (maintaining a polite, cordial attitude toward others involved). But a few people lashed out at the group, posted hateful messages online, and demonstrated the exact behavior that makes Christians cringe in embarrassment. We lamented about the situation together.

“I don’t know why, but that’s just one of those hot button topics that always gets people going,” he mused.

“Yeah, I guess so. I can’t relate to that anymore. I think there was a time when I had an opinion about that stuff… not now. I can’t even muster an ounce of concern about that if I try.”

I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was serious. My entire perception of what really matters has completely changed. I really did join in on splitting doctrinal hairs in the past, and I enjoyed those conversations and would defend my soapbox to the bitter end. And not just that–I used to pride myself on serving as vigilante of almost everyone or anything. I loved that stuff. I LOVED THAT STUFF. If you’d asked me the question, How important is that, really? I would have responded, It’s VERY important!

Then I lived in alcoholism for a decade. And I faced PTSD during that time from multiple incidents of sexual assault and other situations. I finally sought counseling and help through the Twelve Steps, but not until my life began to crumble into bits at my feet. It was not the best time of my life.

When your reality has been lived in mire, in fighting dark spiritual battles for quite some time, your perception changes. First world problems aren’t problems at all. You don’t have room on your plate for things like bickering, gossip, and scandal.

Yet even when you move from darkness to light–and thank God, that has happened for me–you may still feel permanent dissonance between the way you see the world and the way others see it. Does that mean those who don’t see it the way you see it are wrong, or that something is inherently wrong with you?

Not at all. It’s just a reminder that the world is varying shades, that not every human experiences trauma, and that God works through each of us differently. It’s a reminder that we cannot go to the bakery expecting to purchase hardware. That we can’t expect people who’ve never been in a pit to feel comfortable sitting next to us in the bottom of one while we work our way out, one Step at a time. It’s a reminder that God goes before us, plans in love, and converts what was meant for Evil into our Ultimate Good.

 

 

gratitude

Dear Momma

This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.

Dear Momma,

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.

mother-429157_1280I 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.

-Gabrielle

gratitude

Eating oranges

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.

12801343_605792375922_8706710045606079300_nAfter 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?

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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.

gratitude

Valor

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.   

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARenowned 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.

gratitude

I’d rather be wrong

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.”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

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.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

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.

gratitude

The gratitude word

*Today’s blog post is a guest post written by my lifelong friend and former neighbor Leslie Ferguson Thomas. I’m always thankful for Leslie’s contributions to my blog, but I’m more thankful for her ongoing friendship, her perspective on life, and her willingness to share it. Leslie’s husband is currently battling cancer; please keep them in your prayers this holiday season.*

On the day the surgeon told us he was pretty certain my husband Josh had cancer, I was anything but grateful. I was angry. For a few moments I was consumed by it. I wanted to scream, curse, and cry, so I did all three. This year has been crazy. I won’t spend time on all the details, but basically my husband has been diagnosed with two different types of cancer, had three different surgeries, and just started chemotherapy. That is not to mention all the other typical “life” things that have happened this year.

Josh and LeslieI have always considered myself a pretty positive person. People have even accused me of being the “Pollyanna type.” I try to smile often. I have never seen the point otherwise. I try to lift myself and those around me up. I do my best. I have always been one of those people who always thought my ship was about to come in, dreams were meant to be followed, and life was meant to be spent doing what you love. I believed that regardless of the cost.

I have always believed in God/a Higher Power.  I am in awe of all the things that happen in our world. All the perfect timing, the rhythm of everything. Sunsets leave me in awe. A sunset is a continual reminder to me that we are loved. Why else would so much thought and energy be put into simply coloring the sky at night? I am sure there is a scientific reason to it all, but still I am always humbled by the sunset.

This year my “positivity” has been rocked to the core. And honestly, I no longer see myself as a “positive” person. I am positive of nothing. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know what this next moment will bring. How will my husband feel today? What challenges will we face? Will the income situation work out? Will I be able to get clients when I start my counseling practice? Will Josh and I grow old together? Will we be able to have a family?  I don’t know any of that. I don’t consider myself negative either.  I just am!!! And today just is what it is!!!

So that shift left me feeling empty. Everybody kept saying be positive. I suddenly didn’t know how to do that anymore. I still don’t. I feel like something inside of me has changed. It has changed so deeply, and I don’t know that anything will change me back. This is where gratitude has come in and has truly helped me. To me positivity is about believing in a certain outcome. I am sure others may have a different perspective on it. I just can no longer cling to certain outcomes, but I can be in this moment. I can be grateful.

JoshWhat I have found is that even in the worst moments, I can list things to be grateful for. I can look at the sunset and be in awe. I can go to our favorite lake, and be in awe and grateful for the trees. I can sit beside my husband, and be grateful for our relationship. I can be grateful for the way life is changing me. The way I have become stronger, and am more driven than I ever been. I can be grateful for how Josh’s body has healed, how strong he is, and how our relationship continues to get better and better.

“Gratitude” is my new saving grace. I am grateful for the country I live in. I am grateful for possibilities. I am grateful for the people who have helped us, checked on us, and encouraged us. Gratitude has also taken a huge weight off me. I don’t have to believe in anything. I don’t have to be positive of anything. I just have to stop and look around. Gratitude is about being in the present.

So now even in my worst moments, I try to remind myself of all I have to be thankful for. There is so much, and gratitude helps me to immediately center myself into this moment. And this moment is really all we have.

I think the most important part of gratitude is to never make yourself feel guilty for having a hard time with it, being upset, or feeling whatever you feel. I try hard to even be grateful for the emotions I wish I had less of. Gratitude to me is about being gentle and just opening our eyes to all of the good stuff around us.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody- lots of love,

Leslie

Visit Leslie’s blog at www.anembracedlife.com

gratitude

Not so plain Jane

Jane, Jane, Jane,

You’ll probably kill me for this (or at least you’ll want to).

11952017_597555627432_4960712350773105577_nI can’t stop thinking about writing this letter to you, and when I can’t get something off my mind, I take action. I think you know this about me, so I’m pretty sure you’ll forgive me even though you don’t like being in the spotlight and would prefer to be the one snapping photographs instead.

In fact, this is one thing I love most about you and have come to admire about you–you are incredibly perceptive and have me pegged very well, even better than friends of mine who’ve known me for decades.

You recently interviewed a few students of mine during a mock interview session for Oral Communication class, and the feedback you provided me with about each of them was spot on. You described their personalities, assets, and liabilities almost exactly the way I’d describe them myself, and I’ve been teaching them twice weekly since August. This ability to cut through the bull and see people and situations realistically is one reason I often call on you for second opinions and came looking for “Jane’s brain” while trying to sort out my thoughts about my recent presentation proposal.

I also know I can trust you 100% with information, secrets, rambling thoughts, and feelings. Your trustworthiness is an attribute that every person aspires to possess, but let’s be honest–not all our friends are trustworthy, or this wouldn’t be worth mentioning. 11836790_595919815612_3466892458279554535_n

When our friends Chris and Tara moved to the big city of Little Rock, I felt lonely and wondered how God would fill the hole in my life. I relied on those two for companionship, entertainment, laughter, and confidential conversation time. Even though you and I were friends long ago, I think we have grown closer because of the space created by Chris and Tara moving away; God filled the empty space in my life with something new and just as meaningful. 1977343_584011455062_4121734977188759612_n

You’re a deceptive one, Jane. . . you might appear simple on the outside with that cream-colored cardigan, jeans, and bangs, but I’ve got you figured out! You’re the life of my party for two every time we hang out.

I love you more than chocolate with almonds, Seinfeld, freshly brewed coffee, and Big’s Restaurant.

Top that.

And happy Thanksgiving, my friend.

Bethany