Monday, November 2, 2009

November…A month of gratitude….

Although Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, this month is typically the time when we focus on giving gratitude. This strikes a deep chord inside, as it’s something I have thought about for quite awhile.

From March through August, Mike traveled for work and was pretty unhappy about being on the road all the time. I kept saying, “But at least you have a job!” Indeed we were both grateful for a job, and didn’t know at the time that unemployment was on the horizon for him. I expressed the need to be grateful for what we had, citing my own grandparents who were separated during the Depression due to employment. At that point of time, I started trying to find reasons to be grateful; “We have cell phones and can communicate more readily”, "We have e-mail and can send pictures and instant messages”, “Your travel and lodging is paid for”…Once again comparing it to my grandparents who were apart for a year at a time with little means of communication. For them, even the cost of a stamp for a letter was prohibitive and phone calls were few and far between. My grandmother gave birth to their third child in Colorado while my grandfather was in California eking out a meager existence, sending home what money he could. By contrast, we had it good…we had a job, it paid well and we could communicate, albeit not in person… Then he got laid off.

From the onset of the lay-off we had to fast forward everything that had been put on the back burner during his travels. At the top of the list was his need for surgery. Mike’s year exam in July (following his left shoulder replacement last year) indicated that his right shoulder was just as bad. In fact the doctor said he would replace it that day if he had the ability to do so. With no jobs on the horizon, we took a leap of faith, a step in the dark and scheduled surgery while we are still covered by insurance.

We got other things in motion, such as unemployment insurance, getting the house and yard ready for winter and hunkering down for a period of unknowns. On September 11, Mike had his surgery and although it’s a painful recovery, he is progressing well. He networks by phone and the Internet and continues to hope there is a job out there for him somewhere.

In the meantime, a reminder of the need to express gratitude surfaced again. We daily recognize that God has been very mindful of us… we have felt His hand in our lives even in the midst of the current circumstances. With that in mind, an article in the recent article caught my attention, “Life is better with a Gratitude Attitude- Just Say Thanks!” The author, David Hochman, and his wife embarked on a Month of Gratitude venture where they tried to find the good amongst the inevitable thorns that beset all of us every day. By the end of the experiment they discovered the power of showing sincere gratitude for the big and small things that we often taken for granted.

After I read the article, I shared it with Mike by reading it out loud to him. Now on November 1st, we decided to embark on our own Month of Gratitude encounter. Armed with journals to record our thoughts, along with the hope that being more mindful of our fortunate circumstances and the EXPRESSION of giving thanks to God for all He has given us, will improve the post-surgery, lack-of-a-job blues that seems to have settled in.

If I had children at home we would add feathers to a construction paper turkey every day, or write on colorful leaves and add them to a bare tree, or something visual to remind us of our good fortune, but the journal will have to do for our all adult household – The main thing is the exercise of thinking about what we have instead of what we wish we had… Hochman cited several studies that indicate that even pretending to be thankful raises levels of chemicals associated with pleasure and contentment, “Live as if you feel gratitude, and soon the real thing will come!”

So here we go! Armed with pen and hope… this is my three things for starters…
*I am grateful for the 22” of snow and for the warm 65º temperatures that are melting the 22” of snow.

*I love the full moon that is out tonight…

*I am so glad I have a warm home that provides me shelter from the elements and creates a place of refuge for our whole family!

I am excited about this venture and feel that something very good will come of this exercise!

BTW – I am also thankful for a computer and technology that wields my thoughts and feelings into cyberspace to share with my family and friends, who also give me much to be grateful for!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last Day on Earth

Last Day on Earth

It’s hard to believe eight years has passed since my dad died. I usually experience a sense of dread approaching this anniversary. Having 14-16 inches of snow on the ground has subdued some of the feelings I typically have on this day. Snow has a way of mellowing everything out and bringing calm and quiet to an otherwise noisy world. That is a gift!

I can’t help but reflect on the events of his last day on earth. He had called me at 7:15 in the morning. Although he often called early, this was an exceptionally early phone call; enough so that I asked him why he was calling at that hour. His response, “I called you before you could call me!”

We had talked every day since the tragedy of 9-11, and talked to each other often before that, but on October 29th, 2001, I was preparing for my son to return the next day from a 2-year mission in Chile. I was busily getting the house and yard ready for his homecoming and dad knew I was excited about this reunion. He wanted to call before I was off and running.

Among other topics of conversation, he talked of special reunions in his life. Once when he was in WWII and had been injured by shrapnel, his brother Fred who was also stationed in Japan, came to see him in the Army hospital. It was a sweet reunion for this 19 year-old boy to have his older brother close by – Fred comforted him and abated his fears and pain.

Another reunion he spoke of was when he returned home after the war when his mother and siblings picked him up in Pueblo, Colorado. It was exquisite to have the horrors of battle behind him and to once again be in the arms and presence of his sweet family.

The third reunion he spoke of was the “Grand Reunion” he would have in the future with his loved ones who had passed on. At that point, there were more immediate family members on the other side than there were living relatives and he looked forward to that time when he could be with his parents and siblings who had gone on. Did he know this was his last day on earth? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I told him “not to rush it!!”

We said our goodbyes and I had the sense that I wanted to linger in the conversation longer – like when you give someone a hug, say goodbye and go back for one more hug. We did that with our words, and I knew he understood my excitement and longing for the reunion with Jason. He was so proud of him and expressed his love to my family and me. He had a catch in his voice that was full of emotion, and it is a bittersweet memory I will always hold dear…he knew my heart.

Those were the last audible words I heard him speak. As I was mopping the kitchen floor around 4:00 in the afternoon, the phone rang. My mom was obviously in distress, and when I asked her what was wrong she told me he had died. I fell to the floor in disbelief. I wailed in stunned response. It was so sudden and seemingly without warning. He had a heart attack after eating lunch, was rushed to the hospital and died there.

He was gone…gone to his “Grand Reunion” that he had spoken of just hours before.

I still miss him. I love him and I am grateful that we will be reunited again someday. Without that knowledge, a difficult loss would be unbearable.

As I spoke to my mom this morning, we reminisced of his last day on earth, shed some tears and expressed gratitude for “tender mercies” that have come her way. We also expressed gratitude that the passing of time has a way of healing the sharpest pains of grief.

Although my dad will never be forgotten, on this anniversary day, his passing is softened and mellowed like the earth that has been blanketed by this peaceful layer of snow.

God be with you ‘til we meet again!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mother's Day Blues

I got to be with my 80 year-old mother for Mother’s Day this year. It was wonderful to reminisce, laugh and cry, eat, play games, and talk to each other face to face. It was also interesting to learn that after all these years of mothering my mom still despises Mother’s Day.

She hated this day when I was growing up, but I thought it had more to do with the fact that raising seven children can be a tiring and sometimes thankless job. As the Matriarch of a very large family I thought her feelings would somehow convert to a different bandwidth, to relish this day with all the accolades that go with this stage of her life. However, that is not the case.

It seems that all of the drippy greeting cards which herald motherhood perfected and the glowing talks in church with the seemingly flawless remembrance of mothers, is a stark contrast to the realties of rising at the crack of dawn to prepare a nice Sunday dinner and getting seven children ready for church, just to go and listen to everyone talk in a foreign language known only to June Cleaver and other TV moms who solve all the problems of the world in 30-minutes while wearing pearls and a constant smile, have tainted the day forever.

All of these vaulted heights of mothering can create a sense of failure for those who do the drill every day, week in and week out without fanfare! This single day seems to bring into focus the less-than-perfect realties and creates a wide gap when you know you will hit the same routine tomorrow with no trumpets to announce your grand entrance!

At any rate, it is surprising that my mom still feels that way, especially knowing how much she is loved by all of her family for the things she has done and continues to do for her posterity. I reminded her that a woman’s greatest role is the influence she has on her own children, which in turn influences generations for years to come. I then asked how she could compare herself against a false measure of her true worth, which seems to be the root of her discomfort with the day. She didn’t have an answer for that question, other than she just doesn’t like to hone in on motherhood when she knows her own shortcomings and feels like she doesn’t fully meet the expectations or self-comparisons. (I can relate to this!)

I honor my mom for many things. I picture her hands in service to all of us and thank her for at least 20,000 home-cooked meals she prepared before I struck out on my own. She cooked three-square meals a day from scratch, including homemade bread for our school lunches and a host of wonderful treats after school every day.

She washed and ironed mounds of clothing, hanging all of the clothes on the clothesline until the early 1970’s… she canned fruit and vegetables, sewed our dresses, read to us, sang with us and created a sense of security that only being at home can bring. The wonderful memories, and feelings of home evoke a longing for childhood days gone by.

Besides the obvious chores of washing and ironing, cleaning and cooking, my mom was at home at the important junctions of the day. Our comings and goings were often signaled with no more than a holler at the door, “Mom!” ...just to make sure she was there…and there were very few times in my childhood when she wasn’t there to greet me back.

I vividly recall a time when money must have been tight and my mom applied for a job at a local retail store. She lasted just one day at the cash register and when I went with my dad to pick her up she came out in tears, haunted by the idea that her children were coming home to an empty house. That “heart tug” of responsibility was one of the single most important unspoken lessons in mothering I ever had. She wanted to be at home with her children, and combined with my dad’s efforts, they managed for her to do so. She did childcare and later did some bookkeeping at home to earn extra money and be there with us at the same time.

To have her steadying influence day in and day out was a gift beyond measure and one I will always thank her for. We sacrificed in terms of the material things a part-time job could provide, but those frills pale in light of having our mom home to comfort, guide and care for us.

It is not adequate to thank our mothers just once a year. Their influence is felt in everything we do for our own children on a daily basis. Indeed our mother’s influence continues for generations to come!

Spontaneous gratitude will likely have more of an impact when given in sincerity rather than on a designated day. If your mother is still living, count yourself blessed and give her a call or drop her a note to thank her today!

Monday, May 4, 2009

My New Wallet Part II

Last week, while transferring the contents from my old wallet I ran across two tattered articles I had carried around since the mid 1970’s. Although this was a turbulent time period in history, it was back in the days when Dear Abby was not worried about political correctness (vs. her replacement in today’s world) and the lines between right and wrong were much more clear. The simple life portrayed in Leave it to Beaver was a reality for many of us back then.

These articles have framed my thinking for the past few days – and I feel compelled to follow up so that the thoughts will quit rolling around in my head. (Maybe they never will – because they are so fundamental to the basic needs of human nature, but I might be able to set aside the immediacy I feel to jot it down).

Dr. Thomas Malone, a psychiatrist in Atlanta wrote the second article, (which by the way, will be laminated before it is assigned to a slot in my new wallet), as follows:

"In my practice ... people sometimes ask me what psychiatry is all about. The answer is increasingly clear to me. Almost every emotional problem can be summed up in one particular bit of behavior: It's a person walking around, screaming, 'For God's sake love me!' Love me - that's all. He goes through a million different manipulations to get somebody to love him.

On the other hand, healthy people are those who walk around looking for someone to love. And if you see changes in the people who are screaming, 'Love me, love me,' it's when they realize that if they give up screaming and go to the other business of loving another human being, they can get the love they've been screaming for all their lives."

I saved this article for obvious reasons, but the message to me is twofold. 1.) We need to express enough love towards our children so they don’t have the vacancies that cause them to scream out for love in other ways, and 2.) We need to teach our children to serve others so that they can become selfless and experience the satisfaction that comes from helping others.

Childhood memories when giving to others was a matter of course are good to recall. I picture both of my parents with their hands outstretched in service in a variety of ways. In turn they taught us to do the same for family, friends, neighbors and strangers. It was not uncommon to have someone else at the dinner table or to help and serve those in need and as a result, it was passed on to my children. This, I believe, is a saving principle!
When true service is rendered, a sense of purpose and deep satisfaction accompanies.

I have observed the reality of people crying out to be loved in a world that can be pretty insensitive and uncaring. While raising my own children it was always evident when I got too wrapped up in other things, and my kids found ways to get my attention. During the years I spent in the public schools, most misbehavior could be assigned to the fact that many children were on their own when they went home after school, dealing with the emotions of their parent’s divorce, or suffering from neglect in some other way. When children grow up with holes in their emotional soul, they continue in behaviors that cry out for attention and cry to be loved and accepted, often passing that same void on to the next generation.

To suppose that all emotional holes can be filled in an instant would be naïve. It is a process that can take years to resolve. But be assured; extending ones self by loving and caring for others can fill the emptiness and vacancy created at an early age a little at a time.

There are many ways to help children along the path of growing up in this difficult world. Among the greatest is to LOVE them and then teach them the principle of service. Rolling up our sleeves together is a gift beyond measure and will help to fill their emotional buckets ---enough to have surplus, with an outpouring to help others!

Friday, May 1, 2009

My New Wallet

I bought a new wallet today and as I was transferring the contents from the old one, I ran across a tattered article from Dear Abby that I have been toting around for over three decades. The yellowed article is reviewed infrequently – just on such occasions as a new wallet. The wooden macramé beads and latch hook rug ads on the back of the article are indicative of the 70’s era in which it was written, and the torn edges sent me on the hunt to find the entire article as it was written so long ago.

The article was especially poignant to me as I reflected on a conversation I had with a young mother yesterday. Her ex-husband had committed suicide recently and their two young children were grappling with the loss of their father. Although they had been separated from each other for the past few years, his sudden passing dashes any hopes that they will have a future relationship with him during their childhood years.

I hung up the phone after our conversation and I cried. I cried for those sweet children and for all children in this crazy mixed up world. And then I bought a new wallet and uncovered a very old article that is more applicable today than it was when it was written.

Do we really value our children in this fast-paced world? Do we let them know every single day how important they are? Do we really honor them? Do we hold and hug them or do we briefly communicate through technology or a few quick words? Read this tender prayer and ask yourself the questions Dr. Myers poses.

A PARENT'S PRAYER by Dr. Garry C. Myers Oh, Heavenly Father, make me a better parent. Help me to understand my children, to listen patiently to what they have to say and to answer all their questions kindly. Keep me from interrupting them, talking back to them and contradicting them. Make me as courteous to them as I would have them be to me. Give me the courage to confess my sins against my children and ask their forgiveness when I know that I have done wrong. May I not vainly hurt the feelings of my children. Forbid that I should laugh at their mistakes, or resort to shame and ridicule as punishment. Let me not tempt a child to lie or steal. So guide me hour by hour that I may demonstrate by all I say and do that honesty produces happiness. Reduce, I pray, the meanness in me. May I cease to nag, and when I am out of sorts, help me, Oh Lord, to hold my tongue. Blind me to the little errors of my children and help me to see the good things that they do. Give me a ready word for honest praise. Help me treat my children as those of their own age, but let me not exact of them the judgments and conventions of adults. Allow me not to rob them of the opportunity to wait upon themselves, to think, to choose, and to make their own decisions. Forbid that I should ever punish them for my selfish satisfaction. May I grant them all their wishes that are reasonable and have the courage always to withhold a privilege, which I know, will do them harm. Make me so fair and just, so considerate and companionable to my children that they will have genuine esteem for me. Fit me to be loved and imitated by my children. With all thy gifts, give me calmness, poise, and self-control.

I cut out this article when I was a young mother. Time has quickly catapulted me forward and in the twinkling of an eye, I am the grandmother of eight darling children who deserve to be held in highest esteem. Their parents have taught them to work and to build true esteem through solid principles of actually contributing to the better good of their whole family.

May God bless all the children to know of their true worth and value. May they know that they are literally His offspring and that they deserve true honor and respect as a result. May He especially bless these two young children whose father left so abruptly and may they feel His love now and forever and have the self-confidence to carry them through the battles they face every day when they walk through the corridors of life.