It works!

My turkey painting by Michelle Young of MY Moments

My turkey painting by Michelle Young of MY Moments

I have a friend who sells fat-burning wraps which apparently really work–the name of the company is It Works, after all. I can’t personally attest to the company’s claim, and I don’t know anything about the science behind the products, but I do know one thing: whatever works for me is what I’m going to keep doing.

Recently I read an article by John Piper about gratitude and motivation. Piper reasons with readers and outlines a theological basis for his claim that gratitude is “a species of joy which arises in our heart in response to the good will of someone who does (or tries to do) us a favor.” He goes on to discuss what gratitude is, isn’t, and what it ought to be. And I agree with Piper.

At the same time, I’d like to go on the record by making the most important claim of all about the habit of gratitude: it just works.

That’s it. Is it selfishly motivated? Maybe, at times, depending on the person and circumstances. Is it right or wrong to be thankful for material things rather than people and higher concepts? I don’t know. If my motives for making a gratitude list are to improve my emotional state or attitude, am I being selfish?

Who cares?

I’m the first to admit that I have cared about lofty, heady issues way too much in the past. I cared more about being right than I cared about being happy. I minored in religion and philosophy. I’ve read countless articles, books, and blog posts arguing this point or that, providing plenty of rhetorical arsenal for people like the old Bethany who still need to search for the answers and convince others that their answers are incorrect.

That’s just not me anymore (most of the time, thank God!).

Six and a half years ago, I reached a spiritual breaking point. I found help climbing out of the pit through an anonymous 12-step recovery program for families and loved ones of alcoholics.

I had developed lots of bad habits. I’d become controlling, manipulative, judgmental, critical, cynical, depressed, anxious, and desperate. Ugh. Thankfully, the way of life I found worked for me, and today, the real Bethany keeps emerging little by little.

This program is one of action. It demands that I take action based on what is right, not based on my feelings. One of the ways I do this is by practicing gratitude.

God used the habit of gratitude to help change my attitude and outlook on life. The first step in developing this habit was to keep a daily gratitude list of three items–wholly unique every day. At first, it didn’t change any of my feelings or actions. I kept the list begrudgingly at first because I had been asked to do it. My attitude was not yet transformed :). After a few months, I noticed myself paying more attention to the good moments in my day, to the kind acts of the people around me, and to the beauty in the world. Why? I was looking for items for my gratitude list. I’d become accustomed to focusing on the good, and my focus on the good had minimized the appearance of the bad.

Lo and behold, a few years later, gratitude had become the norm, and grumbling, whining, pitying myself, and worrying began falling to the wayside.

The more I focus on what I have to be grateful for, and the more energy I expend thanking God and thanking others–either in words or actions–the less time and energy I have to dwell on things that bum me out, make me worry, or piss me off.

I make gratitude lists, in my head and on paper. I choose to bite my tongue when I want to whine and moan and try, instead, to say something positive–usually expressing gratitude for someone, or pointing out the good around me. I give gifts–whatever I have to give–because my heart is full of gratitude for God’s love and the miracles He’s done in my life. Giving to others gives me an outlet for that love. I deliberately look for opportunities to thank people who’ve made a positive difference in my life. I try not to post negative comments or updates on my personal social media pages or blogs; instead, I choose to share what’s good. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing negative in my life today. I just don’t feel like focusing on the negative anymore. I also encourage others to be grateful because if the people around me are positive and thankful and mindful of God, then they’ll encourage and motivate me in return.

Isn’t that selfish?

Probably. But that’s okay with me.

I just want to do what works–what helps me make progress.

glory of God quoteI’m primarily concerned with becoming more of who God wants me to be–more of who He made me to be. The Bethany I want to be  is happy, joyous, and free. She worries less and trusts more. She smiles in the face of adversity and laughs over spilled milk. She takes pleasure in spending time with people she loves and loves the people God has put in her life. She celebrates beauty. She is, as John Eldredge puts it, “the glory of God–[wo]man fully alive.”

Life is too short to spend my time picking apart something that works. Gratitude works.

I’ll take it, chalk it up as a blessing, and keep doing it.

 

 

 

 

Day 8–A family in the making

*Thanks to Michelle Young for serving as today’s guest contributor. Check out her artwork on her Facebook Page MY Moments.*

 

IMG_8168In November 2005, Jerry and Nancy Young opened up their home to two little boys named Kolby and Kaleb. It was the week of Thanksgiving when Joe and I met these boys for the very first time. Kolby had just turned two, and Kaleb was soon to be one year old. Throughout the following months, Joe and I saw Kolby and Kaleb often and spent a lot of time with them. They quickly became very special to us.

On March 13, 2006, as Joe and I were driving home from Jerry and Nancy’s house, I noticed that Joe was being exceptionally quiet. As we lay in bed that night, I asked if he had been deep in thought about something. He simply said “Yes.” So I probed further and asked what it was about. He said, “You probably don’t want to know… What would you think about trying to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb?”

My heart fluttered as I told Joe that I had already been thinking about it, but just hadn’t said anything yet. I also admitted that the idea of it all scared me. Joe had become concerned about his parents trying to raise these two small children at their ages, especially since it was beginning to look as if it might turn into a long-term, if not permanent, situation. That night, we discussed the possibilities of getting Kolby and Kaleb into our home and the ways in which our lives would be changed if it actually happened. We also discussed the reality of maybe only having the boys in our home temporarily while their birth mom met all of her requirements to get them back. This was going to be a huge decision and we knew that if we got involved, we would have to be prepared emotionally in the case that they be returned to Brittney later on down the road. No decision was made that night. After much discussion, we went to sleep.

The next day at lunch, Joe asked if I had enough time to make a decision about getting involved and offering to let Kolby and Kaleb come live with us. I told him that if we were to get the boys, I would be in it wholeheartedly. Joe said that was all he needed to know. We would make our decision known to Jerry and Nancy later that night. The rest of my work day was consumed with thoughts of our decision and the possibility of Joe and me going from no kids to two kids. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was scared, nervous, anxious, and yet excited all at the same time. I called and asked my mom to meet with me. I explained to her the entire situation and that Joe and I were planning to try to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb. She was surprised, but supportive of our decision. She said she was proud of us for stepping up and offering to take these boys in. She also told me that she had tried not to be selfish in her prayers for us and our desire to be pregnant. She had simply prayed that God would allow Joe and me the opportunity to share the love in our home with others.

Well, that opportunity had arrived! I told her that God never ceased to amaze me and that I am often reminded that my plans are not always God’s plans. Joe and I had been trying to have a child of our own for about seven months, but it hadn’t happened. All of a sudden, unexpectedly, we had been presented with a completely different plan. Looking back now, I can clearly see God’s amazing hands at work in our lives. I believe that I did not get pregnant during that time because God knew all along of two small boys who would be in need of a good, loving home. I honestly cannot say that we would have made the decision that we did had we already had a child of our own. That evening, Joe and I sat down with Nancy and told her of our recent decision to offer to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb. She said it sounded like a good plan to her. She thanked us and said that it was a relief to know that there was at least another option out there. She admitted that taking care of the boys 24/7 was really taking its toll on her. She assured us that she loved the boys and would continue to take care of them as long as she needed to, but of the two options, she felt that Joe and I getting custody of the boys would be the better scenario.

I have an entire journal of all that we went through once our decision was made public. The boys remained with Jerry and Nancy while all of the phone calls, paperwork, and court hearings were being handled from county to county. There were doubts. There were tears. There was bad news. There was good news. It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least! Finally, on July 26, 2006, the boys were moved into our home as foster kids. This began a whole new chapter for Joe and me as well as for Kolby and Kaleb. More doubts. More tears. More bad news. More good news. Another emotional roller coaster.

IMG_5274On February 21, 2007, Joe and I went to court in Little Rock where both birth parents signed the consent to waive parental rights. This began the actual adoption process. It was a very happy time for our family. And then one month later, God revealed another surprise…I was pregnant. Wow! At this point, we had been trying to get pregnant for a year and a half. Joe and I were now in the situation of going from no kids to THREE kids all in one year! Glory was born on November 17, 2007. She was 5 months old when we FINALLY went before the judge in Little Rock on April 28, 2008, and legally became Kolby and Kaleb’s permanent family. Despite the long, difficult, emotional journey, I am thankful for my family and for our story. God has truly blessed us!