Stopping and Looking

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I’m going to cut myself some slack this morning.

A couple of days ago I wrote about David Steindl-Rast’s interview on NPR in which he advised people to STOP, LOOK, and GO when it comes to their day-to-day experiences. I enjoyed the interview so much that I immediately purchased his book 99 Blessings for my Kindle.

  • STOP long enough to catch your breath and observe your surroundings.
  • LOOK at where you are in your life and at the sights surrounding you this very moment. If this moment is sad, painful, disappointing, or frustrating, there’s no need to despair because just like the present moment is a gift, so are jillions of others that you will have.
  • GO forward secure in the knowledge that more opportunities and precious moments are ahead.

I think the reason Steindl-Rast’s ideas reverberated with me so much is that sometimes I, like so many others, go through life at full blast. We rush about “getting and spending” and scarcely notice the new buds on a tree or hear the sweet birdsong right outside of our window. We get perturbed at traffic jams, slow drivers, and spilled milk when in actuality, these things don’t matter. What matters is our reaction to them. But that’s a topic for another day.

Today I just want to announce (strong word, huh?) that I’ve actually been practicing what Dr. Steindl-Rast is preaching. Even in the crazy, busy days of raising children and managing a home while working full-time outside of the home, I was able to see beauty around me, particularly when I looked skyward and thought of the Giver of “every good and perfect thing.”

I wish I’d written about more of those moments. I wish I hadn’t waited until I was in my mid-40’s to begin keeping a gratitude journal. It’s sad to think of all of those many moments when my children were younger that have now just slipped right over into oblivion.

But as Steindl-Rast said, there will be other moments of opportunity. Today is my day to STOP, LOOK, and GO. It’s yours too. And it’s so easy, Folks.

I have my iPhone with me just about all the time, and I’ve begun using it to its maximum potential as far as stopping and looking. Whether it’s a nature scene, a child’s face, a seashell, a deserted building, or a pier, I’m going to snap the picture. Then I’m going to go forward knowing that I’ve been mindful enough to capture a little slice of life.

Since January, I’ve begun posting a “pic of the day” on Facebook, and at the end of the year, I’m going to compile them into a Shutterfly book. I wish I’d done it earlier in my life, but alas, I didn’t. At least I’m on the right path now.

What is something that you do to stop, look, and go? Please share.

 

Pic of the Day

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A couple of people have asked me why I post a “Pic of the Day” on Facebook every evening. Although they’ve been too kind to add, “especially since most of them aren’t really that spectacular,” I feel like they’re wondering about it. The reason for the daily photograph is simple. I’m more mindful of life when I know that I’ll be recording the one photograph that best demonstrates something memorable about that day.

About 15 years ago, a friend and I started gratitude journals. That’s right. We jumped on the gratitude bandwagon with thousands of other women after reading Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance. Soon we found ourselves looking forward to the time of day when we sat down and recorded at least five things about that day for which we were thankful.

Back in the day June and I wrote our lists in the old-fashioned pen and paper method, but lately I’ve been recording the gratitude list in an app on my iPad. The app is especially fun to use because it gives the writer the opportunity to add up to three photographs a day. Knowing that I’m going to add some pictures to accompany the day’s experiences has made me even more mindful of the goings-on around me.

There is beauty all around, even in the mundane, and it’s chancy to leave it up to my mind to remember it all.  For instance, one afternoon after jury duty last week, I walked over to the big second story window to check out the weather before leaving the courthouse. The picture above is the one I snapped. It was still raining. The slick, wet sidewalks, the hunkered over forms of my fellow jurors as they hustled to their cars, and the steady drizzle from the gray sky all let me know that I needed my umbrella. I pulled out my iPhone and took the picture.

The shot didn’t make it my Pic of the Day, but I did post it in my electronic gratitude journal that night. There are days that I’m too tired to record words at night, so I’ll post some pictures as memory prompts for the next day. Those pictures work amazingly well in helping me to remember events, experiences, people, and thoughts of my days. I’m in agreement with Anais Nin who said (paraphrase) that keeping a journal helps one to live life twice.

Do you know what you were doing on Tuesday, January 14 2014? I do, and it’s because of my journal and its pictures. Have you already begun taking pictures of the scenes around you? Would you consider sharing them with us?

Laughter, Birds, and Appetites

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This morning I’m thinking of several individuals who are struggling with challenges, some of them physical and some of them emotional. I know that prayers are being offered on the behalf of these people, and in some cases I think the prayers are for a complete and immediate healing. We want miracles, and we want them right now!! We Americans are especially desirous of immediate gratification.

But I’m not sure that God works in the immediate way but rather on His own timetable. Maybe that’s because He sees the big picture while we see only what’s right in front of us in the here and now. I think He always answers prayers but not necessarily in the way we want them answered. Then too, I believe that He knows what we need and want, but He still likes for us to ask Him in faith.

This brings me to a recent flash of insight. In Relief Society Sunday, the teacher based her lesson on a conference address by Jeffrey R. Holland found in the May 2013 Ensign. From just a few verses of scripture (14-28) found in the 9th chapter of Mark, Elder Holland brought out several layers of meaning that I’d never really noticed, and our teacher did an excellent job of bringing our attention to them.

In the story Jesus came upon a group of people who were arguing with His disciples. When Christ asked about the cause of the conflict, a man came forth and said that he had asked the disciples for a blessing for his son, an afflicted child who was foaming from his mouth, thrashing on the ground, and gnashing his teeth. In verse 22 the distraught father begs, “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

The lesson makes several insightful and valuable points, especially concerning faith. The father “straightway” cries out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (verse 24), and Jesus heals the boy. Note that without hesitation, the child’s father asserts his faith and then he acknowledges his limitation. Elder Holland reminds his listeners to remember the example of this man when assailed by doubt, despair, or troubles. “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”

I was sitting in class Sunday taking this in and pondering its truth when a member of the class said something I had missed. She said what she especially liked is when the heartsick father used the words: “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” He doesn’t ask that his son be healed completely and immediately. He asks for a glimmer of hope, a little respite from the exhaustion of watching over the boy continually, a partial blessing, a little lifting of the burden carried by the boy’s mother…any thing.

I felt like a light bulb came on! Sometimes people turn away from God because of what they perceive to be unanswered prayers when maybe they’re asking for the wrong thing. Or maybe they aren’t noticing the many ways they’re already being blessed. In applying this lesson to the situations I was thinking about, I thought of so many applications of any thing:

  • Some discernment to figure out what’s going on.
  • Help for all of US, not just little old me with my worries and heartaches. As one of my sisters-in-law and I discussed recently, caregivers need support too, not just the patient.
  • Some compassion and caring from others. As a class member brought out, help comes from friends and other earthly sources, but it’s often orchestrated divinely. A phone call, a note, or a visit are all nice.
  • Laughter. Sometimes just thinking about the laughter of my children can lift my spirits. Hearing it up close and personal is better, of course, but sometimes I can settle for any thing.
  • Mother Nature…considering her ways and the lessons she teaches. When my mother was suffering from cancer, she took delight at watching and listening to birds, especially those who heralded the beginning of the day.
  • An appetite. This is a serious one, Folks. Anyone who’s ever been too sick to eat knows what a blessing it is to actually want to eat and to be able to. I recall my mother struggling to eat some fruit during the last week of her life and realizing then that I would never take the desire and ability to eat and gain nourishment for granted again.
  • Hope and the knowledge that things are not always going to be the way they are right now.

In the story in Mark, Jesus heals the boy. In our lives, dramatic healings of relief from sorrow, suffering, and pain aren’t usually so immediate and complete. However, I’ve changed my thinking to asking for any thing for us—some hope for tomorrow, a sweet cold Frosty, or a hug.

31 Things

I started out with a lot of big talk at the beginning of this month. Following the prior examples set by Lisa Radvansky and Anita Erwin, I was going to post at least one thing I was thankful for each day in November. That plan somehow went awry early on, not because I couldn’t think of anything but because I was, well, you know, busy. That’s no excuse, of course. What happened is that I missed a day or two, and before I knew it, mid-month was here, and I didn’t want to play catch-up.

My son recently shared some information he had learned from an article stating that if people could think of at least three things per day that they were thankful for, it would help affect their happiness. From experience and observation, I know that such a practice can also improve health, decrease stress, and increase longevity. For some reason I’ve always been able to recognize and appreciate all of the good things I have going on in my life even in times of deep sadness, loss, or stress. Seeing the good while acknowledging the bad has kept me sane.

Throughout November, I’ve been uplifted and gladdened by the facebook thankfulness posts that I’ve read. While I slacked off in adding my own daily posts, I’ve continued to keep a gratitude journal, something that’s been my practice for about 15 years. I daily record at least five things for which I’m thankful. The only difference between now and then is that now my journals are all over the place. I use whatever is at hand, and the “journal” might be a notebook, a pretty journal, my laptop, my Kindle, or one of several tiny pads that I have scattered about. While this isn’t the most efficient method, it works for me.

This morning as I sat down to jot down a few items, I got carried away with events and experiences and sights and sounds of the past several days. So instead of writing something pithy or detailed, I’m just going to share 30 (one for each day in November) of those, mainly to demonstrate that you don’t have to get all formal and worry about sentence structure and correct phrasing when you’re just making a list. You just list things like:

  1. Paul and Amanda’s new car.
  2. Facebook picture of Olivia and Ethan staring at the Christmas tree lights.
  3. Elizabeth and Emma lying on a bed sharing stories and giggles.
  4. Last night’s full moon illuminating our neighborhood.
  5. Baby Seth kissing his father’s face and head.
  6. Look and feel of Elizabeth’s house at Thanksgiving.
  7. So much good food, especially the ham, the cornbread dressing (my mother’s recipe), and the apple pie.
  8. Rich, my son-in-law, Skyping with his family in California and listening to his twin sisters laugh (their laughter was contagious).
  9. Target trip with my daughters and two of my granddaughters.
  10. Seeing Wreck-It Ralph with the grandchildren and stuffing ourselves with popcorn.
  11. Listening to talks and music from the Mormon Channel on my iPhone.
  12. Seeing bits and pieces of the Macy’s parade, something I remember doing with my father.
  13. Rich and my children’s father putting Elizabeth’s together a bed frame for her
  14. Baby Seth walking around all over the house eating pumpkin cranberry scones ( a no-no unless you’re an adorable baby).
  15. Brooke and Emma’s pretty polished nails (courtesy of Aunt Elizabeth). They chose alternating colors of Penthouse Blue and Purple Passion.
  16. Skyping with Paul’s family in Atlanta.
  17. Braden seeming so tall and grown up. When did that happen???
  18. Hearing my children and grandchildren state the things they are thankful for.
  19. Rich and Brooke playing “Heart and Soul” on his iPad. I loved this so much that I downloaded two versions of this song to my Kindle Fire.
  20. Missing Otis during the holiday but remembering that couples can (and probably should) have spaces in their togetherness.
  21. Waking up rested on Saturday and recognizing the restorative power of sleep.
  22. Christmas music.
  23. Spending an inordinate time in the kitchen but then quickly remembering how awesome it is to have food, dishes, and hot soapy water to wash dishes with.
  24. Thinking of my parents and their November 1947 wedding. Missing them but feeling their presence.
  25. Emma and Brooke dancing and singing.
  26. Colton waking me early (before six) each day asking for my iPhone so that he could play with Talking Ben.
  27. Beach experience with Carrie and being so glad that we decided to go despite a limited time frame. The kids LOVED the birds and were awed by the fishermen. We even saw horses strolling along the strand.
  28. Seeing  Lincoln with Otis, Judy, and Carl on the night before leaving for the beach.
  29. Hearing and humming “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.”
  30. Uploading eBook on student success. Rich buying a copy and reading it on his iPad. Talking about Chapter One the next morning.
  31. I know November doesn’t have 31 days, but I just have to add one more thing: America!

That list took minutes to put together. The trick is to be attentive to what’s going on around you and make a mental note of it before you forget. Try it and let me know how it works out for you.