04 November 2013

The November Challenge

Before we get started on this week's topic, I wanted to take a moment to thank all those of you who commented on my blog about my son Nareg and the divine intervention that brought us to each other.  Whether you liked and shared it on  Facebook, left  a comment on the blog, or sent me emails, I was really moved by your responses.  I especially love it when you leave your comment on my blog because it ends up being a little more visible than when it's up on facebook for a quick minute.  But either way, I am grateful for all the love.

And that's what I wanted to talk about today. Being grateful.   It's November, and you know what that means. Here in the states, the grocery stores are stocking up with the frozen turkeys and the sweet potatoes as we get ready for that one day of the year where we count our blessings and give thanks to God for what we have.  I love Thanksgiving for this reason, and also because it's a family day.  There's no work (YAY!) and  I love it even more because there's no gift giving involved, so it's not like it's all commercialized.  Other than the food issue - which is a big issue - it's a day to get togeher with our families and spend time together.  Visiting, eating, and just being!

In our daily prayers, we're used to giving thanks to God.  But how many of us give thanks for the little things - the little ticket items - that make our day that much more sweet?  Being thankful for small everyday things keeps us happy, or at least happier, than if we just focus on the larger things...or what we don't have.  Case in point - I've been consciously trying to be more positive about my work.  Whereas just two months ago, when Neddy would ask me, "How was work today?"  I would sigh and say in my most defeated voice, "Work is work." I decided that I needed to stop being such a Debbie Downer because all the negativity was just dragging me down....and my family with it.  So I started small.  I told myself that my response was going to be more positive.  So I started answering, "Work was okay."  Because truly it was.  Sure, it's not what I went to school for.  And it's not what I had hoped I would be doing.  BUT my job affords me the ability to help others, sponsor my two children in Chad and Malawi, and very importantly, it provides me with health insurance, which given my past medical history is HUGE, right?  So I've been trying to look at the situation through more mature glasses.  Basically putting on my big girl panties and saying, "It is what it is, and I'm blessed".  I am grateful for what I have because it allows me to do all the other things that are so important to me.  And because of my new approach I've understood a change.  The more positive I am, the more grateful or in tune I am to other smaller things to be grateful about as well.  Incidentally, when I was talking to Neddy about this  just this morning, I asked him..."Have you noticed that I have been a lot more positive with my responses lately?  I haven't said "Work is work!" for a couple months now." And you know what he said?  he said, "That's true.  But that's because I stopped asking you how work was...now I ask you "How was your day?"  See, so he was getting pretty tired of it as well and decided to pull a fast one on me!

So I started looking into the concept of being thankful, being grateful.  I read about a study done at the University of Utah.  They found that people who are grateful are more likely to take better care of themselves physically and mentally,  They get more exercise and eat a healthier diet.  They cope better with stress and daily challenges.  They feel happier and more optimistic and have stronger immune systems.  And they maintain a brighter view of the future.  Who doesn't want all that?  All from being grateful.  The reality is that if we're more positive about ourselves and the situations that come up in our lives, then we can focus our attention outside of ourselves.  It's just more healthy to be grateful.   Sure, we may not have everything we want, job, car, clothes, etc.  But it's not how much we have, but how we feel about what we have (and what we do with it)  that makes the difference.

I think if we change the way we think, we have the potential to change the world.  We just have to use the challenges in life to learn, and approach all things with love.  Even the stuff that hurts us or gets us upset or uncomfortable, because there's a lesson there.  We may not know what that lesson is at the time, but if we think about it (once we've allowed a little time to calm us down), it's there.

It's like this really scary teacher I had in college.  This professor's name was Mr. Walden and he was sooo intimidating.  I was an art student...this is back in the day where we had to actually draw with a pencil or pen...without computers  And I had taken a class in graphic signage.  I had chosen this very cool font and we had demonstrate our skills by creating a sign with our chosen font.  I spent so much time creating my project. Back in the day you had to look up the font in a book that had the alphabet created in that typeface. You had to trace the small letters on tracing paper to form your word, put your tracing under the lucigraph and project the desired size on the wall where you had another piece of paper taped to trace the projection...then use graphite on the backside of the tracing paper to then transfer your art to the board you were going to use for your final artwork.  Then refine your sketch, and with a very steady hand, you'd start inking.  You get the idea.  It was painstaking.  So I had this artwork ready to present....and Mr. Walden takes a look at it, asks the class for a critique.  It was all favorable.  BUT his eye found that I had a little too much space between one letter and the next.  Well, it had already taken me forever to get to where I was.  I asked him how I could fix it.  Should I extend this side this way?  Or possibly, increase the line width here?  He just brought his scary, giant face really close to mine...and went off on a rant about how we had to put our best foot forward and present the best work  possible.  How we couldn't take shortcuts and turn in work that wasn't the best when we knew it could be better.  Blah blah blah.  I was so upset.  At the time, he was my most unfavorite and despised teacher EVER.  But in retrospect, of all the teachers that I have ever had, I learned the absolute most from Mr.Walden.  Not only about technique, but about myself.  And about work ethic, and doing my best. I am grateful that I had him as my instructor because I learned so much.  But at the time...well, I couldn't see it.

If we can just flip the switch, we can turn the negative into a positive that we can be grateful for. Here's another one.  You're waiting for a parking space.  There's a car pulling out and you're waiting for the spot.  When the car pulls out, the jerk who just pulled into the lot from the other entrance pulls into your spot.  Don't you hate when that happens?  Okay, two choices.  Honk, get out of your car, tap on his window, yell... confront and just allow it to ruin your day.  Or you can still be upset....it's okay, but move on.  And be grateful that God has given you patience and kindness.  Be grateful that you are a child of peace.  And then flip it.  Maybe there's a reason that person needed the parking space.  Maybe they have a child screaming in the car maybe?  A health issue?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  But the reality is that these things happen.  There are always the jerks in the world.  Are you going to allow them to ruin your day?  or are you going to think about all the other things that are going right in your world?  Maybe there is a reason you were meant to park a little further?  Maybe it's God's little way of giving you a little exercise?  It's all about how we see it.

Try to focus on the little things that bring us joy...like hummingbirds that whirr by when you're picking pomegranates in the garden.  Or your fat cat that rubs against your leg to show you love.  What about beauty?  Have you noticed that the leaves on the trees are starting to change color...and how beautiful those leaves are?  How about scented candles and how good they make the room smell.  When I think about these kinds of things, it's like a chain reaction.  Scented candles make we grateful that I can smell at all. You get the idea.  The little things.

So this is the challenge for the month.  I don't want November to go by with just Thanksgiving day as the day we ACTIVELY think about all we are thankful for.  So I've decided that this month, I'm going to be jotting down all the little things that I'm thankful for and sharing them with you, and I'd love it if you'd try it along with me.  Use the comments section on my blog to share your list.  If you've got young children, or even if it's just you and your loved one, when you sit down at dinner, how about sharing the best part and the worst part of the day.  And then turn the focus to the best part and see if you can find a lesson in the worst part.  How will you learn from it?  How will you deal with it?  Embrace it, learn from it, and thank God for the lesson.

So today is the 3rd of November...and I'm going to start with 3 things that I'm thankful for - one for each day:

November 1:  I'm grateful for being able to do the laundry at home.  Because I remember how it was when we were going to the laundromat.  I'm grateful for the convenience.

November 2:  I'm thankful for the terrible headache that I had nearly all day because it reminds me that 99.9% of the time, I don't have a headache and I'm not in pain. I'm thankful that most all of the time, my head is painfree.

November 3:  I'm blessed with an amazing church family.  I'm grateful for them because we really are like a family.  We are happy together when times are joyful, and we cry together, when we're in pain.  We pray together always.  And I love them.

So that's it for the first three days of November.  I'm going to be jotting down the little things every day this month, and hoping that by doing so, it will make me more in tune to all of life's blessings that are part of my life.  I'll have more little things to share with you next week.  So what are you thankful for?  Let me know.

Have a beautiful week ahead, and remember to focus on the little stuff.

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