December darkness creates a lot of challenge for me. Only in the last couple of years have I begun to identify exactly how much I struggle with shorter days and early nightfall, a darkness that coincides with some really challenging medical anniversaries for us. December has long, long been a challenging month—and my inability to type words seems somehow connected to that.
And yet I LOVE December, too—decorating the house, pulling out my collection of nativity sets, baking mountains of cookies, working on secret projects for my family and friends. Sometimes I can just barely stay on the edge of my funk by diving into all of these things.
About this time last year, through the recommendation of a friend, I started a daily gratitude practice. I know that the idea of gratitude being a useful tool against pervasive funk isn’t by any means a new thing I discovered—certainly the idea has gotten a lot of press and even research to support it over the years. For me, the PRACTICE of gratitude was something new.
Each day, making myself think of (and share) 3 things I am grateful for—from big stuff to days where all I can say is “I am grateful for socks”—has been transformative. It really is a PRACTICE, something I have to do, just like yoga or exercise or the piano (which I never did, hence my utter lack of piano skill, to my own dismay. Gosh I hated practicing).
But gratitude is so easy to practice. We used to have our kids write grateful notes on little leaves that we would stick on a paper tree I taped to our pantry door during the month of November—and honestly, I meant to post about gratitude IN November. But keeping that practice alive throughout the year has really helped me to reframe even the most challenging days as not just a sum of yikes, but a yikes that is superseded by the good.
Granted, some days the practice is REALLY CHALLENGING. Like, Hanon finger exercises END of the book challenging. (I knew they were there, even if my practicing was anemic at best). The last several weeks have had a lot of challenges in a variety of areas—and yet in all of those challenges, or at least around them, I am learning how to find something to be grateful for—and I share it.
Gratitude shared becomes a little point of light—and reading OTHER people’s gratitude becomes MORE points of light—and while the darkness is not dispelled completely, at least I know for certain that the darkness will never win. We always have something to be grateful for. Always.
This day is the anniversary of my daughter’s last relapse/shunt revision/descent back into brain tumor treatment. Facebook keeps reminding me not only of the terrible fear and despair of that week, but more of all of the people who posted on our behalf, seeking prayers and support for our family. Even as I struggle with reliving the pain of those days, I am also so, so grateful and comforted by the people who surrounded us with love and support.
A dear friend of our family suffered a terrible heart attack a day ago—he is a former colleague—his daughter, also my friend, brought our family a meal on my daughter’s ORIGINAL diagnosis day, an act of love I am forever grateful for. (side note, Jen makes a fabulous chicken divan). John (her dad) was my son’s teacher when my daughter was at the most dire parts of her treatment back in 2006. We were inpatient at a hospital out of state for 22 days during that school year—and that was in addition to regular chemo trips, scan days, etc. John’s kindness to my son during that year, the way he carried him through the challenges our family was facing—that is something I will always be grateful for. John’s son is a pediatric cancer survivor, and thus he truly understood what our family was going through—and addressed the fallout of our family’s trial (as it played out in my 10 year old son) with compassion. I am so grateful, and in this present awful time for John’s family, I am reminded of all of these gratitude moments even as I pray for my friends.
The frustrations are real. The anxiety—super real. The search for purpose is real. The challenges of painful memories have so long been my reality. And yet the practice of gratitude is helping me find a path through these things.
So November is over. (Yeah, news flash). But the opportunity for gratitude continues.
Give it a try. I promise it helps, even –or maybe especially- on the days where finding gratitude requires some stretching. The practice of gratitude is truly transformative, and it doesn’t require any special equipment or infomercial paraphernalia—just an open mind.
I am grateful for all of you who slog through these ramblings. Grateful for the opportunity to share words and thus my own journey. Grateful that I am on my 3rd bag of Cadbury and still have multiple bags left in the cupboard. Grateful my son spent so long in the shower I had time to actually write the first draft of this after procrastinating since Thanksgiving. Ahem. See—it’s easy. J
Give the practice of gratitude a try.
And please, please pray for my friend, John Stein, and his family.