five minute Friday, gratitude, practicing gratitude

Five-Minute Friday: Grateful

I remember how I felt, a few short weeks ago…standing close beside my husband, flanked by wiggling, giggling, dancing children and friends, grinning from ear to ear, a surge of joy pressing against my ribs, tears in my eyes.

Alleluia.

It rang from all corners, filling the spacious room, vibrating with the hundreds of voices proclaiming it.

Christ is Risen.

How easy is it, a few weeks later, to remember that it’s still Easter? To remember that Easter was (and is) not a day, but a totally new reality? How quickly did I forget to proclaim it every day in my heart, with my voice, in my actions and in my relationships?

Christ is Risen, Indeed.

Looking backward to the last week of Lent, to the fatigue I felt, to the last post I made in this space (about meatless meals), I realize that somehow my alleluia faded back into a Lenten resignation…that feeling of searching through a desert for sustenance while waiting for the joy that will I expect will eventually arrive.

In allowing this to happen, in giving up my alleluia, I somehow also lost my voice here- surrendered it to the flood of daily worries and details and tasks that can overwhelm even the calmest, most organized, most cheerful mother of young children.

This is my fault. My fault. My most grievous fault.

I’ve forgotten to be grateful.

The thing about grateful is that it isn’t how I feel. I don’t feel grateful automatically when I wake up, still tired from the day before, hearing someone in a nearby room yelling, “MAMAAAA!” I think of the hundreds of things before me, and I feel burdened, and the last thing I want to say is, “Thank you.”

Grateful is a decision I have to make- not once each morning, but twenty, fifty, a hundred times each day. Grateful for the bickering over which blessing we’ll say at breakfast. Grateful for constant stream of child-questions that pelt the back of my head in the car. Grateful for the books scattered all over the floor in most of the rooms of our small house. Grateful for poopy diapers, even, and the chance to wash them out, over and over again and dry them on the line.

Instead of choosing grateful, I’ve been choosing to feel sorry for myself, running my awareness over and over the inevitable places I feel want or lack or need.

I repent.

I choose grateful.

And with that choice, I am sure I’ll find my voice again.

Five Minute Friday

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gratitude, practicing gratitude, thankful tree, thanksgiving

A tree full of thanks

There was a tree visible under there at one point.

As part of our gratitude practice this season, we have been adding leaves to a Thankful Tree. Every evening at dinner time, we each choose a leaf and write on it something for which we are grateful. After dinner, we share the leaves and add them to our tree.

Today, our tree is nearly invisible under all of the bright-colored leaves that represent our blessings. It has been a great gift to take that moment each day to talk with each other about the things that make us feel blessed…and I love how my children now ask each other, “What are you thankful for?” and “Is it time to do our leaves?”

Some of my favorites from our list this year:

Our friends (especially Katie Beth, Mark and Andrew, who are on our tree many, many times!)
A job, even when it is frustrating
Pancakes
Sneakers (Nora’s favorites)
Ice Skating (none of my kids have ever been ice skating, but just the idea of it apparently inspires gratitude)
My family
Snow
Schlag (which is so much better than whipped cream!)
Our church
Candles
George, the best husband and dad (and we can add “best schlag maker” to that list)
Pie
Jesus and God (Sam again)
Pizza 
Myself (that one’s from Lucy)
Our car and the fact it has heat in it (that’s Sam’s)
Glue sticks (Nora)
All the things (Lucy again)
My children are onto something. It is finding little, everyday things for which we are grateful and expressing thanks for them that produces a thankful heart. Our Thankful Tree has been an opportunity to practice gratitude as a family…and I’m grateful for that.
I’m planning to write down everyone’s answers in a notebook and repeat this activity next year. It was easy to incorporate into our life and really set the tone for a season of grateful thinking.
I am also grateful for each of you who comes here to read my words and to share yours with me.
Happy Thanksgiving. 
And don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a copy of Feast! by Daniel and Haley Stewart or a copy of The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi. Either one would be a wonderful addition to your library, whether you are new to celebrating the Christian year at home or have been doing it for years already. Just leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page telling us about your favorite Advent tradition (or one you’d like to start).

Advent, gratitude, thanksgiving

Defiant gratitude

I’m sharing at CatholicMom today about sitting in the dark and waiting for the light to show up. Sometimes, being grateful is not easy. Especially this time of year, when everything is all bright and color-splashed and merry-filled and holly jolly, it can be tough to coax gratitude from a heart that is burdened with sorrow.

Sometimes, sitting in the dark is our act of thanksgiving. Sometimes, sitting in the dark and confessing Jesus as Lord of all of it, even the worst parts, is revolutionary. In the dark, surrounded by our fears and worries, we are waiting for the One who can make us whole again.

If this is a tough time for you or someone you know (and chances are, you know someone who is struggling with a heavy load right now), this is the post for you.

Blessed day-before-Thanksgiving to you.

frustration, gratitude, grocery shopping, parenting, practicing gratitude

Rejoice anyway.

I am in the middle of one of those days that make me wonder if I am really cut out to be a parent at all.

We had to go for groceries this morning (and you know what that is like!). It didn’t go horribly. It just felt like a lot of work. On the way home, as my children screamed at each other and Nora beamed a sippy cup at Lucy, striking her in the forehead and making her cry loudly, I started grumbling to myself about how everything feels like a lot of work all the time. Coming off a weekend of parenting without George at my mom’s house (which has tall stairs and isn’t set up for toddlers), I am grumpy and tired. We got home yesterday, and it feels like I’ve lost a day this week in which to accomplish chores and laundry and running and bathing the kids. There are not enough hours in the days I have left.

So many tasks…so little time.

As I was preoccupied with the fifty-seven things I need to do, my kids were pulling at me, biting each other, unrolling the toilet paper repeatedly, and polishing off an entire pint of blueberries straight out of the grocery bag without asking. They “cleaned” the toilet with foaming hand sanitizer taken from my purse (Nora stood on SuperSam’s stool to get it from the top of the piano- one of the few places that I thought was still out of their reach).

By the time they had eaten their morning snack and smeared the peanut butter all over the table (to make a “trap” for the fly that was buzzing around the kitchen), I’d had enough. I yelled at them (and almost immediately felt awful about it, since I’ve been working so hard on this). I quickly made them lunch, served it to them with no frills or chit-chat, and put them down for their naps an hour and twenty minutes earlier than usual.

Maybe it will reset the day. Maybe they are tired and out of sorts from traveling, just like I am. Maybe everyone just needs a little time alone.

Instead of tackling the laundry, I’m focusing on turning the day around. It is time for an attitude adjustment. This day needs to be reclaimed for what it is: holy time- 1,440 minutes made to spend together being grateful we are alive to share them.

This week actually as the same number of days and hours as every other week ever has.
And today actually has just as many blessings as the days surrounding it.
Maybe I’m just not seeing them today…or maybe those blessings are dragging me down the road behind them, white-knuckled and hanging on for dear life. Either way, they are here. They exist. Part of why we are created is to find those blessings and call them out for what they are.

After putting a reminder on the bathroom mirror, I’ve decided to take a nap, too. Part of my purpose is to rejoice in today…and maybe resting in the quiet will help me start doing it.

cleaning, feasts and seasons, gratitude, Holy Family, liturgical year, parenting

Merry Christmas from the less-than-holy mother

The Holy Family at Table – Jan Mostaert
Merry Christmas! It is still Christmas, after all – the sixth day…and while I’m glad to report there are no geese a laying in my living room, I’m not sure the mess would be substantially bigger if there were. I’m still totally overwhelmed and wondering how I will ever get things in order. At least if there were geese, we could have had eggs for breakfast.
It’s the Feast of the Holy Family today, honoring Jesus, his mother Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. Falling as it almost always does on the Sunday after Christmas, it seems to be a feast celebrating the ordinary right smack in the middle of the extraordinary – a recognition that Jesus became who He was in the context of an ordinary family, just like we do. He had people…parents, cousins, extended family…a context, roots, a center from which to grow and develop.
Looking around at my (unholy) family, I appreciate this feast. Jesus’ holiness grew up in the middle of the mundane…the same kind of domestic everyday that surrounds me. Dishes are stacked in the sink and bags are still packed with dirty clothes from our recent return from my parents’ house. Old and new toys cover every surface – they refuse to be contained – and both bathrooms need cleaning, even though we were gone all week. My eyes search for some space to rest, but I see piles of stuff every place I look. My entire family is suffering with the same stuffy nose and are slightly feverish, achy, and out of sorts. I’m tired and more than a little grumpy today despite two cups of coffee. Tomorrow’s the last day of the year, and it looks like might go out like it came in- as an ordinary, everyday mess.
I can’t remember another year of my life that seemed so much the same at the beginning and the end. Much of this year has passed in the doing of very ordinary things: washing and folding clothes, wiping little faces, sweeping, changing diapers, shopping for groceries, vacuuming floors, cooking and baking. My primary work has been tending to the needs of my family.
Have I grown at all? Is my attitude toward this vocation of mine any better? Am I any kinder, any fuller-of-grace?
I’m not sure. 
Growth often happens despite our best efforts, and I’m sure I’ve grown some. I confess, though, that my attitude is often crummy and that I grumble about the simple things that need to be done even as I’m doing them.
Fortunately, God is with me whether or not I’m particularly full of grace on any given day. And God can use what I have to offer, even if it’s not worth much on its own.
A year ago, I started this blog as a way to practice gratitude, as a way to share some of the struggles and the joys and the humor and the grace of living an everyday life. I’m grateful for each of you that has shared in any part of this last year with our family.
Along the way, I’ve encountered some amazing writers who have become company for me on the journey. One of them is Dwija Borobia, who writes at House Unseen about her own ordinary life (and cracks me up with laughter when I’m in danger of taking things too seriously). A couple of weeks ago, she described motherhood as her path to sanctification.

I think I’m on that path, too.
Motherhood seems to be made of little stuff…a string of ordinary tasks, words, and actions that add up to something much larger. The day-to-day seems insignificant, but the end result is extremely important. And I think it’s possible that God is using the littleness of motherhood to teach me big things. It is possible that making things clean, caring for little people and meeting basic needs, wiping noses and bottoms and faces is making me holy, little by little, whether I like it or not.
I am far from holy. But sacrificing little parts of myself every day in a series of small, seemingly insignificant acts of service to my family is moving me toward God…and every now and then, I’m even aware of becoming more beautiful in the process.
…God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work...Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!        
2 Corinthians 9:8-15
gratitude, half marathon, running, training

Back on track

The quickest path to gratitude, at least where running is concerned, might be this:

  1. Have multiple little kids under age 5.
  2. Quit your job and stay home with them.
  3. Watch your alone time disappear. (This part is important. To really make sure you get the full benefit, be sure to always take at least one child with you everywhere you go, even when you use the bathroom. Don’t shower or check the mail or go to the grocery store or do anything by yourself.)
  4. Keep this up just slightly past the point where you feel crazy. Then keep it up a little longer, until your head feels like it might explode.

Then, go for a run. Alone.

No matter how bad the run is, it’s bound to feel like a small vacation.

(It’s assumed, of course, that you find someone to hang out with your little people while you do this. Otherwise, someone is bound to call child protective services on the crazy mom with the exploding head who just dashed out her front door and down her street with her running shoes on. I can hear the neighbors now. “What was she doing? I think I heard her screaming! Those poor children. Well, you know, I’ve always said she has her hands full.”)

After my 5K comeback at the end of May, I ran only a little in June. I then took the entire month of July off. (Not on purpose. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that I didn’t run at all in July. I meant to. I might have. I just didn’t write any of those runs down. And the way my brain works these days, if it doesn’t get written down, it doesn’t exist.)

By the end of July, I was seriously grumpy. Irritable. Unpleasant. Slightly crazed and bouncing off the walls. I might have thrown a full basket of laundry at the wall. (It didn’t hit anyone. No one even saw me do it. I just think you should know what kind of woman I’d become.)

It might be a challenge to fit in runs by myself, but it’s a true hardship to live with me if I haven’t run in a month. Just ask my husband. (He won’t tell you, but you can ask him just for fun and watch his face as he struggles to say kind and lovely things about his non-running wife.)

Running (especially running alone) restores me. It gives me an outlet for frustration and makes bitter feelings melt away. I sweat out negative feelings and inhale joy. I listen to whatever I want on my iPod, and no one interrupts me. When I come back from my run, I feel like a new person…strong, relaxed, capable of handling whatever comes up.

I’m also just a lot nicer than I was before I left.

So, to restore George’s quality of life (and to avoid scarring my children forever with my irritable outbursts), I have put a training plan on the refrigerator and started running again.

Did I mention I am supposed to be training for a half-marathon in November? Yeah. I am. This one.

This will obviously not be my highest-mileage training ever for this distance. It’s okay. I’m not expecting to PR. If I can make it to the starting line uninjured and strong enough to drag myself over the finish line at the end, it will be just fine.

After all, once I get there, all I have to do for the next 2 1/2 to 3 hours is just run. Alone.

Bliss.

And they will give me a medal for it.

Of all the things I do on a daily basis that might possibly deserve a medal, I’m not sure that running another half-marathon is the most worthy accomplishment…but I’ll take it. I’m also excited that someone is going to hand me food and a drink, and that I will get to consume them by myself (without breaking the bagel into chunks to share or smooshing the banana into baby-appropriate pieces).

My intent is to keep you all updated on how training is going. So far, I’m a bit behind where I’d like to be, courtesy of my unintentional month off. George (the seasoned runner and amateur distance coach) assures me that I can catch up. This week, I’m doing my runs on intervals (3 minutes running, 1 minute walking) to get back into the swing of things. We’ll see how things are going at the end of the week.

For now, I’m feeling really grateful to be back out with my running shoes on.
I’m certain the rest of my family is grateful, too.