Posts tagged gratitude
Sitting in my bed Sunday night, I could no longer hold back my sobs. Tears flowed from my eyes, more like a raging river than a stream. My whole body shook. The emotional pain was a ocean so deep, I thought I might drown.
Sometimes it can seem easier to numb ourselves than allow ourselves to feel the depth of our own sorrows. We live in a world that offers us an endless array of ways to detach from our own human experience much of which is negative. Easy fixes.
For example, why would you ever want to feel the anguish of a bitter divorce when they can distract from those difficult emotions with the instant gratification of endless hours of Farmville instead. Why feel lonely when you can zone out in front of the television all evening. When you can mpathize with the sorrows of fictional characters instead of paying attention to your own. What else do the advertisements for alcohol and other substances teach us than to forget our problems? Hard day? Forget it with a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, or a cigarette. If we can’t feel happy all the time well then at least we can feel a little more numb, right?
For much of the last two years and in a way for most of my life, I’ve been operating under this assumption that emotional pain is to be avoided at all cost. For years I’ve been avoiding it subconsciously, not realizing what I was doing . So I’d stay up half the night talking online to perfectly nice people from across the globe I barely knew rather than facing a dark bedroom where the pain of a traumatic event might slip in through the shadows. Better to sit in the false light of energy saving bulbs than think about things that were just too painful to consider. And yet at the same time I’ve been on a journey to find a better way. Sunday night I found it.
As I completed a call with my best friend who has recently moved to Texas, I found myself getting more and more lonely and distraught. That normally would have cued me to immediately get on my computer to do something to distract me. That night was different. I decided to do an experiment. I would let myself just feel what I was feeling and see what would happen. Instead of shutting my emotions down or off, I welcomed those troubling feelings, letting them flow thorugh me on every level. I started to journal my emotions to help me both delve in and get it out of my head. But even still I felt so alone in my suffereing, it was nearly unbearable.
Then, after 10 or so minutes, the most amazing thing happened: I started to feel better not worse, and I started to feel God’s love wrapping its arms around me. I began to feel grateful for those painful feelings, because I finally started to see what was on the other side of experiencing them completely. On the otherside was peace and relief, even hope. In my journal I wrote:
Sometimes I guess I just need to let myself feel how deep my sadness goes. I wish I had someone to hold me right now. I’ve gone through so much. Over and over again. And the trauma doesn’t seem to go away. I change. My mood changes, but something in me stays with the trauma and mostly I deny myself the ability to feel what I’m gong through. But through it all there’s the sweetness of the Spirit of God. It it warm and comforting and I feel wrapped in it, it gives me permission it feel these things. To put my toe in the deep abyss of my heartache.
I know He [Christ] can heal me in ways I cannot heal myself. It takes time. It takes patience and faith and more faith. I sometimes don’t know the answer of who to be. But Christ has the answer, even if I’m not ready to receive it. […] Life is so hard sometimes. Emotions are so overwhelming sometimes. I am reaching for the light that only Christ can offer. He, and only He, is the Prince of Peace, the one who can bring me calm waters to my soul. It amazes me how deep His love for me is. How He is willing to hold all my suffering even now and again and again. Even though he bore it all already. He is always there to bear by burdens.
At the end of the day, on some level it is still easier to just numb myself, but I’m learning how that isn’t the way to feel true relief. There is so much better on the other side of our sorrows if we just let ourselves feel and endure them for a little while. Sometimes you have to go through a dark and treacherous swamp to reach the castle, and sometimes you have to sob to feel peace.
A balloon slowly twirls in the corner of my room in the ICU. “Get Well Soon!” it proclaims, in its bubbly font pastered on a backdrop of a smiling kite floating above smiling flowers.
I am grateful to have it cheering up the overwise sterile and dull place I’ve called my home-away-from-home five times in the last year alone. I am grateful to my thoughtful friend who brought it when she visited several days ago. But the truth is life doesn’t fit neatly into phrases we so often use to comfort our loved ones when a major life trial afflicts them. For me, “Get Well Soon” is a lie. I won’t be well soon. Yes, I’ll recover from this hospitalization, but I live with several serious chronic illnesses that will most likely sent me back to the hospital again. When “getting well soon” isn’t possible, the challenge is to find insight, peace, and even gratitude in my situation.
I firmly believe that we are faced with trials on this earth, so that we can learn lessons we couldn’t learn any other way. Through my illness I’ve learned patience, compassion for other’s trials, and trust that my suffering is all for a purpose and even brings blessings. Nothing would have taught me patience, for example, quite like waiting through seemingly endless and prolonged hospitalizations. I couldn’t have learned to have as much compassion, had I not suffered myself and felt the pain and loneliess of chronic illness.
I have even found blessings in my trials with chronic illness. As I was forced to adapt and find new interests, I discovered my passion for writing novels, my love of web and graphic design, and, most importantly, my faith in Christ when I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. All these things came to be in my life directly as a result of my chronic illnesses. They have blessed me in more ways than I can number, and especially blessed me with a sense of a life calling, purpose, and knowledge that I am not alone. Realizing these blessings give me insight into the person my trials are helping me to become, a person I couldn’t have learned to be without these trials.
Knowing that trials have brought me great blessings fills my life with peace, purpose, and meaning. And I am grateful for the role of trials in my life to make me a better person. I am grateful for the ability to bless the lives of others that I learned from these trials. I am grateful for my testimony of a loving Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ, that I’ve learned from experiences I’ve had being sick.
As I look to the bigger picture, I see the role these trials play in becoming the best person I ultimately can be. I may not “Get Well Soon”, but as I look beneath the harsh surface of life with multiple serious chronic illnesses, I’ve come to recognize that, on many levels, things are already “well” with my life. And as I strive to find insight, peace, and gratitude in the face of my trials, all will be well.
Driving home from the neurologist’s this afternoon, I was overwhelmed by how much I’ve endured this past year and how much I’ve overcome. No words that I could speak nor tears that I could shed could express the depth of my sorrow at that moment or the breadth of my gratitude for the life that I have.
It’s been a rough week. A lot of painful memories from my time in the ICU are coming up for me. Dreams that are actually remembered moments of frightened emotions are surfacing. It’s time to face them, as painful as that may be.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems I’ve ever written. I wrote it over 5 years ago, but it is just as relavant to how I am feeling to me right now as it was the moment I wrote it.
by Lauren Soffer
Today was a really good day
So why are are my eyes burning
With tears that could never be enough
If I could only cry them
Is it the difference between where I am
And where I could be – should be
Not lying here drowning in the dividing ocean
If I could remember to swim now
How did my life get so crowded
With people who look right through me
Hiding the few who wave right at me
If I could only see them
Maybe I forgot how to see myself
Treading water so long
That the current took me
But couldn’t – don’t want to go back
Because today was a really good day
And my eyes bear witness
Like the growing pain that knocks you down
Will I ever stand up?
This year my greatest birthday wish came months before my birthday. It was to be out of the hospital to celebrate my special day. This week, on Tuesday, is my birthday. I will be turning 29 and entering the last year of my twenties. After 11 long, hard, and often frightening weeks in the hospital, I am very relieved and grateful to say that I am home from the hospital to celebrate.
It feels strange to know that my twenties are winding down, and I will soon be in my thirties. Thirties sounds rather grown-up, and, in a lot of ways, I hardly feel like a grown up yet. More than that I’ve spent a large part of my twenties feeling like I was failing to live up to my own expectations of myself. I wrote about this last year in my post Living Up to Teenage Expectations (Ten Years Later).
What I began to see last summer when I wrote that post and that I now see so clearly is that I was so busy feeling like a failure for all the ways I didn’t measure up to where I thought I’d be or should be by now, that I couldn’t see how successful my life really is. And more importantly I was robbing myself of the satisfaction and happiness that could come with that success.
Life often doesn’t turn out how we plan as young adults. As we grow older, we find out what God has planned for us. And the wonderful thing is, though we cannot see it now, that plan is grander than anything we could have imagined for ourselves as teenagers and will ultimately lead us to happiness. So my new plan is to abandon my own old expectations and put my trust in my Heavenly Father. Trust that he knows what is best for me. Trust that he can see the whole picture. Trust that by following his plan I will be lead back to Him. And trust that in doing so there will be more blessings along the way than I could have possibly imagined.
What a blessing it is that God is no respecter of persons. While I, for the last decade, was so worried that I wasn’t in the right career, living in the right place, having the right romance, and achieving the right things, God and my Savior Jesus Christ were loving me for exactly who I was. And they love me now for exactly who I am. This frees me to give up all those old expectations and just move boldly forward with the knowledge that if I put my trust in the Lord, I will find eternal happiness.
But what does this look like on a practical, day-to-day level? The first thing that come to mind is I must make every effort to live my life according to His example. The basics of prayer, church attendance, scripture study, and service are His standards to live by. Beyond that I can create my life within the context of what’s happening now rather than what I thought I wanted or should be doing at this point. So instead of trying to force the old dream of a career in film that just doesn’t fit anymore, I can relish in my new found love for novel writing and work towards getting published with passion and gusto.
Finally it’s absolutely critical to live in a space of constant gratitude. I am so so so blessed to be alive after the last hospitalization I just had, how can I waste time worrying what a teenage version of myself would have thought of me? Life is too lovely, too perfect, and too short for anything less. This year on my birthday I will remember that.
Why gratitude? I’ve been in the hospital. I’ve been sick. Really sick. Several weeks on life support when I was too weak to breathe on my own. So though there’s been moments of fear, of anger, of bitterness, of longing, of frustration, when I think about what has really filled my heart throughout this ordeal it is gratitude. This experience has left me so so so grateful for my life!
My family has been amazing. They’ve been here nearly every single day to make sure things went right and to be my support and my company. To hold my hand and to just let me know they love me.
My friends… I can’t even think about how hugely the’ve been here for me without getting teary eyed. They’ve sent cards and gifts. And most importantly they’ve showed up and entertained during these long dark weeks. My friends make me feel so loved. I don’t know how I’m so deserving, but I try to be better everyday to deserve how well my friends treat me.
My Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ. Without them I would be so lost. They give me the strength to endure these tough times. And I am grateful for these hard times as the polish me into the person my Father in Heaven would have me be.
My self expression. I’ve spent most of the past six weeks a complete mute. Communicating by writing notes either on paper or one my laptop since it’s rather hard to talk with a breathing tube down your throat. But last night I got a special valve to put on my tracheotomy that allows me to start to speak again.
Sometimes I’m just really so grateful for my life. And though everything is ultimately all in God’s hands, I also know that God doesn’t want us to sit around and wait for Him. Going forward with faith, it’s really clear to me that there’s so much I can do to create what I want my life to look like. And so much of that has to do with attitude and structure.
I can chose to be apathetic, bored, isolated, or depressed about my life or I can choose to be excited, engaged, connected, and grateful about my life. And then I need to put that into a structure that reminds me and helps me fulfill on how I’m choosing to be about my life.
To give a concrete example, here’s what I’ve been doing recently. I’d been wanting to change how I’m being about my writing in my life. So now, most every day (six days a week), I get up and start my day at 8am by checking in via Skype with my writing buddy Yudit. In our conversation, we talk about where we are with our writing and what we are going to write next. We also talk about what’s going on in our lives and how we want our attitudes to be for that day. We put how we are going to be into words. For instance, today I’m my attitude has to do with being in touch with divine light in humanity, joy, and connection. Then we write until ten-thirty when we check in again to see how each of our writing projects went.
As a result, not only has my relationship to my writing transformed, but my whole life has transformed. I’ve gone from inconsistently writing about a thousand words a week to writing nearly a thousand words a day consistently. I’m now rapidly approaching the end of the first draft of my second novel, The Particulars. Things have shifted in my life as well. I start out the day now feeling so accomplished that my productivity has increased in every area of my life. I’m getting more website development done. I’m making more progress on the Alternate Reality Game I’m designing. I’m fulfilling on my spiritual goals by reading my scriptures and doing my callings.
And life is just plain good as a result. No, good doesn’t even begin to cover it. Life is wonderful. Life is miraculous and awesome. And I can’t help but feel so very grateful for the wonderful blessing of being alive to enjoy it.
Sometimes it takes something devastating to remind you to be grateful for the little things in life.
I’ve been missing in action lately. I spent exactly one month in the hospital with an infection, blood clot, and flare up of one of Myasthenia Gravis, one of the autoimmune diseases I have. I’ve been home a little over a week, and let me just say how good it is to be home! I don’t remember the last time I was so grateful to be in my own house, in my own room, in my own bed, with the company of my own dog.
It strikes me as kind of sad though that it often takes something catastrophic happening to us to remind us to be grateful for everything we have. We speed around with our blinders on forgetting to see everything in our lives that make them so wonderful and so worth living. But we don’t have to wait for something terrible to happen to remind us to appreciate our lives. Here are five simple things you can do to stay present to gratitude in your life:
- Put time aside.
One of the most important things you can do is put time aside to think about the things you are grateful for. Whether it is a minute before each meal or before you go to sleep or even a whole day of the week, take time to think about and reflect on the things that make life wonderful.
- Write it down.
When you take time to think about things you are grateful for, remember to write it down somewhere special like in a journal or even post it on your wall. That way when you forget you have a physical reminder of the good things in life. This is especially key to have during difficult times when life seems bleak.
- Share the love.
Good things in life are meant to be shared. Telling others the things you are grateful for will help you stay in tuned with gratitude and may even help others find gratitude in their own lives.
- Don’t discount the little things.
Sometimes when things aren’t going well it can seem difficult to find anything to be grateful for, so break it down to the very basics. Find gratitude for small things that make up your life. For waking up in the morning, for hugs from people you love, for breathing, or whatever it is in your life.
- Say thanks.
Whether you thank a the people in your life you are grateful for or thank a higher power, saying thank you keeps you in touch with gratitude in your life.
I am grateful for being able to walk. For being able to smile. For being able to breathe. I am grateful for friends. For family. For my dog. I am grateful for my Heavenly Father. For my Savior. For the restored gospel. I am grateful for my creativity. My intelligence. My skills, abilities, and gifts. I am grateful for good times. For challenging times that make me grow. I am grateful for this life. I am grateful.