"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, December 31, 2013

Fossils

Today I am grateful to wake up to a new day. I am also grateful for my fossil collection and the hours I spent in my youth searching for them.
 
That makes today's word fossils. Below is a picture of two of the fossils in my small collection. (I am grateful I was able to locate this collection. I hadn't looked at it in years. I knew I had it here but I wasn't sure where. It was in the first place I looked.) They were all found on one particular hillside on the farm in northeast Iowa that I grew up on. It was a hill above the creek in the area where the pigs got to roam. That was when farms had a lot of fence lines, unlike now. So the pigs had their pasture area and the cows had areas of their own. I climbed and crossed many fences and gates in my day.
 
Back to the fossils. If my brief research is accurate, the fossils below are Brachiopods. They are common in Iowa and belong to some sort of sea critter that lived inside this two-hinged protective shell attached to the floors of the warm and shallow seas that covered Iowa 375 million years ago. Wow! That is what always fascinated me about fossils: the story and the time behind them.

  
 
In ways, I was a lonely and troubled child, but my rock collecting was a fun endeavor for me. I combed that hillside many times and enjoyed the thrill of a find. Pleasant memories I am grateful for.
 
And fossils remind me to look carefully and closely for the treasures in my life today. When I am paying attention and focused on gratitude, these treasures of today are much easier to find than the fossils of yesterday were.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Faith

Today I am grateful for a phone conversation with my sister Ann and for spiritual growth that happens when I put daily work into recovery from my daily disease of alcoholism.

That brings me to today's word: faith. There are many definitions for faith. Two that I like are:
-strong belief or trust in someone or something
-belief that is not based on proof

To me, faith is about not feeling alone in facing what can sometimes be a harsh reality. It is about spirituality, not religion. But religious practice can help deepen faith and I know that it does for many people. Faith and spirituality are about relating to a source of power beyond myself. That someone or something some call God or Higher Power, but can go by any name you like. It's about a personal relationship, not an institutional one. When I trust that source of power to help guide my thoughts and actions, that is faith.

These are only my thoughts and opinions, but I can tell you that over 24 years of recovery I have learned more about faith than I ever did prior to that. I have had many teachers-some human, some life experiences-and for that I am truly grateful. The exciting and motivating part for me is that I see no end to what I can learn, how I can grow in terms of faith.

The second definition I mention above is likely referring to proof that is scientific, that can be put in numbers and shown on charts. That kind of proof of faith may be hard to come by, but I have ample proof in my own life that faith exists, that I am not alone. There is not space here to talk about the people I have met, the wisdom that has been shared, the God-made coincidences that have happened, the strength that was given when I had none. That's my proof.

In closing today, one of my favorite lines about faith: "Faith without works is dead." It's from the Bible, but I believe is universally applicable. My faith can only broaden and deepen when I take actions. Actions like keeping a gratitude journal. Actions like calling a friend in need. Actions like prayer on my knees. Actions like an early morning run. Actions like sharing "I love yous."

What actions help you grow in faith?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Expectations

Today I am grateful for a parking spot when we needed one and I am grateful for the warmer weather and sunshine we enjoyed yesterday.

Today's word is expectations. My expectations of myself have gotten me into plenty of trouble over the years. I am the toughest on myself and can push myself relentlessly at times. But I am making progress. I am learning to be kinder and gentler with myself. I am learning to keep my expectations more reasonable and sane.

It starts with me, but I can also be tough on others with my expectations. I wouldn't verbalize the expectations. They were mostly hopes. But when someone didn't come through like I had hoped, or expected, I was disappointed. I am making progress here too, being kinder and gentler with others as well. 

One of my mantras is "expect less, accept more." It bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating.

Healthy expectations keep me motivated. Unhealthy ones exhaust and frustrate me. Yesterday I had an expectation that got me plenty of fresh air and a sense of accomplishment: getting ice and snow off of our driveway. I am a bit picky about our driveway in the winter. I will be out there at 5:00 a.m. shoveling snow when needed. I enjoy the shoveling, the fresh air, the exercise, the time of day; but I also give myself an expectation to keep the driveway clean.

A combination of factors led to a snow and ice-covered driveway for us for several weeks. I learned to accept it, but I didn't like it. The last couple days of warmer weather allowed us to chip away and reveal a good portion of cement again. Healthy or unhealthy expectation? Maybe a little of both, but I enjoyed the time outside yesterday and was joined by Darcy and Sam for some of it as well.

Today, I really appreciate that time we had outside in the "balmy" temperatures yesterday. It was 40 degrees and it felt good, as did the couple of miles Darcy and I ran out in it too. Now, we are thrown back into the deep freeze with below zero temperatures and dangerous wind chills.

At least I have learned to not have expectations regarding the weather. Other than I expect it will change and sometimes I will like it and sometimes I will just have to accept it.

Today I will try to keep my expectations of myself and others reasonable and healthy. I hope you are able to do the same.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Endure

Today I am grateful for warmer weather to enjoy for a couple days before it gets really cold again, and for my friends in recovery and the laughter and genuine emotions we share.

Today's word is endure: to last, to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding, to deal with or accept.

I am thinking about my brother-in-law Randy, my sister Zita, their children, and Randy's family as they mourn the loss of Randy's mom Irene, who passed away yesterday. She endured ALS for the last couple of years. Her family endured watching her weaken and worsen. There must be some solace in knowing her suffering is over.

I am thinking about so many others who are enduring current and ongoing pain, suffering, hardship.I feel care and compassion for them and send them positive thoughts and energy. In the process, I send myself reminders of how fortunate I am. I have endured the recovery of bruised ribs and torn muscles for almost a month now, but I am making good progress, and I am trying to keep it in perspective.

We cannot avoid suffering and hardship in our lives. But to not have to face it alone, to have faith through it, to see silver linings; that all helps us endure.

I am also thinking about endurance. About running a marathon one step at a time, one mile at a time. We build our endurance as we train for each marathon, feeling stronger, more prepared as we up our mileage. I hope to endure through many more training seasons and marathons. But I will start with today, with one moment, one step. Staying present and mindful.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Extemporaneous

Today I am grateful for the wisdom others in recovery share with me. I am also grateful for a more relaxed pace during the holiday break.

Today's word is a mouthful: extemporaneous. It is most often defined as a speech (or other action) delivered with little preparation; impromptu. One part of the definition better fits me and what I aspire to-a speech prepared in advance but delivered without notes or text. I don't consider myself a good speaker, but I will concede to improving over the years.

I appreciate the speech class I took in college. I think it was my sophomore year. It was a great class to push me to be more comfortable speaking in front of others. I grew up shy and introverted. Teaching for ten years required public speaking, so I got plenty of practice. I lacked confidence, however, and would sometimes shut my classroom door so those passing by wouldn't hear my attempts to interest my students in the subject of the day.

I appreciate the opportunities I have had in my current job to give presentations from time to time, particularly to my colleagues. A roomful full of educators can be a tough audience. It's been a good confidence booster for me. I also appreciate more recent opportunities to speak on the topic of gratitude to a couple different audiences.

If I am responsible for a presentation, I often will spend hours preparing for it and practicing it. That is what my comfort level is. That is what helps me go in feeling ready. But I always have my notes with me. Like a security blanket.

I can say that I have gained confidence and experience as a public speaker, but my extemporaneous skills are still developing. I am grateful for the chances I have to hone such skills, grateful for the chance to speak to others about things I have a passion for.

If asked to give an impromptu speech, I would pick gratitude or running as inspirational topics to me.What would you pick?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Death

Today I am grateful for nice enough weather to enjoy our front patio with my husband Darcy yesterday. (That means the temperature was in the 20's. It's all relative) I am also grateful for our dog Oliver and the way he stretches before our morning walks.

Like cancer last week, I am picking a tough word for my last of the "D" words: death.

I am thinking about it after hearing about a man who was a year behind us in high school dying suddenly on Christmas Eve. And thinking about my friend Sheila's brother Chris who died one year ago on New Year's Eve. The two were classmates. Too young. So sudden. So very sad.

I am thinking about my sister's mother-in-law who has ALS. I am thinking of my brother-in-law who has Lewy Body Dementia. I am thinking of Lisa Bonchek Adams and others with late stage cancer.

The reality is we are each a day closer to our own deaths. That may be a scary thought, but it is also an inspiring one in my opinion. Life is precious. This day, this moment are precious. Am I spending my time living or waiting to die?

Check out this Greater Good Science Center article by Jeremy Adam Smith from November of this year titled The Six Habits of Highly Grateful People. The first habit is:

1. Once in a while, they think about death and loss

     Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I’m not just being perverse—contemplating endings really does make you more grateful for the life you currently have, according to several studies. For example, when Araceli Friasa and colleagues asked people to visualize their own deaths, their gratitude measurably increased. Similarly, when Minkyung Koo and colleagues asked people to envision the sudden disappearance of their romantic partners from their lives, they became more grateful to their partners. The same goes for imagining that some positive event, like a job promotion, never happened.
     This isn’t just theoretical: When you find yourself taking a good thing for granted, try giving it up for a little while. Researchers Jordi Quoidbach and Elizabeth Dunn had 55 people eat a piece of chocolate—and then the researchers told some of those people to resist chocolate for a week and others to binge on chocolate if they wanted. They left a third group to their own devices. Guess who ended up happiest, according to self-reports? The people who abstained from chocolate. And who were the least happy? The people who binged. That’s the power of gratitude!

I don't live in fear of death, but I am reminded that the two diseases which have impacted my life directly-alcoholism and cancer-are deadly to many people each and every day. Each day is a gift. I am reminded to live life fully. I don't live recklessly either. Life is far too valuable. Gratitude practice helps me see the value, honor it, protect it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Deal

Today I am grateful for family traditions and time together on Christmas Eve with Darcy, Sam, Emily, Oliver and I. I am also grateful for the simple pleasure of playing cards.

That leads to my word of the day: deal. As in deal those cards up! Let's play some 500 or euchre!Those are my favorite games to play at family gatherings. I grew up watching my parents play cards whenever "company" came over or when we went visiting. I learned to play at a young age. Invariably when my family gathers, there will be some card playing.

I appreciate that all you need are people and a deck of cards. Cheap fun! And we often spend plenty of time laughing as we play, though some are more serious than others. Darcy has learned to play over the years and enjoys joining in. Sam is even learning to play now, courtesy of his youth group involvement.

Then there's that other kind of deal. As in "let's make a deal!"  At our church services last night, the sermon was about sharing the Christmas spirit, and that the more we share it, the more we have. Now, that is a real deal! And that is also how gratitude works.

Sharing gratitude multiplies the appreciation. Today I will look for opportunities to share gratitude.Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Drift

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and for the chance to meet two new additions to my growing extended family. I am grateful for the time with my mom, siblings, and their families.

Today's word is drift. It came to me the other morning as I took a walk. Here is what I was treated to, just a few minutes from my mom's house:

 
 
Stunning beauty, courtesy of Mother Nature. Pristine snow, artfully decorating trees, against a backdrop of beautiful blue sky. The light snow drifted and landed naturally to create this winter wonderland. I felt deep gratitude for my eyesight and my mobility in that moment.
 
I was reminded of my younger days, when we would get enough snow that we could make tunnels in the drifts. Or when the wind-driven drifts were sturdy enough to bear my weight as I would go exploring across our farm fields.
 
I was also reminded of the other kind of drift; to wander from a set course, move away from. Are there healthy things I am drifting away from and need to move back to? Are there unhealthy things I am better off drifting from? Those are good questions as I reflect on one year ending and another soon to begin.
 
Honestly, the dangerous drifting has been away from good eating habits. It happens every holiday season and I let it. It will give me the impetus to drift back to healthier choices as we return to a routine and welcome a new year. But I am happy to report that otherwise I feel like I have stayed the healthy course: recovery, writing, exercising, committing time to relationships.
 
Does either kind of drift get you thinking today? Enjoy Christmas Eve, moment by moment.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Coincidence

Today I am grateful for our dog Oliver and his high cuteness factor after a visit to the groomer. I am also grateful for my family, near and far.

Coincidence is today's word. I was subbing at school the other day and saw this at a teacher's desk:

"Listen & Silent have the same letters. Coincidence?"

I had never seen that before. It really struck me. You can't be a good listener if you can't be silent. That applies to conversations with other people. But for me, it also applies to my conversations with my Higher Power. As I meditate, I try to remain silent so I can hear what comes through. It is a skill I struggle with, but I am making progress. Just slowing down and trying to be quiet is a good start.

I am grateful to be someone others feel they can talk to. I like listening. I have learned to be patient in the listening. So many times, we want to jump in and suggest something or offer advice. Often, the other person simply wants a caring ear. They will reach their own answers as they talk it through.I try not to try too hard when I listen. I am also grateful that I have a job that allows me to hone and practice my listening skills.

Everyone deserves to be heard, to have a true listener. There is a quote from Sue Atchley Ebaugh that reads: "The greatest gift we can give one another is rapt attention to one another's existence." I love that. That is true listening, and it requires more than ears.

As coincidences go, I am grateful for the many small and big ones in my life. It may have been a phone call just when I needed it, a song on the radio that made me laugh or tear-up, meeting someone new. I like to call them GMC's--God-made coincidences. I heard that from a friend in recovery. GMC's give me faith and hope, and those are gifts.

What coincidences come to your mind today?

I will be taking a blog break and be back next week. Enjoy the holiday time.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cancer

Today I am grateful for my job and for the drug Tamoxifen. I have taken it for nearly five years. It is a proven medication for people with my kind of breast cancer and can help prevent recurrence.

Speaking of cancer, that is the word I have chosen for today. It isn't an upbeat word, but it does get people's attention, especially after they or someone they care about has been diagnosed with it. There are no gaurantees for any of us who have already had it and fear it returning, or those who are fearful of getting it in the first place. Cancer is wily and remains a mystery. There is no cure. It may seem like progress is being made, and in terms of treatment, it is. More is being learned, but a cure remains elusive. Cancer remains deadly to hundreds of thousands each year.

If you want to read an excellent blog by someone currently looking advanced stage cancer in the eye, read Lisa Bonchek Adam's blog. I have referenced it here before. Here is her latest post. In it, Lisa talks about CT scan results that brought more bad news than good, and a clinical trial she has to stop participating in. Her voice is genuine and real, her words straightforward. Simply put, she tells it like it is.

Here are a few words from the post mentioned above:

As many of you already know, my first tweet of each day is a mantra I’ve written: “Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.” I love to start my day with that saying each morning. It centers me.

Meaningful words for anyone to apply to this day. All any of us get is today. Lisa Adams is dying of cancer. She knows her days are limited. How many of us take this day for granted?

Gratitude practice helps me remember the gift of today. I will look for the beauty in it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cookies

Today I am grateful to be able to run a little again as I recover from my bruised ribs. I am also grateful to have some patience and acceptance.

Today's word is cookies. I have been doing some holiday baking, specifically two recipes from my Grandma Shindelar. She was my mom's mom and I have very little memory of her. She died when I was 5 years old. I don't have memories to connect me with Grandma, so the recipes are the next best thing. I try to make two of her recipes each year; chocolate star cookies and Christmas cut-outs. My son Sam helps me each year too, though I know that may not always be the case. He helps in shorter spurts these days, but he still anticipates batches of both each year, and I am happy to oblige.

I do enjoy indulging in the cookies myself. Amazing how good flour, butter, sugar, and eggs can taste. Of course, things like peanut butter, chocolate stars, and frosting are nice accents.

But I also enjoy sharing the cookies with others. My co-workers have gotten used to seeing them each year. My recovery friends were enjoying them the other night too. It's not surprising that they would go over well with a group that generally has a sweet tooth. (In case you didn't know, alcohol has a lot of sugar in it, so we find other sources now in recovery.) It's fun to share and I appreciate the compliments on the cookies. It brings me back to that connection with Grandma. She is long gone, but her recipes lives on.

Cookies. Just simple cookies. Nothing too flashy. But bringing gratitude in their own little ways.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bosom

Today I am grateful for my job and for help from a friend last evening after I forgot my purse and it ended up behind locked doors I had no keys for. Thanks Greg!

Bosom is today's word. I was more intentional about the choice for today because it is the 5th anniversary of my bilateral mastectomies. It sometimes boggles my mind that it has been five years already. It sometimes is hard to remember what it was like to have breasts. But I can beckon memories of my breasts if given time, and such memories are bittersweet.

Check out my blog post from this day one year ago here.

I was not that bosomy. I wore a size 38C bra. And I was never one to flaunt my bosom. If you saw my cleavage, it was either an accident or I was in a swimsuit. I am more at ease, though ease is a relative term, showing someone my mastectomy scars than I would have been showing someone my breasts. I was neither proud of nor ashamed of them. I just wasn't all that confident in my physical features.

Five years later, I have some hard-earned confidence. Confident that I made the right decision for me. Confident that in my flatness I make a statement about health, wholeness, and moving forward.

I am grateful for my portable bosom, a.k.a. my prosthetics. They work for me when I need them and wait for me when I don't. They have helped me keep my wardrobe, especially my work wardrobe, in use.

And I always feel deeply blessed on this anniversary, any anniversary. I am still here to mark anniversaries, to celebrate birthdays and other notable milestones. I am still here to live this day. Blessings. All of them.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Brevity

Today I am grateful for phone conversations and text messages to keep me connected with friends and family. I am also grateful for my grandma's chocolate star cookie recipe.

Today's word is brevity. Shortness of duration. Conciseness of expression.

I could use more brevity at times. In my blog posts. In my other writings. Regarding my to-do list.I strive for brevity in my forays into stinking thinking, self-pity, and lack of faith. I can't seem to avoid such forays entirely, but I don't have to wallow in them anymore.

It doesn't take but a few seconds to consider a couple of things to be grateful for each day. That is really all it takes to start changing one's perspective. Daily gratitude practice and daily brevity can be compatible. On some days, there is more to say and that's okay. On other days, short is fine.

If you are feeling at all like I am today, short is good. Both time and energy are limited because of the many directions I am feeling pulled in.

So I will just leave it at this, borrowing some words from Brother David Steindl-Rast:

Gratefulness, even in small doses, is the ticket to the great fullness of life.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Assuage

Today I am grateful for the food, clothing, and shelter that my family and I have. I too often take such things for granted.

Today's word is assuage. It is a word that has always intrigued me, but I don't use it often. That may explain why I have been pronouncing it wrong. To hear the correct pronunciation, click here.

Assuage has these main definitions:
-to lessen the intensity of (something that pains or distresses): ease
-pacify, quiet
-to put an end to by satisfying: appease, quench

The first definition is the one I am most familiar with. I wish I could assuage my sister's pain and grief as her husband slips away with Lewy Body Dementia. I can only be a source of support via phone calls and emails, and I will continue to do so.

That is just one example of how I can try to be a good family member, friend, listener, and in the process possibly help assuage another's pain. (And in my own home, remembering to keep my mouth shut when opening may amplify hurt, not assuage it.)

I have learned, in part, to ease my own pain and frustration when I start to spin too fast through my day. I slow down. I remember my priorities. I ask myself: "How important is it really?"

My heart and soul, which used to be both assuaged and assaulted by alcohol and negative thinking, is now quieted through prayer, meditation, active gratitude practice.

And the hungry writer in me, who strives for more time and energy to put into my writing, has been assuaged by this very blog. Daily focus for my gratitude and my writing. Spiritual thirst quenched.

What does assuage bring to your mind today? How does that tie in with gratitude?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Amplify

Today I am grateful for extra energy yesterday afternoon and evening to give to holiday preparations like shopping, getting cards and letters out, and making treats. I am also grateful to help at our church today for a special holiday outreach project.

Today's word is amplify: to increase, strengthen, add to. My first recollection of that word growing up is when people would talk about good amplifiers for their stereo systems. I do like my music loud at times, especially when I am alone in my car, or if a certain song hits me at the same time as a certain emotion. The volume amplifies the listening experience for me. I appreciate the technology that now creates great sound in small packages. No more big speakers needed, though they used to double as little table tops.

A funny college memory I recall: During our sophomore year, my roommate Deb had a couple such speakers in our dorm room. I don't remember what she had put on top of one of them, but one evening we were playing Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" a bit too loud with some of our other friends down the hall. The speaker shook enough to knock the item off. That was the kind of song that amplified the fun when shared in a rowdy group setting.

I was thinking of amplify this morning as I walked Oliver. We had gotten a dusting of fresh snow overnight. The snow amplified the light in the darkness and decreased the sound. It made for a nice early morning walk.

I am so blessed today to have so many things that amplify my life experiences on a daily basis and bring me more happiness and contentment. Gratitude practice allows me to notice the amplifiers, appreciate them, human and other, and cherish them for the gifts they are.

Amplify your level of attention today and see what you notice. I'll do the same.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More Gifts of Words from A-Z: Alone

Today I am grateful for my reading and writing abilities and that I have opportunities to use them daily.

Last year at about this time, I did a series of blog posts on different words from each letter of the alphabet. I called it "The Gift of Words From A-Z." Here is the description I have in my post from November 26, 2012, the day I started my word journey through the alphabet:

I have mentioned a number of times that an A-Z gratitude list is an easy way to think about gratitude when you are on the go. You can do such a list on your commute, a walk, sitting with a cup of morning coffee. You can write it, say it outloud, say it to yourself, say it to someone else. If you haven't tried an A-Z gratitude list, I would encourage you to do so.

I have done this A-Z list enough times that I sometimes get in a rut, saying the same things for certain letters. That's not all bad, because the things I repeat are worth repeating. But in an effort to mix it up a bit, I am taking a different approach for the next 26 days or so. I have my very own Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in actual book form. Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to pick up a book, especially a hearty, thick book like this dictionary. I am going to peruse each letter of the alphabet and see what words grab me and take it from there.


I am back to perusing each letter, and if more than one word grabs me, I will give a letter of the alphabet more than one post.

I begin with the word alone today. I used to feel alone as an active alcoholic. No one understood my pain. No one loved me enough. No one could make me quit drinking. Alone with alcohol. We were not a good pair. Sure I may have been around others, I may have even been laughing and having a good time, but by the end of the night I was alone with my disease.

Feeling alone has also fit me as a cancer patient. Even though I had sisters and friends who had been or were going through some of the same things, I went into surgery alone. I was the one who got the IV chemotherapy. I was the one who had her breasts removed. I was alone with my fear of the unknown. I still can be.

So I know the alone that leaves us wanting contact, that leaves us feeling disconnected. The alone that is associated with fear and other tough emotions.

But I want to close by talking about the alone that I am grateful for today. I am grateful to drive alone on my commute to and from work. I get 30 minutes (or twice that on icky winter commutes) to myself to and from work, an hour to reflect, to listen to what music I want to listen to as loud as I want it playing. I am grateful to have time alone in my house in the early mornings. My family is sleeping upstairs and our dog Oliver is hanging out with me, but I am alone with the quiet and have some time to write. I prefer to write alone and pray alone. I like to take some of my runs alone. I appreciate the alone time I get because it doesn't happen that often. I'm an introvert. I need that time.

What does the word alone have you thinking about?

Have you tried an A-Z gratitude list? If not, why not start now?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Lot of Work, A Lot of Joy

Today I am grateful for warm boots and hooded sweatshirts. I am also grateful for laughter, even if it still hurts a little when I laugh.

The phrase that is my post title today was something I heard in the context of a person talking about a new puppy his family had gotten.  "A lot of work, but a lot of joy."  It struck me immediately when he said that . . . isn't that really all of life?  It takes work, but there is plenty of joy?  And I believe the joy is in the work; the day to day strivings to live life, love others, pursue goals, remain healthy, and follow our hearts.

I think first about the work I do in recovery from alcoholism. Sometimes it does seem like work, drudgery, same old, same old. But more often, the work I do opens doors, gives me hope. To be comfortable in my own skin and to wake up with a purpose are joys that recovery brings.

As I thought further, I realized that all the things that matter most to me fit this description of "a lot of work, a lot of joy."

Running. Writing. Parenting. Marriage. Faith. Friendships. My job.

All joy all the time? No. All work all the time? No. But if I love (or at least like) what I am doing, it doesn't seem like work.

And I will wrap up by returning to my comment from the end of my blog post yesterday. The quick fixes and instant results we are sold are lies, traps. Life wasn't meant to be easy and convenient. What do we learn from that? It also wasn't meant to be an uphill climb 24/7. I strive for some sort of balance between the two. I feel satisfied and my life has more meaning when I am doing meaningful things, not looking for shortcuts. I appreciate the work ethic I was raised with, though it can have traps too. I am concerned for those who feel entitled and aren't learning that the joy is in the work.

I will do my part today to enjoy the work of living and the joys that come with that effort.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Incremental Improvement

Today I am grateful for my glasses; the old pairs that I can run in but have to take off to read and my newest pair of progressive lenses. I am also grateful for my sight. It needs some assistance, but still works very well.

As my bruised ribs and torn muscles slowly heal and feel better, I am thinking about incremental improvement. Most things that need improving don't happen overnight. But if I can notice and appreciate the improvment by increments, I am given hope. I am given enough to keep me plugging along.

Recovery from alcoholism is about incremental improvement for me. It's about changing my stinking thinking to more sane and positive thinking. I couldn't have imagined 24 years ago that I could feel like I do today-about myself and my life. Patience. Acceptance. Daily work. The improvement continues, sometimes slowly, sometimes in flashes of insight.

Recovery from bilateral mastectomies offered more incremental improvement. I was motivated to keep doing my physical therapy exercises because I noticed the improvement from day to day and week to week. I felt less pain. I could reach further, higher. The healing didn't happen rapidly. It couldn't.

If I am having a tough day, noticing a few good things can bring incremental improvement to my attitude, to my perception.

I am saddened and concerned about all the messages we get in our culture about quick fixes and instant results. They are traps. I will talk more about that tomorrow.

For today, I will work on improving my attention to the gifts that surround me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Roses and Thorns

Today I am grateful for the exercise bike we have in our basement and that I could use it comfortably this morning. I am also grateful for sensible drivers who share the road with me.

The following was a recent quote in my gratitude journal:
"Some people are always grumbling that roses have thorns; I am thankful that
thorns have roses."  (Alphonse Karr)

Karr was a French writer and journalist who lived in the 1800's, but this quote seems timeless.It's all in how a person looks at things. Perspective. Perception.

If I look for negative, I will find it. But the converse is true as well. If I look for the positive, I will find it too. Where do I prefer to go looking? For the thorns or the roses?

Gratitude practice helps me keep the focus on looking for roses, looking for what is going well, what I can be thankful for in this moment, this day, my present life circumstances. It doesn't mean I naively choose to only look for the positive and deny that things can be tough at times. The thorns can't be avoided entirely. They are part of life.

But when I am paying attention, as practicing gratitude requires, I see more thorns before I hurt myself on them. And the ones that can't be avoided? They don't seem to cut as deep and painfully. The scars heal more quickly.

This quote also reminds me to endure through a difficult time. Sometimes the thorn is there for a while before the rose is revealed. Gratitude practice teaches me to hang in there, to have hope. It teaches me to have faith in the dark until more light dawns.

Roses or thorns? Which are you looking for today?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Somebody to Love

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and the 16 years over which our relationship has grown and evolved.

Sometimes a wave of gratitude hits me when I wasn't even looking for it. The more I practice gratitude and the more I am aware of the gifts surrounding me, the more this seems to happen out of the blue. Yesterday it happened when I heard a song on the radio in my car. That song was Queen's "Somebody to Love."  Listen to it on YouTube here.

Not only do I appreciate plenty of Queen's music, I appreciated the gratitude this particular song sparked yesterday. I thought of my husband Darcy, how solid our marriage is, how much I love him, how much my life has changed and grown since we met in November of 1997. A wave of gratitude hit.

I met Darcy when I was 32. I hadn't given up on finding the love of my life, but I wasn't holding my breath either. In the weeks or months prior to meeting Darcy, I remember being out for breakfast with my friend Ellie. She pointed out a saying on a perpetual calendar in the restaurant we were in. The saying was "God's delays aren't necessarily God's denials." She was trying to offer encouragement and hope. It turns out it was true for me. And I think Darcy would agree that we both met when we were meant to. We had each been through some life experiences that had brought us to a healthier place, more ready for a relationship.

It has worked out well for the two of us. Our lives and our marriage aren't perfect. Whose is? But we do well together in so many aspects and we have a true partnership. We have passion and compassion, shared likes and concerns, common goals.

I always had love in my life. I just didn't always recognize it or accept it. Family and friends showed me love and support, even when I was distant and sick with alcoholism. But a spouse, a marriage is a different kind of love.

I am deeply blessed to have found somebody to love in Darcy. My life has changed and blossomed in so many ways since that night 16 years ago.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

All Walls Have Doors

Today I am grateful for the community we live in and the many services it has to offer. I am also grateful for the ease of using pictures stored on CDs.

I have one more Seattle Marathon tidbit to blog about. I enjoy reading the signs that people will hold along a marathon route. Seattle didn't have a ton of spectators or signs, but of those I saw, my favorite was a sign around mile 18. It was posted several feet up on a tree trunk and written plainly on a piece of cardboard. No one was near the sign when I saw it. It said "All walls have doors." It really resonated with me at that point in the race. My legs were tired and I knew there were hills ahead.

Running a marathon is as much a psychological undertaking as it is a physical one. Many are familiar with the phrase "hitting the wall" being used to refer to the point in a marathon or other race where the runner encounters serious fatigue. I have hit that wall on long runs, but for me it has been a wall I could climb over, run around, or through.I have never hit the wall so hard that I had to stop. Walk maybe. Stop no. But I am not running competitively, nor am I pushing myself to go as fast as I can. I am trying to maintain a pace that will carry me through. (That sounds like a good philosophy for my days too.) I can understand why some who do run for time, who are truly racing, may have a different experience with hitting the wall.

When I saw the sign "All walls have doors" I began to think more about life in general, beyond a runner's wall. What walls have limited me in my life? Were they real walls or just in my head? How did I find the doors? I kept moving. I kept trying. Trying to quit drinking on my own was one wall I could not scale, one wall that seemed high, formidable, and with no doors to be found. I failed time and time again. Only when I had "hit" that wall enough times, felt enough pain, and bruised my ego enough did I finally surrender and seek help. Surrendering started to crumble the wall. Sobriety helped me see doors that may have been there all along. I kept moving. I still keep moving and taking daily actions to avoid hitting the wall of active alcoholism again. I am grateful for what the walls in my life have taught me and continue to teach me. I am grateful to those who have helped me find the doors.

What are the walls in your life? Have you been looking for the doors? Have you found one but are afraid to open it? Take a leap of faith today and open it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Savor

Today I am grateful for a conversation with my friend Jill yesterday and for our dog Oliver and his personality. He makes me smile daily.

I was reminded yesterday, from some of my recovery friends, how simple and yet how important it is to savor the little things as much as the big. Maybe even moreso. The big things to savor don't come along every day. The little things are in ample abundance at all times. Laughter among friends. The beauty of ice crystals on tree branches. Being able to painlessly put one foot in front of the other.

Revel. Relish. Savor. The marathon experience is behind us now for another year. The reveling is winding down. I will continue to relish and savor the big picture: Darcy and I have been able to run and complete 11 full marathons. But I will do more relishing and savoring of the little things: being able to get back to running when my ribs and muscles feel better, being able to get in and out of my own bed without pain, sitting in the recliner enjoying our Christmas tree, conversations with friends.

Savoring and gratitude practice go hand in hand. It is referenced in articles found at the Greater Good Science Center's website, including this one by social psychologist Fred Bryant. The GGSC at the University of California, Berkeley is a great repository of information and suggestions regarding gratitude and other topics such as alturism, compasssion, empathy, forgiveness, happiness, and mindfulness. Start here to find out more.

My plan for the day today? Seize the moments, then savor them. Smell the coffee. Really smell it.Hear the noises in the gym where Sam will be wrestling. Really hear them.Feel the brisk, cold air. Really feel it. Taste the food I am blessed to have.Really taste it. See the good in the world. Really see it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Relish

Today I am grateful for warm blankets on a cold night. I am also grateful for the life of Nelson Mandela and the difference he made, not only in South Africa, but around the world.

It hasn't exactly been a week of relishing our marathon experience and finish, what with exhaustion, busy days at work, a sneeze that was more than a sneeze. But relish can be more than an action. It also happened to be the name of the restaurant in our hotel last weekend: the Relish Burger Bistro in the Westin Seattle.

We enjoyed two meals there, the first on Thanksgiving evening and the second was our post-race meal on Sunday. I relished both meals for different reasons. On Thanksgiving, I was relishing our safe arrival, time with family, and the beginning of our time in downtown Seattle. On Sunday, I was relishing the fact that we had finished marathon #11.

A strong hunger hits me a few hours after completing a marathon. I satisfied that hunger with the same menu item from Thursday. It was a burger and seasoned potato tots. More specifically the bacon & egg burger and potato tots tossed with parmesan and herbs. I have had plenty of bacon cheeseburgers in my day, but never with an egg added. It was very good. I have always been a fan of burgers.

The Relish Bistro wasn't the only thing we relished at the Westin. Our city views from the 33rd floor were great. The lobby ambience was inviting. The marathon expo on the 4th floor was easily accessible to us. Our rooms were clean and the beds were comfortable. I am a farm girl at heart. Spending time in a major city's downtown is always worth relishing because it has been a limited experience in my life.

Today I will try to relish little things. Like my back feeling a little better and my movements being less strained. Like the soft light thrown off by our Christmas tree in the early morning hours.Like sharing some oatmeal at breakfast with my son Sam.

What will you take time to pause and relish today?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lessons in Humility

Today I am grateful for perspective and for my husband Darcy's help.

I was planning to write a post today called "Relish" because it followed nicely after "Revel" from yesterday. Things change. Instead, let's talk about the lessons in humility that I am getting.

After successfully completing the marathon on Sunday and getting some water therapy in the hotel pool and hot tub, I slipped in the shower and hit my left mid-back on the tub. Lesson in humility #1. To do it after running 26.2 miles? Really? I wanted to revel, not be humbled.

I didn't feel intense pain and I could breathe okay, so we proceeded with our day. I could feel some muscle pain in my back and certainly some movements were challenging, but I made it through the flight home the next day, and through two days of work. In fact, it felt pretty good during the day when I was up and moving. It was tougher to get comfortable at night.

All that took a turn for the worse with-of all things-a sneeze. I sneezed at my desk at the end of the work day yesterday, felt a sharp pain in my back, and got very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough to go to the doctor. Lesson in humility #2. It is likely that I have bruised ribs and some muscle tears. The sneeze may have tore a muscle that was weakened by the fall, not to mention exhausted from the marathon and travels.There's not much you can do for such an injury except give it time. Ice. Pain relievers. Rest. More time.

I was in quite a bit of pain yesterday afternoon and evening, moving slowly and in limited fashion. That is hard for me, someone who is always active and on the go. Lesson in humility #3. The last time I felt that much pain and immobility was in the first days after my mastectomies.

My husband Darcy helped me get situated in a recliner, brought me some dinner, assisted in applying ice to the affected area. Thank you dear! Lesson in humility #4.

Lesson in humility #5 is the one most fitting to wrap up a post on a blog about gratitude practice. That lesson is "I am human and it could have been worse." We are fragile and deserve tender, loving care from ourselves and others. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. I am grateful that the fall happened AFTER the marathon and not before. I am grateful that I have a point of reference that keeps it all in perspective. I would rather be recovering from this physical injury than something more serious, more chronically painful.

Lessons in humility. Lessons in gratitude.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Revel

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from Seattle and for a pleasant time taking in that city's downtown. I am also grateful for my sister Leonice and sister-in-law Annie, the time we got to spend together, and the kind gestures they extended; like picking us up and taking us back to the airport to name just a couple. Thanks you two!

It was another memorable marathon experience. Marathon #11 successfully completed. The rain held off, the wind was bearable when present, the route was scenic, the hills challenging. We got a street-level view of an impressive city and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The 26.2 miles were varied; along water, across an interstate bridge, through scenic trees and vegetation. One step at a time. One mile at a time. Darcy and I spent the first 16 miles together, and then had our individual journeys the last ten miles. It was great to see family out on the course, and the orange slices really hit the spot.
Thanks again!

Approaching the finish, hill after hill, seeing the Space Needle and knowing that was my goal. Running, albeit slowly, into Memorial Stadium, a few spectators remained, and an announcer said my name. I pumped my fists and crossed the finish line. That is a feeling I can't fully describe, but I am reveling in that post-marathon euphoria that takes days to wane. I am feeling deeply blessed to have been able to make this trip. I am referring to both the trip to Seattle itself and the 26.2 mile trip in Seattle.

Here is a picture of Darcy and I in the recovery area at the finish:

 
Let the reveling and the recovering continue.