An Attitude of Gratitude

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote these words in his famous book, “Letters and Papers from Prison.” It’s inspiring that that the German theologian, who was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for his resistance to the Hitler regime, was writing about feeling grateful shortly before his untimely death at the tender age of 39. Maybe your circumstances have also been difficult lately, which unlike Bonhoeffer, can make it very challenging for most of us to have an attitude of gratitude. Whether it’s a chronic health crisis, a broken relationship, the death of a loved one, a prodigal child, a financial or employment dilemma, life’s big and little problems can really get you down.

Down was where John Kralik was when he began to write his 2010 memoir, “365 Thank Yous.” The then 53-year-old attorney was financially struggling, going through a second divorce, forty pounds overweight, and rapidly losing hope that he would ever achieve his career goal of being a judge. I first heard about Kralik’s insightful work through a woman I interviewed who had once lost an adult child to cancer. It just felt like something I needed to read. On the back cover it says, “An inspiring, true story about how a simple old-fashioned act – writing thank you notes – led a hopeless, angry, middle-aged man out of despair and into a wonderful life.” Kralik’s book is more practical than spiritual, yet gratitude has been said to be one of the greatest of virtues. The lawyer certainly convinces his reader that gratitude is indeed a powerful tool, since eventually his life is restored and he even fulfills his dream of becoming a Los Angeles court judge. In 2013, the New York Times best-seller was rereleased under the title, “A Simple Act of Gratitude.” The message of “365 Thank Yous” stays with me, because it is not so much about writing thank you notes, as it is about becoming grateful. Truthfully, I know a lot about thank you notes being raised in a generation where the correct response to a gift was a mandatory card of appreciation. But, I haven’t always known a lot about gratitude.

Rather, I lived much of my life with the cup half-empty mentality, like many Americans concentrating on what I didn’t have.  Not so much desiring material things, rather missing the everyday blessings that are easy to take for granted. Then there are folks who seem to be naturally thankful for everything. “Gratitude is inclusive,” writes the late author Brennan Manning. For example, in his book, “Ruthless Trust” Manning shares about an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where a man named Tony once said, “If I had to choose among all the diseases that afflict human beings, I would choose mine [alcoholism], because I can do something about it.”

Being grateful for being an alcoholic is one thing, but what about finding gratitude in the midst of heartbreaking loss? Loss like writer Ann Voskamp experienced when as a little girl, she witnessed her 18-month-old baby sister being run over by a delivery truck. As author of the book, “One Thousand Gifts,” Voskamp admits that she spent many years battling depression and anxiety. The wife of a farmer and mother of six finally finds gratitude by conscientiously observing 1,000 simple gifts in her daily life and poetically writing each one down. “Child sobs ebbing, boys humming hymns, laundry flapping, book pages turning, toothless smiles, forgiveness of a sister, and her list goes on and on.

That an alcoholic man and a grieving woman – both find thankfulness – is sobering. I know it’s a terrible pun, but I think Tony would like it. After all, according to Manning at the A.A. meetings that he attended, Tony “introduced himself as a ‘grateful recovering alcoholic.’”

No matter what is going on in our own lives there is still much to be thankful for. Gratitude is a daily decision. Not only an attitude, but a way of life. May we find beauty in the ordinary. Whether it’s a colorful blossom, the green leaves on once barren trees, or the laughter of children playing outside again, may our hearts be filled with thankfulness for the blessings that each new day brings.

For those whose lives are truly in a time of agonizing mourning and unbearable grief, let’s pray that we can somehow bring hope to them. All the while, being grateful that God can use one broken human being like ourselves to comfort another in a season of brokenness that is even greater than our own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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Battling Addictions: There is Help!

Scotch & WaterWith headlines pointing to celebrities in and out of rehab clinics and many communities plagued with serious drug issues, we can forget that alcoholism remains a problem of great dimension. It is, “The most abused drug in our society,” said Cynthia Moore.

A lot of clients who are struggling with addictions including alcohol are referred to the Shelby County Counseling Center where Mrs. Moore is the Substance Abuse Clinical Supervisor. “…90 percent of our [addictions] client base are ordered by the court to be here, which means they have had an alcohol or drug related offense.” Getting help is often, “An alternative to jail or prison, if they successfully complete a program,” she said. Mrs. Moore has been in the business of helping folks overcome addictions since 1987. Yet the passion for the cause is still evident in her voice. Working in the field began as a college internship. “…I had some family members who struggled with alcohol addiction. I just thought…I’ll just try it. I never did anything else since. I love it,” she said.

It appears difficult to isolate alcohol abuse solely though, since many of the agency’s clients struggle with cross-addiction. “They may have another primary drug, heroin is huge right now, but always drinking in the interim,” said the addictions expert. “We see cross-addiction…where they are addicted to many substances.”

As for putting a face on the problem, the supervisor believes, “The reality is we are interacting with people who are functioning with addictions everyday. First, we must get to know individuals better, before we see their struggle.” Whether it is an employer or family member, “Sometimes they get angry, they don’t understand that drug addiction or alcoholism is a disease,” she said. “It’s important to separate the person from the disease.” Moore is emphatic in stressing the importance of recognizing that, “This is always a disease. You are going to see mood swings…[also] this disease causes people to break their value systems.”

How do we know when it’s time to seek help for someone we care about? “As theAlcoholics Anonymous disease progresses, the effect on those major life areas get bigger and bigger and easier to see,” said the supervisor. “What people don’t realize is that chemical dependency treatment is a cumulative process,” she said. “Many things throughout someone’s life have to accumulate before they are ready [to get help]. They might be job problems, health problems, legal problems, medical problems, spiritual problems, [ etc.]” Alcoholism is “cunning, baffling, and powerful,” said Moore, quoting from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Part of our treatment program is to introduce them to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon. She asserts that it is, “Very important for an addicted person to find others who have walked that path and succeeded. They cannot fight addiction alone. They need others with them to help them deal with the thing that has become more powerful then themselves.”

As for church support groups like Celebrate Recovery, Cynthia Moore considers these to be, “Very helpful avenues, as well.” Although she admits that the drawback is that many individuals battling with substance abuse can also struggle with a lack of worthiness initially making seeking assistance from a religiously-affiliated source difficult for them. To be an advocate for someone fighting addiction, “We have to be aware of the resources in our community. In every county there is an agency that is dedicated to helping the addicted population,” said Moore. Agencies like Shelby County Counseling Center offer, “…support services to the family, as well the addict,” she said. The Center’s primary “funding stream comes from the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services. We have a sliding scale based on family size and income,” Moore explained. [Although] “…we never ever refuse anyone service based on ability to pay,” she added.

If you are wondering if you have a problem, or concerned that someone you love might, you “…can call and just talk to counselor,” said Moore. This doesn’t require an appointment, instead phone the center and ask, “Can I just talk to counselor for a moment?” Moore suggested. “Really, what it is about, if this is the time for them to be ready,” said the mental health professional.

Is it your time to get some help? It takes a lot more courage to pick up the phone, than to simply suffer in silence. Call the Board of Mental Health in your area and ask for a referral, visit a church recovery group, or attend an AA, NA, or Al-Anon meeting to learn more. Check your local newspaper’s community calendar for meeting places and times. There is hope for breaking free of addictions, but you have to take the first step. After all, the life you save may be your own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning journalist and inspirational speaker. This post is excerpted from a column which originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on February 4, 2013.