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Even in the desert, life finds a way.

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

I was going to write a post about my anxiety over our financial situation. Tax season has drawn my focus to our finances and caused muscle tension from my eyebrows to my toes. But then I remembered the gratitude journaling I’ve been doing. Counting my one thousand gifts. And I remembered the sermon I listened to yesterday, from the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

And does this mean we should try to be last in an attempt to be first in God’s kingdom? No, the preacher says, that is not the point of this parable. The point is that there is no first and last in God’s kingdom. The point is that there is enough for all.

There is enough. There is enough for all. God’s abundant provision is enough. Our economy is based on the myth of scarcity, that there are only enough resources for a few and so we should buy more now and fill our large houses with possessions we don’t need.

What if we only took what we needed? What if instead of living in homes large enough to house an entire African village, we lived in tiny but functional homes? What if we lived simply so that others may simply live?

Over these last years of financial insecurity, God has been teaching me the importance of daily bread. We’re receiving enough for each day. We’re trying to make good choices with what we are given. We’re learning to trust. Our faith is being shaped.

When I was in Ghana, a woman told me, “We are a hungry country.” It’s true. Many Ghanaians live in tin shacks with no access to clean water. These people know what it is to suffer. I thought of how much we have in America, and how we are hungry too. We’re hungry, but we think we are full. There’s a nagging emptiness inside that cannot be filled. We try to dull it with shopping. We try antidepressants. We try eating too much, or not enough. We try creating a Facebook profile that will make our friends jealous. But it doesn’t work.

It is only when we come to the place of brokenness that we can find fulfillment. When we discover that we cannot go another day without complete dependence on God’s grace, that we are not the ones earning our daily bread but it is God who gives it to us. I have been learning this lesson. In our brokenness we are made complete.

I can be grateful for that.

 

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Books: I’m currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. Next up on my list are the YA novel  Looking for Alaska by John Green and Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. 

Movies: Hmmm, I rarely have time to watch movies anymore. Marie is currently fixated on Disney’s Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was really impressed with Hunchback, really a deep message for kids about inner beauty. In fact, I could probably write a whole essay about this film, but I’ll spare you that. We also watched Happy Feet last week, which is pretty cute.

Television: Downton Abbey is over and I’ve decided that Grimm is too creepy for me. So that just leaves Parks and Recreation. I like that it features strong female characters. Also I’ve been letting Marie watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a cartoon spin-off of Mr. Rogers. It’s pretty sweet, each episode has a little lesson that’s set to music. For example, “If you feel so mad that you want to roar, just take a deep breath and count to four.”

Music: I’m digging the Johnny Cash and Ella Fitzgerald children’s albums my mom recently gave us. Grandma Alice is helping Marie develop sophisticated musical tastes.

Project: Gratitude journaling.

Work: Writing a series of blog posts for accounting and finance professionals — here’s one. Haven’t subbed yet this month.

Gratitude: We just had our first vacation since 2011! A week in Palm Desert with my in-laws.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some colorful characters.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some, um, colorful characters. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

 

Fear: Carcinogens in plastics.  

Developmental milestones: Marie swam on her own (with water wings) on the last day of our vacation! Also her vocabulary has me pretty impressed. She keeps creating verbs, saying things like, “I’m get upping,” or “I’m lay downing.” Or “Pocahontas, she troubling.” Did I mention she’s obsessed with Pocahontas? Might be awhile before we let her watch that again.

Looking forward to: Watching Marie continue to develop her personality. She’s almost two. I love kids in the two – five age range because the things they say are so funny.

Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

The festive busyness of the holiday season is over. A bone-chilling fog, evocative of a dementor infestation, has enshrouded Eugene for the past week. And I have just been informed by Target that the Russian mafia may now be in possession of my personal contact information and credit card number. My instinctive reaction is to sit on the couch with a warm blanket and microwaved popcorn and binge-watch old Parks & Recreation episodes on Netflix. But, this may not be the best way to combat the January Blahs.

Sometimes it take a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Sometimes it takes a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Here are a few of my strategies for boosting my happiness level in this dark and dreary time of year:

1 ) Invest in my spiritual practice

Going to church regularly, reading the Bible and seeking God through prayer are my most important tools for maintaining a positive outlook on life. And the research backs me up on this — religious people tend to consider themselves happier than the nonreligious.

2 ) Keep exercising

Though I don’t feel much like running when the whether is cold and gray, I feel so much happier and relaxed when I do. If you’re not a runner you might try walking, biking, swimming or taking a dance class.

3) Focus on healthy eating

What’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Amidst the craziness of caring for my toddler, I need to remember to fuel my body with fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein — and limit my sugar intake. I also increase my Vitamin D intake in the winter, and take care to continue taking Omega 3 supplements.

4) Plan fun activities

I’ve realized that having something fun to look forward to is important. I used to look forward to weekends, but now that I’m a mom I don’t really have weekends “off.” Also my husband works long stretches of 12 days on and 2 days off. So I’m trying to make the effort to plan little things to look forward to. Last weekend we went to the movies for the first time since before our daughter was born, and in a few months we’re going on an actual vacation. Participating in fun activities also gives the added benefit of having positive memories to look back on. Win-win.

5)  Laugh

Like exercise, laughing releases endorphins and boosts mood. So maybe it’s okay to snuggle up on the couch and watch Parks & Recreation episodes from time to time.

6) Give thanks

It’s easy to take for granted the blessings I do have and instead focus on what I don’t have. Practicing gratitude helps me re-frame my perspective to view my life in a more positive light. Even simple things can be worth expressing thanks for. Some things I’m thankful for today are my morning into the sunshine, my dishwasher, and the lavender latte and pastries my husband brought home for breakfast.

7) Call a friend

Even though I’m rarely alone, I still get lonely from time to time. I mean, conversations with my 1.5-year-old can only go so deep. When I start feeling lonely, I know that it’s on me to reach out to others, rather than wishing that others would reach out to me.

What are some strategies you use to boost your mood when you’re battling the blahs?