This is a month of thanksgiving. Despite the origins of the holiday. Presently, we pause, we feast, and give thanks.
There are no gifts to exchange. There is no music. Decorations are subtle earthy tones coupled with luscious reds, oranges, and yellows. The kitchen brings comforting aromas of family dishes brought out just this one time a year.
Social media suggests calendars and prompts of things to be grateful for each day. It is the quiet time before the bustle of the Christmas season. It is a reason to celebrate gratitude.
During Lent, I read, “A Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp, learn more. A small group of women reflected on the transformation that could come from listing, actually writing down, daily things to be grateful for. Voskamp writes like a poet; her, sometimes flowery, chronicles of gratitude challenge us to see the world through a lens of awe and appreciation. Her words stay with me even though practicing gratitude preceded reading “A Thousand Gifts.”
My pastor preaches radical gratitude year round. About three years ago, I started gratitude journals. Each day, I list three things I am thankful for. This is not as holy as Voskamp’s but is effective in changing mindset.
From the good night’s sleep, to the sunshine, to the steady paycheck and health insurance from my day job. From the report cards highlighting my children’s achievements, to the YMCA where I get to work my body, to the meals I eat and do not have to make. For the opportunity to cook for my family. For the garage that keeps my car free from the icy snow. For the time in my office with its muted pink walls. To the mobility and freedom I have in a body that is healthy. To the cheesecake I bought from a fundraiser. For the likes on my posts.
The list goes on. And on. And this keeps me positive. It has trained my brain to see the gifts rather than the disappointments.
Imagine if I kept a list of all the things that go wrong: every red light on a tight schedule. Storms that shut down power. Furnaces that break. Kids that get fevers. I won’t go on, but I realize fixating on these things would bring me down. These things can be turned to gratitude.
Grateful to slow down on my way to work. Grateful for candles and flashlights in the dark. Grateful for repair men that work on call. Grateful for Tylenol, warm blankets and snuggles. The shift in thinking makes the difference in well being.
While it is great to have a season, a holiday, a gathering of thanksgiving. It is greater to have an attitude of gratitude as a way of constant thought. A steady diet of appreciation.
Gratitude, a noun, the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful. Give thanks every place you go. This mindset is a gift you give yourself.
One can be brave only in the presence of fear, never in its absence.
Brave, not hesitant. Just hold your breath and leap into the unknown outcome. Exhibit courage or have courageous endurance. An adjective, make a fine appearance; be intrepid, dauntless.
I was brave once or twice. I spoke in public to an auditorium full of people. I zip lined through a jungle. I fell in love.
Perhaps my bravest moment was to publish a memoir. In my mind, it was not a tell-all confessional. Yet, readers responded to it as a raw, honest, reveal of a mental illness. The book, published in 2014 under my maiden name, was released for consumption and opened me to judgement.
It was bold and daring to authentically share my humanity full of flaw. One reviewer called it a hero’s journey, likening my path to wellness to Joseph Campbell’s mythical story lines.
I had fears prior to the release of the book. Would anyone like it? Would I be ostracized? Did I offend anyone?
The fear and subsequent bravery of publishing the book was minor in comparison to the fears I had in accepting bipolar nearly ten years ago. I was terrified of the medications, the months of endless side effects and moderate improvement of symptoms. Yet, I bravely subjected myself to additional regimen suggestions. Maybe a blue pill, maybe this yellow one, what about a small, white disc?
What makes a person brave? Bravery is believing the result is worth the risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.
In the years following my book, I garnered readers from seven countries. I received thank you cards. I received affirmations that my disease was valid and my writing was solid.
Brave, as a verb, to meet or face courageously, to defy; challenge; dare.
It is not truth or dare. It is dare to live your truth.
Dabble, verb, to play and splash in or as if in water; to work at anything in an irregular or superficial manner.
Having published poetry, journalism, and a memoir, I continue to dabble in fiction. I have 275 pages of a novel written, working title “Poetic License.” This draft is, by my estimation, about half finished.
I know people will be more impressed by what I finish than what I start. Yet, I have merely tested the waters, got my toes wet.
There is a gimmick-like promotion well known to aspiring novelists, NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is a sort of boot camp for writers. By following the prescription of writing roughly 1,600 words a day, one can complete a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November.
Truth be told, my draft already has 50,000 words. I have puttered with plot, fiddled with form, and toyed with characters and setting. My interest in this project has ebbed and flowed for more than five years. Writing friends have read chapters, given critiques and resounding support to keep going. “There is something here,” they say.
I pick up the book for a day here and there. I won’t say I have Writer’s Block. I will admit to self doubt. The thing about 50,000 words is that it is A LOT! But, also, not enough! A first novel is 70,000 to 80,000 words. A finished novel is also said to be the rough draft minus ten percent in the editing process. I do have plenty of work to do to complete the draft. And the draft is just that, a baby step to completing the novel.
There have been other Novembers where I say I will commit to the thirty days of writing. I haven’t. Maybe this month will be different. Maybe 2019 is my year!
There is a saying, “you become effective by being selective.” In order to stop dabbling, I need to reject other pastimes. For me, for fiction, for the aspiring novelist in me, I will dip a little and often and hopefully not superficially.
Sticky notes of forget me nots. Planners of exact dates and times — birthdays, appointments. Bulletin boards of invitations, obligations. The secret list of passwords.
We lie awake at night and remember our day. We think about what we have to do the next day.
And, who hasn’t walked into a room straining to recall, why did I come into this room?
Our mind is full of memories. Remember is an action, which we involuntarily do all day long. Imagine programming your remembering with intention.
Let us remember our affirmations, the assertion that something is true. Make these positive. Make this habit. Have this come to the mind, again and again.
Here is a list I remember:
Important, a priority, significant other.
Wholly subjective, what you choose to spend time on?
My friend Heather used to say, “If it’s important to you, you will find time for it.” The next breath was, “If it’s not important to you, you will find excuses.” These were not her original thoughts, but rather her mantra. And she always made time for people — friendships, family, business associates. Relationships, were her priority.
Because she died young, age 39, I am preoccupied with time. Do I have enough time to reach my goals, to live a life of significance? Heather’s death was nearly three years ago, but her voice, her advice, her wisdom echos in my mind. I hear her nudging me toward significance, the quality of being significant or having a meaning.
Each day we wake up, we are given a blank page, a fresh start. What is significant? How can we make time for the important stuff when fitting in the daily mundane tasks. Too many times, my to do list only contains laundry, errands, and appointments.
The question Heather wrestled with as she endured a terminal illness, was what matters anyway? Does any of it really matter? Her fitness, her career, her material accumulations?
I advised her, that yes, yes these things matter, because the pursuit helped others. She was a realtor helping people find and sell homes, to transition from one life stage to the next. Her fitness inspired those around her to take care of their bodies, and the camaraderie of work-out buddies created fellowship and lasting memories. Her material accumulations provided stability for her children.
What if I started my daily list answering the question, what significant thing can I accomplish today. In order to live with that kind of purpose, one must identify what is of significance, give up the excuses, and make time for it.
Heather shared her last months’ of life on her blog, LovingLivingLife2Day. One post had the song, Seasons of Love. “Five-hundred, twenty-five-thousand, six-hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure, a year?”
Love. The answer is always love.
This was Jesus’ answer too. In John 13:34, Jesus told his remaining disciples, as little children, that he will be with them for only a short time, then will leave them. In the verse, Jesus told the disciples: “Love one another; as I have loved you.”
My writing often lacks transition; bounces from idea to idea, I neglect to connect them. The cue to readers to move from one thought to the next is often missing. Passages from one scene to another require a smooth transition. When this is awkward, writing comes across as choppy, jumpy, or abrupt. I have been accused of all these assessments.
I’m taking a jump here, transitions in writing are hard because transitions in life are hard. Remember adolescence? Complete and utter chaos transitioning to adulthood. Transition doesn’t stop here, but repeats throughout life.
Times of transition are often a mess filled with uncertainty. I, for one, would like to skip over the disorder of change. I fight it. I cling to a known way of life. As it transforms to something new, I would like to get there already. I’d like to forego the muddled period.
The noun transition comes from Latin transitionem, “a going across or over.” We are leaving behind the known. I hurriedly want to get over the past and embrace the future. I want to know how it ends. Transition correlates with unrest.
At my day job, we are transitioning to new leadership, new colleagues, new processes. I do not fear the future. I want to welcome what unfolds. Embracing the transition itself creates anxiety for me. I choke in the uncertainty of this time. Transitions in writing are brief. In reality, they stretch and zigzag. When a group, such as my work team, is forced to transition together, there is friction.
As I reflect on transition, the change from one state to another, I am reminded of scripture. From Isaiah 43:18-19, the Lord says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
When I trust God in the outcome, I can trust Him in the process. I can find peace in my faith that the result, though unknown, will be good and just.
Relief, a sigh of. The noun is the alleviation, ease, or deliverance through the removal of pain, distress, oppression …” Sometimes we don’t realize how tense, unpleasant, stressful a situation is until it is released from us. Then, we feel the relief. Relief is a thing we can hope for, and, I believe, count on.
Take Psalm 23, one of the most known and quoted scriptures. You make know from its beginning, “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want …” You may have heard it at times of grief or times of trouble.
In it, is the promise of relief. The promise. The certainty. Psalm 23 contains the following affirmations of times of rest and reprieve.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
“He leads me beside quiet waters.”
“He restores my soul.”
In this scripture, we are told there is relief. God brings us to places of rest and revival. Like sheep who fight this resting, we are prone to overlook the relief that is all around us. Even temporarily we can feel relief even if not a complete absence of pain, at least a respite.
Relief originates in the late 14th Century — “alleviation of distress, hunger, sickness — from the Anglo-French relif, from the Old French relief “assistance,” literally “a raising, that which is lifted,” from stressed stem of relever.
In reviewing Psalm 23, we can learn to bask in the green pastures, relax by the still waters, restore ourselves to true form. Not so literally, we can find windows of opportunity to be led to a place that offers relief to us — our bed covered with comforters, our kitchen table set with a meal, our yard ripe with late season flowers.
In these places, we can give credit to the Creator. We can think of the following verse also contained in Psalm 23:
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
This morning there is a gentle rain. Pattering of droplets on pavement, on window panes, on softening ground.
A gentle rain is as calming as a scented candle.
Scientifically, the word rain is water that is condensed from the aqueous vapor in the atmosphere and falls to the earth in drops mores than half a millimeter in diameter.
It falls, escapes from clouds, and reaches the surface to puddle and pool or seep and nurture.
Rain is different than drizzle. Rain is different than downpour. Described as a soft rain it cleanses the air, clears the humidity.
I find it wonderful to write inside wrapped in a sweater to the sound of the droplets. I step outside in the rain and smell the earth dampening.
Rain calls us to relax to reflect to watch and feel. It is a gift from God, easily explained away by science. Yet, I believe it speaks to the omnipresence of our higher being. It is the changes of weather that remind us of constant motion and variance.
Rain is a song from heaven.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
The adjective, mighty, literally means having, characterized by, or showing superior power or strength. For example: mighty ruler or a mighty oak.
It is easy to dismiss oneself as small or feeble rather than mighty especially when circumstances such as physical size or disability are less than great. Also, weak life stations can reduce us to believe we are less than.
However, mighty is a state of mind. Consider Mighty Mouse. The name together like that is an oxymoron. How can a mouse be mighty? But those of us exposed to the anthropomorphic superhero mouse were convinced of his power.
The American cartoon character first appeared in 1942 and subsequently in eighty theatrical films between 1942 and 1961. These films were twice revived in 1979 and when I was first introduced to him in 1987. This was one of my favorite cartoons. You can have your Bugs Bunny racing away from trouble, I’ll take Mighty Mouse heading full speed in the face of adversity.
Mighty in character, in mindset is within our control despite outward appearances and conditions. Too often, we forget our strength, our might — our power or ability to do or accomplish. We ignore our capacity.
Mighty originates before 900 from the Old English “mihtig” describing being possessed of or endowed with might; having much ability, strength, or power.
In the storms of life, it is best to be a mighty oak and to have the courage to believe this metaphor as truth. This is true for those personal struggles. Also, we must call upon our might to engage in the fight against injustice. We must be a force for good, like Mighty Mouse – the pint-sized Superman.
Is ambition something you have or something you do? Well both, depending if it a fixed characteristic or an action you take.
As a noun, ambition is an earnest desire for some time of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and willingness to strive for its attainment. Ambition is also the object state, or result desired or sought after.
One can own ambition as a desire for work or activity; energy. For example one can awake feeling tired or lacing in ambition. Contrarily, one could wake full of ambition ready to take on the work.
As a verb, ambition is the action of seeking after or to aspire to some end. Without action, ambition remains a noun, something we have but do not do. In her book “Simple Abundance, Sara Ban Breathnack, writes “Action — ambition in motion — is what produces achievement.”
It is easy to hold ambition, but without action ambition remains just a longing, a hope, a desire. As a verb, ambition connects intention with action!
Again, as a noun it is a aspiration, yearning or longing to some goal or aim. But with activity, ambition becomes something you strive toward. One can have the ambition to write a book, but until one sits with pen or keyboard, the novel idea is just a notion, never to become a realized dream.
She had the ambition to climb the stairs. Her ambition led her up the stairs. And as an adverb, she ambitiously climbed the stairs.