How to learn gratitude from Epicurus while on your way to the porta-potty

Hi, I miss us. I will get into a better blogging routine. I swear. I promise. I think.

I owe you a house tour, a wrap up to the Love Showed Up Series and the ending posts for Kel and I’s story.

And thoughts, feelings, convictions on so many topics, probably spirit led and everything yet lost under a pile of laundry, pregnancy exhaustion and summer routine-less-ness.

The bad voices are trying to tell me I’m a crap blogger and my writing career may as well be done, but I’m choosing to call insane season, baby growing and keep trying.

For now hi.

Can I tell you about this cliché I am trying to hang on to? (This strikes at least me as odd because my most viral post is called 12 Grief Clichés and the Reasons they suck)

It all starts with an epiphany I had on the way to a porta-potty. If that doesn’t get catch your attention then I have no idea what will. Who has epiphanies while walking to a porta potty?… Except maybe “Wow this is going to be gross” or “Crap I forgot hand sanitizer.”


It was the Fourth of July and dusk had already settled all across the expanse of dark green grass in front of the high school. The lawn was crowded with blankets, lawn chairs and wagons filled with people, eager for the first official firework to be launched.

In the background a band planted on a trailer stage finished the last notes of “sweet caroline” just before starting into the slow, deliberate opening on the national anthem. The signal that the fireworks were about to start.


Somewhere in that crowd behind me sat my family and friends, a smattering of faces in a sea of patriotism and glow sticks.

If the evening sounds Idyllic, it’s because it was, and it’s our norm for the Fourth of July.

Each year, bellies full of burgers and ice cream we head to the smaller stage of the Grandville fireworks and settle on blankets and into hoodies to enjoy the show.

And as I walked to the porta-potty two things came into sharp conflict inside me.

The warm glow of gratitude I felt for the privilege of that moment and the cloud of discontent I’d been living under. 

A Pinteresty, wooden sign cliché instantly came to mind. Turns out it’s less clicheé because it’s written by Epicurius. Greek Philosophers add a lot of clout.


“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; But remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ~Epiucurus, 300 B.C.

Flash back to months of house shopping, patiently waiting for “the right one”, one we could work on a make our own. Which we now have.

Flash back to hot days in Oklahoma, wishing we could live in Michigan, aching for the joy of a Northern summer.  And here we are, year two.

Flash back to evenings worrying about pregnancies, hoping for the gift of a healthy baby. Of which I have three, two wiggling like crazy on a blanket in the crowd and the other doing the same in my midsection.

Flash back to prayers of a career that would support our family. Our fridge is full, our bills are paid, we are well sustained.

Flash back to nights spent thinking that a man who would love me well would never come along. And I spend far too many evenings counting his flaws these days.

All those “hoped fors” brought into vivid reality and still I feel mainly discontent.

I wanted to drop to my knees right then and there and cling like a suction cup garfield to what was unfolding in my mind.

Why, why why is gratitude so elusive and how do I hold onto it with both hands? I’m coming to find out that my life depends on it. 


I made my way into the porta-potty, did what I needed to do, which as a pregnant woman I seem to do every 13 minutes these days. Then emerged to discover that technology has brought us foot pump sinks for post porta potty hand washing.

Clearly a sign from the heavens that gratitude is in order.

I made my way back into the sea of people, struggling for several minutes to find our blanket among the hundreds of others.

When I found it, I hunkered down and kissed everyone appropriate for kissing, right on the cheek.

And you know what? Here’s the part where things get real.

The next morning I woke up and nothing changed. Not right away.

This epiphany would only be a game changer if I did something about it, took action to change my brain space.

Because gratitude is a habit and a practice and you have to do it intentionally at first, over the din of discontent.

Play it loudly overtop the sighs of “I hate our kitchen” or “there must be more money in the budget somewhere” or “why can’t I have her (seemingly) better-behaved kids?”

In the end I don’t want this blog post to lead you to believe that my porta-potty run in with Epicurus led me to an instantly more grateful heart.

It didn’t. But it can be another jumping off point. Another reminder that gratitude truly is the richest and best rhythm in which to live.

And so I am scribbling thanks
And I am contemplating a large piece of Epicurius art in our fireplace room.

I am looking at un-mowed grass and choosing to be thankful that it’s in Michigan and surrounding a house that is an answer to prayer.

I am thanking God for all we have and trying to stop saying things like “you know what we need?”

I am Setting reminders on my phone 4 times a day that remind me not to criticize the husband I used to hope for, but instead to build him up.

I am getting Brené Brown’s books on tape to get them into my head even if I can’t always slow down without falling asleep. We are all worthy of love and belonging. 

True gratitude will take practice, because deep down change doesn’t happen from one epiphany but from thousands of intentional changes.

Epicurus, please continue to haunt me, Spirit, please direct my thoughts, friends, please remind me of this truth when I complain about the messier gifts in my life.

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  • LaDonna

    Love. Love. Love this post! So true! Thanks for sharing your heart…

  • Natalie Hart

    What a great quote from Epicurus — we often hear the first part, but it’s the last part “what you have is what you once hoped for” that’s the kicker. Also, oh how true it is that an epiphany isn’t change. Only changed behavior is change. [sigh]

    • Leanne Penny

      Sigh indeed. Change is hard, important change is harder but yields so much in the learning and growing.

  • Lacey Cowger

    Can I just say? WOW!!! How I envy, no! better word, appreciate how you write from your heart! You reel me in every. single. time. Thank you! I love when I read something that stirs me up on the inside! And you always do! Thanks again! I know it’s hard and time is limited with the busyness of life, and two small children, and pregnancy, but thank you for making time to share!

    • Leanne Penny

      Oh Lacey, thank you for taking the time to write that. It helps when the thoughts I do have time to get out there to know that they’re helpful so thank you. Thank you :)

  • Mark Allman


    A couple of my favorite quotes on gratitude are:

    “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, and a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie.

    “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

    I find when I work on being grateful I do not have as much time to feel depressed or bad about the situation or circumstances I find myself in. Gratefulness seems to help ground me.

    • Leanne Penny

      It’s central isn’t it? It is so much more than just one thing it truly is everything. and that first quote by Melody Beattie is THE best. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • pastordt

    Amen. yes. thank you.

  • Rea

    Amen. I remind myself of this often. Especially when I’m driving in that one particular part of town that I would love to live in (not because it’s fancier…because it’s near the library…and the middle school). I remind myself that this house is one we were thrilled to buy. It has a YARD! I have a (sort of dying) garden! My kids can play outside and roam the neighborhood and it’s GOOD. What we have is a gift, and I am practicing gratitude for it every day.
    (Also…the foot pump handwashing stations? Genius. I tip my hat to whoever came up with that idea.)

    • Leanne Penny

      Amen. This gratitude thing is a game changer but we live in this compare / contrast world. It’s insane. Keep practicing and I’ll be right there with you.

  • Teresa Tackett Hardymon

    Thanks for this much needed reminder about gratitude and how we must be intentional in our practice of it. It’s not enough to want to be grateful we have to choose to be grateful. A hard lesson to learn, but one I’m determined to keep working on. I love the way you put it all into words. You truly have a gift of touching our hearts with your writing.

  • Julie Davis


    Your words remind me a lot of Anne Voskamp’s in One Thousand Gifts. I’m reading the book right now, reluctantly, because I usually avoid what’s popular (which is sometimes good but sometimes I really miss out). Relishing the moment of what God has given to us right now is the path to contentment and joy. It’s a hard lesson, though, and life-long.

    “Never is God’s omnipotence and omniscience diminutive. God is not in need of magnifying by us so small, but the reverse. It’s our lives that are little and we have falsely inflated self, and in thanks we decrease and the world returns right. I say thanks and I swell with Him, and I swell the world and He stirs me, joy all afoot.” -Anne Voskamp