"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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Detour got you steamed?"

Today I am grateful for the memories that come when watching our wedding video. I am also grateful for lessons learned, sometimes the hard way.

When we left for Illinois last Wednesday. We decided to take the scenic route on the first portion of our trip. We had our reasons for doing so, and had discussed it together. It didn't go well at times, but I must say the scenic route did offer some beautiful views. We had to keep reminding ourselves of that as our travels were slowed and the hours passed. First, it was a road construction detour that took us miles out of the way. Then it was many miles of curving, windy roads that kept us well below the speed limit. Then it was my speeding ticket a little further down the road. Followed by more curving, windy roads.

Situations like this don't bring out the best in Darcy and I.(Yes, even after 15 years of marriage.) Second-guessing, blaming, frustration and the like were bubbling up. At one point on that road construction detour when we were "discussing" things, as our voices elevated, we passed an old steam engine in someone's front yard. There was a sign in front of it that said "Detour got you steamed?" The timing was great. We laughed and lightened up a little. In the whole scheme of things, we were doing fine.

A few miles earlier, timing had been on our side too. We came around one of those curves and had time to slow for a deer crossing the road. We talked a little about life's close calls and how quickly things can change.

A little later, I was driving up a big hill and hit a flat stretch without paying attention to my speed. When we saw the sheriff's car, I knew it was my turn to get stopped. It fit with the way our travels had gone so far. It wasn't my first speeding ticket. My foot does get heavy at times. It gave me a good reminder to slow down and pay more attention to speed. (And to judge the drivers that sped past us on the interstate. Does anyone really need to be in that kind of a hurry? Not me.)

The ticket left me quiet, swallowing my pride, beating myself up, then accepting it for what it was-a mistake that would cost us some money, but no one was hurt and it only took 10 minutes.

Perspective. Acceptance. Arrival at our destination. Time is precious for sure, but so is arriving safely.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Happy 15th Anniversary!

Today I am grateful for some quality time with my son Sam yesterday. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our fifteen years of marriage.

We were married at 8:30 p.m. on July 30, 1998 at Upper Tuthill Park in Sioux Falls, SD. Here is a picture of the gazebo where we were married:

Picture this same scene, only at dusk. It was a beautiful, clear evening and we each had family and friends there for our small ceremony. I had already ordered a wedding dress because we had planned on getting married the following year. When things fell into place and we decided to move the wedding up, I needed a dress right now. Some would shudder at this next statement, I am proud of it. I found my wedding dress for $30 at Sears. It was a nice dress and I treasure it in my "clothing archives" today.
I also treasure that my parents were both there to "walk me down the aisle" between rows of flowers and benches. It was one of the last times I saw my dad. He died of a heart attack less than three months later.
I treasure our anniversary, but I treasure the day-in and day-out strength of our marriage more.
Crystal is the traditional gift for 15th wedding anniversaries. I don't need crystal. I have crystal clear trust and respect for my husband and our marriage. For that, I am deeply grateful.
Thank you Darcy, for all you do for me, for all that you bring to our marriage and our family. Happy Anniversary dear! 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Exhilirating, Terrifying, Gratifying, Exhausting

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the last few days, plenty of ideas for blog posts, and for my stepchildren and son.

The title of my post today refers to the various emotions that come with being a parent and stepparent.

My stepson Arthur is 22 and newly married. He and his wife Alyssa just moved to Normal, Illinois where he will begin graduate school soon and she begins her job today. My stepdaughter Emily is 18 and will be leaving for DMACC in just a few weeks to begin her post-secondary education. Her two jobs here will come to an end, hopefully replaced with a part-time one at school. I have known Arthur and Emily for over 15 years. I am grateful to be in their lives now and grateful I got to be part of their growing up years.

Our son Sam is 11 and approaching 6th grade. He's excited to start football next week and plans to get his 4-H projects completed this week for judging at our county fair on Saturday. I love my son. I love my stepchildren. Being a parent and a stepparent has been very gratitfying. What an honor to see them grow up into their own unique selves. What an exhilirating thing to witness. But it is also equal parts terrifying and exhausting. This idea of letting them go, letting them take the next step they need to take, which really takes them further from us . . . the prayers that they will be safe, faith that they will make good choices . . . that's the scary part. And it wears a parent down by the end of the day, by the end of a childhood. I see this in my husband too. It has been an emotional year for him with his two eldest children. We are both proud. We are both waiting to see how the next steps unfold.

Sam is approaching adolescence, Arthur is an adult, and Emily is in between the two. The fears and concerns their dad and I have for each of them are different in some respects, but exactly the same in others. We don't want them to get hurt, physically or emotionally, we don't want them to make choices that they will regret, we don't want them to pick up habits that would keep them from realizing their full potential. All that just looks a little different in the life of a pre-teen versus a twenty-something. And we know that some of these things have already and will happen to each of them. It is inevitable. It is part of life's experience. We hope we are helping them keep it all in perspective.

What we wish for them is similar as well: to be healthy and well-adjusted, to laugh and know joy, to learn from struggles, to be comfortable with themselves.

I am grateful to be a mom and a stepmom. I am grateful I am learning right along with Arthur, Emily, and Sam.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Twins and a Foe

Today I am grateful for the luscious breeze we enjoyed yesterday. I am also grateful for the many connections I have with other people in addiction recovery and how much wisdom they share with me.

Many quotes in my gratitude journal lately have been speaking to me and hitting home. Here's another one:

"Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is foe to both." (James E. Talmage)

The twins of gratitude and humility are what I need. Learning about humility and being more humble, less ego-driven has been crucial not only in my recovery from alcoholism, but in my life overall. I often say that gratitude and self-pity cannot coexist. The same is true of false pride (the dangerous kind) and gratitude. When I stay in the gratitude, I am humbled by my good fortune and blessings, and I thank the sources that brought me said blessings. (Sources like other people, nature, the Higher Force at work in the world, and so on.) That makes me less likely to take the credit myself. (Sure, we may deserve some credit for our effort, but false pride wants me to take all the credit.)

If pride takes hold, I often forget about gratitude because I start to develop a self-righteousness and my focus gets too narrow. I can't afford to forget about gratitude. It is too important to my overall well-being, but particularly my emotional and spiritual well-being.

There are always opportunities for lessons in these areas. I have learned much about my level of pride and about humility from the act of blogging. Early on after I started blogging, I wanted to see comments and increasing page views. I wanted to be noticed, followed, patted on the back. (I hate to admit this, but it's true. My ego wasn't right-sized.) Over time, I realized how much I was gaining from the blogging experience, and how much my gratitude was deepening. If I wasn't reaching a wide audience, I was still reaching myself.

I do appreciate every comment my blog gets and I always respond. I appreciate family members and friends who tell me that my blog gives them ideas and inspiration. Today I realize that this is more than enough. My pride wanted more. Humility showed me I was getting just what I needed and then some.

And that Higher Force is directing me to just keep doing what I'm doing, so I will. But not for a few days. I am taking another blog break for family travels. I won't be taking a gratitude break though. Thanks for being out there. Onward! See you next week!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Keep Counting

Today I am grateful for a cool morning, a bike ride, and the sun and shadows it created. There are many ways to view ourselves. How often do I pay attention to shadows?

I am also grateful for my counseling colleagues at work and for a chance at some social time together yesterday after several hours of work. There was plenty of food (as always) and a chance for a boat ride. Thanks to all!

Paying attention. That is what being grateful is all about. As I wrote about on Sunday, gratitude goes beyond counting blessings. It is also about making those blessings count. I am prone to overlook the most obvious blessings. We all are. My job is one of those. My family is another. Of course, those most obvious can also present the most challenges. But that is part of what makes them blessings.

My job is certainly that way. It is both a blessing and a curse to have been at the same job for 13 years. It's a blessing to be familiar with a place, to have built relationships with co-workers, students, and parents. It's a blessing to have experience to draw on when you know you have a tough phone call to make. The curse part? Familiar sometimes becomes inflexible. The things that are frustrating take their toll.

When it comes down to it, the blessings win out. I have a job, a paycheck, gratitfying days, and plenty of people I appreciate that are connected to my job in one way or another.  That was clear yesterday as I enjoyed the time lakeside with my fellows.

What blessings will you make count today?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Parade Atmosphere

Today I am grateful for a clean house (and having the time to clean it.) I am also grateful to have been a parade participant yesterday.

There's something about a parade atmosphere that is just fun and energizing. And it's not something I observe or participate in that often in a given year, so the novelty makes it interesting as well. Our local community held our annual community celebration this weekend, with a key event being the parade. Our son's 4-H group volunteers to help out a local creamery by walking the parade route and handing out free milk.

Yesterday started out cool and with some needed rain. But it dried out in time for parade-goers to get set up, and it warmed up, but nothing like earlier this past week. The conditions were great, which doesn't always happen in mid-July in Minnesota.

Our job included riding in the back of a refrigerated truck with numerous crates of milk for a few blocks to the staging area. We got a ride back with all the empty crates after the parade. The ride was just a few blocks, but it gave me a different view of the main drag through our town, and it gave some of the 4-H members the fun of waving out the back at the cars behind us.

When we reached the staging area, we had plenty of time to wait before the parade began. Darcy and I had some friendly conversations with other 4-H parents, and took a short walk together. I wandered around a bit on my own too, and enjoyed hearing/observing our high school band warming up, as well as some bagpipers, a mariachi band, and a couple of dance troupes. I appreciated my senses of sight and sound as I took in these preparations. I appreciated the talented musicians who would be entertaining hundreds.

We were in the first third of the 100 + parade entries, so we got moving pretty quickly after the parade started. It's not a long parade route, about 12 blocks, but I still appreciated the exercise provided by the walking and the carrying of milk. Sam seemed to be enjoying his job as well, and had fun with some of his fellow 4-H members. Who doesn't like giving out free stuff?

All in all, a parade provided a parade of gratitude.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Make Blessings Count

Today I am grateful for a good training run yesterday . . . three hours of leg time, time with my hubby, and time with myself. I am also grateful for the countless blessings I receive each day.

The quote in my gratitude journal a few days ago said this:

"We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count."
(Neil A. Maxwell)

As I read this quote and pondered it, I thought of the blessing writing has been in my life. I consider it to be a huge blessing. It saved me from self-destruction in my teens and twenties. It helped me first find a voice as a poet, and now expanding to an essayist, blogger, and columnist. Writing has helped me process painful emotions and challenging times, as well as helped me chronicle the details of joyous memories throughout my life. It has helped me become more vocal with what I have to say, via words.

I have journaled my life story for my entire adult life. I have been writing a journal to my son Sam since before I got pregnant. I have been journaling about gratitude for 18 years. Those have all been wonderful outlets for my writing energy. But I have also always wanted to send my words out to a wider audience. I dreamed of being a successful writer who could make a living at it. Life happened and my writing career didn't quite pan out like that (yet). But I am a writer and I fully appreciate that little steps mean a lot. I have tried poetry contests and greeting card submissions. I put a book together revolving around what I call "my drinking poems."  Nothing much came to fruition.

Little did I know, the writer in me was just gathering steam. I really got on track when my friend Jenny and I wrote a book about our dual breast cancer diagnoses less than a month apart. (You can read more about that here.)  The emerging essayist has really given me a voice and one place I can regularly share that is here on this blog. I so appreciate the faith that helped me take the leap into the blogosphere. It has made all the difference to me . . . as a writer and as someone who practices gratitude regularly.