"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Long Time No See

Today I am grateful for the recliners in our living room and for a long overdue visit with my friend Jenny.

Jenny and I got together last night and as always had plenty to talk about. We were surprised to determine that it had been over a year and a half since we had seen each other. We've had phone conversations, shared texts back and forth, made plans to get together that ended up falling through . . . and we each have busy lives with our families and other commitments. Next thing you know, it's a year and a half later.

I always enjoy time with Jenny. She has the kind of energy I like to be around. Inevitably we always run out of time together before we run out of conversation. We were born six weeks apart in 1965. She's a city girl. I'm a farm girl. We met in 2000 when we ended up working at the same school.

We were each diagnosed with breast cancer within weeks of one another in 2008. That is when we went from friendly co-workers to a much deeper level of friendship. Sharing that experience, each facing the decisions and challenges in our own unique ways, but being able to literally and figuratively walk together through some difficult days, was a real blessing for both of us.

She practices and teaches yoga. I run marathons. We are both writers. That common ground of exercise and writing really brings us together. What will two writers do with an experience like cancer? They will write about it. We wrote a book together that remains in manuscript form.

But the beauty of that book is the collaboration and the inspiration we gave one another. It is also where the essayist that I am now comfortable being was just starting to find her own voice. Jenny helped bring out that voice. It has given me more direction in my writing goals and is part of the reason I had the confidence to start this blog. Thank you Jenny! What a blessing writing that book really was. Maybe some day it will even get published.

Here is an earlier post that talks more about Jenny and I, our cancer travels, and our writing.

Long time no see Jenny. So good to see you! Let's hope it is only weeks or months until next time.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Quick Trip to Mindful Presence

Today I am grateful for a non-work project to give focus to and I am grateful for time with recovery friends.

I am also grateful for the couple of times I got to hold our grandson Leo this week.

Each time I hold him it is a quick trip to mindful presence. He gets my full attention and everything else stops for a few minutes. His sounds, stretches, breaths, smells, and facial expressions all keep me mesmerized. If you have held an infant lately, surely this all sounds familiar. If it's been a while since you held a newborn, hold one the next chance you get and it will all come back to you.

What are other ways I can take a quick trip to mindful presence? Paying attention to my own breathing. In. Out. In. Out.

And pausing. Just pausing. I have always struggled with quiet meditation and felt like something of a failure because I couldn't slow my mind down for 15 minutes of silence and mind-clearing. I have learned what works for me are pauses. They can be mere seconds or a few minutes. But they bring me back to right here, right now and I am able to refocus my energy.

What works best for you when you need to take a quick trip to mindful presence?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Changing Perceptions for Three Years

Today I am grateful for these first three years as a blogger and I am grateful to those of you who take the time to read and reflect on my words.

Three years ago today I posted my very first "Habitual Gratitude" blog post. How time flies when you are having fun and improving your outlook on life. I began keeping a gratitude journal in 1995. I have been writing my own thoughts on gratitude for a long time. It became a much different ball game when I started writing about gratitude with other readers in mind though. I had no idea what I would learn and gain, what I continue to learn and gain.

The process of habitually noting how gratefulness looks in simple, daily ways has deepened my own sense of what mindful appreciation is all about. What I didn't anticipate is how it would further bring out the writer in me. Practice doesn't make perfect, but practice does make better. In blogging and in observing and internalizing gratitude.

Here is that very first post from March 27, 2012. Another thank you to my sister Danita for her email use of the words "habitual gratitude" that helped me find a name for this blog and provided me the little push I needed to launch myself and my words into the blogosphere.

And this post 34 days later tells "How Habitual Gratitude Was Born."

This quote from Jean Houston showed up on gratefulness.org recently:

"Change the story and you change perception, change perception and you change the world." 

The words at the top of my blog are "Building a better perception of self and surrounding world through regular practice of gratitude." 

I can truly tell you that my perception of self and surrounding world, and my acceptance of both as well, has continued to improve as I continue to practice gratitude. It works. It really does.

If my posts help you consider gratitude more, great! I encourage you to come up with your own ways to note what you appreciate each day as well. What are you waiting for? Start today.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A New House and Some Conversation

Today I am grateful for a bike ride last evening. It was chilly but invigorating. I am also grateful for my extended family.

One brief visit to my family can yield plenty of fodder for some gratefulness. I was able to get to my niece Katie and her family's new house on this visit. They moved in late last year. I was joined by my sister Zita and we got to enjoy the company of our sister-in-law Charlene, our nephew's wife Kristi, and Katie's family-husband Danny and children Saela and Liam. Just part of one branch of our large family tree.

I appreciate any chance to see family and to spend time with people I don't get to see often. I am blessed with the large family I have, and blessed that we all care about one another and no one has been sent into permanent exile. But I also have a sadness at times because I can't give the kind of time and attention to my large family that I would like to. I do what I can. They do what they can. We are all busy and we all have our own lives and families. That is the drawback of having nearly 100 people in one's extended family.

I wish I could know all my nieces and nephews better. I wish they could know me better. It is a loss going both ways. And it is what makes time together something I cherish. Katie is the niece who, along with her husband Danny, inspired several of us to consider running a marathon. That was the start of something that has become a huge source of gratitude and health in our lives. Darcy and I have run 12 marathons and have plans for #13 this fall. Read more about that in one of my early posts titled From Runner to Marathoner.

It was nice to see their new home and the personal touches and character throughout. It was nice to enjoy a delicious meal around one table. It was nice to have conversation about life, with the ups and downs we all face. We are each defined by our life experiences. Some we choose and some are chosen for us. I appreciate when there is honest sharing and sincere listening. That is a worthwhile conversation and that is what we had together that day. Thanks to all of you who were there!

Today I can try to make each conversation I have worthwhile by being present and mindful. It's a good start to making connections and connections are what life is all about.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spreading Manure

Today I am grateful for each chance I have to hold our grandson Leo. I am also grateful for the life lessons I have learned over the years and decades.

Part of the farm life I spoke of yesterday is the job of cleaning out feedlots. Spring is a good time for that task. My brother was doing just that on our recent visit. Loading up manure in the manure spreader and then putting it on some of the fields as fertilizer. Load after load.

In fact, on my last trip through an A-Z gratitude list, manure was one of my "m" words. Here is that post from earlier this year. But since manure is created every day, I guess I can add a few more thoughts about it.

There are plenty of analogies and metaphors about life when discussing manure. If manure is never cleared out, it becomes a rotting, heaping pile of major stink. It works better to reduce the pile and spread it out so air can get to it. Spread it out and let nature take its course and turn it to nutrients for the soil.

That is what I must do with my fears, worries, bouts of self-pity. Reduce the pile. Spread it out so air and faith can get in and heal. Help convert the troubles into some grace and gratitude.

Another good piece of advice when in the vicinity of manure is to watch your step. If you aren't paying attention, you may end up with a smelly addition to your wardrobe. If you are wearing boots, no problem. If you aren't, well . . . you may have a nose-holding mess.

Where do I need to watch my step today? Where should I tread gently? Where can I step confidently?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Farm Life

Today I am grateful for recovery and sobriety and supportive friends. I am also grateful for smiles and laughter.

Add growing up on a farm to my gratitude list. The farm life is indelibly etched in the fabric of my life and my husband Darcy's life. He grew up on a farm too. My family still has farmers and farms in it. A farm upbringing is one of the reasons why I am a hard worker and a lover of nature. They tend to come with the territory.

Our son Sam took a liking to visiting the farm from an early age and loved playing with his collection of farm toys. (He still appreciates those toys and has a display in his room.) Some kids may outgrow that farm infatuation, but Sam has not.

He likes nothing more than spending time there helping out his Uncle Artie and sometimes his Uncle Lee too. Thank you to my brothers for their time and patience passing along the farming ways to Sam. He likes to learn more about not only how equipment operates but how the farm itself operates. He talks about going into an ag-related career and how he wants to have his own hobby farm.

The farm life runs deep in my family and among my siblings. Some of us are more removed from it than others, and I can't speak for my seven sisters and five brothers, but I can say that I will always be an Iowa farm girl at heart and that's a good thing in my opinion.

Both Darcy and I come from generations of farmers. Though fewer in number, members of the upcoming generation will likely carry on at least some of the farming tradition in my family. Darcy's family no longer has direct ties to the land. I am grateful that my family does though. And I so enjoy walking that land, looking out over the rolling hills through the various seasons. The farm life is a tough life in many ways, but it is also rewarding in many ways.

That is life in general too I guess. Tough in ways. Rewarding in many others. It is easier to see and feel the rewards when I remember to pause in gratitude.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hard Work Pays Off

Today I am grateful for the beauty of snow on the trees and some much needed precipitation. I am also grateful to appreciate what hard work can do.

"Hard work always pays off" is a quote I have believed in all my life. I used it with students and athletes when I was a teacher and coach. I continue to use it as a counselor. I have used it to keep myself going. It's possible I have even taken it too far at times, defining my day, my self, my life by what I get done, by how hard I work on that given day.

Excessive work can be unhealthy, but a few places I apply healthy and consistent hard work are in my recovery from alcoholism, my gratitude practice, and my marathon training. In these areas, hard work does indeed always pay off.

I see truth in this quote as well when I consider the effort my husband put into his second sermon at our church. He gave the sermon yesterday and it went really well. That is because he started on it weeks ago and because he put a lot of time and hard work into it. Writing and giving sermons are definitely outside of Darcy's comfort zone. At least they were. I commend him for pushing himself beyond that.

Because of the time spent preparing, the research, rewrites and revisions, the practice he put in, he ended up sounding confident and at ease as he delivered his sermon. Darcy has been in training to become a deacon and will be ordained in June. It has been a lengthy and challenging process, but he has answered this calling with dedicated perseverance. He has learned and grown in so many ways during this time. I really respect his efforts.

The beauty of the hard work I have put in with years of regular gratitude practice is that today, at least on most days, it doesn't feel like hard work. It feels like part of my healthy routine, just like going for a run or eating fruits and vegetables.

How does hard work pay off in healthy ways in your life?