Plenty to be grateful for

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.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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.

Three lessons from my mother

Today’s post is written by one of my students, Jesse Shoemaker. Jesse wrote this essay in response to the prompt: Write about your mother or someone who has acted as a mother figure in your life. Describe this person and share at least three lessons you’ve learned from her.

Painting By Luplau Janssen

Painting By Luplau Janssen

My mother is a great influence in my life. She has always been there for me when I needed her to be. No matter what the circumstances might be, she always tries to find a way to fix my problem, even though I am resistant to the idea of help or advice.

My mother is a small woman. She has shoulder length hair that is coal black with heavy fades of brunette and blonde blended throughout. Her voice is slightly shrill considering she prefers to yell across the house to talk to someone rather than walk in the same room as they are and speak in a normal tone. Her eyes and mine are the same, heavy brown hazel that can change from green to brown to gold.

My mother loves to sing and dance. I remember as a child, when we would finish a movie as a family and the credits were rolling, she would jump up and grab my hands, pulling me off the couch and into a little dance we would go. She is so full of life.

When I was 11 years old, my mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a muscle disease, which later became neuropathy, a nerve disease. As I entered my teenage years, it seemed like she was at her worst. There were days that she could not get out of bed; most of the time she could not get around without the use of a walker, crutches, or a wheel chair. Even the softest touch from anyone could cause her to have an inflammation of tremendous pain. Even though she has endured so much pain on an everyday basis, my mother is still one of the sweetest ladies ever. I have had very few friends that dislike my mother, and the few who do just think she is too nice, and it freaks them out a bit.

One lesson I learned from my mother is to explore the world around me. When I was young and before she became sick, my mother would always take my sister and I on hiking trips, canoeing, or some other outdoor activity that we could do as a family. If it was not for my mother I would have never experienced the thrill of white water rafting or the rush of adrenaline I get when rock climbing.

The second lesson indirectly learned from my mother is to always let go of the past. When I was a teenager, and my mother was sick, my sister or I would have to stay home and take care of her while our step dad was working. Needless to say, I felt like part of my youth was taken away from me. I held a grudge for several years towards her, until finally we sat down and talked, and I finally vented what had been bothering me for so many years. It was as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I could finally see some happiness and joy coming back into my life.

The last lesson I learned from my mother is to never give up on yourself or your dreams. Like I mentioned earlier, she was very sick for several years; however, she never gave up on trying to get better. My mother overcame significant weight gain from her sickness and is now a little older woman who likes to dig in her garden and work on as many projects as she can. It is as if she is trying to make up for all the years of not being mobile enough to do the things in life she enjoys.

My mother is a great influence on me. She has taught me to explore the world around me. She always reminds me to let the past go and, most importantly, to never give up on myself. I cannot think of any better lessons a mother could teach her son.