Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Ugh, do I have to wake up?

Waking up is vastly overrated.  The pillows, the blankets, the soft curve of the mattress against my body, these are calling my name, beckoning me like a lullaby.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m lucky today.  I actually didn’t wake before my alarm on my phone.  My kids didn’t wake me up.

Hey, I can get dressed, wash my face, and brush my hair in five minutes of silence!

Small blessings…

If I sound sarcastic, I don’t mean to be.  There are those sunny people who would tell me to be happy for another sunrise, and while part of me wants to show them where they can shove their bright remarks, the better part of me knows they’re right.

Besides, you can’t hold too much against me right now.  I haven’t had my coffee yet.

So, it’s the start of another day.  In the hour or so before getting out of the house, I need to feed three young kids breakfast and get them dressed and ready for school (with the exception of my daughter, who is only one).  Oh, and I also need to feed myself somewhere in there.  You’d think this wouldn’t be so hard, but that’s a lie many young moms tell themselves to feel better.  Kids are disagreeable by nature, little people designed to push Mommy’s buttons.  I admit I am not the most patient person on the planet, but after several mishaps in less than an hour, sometimes I’m ready for the clock to read 8:00 PM and not 8:00 AM.

But I push through my little aggravations…usually.  I get the boys off to school, and it’s to the Y to work out.  Working out is a great stress-reliever, but you know what comes to mind about the Y for me?  There is an older gentleman who works at the Y I go to.  He’s a custodian.  It’s his job to clean toilets, to scrub floors, and to unclog drains.  Yet he always, always smiles at me (and everyone he passes) and says, “Hello, how you doing?”  He’s the type of guy you can’t help but smile back at and say hello, even on the tough days.

So, what’s he got that a lot of us don’t?  Can I have your seeds of happiness and plant them inside of me, sir?  I don’t like being miserable…and yet, I do it to myself.  I choose to complain many, many times throughout every day about mostly trivial things: red lights, running late, being behind a slow driver, my son arguing with me, having to turn around and change a poopy diaper after just doing so…

Yet there are bigger things that lie just under the surface.  Am I a good mom?  Am I doing enough for my kids?  I don’t feel equipped to be the mom of an autistic son.  Who thought I could handle this?  What about my dreams, my ambitions, my identity?  I’m a writer.  Is my stuff any good?  Are people just humoring me by being nice?  Do people really want to be my friends?  Who could possibly love me?

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Wow.

Tough questions that stab at the heart.  Those are seeds of discontent, of lies, of hatred, of fear.  Plant those and they will choke out anything good, honest, loving, and hopeful.

I’m throwing out this obvious disclaimer before I go any further: I am not an expert on the topic I’m going to attempt to write about here–gratitude.  My guess is you probably struggle with feeling grateful most days as well.  It seems to be human nature to focus on the negatives.  So, let’s take this journey together.  Let’s foray into the muck of lies we tell ourselves (that we’re no good) and try to come out on the other end into something better (that we’re worthy).

I have done some book studies in a small group I’m in at church on this topic–gratitude.  Some people call it counting your blessings.  It’s not always easy, especially when emotions take hold and force us to take an ugly turn.  As I’ve gotten older (and maybe a bit wiser), I have heard that little voice in the back of my head more–yes, even when I’m super-hormonal and slightly crazy!

When things are spiraling out of control, I can often see it unraveling.  I know I am only going to make things worse for me and everyone else who has the unfortunate habit of crossing my path miserable.  Often, I am focusing on one bad thing and ignoring many good things.  There’s that one person who has let me down (or so I think), has pissed me off, or is just seeming to not live up to my expectations.  Ah, expectations.  Those nasty, petty things we want others to do, because, you know, we (read: I) know best.  Um, right…

Stop right there.  This is where we (yes, you and I) take a deep breath and think.  Yes, think.  Not react.  Think about what’s going right in life.  There are plenty of people who love me, who support me, who are there for me.  I am breathing, aren’t I?  I am alive.  Sometimes it’s raining, and I long for sunshine.  Sometimes it’s sunny, and I want a rainy day to cuddle inside and read a good book.  But every day is truly a blessing when you think about it.

If you’re like most Americans, you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back.  You don’t even have to think about these things, these bare necessities, but they are blessings.  Often, I find that when I am taking my blessings for granted, when I stop and think about it, I know I have been blessed to be a blessing to others.

That’s gratitude–being thankful for what you do have without expecting more.  A wise woman I know who has been through hell and back has a mantra: What are you doing with what you already got?

So, plant those seeds of the good stuff and water them often.  That’s how you start cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  You make the conscious effort (a choice, yes) to be grateful every day and count those blessings.  I started writing my blessings down, with the goal of reaching 1000.  I think I stopped somewhere in the 800s, but I got pretty far!  I didn’t write them all in one day…a few a day, sometimes with several weeks in between writing them down.  When you see those blessings written down, it can make them more concrete.

It takes a lot of practice and a constant, conscious effort to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  Do it enough, and that little voice starts to speak with more authority.  You are more than the sum of your fears and little hates.  You are someone whose life has a purpose.  For me, I believe God sees the beauty in us even when we don’t see it in ourselves.

Those seeds can grow into something beautiful, something life-sustaining and worth sharing with others.  So, I invite you to think about it.  Plant some good seeds with me, make a choice, and watch them grow.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is being released on Sept. 2 and is available for pre-order (only $2.99) here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” -Tuesdays with Morrie

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My great aunt Alma and my grandma, Emma, circa 1931

Today, I am going to share something very special to me, something close to my heart.  Below is the true story that inspired my first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow:

When I was fifteen years old, my grandmother was terminally ill. Months earlier, she had had a sarcoma removed from her leg and had undergone radiation therapy. She was given a clean bill of health in February of that year (1995). Shortly thereafter, she went to the hospital because she had fluid in her lungs, and when they did a scan, they found a spot: the cancer had metastasized to her lungs in a matter of months. Although given two to six months to live, her time on Earth would be much shorter than that.

The day she was released from the hospital and placed under Hospice care, I wrote a letter to her, telling her all that she meant to me, how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. I expressed my heartfelt admiration of her courage to face what lay ahead. And I asked her to send me a sign once she reached Heaven, not because I was afraid she wouldn’t go there, but because I needed the comfort.

Two weeks later, she came to our house. It was the week before Easter, and she was to spend the time with us, and her sister from California was to come in as well. On the night she arrived, she was still walking and talking. Although thin and weak, she was still herself for the most part. I remember her eating an orange in the family room as I talked to my best friend on the phone.

The next morning, she never got out of bed. The day was gloomy and overcast with thick clouds of early April showers. We thought it might just be the weather or the fact that she had been transported the night before. I overheard my dad speaking to his brother on the phone that morning, saying he didn’t think she would live more than 24 hours. In denial, I refused to believe such nonsense. All I had ever known was a life that had my grandma as part of it; to imagine otherwise was unthinkable!

The pastor from her church came that afternoon to visit, and while doing math homework in my bedroom, adjacent to the room she was in, I heard his voice through the walls, uttering the twenty-third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She was asleep most of the day, and the couple of times I approached the darkened room where she lay so still on the bed, I think I was afraid. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was feeling that way, but I think now it was because I couldn’t reconcile the figure I saw in that bed with the figure I knew of her warm smile, cheery eyes, and rosy cheeks.

Some relatives came to visit in the mid-afternoon, and she seemed to brighten some, even laugh at a few jokes. My family was originally planning on attending a concert at the high school that evening, but due to my grandma’s condition, my parents remained home with her, and my brother and I attended by ourselves.

A couple of hours later when we returned home, it was dark and still raining slightly. We parked on the street because there were a couple of other cars in our driveway, and I felt my heart skip a beat as I rushed up the driveway and into the house, not wanting to believe the worst. The first sight that greeted me was my mom walking toward me, her face lined with tears, and she was shaking her head. I knew without having to ask. To this day, over 20 years later, the events of that entire day as are clear as if they happened yesterday.

Standing in the kitchen were my uncle, my dad, and the pastor. We held hands and formed a circle as the pastor said a prayer. I left the kitchen to go to the spot where Grandma had been, but she was already gone from the bed. I saw the men from the funeral home carrying her out, covered in a sheet.

She was truly gone. That night, I dreamt that my mom died, too. While my parents were away the next day taking care of everything, I was at home in the company of my best friend, and it continued to rain. I found it in me to laugh some, finding a pair of checkered pants that was so hideously out of style, but my grandma wore them, anyway. I pulled them over my own clothes and just laughed, mostly because my best friend could always make me laugh. We were visited by a cousin and her husband, who had brought over dinner, and the four of us laughed some more. There was something therapeutic in this, although it was also a brief escape from the reality of the situation.

The wake was two days later, followed the next day by the funeral. It rained in all the days between my grandma never leaving the bed and on the day of the funeral. My letter to my grandma was read at her funeral by the pastor. The Lord’s Prayer was sang by the co-pastors, a husband and wife team. My grandma’s favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord,” was played. As the family followed the casket down the aisle, I was a sobbing mess, and my brother, who was walking alongside me, put his arm around me. I remember briefly trying not to laugh, as we had this weird thing about never touching each other as teenagers, so hugs were forbidden.

Much of the graveside service was a blur, but we stood under a tent as the rain continued. A dinner was served, and then it was over. We were on our way home. That evening, the rain finally stopped. I was in my room when I heard my mom exclaim, “Cyndi, come here!”

I ran into the front window and looked outside. Stretched across the sky was a rainbow! I smiled and knew this was my grandma’s sign to me! There was no doubting that, and to explain this away as mere coincidence is an insult to her, her memory, and to our Lord of miracles. My mom and I turned away for just a moment, and when I looked back, it was gone. To catch such a brief moment in time when that rainbow appeared was not coincidence in the least. Only my mom and I saw that rainbow; it was meant for us.

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My grandparents, Howard and Emma Grundman, circa 1942

I had the idea for the story back in October 2006.  I woke in the middle of the night with the name “Hannah Rechthart” on my mind.  “Hannah” means ”favor” or “grace.”  “Rechthart” means “right heart.”  I started writing down character names and researching.  Many details from early in Hannah’s life were taken from an autobiography my grandma wrote in high school and another she and her younger sister, Ida (whom Irma is based on), wrote later in life about growing up, called “The Billhardts of Fuller Avenue.”  I also spoke extensively with my mom and had my own memories to work with for Hannah’s later years.

I composed four chapters between October 2006 and January 2009.  Then I had my first child and my second, and the story sat for years, until I started writing in earnest in March 2015.  It may have taken a decade to finally sit down and write it all out, but only by God’s grace and my grandma’s legacy was that inspiration possible.

It’s been over twenty years since my grandma passed away, but in writing this story, I hope I was able to convey with the love I’ve always had for her that she was a wonderful person.  

May you see many rainbows in your life, wherever you go.

The Letter I Wrote to Grandma:

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Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Character Friday – Meet Arianna Banks

Every Friday, I will feature a character from one of my books, both published and unpublished.  The character will be presented as if he/she is writing about themselves in a journal entry.

My name is Arianna Banks.  I was born July 23, 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Most of my life, I haven’t stuck with anything long.  I was the kid who grew up an only child, whose parents gave her pretty much anything she wanted.  I tried ballet, tap, sports, martial arts, art classes, horseback riding, you name it, but none of those ever lasted for more than a season.  The same was true with my friends.  I don’t know if it was just bad luck, but every year in school, I had a different best friend.  I was lucky if I kept one for a couple of years.  We’d get in a fight about something, although now that I’m grown up, I forget what most of the fights were about.  I remember thinking my friends were just jealous of me because my parents had a nice enough house, and I had tons of toys and all the latest gadgets.  Most of my “friends” were interested in coming over for what I had as far as things went, but truth be told, I wasn’t that nice of a person.

At school, I became more and more of a loner the older I got.  By middle school, I was one of the losers of the school.  My stuff didn’t seem to matter anymore.  I was bitter and cut myself off from others, but that was when I began writing.  I kept journals, writing my feelings down every moment.  I neglected my homework and my grades in favor of writing my own stories and poetry.  I never thought any of it was any good.  It was dark and angsty.

My parents encouraged me to make friends, but I stopped trying.  I had one friend in high school — Lori Miller.  She was in marching band with me, the only extracurricular I’d stuck with.  I didn’t enjoy playing the clarinet, except that it was the one thing my mom insisted I keep doing because she had also played the clarinet when she was growing up.  She told me time and again that music had been her life — that playing the clarinet in band had gained her lots of great friends, and they’d bonded and joked together while in marching band.  Lori and I were always the last and second last chairs.  We dyed our hair black, dressed in black, and wore thick dark eyeliner.  I guess we were Goth or Emo or something.

When I finally graduated, I enrolled in the community college.  I had no clue what I wanted to do.  I worked at various fast food restaurants and chain stores.  I changed my major every semester.  After four years of what should’ve taken two years, I got my associate’s degree.  Lori and I had lost touch in this time, as she’d gone off to college after high school and hadn’t looked back.  Being Facebook friends hardly seemed to matter.

Also during college, I began hanging out with Brad.  He’d worked at the movie theater with me.  His parents were disgustingly rich, but he didn’t care about that.  Most of the time, he didn’t even have a job.  He’d worked at the theater to get free movies, but that had lasted all of a summer.  I’m not sure what I saw in Brad except that he actually talked to me.  He told me he found me interesting, that I wasn’t like other girls.  Whatever that meant.  We didn’t really date in the usual sense.  He hardly took me out anywhere, but we hung around his house and sometimes mine.  And yeah, we had sex.  Whenever Brad called, I came.  Maybe it was finally feeling useful, like I belonged to someone and had a purpose.  It was stupid, but I was caught up in that messy relationship for two years.

I should mention that I kept writing all through high school and college, but I never shared it with my parents or Brad or anyone.

I finally got it in my head to go to beauty school.  It was one option I hadn’t tried yet, and my fascination with hair color and alternative beauty (think body piercings) made me want to give it a shot.  I began working at the receptionist desk at a salon and spa and got into beauty school.  Things seemed to be going fine.  I was interested in beauty school enough to stick with it for a few months.

But then my parents died in a plane crash while flying to Europe to celebrate their anniversary.  It was for their twenty-fifth, but they didn’t go until a year later due to my dad’s crazy travel schedule for his job.  He was a national salesman for the construction industry.  If they’d gone last year, none of this would’ve happened, right?  They’d still be alive.  The shock of it all took me over the edge.  I was already pretty used to being alone, so what was the loss of two of the people who loved me the most?  I got more piercings and dyed my hair bright red.  (My hair hadn’t been its natural color of a drab brown in years.) I moved in with my nana.  I was in denial, afraid to confront the pain.

I should take a moment to mention my dear, awesome nana.  I can’t believe I haven’t yet!  Anyway, she was always close to our little family when I was growing up.  She’s a spitfire.  She seems younger than she is, and she’s health-conscious, sharp, but sweet and totally devoted.  So, rather than live on my own, she invited me to live with her.  Although I wouldn’t have had a problem living on my own due the compensation received from the airline and the inheritance left to me, I affected her offer.  Deep down, I was tired of being so alone.

A month after their deaths, their loss finally hit me full force.  I broke down in front of Nana.  She told me about her own mother, Lorna Blake, and how she’d also lost her parents.  I guess my great-grandma had lived in isolation with a severe cause of depression for years until she’d met and married my great-grandpa.  I knew I didn’t want to be like that.

I had some choices to make.  I knew I’d always been a disappointment to my parents because I couldn’t settle on anything.  On a whim, I quit my job and beauty school.  It wasn’t what I really wanted.  Losing my parents, I knew how life was short.  I needed my life to start having some meaning instead of just wandering from job to job or friend to friend.  I left Brad, finally fed up with his crap.  I’d become a shell, doing whatever he wished.  I wasn’t really living.  That needed to change.

Nana tried to warn me that I was making too many changes too quickly, but I wouldn’t hear of it. One good thing during this time was my friendship with Kelly from the salon.  She turned out to be the real deal.  Somehow, she’d seen something worthwhile in me, and we became steadfast friends.

Another crazy, spontaneous change: I called a number I’d found in the McDonald’s parking lot on a fence about a job opportunity.  That’s how I found out about a company called Affection for the Afflicted.  They were a telemarketing company that claimed to raise money to help those in Africa who were suffering.  Finally, a purpose, I thought!  This seemed like an amazing opportunity, so I took the job and began training.

Turns out I was very good at telemarketing.  The more calls I made in a certain amount of time and the more money I raised for the charity, the bigger my paycheck was.  I had money rolling in in buckets.  Money wasn’t the problem.

I also met Marc Arnold at work.  Unlike Brad, he was very different.  He was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, trendy, and was into theatre.  He sought me out right away, claiming to be fascinated by me.  He was outgoing, brutally honest, and deep.  But as much as I wanted to be open with Marc, my self-consciousness held me back.  We were like oil and water more often than not, but imagine this: The water is dyed blue, and the oil is dyed red.  When you shake up the container holding them, they do mix (sort of) for a while. They create beautiful patterns, complementing each other.

All this while, my writing slowly came alive in the uncertainty of my career choice and romance (or lack of it).  I was trying to build my future, but the question was: What was I building it on? What role, if any, did Marc play in that? Was my job really the answer to my need to find fulfillment?

And in the midst of all this, Brad wasn’t gone yet.

Like my great-grandfather who was a writer and an author, I felt the tug to put the pen to the page, that incessant discomfort and thrill that pulled at my heartstrings.

Where does my story go? I’m a writer.  I should know these things, but one thing any writer will tell you is that their characters dictate the story more than the writer. What does that mean for me?

Arianna is the protagonist of my unpublished and current work-in-progress story, Arianna. 

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

 

Seeking Contentment in Life

I am putting this up front as a disclaimer: I’m 36 years old and certainly don’t feel like “I’ve figured life out” yet. In fact, I think if we ever reach the point where we think we’ve figured “it” all out, that’s when we’re in trouble, for in that moment, we’ve stopped learning. We can always strive to do better; that whole journey versus the destination thing.
So, below are just a few thoughts I’ve come to the conclusion to over the years as to what leads to a content life, at least for me. I can only speak for myself, after all, and my journey. I just thought I’d share them with you.
(And trust me, I often don’t follow my own advice!)
1. Lower your expectations, both of yourself and of others.
Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to in a day. We often have unrealistic expectations of what we can accomplish in a day, but perhaps underestimate just how much we do, in fact, accomplish in a lifetime. Accomplishment is not measured by the huge successes that draw in everyone’s attention. It’s often the little moments that add up to meaning much more.
The expectations you hold of yourself you will often hold on others, but this is ridiculous to do when you really stop and think about it. Not everyone is like you. Everyone has their own unique talents and gifts to bring to the world. Not expecting much from others can, in turn, lead to some really pleasant surprises when someone does do something you weren’t expecting!
2. Let go of bitterness, anger, worry, or any type of negativity.
It will eat you alive if you let it. That’s the key: You are letting it. You are choosing to allow negativity to live rent free in your head. Worrying about something doesn’t change it. Choosing to focus on everything that’s going wrong forces you to miss many things that are going right.
3. Don’t live your life trying to please others or trying to get them to like you.
Simple fact: Not everyone will like you, and no matter how hard you try, you won’t please everyone. You can choose to surround yourself with people who will lift you up, instead of tear you down. The sooner you realize that you cannot please everyone, the better. Getting angry and holding onto it because you feel someone has wronged you does not allow you to move on. Be yourself, and if someone really loves you, they will love you for who you are, not who you pretend to be. Fake people have fake relationships.contentment
4. Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is the source of so much unhappiness. There is nothing to be gained from this and only so much to lose. Ask yourself what you’re doing with what you already have, instead of trying to acquire more.
5. Pray.
Have a relationship with a Higher Power. You don’t have to be religious, but I do believe that faith battles fear.
6. Create your own family with who you choose to be friends with.
If you’re blessed with a wonderful family, consider that a bonus, but not everyone has this. Your close friends can be your family you weren’t born into, if nothing else. You don’t get to choose your family, but do can choose your friends. Make them good ones.
7. Have an open mind in regards to those who are different from you.
Much animosity between people comes from not truly understanding the other party. Try to learn why they believe differently, and even if you can’t agree, realize that there is never a need for hatred. Wish them well on their way and in life. Choose to live your life by your standards and try not to judge someone who may choose to live differently. We don’t all find meaning in the same things, and I believe God has the power to use what’s given to each person in a unique way for the greater good.
8. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Choose kindness whenever you can and keep your mouth shut. Criticize and nagging only tears down. You don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life, and often those who shut others out the most are the ones who need a friend the most.
9. Forgive.
Do this for your benefit as much as for the other person.
10. Laugh and have a sense of humor.
Don’t take life too seriously, and never lose the child within you. Things don’t have to be perfect, but they can be wonderful.
11. Look at every opportunity as a chance to learn something.
Even the bad experiences can teach us something, even if it’s not to make the same mistake!
12. Love.
It speaks for itself. True love is unselfish, unconditional, and from God. Strive for that.

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only 99 cents on Amazon: https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B01KR99KQS&asin=B01KR99KQS&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_GvVXxbR1DHMCD

#contentment #happiness #seeking #life