An Experiment in Gratitude
Be thankful for today. You only see it once.
I came across this quote several years ago, and I wrote it down. It seemed profound. I saw it during a time in my life that was particularly hard. If I am being honest, it was on a day that I would never want to repeat and I struggled to find the good in it and be thankful.
Life is like that, some days are hard and some days everything seems to align and feel carefree. It is during this time that I was desperate to find the good that I started focusing on little things that were good. A good cup of coffee, a sweet conversation, a bloom on a rosebush or the sound of a bird song drifting across the breeze. I focused on each of my kids, their unique and fun personalities. I made connection with my husband a big priority everyday – Holding hands, saying I love you.
Those gestures didn’t erase the hard, but they made me realize that hard and good can live side by side. As a matter of fact, they always do. Some days we might have to get out the proverbial binoculars to see it, but I promise you it is there if we make the effort to be intentional.
This past month, I did a 10 day “Unexpected Joy” challenge on Instagram. I shared the small things that brought me joy and asked people to join me and share their small joys too. The amount of messages I received was overwhelming. Together we intentionally sought joy which brought about a lot of gratitude. It really was the small things right in front of us.
I even had one lady tell me she found joy in her husband snoring because he had just battled a serious illness and survived and his snoring meant he was still with her. I cried when I read her message. It is the shift to gratitude that allows us to feel joy even when we are experiencing pain.
I pray today you find small things that bring you great joy!
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward.Jun 26, 2020
Have you ever tried peeling a label off of a new glass? Really, any new item with a label affixed to it. It’s not an easy task. I recently purchased new glasses for my dining room and it was quite an ordeal trying to get the labels off of those glasses. I had to soak them, then scrub, then pick at the adhesive. I went to dry them and could still feel the tackiness and had to start over. Three times I went through the process before the label was removed.
Have you ever thought of the labels that might be attached to you? Everyone has them. Labels are used to describe ourselves and solidify who we are. Labels make up identity and can affect the way we interact with others and the world, but they also affect how the world interacts with us.
On my recent trip to Greece, I met a young mom who was living in Athens because she had recently become a Ukrainian refugee. She shared her story with me and it was heartbreaking. Through her tears and broken English, she told me she would have never imagined using the word refugee to describe herself. She wanted me to know that she was educated, that she loved her family, that she was actually a Russian woman married to a Ukrainian man and how at one point that was celebrated but now this identity had complicated things in her life so much. She wanted me to know that she was not looking for a hand out but at the moment, she needed it more than ever. She went back and forth sharing with me the labels she was proud of and the labels she wanted to get rid of.
Oftentimes, labels are something that we pride ourselves on. The positive ways in which we relate to others who have similar interests, accomplishments or upbringings. Many times we have been labeled by others or even harder, ourselves, and it is a label like the one stuck to the glass that we are trying hard to get rid of. We feel the stickiness of the situation or habits that led us to that uncomfortable label even if the label isn’t apparent to the eye.
Despite the fact that we all have various labels, one label that is true for all of us is “child of God”. We were made in His image and scripture tells us we were perfectly and wonderfully made. Yes, we all have made mistakes and added unwanted labels to the mix or perhaps are too proud of the labels we find pleasing and think others will approve of. When I keep it simple and remove the labels both good and bad, I find other people. People just trying to live their best lives. When I remove the labels, I can relate on the most basic level that we all desire to be seen and be loved.
Photographers love the golden hour. It is the time of day shortly after sunrise or right before sun set when the light turns from red tones and harsh sunlight to being infused with more yellow/gold tones. The sun is low enough in the sky that a soft glow is cast and those soft rays are what filters the photos into what many describe as magic. We all have seen these photos where faces are glowing or buildings are gleaming. These pictures are stunning.
The medical field also claims a golden hour. Trauma/accidents, heart attacks and strokes have better results and long term recovery if medical attention is given within the first hour of occurrence from initial symptoms. That hour becomes golden because it literally is a defining life or death moment.
Then there is the beautiful golden hour of childbirth where experts say ideally skin to skin contact should be made between mom and baby immediately following delivery. This produces high levels of oxytocin to be released both from the mother and the child which experts describe as critical for bonding.
Now, these are all very specific and nuanced, but I think the common thread for success is timing, awareness and then action. If you think about it, everyday we have golden hour moments. So often we overlook or let moments slip by because we are busy, distracted, or apathetic. What if we took a closer look into our lives and identified those golden hour moments and then did something about it?
That is a goal for me in the coming year. Now of course we can’t be at every event or capture every moment to perfection and honestly that isn’t the goal. I do know however, that I can do better at looking ahead and planning so that I am aware of the big events and what I need to plan ahead to capture them and not over schedule. I want to enjoy the golden hour more frequently and even spontaneously. I hope you will take a moment and be inspired to do the same.
Gratitude, I think many of us if asked would say of course I am grateful for what I have but that statement doesn’t always play out in how we live our every day lives. Right?
Yesterday, my husband and I went for a walk. It was a beautiful fall day in the city of Nashville. Crisp fall air, bright blue sky, and golden leaves shimmering in the sunshine. We walked past the historic First Baptist Church which was built in the late 1800’s. It sits right at the edge of Broadway, right before you get to the main part of the street filled with Honky Tonks and dreams of the young and old singers and songwriters trying to make those dreams come true.
I thought about all the people who have passed through these historic doors over the many years and all the stories of God’s faithfulness. This church still has an active community and I was feeling grateful or at least I thought I was – until…
A homeless man was walking toward us with a rose in his hand. A rose he had obviously picked off of a nearby bush that was still blooming. He went to hand it to me and I said, “oh no, thank you.” He looked me in the eye and said,” I don’t want any money, I just want you to have a blessed day and enjoy this rose.” So I took the rose from his hand and he smiled so big. I thanked him and told him how sweet it was for him to offer me this flower and I hoped he had a blessed day too.
I put the rose in water when we got home and it has opened and is blooming. It has been a beautiful reminder to me to open my eyes to the blessings right in front of me. Isn’t that what gratitude is? Often times it is right there, we just need to open our eyes, see it and be thankful. I almost missed an opportunity to join in another person’s gratitude because it felt awkward. I didn’t have any money with me to give this man, yet he wasn’t wanting anything in return, he truly just wanted to put a smile on someone else’s face. A gift, without any strings attached. A reminder to me of God’s gift of grace and sacrifice.
As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I hope you will be inspired by this story, share freely your gratitude with others and invite them in to sharing their gratefulness too.
I am praying we all will recognize the beauty of life that is right before us and celebrate that in gratitude.
I know all of us have, at one point in our lives, sat in the shade of a large tree. The canopy of branches granting us reprieve from the heat of the sun on a warm summer day. You can picture it, can’t you? But have you ever wondered , who planted this tree?
Well, A few weeks ago I took a walk around Centennial park here in Nashville and the trees are gorgeous. They are huge and the size of the trunks indicate they have been here for a long time. As we were reading the tourist signs that dot the walking path, we learned that many of the trees were planted over 100 years ago while the city prepared to host the Centennial Exposition of 1897. WOW, to think the efforts made so long ago were personally blessing me today. The shade these trees offer is incredible and it sets the back drop for all the beautiful gardens that are able to grow in the park today.
I want to share a quote with you that I saw yesterday while skimming an article in the Wall Street Journal and it made me think of those big trees, about leadership, about legacy. It is a quote by Warren Buffet and it says this…
“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago!”
Those words have deep meaning. It is the investment we are making now that will have long lasting affects on those we might never even know in the future. It made me think about my family, specifically my kids. What am I doing now that could have a positive impact on them, on their future families? My grandchildren or great – grandchildren – We all will leave a legacy, it is up to us what that will be.
I also think about this in my role as a leader. What am I doing today that could help others in our organization thrive in the future. How is my relationship with God? The relationship that guides all others, am I investing well in it so that my faith is shared and others find their faith in God strengthened too? These are eternal matters, the type of investment that will still be giving shade long after I am gone.
I want to encourage you today to keep investing in yourself, your relationship with the Lord and in your relationships with family, friends and your work. That kind of positive investment will sure to yield benefits for years to come. Your tree that is planted today will most definitely be the shade someone else is thankful for in the future. Invest well!
I have a story to share with you.. I love a good cup of tea. I was back in Colorado last week working at MOPS Headquarters – we had a lot going on and I was super busy. So after a long day, I still had some things to work on and I went to make a cup of tea. I was distracted reading emails and thinking of what I was needing to have ready for the next morning. I wasn’t really paying attention to the details.
Side note, My son also is a tea lover, so he had made a cup right before me and used the water in the kettle – but again, I wasn’t fully paying attention. I put the loose leaf tea into the infuser, chose my favorite cup and turned the electric tea kettle on. I went on to do a few other things and came back to pour hot water into my mug, but guess what? I didn’t realize there wasn’t any water in the kettle when I turned it on – so no tea for me. I had to fill the kettle once again with water and start the process over.
So why am I sharing this with you? – because I felt like it was such a good reminder to me to fill the kettle before I can pour a cup of tea. Common sense right? But how often as leaders do we get distracted, do we just keep doing and put our heads down and we don’t even realize that we are depleted, our water is gone and given to fill someone else’s cup.How often do we not remember to fill up before turning the switch on and expecting for everything to be in full operation even though we are operating on empty.
Obviously this is a metaphor for self care for filling ourselves so that we can pour into others. But it really is essential to good leadership, I would even say it makes the difference between good leadership and excellent leadership. A reminder that our overflow can only happen when we are filled. For me this time is filled with the time I spend with God. Reading scripture and praying. The time I invest in learning – For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
I know I am not alone in this, I also know it takes intentionality to pour into ourselves. So why not start today – take that time to fill up. Spend some time alone in prayer. Choose a new book to read or listen to a great podcast. Then once you are filled, be ready to share that abundance.