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Just Stop It!

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So, we should be halfway done by now, but I’m a realist. With all the other things I’m trying to accomplish, there really is no way to post something every day unless I’ve pre-written everything and gotten it all lined up. I didn’t, so that’s that. But this topic of gratitude is still so important.

I’ve been writing this month about being grateful. And not just being grateful sometimes, but about how to cultivate a grateful heart in this whiny, self-absorbed world we live in.

It’s tough sometimes, isn’t it? We want what we want, when we want it & whine when we don’t get it. At times we think the world revolves around us, and we whine when it doesn’t. We gaze at the new (fill in the blank) the neighbor has, and think, I should have that, too…

No? Just me, then?

I am truly so grateful for my life. But when bad stuff happens, or things don’t work out as planned, or, or, or… sometimes a swell of mopey overcomes my normally good-natured, grateful self. And I cringe.

I cringe at the silliness of it all. I cringe at how childish I am. I cringe to think of others I see daily who have a reason to be moping about, but aren’t. I look around at how stinkin’ blessed I am, and I want to slap myself upside the head and say, “STOP IT!”

So I’m working on it.

Let’s work on it together. One little change daily will turn your heart around. Think of one thing. ONE THING you are thankful for today, and write it down. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day. And the next.

I’m not a journal-keeper. Believe me, I’ve tried. But this I can do – I keep a gratitude journal where I write at least once a week the things I’m thankful for. I leaf through the pages and look back on it often. This is one of the first concrete things we took a look at doing, and it has been so helpful to me so far.

And you know what? It always produces a smile. And a change of heart in that moment.

I could go on and on about how there are studies to back this up, but let me just leave you with these wise words:

  • Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:1 
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  Philippians 4:6 
  • Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  Psalm 106:1 
  • And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

What are you doing to cultivate a heart of gratitude?

 

Grateful for the Hard Times

Photo: SnoShuu on Flickr Creative Commons
If you were betting real money – I owe you. Life happened, and things were pushed aside. Like writing every day for the 31 days of October. But there is still so much to discuss about this gratitude thing. Really, I know you needed a break anyway. It may take two months to reach our 31 days, but let’s embrace the grace of not needing a tight schedule and keep going deeper:

We were following a list of seven things it’s been shown to help you have a grateful attitude, but really, there are so many more than that, so we will stray now and then and add a few other gratitude-inducing practices. Some obvious. Some not so obvious. But oh, so important.

Like learning to recognize God’s presence in everything. And by everything, I mean EVERY THING. The good, the bad and the ugly. No matter what, you have never walked alone.

Think back. Look for it. You’ll see.

A few years ago, my son was in the hospital for brain mapping for his seizures. I was there with him for a week, because they needed a family member familiar with his seizures to press a button every time one happened. Little or big. I loved getting to know my young adult son on this intimate level. We talked, we laughed. When he had visitors, I’d step away for a break. For the most part, we were captive room mates. It was a strangely enjoyable time.

We had spent family time with my older brother just a few days before entering the hospital, and he had promised to visit Chris that week. It was quite a drive, so nearly every day I would leave him a message describing the traffic, say I knew he had to get up so early for work, and he should wait until the weekend to come visit. All was well.

Except it wasn’t. When my brother didn’t show up to visit Chris by Friday evening, I called him several times. No answer. I called his neighbor, who said the car was in the driveway, but lights were out in the house. I called my nephew, a police officer, to ask what I should do. He immediately drove there, and looking through the window, could see my brother lying on his bed. He was gone.

I know what you’re thinking: WHAT could possibly be good about this situation? How can you be thankful for your brother being found dead?

Clearly, I’m not thankful for the death of my brother. What I am thankful for is the orchestration of all the surrounding events:

* God chose to call my brother Home in the gentlest of ways. He simply took a nap after work, and didn’t wake up. I’m grateful.

* I was helplessly locked in to a commitment of being in the hospital with my son. If I hadn’t been there, I would have driven out to my brother’s house and I would have found him dead in his bed. I’m grateful to be spared from that.

* My nephew is a police officer in the adjoining city and when he called the dispatcher, he knew her. He knew the protocol of what to do in this situation and said to me, “Tami, God arranged for this to happen when I could take care of it for you.” I’m grateful for him and his good heart.

* Officers arrived & they had a common ground with my nephew. When they looked through the house and found no evidence of foul play or suicide, they reported it as such and the mortuary was called to pick up my brother, and not the coroner. This never happens. I’m grateful.

There is more, but I think you get the picture. As I think back on that night, I see God’s handwriting all over the situation, and I am grateful.

Now I’m entering into a time of beautiful blessing. I see God’s hand in that, as well. And I am grateful.

So very grateful.

Look at your life. Think back. Take some time to see how God connected the dots in your helpless and even hopeless situations. Never once, did you ever walk alone.

I hope you’ll see.

There is so much to be grateful for.

It’s the Little Things…

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How many times has a smile spread across your face over the smallest thing? I mean, the very smallest thing?

That’s a very good thing, and one of the ways to cultivate a heart of gratitude. Learning to recognize the value in the little things that come our way such as a simple complement, a smile from a stranger, getting flowers “just because” or help with a task will spur us on to being happy and grateful.

Have you noticed these little things come from others? We need one another in this journey of life.  I believe we receive back what we contribute. Be stingy with complements, smiles and small kindnesses, and you will not receive much in that area. On the other hand, if you are the one to make a point of giving a complement, sharing a kind word, even giving those “just because” flowers, you will reap the benefits.

Whether giving or receiving, it’s the little things.

Let’s try something: today’s assignment is to find someone you can do a small kindness for, share a kind word with, complement, or even give flowers to. I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face. And when it comes back to you – that’s pure joy.

Yes, the little things = the makings of a grateful heart.

Bad Things Happen to Good People

How did you do with starting a Gratitude Journal? I’m pretty excited about mine. I chose the pretty handmade parchment journal with the yellow flower on the front. First thing this morning, I wrote a few sentences about the good things. It was enough to put a smile on my face the rest of the day.
As we dive deeper into cultivating a grateful heart, one of the suggestions is don’t avoid the negative. I know it sounds wrong – we’ve just spent time talking about how to remember all the positive, good things in our lives and to write them down, for goodness sake. And now, you want me to step into the negative?

Not step into it, exactly – just don’t avoid it.

Bad stuff happens to good people. All. The. Time. There really is no avoiding it. Life is unfair.

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Dealing with the negative stuff head on and just pushing through to the other side gives you a sense of power and accomplishment. And how much sweeter are the good times when you have the tough times to compare it to?

Since it’s impossible to avoid the negative, the key is to not dwell in it.  When something’s bothering you, I know getting your mind off it is not a simple task. If the urge to ruminate over a problem is more than you can stand, it’s time to change things up a bit to distract your mind. Think about something that requires concentration like ordering songs in a playlist or maybe the books on your bookshelf. Call a positive friend you know will help you snap out of it – you don’t even have to tell them what’s going on. Have a cup of tea. Reframe your situation in your mind, thinking of the positive things that could possibly come from it instead of the negative mire you are entrenched in. Even 20 seconds will do it. If the negative thoughts return, distract yourself again.

Setbacks are part of life. If you embrace them as part of your journey – you will emerge more thankful for the small things, and a heart of gratitude will follow.

I’m a Journal Hoarder

My name is Tami **Hi, Tami** and I’m a journal hoarder.
As you’ll recall, we are perusing a list of 7 Habits of Grateful People by Lindsay Holmes at Huffington Post as we explore the concept of cultivating a grateful heart during October for the Write31Days challenge. Then, just for kicks, I’ll add a few more of my own as we dive deeper into this subject of how to cultivate gratitude.

First on the list is Journal. As in, actually do it – don’t just own dozens of blank journals, like I do.

It’s not that I’ve never tried, or don’t want to. I just don’t GET journaling. It’s difficult, no, more like impossible, for me to spend time writing about my day at the end of it. I just. Can’t.

And yet, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a new blank journal. I just tend to use them for other things. There’s the pretty green one I keep with my Bible to write notes in all week, then take to church to keep track of the sermon points. You know, just in case the pastor misses one.

Then there’s the brick red one I keep in my purse to write IDEAS down before they escape from my brain. I’ve designed my voiceover website, birthed ideas for future ministries and non profits, and kept a grocery list in that journal. Nothing anyone would look at later and have a clue what it all means.

Then there are these beauties:

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Yep. All mine.This is maybe half of the lovely blanks I have on hand. Just waiting for the next great idea or life event to be penned in them.

Except that I have trouble journaling.

But it turns out, I’m off the hook! It’s not just daily journaling that makes you feel grateful. We’ve all journaled our complaints, just to get them out of our brains and onto paper. That won’t help. What will help is keeping a Gratitude Journal – writing down those things you are thankful for, grateful for, or that just plain brought a smile to your face. And you don’t even have to do it every day – just a few times a week helps cultivate a grateful heart. Now that I can do!

Harvard’s Dr. Michael Miller cites a study by psychologists from UC Davis and University of Miami, who asked participants to write a few sentences each week:

“One group was asked to write about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them. The third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about being grateful were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they had also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”

A few sentences every so often to document the good things in life. Yes, that sounds like a wonderful idea! As we go through the rest of this month, let’s begin a gratitude journal, and see if it induces a sense of gratefulness. I’ll share some of my entries towards the end of this series.

And to think, I was worried. It turns out there’s a legit use for my journals after all!

Now, which one to use first…

 

Cultivate the Habit of Being Grateful

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

What can I say? Great minds think alike.

It would appear my idea of cultivating a heart of gratitude is not a new one. The concept has been talked about and analyzed over and over. And yet, it seems our world’s population has become more self absorbed than ever. It is the human condition.

The topic has been discussed as far back as ancient Greece, when Epicurus said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”  Yes. It’s tough to be grateful when you are always pining for the next bignewgreatmusthave thing.

So, what’s the way out from this mess of whiny, unsatisfied, self-absorbed attitudes we carry with us?

The key word here is cultivate.

One definition of cultivate is to “try to acquire or develop (a quality, sentiment, or skill).”

Exactly.

A heart of gratitude must be acquired. It is a conscious decision, yes. But can you wake up one day and decide to turn the moaning and complaining to thanksgiving and gratitude? You could. And then do it again the next day. And the next. And the next…. until you live a life of gratitude.

In her article for the Huffington Post, “7 Habits of Grateful People,” Lindsay Holmes outlines seven specific habits to work on in order to procure an existence filled with gratitude. That’s right. HABITS. Meaning, you do these things more than occasionally: journal, don’t avoid the negative, spend time with loved ones, mindfully use social media, know the value of the little things, volunteer, and get moving (exercise).

I feel grateful most of the time. But am I really living a life of contentment and gratitude? Probably not. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have many good consistent habits, especially not all seven on this list. It’s one reason I signed on for this Write31Days challenge, to at least get the habit of writing under my belt. Perhaps it’s also the reason God laid this topic on my heart.

Whew. I have a feeling this is going to be good for both of us.

Let’s explore those 7 habits together, shall we?

See you tomorrow ~

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I’m Thankful to be Grateful?

… Or am I grateful that I’m thankful?
Which brings up a point – WHAT is the difference?

The dictionary isn’t much help –

I mean, really – what are we to do with this?

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Especially when we then look at this?

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If THANKFUL and GRATEFUL are synonyms, then shall I just call it a day & forget about going deeper into this idea of cultivating a grateful heart over the next month?

No. Look closer.

We can have a thankful heart. We can have a grateful heart. They are similar, but I would say they are indeed different. There is a certain depth to gratitude that isn’t present in thankfulness. Call it semantics, but I think it’s more than that.

It would seem gratitude is a state of being, and thankfulness expresses that gratitude.

Got that?

Gratitude is a feeling. Thankfulness is about expression.

I’m excited to explore this topic and go deeper. I’d love to know your thoughts ~

Do you think there is a difference between being grateful and being thankful?

 

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The Gratitude Journey Begins

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I’ve been invited to participate in a 31 day writing journey this month.

This is no small thing. For me, 31 days of doing anything consistently is a stretch, especially writing. Ideas are not a problem, my brain is constantly overflowing with subjects to write about – it’s actually sitting down, fingers to keyboard I struggle with. Since my theme word for 2014 is DEEPER, it follows that I should be diving deeper into all aspects of life: my faith, my family, my recreation, my voiceover work, and yes, my writing.

So, here goes. For the 31 days of October, I’ll be exploring one topic: GRATITUDE. Let’s go deep into the subject of gratitude, and what it takes to cultivate a truly grateful heart while living day to day in a whiny, self-absorbed world. We will be learning together. I’m pretty sure it will be good for both of us.

Let’s connect on all things social media, and be challenged to change our minds and our hearts to live in purposeful gratitude. Subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter, watch for me on Instagram, and like my Facebook page. I’d love your comments, too – feedback is the kick in the pants every writer needs. Just sayin’

Look for these hashtags:

#write31days

#31daysofgratitude

See you tomorrow!

 

31 Days of Gratitude

Cultivating a Grateful Heart in a Whiny, Self-Absorbed World.

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Welcome to 31 Days of Gratitude! For the month of October, I’ll be contributing to the Write 31 Days challenge introduced by a lovely blogger named Myquillyn over at Nesting Place. She’s the type of person you want to get to know over coffee. In her kitchen. Overlooking her barn. (To be fair, I have no idea if Myquillyn’s kitchen has a barn view, but still. A girl can dream, can’t she?)

Anyway it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I’m all about learning and growing.

Links to all 31 days will be posted here as the month progresses ~ Here we go!

Day 1:  The Gratitude Journey Begins

Day 2:  I’m Thankful to be Grateful? 

Day 3: Cultivate the Habit of Being Grateful

Day 4: I’m a Journal Hoarder

Day 5: Bad Things Happen to Good People

Day 6: It’s the Little Things…

Day 7: Grateful for the Hard Times

Day 8: Just Stop It!

Day 9:

Day 10:

Day 11:

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Remember my last post about the Walking Street in Angeles City, Philippines? I had a sense of dread about going there. When asking myself how do you prepare for your heart to be broken? I said,

“I believe the answer to this question is – there is no way to prepare. It could be worse than I anticipate. It could be better, but I doubt it.”

I was right. It was worse than I anticipated. And I was wrong. It was also better.

Our night began by walking as a group before sunset down the Walking Street to the very end for dinner together at a large outdoor patio restaurant. That was an adventure in itself. Spectacle doesn’t even begin to describe what we must have looked like. Fifty or so Americans consisting of middle-aged men and women and their 20-something daughters and son along with a handful of Filipino young women who used to work on this street. They knew we were up to something.

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As the sun set and we laughed and joked our way through dinner, none of us really knew what the night would hold. We had been told the basics. These girls were here because they didn’t have a choice. In the Philippines, college graduates are lucky to get a job at McDonald’s or as a helper in someone’s home. Where then, does this leave these young women?  On the Walking Street.

Our job was to tell them about Wipe Every Tear. This ministry offers hope where there has been no hope. It offers a safe house to live in and enrollment in college or completion of a high school equivalency program. For free with no obligation.

A way OUT.

A way to see their children again.

A way HOME.

But just HOW do you approach an exploited girl with this information, exactly? You buy her a drink. You take her off the stage and occupy her time. For as long as it takes.

As we formed our teams and prayed before walking the street to search for a bar to enter, there was a sense of anticipation. Uneasiness. That’s it – uneasy anticipation. The men in our group were especially uncomfortable, given that the clientele of the bars was largely made up of their peers.

The Walking Street, Angeles City. Photo: Wipe Every Tear

 

 

 

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As my daughter reminded her dad that there will be no bar fights to rescue these girls, she took the lead as we entered the first bar. It was small, and our group of ten made up more than half of the patrons. The seating was configured so that the patrons sat facing the stage. The stage was full of about 25 young girls. They stood, swaying lightly to the music. Local regulations say they must be 18, but it was doubtful. This group wore cutoff short shorts and cropped tops. My first thought is that they had more covering than most women their age at California beaches. Their uncomfortable stance was hard to miss. Most had their arms wrapped around their stomach. All had a bra on even under a halter top, for a little added modesty. This bar owner must be one of the kind ones.

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Nikki quickly approached the stage and began talking with a girl who caught her eye. She invited her for a drink. She happily hopped down to join us. We bought her a drink and she kissed the drink ticket before tucking it into her bra, for this means she made a commission without having to give herself away. We ordered drinks for ourselves. We asked her about her family and told her about ours.

What does she dream of doing someday? Nothing.

What would you like to do if you didn’t work here? Nothing, there’s nothing else I can do.

One of the girls on the stage was making big facial gestures indicating she would like to join us next. The two were friends and whatever this was, she wanted in. So, we asked her to join us. Keep in mind that the rest of our team was doing the same thing and collectively we now had probably 6 girls off the stage and hanging with the crazy Americans.

The same conversation happened again. And then, something extraordinary happened. The girls became so comfortable with us and felt so safe, that they began to share their dreams. “I’m a great baker. I’d like to own a bakery someday.” “It’s my dream to finish school one day. My brother is a pastor and two of my sisters are in seminary.” By then, we were chatting and laughing like we were old friends. Another round of drinks (more commission), and we danced. We danced with those girls like we were at a high school slumber party. Because, after all, girls just wanna have fun, right?

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And then we’d talk some more. What if I told you there’s a place you can live for free away from here while you attend school? They will pay for everything, and there’s no obligation to ever pay them back.

How can this be true? Cue the girls with us who used to work in the bars. As they came and chatted with the girls, the expressions on the faces were priceless. “It’s true. I used to work here just 7 months ago. Here’s a picture of me in my school uniform. Here’s a picture of the house where we live. Here’s my school schedule.” Phone numbers were exchanged. We had FUN in the sexploitation district of the Philippines. Oy.

Nikki had an instant connection with these girls - they were all the same age!

 

 

 

 

 

 

After about two hours, we promised the girls we’d be back the next night.

And we were.

We entered that bar the next night to the happy greetings of our new friends on the stage. As we called the girls to join us, there was a new joy in that night. You know what it was? It was HOPE. We had returned, just like we said we would. Maybe that other stuff we said was true, too.

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One of the girls we’d spoken with the night before was absent, which made me sad, but we were able to chat with three girls in our time there. We danced some more. Even the mamasan (madame) joined us in our revelry, dancing in the middle of our circle. The DJ happily took our song requests. They were happy to see this crazy group of American missionaries enjoying themselves. We danced even more. We bought the girls more drinks (the three of them all ordered milk for their second drink, which was brought to them in a lovely wine glass. It was more precious than words can describe.)

And then we made our offer: Come with us. Come and see this house we’ve talked about. Meet the other girls. Ask questions. See if it’s real. Then we will give you money to get back here in time to work tomorrow night. We told them the bus leaves at 10:00 am and we know they will be tired from working all night, but they can sleep on the bus.

Our prayer and our dream was to fill the bus. That bus was more than full. In many rows, we sat two to a seat. An already full tourist bus added seventeen girls and one toddler anxious to see if a new life was possible. HOPE was in the air.

All because of a bunch of crazy Americans who were willing step out of their comfort zone to come to them. To invite them to come away. To invite them to come HOME.

The bus was full before we invited more to join us!

 

 

...and then GOD filled it up even more!

These brave girls were willing to come with us to find out if our story was true!