30 Days of Gratitude

30 Days of Gratitude

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I love it when researchers start telling us that something is good for us and that ‘something’ is a thing that the Bible has been saying for thousands of years – the importance of gratitude.

Psalm 118:24

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I especially love these words written by Paul while in prison:

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Here is a link to an easy to read (and understand) research based article entitled How Gratitude Changes the Brain – And How to Make it Work For You.

A few weeks ago I read an excellent article by bereaved mum Angela Miller on her blog entitled A Bed for my Heart called Grateful and Grieving. I posted a link to it on my Facebook page and said that this describes how I feel about the month of December – ‘grateful and grieving’. Grateful for the many blessings in my life, but grieving the loss of our precious and much loved daughter.

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December is not only the time of year when family togetherness is totally emphasized and the empty seat at the table is at its most conspicuous, but it’s also the month in which Leah’s illness first began (2012), the month in which Leah suddenly and unexpectedly became critically ill and was admitted to ICU (2013), as well as being the month in which Leah was born (31st December 1997).

However, as December came closer, I quickly realised that I was more ‘grieving’ than ‘grateful’. I really thought that I had learned how to live with the pain of grief and loss that is my constant companion, but I suddenly found that I was starting to unravel. I was once again crying myself to sleep, grateful for the oblivion that a few hours of sleep can bring. At the same time I was feeling guilty for focussing so much on what I have lost instead of being thankful for all that I have.

Then, I noticed on Facebook that another bereaved mum with whom I’m friends, was doing #TheHappinessDare – 30 Days of Gratitude. I looked up the link that she included on her Facebook post and it took me to this blog post by Jennifer Dukes Lee: The Stubborn Refusal to Give in to Despair — A Dare for All of Us. Jennifer provides a printable list of thirty prompts (which she refers to as 30 Days of Gratitude) to help us count our blessings.

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I was immediately drawn to this idea. The only decision for me was whether I would do this publicly every day via my Facebook page or privately in my journal (or both). Having mulled it over for a few days, I’ve decided that I will derive the most benefit from following the prompts privately in my journal. So armed with a pretty notebook, the printed prompts, glue and a scissors, I have put together my own 30 Days of Gratitude Journal and I have it all ready to begin on the 1st December.

This Christmas season I’m going to take time each day to appreciate the gifts that I already have. Perhaps you too would benefit from participating in the 30 Days of Gratitude challenge this Christmas season?

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What Shrek Taught Me

What Shrek Taught Me

Do The Roar is one of my all-time favourite film clips. It’s from Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter, which is the fourth installment in the Shrek Series. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched this little film clip. At one stage, shortly after the film first came out, one of my children saved this clip onto my mobile phone, so that I could watch it anytime I wanted!

In Shrek Forever After, the giant green ogre is married to Fiona and they have triplets called Fergus, Farkle and Felicia. However, Shrek has become increasingly more unhappy with his lot in life. He misses the ‘good old days’ when he was a big bad ogre and the villagers were scared of him.

Things come to a head at the triplets birthday party, when everyone is pushing Shrek’s buttons and – to everyone’s delight – he does one of his famous ogre roars. However, this isn’t Shrek performing for the crowd, Shrek really has lost the plot and he ends up storming out of the birthday party in a fit of temper.

Unfortunately, Rumpelstiltskin is waiting in the wings, ready to take advantage of Shrek’s discontent. Shrek is talked into signing an ill-advised contract that enables him to be an ogre for a day so that he can return to the ‘good old days’ when everyone was scared of him.

In the process, because Shrek hadn’t fully understood the ‘small print’ of the contract that he signed, he almost loses his wife, his children and his home.

Once Shrek is in this position of thinking that he has lost his family and all he once held dear, he is absolutely devastated. He realises how much they all really mean to him. There are some fierce battles where Shrek gets help from Donkey and Puss in Boots. A series of events take place that enable Rumpelstiltskin’s contract to be broken, eventually Shrek’s wife and family are returned to him.

Shrek gets a chance to return to the birthday party, with his attitude to life completely changed.

With his change of attitude, he carves out a different ending to his story.

When I first watched this Shrek movie with my children in 2010, it instantly struck me how true to life the storyline is. We possess so much, yet we can so easily become absorbed in craving what we don’t have.

In Hebrews 13:5 we are told

 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

You Have Enough Right Now

However, in Shrek’s case it wasn’t material possession’s – or the lack thereof – that was causing his discontentment.

Shrek was looking back at his past life and mourning what he felt he had lost. This was blinding him to the good things in his present life.

I can identify with that.

Grief and loss are a minefield. Grief has to be felt and tears need to be shed.

There’s hardly a day goes by that I don’t cry at some stage.

However, there’s a verse in the Bible that unnerves me.

It’s Genesis 37:35

All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

The part of the verse that worries me is that Jacob ‘refused to be comforted‘. I would never want anyone to say that I ‘refused to be comforted‘.

For me there exists a dichotomy – I am learning to live with that part of me that is broken-hearted and constantly yearns for Leah’s presence in our family and that other part of me that is so thankful for the many blessings that I experience on a daily basis – the presence of God in my life, a lovely family, wonderful friends, a beautiful house, a job I really enjoy, relatively good health and more besides. I’m thankful too, for the sixteen years that Leah graced our lives.

One of the few Christian music concerts that Leah ever went to with Horace and I, was in September 2011, when she accompanied us to the Waterside Theatre to a Stuart Townend concert.

I love the depth of the lyrics of many of Stuart Townend’s songs. He co-wrote one on thankfulness, along with well known worship singer/song writer Keith Getty.

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who bore my pain;
Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace
And gave me life again.
Who crushed my curse of sinfulness,
And clothed me with His light,
And wrote His law of righteousness
With power upon my heart.

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who walks beside;
Who floods my weaknesses with strength
And causes fears to fly;
Whose every promise is enough
For every step I take,
Sustaining me with arms of love
And crowning me with grace.

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who reigns above;
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace,
Whose every thought is love.
For every day I have on earth
Is given by the King.
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow Him.

One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts

One year and one month – that’s how long it’s been.

People have stopped saying “At least you’ve all the firsts over you now.”

I know people meant well and I definitely would rather people said something rather than nothing, but I never quite knew how to respond to that one.

Was I supposed to feel some sense of achievement?

I don’t.

I don’t want anything to be “over me” that increases the distance I feel between me and my daughter.

As time moves on it poses other problems too:

Because I work with families I’m sometimes asked what age my own children are, so I truthfully answer 20, 16, 15 and 11. I omit the fact that our 16 year old is in heaven, forever 16.

I’m there to support these families and to hear their story, not for them to hear mine.

In 7 weeks time my 15 year old will become 16 – what do I tell people then? How do I bluff that one without lying, or making things even more complicated?

Even though it’s been 13 months, the wounds of grief are far from healed, they have a thin scab on top. It takes very little to dislodge that scab and cause those wounds to become raw and bleeding once more.

In church last Sunday I was feeling quite composed, not particularly emotional, none of the hymns that had been sung so far had any particular association with Leah or her illness journey.

Then, while the offering was being lifted, photos of the previous weekend’s Youth Fellowship Residential scrolled on the screen at the front of the church.

Unconsciously, my eyes searched for Leah amongst the photos of the young people, then my heart broke afresh because she wasn’t there.

My husband’s hand gripped my arm, he was crying too.

Like so many other Sunday’s that I’ve sat sobbing in church, I wanted to leave, to escape, to run away, but I forced myself to stay in my seat.

I fear that if I ever get up and walk out, that I will never ever come back.

Not because I’ve fallen out with God – certainly not – but because I would have given in and let the pain have the upper hand.

It would be the easiest thing to do – some times I want to just give in to the pain and let it consume me.

However I’m trying really hard to shift my focus off the pain that threatens at times to consume.

I’m reading a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.

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Before Leah became ill, reading was one of my favourite activities.

I’ve often said that my favourite place to be is in bed with a good book – no 50 S. of G. for me!

Unfortunately, since Leah became ill and died, I’ve really struggled with my concentration and attention span, so reading a book now takes huge amounts of will power.

Ann Voskamp writes in very flowery, poetic language which I have found to be something of an “acquired taste”. I prefer a more direct, down to earth style.

Having said all of that, her book is very good and I’m learning a lot from her.

Ann suffered many adverse experiences in life including witnessing her little sister being knocked down and killed by a truck. She has struggled emotionally, but she eventually learned the importance of giving thanks to God for the many good things that we have in our lives.

This book really is about so much more than this, it’s also about finding God in the everyday moments of our daily lives.

There’s a free app (sadly only for Apple devices like the iPhone or iPad) that you can download and use as an online diary to record all the things that you’re thankful for. You can write in the app and use it to take photos.

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It’s helping me to count my blessings, big and small.