Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gracious Gratitude

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving Weekend. We definitely did. And I really enjoyed last week's personal challenge. It had an unexpected result in my own life.

I have a tendency to talk a lot. Then I leave and I wish I wouldn't have said so much. So, for the last few years, I've been trying to talk less and be a better listener. Last week I was so intent on keeping the balance between RAK's received and RAK's given that I kept my mouth shut more in order to listen to learn how I could help each individual I interacted with. It was so great! I'm not saying that I've made a perfect change over night, but it's definite progress. I also enjoyed several really cool experiences of being in the right place at the right time. It felt so good to not be thinking about myself all the time and to have a part in putting a smile on someone else's face. This is definitely one challenge that I'm going to keep making into a habit.

I had no idea how I was going to post yet another post about Gratitude. Then my sister shared this wonderful story with me and gave me the necessary inspiration:

(For anyone who doesn't know, a "bishop" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the leader over a congregational unit. Just like all other assignments in the church, this is temporary and is referred to as a "calling". When the time of service is over, it's called being "released".)

"Random acts of kindness really have the ability to restore my faith in mankind, like you talked about. Lately, I've been so bogged down in my own world of troubles that I haven't even been paying attention to others and what needs they might have. Last night, though, I was the recipient of a RAK (a huge one) and it made me think about how many times I may have passed up an opportunity to help someone else. Then I looked at your blog today, and wow, what a coincidence.

"Here's the story: Our bishop who was released a couple of weeks ago, told me last week that his brother had an organ for sale if I was interested. I was recently called as our ward organist, and since I'm just learning how to play, I was really interested. That is, until we looked at our finances, and realized we couldn't afford it. So we never called his brother or did anything about it, and I was a little sad, but really I was ok with it since we didn't need it or anything anyway.

"Well, last night, this same kind man calls us up and says he has an organ to deliver to us. He had paid his brother for it for us. He also said that if we want to pay him back, to just pay it back to the Church's missionary fund. I was stunned.

"At first I felt so guilty because I thought, we're not destitute, and with a little bit of stretching, we probably could have afforded it. And it's not like I really needed that organ, I already own a nice piano and I've just been practicing the organ at the church during the week. I mean, why me? Why did he give it to me? Then I called my mom, because I didn't see how I could possibly accept this gift. Yet how could I say no? That would have definitely hurt the giver, which wouldn't accomplish anything anyway. And my mom shared some wisdom with me (that she'd shared before and I'd forgotten), she said, "Amy, you can choose guilt or gratitude. You can shoose to feel really guilty for receiving this gift, or you can be really really grateful to the giver." By the time Br. Jensen showed up with the organ, I'd decided on gratitude. I can never repay him, but I can be really grateful. And I can choose to be more like that."

Thanks, Amy. And Mom. I'm so grateful to have an older sister that I can still look up to and learn from even though we're both adults. I'm also grateful to have a mom that gives such great advice. I think this is a really important lesson for us to learn in this life--how to accept gifts and service from others. Especially when the gift is overwhelmingly big or great.

So, how do you get over feelings of guilt or being undeserving? Sometimes it's my pride that gets in the way, does that happen to anyone else? Have you ever been on the giving side of a situation like this? Any suggestions on how to make it easier for someone to accept your gift? Sometimes it helps to look at a situation from the other side, so maybe putting yourself in the giver's shoes would help you as the receiver.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Paying It Forward

I keep forgetting to check the email account So, if you do send me an email, please leave a little comment here telling me to check it. I'm still waiting for all you guest bloggers! Thanks!

So, I might have spoken too soon about having a "Gratitude" theme for all of November. I mean, it's a key principle on our path to abiding joy--but how many different points can be made on it? I've been racking my brain all week and coming up totally empty. So, I prayed about it this morning and felt like I should just keep my ears open at church. Well, guess what the theme was in Sacrament Meeting today--Gratitude. That makes complete sense since Thanksgiving is on Thursday, but as soon as I heard that, I felt a wave of relief and knew I would be inspired by something someone said. And I was. Although, I don't remember which speaker, or what they said exactly. Mommy brain, what else can I say?

This might be a little bit of a stretch, but I feel that today's topic should be expressing gratitude through paying it forward. The basic gist of this being that if someone provides you with a gift or service, you thank them by doing something for someone else. And then, ideally, they do something for another person, so on and so on. What a great way to spread joy!

Sometimes it feels like the world is a really hate-filled place. It seems like so many terrible things take place because of some one's anger or frustration. When I get caught up in thoughts like these, I feel pain at the thought of my children going through life with all that surrounding them. So, the idea of paying it forward is an excellent one to me. I know our readership (is that a word?) is small, but think of what great things could happen if a lot of people started practicing this? More of us would be serving each other and spreading love and joy. And the great thing about love and joy is that they have the capacity to grow exponentially. The more you give, the more you have, and the more there is to give.

I don't know if I've overwhelmed you with my challenges this month, but I won't be issuing one this week. I am going to try to keep track of the number of things other people do for or give me each day this week and then pass along the favor to someone else. I think I'll just keep a simple tally on a piece of paper. Who knows, maybe I'll try to do more service than I receive. I'm excited to see how it goes and I invite anyone else who wants to, to join me!

And this is a little random, but I just have to say that one of the Random Acts of Kindness that I most appreciate is when someone gets the door for me when I'm pushing a stroller--especially the double stroller. I can get through a door by myself, but it is so nice to have some one's help. And when someone does that for me, it really makes me want to help someone else in return.

What are your favorite RAK's? Have you ever tried to "pay it forward"? Are you going to join with me in keeping track of what you receive and what you give this week?


Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart

I hope no one minds, but I decided since it's that time of year, I'll just stick to the "Gratitude" theme for all of November. I really feel strongly that finding things to be thankful for in our lives is one of the keys to finding abiding joy. I'm reminded of a story in The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. She and her sister Betsy were in a concentration camp during World War II. Betsy told Corrie that she was grateful for the fleas that afflicted them constantly there. That is incomprehensible to me, but Betsy was grateful for them because they kept the Nazi guards away from them and the sisters were able to enjoy a little more freedom. If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it. It is beyond inspiring. Corrie was able to rise above everything that came her way without anger and self-pity. And being able to find gratitude for something as miserable as fleas probably had something to do with that.

So, to keep our focus on gratitude, I have another challenge. I know you're all excited. This week's goal is to begin a "Gratitude Journal". Thanks to my mom, I started one the day after Christmas last year. It has been an eye opening experience and a blessing in and of itself. Some days I have many things to write about and other days, when I'm in a bad mood, I have to sit and think for a while--but I have never had a day without something to be thankful for. The greatest blessing of it has been to see how much God is a part of my life. Often I will notice that a decision I make one day will allow something wonderful to happen several days later--a connection I never would have made on my own and I know God is enlightening my mind.

For example, last week KN and I were given the opportunity to see the Rockettes in NYC. I didn't really feel like going because we had a lot of stuff going on already that day and it is a hassle to travel there, but I found myself agreeing to go anyway. Even as I was driving there I was questioning why we were doing this and regretting the decision. We enjoyed the show but my breathing became very painful about halfway through it. We stayed with my parents that night. Had I been at my own home, I probably wouldn't have gone to a doctor because that is such a hassle with two small children. But because we were at my parents' home and my mom made all the arrangements and watched my kids for me, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pre-pneumonia. The doctor said I was very lucky to have come in so early and that they've been having some more serious cases of pneumonia in this area. I feel so blessed to have had such a mild case that I easily and rapidly got over. I am grateful to my mom for all her help and to my Heavenly Father because I believe He influenced my decision to go.

And things like that have happened time and time again. I'm sure I would have realized some of them, but certainly not as much as I do when I sit and reflect at the end of every day at the blessings it brought. And it's hard to not have my mood brightened when I recognize and appreciate the good things that happened to me.

So, feel free to share anything good that happens to you. And how searching for something to be grateful for, even when it seems like there is nothing, helps you find joy.

My mom sent me this and I thought it was applicable here. Thanks Mom!

Gratitude First by Joseph Walker

Now, keep in mind that I’m talking about a candy necklace here — nothing special at all. It was just a stringy loop of elastic with multi-colored candies strung around it. I had handed some of them to the ten-year-olds to whom I had been teaching Old Testament stories for the past year (what, you don’t see the connection between candy necklaces and the Old Testament?), and I had an extra one.

Kayla is quite special indeed. She has long dark hair. Gorgeous eyes. A beautiful smile. The sweetest voice you’ve ever heard. And she’s six. In all the world there is nothing so wonderfully adorable as a six-year-old girl.

Which is probably why I gave the necklace to her. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

When I slipped the necklace into her hand she smiled that beautiful smile of hers, and I considered myself adequately thanked. Then I settled back to enjoy the church meeting. As enthralling as church was that day, I did notice a couple of things about Kayla. For one thing, although she wore the candy necklace around her neck, I didn’t see her actually eating the candy. By way of comparison, my son Jon had his necklace consumed and was asking for more before we sang the final “Alleluia” in the opening hymn. The other thing I noticed was that she seemed quite intent on something she was drawing. I couldn’t see it, but whatever it was it certainly had her attention—so much so that she paid almost no attention to the candy strung around her neck.

When the service ended I stood to leave. Then I noticed something small and cute in the aisle beside me. It was Kayla. She didn’t say a word. She just handed a piece of paper to me. It was the picture that she had been working on throughout the meeting. It showed a tall stick figure man with glasses and most of his hair, holding a candy necklace in his hand. Next to him was a shorter stick figure girl with long dark hair, gorgeous eyes, and a beautiful smile. Over her head was a cartoon balloon with these words: “Thank you.”

It was a lovely gift and a marvelous work of art—far more valuable than the candy bauble I had presented to her. As I thanked her for her gift, I noticed that she was finally starting to eat the candy that I had given to her.

“It looks like your Daddy wouldn’t let you eat your candy until after church,” I observed.
She shook her head seriously. “I could eat it,” she said, shyly. “I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ first.”

I was touched by the gesture and inspired by her message. It was so important to her to say “thank you” that she couldn’t really enjoy the treat until she had expressed her gratitude.
That’s why there’s a new piece of art in the gallery that is beginning to fill the nooks and crannies of my office. Kayla’s picture is the first to be so enshrined that wasn’t created by one of my offspring. I’m including it as a way of reminding me to be grateful.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Time to Give Thanks!

I know we already had a post about Gratitude, but it is November and only a few weeks before Thanksgiving, so I thought it was a good opportunity to re-visit the subject. But this post is going to be a little different. I do believe that focusing on gratitude is one of the best ways to create abiding joy in our lives. So, this week's post comes in the form of a challenge, or assignment, if you will.

Let us all send a note of gratitude and appreciation to at least one person this week. Then, if you don't mind, please share about it here. You can tell what you appreciate about the person(s) you thanked, or their response, or if writing and delivering the note had any positive effect on you. I expect it will because expressing gratitude always makes me feel happier. It's kind of like a higher form of a compliment.

So, go out and be grateful!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Creating Joy

I hope you all had a fun week sharing compliments with those around you! Thank you for your insight and examples of both sharing and receiving compliments.

You may remember that about a month ago, I referenced a talk given by President Dieter Uchtdorf (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). In it he spoke about "two principles that may help you find a path to peace, hope, and joy—even during times of trial and distress." They are creating and compassion. We talked about compassion and service already. This week I would like to discuss "creating".

If you would like to read his talk in its entirety, click here. I highly recommend it. I love the way he speaks! This is what President Uchtdorf said specifically about creating:

"The Work of Creation
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.

Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty—and I am not talking about the process of cleaning the rooms of your teenage children.

You might say, “I’m not the creative type. When I sing, I’m always half a tone above or below the note. I cannot draw a line without a ruler. And the only practical use for my homemade bread is as a paperweight or as a doorstop.”

If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.

But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fulness of joy.4 Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things.

If you are a mother, you participate with God in His work of creation—not only by providing physical bodies for your children but also by teaching and nurturing them. If you are not a mother now, the creative talents you develop will prepare you for that day, in this life or the next.

You may think you don’t have talents, but that is a false assumption, for we all have talents and gifts, every one of us.5 The bounds of creativity extend far beyond the limits of a canvas or a sheet of paper and do not require a brush, a pen, or the keys of a piano. Creation means bringing into existence something that did not exist before—colorful gardens, harmonious homes, family memories, flowing laughter.

What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. So what if the eggs are greasy or the toast is burned? Don’t let fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside.

If you still feel incapable of creating, start small. Try to see how many smiles you can create, write a letter of appreciation, learn a new skill, identify a space and beautify it.

Nearly a century and a half ago, President Brigham Young spoke to the Saints of his day. “There is a great work for the Saints to do,” he said. “Progress, and improve upon and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth, and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations. In the mean time continually seek to adorn your minds with all the graces of the Spirit of Christ.”6

The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come. Sisters, trust and rely on the Spirit. As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty and helpfulness, you improve not only the world around you but also the world within you."

I love this concept in relation to joy. He is right, everyone has the ability to create something. And something of worth. I know of at least three photographers who read this blog and I think all of their work is amazing! I've always admired and envied my older sister's piano ability. When she plays it seems so effortless and amazing. My brother's wives made my little sister's wedding cake and I SO wished they had done mine. It was incredibly beautiful. My little sister just created a huge change in the way scholarships are handled at her university. I would have never had the gumption to put forth the effort she had to to accomplish that. Right now I have a cute Frankenstein hanging out in my window that was painted by my mom years ago. She used to tole paint a lot and I absolutely love all the things she created to decorate our home. Okay, so obviously, I could go on and on. The point is, I can think of so many different things that those of you that I know have and can create. Even when it's hard. This blog isn't something I ever imagined creating, but here it is. Of course, I am lucky because I have all of your help in doing this!

The two points that really stuck out to me about finding joy through creation are:

1. Don't worry so much about the outcome. Even if it ends up like "burnt toast" on the first, second, or tenth try, you still grow from it. And you can still enjoy it! Especially if you have a sense of humor about it like President Uchtdorf. I made my kids Halloween costumes this year. They ended up being A LOT more work than I anticipated and they didn't turn out as well as I had hoped, but I still enjoyed the process. And I was really proud of myself in the end because anything involving sewing is quite a stretch for me. And the kids absolutely loved the costumes and didn't care one bit about the imperfections.

2. I'm just going to quote this again-- "Nearly a century and a half ago, President Brigham Young spoke to the Saints of his day. “There is a great work for the Saints to do,” he said. “Progress, and improve upon and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth, and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations. In the mean time continually seek to adorn your minds with all the graces of the Spirit of Christ.”" I love that. I think it speaks for itself.

So, what types of things do you create? What creations bring you joy? Have the creations of others brought you joy?