Gratitude, a Practice

How do you place value on a day? An hour? A moment? Is it in all that you accomplish? Does the weight of your day mean more or less because you’ve checked off so many of the boxes on your list? Is all lost if, as you look around your life, the same things that needed doing yesterday need doing again, or still, today?

Do you know a moment is good because of the happiness that comes from it? Joy being of more importance than pain on our scales of blessing. Can feeling frustrated, angry, ill-at-ease, cause you to count this minute, this hour as a loss? While a smooth, cooperative, easy day leaves you trusting that God has smiled on you in however small a way.

Could it be something more? Not in how you feel or what you’ve done, but could the inherent goodness of your life be something simpler? Something that is so far beyond our control we often struggle to believe it even could be, let alone is.

What if the value of your life, of mine was not found in these common assesments? What if the goodness of our moments, was ultimately, simply, found in our Creator. What if, however much we eff up, however much we fail in human sight, however much we hate the way our corner of the world is spinning…what if those things can’t impact our peace, because God is good?

I’ve kept a gratitude journal for several years now. I can remember a time when coming up with three good things each day was a challenge for me. When the length of the nights and the pulse of my day made me stretch myself to come up with this handful of daily blessings. In the practice of being thankful though, I’ve become more. In looking for the good I have been able to see that most of it is good.

This has been a slow thing for me to learn. In the scratching out of thankfulness it has taken those few years for me to become accustomed to seeing it all as good. As we have struggled through our challenging years, I’ve come to see, to firmly believe, that even the hard or the percievedly “bad” is often a gift if I choose to look at it from the lens of God. I have needed a great deal of practice with this though.

I’ve written about my lack of sleep before, and how I now am able to see it as an opportunity. This has happened because I have allowed God to work in my heart, begged Him even, to do so. He has shown His goodness to me in so many other ways. Ways that I certainly would not have expected, but more than that in ways that I have not always seen, at first, as His goodness.

In my head right now I am making a list of things that have happened in my life that I would not have written in my gratitude journal, the list is long and I will not share it here. I will tell you that I have put myself in some bad situations as far as my safety, my financial security, and my mental well being are considered. I can see, in the looking back, how God used all -okay most- of those things for good. How the lows have only brought me closer to Him, and how that is really all He wants from and for me.

In my previous life I had sunk pretty low on the gratitude scale. I have deliberately climbed a ladder of thankfulness to be at this place, where I can see how some of those bad situations, weren’t. That He was working good for me in all things, even the heartbreaking things.

I don’t know if this practice of writing down thanks is enough to get me through something terrible. I pray fervently that my faith is never tested in a handful of specific ways. Because while I believe I am strong in my faith now, I also know pretty well what it would take to break me. That’s another reason I practice gratitude though. With the hope that in continuing to be thankful, I could continue to be thankful through any of the worst. It is a goal, and a gamble of course. There are no guarantees that I could experience life-shattering news and be at peace enough to immediately find the glimpses of good.

To be clear, I don’t write down the good and, “poof!” there is less bad. Rather, in making notes on my days, my interactions, my difficulties, I am looking for those flashes of good which are always there, should I choose to see them. This affords me the quiet and the space I need to really evaluate a negative encounter or experience, and hopefully, see it for what God needs it to be, for what it truly is, in my life.

Each year I start over, allowing the days to tick off their own goodness, counting up seemingly mundane moments along with the highest of the highs.

…the teensy sleeping through a night

…fresh, cold air

…skates on the ice with my littles

Do you have a gratitude practice? I’d love to hear about it sometime. To know how it has grown you, changed you. How it’s helped you to find contentment or joy or some small space in your head that has been taken back from the sadness of the world. Sitting down now to pray peace over each of you who takes the time to read my ramblings this year.

Summer Writing

I haven’t opened my laptop in over a month. I have composed many stories, poems, blog posts…more, but they have all been in my head. I have strung together thoughts and prayers, but they have all been spoken or scrawled into my journal as I scribble down endless words of thanks. I have been thinking about writing so much that I have actually put together a writing class to work through with one of my children, but I myself, have not been creatively writing.

They say that all you need to do to be a writer

is to write.

It’s not that I don’t have the words to say or the stories to tell. Instead, I feel like all of the days are stories in and of themselves. Summer does that to me, causes me to realize that a life well lived is it’s own testament to a world that has a hard time believing that there is good out there. I have spoken words and told stories to friends and strangers, it has been so good for me. Often the words get jumbled when I speak them, come out less perfectly than when I can take the time to reread and edit my thoughts first. I’ve found though, that there is beauty in that honesty. There is often grace found as I stumble over the imperfect telling of a tale.

The sunshine wakes the day and I lean into it, coffee steaming. I wonder over the small things with the small people. I wonder over how a life can be so perfect, even after I have so many times messed it up. I wonder over how a story can be told without speaking any words at all, the details spilling out of the silence. This season has been good to me.

This Summer has given me stories to tell, written or not I cannot yet say. I think; living a life well may be just what needs to be done for now. There is cold and dark to come, I have not forgotten. It has merely been chased away for a time, but I do treasure the light. I trust that the time will come for writing down the stories, all of the best of them, a few of the worst of them. I remember that there is a time for all things and I try not to worry about all I will forget before the thoughts touch the page. Rather I store up each story, each moment of light, in my heart and will call upon them as the darkness descends. As the cold of January next steals my joy I will reach out for these blessed days, and I will be blessed by them yet again.

I look forward to sitting with you, telling my stories and hearing yours. Hopefully that day is already on the calendar, but if not, I trust that it is soon coming.

Walking the Path of Less Anxiety

Sometimes I’d like to hide in the sofa too little one, really.

I was pulled into a conversation recently. One that I really didn’t want to get involved in, but couldn’t quite stay out of either. Still working on keeping my mouth shut while the masses spout their opinions and certainties… As I thought about what I would say to a friend and her shared opinion, I felt the anxiety rise in my chest. Is that odd? I’ve written about my anxiety briefly before and I have actually had a pretty good handle on it for quite some time. I know that my current mental capacity is maxed though, and in adding in this small extra I should expect to feel the familiar flutter.

This has been going on for a few days, so I did what I do now; I sat with it. I’ve been reading too, trying to keep myself from reading too much into the flutter in my chest, the nervous creep inside my mind, the lack of peace and the lack of sleep. In being still with the unrealistic worry, I’ve noticed the growth I otherwise would not have. In the past my anxiety would make me jumpy, more stressed, more worried, more anxious. Nice cycle, right? Perhaps I’ve learned something over the years though.

While I still have the anxiety; it still surrounds me and closes in on me. The growth comes in not being afraid of this tight place anymore. I have felt the lack of oxygen enough times and I now know how to calm it, ease it, live through it. As I sat this afternoon, trying to write while my heart beat loudly in my chest, I decided that there are a few things I do to ease the anxiety. I thought perhaps they might work for you too. Here’s my short list and the path I usually take through the dark forest.

Most notably on my journey through each bout of anxiety is thankfulness. I have kept a joy-journal for three or so years, tracking every little thing that makes me smile, makes me see God, makes me thankful to do this life. My list is several thousand gifts long and when I look back over it I can see how keeping track of the good has been pivotal in weathering the bad. The “thankfulnesses” have helped me carry on through the anxiety, causing me to search out the good amidst the immense worry that sometimes threatens to smother me. When it seems there is no good, only pressure I try to remember that I can be thankful for the weight, how it anchors me here.

I’m going to assume that you can see how the writing has made a difference. I am not at all surprised that with each sharing of a struggle, each admittance of a fault, and each spoken silence I feel less of the crush. It is scary to put myself out here in this Nevernever of internet space. I find more peace in pouring out the truths of my soul than I could realistically put words to, though I will continue to try. I search for meaningful thoughts to be shared. I hope that you get something from the rambling. I pray for those who read my words, that you would be changed by them. My audience is small, but still, this is what I work toward.

My next go-to is that I get lost in fantasy. I post on Facebook begging for recommendations of a fantastical world to get lost in. I pull out old stand-bys; thick volumes that allow me to live in another time and place for two (let’s be honest, four) hours at bedtime each night. I make digital library requests and charge my Kindle. This getting lost in literature is not just a typical escape, I find that it frees up my mind to not focus and dwell on whatever is causing the anxiety. I can put myself in another world while my unconscious self works out the perceived problems in my life. I’m in the middle of my eighth book this month, so I know I’ve been hiding here.

My final tactic to fight against the clinging fear is sort of an anti-tactic, if that’s a thing. I will bail out of commitments and obligations, I will be still and focus on the anxiety, not willing it away rather, asking it to come close. To whisper what it is that is lacking or overwhelming. I suppose I could go to this place first, get quiet with God and my own mind, asking for the wisdom to be imparted. Not all anxiety is created equal though, and most is petty and manageable through these other strategies. This place here is where I have seen the most growth, this is why I no longer fear the crush or the flutter, why I can still process daily life when anxiety is pressing.

When I took a deep breath and spoke actual words to my friend, I felt the exhalation of my lungs and I let my head clear. I spoke my truth into the fear-filled place between us. The place where I didn’t really want to be. I was able to be kind and clear, I didn’t yell as perhaps I would have once, I didn’t demand she do it my way, I didn’t even suggest that she should. I trusted that my truth would not be lost on her and that if somehow it was misunderstood, we could work through that together.

I knew that my own experiences were worthy of putting out into actual space because I have put so many of them out there in digital space. I knew that I would, one day, be thankful for adding my own opinion to the masses, and that it matters what I think. I knew that no amount of educating myself on the topic would better express my thoughts than my own experience. I simply had to invite the fear in, let it rest in my mind and be healed by the peace it found there.