Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Power of Gratitude

More than ten years ago, I read Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Second only to the Bible, that book has had the greatest influence on the way that I live my life. It served to alter my attitudes about joy, love, hospitality, friendship, and most of all, my attitude of gratitude.

In response to a recommendation made in that book, I began to keep a gratitude journal. The concept is simple: at the end of every day, write down five things you are thankful for. Don't just think about them or say them out loud; write them down. Then with the passage of time, I ended up with several small journals filled with things, people, foods, drinks, places, events, moments that I was grateful for each day.

There were big things like being able to pay the mortgage and our car payments. And good health. And surviving power outages during snow storms while living in a house that was heated with electric heat.

There were little things. Like finding parking spots near the door of the supermarket when my children were both still little. And finding lost earrings. And discovering that our favorite cereal was on sale at the supermarket.

Then I noticed that the little things became big things. After all, saving money on cereal or the electric bill is a big deal. And so was being able to find my car keys in my rather large diaper bag while standing in the rain with a crying infant in my arms.

Then I noticed more and more things for which to give thanks.

I learned to find reasons to be grateful even when the car needed new tires that we thought we couldn't afford. At least we had a car, two cars in fact. And there were reputable car repair people in our community, establishments that would recommend replacing only two tires at a time so that we could afford the upkeep of our cars without overextending ourselves financially.

I found reasons to be grateful when a connecting flight was cancelled. I had been wondering about how to make a slow reentry into my life after an emotionally eventful trip overseas. There's nothing like getting stuck at O'Hare Airport and having to spend the night in a nearby hotel to make for a slow reentry. And because I am a very light traveler, I had everything I owned with me in my carry-on. I was the only person checking in to that hotel that night that didn't have to ask for a toothbrush at the front desk!
I found something to be thankful for when the pool water remained a disturbing shade of dark green for an entire week after we opened it one summer. I was reminded that we can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars throwing stuff into our lives, all the things that we are told will "clear it up" and nothing changes. Then we are told, "Oh yeah, you need to throw shock into the pool first. If you don't put the chlorine in there, then nothing else will make a difference." For me, the shock, the chlorine, the clarifier has been God Himself. I've tried a whole lot of other stuff. I still am prone to wander off and try other stuff and other people, but falling back onto my knees in silence reverence and gratitude still set me straight more than anything else ever has.

I found reasons to be grateful even when I cut my finger and needed stitches. Medical insurance and a nearby Urgent Care Center are a great combination. I hope that someday soon everyone in this nation will be able to get the help they need when they need it without having to worry that they may lose their house as a result. Our medical costs increase every year, but my husband and I agree that if we have to pay out a little more every month so that others will get the care they need, then it's worth it. We don't care how communist or socialist that sounds to some. We know what it is to need urgent care for ourselves and our children. We have been grateful to and for every doctor, nurse, nurse's aide, receptionist, medical assistant, midwife, and physician's assistant that has every tended to us. The time may come when we have no insurance for one reason or another; we'd like to think that even then, we will be able to receive the medical care we need - especially after bonehead maneuvers like trying to slice off the top of my right pinky finger with a recently sharpened knife.

Somehow I was able to muster up reasons for gratitude when my daughter was sick, my son's allergies flared up, (see preceding paragragh) and my husband was annoying the heck out of me - no comment - not that any of those things happen very often.

This morning, I am grateful for strong hot coffee after strong cold drinks at a surprise 50th birthday party last night - no, not for me, for my son Daniel's best friend's father - who also happens to be one of Daniel's tennis coaches.

I am grateful for a new cell phone after my old one imploded earlier in the week.

I am grateful for the quietness in my house; I am the only one awake. But I've got to go wake up my son for a tennis tournament.

I am grateful for the public library - if I had to buy every book I long to read, I would be a penniless geek.

I am grateful for airplanes that transport me, my friends and my family across land and sea into and away from one another's loving embraces, and that transport sweet Spanish clementines, strong Italian coffee, and long grain Indian basmati rice from their homelands to mine.

I am grateful for a body that works well most of the time, that obeys most of my demands of it, and that responds well to being nourished with fresh food and ice cold water.

I am grateful for laughter, good dreams, honey whole wheat bread from The Great Harvest Bread Company, chewable vitamins, watercolor crayons, Sharpie markers, peace signs on silver jewelry, Nag champa incense, veggie burgers from 131 Main, calcium supplements, kale salad with homemade dressing, cutting boards, hardwood floors, fireworks, fresh basil, clean socks, nail clippers, umbrellas, toilet paper, Dr Bronner's soap, combination locks, zippers, remote controls, lavender-scented laundry detergent, sharp scissors, the music on my ipod, hairdressers, cool late summer mornings, tomatoes still warm from (a friend's) garden, automatic dishwashers, a friendly vet, sensitive toothpaste, tracing paper, Good Will stores, down comforters, cookbooks, turbinado sugar, prayer beads, cloth bags to carry our groceries in, ice cubes, a great sense of direction, lazy Sunday mornings, frozen grapes, silver polishing cloths, the rich abundance of food in the supermarket, the lazy susan on the kitchen island, coconut oil, magnets, Life is Good stickers, generous neighbors, and the smell of tiny babies.

What are you grateful for today?


Lisa said...

Oh my. This is such a beautiful post, dear Gail. And one I needed to read so much this morning. Thank you!

Today, I am grateful for:

time to rest and recover from a hard week, sunshine, blue sky, less humidity, strong dark coffee, a quiet house, indoor plumbing, electricity, Itunes, my laptop, my husband, my cat, delicious food, an abundance of books and magazines ~ bringing wisdom and insight when I need it most, friends like you who so wonderfully enrich my life, butterflies, birds, trees, flowers, leaves, chipmunks, squirrels, babies, opportunities, 2nd chances, pens and pencils, notebooks, journals, my camera, candles, incense, my Ipod, a 17 year old car that still runs well, good movies, finding and living my Truth,....

Tricia said...

I feel like I am channeling you! At least one thing in every post seems to hit a spot near and dear to my heart.

This time it is the Sarah book. Read it years back, kept the gratitude journal for a while, but eventually got sidetracked. Just recently pulled in out again as you have. It is on my bedside table now and it is helping me find grace in dealing with my mother who entered Assisted Living in January.

In fact, you have encouraged me to dig out the Something More book. Thanks!