Gratuity is…

I found myself caught in the humble moment where I became the student, and my own children became the teacher.  It is was their lecture that needed to be heard.  It was my turn to listen.  

Let us start from the beginning with a little context…

Some may call it temperamental; others may call it fickle.  Whatever you call it, I spent much of my teen and young adult years as a hot mess.  I lived day to day, month to month, as an all or nothing girl.  I could get pissed off for no reason just as well as I could get an entire room of strangers laughing.  I could writhe in pain and keel over in laughter all within a 24-hour period.  I didn’t know it then, but my fluctuations in mood or emotion were habitualized patterns that could be changed.

On my 33rd birthday, my husband took me away from suburbia back to the city where we used to live to celebrate.  We ended up enjoying some fine dining with good food and even better wine.  While walking downtown, we passed our old church during a Saturday night vigil mass.  My husband asked if I wanted to go in.  It could have been the glow of wine or the nostalgia of being back in our old neighborhood, but for whatever reason I without hesitation said yes.  

I don’t know what clicked in the candlelight of that cathedral, but I decided to invest in something crazy.  I wanted to go all in on someone who I had forgotten existed.  I walked out with this crazy desire to concentrate all my efforts on myself.  I would stop trying to fix my kids or attempting to shape my husband into the perfect soulmate.  In my guts, I knew the only person I could control or “improve” was myself.   

I won’t bore you with the details of the journey, but my decision that night changed my life.  I without fail work out at 5:30 am every morning before work.  I started yoga and meditation.  I began purchasing every book I could find about neuroscience and how to reshape our brains to be more centered and fulfilled.  I became a walking salesman for coping strategies and talks on positive mindsets. 

I should have known that every strength is only known when it is tested.  That test arrived for me this fall.  I found myself doubting the anchor of positivity I once held on to for dear life.  Passing thoughts questioned my teachings, values, and approaches to overcoming challenges.  Quite frankly, in my moments of brokenness, I wondered if I was just full of shit.  Maybe all that crazy “hoodoo voodoo” nonsense was just smoke and mirrors.  

Then my kids picked me up and reminded me that the person I had worked so hard on improving was worth holding on to.  

One night after dinner, my daughter wrote down on a piece of paper, “He would not bring you to it, if He could not get you through it.”  She had taped it to her shirt.  She noticed I was down and wanted to make sure that when I looked at her, I would be reminded that hard times pass, and we are left stronger.  She actually used the words, “positive self-talk” as she told me to just repeat this phrase over and over when I was feeling upset.  This was before she asked me to pick a number.  After responding two, she brought me two notecards and asked me to write two things I am grateful for and add them to our family gratitude box.   

If my brain wasn’t already screaming, “Holy shit! My kids are holding me accountable to practice what I preach” my son took a turn.  

Before bed, he asked me how I was doing.  I gave him a hug and simply said, “I’m fine.” He went on to say, “The last few weeks when I ask you how your day was you say fine and that is not like you.” Such a small detail went unnoticed by me but did not go overlooked by my son.  He cupped my head and looked me in the eyes.  “Mom, I know it’s okay to be sad or upset, but you need to think about how lucky you are. Your kids are healthy.  You have a good family and home.  There is always something to be grateful for. Thanksgiving is this week, and I am going to ask you if you had a good time.  I want you to think about all the fun you have with your siblings and tell me why it was a good night.” Just like that I was schooled on gratitude and reframing my thoughts.  

That night I sat alone in my kitchen, while everyone was sleeping, to reflect on these last few months. 

We often see ourselves and our impact as small or insignificant.  We overlook the footprint just to complain about the mess left behind by the sand.  Hearing my children’s words granted me a peace I so desperately needed.  All the times that I felt my words were wasted or ignored, I had been wrong. 

I began to replay the conversations with friends and families and reflected on all the words of comfort and care they provided.  A theme smacked me over the head and in my tears, I began to laugh.  All those motivational speeches, positivity preaching, and mindset rants I put in the universe for all to hear were given right back to me.  And quite honestly, it was just what I needed. 

I flirted with the old trap of focusing on the struggle.  This is the trap that lets stressors deceive us into thinking our lives are hard.  We crown ourselves the champion of suffering, as if it is an accomplishment to behold.  Our thoughts cycle on how we are drowning in duties, obligations, and worldly injustices. All this exhaustion, just to look back and find that some of the best years of our lives were spent bitching about how they could have been better. 

Well, not this time.  Thanks to my kids, family, and friends this will be a trap I will be avoiding.  This Thanksgiving I was given the gift of a renewed attitude of gratitude.  For every person who provided me with a kind word or gesture it was not unnoticed.  For every person reading this whom I have never met, know that your care for your neighbors, friends, and family is not unnoticed.  As we are grateful for the blessings we receive, we must never forget that we can that blessing for someone else.   

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