I’m resisting the urge to write volumes on the subject.
Because I could.
It’s that powerful.
It’s that game-changing.
It’s that essential. . .
To all that’s good in life.
But, I promise to keep it short and sweet.
Because the truths speak for themselves. . .
Four simple truths about gratitude
Gratitude is a choice. Living life with a grateful heart doesn’t always just happen–especially when life sucks. You may have to choose it-over and over and over again–even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t make sense. Because eventually, it will make sense. It will become part of your DNA. You’ll wonder how you could breathe without it.
Gratitude is self-pity’s kryptonite. Try feeling sorry for yourself and being truly grateful at the same time. It simply cannot be done. I know this because I’ve tried. More than once. And I’ve failed. Every. Single. Time.
A joyous life is absolutely impossible without gratitude. So is a peaceful one, or a content one, or a loving one, or a courageous one, or an abundant one. . . And you get the picture.
Practicing gratitude will save your life. I know this because it’s saved mine.
So what is stopping you,
Despite where your life may be at this moment,
From living your best life?
The one that includes you with a grateful heart. . . and a joyous soul.
As somebody once said, “There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.”
(This post is nothing but a desperate attempt at positivity.)
It’s November 10. Two days ago I s-h-a-t-t-e-r-e-d my 5k personal best and I am currently 169 days into a runstreak. I am desperately trying not to let this early winter storm–that has arrived in FULL FORCE–dampen my running spirits. Now, when I am running better than I ever have, is not the time for winter to settle in. Why, Mother Nature? Why?
I rolled out of bed around 9:00 a.m. (As luck would have it, I had decided last week to schedule today off work.) I immediately peeked out the window. I could see through my curtains that the ground was white but I was intensely hoping that the weather predictions had been wrong.
UGH, even worse than I imagined.
So many inches already on the ground! I knew if I was going to get a run in I would have to do it now–or I’d likely succumb to the negative thoughts (it’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s slippery, you don’t need to run etc.) that were already creeping into my head. I’d soon cave to the negativity and then head on over to the neighbors who had graciously offered up their treadmill.
But, I refuse to succumb to the drone of the treadmill.
Well , at least this early in the season. Not just because I don’t like the dreadmill treadmill, but because my mental health requires that I get outside and run. Running outside soothes my soul like few other things do.
Not really seeing much of a choice in the matter, I bundled up and headed outside for my first winter run of the 2014-15 season. Alas, woe is me.
I set foot into the snow and surprisingly my legs (albeit reluctantly) settled into a running form of sorts. I made it out of the yard without falling and headed down the road on some tire tracks. The snow was deeper than I thought and it was blowing hard enough that the visibility was less than two blocks. The snow stung my eyes and I ran the first block with them mostly closed. I’m sure I was a sight.
About a quarter mile in, I was already wringing wet with sweat. I had definitely overdressed.
About a half mile in, my calf muscles were screaming at me. “This is not normal! Why are we trying to run through this white stuff?”
At my turn around, my lungs were definitely more taxed than normal. I had forgotten how cold temperature affects breathing. By this time, the negative self-talk was beginning in full force. “Why are you running in a snowstorm? This is dumb. You are dumb. Go home. Head back to the gym.” And on it went, eventually progressing to a full-on whinefest in my head.
I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the things that I hated about winter running. Breathing is hard. My mile-per-minute pace slows significantly. Runs are usually shorter. I can never get down how many layers I need to stay comfortable. Shoe choices are limited. Running on the trails I love so dearly is nearly impossible. And I slow down. (Oops, did I already mention that?)
Apparently though, I began to settle into the run because as I got closer to home, I made the decision to run a little farther (despite my crap attitude) than I had originally planned. I had realized that it was going to be one helluva long winter if I was going to be grumbling miserably already. I thought back to last winter. What were some of the things that I actually liked about winter runs? Was there anything?
Amazingly, I discovered, there were a few things I actually loved about winter running.
5. Winter running clothes are pretty cute (and black running tights, which I wear all the time, make my legs look rather toned.)
4. Winter cross-training activities are a blast. Snowshoeing anyone?
3. Running while it is lightly snowing is incredibly peaceful and beautiful.
2. Moonlight runs on a calm winter’s night are some of the most soul-soothing runs, EVER.
1. Running outside in Minnesota in the winter is just plain, BADASS.
It was the fall of 2012, a couple months after the crash. For the past month or so, I had been reading a daily devotional that I had found on my mom’s bookshelf. I had given it to her for her last birthday and I had been reading it faithfully since finding it. The passages had become a source of comfort for me and I looked forward to the brief moments of solace from my intense pain and grief that reading those words every morning brought to me. The devotions seemed to fit everything that was going on in my life at the moment, just like they had for my mom when she had started reading it.
Then, just like life can suddenly go from beautiful to broken in the blink of an eye, the devotions on those pages did the same. In an instant, I was frustrated and angry at the words I was reading. Why, you ask? Well, I can sum it up in one word. Gratitude.
The devotional had themes and that week’s theme was gratitude. Because, really, how dare a devotional that is meant to be healing and uplifting, share a message of gratitude? Right? Didn’t they know that grieving people would be reading this book? What do people smack dab in the grips of intense pain need to know about gratitude? I’d be lying if I said a few choice words didn’t fly out of my mouth.
Day in, day out. The message of gratitude seemed to drag on F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I argued with the devotional every morning. “Surely, this wasn’t meant for grievers” was the core of the one-sided argument I had become engaged in. “Really,” I would think. “Easy to be grateful when things are good. Surely, you can’t expect me (or any others that are hurting) to be grateful after experiencing profound loss.” And on and on it went inside my head. Finally, after a few days of the reading about gratitude, I had had enough. I read the day’s passage and in a fit of desperation, I looked to the heavens (from my bathroom mind you) and screamed (yes, out loud)–“FINE! I FUCKING GET IT! I’LL BE GRATEFUL!” (Yeah, God has gotten to witness some stellar moments from me over the years. Gratefully, he is patient, kind, loving, and forgiving.) Another gut-wrenching moment of surrender had befallen me (one of many in my life) and I vowed–half-heartedly, of course–to give practicing gratitude a try. Long story short. . . it worked. Even in my deepest moments of hopelessness and despair, I began to find moments of comfort and peace when I viewed the world through a lens of gratitude and not my own pain. Go figure. Maybe God was on to something here.
Some thoughts on service
Some time later the devotional moved to a theme of service. Yeah, cue the first part of this story here. “Really,” I thought. “You want me to serve others when I’m grieving. Surely, you can’t be serious. I can barely take care of myself at the moment and you want me to help somebody else?” Again, on and on it went. Although slightly less dramatic this time around, I experienced another moment of surrender in my bathroom and vowed (yes, half-heartedly again) to find some way to serve others. I wasn’t capable of much, but I dug deep and did what I could–I said a prayer for somebody other than myself, sent words of encouragement to somebody in need, or donated money to causes I supported. Again (surprise, surprise). . . it worked. Viewing the world through a lens of service had given me small moments of reprieve from my grief, just like practicing gratitude had. Through each new moment of comfort and peace that I experienced, I began to gain some hope that healing would be possible. I remember thinking how good God was at this stuff.
A few more thoughts
I’d like to say that it was my grief-fogged brain that kept me from listening to those first few messages in that devotional, but I don’t think that would be entirely truthful. Besides my own stubbornness in not always listening, I came to learn that much of the traditional literature out there surrounding loss and healing doesn’t always talk about gratitude and/or service as part of the arsenal of tools that we have at our disposal as we begin to move forward. After all, it seems paradoxical to practice gratitude and serve others when we are suffering from incredible pain ourselves. Or does it?
Since those darkest of days in the beginning of my grief journey, I have learned more about the power of gratitude and service than I ever thought imaginable. And. . . I’m still learning. I’d like to tell you that my grief journey is done but I really feel like in some ways it’s just beginning. The numbness of the first year slowly faded and life got very real for me in year two. VERY REAL. I still find myself feeling like I am going backwards some days even though I know in my heart that I am always slowly inching forward. It’s in those real times, those painful times, those times when I feel like I am heading down the rabbit hole of despair that I focus even more on being grateful, for everything. I have found that as time has gone on, gratitude and service have become innate functions of my very being. I have been so transformed on the inside from these practices that I can’t imagine not viewing life through the beautiful lenses that I have been given–even on the worst of days.
Start simply and grow
If you are reading this and you are in the early stages of healing, it’s very important to note that you might not want to hop right in and tackle things new things right now. Those first few weeks after a loss are so extremely difficult. Just getting out of bed (or not) is hard enough, let alone trying to add anything else to your plate. In time, though, you will want more. You will want more than simply surviving, you will want to thrive. That’s when gratitude and service will eventually come in. Start simply where you are at and grow from there.
As we head into November you will see an explosion of all things gratitude–challenges, journal writing, Facebook memes etc. If you aren’t practicing gratitude regularly, now may be the perfect time to start. If you are already mindfully practicing gratitude (or trying to), think about how you can move your gratitude practice into one of service. If you are already practicing both, I challenge you to kick it up a notch or ten. The most important thing to remember is to do what you are capable of. Some days, it still takes all I can muster to get through the day. Other days, it would take kryptonite to bring me down. Remember, even on our best days, we can’t do everything all of the time. Learn your limits, use your gifts, and serve accordingly. . . all the while giving thanks. Then, be prepared for your life to change. God is really good at this stuff.