For my birthday in October last year, I bought myself this cute little gratitude journal. I had been inspired over and over again to pay more attention to the good things in my life, to be more grateful, and I thought it would help to have a pretty place to record them. Like so many of my good intentions, this one took some time and some more promptings to begin, but finally on December 2nd I began my gratitude journey.
I didn't originally start with any kind of end in mind, but after reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (thanks to Catherine for the inspiration), I decided that I would work towards listing 1,000 gifts within a year. Yesterday was that year mark.
I finished this morning.
In my continued attempt to be gentle with my failings, I am declaring that one year and one day isn't so bad.
The outcome of my experiment with gratitude?
This year has changed me.
My heart is more tender. My eyes are more quick to find beauty. I am quicker to remember to forgive. I see God's hand in the beautiful and good things in my life, as well as in the struggles, the conflicts, the bad, and the ugly.
I'll be honest. I'm still a mess of a soul. My kitchen isn't cleaner. (In fact, you should see it right now.)
I'm not more organized. I still struggle with not being snarky. I let days go by without remembering to study my scriptures. I haven't repaired all the broken things in my life.
But I now have tools to manage the dark times, the bad thoughts, the laundry, the relationships that hurt, the extra 5 (ok...15) pounds, the worries.
The most important tool of all is the one that I was guided to nurture last year: finding a way to express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the mess of life. The list in the cute orange book is an outward expression of an inward change. When I wake up feeling overwhelmed by my weaknesses, I force myself to think about my gratitude for them, for the humility that comes at another failure, for the new day I've been given. When I'm disappointed at an unkindness, I express gratitude for the chance to practice forgiveness. When I look at my piles of laundry, I think about how blessed we are to have more than enough clothing to keep ourselves warm. When I feel grumpy about how tight my pants are, I force myself to recognize the enormous blessing of having more than enough food to eat and that my family never goes to bed hungry.
As I force the thoughts to flow, my heart is often softened. And if it's not softened enough to feel perfectly happy, it's softened enough to allow movement towards happiness. I saw this earlier in the year when I was often angry and bitter about some hard situations. As I was finally prompted to express gratitude for the hurdles I was facing and for those who I felt were creating so much pain, I found myself able to release my bitterness, to open myself to desire joy and peace for those I felt were wounding me. If I started to let my mind dwell on the darkness again, I made myself fight the battle again. And again. And again. And eventually there was peace and grace and beauty out of the ashes of my anger.
This took six months of writing down blessings. It did not come overnight. But it did come. And while I still fight the impulse to be unkind, to dwell on slights, I find that getting to the place of peace and forgiveness is generally a prayer or two (or ten) away and I now have faith that I can get there.
While I was surprised at the joy that gratitude for hard things has brought, I've also been happy to find the increased pleasure I've had in already good things. Noting blessings and gifts has allowed my heart to be touched by the sheer gorgeousness in relationships, in the seasons, in sitting with a five-year-old and reading Christmas books. It's as if I have a magnifying glass on the world and can see details of grace and beauty that may have been unnoticed before.
Here are a few samples:
#20 A few hours of sibling peace as they sorted Legos
#50 Not having to clean up after a dog
#140 That Tiernae is the new Relief Society President and not me...
#141 That I know if I were called to be RS Pres, the Lord would strengthen me
#251 Apples and peanut butter
#323 Constant forgiveness, constant grace
#454 Being strong against the forces of carrot cake, whoopie pies, and chocolate chip cookies
#459 Nighttime walk under the stars
#677 My blue and purple heels
#679 Inspiration about the protection of covenant keeping
#760 David's stint as the human pinata
#761 That David's fall as the human pinata did not result in more damage
#762 That we have insurance to pay for the ER trip for the human pinata
#765 Maisie not peeing in the house while David and I were at the hospital
A few months into my journal keeping, I noticed that the spirit started nudging me in a new direction: service. As I become more grateful for my own life, I find myself more able to see needs in others and try to do small things to help. I'm not great at this yet. It's taking a lot of effort to get myself to act consistently, but I have faith that this is a worthwhile effort and that I might find myself transformed by my efforts to serve as much as I have by my gratitude.