GRATITUDE

Dear Strong Woman,

What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?

It’s a question that snaps me to attention, like a bitter wind in Winter that takes your breath away.

My Strong Man and I are participating in something called the #Last90Days challenge.  The premise is to fight against the urge to throw your hands up on the final three months of the year with the promise that you’ll “do better” once the new year rolls in.  In committing to some simple (though not always easy) habits, the hope is that we’ll hit January 1st at the top of our game.

There are five things  (“Five to Thrive”) we’ve committed to doing everyday these next three months, one of them being to list ten things we are grateful for each day.

This practice has been a game changer.

At first, listing ten seemed a bit…annoying.  It’s like getting a ticket from a red light camera. You’re typically fined an amount that doesn’t completely break the bank, but is excessive enough be a plain ol’ pain in the ass. (You know…so you’ll more careful next time.)

So really…ten?  You’re serious about that? How about…three?  Okay…five?  Nope. TEN.

But then someone doing this same challenge shared a quote that helps her bring a lot of intention to listing her gratitude:

IMG_3973

That question, mixed with having only 10 spots to fill (yes only…see how quickly things shifted!) intensified this like crazy for me. Before I started using this question to help me focus for this task, I was adding some things to my list simply to fill the blank spots left on the page: my Reef sandals that are clouds on my feet; a favorite podcast that helps commute time pass quickly; my oversized Bethany Beach hoodie that feels like a hug.  Don’t get me wrong – I love these things! But only having ten coveted spots makes filling up said spots with “things” seem…foolish.

Suddenly…my list is full of people. Moments in nature.  Memories of loved ones and overwhelming appreciation for time spent with them.  A list of intangibles that can’t be bought, but rather cultivated. Created.  Home grown.

D23DACB9-D8FE-4CB1-9E18-57F9C9E9DBA4

Suddenly…I’m reaching out more to connect with people I swear I care about, but seem to only make an effort to connect with when it’s convenient.

Suddenly…I’m not feeling the urge to spend money on the things I’m usually inclined to buy.  I think to myself, “What would I swap on my list to make room for this?”  The smart-ass in me sometimes considers crossing out a brother.  The human in me sometimes makes me want to erase a dog (or two) due to the obnoxiously rude 4:00am wake up call.  (And by sometimes, you know I mean about .02 seconds.) But the bleeding heart in me never lets that follow though.

Could it be that gratitude is the ultimate budgeting tool?

My Strong Man’s job has him primarily serving the elderly. As is expected, they often feel the need to impart some wisdom on the strapping young man before them.  The overarching theme is always the same: the thing they cherish most in their lives are their relationships.  “Spend time with the ones you love,”  they tell him. When you’re nearing the end of your life, it seems as though that’s all that counts.

I sure as hell believe it. Do you?

The lesson this daily gratitude is enforcing is to keep the important stuff – and I mean the real important stuff, not what your circle thinks is important, not what society is trying to tell you is important – at the front of your mind.

Live your life by focusing on what truly matters.

66752DEA-C1A8-4A66-B8DD-FCE2D1E8A479

This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Cleo, who passed away four years ago today. 

THE TABLE

Dear Strong Woman,

I know what I bring to the table, so trust me when I say I’m not afraid to eat alone.

There was a time when this was a badge I proudly wore.  I was confident. Felt grounded in my worth. Knew I had a lot of good I could bring to a relationship, and knew I wasn’t going to waste time with those who didn’t clearly see that.  Strong Woman in a nutshell, back before this concept even existed.

I’m proud of that girl.  She stood up for herself, and knew she didn’t need others to validate her.  She learned a lot. About the world. About the people in it. But that girl also learned how to eat her dinner standing up, sometimes with the refrigerator door hanging open, always in mere minutes, and never in a mindful manner.

I wasn’t afraid to eat alone, but I sure didn’t spend much time at the table.

That’s no longer my reality. And what’s funny is that…of all the new things I’ve been adjusting to these past couple of months, the one thing that has been the biggest change for me – over moving away, over starting a new job – has been sitting down at the table for dinner.

As a girl who has grown to be quite a fan of self-help books, meditation, and the like,  it’s been nice to get some personal development from a slightly different angle. In fact, I’m often hungry for it. Not in terms of what’s on the menu – though that is a great bonus! – but for the process.  The company you get to interact with in that process.  I’ve found that dinner merely serves as the stage for us to slow down and connect while we create (and enjoy!) a main dish that is so often just to conduit to the main event:

Togetherness.

Togetherness around the table.

It’s a place where we can set aside all the doing and just focus on being.

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, masterfully captures this in her book Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes:

We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.

What’s beautiful is that my old and new realities can coexist.  I can sit at the table proud, confident, grounded in my worth. I can be all of those things without needing to be alone to prove it true.

I’m still proud of that girl, but I’m also proud of who that girl has become. I’m still not afraid to eat alone, but I’m not too afraid to admit that…I much prefer it this way.

So I encourage you, Strong Woman, to take a seat at the table.

Gather.

Visit.

Be present.

It may satisfy cravings you never knew you had.

HOMECOMING

Dear Strong Woman,

Love is a verb.

Some families make a big to-do over a child returning home. Grand outings. A house full of people. A fridge full of favorite foods. Hugs with extra squeezes and eyes that smile as much if not more than the mouth that shares the face.

But some show their excitement differently.

Maybe they come out to greet you upon arrival, but it’s possible it’s only because they were already outside tending to the garden. Maybe you go out for a meal, but it’s more so to avoid having to cook something rather than to celebrate being together.  Maybe you check out a local event, but maybe you stay in and watch a movie instead, laughing over the lingering smell of burnt popcorn as someone attempted to pop a bag that expired back in 2009. (Why do we even have this?!)

IMG_1509

You’re handed a towel to dry dishes or a basket of laundry to put away like it’s a normal occurrence. Hugs are fierce, but brief because there are things to do, and you fit back into that flow as if you never left. Never a question of “What do you want to do while you’re in town?” but more so “This is what we have on the schedule this weekend.” Never knowing if you’re going to be clocking times for a swim meet or grocery shopping or moving furniture or (attempting to) paint momma’s toenails.

This is my family, and I love them for it, and despite living hundreds of miles away and coming back to visit way less often than I would like, it never feels like I’ve missed a beat. I am not treated like someone special, but rather appreciated for the fact that now there is an extra set of hands available to help with something.   And when you’re not around for the little things anymore, these opportunities to be of service to the day-to-day tasks are truly treasured moments.

IMG_1510

Perhaps it’s the introvert in me who prefers to blend in rather than be seen, but it’s this kind of environment that allows me to truly exhale and be myself. It’s in this setting where I can rock unwashed hair and a pimply face with ease like it’s the newest trend from New York Fashion Week.  It is here where no one will bat an eyelash if I open a bag of salt and vinegar chips right before dinner because they will all help me finish off said bag without asking.

It is here where the judgement isn’t. (And sometimes where the bra isn’t, either.)

In our home, we might not say “I love you” all that much…

but we sure as hell show it.