Category: Happiness

A Mother’s Day Replay!

On Mother’s Day in 2012 my daughters hijacked my blog and gave me a HUGE Mother’s Day surprise. I was reviewing that old blog recently and reread their messages to me. I was again moved to tears at their kind words and generosity of spirit. I never was a perfect person, let alone a perfect parent. But my daughter’s words reminded me of what I weekly work to remind you – our kids aren’t looking for perfect. They want us, with all our flaws and all our love. When we stay the course, do the best we can, and keep learning, IT WILL BE ENOUGH!

Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

A decade has passed, and they have grown so much. Their lives have been challenging and beautiful. I put current pictures in the article, so you could see them as they are now. : )

May 13, 2012

We’ve hijacked our mother’s blog for a surprise Mother’s Day Tribute. We wanted to share with all of you, her dear readers, and friends, how honored we are to be her daughters and what she means to us. We are grateful for your joining us to celebrate our mother and yours.

Kate Houston
I remember one of my favorite things when I was living at home was sitting in our “library” with you talking about our love for books. You taught me to hunger for knowledge.

When I was young you showed me how to make a meal out of almost nothing, how to grow a beautiful garden, and how to REALLY clean. You taught me how to be a homemaker.

The summer I wanted to study abroad in Europe, and we had no money, you spent the whole summer baking cakes and selling water bottles with me. You taught me how to work for what I want and be creative doing it.

When I wanted to be a varsity cheerleader my senior year of high school, even though I had NEVER cheered before, you were right there on the day of tryouts to make sure I stuck it out until the end. You taught me how to dream and dream big.

Growing up you loved to teach us how to make sugar eggs, gingerbread houses, and frosting flowers for cakes. You taught me the importance of cultivating my talents.

When you were in your 40s, you had seven children and an incredibly busy life, and yet you finished your master’s degree. You taught me the value of education.

When times were tough and family life was especially hard, I’d walk past your open bedroom door and ALWAYS see you on your knees. You taught me how to have a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Mom, it’s easy for us to look back on our time as a mother and wonder if anything we did gave our children what they needed to be successful in their life. Sometimes we look back and feel discouraged because as far as we can see, what we did wasn’t enough. But it’s the little things, the daily things you taught me that made all the difference. Because you were the person that you were, I am the person that I am today. Through your service to others, you taught me how to serve. Through your example of forgiving and being patient, you taught me how to forgive and be patient. Because you grew and blossomed, like the flowers out back in our garden, you taught me how to grow and blossom.

Now I’m getting ready to take my first steps into motherhood and because of you, I am not afraid. You have already walked the paths down this unfamiliar road and through the wisdom you have gained, you will teach me what it truly means to be a mother. Thank you, mom.

Marie Henry
There are so many things that I have learned from you but there are two things in particular that have forever changed me and how things have gone in my life. The first one was prayer. I remember always walking in on you praying. I knew Heavenly Father was your friend and that you trusted him.

When I decided to come back to the church, I knew what to do. I knew I could talk to Him about everything. That it was okay if I was angry, even at Him, as long as I talked to him about it. That even if I sat there and said nothing at least I was in the right place. I knew I had to build up trusting Him but I trusted you, so I knew I would get there and that it would be okay. The second thing was to never ever give up, that change is possible and that it is very real. That you need not give up hope. There is a way to return to happiness, and it is through Jesus Christ.

The past 13 years have been quite the journey for me and my family. There were times I didn’t think things would ever turn around or feel differently, but then I would pray and get through the day. I knew from watching you that no matter what you don’t ever, ever give up. You continue to fight even if the answer takes years to come.

Now, look where I am at. I finally love being a mother. I feel content and peaceful with myself and how things are going in my life, and I have the greatest man as my husband. There are many things I get to pass on to my children but the two things I continue to tell them about are to always pray, no matter how you feel, and to never ever give up, that Heavenly Father is there for us and no matter what you fight to stay on his side.

I know that one day you were praying, in the kitchen, I believe, and you said to Heavenly Father that we would have all been better off if he had just sent us to someone else. He said to you, that may be true, but he sent us to you. Well, I am proud that he did. I am very grateful to have you as my mother.

Our lives here on earth are meant to have trials in them. I left your home knowing how to make it through and come out the other side being a better me and closer to the Lord. Having fewer trials really doesn’t matter. That I know how to make it back home to Heavenly Father is what I came here to learn and learn it I did. I am grateful for the family I have and PROUD I get to say you are my mother. I love you.

Jenny Johnson
I really love my mother. And it is one of those interesting loves; the bigger the love gets, the bigger my heart gets, and the more it makes me love the entire world. Amazing!

I remember being a child and mom would take all her 7 children with her to the nursing home on Sundays just to visit the patients who weren’t getting usual visitors. It was the family’s volunteer work.

That is how I now kind of define my life. I prioritize (highly) having volunteer work in my life that serves the geriatric population. Also, I just finished the endeavor of earning my master’s degree. I will now start working as a professional in the skilled nursing home to serve the geriatric population with different modes of therapy. I feel so happy and grateful because I know that working in this environment and serving this population is really going to feed my life, daily! She has taught me that despite possibly never bearing children, there is a viable way for me to mother this world! I serve…and it makes me happy. It is how I run my life. This is the legacy my mother has left in my life. An ocean of thanks to you, my sweet mother.

A handful of years ago, when I was in a severe car accident and wasn’t walking, my mother flew to California and took care of me for 4 months. I mean REALLY was taking care of me, as if her 30-year-old daughter was 3 again. Feeding me, cleaning me, helping me move from point A to point B, etc. That was such a wonderful blessing given to each of our lives because what came out of that intimate tragedy was that my mother became one of my dearest friends. I feel so supported, loved, and valued and that, again, strengthens and augments my desire to serve and support this entire world, and it makes me love this world even more. A canyon of thanks to you, my sweet mother and friend.

What my wonderful, beautiful, vibrant mother is teaching me now about being a woman is that personal evolution never stops, and it is never too late to become 10 times more than you have ever been. Beauty, wisdom, self-love, personal manifestation, grand service – these are things I am learning from her and really beginning to value because she is performing these things and becoming these things and mastering these things and it is all so amazing to watch! She is painting such a colorful masterpiece across the canvas of her life. She is leaving such a mark, and I feel so honored and blessed to be a part of it. I love you mom, to the moon and back! A universe of thanks to you for everything.

Jodie Palmer
I turned 40 years old a few weeks ago. It’s sort of a surreal experience for me because it’s the only age that I distinctly remember my mother being. She gave birth to her last child at 40, and so have I. I am now where my mother once was, a place I remember her being.

A fascinating thing has happened now that I’m standing in the shoes, I remember my mother wearing. She has suddenly transformed into something more than my mother. I’m connecting with her as a woman.

It’s been hard to try to put this transformation into words or describe what it means to finally see my mother as a woman. I hate to admit it, but my mother has never been a “real” woman to me. She’s been . . . my Mother. Something different than, “a woman.”

Throughout my life, I’ve been walking these antipodal paths of both discovering who I am as a woman, and consciously putting myself together into who I want to be. But the change that has happened for me is that I am beginning to see my mother in the context of who I am as a woman—this complicated mixture of contradictions and messiness, grace and beauty, vices and flaws, backbone and tenacity, soft and tender places, guarded and hidden places, confusion and wisdom, fullness and emptiness and so much more all wrapped up in one heart.

I find myself feeling so tender towards her, not in a reminiscent way, as is usual for Mother’s Day, but in this current, primal, female, connected, Red Tent sort of way.

As I was attempting to write this tribute to her, I came up with my usual celebrations of memories, the ones that have informed my whole worldview and way of being with the world. Like the time she packed us all into the car to return something that had recently been purchased because we needed the money. On the way out of the parking lot, there was a man holding a sign asking for help. She rolled down the window and gave the man part of the change we had just received. She shared and gave, even when it hurt.

Or the time when she washed the body of a woman who had died and had no one in her life to give her that one last loving honor. She is a rememberer of the forgotten.

There are so many other memories that have served as the elements taken up as food by the beautiful garden of my life.

But, today I want to honor my mother differently than I have ever been able to before. I want to honor her as a woman. I want to honor her complicated, contradictory, messy, deeply beautiful, wise, lovely self. All of it is beautiful to me, and so needed by me, as a woman. All of her is so needed by the world. And the world is better for it—the little worlds of her children and grandchildren, the little worlds of her client families, the little worlds of her neighbors, and the strangers that cross her path. All these little worlds collide together in one big bang of goodness and beauty for all the rest of us.

That’s the beauty of women, we are wombs and birthers of beauty and goodness in the world through the complicated mixture of who we are. We are good for the world . . . And the Lord God looked and said, “It is good.”

I am honored to be a woman born and grown from this woman. I am honored to have her blood and her bone, her spirit, and her heart living in me.

I am grateful for these new eyes that have allowed me to not only see her differently but see my daughters differently. I newly see, and feel, that we are sisters, we are friends.

Again, Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

Be Careful of Expectations

Majestic

I knew a BIG black dog named Majestic. He belonged to my friend Cathy. I am sure that in his prime, he was majestic. But when I knew him, he was far along in age and had begun to slow down…a lot! His hips hurt, and his eyesight had gone.

Majestic could no longer run freely and chase balls. He frequently bumped into furniture if someone moved it. If you came into the room and walked towards him, Majestic would stagger to his feet and try to get out of your way, not sure which way to go. He couldn’t wrestle with the kids anymore.

You would think that this once-majestic dog would have been miserable. But he wasn’t. In fact, Majestic wasn’t sad at all. Instead, Majestic was glad to be alive. He was open to sniffing your hand, getting a pat or two, and sleeping in the sun. He was grateful for every good thing and seemed to take the bad in stride.

When Majestic passed away, I thought a lot about his acceptance of his life. How could a once energetic and magnificent dog be happy with where his life had taken him – to aching hips and blind eyes? I have concluded that it has to do with expectations. Majestic didn’t have any. He lived in the present, cared about his relationship with ‘his people,’ and took things as they came.

I have noticed that my expectations are the thing that gets me into the most trouble. If what I think should happen doesn’t, I have a hard time enjoying what is.

Examples of Expectations Gone Awry

Here are some perfect examples of what I am talking about. A friend of mine took her family of three boys, ages 9, 6, and 3, on a road trip. They were finishing up a year’s study of minerals and rocks. During that year, the family had terrific experiences. This trip was going to cap it off perfectly. She knew just how it was going to go.

A few weeks later, she gave me a call. I asked her how the trip went, and she said, “Well, it was OK, but it didn’t turn out as well as I hoped.” So, I asked her what went wrong, and she told me all the things that they didn’t get to do.

I then asked her to tell me what they did do. They went to a dinosaur dig and had a fun day. They sang a ton of songs in their van as they traveled. They had great conversations about how the earth was created and what space is like. They dug for gems one afternoon.

“My goodness,” I replied, “there are mothers out there who would give anything for a week like that with their kids.” There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then she said, “Your right. I guess it was a pretty good trip after all. I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

Another mom was telling me about their failed home school day. She described the project she had planned for her kids. The finished product didn’t turn out very well, in her opinion. I asked her if they had fun and learned things. She said yes, but she wished the end product had turned out better.

This mom missed the point of doing the project with her children – to be present with them, connect and have fun and learn a little. But, as far as I could see, and in fact what her kids saw, it was a great home school day, and the project was enjoyable.

Just the Opposite!

Another friend and her children worked in their garden all day long. It was coming along beautifully as they dug and planted seeds. When mom wasn’t paying attention, the water got turned on and was on for some time. The garden was ruined. This mom could have said to herself or her kids, “What a waste of a day!” But she didn’t. She was grateful for the fun time they spent together, and she told me it was a day they won’t soon forget, even if they must redo it.

The Difference Between Adults and Children

Adults care about the product or outcome. This sets us up for frustration, disappointment, and sometimes anger when things don’t go as planned. Kids, on the other hand, care about the process. They are interested in what they are doing and learning. They like the paint’s feel, the clay’s denseness, the cool dirt in the garden. They want laughter and mini-conversations.

The outcome will always matter to adults, but when you’re with your child, make the mental shift from the result to the process. Let your preconceived expectations go. If you can keep your mind on the child and the joy they’re experiencing, you’ll have a far different experience. This is true in organizing, playing, working, taking a hike, going on vacation, shopping, gardening, whatever.

I understand this comment by the motivational speaker Dan Clark: “Begin with the why in mind rather than the end in mind.” I love his statement because when adults adopt this attitude, our kids and we have more fun and satisfaction in just about everything we do together. Rather than focusing on how it turns out, we focus on the child. Our expectation becomes the relationship.

Remember why you’re going for a family trip, why you’re letting the kids help you paint, why you’re planting a garden together. Remember, the purpose for just about everything you do in your family is to build relationships. So, link your satisfaction to your ability to enjoy what is with your family even when it falls short of your expectations.

Time with Our Kids Is What Matters Most

Time spent isn’t just worthwhile if everything goes well. All the time we spend with our children matters, both in the good times and not-so-good times.

And there it is. We sometimes suck the joy right out of an activity, a family trip, a child-parent moment because it wasn’t what we had in our mind; it didn’t stand up to our expectations. Keep expectations from getting in the way of enjoying your family. Keep the perfect from becoming the enemy of the good. Let go of expectations and be Present!

Who do you know that has trouble with expectations? Help them out. : ) 

Your Goals are Inside You!

I want to share a remarkable experience and a dear friend with you. I got an email from Livia Pewtress asking me to take a test online to see my mindset quotient. I don’t do much of this type of thing anymore, as full-time caregiving doesn’t leave much space in my life. So, I almost hit delete but had a feeling I should take the test.

Then I discovered that this test would lead to a call to talk about the results—all free. I wasn’t overjoyed about this, again, a time thing. But Livia is a good friend and an intelligent woman, so we booked a call. I took the test, and we spoke on the phone.

She helped me understand the results, and frankly, they made my day. I have gotten better at a few things that matter to me in my way of being! Then she began asking about my goals. I haven’t even thought about goals for over three years. BUT I was surprised – I had some very concrete goals – mentally, spiritually, physically.

Then Livia asked what was holding me back from accomplishing some of these things. The answer was the same in every case –

I can’t seem to find a space for myself on the list.

 

And there is the rub for most of us. We can’t seem to get ourselves on the list. I have self-care systems – reading in the bathroom, a hot shower before bed, meditating most mornings. But what I don’t have is a sound system for learning, growing, thinking, taking classes, making plans, being time organized, etc.

I have been giving this some serious thought. The first thing I did was record the goals I have for the next couple of years that came out so easily when Livia asked me about them. I typed them out and taped them inside the front cover of my gratitude journal so that I see and review them each day.

I created my ‘God – To-Do List’ on the back cover. These are a few things that I have no idea how they will come to pass without help and intervention of the Lord. They are BIG. I don’t worry about them at all, but I do look at them weekly, and I send my prayers for assistance heavenward. The amazing thing is that this week I was given a thought on moving forward with one of them. How cool is that!

Ok, so now I have a clearer idea of what I want to accomplish in the next couple of years, but how do I find time to do any of the work? Some are simple because they are a matter of daily practice, like giving my mom more random touches and not judging my husband and his health decisions. But others are far more challenging because they require a time commitment, and when time is at a premium, well, those commitments are hard to make and keep.

For example, one of my goals is to write for thirty minutes daily so that I am not trying to put an article, newsletter, and podcast together at the last minute. I have been experimenting with how to make this work. Unfortunately for me, I have only found one thing so far that works – I must get up earlier. Don’t you hate that!? Me too, but I get my writing done when I do it. Today, for example, I got up at 6 am, and I was able to format my article on the website. I had gotten up early a day ago and got it written.

Of course, it is still a work in progress because sometimes I have to get Maggie ready for school, at 5:15, and there is no time to write. I still have not developed a consistent plan, and consistency is the key to success. Part of the reason I am not yet consistent is that I haven’t picked a consistent get-up time. I haven’t wanted to because I know it will take more of a commitment than I feel able to make right now.

When I was writing my book, I got up six days a week, for six months, at 4 am. Oh man, that was hard, but the consistency is what got the book written. This is the kind of commitment it will take to get 30 minutes of writing time in every day!

As you can see I am still in the experimental stage, and I am also a bit resistant to what I know I need to do. : ) And that is how it goes. First, we look at what we want to accomplish and determine what would make it happen. Then we must honestly tell ourselves what we are willing to do and what we won’t do. Then we begin experimenting and adjusting. It feels messy.

There is another goal I have been experimenting and struggling with – thinking about food so that I prepare what my husband needs to eat. I am so disinterested in food that this is a toughie for me. BUT I have come up with a system that is working for now, although I know it needs some revision. And an interesting caveat to this is that one of my goals is to give away 20 pounds and free up some energy. I don’t even have to think about how to do that. Helping Don is moving me in that direction!

Then there are the two courses I bought and want to finish and a recording of my singing. I don’t know how to make those happen yet, and I am not even thinking about them because I am still working on getting systems that work for writing and meals. Remember that 1% rule. LOL

I didn’t write this article to give you some stellar ideas on how to get your goals accomplished. It was written to show you that everyone struggles with this. There is no EASY when it comes to having goals and making them happen. It is a process.

Here are some takeaways that I hope will be helpful for you busy moms and dads.

•Think about what you would like to see happen in your life in the next year or two. A family vacation. A new job. Taking a class or finishing one. Reading a specific book. Being kinder, more charitable. Whatever. Your goals do not have to be earthshaking, just clear. Write them down!
•Pick one and work on that. What is required? How can you begin? Do you need a system or just a commitment to consistency? What personal changes are needed and so forth?
•Then move. Do something. Experiment. It may feel messy. You may try and fail and try and fail. The try part is what matters.
•If you need help, get it. Wise people seek wise help.
•Never quit. If you are consistent and keep going, you will be successful. I am counting on that. I have
experienced that. It took me over ten years to stop yelling! : )

This is what was most hopeful and helpful from my call with Livia. I didn’t know that in all the chaos of learning how to care give the last three years, I had any goals floating around in my head. In fact, not only were they there, but they were concrete. I knew them and, when asked, was able to say them out loud.

Maybe you have a new baby, and your life has been upended. Perhaps you have moved to a new state, or you or your spouse has gone back to school. Maybe your job has gone away. Maybe you or someone you love has been ill for a while. Possibly your workload has changed, gotten heavier. Perhaps you have a house full of kids under twelve or a house full of teens and preteens.

All these things can throw you into a state of chaos and the unawareness that I was in. But you don’t have to stay there. No matter how chaotic and unfamiliar your present life is, you can ferret out your goals because they are there, inside you! Write them down, pick one and begin moving.

If I can do this, you can do this!

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

I wrote this true short story many decades ago for my parents, for Christmas. I was working on letting them know how much I appreciated all they had given me despite the lacks in my family of origin. Isn’t that how it is in most families. Our parents can only bring to their parenting what they have and they add to their skills as they go. Being the first child, I experienced some of those lacks but as I grew, I also saw my parents grow. Anyway, I wanted them to know how grateful I was.

I posted it on my old website way back in 2011. I can’t believe that ten years have gone by! I wouldn’t have thought to repost it this year except for an unusual happening.  I was asked to submit a Christmas story for an anthology, which I did. I submitted this story.

I have to say that it doesn’t match most of the stories in  Tis the Season: A Christmas Survival Guide. The stories are not the magical kind we usually read about but are filled with tales of the chaos and sometimes hurt that accompanies the holiday for many. I don’t know why my story was chosen as it is peaceful and loving. It is also the final story in the book. I suppose it was becuase I ended it with ‘Merry Christmas.’ : )

At any rate, it caused me to think again about this family happening and my parents who were doing their very best for me and my siblings. I thought it might bring some treasured Christmas memories to your mind at this season of family and Christ. I hope you enjoy the read, the heart, and the generosity of both parent and child.

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

A true short story, written by Mary Ann Johnson years ago when her children were young, and she was remembering.

black and white photo of little girl smiling
Mary Ann, almost five, see the buttons!

THE HEATER MADE a steady hum as it singed the small bits of pine I had placed on top. I’d never seen a heater like it until we moved into the new house. It was brown, shiny, and huge. It wasn’t as homey as Grandma’s Ben Franklin, but it was warm and didn’t create clinkers, for which I was grateful. The pine was Mother’s idea. She liked the smell the needles gave off as they slowly turned brown.

I was five years old, and Idaho Falls was cold and windy. Inside, it was warm and cozy. There were six of us, and the house was small. I saw it years later and small was a generous word for it. At the time, it seemed perfect.

Christmas was coming, and as always during that season, the sewing machine was humming away. Pieces of black velvet and red taffeta littered the floor. I noticed the buttons first, the most beautiful buttons in the world, shiny white with rhinestone centers. Those buttons were a treasure sewn on a cardboard square. I would have paid at least a quarter for them, a vast sum hidden away in my bank.

But the buttons weren’t for sale. They were going onto elegant dresses that my sisters and I watched take shape until I could hold back my curiosity no longer.

woman smiling picture
NaVon, our mom, a mere 23 years old.

“Mom, are the dresses for us? Can we wear them?”

“No,” she replied.

Who else would they be for?

With patience, mom explained that there was a family who needed help making Christmas special. We had so much, she said. She ticked our blessings off on her fingers. I remember the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never had a beautiful dress like that, never a dress with buttons that shone like stars.

As the days passed, the emptiness in my stomach was being filled, for as my mother sewed, she poured into me a feeling of gratitude for blessings received and a spirit of giving. She made me a co-conspirator. I cared for the baby, played quietly, and picked up those lovely scraps so she could continue to sew.

Soon the dresses were finished and gone. The gifts of love had been delivered. Then my mother began pouring charity into the empty place that the actual departure of the dresses left.

“Now girls, when we go to church, you’ll see those dresses on three other little girls. Don’t say a word. We want them to feel happy and proud. This is our special Christmas secret. Remember that it’s important for people to have dignity and be happy.”

We three, Cindy, Shirley, and I, turned our young faces to her and beamed. We trusted the words of our mother. We knew we could keep the secret. I had a feeling of joy in my stomach. Emptiness no longer lingered there.

Christmas night was torture. Every child has felt the pangs of anxiety: will the doll be there, the train, the blocks? Every child has felt the excitement. How can I wait? How can I sleep? Sleep stayed away for a long time.

It was still dark when we raced to Mom and Dad’s room. They arose slowly—too slowly! — finding slippers and waking the baby. Then there was the interminable wait as Dad lit the tree and turned up the heat. Finally, we were free to run pell-mell into an ecstasy that would last all day.

three sisters smiling picture
Shirley Kay, Cindy Lu, Mary Ann

What? I stopped short. There they were among the gifts: those buttons attached to black velvet and red taffeta dresses. What a surprise and joy.

As I sailed into church later that day, I was wearing a prized gift, but the most precious Christmas gift I received that season was carried in my heart: gratitude for what I had, the love of sharing, and charity for others. This gift, given to me by my mother so many Christmases ago, has made all the difference in the quality of my life. Thanks, Mom!

Also, a thank you to my dad, who is now gone. He made wonderful toys with his own hands. We had them for many, many years, and they delighted all nine of us children.

baby cribs picture                  cupboard pictures                 toy horse picture

Merry Christmas!

Focus and Light – We never have all we need but it will be enough

I have a field that I keep weed-free.

I have been doing this now for two years. I have learned many things while toiling in the field. This week, two experiences gelled for me that I believe will be highly meaningful to some of you. Because I want you to get the full import of what I am attempting to share, I will take the time and words needed. Thank you for bearing with me.

I have been able to keep this field cleared on my own with just a hoe. I go there six days a week for 15 to 30 minutes. I have carved the field into sections in my mind, and I do one area each day. But, here is something I have noticed. No matter how careful I am in each section, I miss weeds!

Since the field is weedless dirt, I can see where I have walked in each section. Often, right next to a footprint, there will be a weed or a small group of weeds. This is a consistent phenomenon. How does it happen? I scan the whole area around me before I take the next step. But no matter how careful and methodical I am, it happens every day! I have thought a lot about that.

Here is what came to me this week – focus and light.

You can only focus on one thing at a time. Then you shift your focus to the next place and so on. You cannot focus on the entire section, or even the whole area right around you, just one spot at a time.

Here is something else. When I walk out to the field, I hoe weeds as I move to the section I intend to work. There is lots of dirt, and those tiny green seedlings are clear. I can see them, and I hoe them up as I go. But the odd thing is that as I make my way back from the section I just finished, I see weeds I missed. What! In this case, it is an issue of light—the light matters regarding what weeds I can see. Depending on the direction of the light, I can see certain plants but not others. It happens every day. Like focus, it determines what seedlings I see and what seedlings I miss.

This focus and light issue happens in parenting. We can see a problem that needs resolving, and we give it all we’ve got. Then later, we realize that there was another issue just as vital, if not more so, and we missed it. It can cause us grief because if we were being good parents how could we miss something so important.

Let me give you a real-life example so that you understand what I am sharing with you.

There was a time when four of our oldest five were struggling in school and with drugs. It was bleak. I was a focused, good mother. I spent enormous amounts of time trying to help these kids, keeping them alive, finding them services, attending counseling, etc. It has been decades since then. They are in their forties and fifties, have worthwhile lives, contribute. I believe they are reasonably happy.

But in my effort to focus on what seemed so important, vital even, I missed the pain of my two youngest children. I was there physically; we had meals on the table, I attended concerts and football games. I loved them and made sure they were safe. But I wasn’t emotionally available to them. It was all going to the four I was keeping alive.

These two youngest are now in their thirties. They also have worthwhile lives; they contribute, they seem reasonably happy. But I know they are still dealing with the pain of feeling abandoned, unseen. This was never my intention. I thought I was getting all the weeds, but I missed some despite my careful scanning of the area.

And then there was the issue of light (knowledge). My resources were limited, my information was lacking, and I couldn’t see what I couldn’t see. As I have moved forward, I have gained more knowledge. I can clearly see what would have worked better for the four than what I was doing. I also know how I could have helped those younger two, so they felt seen and heard.

I have been tempted to allow myself to feel like a bad mom, a failure. The truth is that for a long time, I did allow that. Then I gained more knowledge, light, and I STOPPED!

Thursday, this whole issue of focus and light was brought home to me even more. I wasn’t weeding a section of a vast field. Nothing was overwhelming in what I was weeding. I was working the strip between the sidewalk and the road. It is about 3 feet wide and 12 feet long and gravel-covered. Those weeds stick out like sore thumbs. You can quickly scan from one side to the other with each step. When I got to the end, I was feeling good. I was sure I had gotten every weed. But on the way back, right where I began, I found two weeds that I had missed.

Then I weeded a strip down the side of our driveway. It is only 1 foot wide. Easy peasy, right? And besides that, I was weeding on my hands and knees. But you know what, as I reviewed my work, I still found a couple of weeds I had missed.

Our focus and knowledge aren’t ever going to be perfect. Despite our best efforts, we can and will miss things that matter. If we could see them, we would do something about them but we don’t see them. What can we do when this happens, and our children are wounded because we are human and imperfect? It isn’t helpful to berate ourselves. Guilt is not an emotion. It is a state of internal condemnation. It damages and does not enlighten. Some call this state shame.

When we find ourselves lacking in our parenting skills there are better ways to respond. Here is what I have learned after many decades.

Speak kindly to yourself despite your failure. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, for lacking the knowledge you needed, for not seeing every need.
Be honest and take responsibility for what you missed. You did miss it. Avoid blaming anyone or anything else. Your honesty will help you see clearly so that you can move forward.
Increase your knowledge so you can make whatever repairs you can.
Remember that your kids came with an empty bag. You have added something to it even though you didn’t want to or plan to. Know that the cleaning out of their bag will help them become the people they are meant to be.

As for my two youngest, they have some work to do. It is their work. But I am here to support them. I pray so that I can know how to do that in the best way. Often, I am counseled by the Spirit to step back and leave them to their work. At other times I am guided to reach out.

They will do what my five oldest have done and are still doing. These older ones are emptying out their bags, and they are growing into amazing men and women. I’ve seen it. You will see it. If you never give up on your family, if you don’t berate yourself for being imperfect, if you keep growing and learning, increasing your light and knowledge, then you will see what I have seen. You are a good person and parent. You are doing your best, and as you improve your best, it will be enough!

Let parents you care about know that they can do this despite being imperfect!

Is there a deeper truth?

How it all started!

Alzheimer’s is a challenging disease to deal with. The brain isn’t consistent. So today, my mom can remember something, and tomorrow she has no clue. It is a temptation to repeat things, hoping the information will somehow stick. The dog has to be in the middle of the pad. This is a porta-potty. Don’t use the garbage can. Don’t fold up your used underwear. It goes here.

The other day my mom ate three bowls of cereal before lunch. This isn’t the first time it has happened. We buy her favorite cereal, raisin bran. It must have sweetened flakes because mom cannot monitor her use of sugar, and we leave it in the refrigerator so she can find it when she gets up in the morning if one of us isn’t in sight.

Mom thinks she is hungry because one of the effects of her dementia is that she no longer recognizes thirst. So, whenever she needs water, she feels hungry. I was out in the garden, and Don was resting. We weren’t there to get her a drink and help her manage how she was feeling. That is why she ate three bowls of cereal in four hours.

When I came in to fix lunch, I was put out. I need mom’s weight to stay reasonable to manage baths and things that will come up down the road. I need mom to eat nutritious food. I don’t want her to become ill and end up in the hospital. These were my thoughts as I explained again why she shouldn’t eat three bowls of cereal before lunch for the dozenth time. She won’t recall any of the conversations. What she will remember is that she was in trouble.

Was there a deeper truth?

Later, I was telling my daughter Jodie what I had done. I was confessing because I realized that my motive for the conversation wasn’t as noble as I had supposed. Then Jodie shared a life-changing question with me. She had learned that it was helpful to ask this question when she felt upset – ‘Is there a deeper truth?’

Let’s look again at the situation with my mom. I want her to have a manageable weight. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to eat nutritious food. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to remain healthy, so she doesn’t end up in the hospital. Is there a deeper truth? Her greatest fear is having to be in a nursing home. I want to make sure she can stay here with us. Is there a deeper truth?

I hated to admit it, but there was a deeper truth. I am a woman of order. I like things my way. Her eating three bowls of cereal was out of order. Not being hungry enough to eat lunch with us was not part of how I envision a family lunch. You get up, eat breakfast, drink water, then have lunch. This is the proper order.

All those other things are true. I care about them, but when I was honest with myself, it wasn’t any of those things that had me so worked up. It was that my plan had been messed with. But, of course, I’m sure you won’t judge me too harshly. You do this. We all do this.

This question can help you to parent better

I can think back to my parenting and the times I got upset with one of my kids. Of course, after the fact, I could come up with lots of good reasons for my distress. However, if I had asked myself this question, I can assure you that often the truth would have been attached to my plans, feelings, desires, and sense of how it should be.

I don’t think we can avoid being upset over things that happen in a family—a mud ring left in the tub; the center cut out of an entire piece of construction paper; clothes stuffed under the bed. Homework lost or left undone, a child not coming home on time, the left-over roast being eaten when you had planned a meal around it. The list is endless.

But we can respond better if we will ask ourselves the question – ‘Is there a deeper truth’ until we get to the bottom of why we are really upset or distressed. Then we will be able to manage whatever the situation is with greater calm. We will be better able to teach. We will feel better about ourselves. We will leave our children feeling better about themselves.

I have numerous opportunities to practice asking myself this question every day. I am getting a bit better, and hopefully, I will become a master eventually. If you decide to begin asking yourself this question, I’ll bet you will also have many opportunities to practice. I hope you choose to ask yourself this question more often. It will bless you and your family.

I needed this question. You probably need this question. Who else do you know
who would benefit from knowing this question?

Choose to Let Go of Suffering

Today, August 6, 2021, I finished reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis for the second time. The first was when I was a young woman in my forties. Now I have read it as a much older woman. I have to admit that my life’s experiences have made it much more meaningful than when I first read it. After all, you can’t know till you get there. : )

I certainly haven’t passed away and entered Heaven or Hell, but I have had far more experience with what the people in the story experienced while on earth.

On the back of the book, it says, “… comes to some significant realizations about the nature of good and evil.” However, I was more moved by the knowledge that, yes, in this life, we often choose to suffer. Here are a few phrases from the book that confirmed that.

“There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery.”

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it.”

“That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that, we begin living.”

Back in 2015, I wrote an article about this very topic. This book so moved me in that regard that I looked it up. I am re-sharing it here, updated, because understanding that I was free to choose to suffer or not has been life-changing for me. It will be so for you too. I will put 2021 in front of what I add to the original article. After all, it has been six years, and I will have learned more. : )

Choose to Let Go of Suffering

I have a friend who is very dissatisfied with parts of her life. She is filled with disappointment, dissatisfaction, resentment, and frustration. Some of her struggles are the same as mine, so I have shared how I have learned to be happy, even though life and people can be disappointing. Recently she said, “Well, you are just settling.” I have given this much thought, and here is what is true – I am choosing to let go of suffering. I am choosing to be happy by choosing how I will respond to my circumstances.

2021 – I know that I am 100% in control of how I respond. Knowing this has changed my life because it has moved me from being a victim to having personal power in how I look at things and react to situations.

Embracing Serenity

I love the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. It hung in my childhood home for many years, and I read it often. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.

The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes Niebuhr’s prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar sentiment:

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.

Serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. How often have you longed for that state of mind? Did you know it is a choice and not the result of your circumstances?

Making the Choice to Let Go of Suffering!

My marriage has been a good one. I love my husband, and he loves me. But some things caused me to feel resentment, frustration, dissatisfaction, and disappointment. Too many things! Sometimes I suffered. I would hold on to those moments of suffering and bring them out whenever I needed to remind myself why I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be.

As I got older and wiser, I wanted to ‘see differently’ what was happening or had happened. I began praying about the issue. Then, one day while driving to an appointment, I had this thought come into my mind – “You have suffered by choice.” I was stunned. What in the heck did that mean?

So, I asked out loud. “Heavenly Father, I don’t get that at all. Show me what that looks like,” and He did. I had a memory come clearly into my mind. I could see my husband’s actions and mine, and I saw that I chose to suffer. Yikes. I began from that moment to go back into my memory bank, to all the places where I had felt hurt, disappointed, etc., and examine them through this new lens. It became clear to me that I had chosen to suffer when I could have chosen peace instead. My response to what was happening made all the difference.

Not long ago, I read a fantastic book, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…: A Season of Unlikely Happiness by Laura Munson. She went on a journey in letting go of resentment, frustration, and disappointment. Laura chose a path of happiness in the most challenging time of her life. It confirmed what I had learned for myself, that we can choose happiness even when we are sure we are being wronged. (WARNING: This book does use the F word a lot but was an excellent read.)

What Does Letting Go of Suffering Look Like?

Let me share some mundane examples of choosing to let go of suffering.

All my life I have wanted a bed with beautiful bed pillows. It wasn’t possible for me to have this in my family of origin for many reasons. When I was newly married, it wasn’t a real option either. However, I did come to a place where I could finally have them. But my husband doesn’t want to move a big pillow to take a nap, rest after work, or when he goes to bed. He can’t see the point. Mostly, he isn’t aware whether they are on the bed or not. He doesn’t see them. They aren’t even part of his thinking.

It has been a huge irritation to me for quite a few years. I always get up earlier than Don. He will make the bed but never puts the bed pillows on. When I come into the room, I put them on, and when I come in next, his pillow has been removed so that he can rest or nap. As I look at the gap where the bed pillow should be, I feel resentment and frustration build up. It is disappointing!!! If he loved me, he would put those pillows on the bed, right! Grrrr. You all know exactly how this feels!

So here is what I decided to do. I decided to stop suffering. When I get up in the morning, while Don is still sleeping, I make my side of the bed, putting my wonderfully beautiful bed pillow in place. When Don gets up, he makes his side of the bed, and his bed pillow stays propped against the wall. Every time I walk into the bedroom now, I feel happy. There is the bed pillow I always wanted right where I want it, on my side of the bed. I know that some of you are saying to yourselves, “How tacky is that. She is settling!” I get it, but I have decided not to suffer. I am in control of my response. I am happy with my bed pillow, and it feels great!

2021 – This year, I gave these beautiful pillows away to my daughter, who loves them. I didn’t need them anymore. I have moved to a new place. I am grateful that I haven’t spent the last six years angry and frustrated at Don over a pillow. That would have been a terrible waste of energy, and it would have been hard on our relationship. Having a kinder, more profound connection with Don has always been more important to me than bed pillows, no matter how lovely. I am grateful that six years ago, I made a choice to put my relationship above them. It has made ALL the difference.

I have also always wanted beautiful towels in the bathroom that never get used. They just hang there and look beautiful. Raising seven children and growing up the oldest of nine, you know that there were NEVER unused towels in the bathroom.

So, when all our children left home, I thought, “Now is the time.” Wrong! My husband just can’t understand the idea of unused towels in the bathroom or taking the extra steps to use the hook on the bathroom door. So here is how our bathroom towel rack looks – one used towel, unfolded, drying. Very convenient and very “not decorative”!

I have to say this caused no small amount of disappointment and frustration in me for a long time. First, I resented that I couldn’t have what I wanted because my husband stood in my way! Then, when I went into the bathroom, I would see that towel rack with its unfolded towel and remember that I never got nice decorative towels, and then I would feel disappointment and frustration. I wasn’t happy!

When I decided to stop suffering, this is what I did. I acquired a small shelf which I put in my bathroom. I got it from my mom. I trifold the towels and keep them color-coordinated, and it looks terrific. When I am in the bathroom doing whatever, I look at the towel rack, and it feels so lovely. It is perfect. I don’t mind Don’s unfolded towel or the fact that my color-coordinated towels aren’t hanging up. When I go into the bathroom, I see that I have this orderly, beautiful rack of towels. It feels satisfying to me.

2021 – Since writing this, we have moved again. In our tiny bathroom, there is NO towel rack. None. We have two hooks on the wall. My beautiful green towels are hanging there, drying or awaiting the next shower. I am so glad I didn’t live with frustration over having towels hang a certain way to feel content. If I had, I might not feel as good now when I have no towel rack at all. I still have this small antique shelf which looks very near the same today as it did in 2015. And looking at it still brings me a feeling of contentment.

2021 – I had another experience with letting go of suffering in 2016. It was such a clear example of how we burden our most important relationships when we choose to suffer over things we think matter but which, in reality, are not truly important.

Don is a gadget-man. He bought a new stovetop grill at the county fair and was excited to use it. The
following day was Sunday, and we needed to get to an important reception right after church. I said, “Honey, there isn’t time to grill chicken today and make it to the reception. You’ll have to do
it tomorrow.”

After church, Don was nowhere to be seen. I knew he had left early to go home and grill chicken! Sure enough, when I got home, the grill was on, and he was cooking. When we got to the reception, they were cleaning up. The bride and groom had left. We ate at a table alone while others cleaned up around us. I was so angry!

I chose to feel angry because I decided that his grilling was either because he didn’t listen to what I had said or he didn’t care. I held onto this upset feeling as we drove to the reception and ate in silence. I held on to my ill feelings as we went home and for a chunk of the evening.

Finally, I grew tired of my self-inflicted unhappiness. I asked Don, “Remember when I said
there wasn’t time to grill chicken today. I can think of two reasons why you went ahead and did it. Either you didn’t hear what I said this morning, or you didn’t care what I wanted. But I know you, and you
love me. You’re not insensitive. So, there must be a reason I haven’t thought of.”

He looked at me with a stricken face and replied, “Gosh Mary, I thought I could do it in time. I thought the whole thing would take thirty minutes. I didn’t know it would take so long.”

I had to laugh because I could tell from his poor face, he had believed it would only take thirty minutes and was shocked to find out it took longer.

At that moment, I wished I had chosen to let go of suffering earlier. We could have felt better as we drove to and from the reception. We could have had more genuine enjoyment talking to the bride and groom’s family and sending our love to the newlyweds through their families. We could have enjoyed that cake as we spoke with those of our friends clearing up. So, you see, it could have turned out better despite our lateness if I had chosen to let go of suffering.

Will You Let The Thieves of Joy Into Your Home?

Bed pillows, bath towels, and receptions are not very important. But this principle of choosing happiness, of choosing to let go of suffering, of changing what you can and accepting with grace what you can’t, works in things that do matter. It comes up over and over in my mentoring; the need to be correct, to prove that we have been inconvenienced, the need to let others know we have been wronged, wanting to make sure others know how we have sacrificed for them, to name a few. Disappointment, resentment, dissatisfaction, and frustration are the thieves of joy! You can let these thieves into your home or not. It is your choice.

I have given you some examples of the mundane. But I have used this knowledge in the vitally important. I have healed my feelings about old wrongs, embarrassing moments, out and out rudeness and unkindness, out of sorts relationships, and even abuse.

One of my favorite books, as a 16-year-old, was by Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. It has multiple lessons on its pages, but one of the biggest is that you have a choice in every circumstance. It all comes down to your response. There are two quotes that I can still remember now, almost 50 years later.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Taking responsibility for our happiness is wonderfully empowering. When we know that we control our satisfaction, we can choose our response more consistently. We can act and not be acted upon!

I can fight with my husband over bed pillows and towels or not. I can feel resentment and disappointment every time I go into the bedroom/bathroom or not. It is up to me. And frankly, I choose to take responsibility for my response; I choose to let go of suffering. I choose peace!

I hope you will do the same. : )

Gratitude – Part 2, Ten Tools to Greater Gratitude

Gratitude begins with attitude.

Gratitude is a choice not based on what is happening to us, what we have or don’t have, but on how we choose to see what is happening to us. Regardless of our circumstances, we all have much to be grateful for if we pause and contemplate our blessings.

We can lift ourselves and others, as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude is one of the grave sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest virtues. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading scholars in the scientific study of gratitude, said the following: “It is possible that psychology has ignored gratitude because it appears, on the surface, to be a very obvious emotion, lacking in interesting complications: we receive a gift—from friends, from family, from God—and then we feel pleasurably grateful. But while the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”

The other day after a church meeting, someone said to me, “I am so inspired.” In my heart, I responded, “Inspired to what end.” It isn’t enough to be inspired. We must be moved to action. I want to help you decide to move to a more significant place of gratitude. I recognize that we are all in different places in our lives, and so I have created a varied list of ten possible action steps that you can use to cultivate more gratitude and, as a result, greater happiness.

Your job is to be open to the action step that will work best for you right now. Don’t pick the one that you think sounds the most righteous or what you think other people will decide. Listen to your inner voice, which one will make the most difference right now, for you.

Ten Gratitude Exercises

1. Come up with some Happiness commandments – After I read Gretchen Rubin’s, The Happiness Project – I asked myself what makes me the most unhappy, and then I came up with three commandments for myself. I post them where I can see them and am reminded of what kind of thinking leads me to happiness.
• Be a Pollyanna
• Clean the ditch (remove garbage thinking)
• Let go of suffering (yes, suffering is a choice)

2. A Gratitude Journal – Dr. Emmons and his colleagues found scientific proof that people who practice gratitude through activities such as keeping a gratitude journal are more loving, forgiving, and optimistic about the future.

They exercise more frequently, report fewer illnesses, and generally feel better about their lives. In subsequent studies, Dr. Emmons also noted that people who regularly kept a gratitude journal and were in the habit of recognizing and expressing gratitude for their blessings reported feeling closer and more connected to people, had better relationships, were more likely to help others, felt less lonely, felt less depressed, slept better, and were more pleasant to be around.

In her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote, “The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.”

3. Journaling – This is like the gratitude journal, but in this case, detail in writing, one positive experience each day. Journaling will help you find meaning in the activities of the day, rather than just noticing the task itself.

4. Dedicate a few prayers a week to only Gratitude – Ask for nothing; be grateful for what you already have.
• If you can’t walk – do you have a wheelchair
• If you can’t see – can you hear
• If you feel you are too old – you are yet alive and can serve
• If you don’t feel accepted – you have the opportunity to reach out to others
• If you are single and alone, thank God for the family and friends you have
• If you’re having trouble with your spouse, thank God for the opportunity to develop more Christ-like       traits through forgiveness and taking personal responsibility
• Thank God for His goodness to you
• Express thanks for Jesus’s example, for His teachings, for His outreaching hand to lift and help, for His
infinite Atonement.
• Thank God for leaders and teachers
• Thank God for your family and children

5. Control negative thinking – Ray L. Huntington, a professor at BYU, said, “Studies have shown that focusing on the negative in times of adversity—using derogatory or critical words as we talk to ourselves or others—can darken our mood and, much like a virus, infect the moods of those we interact with. Consciously choosing to fill our minds with thoughts of our blessings and feeling appreciation for those blessings can change the way we feel and brighten our spirits during difficult times.”

6. Add More Thank-Yous to Your Vocabulary – Saying “thank you” to someone brightens your day by affirming your positive feelings. It also lifts the spirits of those who are deserving of your thankfulness. Use people’s names who check you out at the grocery store, people who help you on the phone, and anywhere else you happen to be and see a name tag. Tell them, ‘thank you.’ Thank your spouse and children for what they do, no matter how small.

7. Take Time to Write Thank-You Notes and Letters of Appreciation – John Kralik, an attorney with a struggling law practice and personal family problems, determined to reverse the cycle of negative thinking through writing and sending one thank-you note each day of the year—365 thank-you notes in total. His note-writing endeavor taught him a valuable lesson: blessings can be easily overlooked unless we are consciously thinking about them each day. To that end, note writing helps us identify, remember, and express our blessings.

8. Live in the Present Moment and Give Thanks for Small Blessings – I call it Being Present – It is easy to get caught up in tomorrow: what needs to be cleaned, shopping to do, the upcoming holidays. And while it’s healthy to plan and prepare for future events, if you are too consumed with tomorrow, there is a chance that you will miss something small and wonderful that is happening to you in the present moment.

9. Random Acts of Kindness – Return the shopping cart to the stall, smile at people, pick up something someone has dropped, tell someone how nice they look, even perfect strangers, move over, and let someone sit down by you.

10. Philanthropy – Learn to give no matter how much you have. Give a dollar or two. If you have more, give more. Do it outside of your tithing and church contributions. The act of being able to give helps you feel well off and increases feelings of gratitude.

For a time, I felt that I should have cards with a small amount of money in my car. I was impressed to write, “No matter what has brought you to where you are, I care about you, and so does God.” When I saw someone on the street and felt that I should, I would give them a card. I put $50 in a savings account every month so that I could provide these cards. Remember that these were directions to me, and if you ask, you will receive your own guidance on how to serve financially, and it will probably be different from mine.

Take a few minutes right now and think about these ten tools to increase gratitude. Which one speaks to your heart? Choose one.

Now that you have chosen something that you will do this coming year to increase your gratitude, and ultimately your happiness, let me share two quotes.

First, from Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency, ” Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. . .Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

And from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who penned these beautiful words: “The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

If these words have inspired you, I would ask, “To what end have you been inspired?” Commit to yourself that you will practice Gratitude and make it your way of being.

Gratitude – Part 1, Joy & Happiness Are Born of Gratitude

Some years ago, I decided to find out what I could do to improve my life the most.

I wasn’t happy with what I discovered – stop complaining. I am still working on this one thing! It has been a challenge.

Then, after a few years, I looked to see if I could find a way to make more progress. I wasn’t sure how I felt about what I found – gratitude. I began a gratitude journal. When I wrote a few things each day, I felt better, happier, more charitable to others. But I wasn’t consistent.

In the spring of 2019, I got serious. I bought a notebook and hastily wrote Gratitude Journal and the date I began on the front. I was consistent until the fall holiday season. Then it dropped off. Despite this lapse, I had that notebook with me in Seattle at the beginning of 2020, just before Covid closed the airports. It helped me remain optimistic, and I made it home.

I began writing my gratitude statements in earnest, and as the year progressed, I felt the need to express my gratitude increase. Focusing on what I was grateful for made a big difference in my ability to stay mentally on top of an extraordinarily negative and sometimes frightening year. For Christmas this year, a friend of mine sent me an actual Gratitude Journal. A pretty one. I have enjoyed writing in it. It is keeping my spirits up.

Did you know that joy and happiness are born of gratitude? This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way, over time, because raising a home full of children can be challenging!! Over the years, I said, “How can I be so grateful and ungrateful at the same time?” I said it so often that I was afraid my children would have it carved on my headstone. I was grateful for my home but….it needed a new carpet. I was thankful for my kids, but…I wished they wouldn’t fight. I loved my husband dearly, but …. why couldn’t he pick up his socks.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you find yourself terribly grateful and ungrateful at the same time? This habit, and it is a habit, diminishes our joy and happiness. The truth is you cannot be grateful and ungrateful at the same time. If you are complaining, you are not grateful. I know, it hurts to hear!

Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, said, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend . . . when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us —the wasteland of illusion falls away, and we experience heaven on earth.”

How are gratitude and happiness connected? Why does it matter whether we see the glass half-full or half-empty?

Let me refer to two stories found in the Christian Bible that are beautiful examples of a broader view of gratitude than just having a good feeling when things are going our way.

In the book of Luke, chapter 17, we read the story of Christ passing through Samaria and Galilee. In a village, he met ten lepers who cried out to him, “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus sent them to the priest, and as they went, they were healed. One turned back and, with a loud voice, thanked Jesus. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

Jesus didn’t need their thanks, but he knew that gratitude is an uplifting and exulting attitude. We cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when we are grateful. We choose to serve when we are grateful. Being grateful would help those nine healed men to live more joyously and generously. He wanted them to have that experience, and they, through their lack of gratitude, missed out.

In the book of Matthew, we have another account of gratitude, this time as an expression from Jesus. Jesus had traveled in the wilderness for three days, and more than 4,000 people followed Him. He took compassion on them and wanted to feed them. His disciples, however, questioned, “Whence, should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” Like many of us, the disciples saw only what was lacking.

“And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And said, Seven, and a few little fishes.

“And commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.

“And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”

Notice that the Savior gave thanks for what they had—and a miracle followed: “And they did all eat and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.”

We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. These are the times when we find ourselves complaining either by word, action, inaction or in our hearts.

It isn’t always easy to be grateful. But if we commit to being grateful more often, seek the help we need to make it a practice, and then persevere for as long as it takes, it can become our way of being, not just a feeling. That path is what Jesus wanted for the nine healed men. He knew that if they practiced gratitude, they would be happier down the road when things got tough again. He also knew that the grateful energy we send out can create miracles in our lives.

Ten Gratitude Tools

If you feel overwhelmed, resentful of your spouse or children, blame others regularly, feel like a victim, or feel you are missing essential blessings, I encourage you to consider working seriously on your state of gratitude. Next week I will share ten GRATITUDE tools that can help anyone become more grateful. Choose just one and start.

If you feel that you are already grateful, I hope you will accept the challenge to practice one of the ten tools anyway. You may be as surprised as I was when I took the challenge to stop complaining and become more grateful. I wasn’t as appreciative as I thought, and I complained far more than I knew. See you next week.

Share your gratitude with someone this week. 

Be Wary of Comparison

I have a friend, Audrey Rindlisbacher, and recently I was listening to an early morning Facebook Live she did. The topic was ‘comparison.’ Audrey is an exceptional woman who has been speaking and teaching for years on great books. I have sat with rapt attention in her classes. She inspires me with her knowledge of natural law and principles.

Not too long before she did this Facebook Live, she spoke with another woman that she considered exceptional. This mom had been the Young Mother of the Year, had multiple degrees, and currently lives in a foreign country where she has been for the last ten years with her family doing full-time work with refugees. Audrey admitted that during her conversation, she had thoughts like these – “You have always wanted to take your kids and do some humanitarian work. Why haven’t you? If you had, your family would be so much better off. You are so lame!”

I had to smile inwardly because when I first heard Audrey speak, I had similar thoughts – “Man, you should have read more great books than you have. Why haven’t you gotten as much out of them as Audrey has? How come you don’t understand natural law and principles as she does. Reading isn’t enough; you needed to think as she has. You are so lame.” When we begin comparing ourselves to others, our self-talk plummets! When our self-talk dives, then our life-results also dive. We must speak kindly about and to ourselves.

Another reason to speak well of ourselves is that how we are and what we do, speaks volumes to our children. We want to model a way of being to our family that will help them as they tackle hard things in life and as they begin seeing that where they are and how they are doing is different from someone else.

Tools to Derail Comparison

When I find myself treating myself poorly or comparing myself to others, I have a couple of tools I use to get myself back on track.

1. Focus on gratitude. When I shift from seeing what I am not or what I don’t have and focus on who I am and what I have, my self-talk improves. My result improves. There are many ways to stay in gratitude, but one that I use is a gratitude journal. Each evening before bed, I take a moment and write at least three things I am grateful for. No matter how terrible the day has been, I have yet to be stumped. I can always find at least three and usually more. Keeping my eye on what I have that is good keeps my mind on a higher plane, so I don’t spiral into negative thinking and self-talk.

2. Limit social media. As much good as social media has provided, it is a hotbed of comparison and envy. Currently, three of my daughters have taken breaks from social media. No Facebook, no Instagram. They have found that they feel better about themselves when they cannot compare their worst to someone else’s best. I spend less than 1 hour on social media each day, and on days when I don’t need to be on it for work, I spend none at all.

You don’t have to give up social media. Just limit the time you spend there. If you have a hard time, then turn off your notifications. Give yourself set times during the day to participate. When we compare ourselves to others, it creates unrest within us. It sucks the joy out of our accomplishments. It diminishes us in our own eyes.

We each have strengths and weaknesses. We all do well at times and at others do poorly. We all are in the process of becoming. Accept that you are still learning, growing, evolving. Be kind to yourself. Speak and think with generosity, and it will improve your pace. It will also give your children a better example of what to do when you are not perfect. It will do your family good.

Take the time to let a friend know about these simple tools to derail comparison.