"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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heaping Measures

Today I am grateful for my job and the connections I have made there. I am also grateful for another warm day. It was great to run in just shorts and a t-shirt yesterday.

My daily gratitude journal is full of quotes surrounding the word gratitude. Below is one I came across in early April. It is a nice extension of my post Sunday about gifts or entitlements.

"I am thankful for small mercies. I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe, and is disappointed when anything is less than the best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate good . . . If we will take the good we find . . . we shall have heaping measures." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

If we will take the good we find. That is what gratitude practice asks of us. Take the good. Notice the gifts. It also tells me to watch my expectations. If I expect too much, I will be disappointed.

I have been a big fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson since I was in grade school and read his saying: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." My memory tells me I first saw the quote on a nice poster at school. I appreciate the sentiment here as well. Where we have been and where we are going aren't as important as who we are, genuinely who we are.

Do I know who I am today? I do. I am a wife, mother, recovering alcoholic, friend, sister, runner, writer, blogger and more. I am so very grateful for all of these roles that define me and give me purpose. Heaping measures indeed!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Glorious

Today I am grateful for the recovery connections that I have. I am also grateful for the beginnings of green across our landscape.

It was a glorious weather weekend. Finally. The previous two Sundays had been rainy and gray, with some snow thrown in. Last Monday it started to snow in the afternoon and Tuesday we woke to several inches of  insulting wet snow. And it was April 23. So when I say it was a glorious weather weekend, I mean it was a long-awaited, overdue, most welcome, much-needed glorious weather weekend. It was windy yesterday, but it was actually a warm wind. We haven't had a warm wind around here in months.

Some of the words used to define glorious include delightful, wonderful, completely enjoyable. Yep! That about covers it. My skin says it is grateful too for the doses of Vitamin D it got over the weekend.

Weather is one of those things that most of us pay at least some attention to. There is much I love about the weather where I live, but winter weather into late April isn't usually part of the deal.

We spent plenty of time outside this weekend between running, walking, biking, yardwork, baseball, and just sitting. It's been a glorious reprieve. The forecast says a cold front is on the way.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Gift or Entitlement?

Today I am grateful for the fresh air and sunshine we enjoyed yesterday . . . from a morning run, to yard work, to grilling brats and eating outside. I am also grateful for patience. There's room for improvement but it's better than it was.

Practicing gratitude helps ensure that I don't take many significant gifts for granted, at least not all of the time. It is easy to take things for granted. Do you know anyone who takes their blessings for granted, who doesn't appreciate what they have because they believe they are simply entitled to it? Sure, we all know people like that. We are all that person at times. But the less I take things for granted, the more blessed I feel.

It is easy to take our ability to walk, talk, eat, breathe, and see for granted. Sadly, too often it is only when someone loses one of these abilities that the full realization of the gift that it was hits.

An accident, illness, someone's own choices, or someone else's choices takes away an ability. If the victim remains angry and bitter, they will never fully appreciate the avenues that opened up when another avenue was closed.

Practicing gratitude has helped me feel more fortunate, less entitled.

And one of the silver linings of my cancer diagnosis is that I no longer take as much for granted as I used to. 

If I move through my day seeing gifts, not entitlements, I will take better care of myself and my surrounding world.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Gratitude Walk

Today I am grateful for rest--to renew my body and spirit. I am also grateful for daily hugs with my son.

I had one of those days yesterday where I didn't feel very grateful and I didn't want to feel grateful. I wanted to feel sorry for myself and be cynical. What's the use? Who cares? I'll spare you the details, but I believe the Tamoxifen I take for breast cancer treatment deepens my PMS symptoms and I can have a day like I did yesterday. Lacking energy, lacking hope, lacking perspective. It's a physical and emotional combination and it's not fun.

Thankfully, I recognize it for what it is, ride it out, and try to keep my mouth shut more. This morning I decided that I needed a gratitude walk when I took Oliver out. Here are some of the things I am grateful for:

*The coming daylight is one of my favorite times of day; the moon glow was fading and the pink skies welcoming the sun were growing.
*My legs and feet and their ability to carry me; I simply put my shoes on and headed out the door, something that Adrianne Haslet-Davis and other Boston bombing victims can't do right now.
*The song of various birds; I marvel at the variety of sounds that can come from such a variety of birds.
*The vet clinic that is just a mile away; I took Oliver in yesterday and he has his first ear infection. They are good with him and clear in their instructions to us. I appreciate that and appreciate that our town provides almost all the services we need.
*I didn't have to wear a hat and gloves this morning; spring is finally showing itself and we'll be able to run this morning in lighter attire. I wish we were seeing more green, but we will sure appreciate it when it arrives.
*The trail that keeps Oliver and I safe and off the streets; we are fortunate to live across the street from a portion of our city's trail system. We use it often.

I encourage you to take a gratitude walk today. Write down what you see. Share it with someone. Or simply appreciate it for what it is.

Friday, April 26, 2013

To Dance Again

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy's safe travels this week. I am also grateful for the feel of new carpet under my feet and the warming temperatures outside.

"To dance again" could, figuratively speaking, be referring to Minnesotans being ready to dance again as it appears spring may actually be here to stay. We are supposed to see temperatures in the 70's this weekend. We will also see plenty of untanned arms and legs. We will not be self-conscious about it because we will be busy reveling in the outdoors. And we will be grateful for those arms and legs.

For Boston bombing victim Adrianne Haslet-Davis "to dance again" literally is her hope, her plan. Despite losing her left foot five inches below the knee, she intends to get back to her passion-ballroom dancing and being a dance instructor. Though not a runner either, she has given herself another goal-run the Boston Marathon.

I find her story and her outlook to be heartening. You can view her interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper and the accompanying print story here. We are only seeing seven minutes of interview coverage, but it is enough to show that her perspective on an awful, awful event in her life is one to be respected. Her and her husband were barely five feet from the second bomb. They know they could be dead or more gravely injured. They know they got help quickly and effectively. They know they still have each other.

I love this quote from Haslet-Davis: "Dancing is the one thing that I do, that when I do it I don't feel like I should be doing anything else." That is how I feel about running. With words like that coming from her heart, I believe she will dance again.

A seven-minute video can't relay what her 24-hour days are like. Undoubtedly, there's shock, and grief, and many challenges lie ahead for her. Cooper asks her if she's angry and she says "Yeah, I'm angry. I'm not angry 100% of the time, but I'm angry."

I think the "not 100% of the time" is the key.  It allows a little gratitude in, which allows some hope to build.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gratitudinal Adjustment

Today I am grateful for simple pleasures like playing catch in the backyard with my son (the snow is almost gone again) and Culver's frozen custard. I am also grateful for my sister Aileen-her writings and her words of wisdom inspire me.

She has also added another derivative to our gratitude word list: Gratitudinal adjustment.

She joins my sisters Danita and Leonice and their contributions: Gratituding and Gratitudeness

The reason practicing gratitude is so valuable to me is that it keeps me from slipping into self-pity. Self-pity used to be my default mode. Poor Lisa. Life is tough. No one understands. What's the use? The eighteen years I have practiced gratitude have been about putting self-pity in its place. But it is a process, not a task that is ever fully completed. I still have slips, going to the dark side of my thoughts.

Insert a gratitudinal adjustment. Whatever has me down or frustrated can be offset by the many things that are going well, the many blessings that come my way daily. That includes the many things I too often take for granted-my husband, our home, my ability to walk, talk, and breathe to name a few. A gratitudinal adjustment brings me back to a more even keel.

Gratitude doesn't prevent difficult and painful emotions or feelings of frustration. They are part of life and they serve their purpose. Gratitude makes their stay shorter, their energy-zapping less.

The other thing I appreciate about gratitudinal adjustments is that they can be applied any time of the day. If I am into my negative thinking for a time, I can pull myself out of it with some gratitude action. If the day has been difficult, and not just because of my thoughts, I can apply a fresh dose of gratitude and be given at least a little hope and perspective. (Doing an A-Z gratitude list, doing a 3 x 3, saying a sincere thank you to someone, writing a list, taking a gratitude walk, and so on.)

I am applying a gratitudinal adjustment right now as I write in my journal. Thanks Aileen!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Amazing Nature

Today I am grateful for the footfalls that carried Oliver and I on our morning walk. I am also grateful for the high intensity training workout that my niece Katie sent me. It is an intense 12 minutes, but my body says "thank you" after it recovers.

I know I was complaining a little yesterday about our weather, but I still find plenty of reasons to appreciate it. Yesterday morning brought one such reason. The roads were mostly clear and wet, so the commute to work wasn't bad. I appreciate that. But what I appreciated more was the absolute spectacle I got to enjoy on that commute. The snow-laden trees were as picturesque as it gets. Absolutely stunning. Amazing nature. A picture could not do it justice. Such beauty is only fully appreciated when one is part of the landscape.

Sure, I would have rather been walking down the trail near our house enjoying the view, compared to driving to work enjoying the view. But the key is I was enjoying the view.

By my afternoon commute, the trees had lost their snow cover and were back to brown and drab, awaiting buds and leaves. Many things we notice and are thankful for don't stick around. That is why it is so important to be mindful and aware of blessings as we go through our day.

I grew up appreciating nature. Growing up on a farm gave me more of a glimpse into each season and the true nature of nature than you can get when you live in the city. From the crops in the fields to the baby chicks this time of the year, from the newborn calves and kittens to the smells of hay and fresh milk blending together, I found respect for such wonder at an early age.

I love being outside. I love experiencing all that nature has to offer. And I appreciate my five senses which help me fully take in what I experience.

Earth Day was observed earlier this week. Let us remember the truth in "every day is Earth day" so we each do our part to preserve it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Are You Kidding Me? (a.k.a. Acceptance)

Today I am grateful for my friend Betsy and her testament to the effectiveness of gratitude practice as a positive perception builder. I am grateful for the beauty of the snow on the trees.

Here is what it looked like out our front door last evening at about 7:00:


And the snow was just starting to accumulate. I don't recall a snowier or colder April in my years on the planet. It does bring to mind that phrase heard often lately around here-"Are you kidding me?"No. It's real snow. And it's real old. But what can you do? Accept it. Appreciate that it is delaying the arrival of Minnesota's state bird-the mosquito.

Acceptance. Required daily. Large doses and small. Apply acceptance to the weather and pretty much everything else. Unless it's those two things you and I each have control over in our individual realms--our own attitude and actions.

I'll take an attitude of gratitude and actions that support that attitude.

The snow? We got several inches. I appreciate that I am able to shovel our driveway clear. It will melt and be nothing but a memory in a few days. And in a few weeks we'll be complaining about how warm it is.

Keep it in perspective.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Different Kind of Bridge

Today I am gateful for my husband Darcy, our marriage, and the difference he makes in my life. I am also grateful for a good cup of coffee.

A couple days ago, it was a "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Today's topic is a new bridge over the Mississippi River in the community where I live. It will  be a 4-lane marvel when completed, replacing the most heavily travelled 2-lane bridge in Minnesota. The current bridge is over 60 years old. The project began in October of 2010. There have been setbacks like flooding and a state government shutdown, and plenty of patience required. But I have enjoyed witnessing the progress. You can read more about that here.

It was fortifying last week-as tragic events were unfolding in our nation-to witness a milestone in the construction of this bridge. It gave me hope and provided some positive news amidst a lot of negative news. The concrete for the road deck on the 545-foot mainspan of the bridge was poured in one day.It took 210 truckloads of cement, 12 hours, and about 75 workers of various capacities to get the job done. Do the math and that's 900 man hours in one day. Wow!

We are now less than two months away from two lanes opening to traffic on the new bridge. Then the old bridge will be torn down and approach work completed to allow all four lanes to open, hopefully by the end of 2013.

There is something heartening about having both bridges side by side-out with the old, in with the new-but not until the time is right for the transition. As one of the many thousands of commuters who use the bridge each day, I am excited for the new bridge and appreciative that the detours and back-ups during the last 2 1/2 years of construction have been minimal.

Bridges are a nice analogy for so many things in life. Gratitude helps us build bridges because it helps us see the connections we have with so much else in the world.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fortified

Today I am grateful for yesterday's glorious sunshine and a good run with Darcy. I am also grateful that I never run out of words and ideas for this blog.
 
"Habitual Gratitude"--the blog and the efforts to practice it--fortify me daily. Here are the various definitions of fortify, according to Merriam-Webster:

a: to strengthen and secure (as a town) by forts and batteries
b: to give physical strength, courage, or endurance to <fortified by a hearty meal>
c: to add mental or moral strength, to encourage <fortified by prayer>
d: to add material to for strengthening or enriching <fortified milk>

Gratitude strengthens my personal structure-heart, soul, and mind. It is a good defense against oppressors like self-pity, anger, and fear.

Gratitude contributes to my physical endurance. It gives me energy rather than zapping it. I don't have an endless supply of energy but I apply what I get more productively and positively, in both thoughts and actions.

Gratitude encourages me and strengthens my mental state. It does so by reminding me of the bigger scheme of life. I am just a part of that scheme; but so are the people, places, and things I love.

Gratitude enriches my life by adding the materials of resilience; giving me optimism and fortitude to face challenging times.

How does gratitude fortify you?

 
 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Today I am grateful for sunshine, grateful for the talent shared by students at my school, and grateful that the people of the Boston area could rest easier last night after the second bombing suspect was captured.

I am also grateful for one of my all-time favorite songs-"Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel. You can listen to it and see the lyrics here or below.

The song was written by Paul Simon in the summer of 1969 and released in January of 1970. It was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks that year, and won Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

The song has always been a favorite of mine. I think it struck a chord with me when I was five in 1970 and has stuck with me ever since. Art Garfunkel's voice and the emotions I hear in it are always moving to me. I think about the others in my life who have been my "bridge over troubled water." At other times, I think about how I have been and hope to continue to be that bridge for people.

This week, I am also thinking about the wounded in Boston and the injured in Texas. I am thinking about the shock and fear that so many felt and continue to feel in the aftermath. As a nation, it was a troubled week for us. Let's help build that bridge of hope. Start with gratitude for what wasn't lost this week, for bridges that brought people together in support.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

When you're weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I'm on your side
Oh when times get rough
And friends just can't be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you

I'll take your part
Oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on silver girl, sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine

Oh, if you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Been that Kind of a Week

Today I am grateful for my favorite jeans, a warm bed, and our dog Oliver.

It's been the kind of week where there have been heads shaking, tears falling, and fears mounting. It started with the bombs in Boston. Then the threatening letters laced with ricin that targeted President Obama and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. And Wednesday evening it was the tragic explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. There are several fatalities, many injured, and extensive property damage. To the people of Boston and the people of West, Texas-we are pulling for you.

And then there's the weather. It was more snow for winter-weary Minnesotans and Illinois flooding that created car-eating sinkholes, along with severe weather more typical of this time of the year.

Bitter ironies-like bombs exploding in Boston and then fertilizers similar to those used in the Oklahoma City bombing exploding in Texas. Humorous ironies-conducting a tornado drill in the middle of a snowstorm.

It's been unsettling, disturbing, sad, frustrating. It hasn't been a typical week. But it has still been a week in which we can find gratitude.

I came across a story about a man named Joe Berti from Austin, TX. He finished the Boston Marathon on Monday just seconds before the bombs exploded. His wife and her friend were hit by shrapnel, but okay. Berti and his wife headed home on Tuesday and Joe went to work on Wednesday. Returning from a meeting in Dallas on Wednesday evening, driving on Interstate 35, Berti saw the black smoke rising from the original fire at the fertilizer plant, then saw and felt the explosion. Debris hit his car and he had to drive through smoke from the explosion.

Lucky or unlucky? Berti and his wife definitely say they feel lucky. (Though not emotionally unscathed I'm sure.) In fact, this quote from Amy Berti sums up how many of us have been feeling this week: "We're grateful that God has been merciful to us. We are just praying for the people who were so much less fortunate than we were."

Well-said Amy Berti.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Taking the Actions

Today I am grateful for the people I have met through my breast cancer experiences. They are definite silver linings in the dark cloud of cancer. I am also grateful for more mindful eating.

Today I am thinking about the actions required to make gratitude practice really pay off. I can't just think about being grateful. I need to take actions that promote gratitude in my own life and pass it on to others.

I continue my daily gratitude journal. I now include prayer requests in what I write down. That allows me to personally think about people I may be especially concerned about that day-upcoming surgery, awaiting test results, mental health concerns, future plans, and so on. But it also allows me to get out of myself and find a better perspective. Most days my concerns are very minor in comparison to the people I am praying for. Perspective.

I just sent out gratitude letters #22 and #23. I encouraged my niece, recipient of letter #22, to now write a letter herself to give to someone else. If you are reading this and have received a gratitude letter from me, I urge you to do the same. Pass it on. Take the action. If you are reading this and haven't gotten a gratitude letter from me, start writing your own and pass them along. There is power in the action. There is synergy in the sharing.

In recovery from alcoholism, I can't think myself well. I need to take concrete actions. Daily. The same is true for enhancing my level of gratitude. Regular effort required.

What actions are you taking today to grow your own gratitude?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

War Zones and MBC

Today I am grateful for words of wisdom I hear from fellow recovering alcoholics. I am also grateful for a bike ride last evening, even if it was short.

My thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Our psyche as a nation has taken another hit, literally and figuratively. The city of Boston, the running community, the people who will now forever be connected by this senseless act of violence, are all reeling and asking questions.

I ended my post yesterday talking about finding gratitude to lead us back to hope. Did we find some? Yes. I must again applaud the rescue workers and bystanders who immediately rushed to help victims, not concerned for their own safety, only wanting to help. I am grateful for their selfless acts of courage. The many stories of family and friends who had moments or hours of terror as they waited to hear word that their loved ones were okay. Those who were near the blasts but uninjured. A spirit of patriotism and sympathy from coast to coast.

But there is that "it could be worse" perspective still hanging in my thoughts. There are people who live in war zones day in and day out. For them, explosions and innocent people dying are far too common. Can we collectively do anything about that? Join forces for peace?

Can we be grateful to live in a nation where what happened Monday still shocks us?

I often think of this "it could be worse" perspective when considering my breast cancer diagnosis. Nearly five years out from a Stage 1 diagnosis, currently with no evidence of disease (NED), I remember daily those who do have it worse. Those lives lost to cancer. Those being treated for metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and other late-stage cancers. I remember how blessed I am to have this day and this health.

Can one person's practice of gratitude have a ripple effect? Can a kindness shown to another person, stranger or not, possibly prevent an act of violence? I believe it can. I need to believe it can. It is what makes it possible to move forward after things like what happened in Boston on Monday.

Let's each do our part to share gratitude and kindness today.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The "It Could Be Worse" Angle

Today I am grateful for twenty minutes of moving meditation and endorphin production on my Nordic Track. I am also grateful for the faith that helps me face fears.

I started this post before the sad and disturbing news of explosions near the finish line of the revered Boston Marathon. Deaths, severed limbs, a storied race shattered. My thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of the three people who died, and to the many victims, some suffering critical injuries.

As marathoners ourselves, my husband and I watched the news coverage stunned and on the verge of tears. I can't imagine what went through the minds of those who were standing there cheering on runners one second and suffering devastating injuries the next. I can't imagine what went through the minds of runners, exhausted and exhilirated as they neared the finish, who then saw and felt these explosions and the horrible aftermath.

I commend the medical and emergency personnel who were helping victims in a matter of seconds.Their quick actions saved lives and comforted gravely injured people.

Now, this is the part of the post that I wrote before hearing about events in Boston:

"It could be worse" is one of those statements that may or may not sit well with you. Or it may fluctuate depending on the circumstances. I generally try not to overuse it, but it can serve a purpose.And it can lead to gratitude. I prefer the positive angle of "I am grateful I do have ________" rather than the more negative take of "I am grateful I don't have _________."

As the last few weeks of this weather year have unfolded in my part of the country, this "it could be worse" angle has come in handy.

But today we are changed yet again. Full of fear and sorrow and wondering what will happen next.Yes, it could be worse. More people could have died in Boston. More people could have been seriously hurt. There is some solace in that. But not for those who lost a loved one or suffered a serious injury yesterday.

It makes my weather reference seem trivial today. It could be worse. We could have gotten the snow parts of North Dakota just got.

But gratitude will help us pull through and help bring hope back. There will be stories of gratitude coming out of the events in Boston. Let's latch on to those. That's where the hope is.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Footfalls, Full Response, and Fostering Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the newest addition to my extended family-a healthy son born to my nephew and his wife. I am also grateful for phone conversations I was able to have yesterday.

One more blog post about 99 Blessings. After the book came out, a contest to write the 100th blessing was announced on the website www.gratefulness.org.

Here is the description of the website on the "About Us" page:

A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L) provides education and support for the practice of grateful living as a global ethic, inspired by the teachings of Br. David Steindl-Rast and colleagues. Gratefulness-the full response to a given moment and all it contains-is a universal practice that fosters personal transformation, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational respect, nonviolent conflict resolution, and ecological sustainability.

What a wonderful description and what a wonderful definition of gratefulness that is included. But can gratitude really foster all of those things? I think so. I have focused more on the personal trans-formation aspect, but I can actually check off a couple other areas on that list.

Why not give it a try world? A solution to our problems and it doesn't even cost money. If we each do our part today, we may be able to build some momentum.

Back to that contest. I entered a blessing about footfalls. The idea came into my head as I was driving down the road one day. I let it brew for a few days and then wrote a draft. Unlike Brother David, I did some revising. I am humbled to say that my blessing was one of twelve, out of over 200 sent in, selected to be posted on the gratefulness.org website. You can read the twelve blessings here.

And I was thrilled to receive a signed copy of 99 Blessings. These handwritten words from Brother David were included:

"May you walk ever more deeply into the joy of grateful living, inspiring those whom you meet on the path."

Let us appreciate the growth and understanding that come one step at a time as we walk a path lined with gratitude.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Imprecision, Yawning, and More

Today I am grateful for friends in recovery-to have coffee with, to bowl with, to shop with. I am also grateful for a nice family outing to see my school's production of the musical "Grease." It was well-done and entertaining.

Friday's blessing from 99 Blessings by Brother David Steindl-Rast about imprecision got me thinking. There are many things on which I can and should be okay with imprecision. I'm not perfect. Neither is anyone else or this world we live in. But precision is also a good thing when it is reasonable and rational. I never thought I would be shoveling snow for three days in a row in April, but that's the kind of weather we are having. Wednesday through Friday, I did some shoveling each day. I appreciate being physically able to do the shoveling, and I also appreciate it is an area I can showcase precision. I like a clear driveway. The whole driveway. And I like to get the shoveling done early in the day if possible. Precision via thoroughness and timeliness. I get exercise, fresh air, a sense of accomplishment, and a less treacherous driveway to walk and drive on. Not a bad use of precision.

A second blessing I would like to share from 99 Blessings by Brother Steindl-Rast is #62:

"Source of all blessings, you bless us with yawning- that good deep yawning, the body's full confession to being (still or already) sleepy, first the jaws admitting it, then neck, shoulders, back, and every muscle, down to legs and toes. Relaxed and pajama-drowsy, we smile sheepishly. May I keep in readiness that smile, as contagious as yawning itself, and use its power to defuse tension."

I appreciate the physical nature of this blessing, but how that then ties back to mental and emotional states. They are so deeply intertwined. Gratitude practice helps make that a healthy intertwining.

Share some smiles. Spread some contagious yawns. Defuse some tension.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Birthday Wishes for a Special Man

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy; his health, his steadfastness, his humor, his presence in my life and the lives of many others. I am grateful for this special man on this special day-his 48th birthday. Happy birthday Darcy!

Darcy has many roles in his life; spouse, father, son, brother, friend, companion, running partner, and provider are key ones that come to mind. I am sitting at our kitchen table composing this post as he sits across from me getting some of our bills paid. He pays the bills, I do more of the laundry. We'll head out for a run together a little later this morning. (In spite of the snow on the ground. Darcy cannot recall another one of his birthdays where there was snow on the ground.) We have a solid partnership and a strong marriage and I don't want to take him or our lives together for granted.

Now, don't go thinking life and marriage is always peachy for the two of us. We have differing opinions and approaches to many things. We argue. Life throws us curve balls. But fundamentally we have the same priorities, and that is so important.

We have some things planned for the day and we have some gifts to share later. But Darcy would tell you, and I agree, the best gift on any birthday is time with loved ones. (Though a good dessert is sure nice too.)

Too often we take those nearest and dearest to us for granted. They are always there for us. Until something happens and they aren't or can't be. Take the opportunity today to thank someone who makes a difference in your life.

Back to my look at 99 Blessings tomorrow.

Friday, April 12, 2013

99 Blessings

Today I am grateful for Oliver (our cockapoo) and the joy he brings our family. I am also grateful for the words and writings of Brother David Steindl-Rast.

If his name looks familiar, it may be because his quote is at the top of my blog: "In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy."  There's a reason that quote is there. It is at the heart of what "Habitual Gratitude" is about. Happiness is not elusive, it's right in front of us and within us, if we look through a lens of gratefulness.

I have referred to Brother David in posts including these two from October, 2012: Are You Awake? and Worth the Risk?  I recently enjoyed his latest book, titled 99 Blessings.
The book is a compilation of 99 blessings written by Brother David over a three-month period, writing one a day on as he says "whatever happened to come to my mind, from insects to the Internet, from friendship to fresh linen." I appreciate that he wrote them once and left them in their original form. No improvement needed. That's inspired writing.

Blessing #45 is one of my favorites:

"Source of all blessings, you bless us with imprecision-with all that is approximate, vague, close but not quite; all that leaves room for the more specific, more precise, room for the imagination. May I know when to be exact and when to move freely and blessed in the space so generously provided by all that is not perfectly defined, giving full scope to our dreams and to our creativity."

As someone who has struggled with perfectionism at times, and too much black-and-white thinking, I like the idea of imprecision, for freedom to imagine and create. Gray areas can lead to clarity if given a chance.

Each of the 99 blessings follows the same pattern-first recognizing the blessing as such, then an indication of how it can be passed on. My hope is that "Habitual Gratitude" is following a similar pattern.

More tomorrow on 99 Blessings.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Can Cynicism and Gratitude Coexist?

Today I am grateful for pen and paper to record my thoughts, feelings, and ideas. I am also grateful for perspective gained.

Winter has me tapped out this year. There is plenty of commiserating going on regarding the topic. Spring sports teams wonder if they will ever get outdoors. Gardeners wonder how long before they get to dig in the dirt. Farmers wonder what this means for this year's growing season. Last year we barely had a winter and March was unseasonably mild. This year, it's mid-April and there's more snow on the way. Really?

I have a case of weather cynicism. Here's a very fitting definition of the type of cynicism I am talking about: an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity. I am also suffering bouts of cynicism about my job. That comes with the time of year. School years and the energy that ebbs and flows with each year are cyclical. It's not unusual to be tired and skeptical in April compared to how I might feel in late August.

There's cynicism on more than one front in my life. It raises the question, can cynicism and gratitude coexist?  I am living proof that they indeed can. Is Mother Nature out to get me or you personally? Of course not. Interject "it is what it is" at this point. Darcy and I took a walk after work yesterday. A cross-country skier was taking advantage of the new snowfall. Sure, the golf course she was skiing on hasn't seen a single round of golf this spring, but at least the course was being put to use. It won't help to complain and whine about weather I can't change. I can indulge in a few brief conversations with others who are sharing my pain, but that needs to be the extent of it.

Cynicism does take the shine off of gratitude. But gratitude also dulls the sharp edges created by cynicism. A peaceful coexistence of sorts.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Voices of Hope" Revisited (And Winter Too)

Today I am grateful for my physical capabilities which allow me to do things like shovel snow and walk our dog. I am also grateful for a chance to revisit the "Voices of Hope" DVD project.

I want to thank my blogosphere friend Nancy for her wonderful post last week about "Voices of Hope" on her blog "Nancy's Point." Check it out here.  Also check out my post from last October when the second DVD "Family and Friends" premiered. You can find that post right here. I continue to be both humbled and proud to be part of this project. There will soon be a website for VOH. I will let you know when it goes live.

My own cancer experiences, my concerns for others, my frustration about "pink ribbon fatigue" and so much more about the realm of cancer are never too far from my mind. I don't want to forget how fortunate I am to have my health, and to not take it for granted. I don't want to forget that there is still much work to be done.

Thank you Nancy for the work that you do to educate and empower others.

Not only am I revisiting the "Voices of Hope" DVD project this morning, our part of the country is revisiting winter as well. A huge storm is impacting a large part of the midsection of the country.We got a couple inches of heavy, wet snow overnight that is just a prelude to the main part of the storm which is expected later today into tomorrow. I am looking for gratitude in this and what I see is what I already mentioned above: that I can shovel. And the beauty of the trees with the new snowfall clinging to them. Beyond that, winter has me tapped out this year. More on that tomorrow.



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"It Is What It Is"

Today I am grateful for Oliver and the way he stretches before we head out for our morning walk. I am grateful for the reminder to stay loose and limber-literally and figuratively- and not take myself or life too seriously.

The saying below also allows me to stay loose and limber in my attitude. This is a simply-framed saying that I gave my husband Darcy several years ago when job stuff was weighing on him. (He says it was late 2005, and we'll go with that because his memory is much better than mine.) I don't know where I first heard this or what it's origin is, but to me it means acceptance-I can't change this, but I can accept and move on. I don't take it to mean resignation, giving up, or feeling hopeless. I think of it more as allowing myself to let go of what I can't change before it drives me crazy. I think that is how Darcy sees it too.

If you can't see them, the top and bottom borders are alternating smiles and frowns. Seemed fitting.

 
 
When Darcy changed jobs, he left this little saying with a co-worker, who also appreciated the sentiment. As it turned out, they ended up working together again a couple years later and she returned it to him. It now sits on his desk in his office. This little plastic frame-with enclosed words of wisdom-has been around and put some miles on. Darcy and I still use it, particularly when we are talking about work-related stuff, but it applies to all areas of life.
 
It reminds me of another saying. This is one I heard over twenty years ago from my recovery friend Jim. He liked to say "You can't saw sawdust." Amen to that!
 
What does this have to do with gratitude? A lot. Some days are diamonds. Some are stones. Even when a person practices habitual gratitude. These few words help me keep things in perspective.
 
Does "It is what it is." carry meaning or motivation for you? Do you have a different saying that works for you? I would love to hear it.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Gratituding and Gratitudeness

Today I am grateful that my stepson Arthur was matched for grad school and a dietetics internship. I am also grateful we could get our bikes out for the first ride of spring yesterday.

I want to thank my two sisters for providing my blog topic for today. Together they created two new variations on the word "gratitude." Leonice used the term "gratituding" in a recent email, and Danita used "gratitudeness."  Thanks you two!

So we have:
gratitude-a noun, the state of being grateful
grateful-an adjective-expressing gratitude, appreciative of benefits received
And these variations:
gratefulness-noun
gratefully-adverb

Now let's add these unofficial definitions:
gratituding-verb-the act of practicing, expressing, and/or sharing gratitude
gratitudeness-noun-a fun combination of gratitude and gratefulness

Consider it gratitude with an attitude. What I love about gratituding is that it implies action. I can't just think about being grateful. I need to take actions like journaling, writing letters, doing an A-Z gratitude list, doing a 3 x 3, taking a gratitude walk, saying sincere thank yous, and blogging. But it also starts with just being more aware of what I have, of what is provided for me. When done habitually, these actions constitute gratituding and they change my life. Try some and see if it changes your life, or at least your outlook.

As my gratitude vocabulary expands, it gives more avenues for my level of gratitude to expand. Thanks again for the words Leonice and Danita! And thanks for allowing me to take liberty with the English language today. It was fun.

Increase your level of gratitudeness through selective actions today.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Sounds of ABBA

Today I am grateful for phone conversations and text messages with people I care about. I am also grateful for the music of ABBA.

What's not to like about ABBA's music? They are the kind of songs that just beg you to sing along, that just energize you by listening to them. We caught one of their many hits on the radio when we were driving yesterday. It was "The Winner Takes It All."  I have many favorites among their songs, but if I could only pick one I guess it would have to be "Waterloo." 

I have some memories stemming from a couple other ABBA tunes. "Dancing Queen" was from 1976 I think. That was the era of the skating party back in my little Iowa town. With less than 1,000 people, the skating rink on the east edge of town was a draw. We would go to skating parties throughout our upper elementary days. You could bring your own 45's to play and my sister Ruth had purchased "Dancing Queen." (If you don't know what 45's were, figure it out or ask someone who is over forty years old.) It was a favorite tune at many skating parties. (My favorite 45 was a green one of ELO's "Telephone Line" that I got for my 12th birthday.)

In December of 2001, I was nearly 8 months pregnant with our son Sam. We were trying to take in some activities we knew we wouldn't be able to after he was born (due to time, energy, and affordability factors.) We treated ourselves to a production of the musical "Mamma Mia" at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. It was fantastic. And I will always remember that Sam really liked it too, because he was kicking away. The title track was just one of the many ABBA songs we enjoyed that evening, and in the later movie "Mamma Mia" starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried.

I am just plain fond of ABBA music and some of the pleasant memories tied to their songs.

I am grateful to Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Anni-Frid for the wonderful sound and energy they created through their song-writing and singing.

I am fortunate to have a working hearing system myself, so I can enjoy this music.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

And the Cup Says . . . Think of Me as Half Full

Today I am grateful for rest and good books to read. I'm grateful for my five senses and the way I can take in the seasonal weather with them.

Last week on our travels, we stayed at a hotel with a nice pool, a good breakfast, and fun-to-read cups. The cups for hot beverages said something like "Cover me up, I'm getting cold."  Catchy. The cold beverage cups waxed philosophical with this line: "Think of me as half full . . ."

Is the glass half empty or half full? Overused cliche or not, I do like the philosophy of life the half full glass represents. It fits nicely with gratitude, allowing us to appreciate what we have so we know some joy in our lives, rather than the energy-sucking endeavor of always wanting more.

But all of us apply this philosophy differently at various times. Recent Minnesota weather is a good example of this. When we got our first snow late last fall it was beautiful and it was exciting to me. I hadn't seen snow for months, we had had a very hot summer, and it was refreshing.

Yesterday afternoon, it started to snow here. We've had snow on the ground for four solid months and we were finally getting rid of it. I came home from work each day this week curious to see how much more of our yard had emerged through the melting snow. I was excited for green grass and spring. Not so excited for more snow. What was "glass half full" a few months ago, now is "glass half empty."

Life and our day-to-day experiences with it have a way of molding our perception and perspective. But I have a part in the molding too. I can't control the weather. I can control my attitude and actions. Incorporating gratitude into both my attitude and actions helps me see the glass as half full. It helps me partake of the contents of the glass, which seems to refill itself more easily the more aware I am of the gifts in my life.

Have a good day!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Parenthood

Today I am grateful for the beauty of the setting sun, catching a glimpse of the first robins of spring, and the opportunity to be a mother and a stepmother.

Parenthood is quite a training ground for vulnerability and faith. It is hard work and easy joy all at the same time.

My stepson Arthur is a month away from finishing his undergraduate degree, days away from finding out if and where he gets a dietetics internship, and just over three months away from getting married to his fiance Alyssa. Big things are happening in his life, and these are exciting times. He works hard and is career-driven. The next year will bring changes and challenges. How will he (and the two of them) emerge from these significant transitions?

My stepdaughter Emily has less than two months of high school left. She is working two jobs, enjoying her last high school band events, getting both excited and a little anxious about life after high school. How will she do when she heads off to college?

They both set a good example of work ethic for their little brother.

Our son Sam is 11 and a 'tweener. He is healthy, likes school, has some buddies, and is looking forward to baseball season which is just getting underway. As Arthur and Emily grow up and move on, it has me reflecting on how quickly that time will come for Sam. These next years are crucial in a young person's life. I worry about Sam. I worry about all 3 of them.

But I treasure what I get from being both an observer and a participant in their lives.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rest, Quiet, Nourishment

Today I am grateful for my physical capabilities and a run with Darcy after work yesterday. I am also grateful for what I am continuing to learn about prayer and meditation.

My colleague Germ, who did the Lenten word series, has decided to continue the "word-of-the-week" discussions. Yesterday's word was "awareness." 

We talked about becoming more aware of what we need; what our bodies, minds, and souls need. It can be a real challenge in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture to have awareness of the right kind. We are saturated with "stuff" and bombarded with plenty of useless (or at least unneccessary) information, and sometimes that pulls us away from being aware of our own thoughts and feelings.

It takes practice to gain self-awareness. Morning prayers on my knees, quiet time on my commute, moving meditation like running, and keeping a gratitude journal are some of my awareness-raising activities.

What do my body, mind, and soul need? Rest. Quiet. Nourishment. All three need all three.

I appreciate what daily gratitude practice brings me in terms of awareness. If I slow down enough to be grateful for the gifts in this moment, that's a good start.

How do you gain self-awareness? 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Robin Roberts: A Heartfelt Thank You

Today I am grateful for my job. I am grateful for the rewards and challenges that come with it, and for the paycheck.

This last Sunday, Robin Roberts was on the cover of Parade Magazine. I don't always pick up the quick read, but when I saw her on the cover, I definitely wanted to see what the article, titled "A Heartfelt Thank You," was about. I have followed her story enough to appreciate where she is coming from and that she has likely helped many others with her candor and her courage. The Good Morning America anchor recently returned to work after months of treatment, including a bone marrow transplant, for a serious blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

Roberts was treated for breast cancer in 2007. The chemotherapy she had at that time likely caused or contributed to the development of MDS. That's the downside of cancer treatment. It can lead to further complications. Her mother also passed away during these last few months. Talk about a double whammy! She could have been angry and bitter about the recent developments, but she chose a more resilient, positive approach. I think that is always better for the patient and the people around them.

It doesn't mean denial and always "putting on a happy face." But it does mean that being grateful for the support and care one receives, being grateful for the chance to live this day, can improve one's outlook and actually contribute to better healing and a quicker return to health. That was what was relayed to me in this article. I believe a similar approach helped me in 2008 when I went through eight months of tests, surgeries, and treatment (chemotherapy) for breast cancer.

There were tough days, but remaining grateful helped me push through them, and helped me keep things in perspective. I allowed the difficult emotions to be felt, I just didn't let them stick around too long. I need my energy for more productive pursuits.

The Parade article closes with this quote from Roberts:
"I think that I am being used for light and love and resilience. For whatever reason, I'm able to touch people, and I'm so grateful for that."

What am I being used for today? What is my purpose? Staying in gratitude helps me find and pursue that purpose.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's Your Alleluia?

Today I am grateful for sunshine and recovery from alcoholism. I am grateful for the people who support me in that recovery. They are many.

I also appreciate additional soul-stirring sounds I noticed yesterday. They included: the way our dog Oliver sighs when he settles in for a rest and hearing Adele sing "Rolling in the Deep" while I was out running. She can sure belt it out!

I have one more thought about soul-stirring sounds and the "Alleluia Chorus" I heard on Sunday at church. It got me thinking about the word "alleluia" which basically means a song of praise.

My alleluia is this: I have had two diseases that kill people every day. I am a recovering alcoholic since 1989 and a breast cancer patient since 2008, with no evidence of disease (NED).  I am walking, talking, running, writing, living, loving, laughing. That's my alleluia and it brings profound gratitude.

I may not use my vocal cords to sing that song of praise often, but the rest of me is singing in various ways.

I work daily on my recovery from alcoholism and I have plenty of support in that work: family, friends, fellow recovering people, my Higher Power.

I also work daily to maintain my health. I exercise, take Tamoxifen and Vitamin D, drink lots of water, try to get enough sleep, have regular appointments with health care professionals, and watch what I eat (though this last one is the biggest area I could improve on).

What's your alleluia? What are you here to praise today?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sounds that Stir the Soul

Today I am grateful for a fire in the fireplace on a chilly Easter. I am also grateful for ears that work and a soul I recognize today as my own.

I was raised Catholic. Though I say this with some level of guilt, I would guess I am not alone; Holy Week was drudgery for me when I was young. There were a lot of church services and they all seemed long and sad. The Stations of the Cross were part of Lent too, and I recall them being long and sorrowful as well. Then Easter would arrive. I looked forward to Easter services. In part, I was probably already sugared-up, so that helped. Easter Sunday services were shorter than anything else I had attended since and including Palm Sunday. That helped too. But I also always looked forward to the uplifting hymns that we got to sing after all the mournful ones of Holy Week. Those Easter hymns stirred my soul as a child, and they still stir my soul today.

"I Am the Bread of Life" is one of those common Easter hymns. It is also a song that reminds me of my dad's funeral. Soul-stirring in more ways than one.

We are practicing Episcopalians, so many of our hymns are the same as those I grew up with. I appreciate that. For the past two Easter Sundays, we have also been treated to the sound of bagpipes played by a lone piper standing in our medium-sized sanctuary. I have only heard bagpipes in person a few times in my life, but they have touched me each time. I don't know what it is about the sound, but my soul perks up and takes notice.

So I did a little reading about bagpipes. They are most often tied to the Scottish and the Irish, but have been around for many centuries. They were considered the musical instrument of the common people, and there aren't a lot of historic relics because the bagpipes were made of natural components which wouldn't stand the test of time. I also learned that they were often used to provide music for dancing. Today we don't think of bagpipes and dancing, but I guess they do make the emotions dance.

I appreciate the sounds that stir my soul.