A cold wind blows down from the Sierra’s. I pull my scarf up around my head, hoping to ward off the chill. I’m walking in the fold of the day where the morning turns into the fullness of the afternoon. A handful of leaves scatter across the street and then settle. Their small racket stirs within me memories of winters past; nights spent in front of crackling fires with friends. I hold their faces in my heart and I’m warmed. Overhead, the warning of a crow, a shrill crisp note, breaks the quiet. Further down the road, I walk past a woman sitting in a rocker on her front porch. She waves to me as if we are long-lost friends. I smile and return the wave.
Today is a good day. I’ve heard the sounds of nature. I’ve remembered friends and waved to a stranger. These small things that seem so inconsequential are the things that make life worth living. I give thanks for them. I’m glad to be alive on this blustery day.
“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
All day it snowed. I anxiously watched from my window as white blanketed the backyard, making the landscape look otherworldly. As the hands of the clock moved closer to the evening hours, my heart filled with disappointment. The big birthday celebration I had planned wasn’t going to happen. I called my friends and told them we’d postpone until the following weekend. I’m sure they could hear the frustration in my voice. I had planned an interesting evening of activities for us to enjoy. I had bought costumes, props, and I’d even written a short story to set the stage for our celebration. We were going to end our evening walking through Aspen handing out small gifts and sweets to strangers. But it wasn’t going to take place on my special day. I would turn forty-four alone, watching the snow fall. Funny, how sixteen years later, as I quickly approach my sixtieth birthday, I can still remember the emotions I felt that day.
Looking back, I see that what I was missing at that time in my life was the ability to be grateful. I didn’t understand that everything in my life was a gift. Even the things I didn’t like. Even the things that hurt. Even the things that frightened me. Now, having grown spiritually, I’m more able to sit with any disappointment and swaddle it in gratitude. It doesn’t take too long before my heart fills once again with peace and joy.
Gratitude is a response we learn how to cultivate through time and practice. Eventually, we learn how to hang out in gratitude far more than we hang out in disappointment. For disappointment is only fear in disguise; we’re afraid that we’ve lost out on something—we didn’t get what we wanted. Gratitude, on the other hand, reminds us that we didn’t lose anything at all—in fact, we’ve gained something instead, even if it’s only a new lesson or insight.
“Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth…”
Last night I decided to brave the rain. I grabbed the woven basket I used for shopping and drove to the produce market. It’s a small family owned store with big tables and bins of fresh fruits and vegetables. The first thing I notice when I walked was the delicious smells! The sweetness of the fruits at the entrance was heady and rich, an intoxicating blend that no perfume could ever match.
As I walked among the tables, I marveled at the different shapes, colors, textures and sizes of the fruits and vegetables. I picked up the produce I wanted and held it in my hand, appreciating it’s beauty and nutrition that would fuel my body. Suddenly, in the midst of the little store, I felt God’s presence in a big way. I smiled. “I know you are here,” I whispered as I pushed my cart past the avocados. I looked at the faces of the strangers around me. I made eye contact with an elderly woman, and she grinned at me as if we both knew we were seeing the God in each other. I nodded to her, acknowledging our little secret.
I made my selections and paid. I decided not to pull up the hood on my coat as I walked to my car. I wanted to feel the rain wash over my skin. I looked down at the beautiful food in my basket and felt incredibly happy to be alive, to be a part of God’s glorious world. I drove home with a prayer of thanksgiving on my lips and a deep peace in my heart. His abundance is so awesome.
“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
~2 Corinthians 9:15
My garden needed tending today. I sat on the ground and pushed a trowel deep into the dirt, liberating spent summer annuals from the soft earth. Soon, I’ll plant spring bloomers to fill the barren spaces. The air was delightfully crisp, the sky so blue that it appeared as if someone had painted it.
My thoughts turned to my challenges ahead. As I tried to work out solutions for them in my mind, God tapped me on my shoulder. “Don’t think about the things you fear,” He encouraged me. “Just be glad you are here.”
“Thank you, for reminding me,” I said and plunged my trowel deep into the earth again. It’s a waste of my time and energy to worry about the future. I’m here, right now. That is all that matters.
I looked at the beauty all around me in the garden. I felt the winter’s sun on my skin. I felt the breeze brush past me. What a gift, this breath, this heartbeat. I’m here! So are you. Today, don’t think about the things you fear, just be grateful that you are here.
For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
“You’re a runner,” my daughter told me years ago. I knew what she meant. I ran from anything that scared me. When I couldn’t physically get away—I’d swallow some distance—pushing my fears down to the bottom of a wine bottle. I had other exit strategies as well, none of them healthy. All of that changed when I traded in my running shoes for faith in God. With God’s help, I turned towards the things that scared me and embraced them. By stepping into my fears, instead of stepping around them, I found compassion and forgiveness. I learned to love people who had hurt me and I learned to love myself. Most importantly, I learned how to love God.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, I encourage you to hold God’s hand and turn towards the things that scare you. Embrace them. Step into them. Be thankful for them, for they hold great gifts. You may not be able to see the gifts now, but they are there. God will reveal them to you.
Of course, I am grateful for my many blessings: my family, my friends, my Soul Reminders readers, and my benzo buddies—but I am most grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from facing the things that scare me. That is where God showed me how immense He is. That is where He introduced me to my true self, the person He created me to be.