Why Bother with Gratitude?

Why Bother with Gratitude?

The jolly holiday of Christmas is behind us, and it is still the season of winter where the hours of darkness surpass those of daylight. An attractive, but unlikely solution to weathering this cold, daunting time of year might be to hibernate until spring. But instead, humans were created to forge ahead with living despite how the weather might make us feel. Everything though, is made a little harder by winter, including counting our blessings. 

          Why Count Our Blessings?

Being grateful, especially during a time such as this, may be more difficult, but cultivating gratitude is especially necessary when we feel the least grateful. Yet, the more we notice those things for which we can be grateful for, the more gratitude we feel. In other words—gratitude begets gratitude. 

A few years ago, I challenged myself to start a gratitude journal. I wanted to keep a list until I reached the magic number of one thousand. I stopped at ninety-nine because the items became redundant. Although I did not reach my goal, the practice of writing down my blessings forced me to look at them. I concluded that good things occur every day in my run of the mill life; running water, plenty of food, good friends, a job that pays the bills, physical and mental well-being, and a happy marriage. Tabulating these items heightened my awareness. As a result, gratitude became a natural response to the dailiness of ordinary life. 

Though I have hopes that my gratitude infiltrates the lives of others, I also have to be wary of those things that rob me of the attitude of gratitude. Like a treasure, I guard it from robbers. For instance, I don’t spend too much time with cynical and narcissistic individuals. Though I’d like to think my kind heartedness might override their self-centeredness, that is not always true. Nothing short of an encounter with a miracle worker will cast out hatred and conceit in some people.  And since I am not in the business of working miracles, I limit my exposure to growlers and scowlers. I also keep envy and comparison, two other gratitude robbers, at bay. When these two thieves rise up inside of me, I know what squelches them—simple appreciation for who I am and what I have. 

Gratitude is a feeling, but one that is nurtured and grows as we find things we appreciate. With practice, gratitude becomes an unlabored and daily giving of thanks. Without cost, gratitude gives our mental, emotional, and physical health a boost. On top of that, there are no ill side-effects resulting in an attitude of gratitude. 

Why bother with gratitude? It is worth it to be grateful because the other option is to be ungrateful. And who wants to be saddled with that title?

Why Bother with Our Heatlh?

 

Why Bother with Our Health?

My grandmother left the greatest impression in my life and influenced my thinking more than any other woman. While still very young, I watched how, with grace, ease and a sense of humor, she kept her house clean and organized. I observed her way of whipping up nutritious meals and noted her health regiments. Long before organic foods or exercise programs were popular, Grandma already had established habits that kept her fit. She drank vinegar water to improve her digestive tract and exercised every morning with Jack Lalanne, a fitness guru with his own televised show.  

Grandma was clear headed, energetic, joyful and a contented woman. Her steady way of living, I believe, stemmed at least in part, from the understanding of basic science. She knew that mental and physical wellness were interdependent. You could not neglect one without it affecting the other.  She firmly believed that keeping your body healthy, helped keep your mind healthy.  And so, it only made sense to me, when it came time to get serious about my health, that I would follow after Grandma and find a regiment to keep me both mentally and physically fit.

      Running, Swimming, Biking, Yoga, Repeat

I started running when I quit smoking. I knew that in order to be successful with quitting one behavior pattern, I needed to replace it with another behavior pattern. I chose running because it did not require too much preparation. All I had to do was put on a pair of running shoes, go out the door and start running. After the first few painful yards, it proved to be uncomplicated and enjoyable. I didn’t join any running clubs, but I did challenge myself by signing up for five mile runs and half-marathons. For me, running became a good replacement for smoking. 

Though I took swimming lessons while growing up, and enjoyed dipping into lakes on hot summer days, I did not become a serious swimmer until I signed up for my first sprint triathlon. The competition required a ⅓ mile open water swim. I knew that if I swam the breaststroke for that distance, the race would be over before I got out to the water. So, I taught myself how to swim free style. Now years later, swimming continues to be part of my health regimen. 

Pulling a bike-aboose loaded with my young sons was one way to strengthen my legs, but it did not give me the same thrill of road biking. Triathlons introduced me to competing on a bike, but I don’t have to compete to enjoy the summer rides my husband and I now enjoy taking. Riding long distances on open roads with blue sky overhead has a way of clearing away the worries I’ve accumulated on any given day. Though our bikes are hung up until warm weather returns, we are sure to return to riding once the weather warms again.

I can practice the discipline of yoga year-round. Though it is associated with Hinduism and for some, a path to enlightenment, for me yoga simply helps me harness breath to movement. Unlike anything else, this practice reminds me to breathe deeply and extensively even while in tough poses like balancing on one foot. 

Why bother with our health? Our mental and physical health are worth paying attention to since one without the other is less than having good health.

Why Bother Giving Comfort and Joy?

Why Bother Giving Comfort and Joy?

I know a few things about Christmas gifts. First, I know that if I do not possess a gift, I cannot give one. Secondly, I know that I cannot force a person to receive any gift I offer them. Instead, they have to be receptive to it. Lastly, I know from experience that the best gifts are not the ones with a price tag, nor do they come wrapped in colorful paper and tied with big red bows. Consequently, the best gifts I can offer anyone are the gifts of comfort and joy. 

Gifting Strangers and Friends

I am not opposed to giving gifts. Recently, I took the opportunity to pull a name off a giving tree and fill a stranger’s request. On the card they’d asked for some long underwear and warm socks. It wasn’t hard for me to buy these items, have them gift wrapped and deliver them to the designated drop off station. I will never know who this person was, nor will I ever know their particular circumstances. But I did know how to give them some comfort and joy by simply responding to their expressed needs.

The other day, I decided to walk to my yoga class instead of driving. It was a snowy morning and the roads were slick. I watched a car turn onto a busy street and slide into a snowbank. I wasn’t sure if I could help, but I stopped and asked anyway. The passenger, a man, stood in front of the car assessing the situation while the driver, a woman, stood by. I asked if I could help, but the man just shrugged his shoulders letting me know he did not think it would do any good. But instead of giving in to the stranger’s sense of hopelessness, I asked the driver to put her car in reverse. Then the man and I pushed together and the car moved out of the snowbank and back onto the street with ease. We were both surprised and delighted. As they drove away the driver waved and shouted, “Thank you.” 

When some friends of ours  arrived home from ministering to family members in need, we invited them over for dinner. I am not an extravagant cook, but I know how to be hospitable. I served them a simple hot meal of the foods I knew they liked and we talked leisurely into the evening. Upon their departure, we hugged and shared our gratitude for each other’s friendship. My heart was warmed by their company and I know they left our home feeling nourished and refreshed. 

Why bother giving away comfort and joy? Comfort and joy are gifts worth giving because when we do, our hearts glow warm. 

Why Bother Preserving Christmas?

 

 

Why Bother Preserving Christmas?

The aroma of freshly cut fir trees signaled the start to the jolly holiday season in our home. Every year, in mid-December, a few siblings and I accompanied Dad on a hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. 

The Perfect Tree

First, he drove to the different tree lots and read the hand painted plywood signs advertising their prices and then returned to the lot with the best deal. Climbing out of the warm car and into the Midwest winter air, I’d follow my family along the snowy path and into the stand of freshly cut saplings. Their branches brushed up against my coat and filled my nose with the distinct scent of the woods. Dad always calculated the height and noted the fullness of branches of each of the trees someone suggested to be the “perfect” one until we all agreed on the best one. Then Dad tied our treasure to the top of our car and drove the jolly lot of us back home. Later, after the whole family adorned it with brightly colored lights, mismatched ornaments and tinsel, the season of Christmas, like the smell of pine, settled down around us. 

But the first Christmas after my father’s death, all of that changed. Instead of a freshly cut tree, my mother purchased an artificial one. I stood by and watched when one afternoon in mid-December, she enlisted the help of my brothers. They hoisted a large package from the back of her car and carried it into the dining room. They tore open the box and dumped its contents onto the floor. Green branches of wood, wire and plastic spilled out into a pile. Ignoring the directions, my brothers assembled it, secured it in the tree stand and scooted it into a corner. 

Mom strung the lights, hung the mismatched ornaments and showered it lightly with tinsel. All the while, I stood with disdain at the artificiality of not only the tree, but of a mother who insisted on keeping Christmas alive in our home. 

 Packages in red and green paper and tied with matching bows appeared under that ugly tree. Festive plates of cookies delivered by neighbors lined our kitchen counters. Christmas carols played on the stereo and the Midwest winter winds blew the snow sideways through the air.

On Christmas Eve, I trudged to church with my family and afterwards, as was custom, we opened our gifts. Those presents, new pajamas and slippers, could not fill the emptiness of my dad’s absence. When I went to bed that night, I soaked my pillow with angry tears.

Looking back on that Christmas now, I see my mother differently. The artificial Christmas tree was her way of maintaining a sense of semblance in a world that had turned up-side-down with the death of her husband and our dad. She understood the importance of preserving Christmas, even if it meant buying an artificial Christmas tree.  

Why bother preserving Christmas? It is worth it to cherish Christmas since there is nothing artificial about the birth of a Saviour. 

 

 

 

Why Bother Admitting Our Cheerlessness?

Why Bother Admitting Our Cheerlessness?

Although we are led to believe that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” for some, it is the most difficult time of the year. Pushing through the holiday hailstorm of heightened emotions, unrealistic expectations, or fictitious happy family gatherings is humanly impossible. Those who already wrestle with mental maladies such as depression, or seasonal active disorder can hardly grin or bear up under such pressures. Even mentally fit folks find Christmas daunting and spreading good cheer, a tiring chore. But, perhaps if we take time to consider our customs and traditions and then decide which ones brighten or dim our hearts, then perhaps we can replace some of the cheerlessness with cheer.

To Keep or Not To Keep?

I grew up with a variety of Christmas customs, one that included attending midnight mass the night before Christmas. Each dark and snowy Christmas Eve, my parents bundled and carted all seven of us to church. Though I am sure their intentions were good, these outings did not leave me with joy. Instead of adding meaning to the season, it turned most members of my family into cranky, tired and combative individuals. As a result, I chose not to hold onto this tradition. Instead, when I had my own family, we found an easier way to honor the true meaning of Christmas while not missing any sleep. It seems that a rested family is a more joyful family. 

My grandma baked, decorated and gave out flawless Christmas cookies. I am not the patient artist she was, but I still like to bake and give away cookies. It is an opportunity for me to  trek through my neighborhood, ring doorbells and chat with new and old acquaintances. I find it is a win-win tradition. I get the pleasure of wishing my neighbors a merry Christmas while they enjoy a sweet treat in return. 

Christmas, more than any other holiday, seems to hold opportunities for countless entertainment—pageants, musicals, plays and parties. It is also a season in which we can learn to compromise with those we love. Understanding that not everyone wants to watch yet another Christmas play, attend another Christmas party or even listen to Christmas music will bring peace and harmony into any household. Staying tuned to the wishes of each other during this season is a simple way to spread good cheer.

Why bother admitting to cheerlessness? It is worth recognizing when our traditions dim instead of brighten our hearts. When we do, then we can choose to replace them with ones that bring comfort and joy.

Why Bother To Be Content?

 

Why Bother To Be Content?

No matter their age, gender, or occupation, I can spot a contented person when I see one. Contented children are easily satisfied and grateful when you give them a simple treat such as a peppermint stick with their hot chocolate. Adults who are content, relax and enjoy the moments that make up any given day. But during the Christmas season, if we are not watchful, our contentment can be challenged. 

Capitalism and Commercialism

I am grateful that our trade and industry is controlled by private owners for profit rather than controlled by the state. Capitalism ensures free enterprise, but consumers need to be wise. Businesses are in the business of selling and marketing goods. They also understand how to stir up discontentment. You may think you have everything you need until you see something better. 

Christmas commercials began airing before Thanksgiving. In one such commercial, Santa and his elves are shown making the wish of a child come true by delivering a new family car on Christmas morning. In another commercial, if you are not sure of the perfect gift to give, a diamond ring will spread the cheer. 

Realistically though, most people cannot afford a new car or diamond ring. But marketers do not care if you can afford what they are selling. They just know that discontentment gives them a better chance of making a profit. Planting an idea is sometimes all it takes. 

To be content with what we have is the way to live contentedly during this consumer buying season. Knowing our true core values, will keep us steady when tempted to buy more than we need or can afford. 

My husband and I have always made it a point to live within our means. Early in our marriage, we had three children and one income. Christmas shopping on a tight budget made me wish I could give my children more than I could. But I also knew that toys and gadgets never make memories worth holding onto.

Instead of overspending, we spent time building traditions that last longer than any of the newest game devices. Gathering around the table for a special Christmas morning breakfast, sledding, caroling, or watching Christmas movies kept us together and out of debt during the holiday seasons. And our sons were none for the worse for it. Even as adults, they still look forward to celebrating Christmas with the simple, but meaningful traditions we gave them long ago. 

Why bother to be content? Contentment is worth cultivating since it makes for better memories than any amount of debt.  

 

Why Bother Knowing Someone’s Name?

Why Bother Knowing Someone’s Name?

I like it when people remember my name, pronounce it correctly and use it to address me while conversing. This tells me that they are aware of who they are speaking with—a unique individual. 

All of my coworkers as well as my friends and family know my name. But because some know me better than others, the particular tone they use when saying my name differs with each person. And because my husband knows me most intimately, he says my name the most tenderly of all.  

Names Identify Self Hood

At 5:00 a.m., three mornings a week, I swim at our local health club. The front desk worker, Debbie, opens the door of the club by 4:55. And though we only know each other in the context of the health club, I greet her each morning by using her name. Recently, she trained a new staff person, Benay, who now shares the duties of opening the doors first thing in the morning. I made it a point to introduce myself to the new employee, and like Debbie, Benay is friendly. 

Through casual conversation, I’ve gotten to know Benay a little bit. She told me the hardest part of her job is to remember to open the front door at 4:55. She said she gets so consumed trying to answer all the emails that flood in over night on the computer, that she forgets to unlock and open the door. The other morning, I experienced what she meant.

I drove up to the club at 4:56 and saw a small group of the regular early morning swimmers standing and waiting for someone to open the front door. Peeking in the window, I could see Benay on the computer. I knew she was completely engaged in answering those numerous emails and that she’d forgotten to open the door. 

I tapped lightly on the window and waved my hand. She immediately came out of her computer trance, grabbed the keys and opened up for us. The small crowd of people wondered aloud how was that I could get her to open the door. I simply told them, “I know her name.” 

Knowing someone’s name is a powerful thing to know about them. 

Why bother knowing someone’s name? It is worth it to know someone’s name. When we do, they sense someone knows them and   appreciates who they are. 

Why Bother Letting Patience Have Her Way?

Why Bother Letting Patience Have Her Way?

Patience is a valued and powerful virtue. Poised individuals can calm fearful crowds—think of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life and the scene where the stock market collapses. Everyone races to the banks and loan companies to claim their cash. Yet with absolute self-control and forbearance, George hands everyone of his customers enough money to relinquish their fears and keep the doors of his loan company open. Patient people, such as George, do not react to the fear of others, but respond with calm and controlled assurance. They do not allow clamor to reign, but instead know how to quiet the noises anxious people make. 

Though I know some people are born with a propensity toward patience, I also know that patience is a quality that can be learned.

Acquiring Patience

I admire patient people. Their perspective allows for more wobble room than that of an impatient person. Patient people don’t make excuses when someone does something wrong, but neither do they swoop in and make all things right either. Instead, they have the wherewithal to allow people to make mistakes and then stand aside to permit the natural consequences to sink in. 

A person possessing patience has enough wisdom to know that they cannot force a person to change, but their staying power is strong. They can wait for the change they hope for without giving up.  

Patience people know how to oppose impatience within themselves and with others. They apply grace, equanimity and even temperedness to every person, including themselves. Patient people understand that if they take a harsh and demanding stance against hotheaded or fretful folks, it only escalates to hotter heads, shorter tempers and angry outbursts. 

I wish patience could be learned without going through tough and trying circumstances, but it can’t. It is only when our patience is tested that we know whether or not we have any reposed stamina inside of us. 

Thankfully, patient people make wonderful teachers for those of us who are willing to learn. 

Why bother letting patience have her way? It is worth it to defer to patience since she abounds with benefits. 

Why Bother To Keep Learning?

Why Bother To Keep Learning?

In my teen years, my grandmother was my sounding board, my confidant, the one person in whom I confided. In nice weather, we sat side by side on her front porch swing, other times across from each other at her kitchen table. The constant variable with my grandmother was that she listened — as though my words had special value and meaning to her.

Though she wasn’t one to offer advice very often, when she did, I listened. She once told me, “Terese, you are never too old to learn,” and at the time, she was already old, and I wondered what she was still learning. 

Informal Education

Grandma often told me stories of how she’d grown up on a farm. The oldest of sixteen kids, her mother taught her how to plan and prepare meals, dress chickens and ready a body for burial. She’d lost two sisters as infants—one from smallpox and one from jaundice. 

With three brothers and ten sisters, grandma told me she had to learn how to get along with so many different personalities—some who loved practical jokes and others who were as serious as an old preacher. 

Grandma’s formal education ended when she graduated from the eighth grade. Then she went off to work. She began as a clerk in a store, but was later hired by a banker to cook meals for his family. Over the next four years, she told me it was easy to see how her earnings helped to support her parents and siblings. 

Later, when she married and no longer went off to work, she invested herself in her own home. She learned how to manage her time and money, love her husband and raise responsible children. As a mother, she taught her own children how practical it was to get along with just about anybody.  

She never put much stock in any physician or medications. Instead, she understood how to maintain her health by eating natural foods, exercise and getting a good night’s rest. And when she became a widow, she taught herself how to make those financial decisions she’d always relied on her husband to make, and learned how to comprehend a business contract before she signed her name on the dotted line.   

Grandma’s education included both formal and practical and maybe the reason she told me that you are never too old to learn was so that I would understand that the minute you think you know it all—then you’ve just given up on learning. 

Why bother to keep on learning? It is worth it to keep on learning since none of us know all there is to know and the second we think we do—we’ve just given up our privilege to learn anything new.

Why Bother Being Grateful For Brothers?

Why Bother Being Grateful for Brothers?

I have three sisters, and three brothers for whom I am grateful for, but I identify best with the brother who is only eighteen months older than I. Growing up, I was too young to see the value of Dippity Dew, rollers in my hair, or makeup, as did my older sisters. Instead, I benefited  more from my brother’s world. 

Alongside my Brother

 Bruce and his friends congregated in our backyard on summer evenings and picked teams for kickball, and soft ball. Too young and shy at first to play the games, I’d watch my brother’s gang while sitting on the edge of our sandbox. The boys played seriously with lots of yelling and at times, hand to hand combat to settle conflicts. Compared to my sisters, they were a brazen bunch. 

When we moved from Nebraska to South Dakota, I was older and bolder, and ready to compete. I’d follow my brother and the other boys on my purple stingray bike, fly over jumps made out of  plywood and compete in races down the middle of the street. The front yard across the street from our house served as our football field. We’d stuff red kerchiefs into our back pockets for a game of flag football that always turned into tackle. The first time I got the wind knocked out of me, and tasted blood, grass and dirt in my mouth, Bruce helped me to my feet and brushed me off. 

Like puddy in his hands, I trusted him even when he tied boxing gloves onto my skinny little hands and pointed me toward a circle made by the boys in our dusty alley. 

“Just punch him in the gut,” he’d said into my ear as he gave me a little shove. 

My opponent, a boy about my height, and chubby, stood with his arms dangling by his sides. My target, his belly, was covered by a tight fitting blue t-shirt. Fearful, but not about to back away, I stepped toward him. I didn’t wait for him to put up his “dukes.” I just slammed my gloved fist into his gut. He doubled over and fell to the ground. I reveled in my victory and my brother’s happiness. He won the bet and collected his quarters. 

We moved again, this time to Colorado. The houses in our new neighborhood stood few and far between. No other kids to pal around with, my brother and I became our own entity. I followed him on game trails through thick woods heavy with the smell of pine, and along sandy banks of a fast flowing river. We never talked much. We’d just tromp side by side and that was enough for me. 

As teenagers, and then again as young adults, our paths veered off. He went to trade school, married and became a dad. I went to college, pursued a career and met Jesus. My brother had no interest in hearing about my new faith, and instead, kept his distance, referring to me as a “Bible Thumper.”  But I took no offense because he was my brother and we had a good history.

Then his wife left him and filed for divorce. His world fell apart. He moved into an old shack in the middle of cow pasture and lived alone in his sadness until one Christmas Eve.

 He told me the story later, how he’d wrestled with God and how God won. I was elated. He went off to Bible college, and became a pastor. Now he’s a “Bible Thumper” with a contagious passion, zeal and authenticity that is contagious among the people in his church community.  

Why bother being grateful for brothers? Brothers are worth being grateful for especially when you can tromp beside them along the road of faith.