I took my van in this morning for two new front tires and an oil change. It’s never a good sign when twenty minutes or so after dropping your car off you get a phone call from your mechanic. What was going to be a somewhat manageable bill has more than doubled. I have a right front bearing that has to be replaced. <Insert long heavy sigh, rest forehead on desk, bang lightly>
Car issues are just one item on my list of the things that make me grumble and whip my anxiety into a frenzy. In no particular order: dental bills, mechanic bills, deployments, middle school, to include middle school aged children, school events and field trips. Don’t forget politics, gas prices, and the miles between me and my family. I have more bills than I have money, my kids need things, I want things, and I have no idea what the future holds for us. Are there orders? Do we retire?
I am actually feeling a little panic. My shoulders are tense, there’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and I am pretty sure I just gained a pound. Why can’t I be the weight loser not gainer when stress visits? How do I keep from completely unraveling?
For me, it’s called finding perspective. Put everything in its place and refocus your outlook. I have to step back from the looming mountain of “oh my heck.” This morning that mountain doubled in size, just since the phone call from Howard. That’s my mechanic.
A long time ago, Oprah did a show on having an attitude of gratitude. As a young overwhelmed mother of two at the time, I guffawed at her suggestion of keeping a gratitude journal and the empowerment it could lead to. I needed a maid, more money and a personal hair stylist. How was writing down stuff going to help?
Then I had another child.
Then we had a one year deployment.
I was struggling with loneliness, stress and a bad attitude. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of three little children, a squeaky tight budget and feeling way too young to be that old, a mother of three and a PTA president. I know, right? The whole PTA president thing… why in the world would I even take that on?
I decided I either had to get my head in the game or get it examined, so what would it hurt to just test the gratitude journal. It didn’t cost anything but effort. And the phrase “keep an attitude of gratitude” was a rhythmic chant going through my brain. That HAD to stop.
So I started writing about five things each day that I was grateful for. My first entry was May 26, 1997. I wrote almost two full pages. I wrote about how much I loved my husband, my children, my mom and dad, and other mushy stuff. I was pretty regular in the beginning. As the deployment progressed and my anxiety grew, gratitude entries started to look more like the following:
Seriously? I don’t even know what to write. But I’m going to write something. I promised Oprah, but I refuse to sit here and come up with five things. I’m tired and this was not my favorite day. 1. My children are breathing, I’m grateful for that. 2. The dog’s gas seems to have gone away, totally thankful for that. 3. And the highlight, I found three Oreo’s those little monsters missed and I am eating them now in my room with the last of the milk. BOOYAH!
I laugh looking back, because I wasn’t kidding when I said the highlight was the cookies. It was like a special gift that I could sit, unmolested by tiny hands and sweet voices asking me to share.
Other than providing great amusement for me today, that practice of finding the good each day did something else than just get me through that long deployment. It began changing the way my brain worked.
Although I have not been diligent in keeping the gratitude journal, I have kept the concept of having an “attitude of gratitude.”
Even during some very difficult moments in our family, we have found ways to smile, even while crying. It doesn’t bring someone back, fix something that is broken or find something that is lost. What it does is help us take a second look at those looming mountains and realize they aren’t quite as steep as we initially thought. Finding the silver lining, or the positive light in a dark day, even if it’s a pen light, refocuses our life lens. More often than not we have found better solutions to our problems than we would have had we just stood around bemoaning our fate.
Thank you, Oprah. I apologize for mocking you all those years ago, even if it was in my own head. I owe you a debt of gratitude for the part you played in helping me move my attitude into the light.