Gratitude is a Verb…

grat·i·tude
grat-i-tood, -tyood]

NOUN
   1. the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful

Okay, so Merriam-Webster, Oxford and Dictionary.com all say that gratitude is a noun.  Of course, they also say that about love and we all have heard the argument that love is really a verb.  I feel the same way about gratitude and although the grammar police might come after me for that, it’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Today, February 23rd, is Gratitude Day in my corner of the world.  No, it’s not a National Holiday, in fact there’s a day in September that is officially celebrated as World Gratitude Day, but, because of some really courageous people this day in February is a day set aside to remember that to be grateful is not a feeling but a choice.

You see, almost 10 years ago some friends lost their precious daughter Amelia and her grandmother in a tragic auto accident.  It was the kind of devastation that easily could have torn a family apart but instead, they chose gratitude; they chose it even when they didn’t feel it, even when it was hard; even when it seemed to be nearly impossible.

In my friend’s words from two years ago:

Gratitude Day was born out of the desire and need to focus on the good. My family was devastated by the loss of our daughter (and sister), Amelia in a car accident. My husband also lost his mother in that accident. His mom was 69, and Amelia was seven. They both left this earth before we were ready.

It has almost been eight years, and I have become a willing counselor to other families who have lost their children. When something tragic like this happens, you think, “that happens on the news to other people”. Now I know, it happens to my friends, my neighbors, my community.

So Gratitude Day is for everyone, not just us. It is a day to be thankful we had our beautiful children in our lives. It is a day to also remember we have many blessings. Love, good health, friends, spiritual strength, the blessing of good memories, and the faith that there are many good days to come.”

Amelia would be 17 years old today.  I know that she is proud of the example that her family and those who love her have set.

I have so much to be grateful for.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.  Today I am grateful for these courageous people who have chosen gratitude and set an example that is an inspiration to so many.

Happy Gratitude Day!

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Gratitude in the storm…

2014-05-24 Town Lake

“Now we step into today – open armed and open hearted. Every morning is something new, something unbroken, something curious and full of the rare and radiant. This is not a cliché; it is just simply true. Courage is not about being fearless, it is about loving so much you’ll brave what is hard or scary. Have courage, love this life and this morning. Your heart was broken open not apart.” — Carrie Newcomer

These words have been my daily meditation of late; something to hold on to.  A reminder to look for gratitude — to seek out the rare and radiant.

I had plans to spend the day with Pippin and my camera–I needed a day of quiet reflection…a day of peace. The skies were cloudy when I awoke and as I began to gather my hiking gear it became clear that the odds of getting stuck out in a thunderstorm were high.  In the end I scrapped those plans and headed out to the Town Lake Hike and Bike trail to get Pippin and I some exercise and some time with nature.  The sky was threatening so the camera would have to stay behind.  Undaunted, as Austinites can be, the parking lot under Mopac was jammed–everyone had the same idea.   Quiet reflection…not likely.  There were people everywhere, runners with their dogs; some pushing baby strollers; bikes rolling by.

Nevertheless, I found a sense of peace in the boats gliding quietly by on the lake; the steady rhythm of the kayakers and stand up paddlers on the water.  The sky was dark; the air thick with a cool wind — a rumble of thunder in the distance.  We walked some; ran some; listening to the birds in the trees around us.

At my faith community we have been doing a series on the power that God gives to us.  Truth be told, I haven’t been feeling very powerful lately.  And yet, being out in nature–seeing the power of nature as a storm brews gave me hope that I can find that power in myself.

As we ran the last half-mile stretch to the truck the wind was whipping the trees in earnest; giant raindrops splashing on my face.  We made it to the truck and I put Pippin in, grabbed my phone and ran out onto the bridge to snap a couple of shots of the storm coming in.  As I got back in the skies opened; bringing healing rain to this land that has been dry for so long.

2014-05-26 Town Lake Storm_02

I am grateful for this day; grateful to live in this beautiful city where the chance to be in nature is all around me.  The blessed rain is still coming down as I type this and I am thankful.

Namaste…

2014-05-26 Town Lake Storm_01

Finding gratitude…

Town Lake 019

Ever have one of those weeks that calls into question things that you once believed were fundamentally true?  Of course you have…silly question.  We all have if we’ve been around very long at all.  We are all broken people and we let each other down.  But how many times do you choose to trust again before you finally say enough is enough?  Forgiveness and trust are often hard to reconcile.  Forgiveness can come; I believe that it must, but trust?  I just don’t know right now.

It’s long past time for me to fill the pages of this blog again.  I confess that I’ve been struggling with gratitude lately.  Gratitude needs to be an intentional thing.  A spiritual discipline.  It is a gift I can give to myself as well as others and it’s high time that I begin to focus on it again.

As rough as the past few weeks have been I have much to be grateful for.  If I pay attention as I should there are things big and small everywhere in which to find gratitude; the friend who listens without judgment when I need a caring ear; my dear, funny Pippin who gives me a reason to smile and to laugh every day; a job with people of integrity who understand when I’m having a rough day…so many things…

I loaned my truck to a friend this week and he brought it back with an assortment of things repaired; things I had been living with for quite awhile, such as the broken driver’s side door handle and the missing knobs on the handles that roll the windows down; now replaced.   Heck, I drive a 20 year old truck–a few idiosyncrasies come with the territory.  The gesture was totally unexpected and unnecessary but he did it anyway and I am grateful.

I stopped to visit with my friend Mark early this morning on my way out for a power walk with Pippin at Town Lake.  Some of you will remember Mark from a blog I wrote last August.  Mark is homeless.  Visiting with Mark always brings to mind a laundry list of things I have to be grateful for if I’ll just get out of my own head long enough to notice.  Mark’s life is harder than I can possibly imagine and yet he always seems grateful for the chance to have a short conversation; perhaps a Clif Bar and a bottle of cold water; a simple acknowledgment of his humanness.

2014-04-29 BlueJay_01

One of the ways that I decompress during stressful times is to spend time with my camera.  I have found my muse in the birds and squirrels in my backyard and on my hikes with Pippin.  It’s a chance to be quiet and still — birds don’t stick around long if you make a bunch of noise or move too fast.  It’s a chance to be in nature and a chance to use the creative gifts that God has given me–a form of meditation I believe.  I’ve had some time to do just that this past week and I am grateful for it.  I’ve been rewarded with some decent photos, some new birds to add to my life list and the gift of encouragement from friends who share my passion.

05-10-14 Squirrel_08crop

My plan is to be more faithful to this practice of gratitude and to recording it in this blog.  Perhaps in doing this I can find my way back to forgiveness and trust.  I am grateful for your time and attention in reading and my wish for you is that, through all of life’s ups and downs you find a reason to be grateful.

Namaste…

05-14-14 House Finch_02 2X3

05-07-14 Goldfinch_32 2X3

05-07-14 Goldfinch_20 2X3

The gift of paying attention…

Sunrise 1-12-14 edit

“The quality of life is
in proportion, always,
to the capacity for
delight.

The capacity
for delight is the
gift of paying
attention”

–Julia Cameron, “The Artist’s Way”


I took the photo shown above yesterday morning as I was leaving the house to go help set up for church.  I generally leave the house a little before 7:00 a.m. and as I got in my truck to leave I noticed a hint of orange from the sun just beginning to peek up from behind the roof tops of my neighbor’s houses.  The way that the winter bare trees looked against the crystal clear early morning sky was breathtaking to me.  I had to stop to get out and take a photo.  The entire drive in I kept looking for a place to pull over to catch the perfect sunrise.  Driving across the Mopac bridge near downtown I was completely astounded by the dazzling, orange ball coming up behind the skyscrapers.  If I would not have been risking life and limb to pull over on the freeway and get that shot I would have stopped in a heartbeat.

All of this just simply would not have happened six months ago.  I would have been rushing along, intent on getting from point A to point B and I would have missed all of the beauty happening around me.  This is the gift that I have been given since I have begun to nurture the creative child that I never even knew existed within me.  A change has come over me.  I notice things that I would not have noticed before.  A beautiful sunrise; the color of fall leaves; a poem or a song that touches me…

I’m just starting out on this journey and I’m so looking forward to where it will take me.  I have a lot to learn about photography and writing and the creative life in general.  This Wednesday I’ll take a step forward in my education by starting a photography class.  I’m excited; a little nervous, but mostly I’m grateful for the gifts that this creative journey has given me.   It is an awakening whose time has come…

Namaste…

Moonrise 1-13-14 006

2014: moving towards the light…

Lost Maples Christmas 070
“We always do the best we can

by the light we have to see by”

–From The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

I’ve never been much of one for New Year’s Resolutions.  It just seems to me that if a change needs to happen, why wait?  But the New Year can be a good time to reflect; to look back with gratitude for the blessings in life–the people and experiences that have made life richer.  It’s also a good time to look back at the things that could have gone differently and maybe cut yourself and others some slack for those all too human moments.

I have been blessed to come to know many wonderful people this year.  They are misfits, like myself…an eclectic bunch that inspire me, challenge me, encourage me and, in the words of one of those misfits, crack me open.  It’s a good thing to be cracked open.  Not an easy thing; a sometimes painful thing, but a necessary part of living life fully.  I remember a quote — I think it is credited to singer/songwriter David Wilcox:

Love is not to fill our hearts
after all
It is to
open them.

And if
in opening them
we find that they are
empty;

That’s homework

Yes…to be cracked open is to learn to live life fully…

I spent three days in the Texas Hill Country over Christmas.  It was a time of reflection and a time to look forward to what I want to do differently next year.  A time to look at what I need to let go of and what I need to move towards. 

I didn’t find all of the answers — that would be too easy, but I did find some clarity about some things.

–I want to live a creative life.  I never thought I would ever hear myself say that, but this nurturing of the creative child in me that I didn’t even know existed until recently has been an incredible gift.  I want to; no, I plan to do more of that in 2014 and beyond.

–I have always been a forgiving person; I don’t get my feelings hurt easily.  As a whole, I am a person who is inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt.  That’s problematic at times but given the alternative I choose to live my life that way.  That said, there are people in my life; people that I care for deeply, towards whom I have been carrying hurt and resentment without intending to or even really being aware of it.  Oh, there are legitimate reasons for that hurt but I realize that it is beyond time to let them go…to learn to trust again.  I realize that I have been waiting for them to fail so that I could be right.  That is neither fair nor loving nor the right thing to do.  So, I will let go of those hurts, one day at a time and move forward.  They are doing no one any good.

–There are many resentments that I hold on to that are really against myself.  As I forgive others it is time to forgive me…to cut myself some slack for being human just like everyone else.

I realize that I will do all of this imperfectly; that I will stumble and fall, pick myself up, take steps forward and steps backward.  I will cut myself slack about this too and trust that I am doing the best I can.  I will focus on the journey; the twists and turns; the overcast, cloudy days and the clear, sunlit days.  I will keep moving towards the light.

I am grateful for many things over this past year; for the people in my life who have helped to crack me open — I thank you.

Namaste…

Pleading insanity…


Barton Creek Greenbelt 105

“Maybe we were always meant
To follow the threads forward,

Circle around and come back,
Untangle the knots.
And follow again.”
–From the poem “Following the Threads” by Carrie Newcomer

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  Apparently that is a quote from Albert Einstein.  Smart guy that Albert.  I wish that I could say that this particular definition has never applied to me but I’d be lying.  In fact, I’m at a place in my life right now where I just need to plead insanity and be done with it. 

This brings up some questions for me.  How do we take responsibility for the fact that we have been guilty of repeating the same mistakes over and over without just beating ourselves up for it?  I don’t believe that shame is the way to change that behavior and yet it’s hard not to fall into that trap.  How do we move forward — head down a different path — the one without the gaping hole in it?

To be open; to fully live life is to subject yourself to hurt.  I have no desire to close myself off from that.  Well, at least not most of the time. I don’t believe that it’s possible to fully feel life’s joys if we’re busy trying to numb ourselves from the pain.  If you spend enough time in relationship with people you will let each  other down.  We’re all  just people after all; most of us just trying to do the best we can; but still we end up hurting each other.  It’s part of the human condition.  We’re all broken in some way.  Despite our best intentions we end up hurting those we care about.  I’m as guilty of that as the next person.  I guess that’s where grace comes in.  Acceptance and forgiveness, for myself and for others and continuing to try to untangle the knots.  So today, I’m grateful for grace and that’s the best I can come up with for now…

Namaste…

Infinite chances…

homeless-sign

I stopped to visit my friend Mark last Friday.  Some of you will remember Mark from my blog, “The Least of These” that I wrote a few months ago.  Mark greeted me with a huge smile.  “I’m getting off the streets on Monday”, he said.  “I have a place to stay at a sober house here in Austin.  All I have to do to stay is to pass a drug test and get a job.  Mobile Loaves and Fishes is going to give me work until I can find something permanent.”

He looked so excited…much less tired and sad than he usually did.  The light changed and I had to drive on before I got much more of the story from him.  He was there again Sunday morning and I told him that I hoped we would meet again under better circumstances.  He said he hoped he could stop back by someday and let people know how he was doing.  I drove away thinking, “From your lips to God’s ear”.  Then I said a small prayer…”Please, God…let it work this time”.

I’ve been driving by every day this week; it’s on my route from work to the bank.  Monday there was a girl who had taken Mark’s place.  She was so young; I wondered about her story–how she came to be where she is.  The week rolled by and every time I drove by that corner I said a little prayer for Mark.  Friday, as I approached the traffic light I saw a man accepting something from someone in a car that was waiting at the light.  I remember thinking, “Please God, don’t let that be Mark”.  But it was.  Once again, for whatever reason, Mark’s attempt to get off the street has failed.  This will be the 5th time in the few years that I’ve known him that he’s tried and failed to find a better life.  I drove away feeling such sadness.

I can’t fix Mark’s problems and I think I’m past getting angry with him for whatever it is that keeps him on the street.  I believe that God gives us infinite chances to start over; it’s up to us to make the most of those chances.  For whatever reason, Mark’s brokenness is keeping him from doing that.  My prayer is that someday he will have had enough…that somehow the will to get off the street will overcome that broken part that keeps him there.  Until then, and until there is no more homelessness in this world I pray that there will be enough compassion to see all the Marks through another day…

Namaste…