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.

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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.

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“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. 

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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.

If you like this, there’s more to come. Use the box below to have new posts from this blog delivered to your inbox.

Enter your email address:Delivered by FeedBurnerAnd when share with your friends, well that makes me pretty happy. 

You can also find me on twitter and Facebook as well. Join the conversation on all fronts! That’s my recommendation…

Gripe Jar Wrap Up

Well I’m a tad late on my Operation Gripe Jar summary but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a life changing experiment in minding my tongue.  It does mean that it’s been an insane week and our life was nearly consumed with my husband’s golf tournament at work, their big fundraising push for the year.

So now that it’s over our family is collectively trying to take a deep breathe and enjoy the end of 65 hour work weeks for a while.

So back to the Gripe Jar, I’ve spent the last week paying careful attention to the words that come out of my mouth and making an effort not to complain.  Something I should have been doing all along.  Each time I complained I had to put a penny in the jar, and I wrote down my gripes and what was going on with me that caused me to complain.

After the first few hours I was able to stop a good portion of my griping, whiney behavior.   However, I soon realized that just because I had stopped complaing with my mouth doesn’t mean that I wasn’t griping on the inside. (If complaining in my thought life counted the jar would be buried in pennies)  The inner griping is an indication of a much bigger problem.  I can be mindful to monitor my words and use discipline to control what I say, but it’s a lot more difficult to get a grip on your thought life, it’s easy to let your mind run away with you.

I’m coming to realize that all the inner discontent means that inside I’m not nearly as grateful and trusting as I’d like to be and that a week of pennies in a jar is only the beginning of this journey.  There will be days and years of willingly counting gifts and laying down my worries and discontent at the feet of my Father.

So, how many pennies made their way into the jar?  The official count is 53, but it was hard to track things since the kids seemed bound and determined to steal my jar and scribble on my gripe paper.

Here’s a breakdown of some of my recorded gripes, I’ve sorted them into categories.

1)  First World Problems– In this category fell gripes about not having a certain kind of food, slow internet, and the city turning our water off for maintenance.  All irritating things, but when I stopped to think about it they were rooted in a sense of entitlement that supposed that I needed all of these things to get by and be happy, which I don’t.  Most people on earth don’t have access to endless bananas, fresh ground coffee, wifi and clean cold water.

2) People’s behavior– In this category we have my children getting up too early (5:15 one day) My husband trying a discipline I don’t approve of or the kids scattering my laundry piles all over the house.  I am learning to resign myself to the fact that for the most part I could spend my life complaining about unwanted behavior if I wanted to.  But, the better option is to work with my kids on better behavior, have more in depth conversations with Kel on parenting choices and just get over the fact that kids sleep when they want to.

3) Struggle to serve- As I posted Sunday, I am still learning to die to myself and many days I don’t really get ample time to do what I want to do.  It’s easy to gripe about this but the real truth here is that we all have to learn to love the life we have, ideal or non ideal.  If you have a serious problem loving where you are or what you do, spend some time in prayer about how you’re supposed to change this.

4) WalMart– Yes, I complain about WalMart A LOT, I don’t like it and it brings out the worst in me.  Yes it has it’s own category, I could write a month’s worth of blogs on this topic, but I digress.  What I can’t do is deny that even a low quality shopping experience is better than starving or going without so I should probably, maybe stop griping about the Hell Mart, I mean WalMart.

5) Oklahoma– We live in a rural town that isn’t always my favorite place to live.  I love the people here but the weather and lack of options accounts for a pretty big percentage of my whining.  God’s working with me on this and keeps reminding me that if I claim that this is where we are supposed to be then I should cut out Oklahoma bashing.

6) Borderline- The hard to diagnose complaints, for example I was sick during Operation Gripe Jar, so when I said something like “ow my throat hurts” was I complaining or just informing my family about my pain?

So that’s a decent summary of Operation Gripe Jar.  I truly hope that I’ve started down a path where my ears are tuned to complaining so I may become a rare source of it.

What I can’t stress enough is that if you find yourself complaining a lot what you need more than a gripe jar is a self check.  You have to diagnose what’s going on in your soul and your relationship with God that’s causing you to have such a negative attitude about what he’s entrusted you with.

The bible says that we are supposed to capture our thoughts and make sure that they line up with Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus taught about contentment, thankful obedience and serving.  So if your words and thoughts aren’t lining up with that, then what you and I really have is a heart, relationship with God type issue, so ….ouch eh?

It’s been convicting and with my gripe jar, bible and Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 gifts I think I have a shot at this gratitude and joy business in the long run.

 

Operation Gripe Jar- a week long challenge

So on the way home tonight Kel brought to my attention that I complain a lot.  The weather’s too hot, the house is too small, I don’t get enough “me time,” The grocery budget is too tight, the kids didn’t nap, My back really hurts, He doesn’t understand me, he doesn’t say the right thing, and the list goes on.

When I talk like this he said, it leaves him wondering I will ever be happy with the life we are making together.  Ouch… I didn’t respond for a few minutes because the only fitting rebuttal was this: “You’re right, and I’m so sorry”

When I replay the soundtrack of my life I sound like a depressing and very broken record at times.

Not only is this irritating and discouraging to those around me, it’s an indication of an ungrateful heart.  How can I be counting gifts and expecting to find joy if I’m so busy complaining?

So I’m attempting an experiment this week and I’m going public with it and inviting you to join me.  We can hold each other accountable, on twitter, Facebook, or here on the blog.

Here is my commitment: This week I will not complain, put down, whine or gripe, I will not even insult what God has given me by talking about what I would like to have instead.

Every time I notice myself complaining I have to put a penny in this jar:

This is going to be hard because it’s become a bad and seriously ingrained habit.  But I’ll be honest with you, record my successes and failures and report back about how it went and how it changed me.

I would love for you to do the same if you feel like this is an area of your life where you’re choosing death over life by focusing on the negative

Sentence starters to be AVOIDED
– ” I really hate that…”
– ” I wish I didn’t have to…”
– ” I’m not looking forward to…”
– “You know what sucks?…”

Some Motivational Text to put on a sticky note or two

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” Hebrews 13:15

“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”Matthew 15:11 (for those of us who worry more about what we’re eating than what we’re saying)

“The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense.”Proverbs 10:21

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29

The long and short of it is that I need to get some control over what I say and what it says about the state of my heart.  So I’m doing something simple yet public and moving in a direction so that my mouth becomes a more life giving source for those I love.

So If you want to get in on Operation Gripe Jar:

1) Comment, Facebook, tweet to me etc and let me know you’re on board.

2) Get a jar, a bowl, a bag, a box, whatever and start Monday morning with it empty.  (I’d love it if you shared a pic of your jar with me #operationgripejar) 

3) When you gripe, jot down on paper or on your phone what you said and where your heart was at when it happened and then put a penny in the jar.

4) Report back to me Next week monday and let me know how it went, how you succeeded and failed and how it changed your week and hopefully your heart for the better.

And hey, report back on my Facebook or twitter all week long!  Strength in numbers my friends!

This is a simple, easy system that might lead to some long term changes in every aspect of our lives.  If God can use a jar and some pennies to cultivate gratitude in my heart, then I’m all in baby.

Gratitude (or my hot tub epiphany)

I've wanted to write over a cup of coffee in the mountains for over a year. Had to share this moment with you, and also validate the "white girls take pictures of their feet" thing.

This weekend Kel and I had the longest “just the two of us” getaway that we’ve had since our honeymoon.  We were privileged to enjoy 48 hours away in Beaver’s Bend, OK, a small town in the Ouachita mountains.  Our cabin was worthy of a  overnight date from the TVshow The Bachelor, and let me tell you, guys love it when you compare real life to The Bachelor.

Somedays God's just showing off.

We kept it low key, I got up early and wrote and Kel went golfing while I rode in the cart and occasionally got out to steal river rocks or look for his ball.  Our cabin was on the tippy top of either a very small mountain or a rather large hill and the most excitement we had was getting our car stuck in the muddy driveway and rubbing elbows with the local tow truck drivers.

Kel and the tow truck guys bonding over our Explorer which, praise God, sat like that all night and DID NOT fall off the Mountain, can I get an AMEN?

Much to our delight there was a mountaintop hot tub, much to Kel’s likely disappointment I was in favor of using it to have some heart to hearts about God, family and purpose.  There was a central theme to our weekend, other than loving and reconnecting, and that was gratitude.  I wanted to use the time I had away from our home and the day to day of motherhood to figure out why, between Kel and I, one of us was always having a bad day.  I couldn’t figure out why two people, who on paper claimed to be blessed by home, job and family were so often, in practice, so discontent.

As we chatted we realized that we were still hanging on to some pre-marriage and pre-kids senses of entitlement.  I still felt like I should be able to use my daytime hours to pursue my own interests and Kel felt like he should be able to get 9+ hours of sleep and be able to relax and unwind in his free time. If we didn’t get what we thought we deserved, we got crabby and irritable.  We weren’t living out of hearts of gratitude, but spirits of discontent and self centeredness.  We were setting ourselves up for unhappiness.

One evening as we were sitting in the hot tub chatting I had a sort of epiphany.  If we could live in an ongoing state of gratitude, we would find contentment, and in that contentment we could live lives full of joy.  We were always seeking happiness and thought that if we adjusted our circumstances or routine that it would all click.  There is truth to the value of routine and balance but the perfect system won’t bring contentment if you are doing it with an ungrateful and entitled spirit.

So the question we ended up with is how do we get from where we are now to lives lived, steeped in gratitude?

Well, we aren’t completely sure yet but we did give each other permission to call the other out when they were being pissy and didn’t see their blessings.  Changing your mindset is not an overnight endeavor but it might go something like this.

1) Remind yourself of the truth.  The best epiphany is lost unless you keep coming back to it.  Put up post-its, needlepoint it on a pillow, do what you gotta do to remind your ever so human mind to live a life of gratitude.

2) Stop, Look, Listen- Slow down and stop focusing on everything that isn’t so you have eyes to see all that is.

3) Make it a point to always start your prayers with a long list of thankfulness.  Before you ask, give thanks, the more you look for your gifts and seek to live in gratitude the easier this becomes.  Maybe even keep a gift journal Ann Voskamp style.

4) Serve– Nothing takes your mind off yourself like focusing on the needs of others with needs far more pressing than your own.  You can start small with baking cookies to make someone’s day better.

The older I get the more I feel God in everything I am given, he is the author of every atom and the giver of every granola bar.  He is my air and I so sick and tired of being crabby in the midst of all that beauty. I’m completely done being so distracted that I miss out and stay hungry for depth that is all around me.

How about you?  Do you feel it, the unsettling undercurrents of ingratitude?  What can we do to live thankful, joy full lives?