Gratitude. One simple word that’s abundant with multidimensional meaning. Oxford’s Dictionary defines gratitude as “The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” I’ve read numerous interpretations of this word from other sources including books, articles, and on social media.
Is defining the word most important? No. For me, identifying and thinking about gratitude is a start. It is the beginning of awareness, which is the first step toward any type of evolution, growth or change.
The next thread is putting it into practice. It is living in the present. It is consciously weaving gratitude into your life’s fabric. Our daily moments are like individual patches on an intricate quilt. I’ve observed and heard that people often perceive gratitude as only seeing the positive in situations. I used to feel this way, too. But in recent years, my perspective of being grateful has shifted dramatically. I am going to share with you how we can also find gratitude in negative, challenging circumstances.
Conflict and suffering stain areas on our quilts. Do I wish these rough and darker patches didn’t exist? Of course. I wish our quilts were only comprised of vibrant rainbows. Do I hope those who experience emotional and/or physical pain find peace? Every. Single. Day.
But I’ve also reached a level of acceptance. I realize that we cannot avoid nor escape the lessons. I am not speaking about academic teachings. I am referring to people crossing our paths who hurt us. I am alluding to an illness or an accident that rocks our world. On a global level, I am talking about prejudice, hatred, natural disasters, and more.
So how do we live gratefully during times of heartache, disappointment, agony, shock, and conflict? I certainly do not have all the answers. I wish I did! What I would like to share; however, is how I choose to live in and with gratitude. Just like you, I have experienced horrific, exruciating stops on my journey. We all have—none of us are immune.
I wanted to post this today as Thanksgiving approaches. Unlike past blog posts, I am going to share vignettes in which I hurt, suffered, and ached in myriad ways yet tried (it is NOT easy) to learn from and be grateful for that particular lesson. I feel strongly that whatever we came to the planet to learn will present itself again and again until we GET it. Perhaps you need to learn how to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Or not feeling guilty about self care and self love. Another lesson may be advocating for yourself/others or learning discernment. Here are a few examples:
Childbirth. Just the word, for some of you, may make your jaw clench and tummy turn! I had an insanely long labor and complex delivery. And I was and am grateful for every second of those 18 hours! Why? I got to experience my water breaking, which only happens in 15 percent of women. I felt intense contractions as the meds did NOT work. I saw my first born’s head crown but he was nearly 10 pounds and 21 inches (nobody knew!). After three hours of determined pushing, I reluctantly had a C-section. I was and still am thankful for every second of that day. And I’m beyond grateful for the healthy baby boy, who will be 16 in April, that lights up my life with his humor, wit, intelligence, and love.
Death. As I wrote about in an earlier blog (August 13, 2017), losing a loved one suddenly or slowly hurts deeply. Old or young. Sickness or natural causes. It never gets easier. So how on earth can we find gratitude in the midst of such sadness? It is hard. It is beyond difficult. But it IS possible. For instance, I miss Terri, my husband’s mother, today and forever. I host Thanksgiving at our home every year, which was her favorite holiday, as it is mine. She’s on my mind even more this week. I am grateful I knew her. I am grateful she showed me how to love and how to live each day as if it’s your last. She didn’t know she would leave us suddenly. In an instant, my priorities shifted from striving for perfection professionally to focusing on my family. A few years later, I made the difficult decision to stop practicing speech therapy to be more present for my children, husband, and community. Terri’s passing prompted me to switch gears. I am grateful for her continued influence on decisions in my life and in my heart. (Her passion for living and creating inspired me to finally write again and launch everysoulhasastory.com).
My grandma Miriam, who passed away at 89 years old, and another, Grandma Pearl, who exited at 98 years old, both left a lasting, loving legacy. Grandma Miriam loved loyally and purely. I wish she’d met my husband and children. She loved my brother and me with such kindness, nurturing, and sweetness. I think of Grandma Miriam when I kiss my kids constantly—she did this to me at their age. My daughter is named after her, and she’s just as expressive and emotive as her great grandma. (Grandma Miriam passed just three weeks before I met my husband at a party Thanksgiving weekend in 1997.)
Grandma Pearl (“Pearly”) showed and gave love unconditionally, stoically, and without judgement. I am grateful she was present in my life for 17 incredible, unforgettable years. I can still hear her voice of reason and will feel her steadfast, honest love forever. I always appreciated her and told her so while she was alive. (She was my husband’s grandma, but quickly became mine as well. She was a mentor, a role model, and much more.). Dragonflies are a gentle visit from this woman who was one of the strongest and most positive influences on my life.
Sickness. We’ve all had colds and coughs. Annoying? Yes. I don’t like resting. In fact, I am an irritable, hot mess when I’m sick. But I find gratitude for my health in the days that follow. I’ve had times, too, that I sit outside stuffy but thankful. I take deep breaths as I inhale with appreciation for this “forced pause.”
What about surviving (or supporting a friend with) cancer or another long-term illness? How does one find a glimmer of gratitude when faced with possible mortality? I can only share my personal moments; it is different for everyone. I have found peace in holding those I love close and telling them how much I appreciate their presence in my life. I have expressed gratitude for healthier years and the pervasive, permanent positivity that will always bring to my existence.
Relationships. I am grateful for every single second with my best friend, partner, and love of my life—my husband. I am grateful for my two children who bring light to my world, teach me with purity, and laugh through tears during tougher times. I am grateful for my pups and other various creatures who inhabit our home. I am grateful for the authentic friendships of all ages who teach, support, and love me. I am beyond thankful.
I am also learning how to find gratitude while letting go of relationships that are toxic, abusive, and unhealthy. I am grateful for cutting cords with those who inject poison rather than infuse peace into my heart. I had a friend years ago who hurt me in an unfathomable way. But I am grateful she was in my life. I have spoken of her in recent years, acknowledging that if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to guide a friend to a doctor who was life changing.
It’s not always easy. But it is necessary when your emotional and/or physical health is negatively impacted. I am grateful when people show you who they are again and again until it’s undeniable. Character can be revealed, I have learned, by action and also inaction. Your life’s quilt can be torn not just by what someone says but also what they do not say. I am thankful for increasing clarity, although it can be painful, certain interactions have provided. I will actually say aloud, “Thank you for showing me who you are” or “Thank you for the affirmation of what I knew to be true but did not want to accept or see.”
These are just some of my personal soul stories in which I’ve chosen to live with gratitude. You can choose to be a victim. You can choose to blame others with a “poor me, it’s everyone else’s fault” energy. Or. You can pause even during the most chaotic, emotional tsunami. Take a few cleansing breaths. Go inward and be honest. Ask yourself, “What am I really supposed to learn? Why is this happening not to me but with me? What can I be grateful for during this terrible time or after it is over?”
If you get quiet, the answers will come. It may not always be what you want to hear or feel. I’ve had many internal struggles and silent debates. But if you clear your mind, the truth will be revealed. I have found once this happens, you can appreciate the reason for this part of your journey.
I would love to hear from you! Please check out everysoulhasastory.com and click on the “Share Your Story” link. What experiences have you had in which a situation at the time seemed unbearable but later (hopefully) you realized why and understood the meaning. Gratitude is a conscious, daily practice that I encourage and work on every day. The positive and negative, the ugly and the lovely, the good and the bad will collectively contribute to your personal development and happiness. The choice is yours. And I am grateful for it all.
This week I’ll continue to post photos, quotes, images, and more on my blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages. Thank you for joining my journey and connecting with EVERY SOUL HAS A STORY. I am grateful for you!