Sunday, February 8, 2009

In Search of True Gratitude

Ever noticed how easy it is to be thankful for something you really want or you truly like? People are more inclined to pour on the gratitude when you give them something from their wish list or when everything goes exactly as planned. How many times do you hear people who win something say, "Thank you, Jesus!" and then turn and curse God's will when it isn't quite right? "Why? Why? Why?" they ask over and over. For me, it is much easier to praise the goodness of dark chocolate than, let's say, cooked cabbage.

I've been to a couple of workshops on gratitude. The whole premise of both workshops was to find gratitude in everyday things. The big idea is that if you are a gracious person; you are a happy person. At one point, I even followed Oprah's suggestion and wrote down in a daily journal all things I am thankful for that moment. I look back and things range from U2 to my husband to rainy days...all things that bring me some sort of pleasure. One workshop leader suggested for us to try to find gratitude in the mundane. His primary example was sidewalks. "Imagine," he said (I am paraphrasing...don't have that great of memory), "our world without sidewalks? Your feet would be muddy and it wouldn't be that easy to walk around the neighborhoods. Isn't your life so much easier with sidewalks?" Well, what do you know, it IS much better!

Lately I've been pondering the actual power of feeling gracious. How the simple task of truly appreciating something for what it is can raise your attitude, mood and whole state of mind to a higher place of being. This week I decided to do a little project to take my graciousness a step further: finding gratitude in things that I really, really hate. Yes, hate is a strong word, but I wanted to challenge myself because it is easy to find the good in things you kind of don't like; that's why you only kind of don't like them. Here is my list from this week of four things I hate but am grateful for:

Getting My Teeth Cleaned: Now, this sounds like a pretty inane thing to hate. You just lay in the chair and someone polishes up your pearly whites. But, I cannot stand getting my teeth cleaned. I hate the scrapping and the sucking and the dripping. I hate the grinding and the blowing and the flossing. I really hate it when the hygienist slips and jabs her instrument into my gum. Ow! Ugh, just thinking about it send chills down my spine. So, while I was laying there, I tried to find my gratitude and an image came to mind of all those characters in period themed movies. You know, the ones with people in big clothes and big hair who lived in the 1500s? Well, in the movies they always show the rich people having these perfectly straight white teeth and then the poor have the black, gunked up mouths with half the teeth missing. In reality. at that time most everyone had gunked up teeth as well as missing ones because there was very poor dental hygiene. There was only so much cleaning they could do with a stick and when they got a cavity, they pulled the tooth out. In fact, Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603), although being the most powerful person in England, was known to have had black teeth and she was missing so many teeth by the end of her life that it was difficult for her courtiers to understand what she said. Toothbrushes and dental hygiene as we know it today didn't come into play until the early 1900's. And you know what, I am grateful that I live in a time where we have such amazing dental care. I have all my teeth, although I do have to get a crown on one due to an old filling (at least it isn't getting pulled!), and I will more than likely have all of them when I'm old and gray. So scrape and grind away all you want! I won't complain. I'll check 'em out in the mirror afterwards and say thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll just take a few Alieve next time before I go.

My Stomach: Ask any woman and there is something about her body that she doesn't like. I get this. I actually have a few things about my body that I don't particularly like but I can be thankful for: my thighs are big, but they've carried me this far; my butt is voluptuous but it's strong and a good place to give a piggy back ride: my breasts aren't very big, but they are a soft landing for a crying child while I hold them. My stomach, well, it really annoys me. I hate that I didn't get the flat tummy gene. Now, I've never really had a super flat stomach, even at my thinnest. It has always had a little curve to it that I liked well enough. But now, after two kids, its not so much a curve as a bulge and on top of it, it is all wrinkly. The doctors I've seen simply tell me it is all a part of having babies. Really? I have these two gorgeous sisters-in-laws who have both had two kids and their stomach are smooth and probably even flatter than before they gave birth. "It is called good genes," they retort. In the summer, my little green jealously monster growls every time I see them in their bathing suits (at least I can admit it). GRRRRR! So this morning, after my shower, I was looking at my stomach, trying, trying, trying to be gracious. With my hands pressed against my flesh, I could remember how thrilled I was the first time I felt my babies kick. Dakota, my first born, was a fighter. Jonas called him "the bully in the belly" because he moved around so much. Audrey was more of a little tap dancer. Her gentle taps and tickles made me laugh more than groan. All of it was awe inspiring because I knew they were really there, really growing, really being inside me. Both times after giving birth, I missed having them with me all the time, but I found it fascinating to watch them wriggle around on the bed and having the ah-hah moment of: "so that's what you were doing in there!" Can I really hate what my body has become because of my children? I wanted them dearly and cherished every moment they were with me. So my marks, wrinkles and pooches are now my emblems of honor; evidence of life's miracle. Without my glorious children; I wouldn't have them. But, don't expect to see me in a bikini any time soon! I'm not feeling that gracious.

Doing Laundry: OK, so this is truly a drudgery for makes my weekly grindstone a little harder to push. I still cannot believe that I know people who actually love doing laundry. They love the challenge of getting out the most stubborn stains. They drool when there are condiments on the table, not for the taste but for the fight they'll have later with their stain sticks. They love the smell and feel of fresh-out-of-the-dryer clothes. They actually fold their clothes right when they come out of the dryer instead of leaving them in a laundry basket for a couple of days. Me, well, I really hate doing laundry. It seems like such a thankless job; once you think you are finished, you go into the bedrooms and find more! In reality, you are never truly done with laundry; there is always something (hello, you're wearing it) that could use a washing. Given that this task isn't going away and no one else around here will do it all, I decided to add it to my graciousness challenge. There is the basic, yet very important, awareness that I am simply thankful that I have clothes to wash. In this country alone, there are over 800,000 homeless people each week. The majority of these people only have the clothes on their backs, perhaps a change in their bag--not to mention that not only do they not have a home, or clothes, but they also don't have a washing machine to keep the clothes they do have clean. Speaking of those washing machines...My great grandmothers and those before them had to do laundry by hand...boiling in big pots and scrubbing on a washboard. At least I have one. Thank God (did I just say that?) Yes, thank God I have clothes and a home and a washing machine. I am so thankful that I have laundry because it means that I am safe, secure and sheltered along with my family. I will never look at another dirty towel the same again.

My Kids Living Room Forts: Part of having kids is having a mess. In my perfect imaginary world, my kids would take one thing out at a time and put it away before they take out another. I know, I know. They do this at school! I am just too lazy to make them do it at home all the time plus I don't have a principal here. Maybe I should hire one? I could make an office out of an extra room in the basement. Hmmm? Living on the East Coast in the winter time, leaves not much to do outside and a lot of energy couped up inside. My kids have taken the idea of mess to a whole new level. On the weekends, my kids love to build a fort. This fort isn't just in the living room; this fort IS the living room. They take every possible pillow, cushion & blanket they can find and construct a new structure each time. When I walk in, my initial reaction is always a few breaths that verge on hyperventilation. I see the signs they have made for the "kitty hotel" and the tunnels they have made toward the "warming room." They have areas that are specifically created for watching television and others for playing games and even more for their stuffed animal friends. I look at all the stuff all over the place and instead of yelling at them to "clean up this mess now", I crawl through it and marvel at their creativity. This is something that no Wii game or Nintendo could offer. I listen as they tell me their plans for next time and how much our animals love to sneak around and sleep in their little spaces. On top of all this, I realize that they did it all together. They actually spent a half hour or so, working in conjunction with each other and not fighting. These messy, all encompassing forts offer them an opportunity to bond and to create childhood memories they will cherish forever. If you see my brother, ask him if he remembers our fort behind the big pecan tree in Sherman, TX.

I'm asking myself to try to continue this trend: to look beyond the face value of an experience or a person or an item to find what makes me grateful. I'm not dilligent about keeping a daily journal and I'm not certain that every time graciousness will be the first feeling that comes to mind when facing the unlovable. So for now, all I can say for my new gr-attitude is "Thank You, Jesus!"