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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Business or Writing: Thanking a Professor for his wise advice

Most of us have a special teacher, school counselor or college professor who somehow changed our life for the better. We remember these folks fondly, yet we rarely follow up on the long overdue “Thank you,” which they so heartily deserve. Maybe that is why I’m such a sucker for those Hallmark commercials portraying a deserving mentor finally receiving a card which expresses exactly what I’ve never said.Hallmark Hall of Fame

For example, my favorite spot features a retiring professor who is busy clearing his office of the evidence of his decades spent teaching. While he is rummaging through papers and boxing up books, a former student who is now a middle-aged woman walks in and offers him a greeting card. The curmudgeonly old professor momentarily stops his tasks and opens the card. He can’t find his glasses, so the student reads the message of gratitude the card expresses, then anxiously awaits his reaction. After all, when someone has been a supportive teacher, they forever hold this place of respect in our hearts.

Over a decade ago, I think it might have been this classic commercial that originally provided the catalyst for me to visit one of my favorite instructors. I had heard through the college grapevine that “Doc” was failing physically and mentally, and that he had been placed in a nursing facility. I was saddened by this news, because I had not only been his student, but I had once worked for this brilliant man.

As a student employee, Doc’s inability to understand that not everyone was as bright as him had been a bit of a challenge for me in the beginning. To explain, one day as a senior business major, he innocently asked if I would be able to oversee his economics class the following afternoon. Being enrolled in the course myself, I knew that particular day’s schedule was to be an explanation of the computation of the Gross National Product. Therefore, I frantically explained to Doc that I could answer his phones and grade his tests, but I was presently unable to compute the GNP.

It was also during this senior year of college in the early eighties that I was blessed to serve a year’s internship at my local newspaper, The Lima News, under the direction of then city editor, Mike Lackey. Under this award-winning journalist’s watchful eye, I learned to report about everything from election night results to a Toledo businessman’s ordeal of being held captive by Venezuelan terrorists.

Hand on ComputerApparently, my love for journalism and the English language didn’t escape Doc’s watchful eye. One day, as graduation loomed on the horizon, I asked him what he thought I should do with my life. Barely looking up from the stacks of books and endless papers that covered his office desk, he told me that I should write.

This advice left me somewhat bewildered, because I had studied diligently to finish my business degree. Therefore, I assumed my professor would say I was destined to be an international business diva. Besides, I was the single mom of a toddler, and needed more financial security than an uncertain career in journalism could provide. As a result, I didn’t heed his wise counsel for many years.

I remembered all of this the evening when I went to visit Doc at the nursing home.
On that particular night, Doc’s eyes investigated my once familiar face searching for recognition. Then he reached for my hand, and asked, “What do you do?”
“I’m a writer,” I said explaining that he was once my professor and had told me to write. Doc, who was in his eighties by then, was confined to a wheelchair. His silver-hair fell to one side as he struggled to hold his head upright. Still there was that kind smile that I had grown so fond of long ago.

For a moment, Doc looked deeply concerned about my career choice then he hesitatingly asked how it turned out. I leaned down and assured him that it turned out OK. “I’ve written a couple books,” I said. Instantly, a smile of satisfaction slowly formed on his lips. Doc is gone now, but even near the end, he was ever the consummate professor who wanted his students to do well. Sadly, I didn’t have a Hallmark card to pull out of my purse to say “Thanks.” Instead I just smiled back and squeezed his wrinkled hand.

Here’s the Hallmark commercial click on the Hallmark logo below: Hallmark Hall of Fame

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

 

 

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Finally Saying Thanks to Vietnam Vets

Vietnam. Just mention the geographical place where the United States was heavily involved in the Vietnam War, and for many individuals emotions still run deep. The website, www.about.com, states, “The Vietnam War has become a benchmark for what not to do in all future U.S. conflicts.”

One of the primary items on that list of what not to do concerns how fellow citizens treated American soldiers returning from serving in Vietnam. After all, during the 1960s and until U.S. troops were finally withdrawn in March 1973, almost 60,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In addition, of the more than 2.5 million who served in South Vietnam, 75,000 were severely disabled.

Yet it is with shame that I remember as a teenager when our servicemen and women returned home, they were not met with a hero’s welcome. Those of you who are also old enough, can probably recall nightly news casts of soldiers being greeted in airports with signs that called them, “Baby killers,” or worse. Instead of being honored, many of these courageous patriots endured bystanders shouting profanities or spitting on them.

One myth that exists is that most of those serving in the war were drafted. According to a 1993 Memorial Day speech made at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall by Lt. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, 70 percent of those who died in Vietnam volunteered for service. This correlates with the fact that two-thirds of those who served during this conflict were volunteers not draftees.

Whether drafted or volunteered, there is little difference that the majority of these men and more than 7,000 women, who were primarily nurses, believed in their mission. During a 1986 speech, it was Gen. William Westmoreland who The History Channel documents as saying, “Ninety-one percent of Vietnam veterans say they are glad they served.” Even though there was such great loss of life and limb.

Staff Sgt. Greg Huston - Missing in Action from Shelby County, Ohio

Staff Sgt. Greg Huston – Missing in Action from Shelby County, Ohio

One of those losses can still be felt in Shelby County, concerning one of their own, Charles Gregory Huston. According to www.findagrave.com, “Staff Sergeant Huston was a member of the 5th Special Forces Group. [Forty-five years ago,] on March 28, 1968, he was conducting a reconnaissance patrol about 15 miles inside Laos…when the patrol was attacked by an unknown enemy force. Extraction was attempted, but heavy ground fire forced the helicopter to leave Staff Sergeant Huston on the ground.” Along with the then 22-year-old Huston, Sgt. Alan Boyer, and Sgt. 1st Class George Brown were also left behind.

Neither Huston’s body nor either of his comrades has ever been recovered. Huston was given the official casualty date of Jan. 26, 1977. The Green Beret is the only Shelby County, Ohio, resident who remains missing in action, while nationwide more than 1,600 soldiers are also unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

Greg, as friends called him, was born on Sept. 29, 1945, graduated from Hardin-Houston High School, and later “enlisted” in the Army according to his 55 year-old-brother, John Huston, who lives in the Sidney, Ohio, area. The youngest of eight siblings, John said that his late mother, who died in 1982, never gave up hope that her son would be found.

John Huston, his brother, Robert, and friend, Keith Goins, were effective in getting the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall to the Sidney community in 2005 in Greg’s honor. Robert Huston was even employed with the commemorative project until about two years ago. John’s son, Gregory Huston, who was named after his missing brother is following in his uncle’s Green Beret footsteps by enlisting as part of the military Special Forces last fall.

As a journalist, interviewing Vietnam War veterans these past decades has taught me one important lesson: The responsibility that we as Americans still have to thank them for their service. After risking their lives on our behalf, they should have been greeted with gratitude and respect instead of name-calling and jeers.

As a nation, we have tried to make up for our tragic treatment of these brave men and women. For example, last year the Ohio General Assembly officially designated March 30 as Vietnam Veterans Day.

For me personally, whenever I encounter a Vietnam vet, I reach my right hand out to shake theirs while sincerely saying, “Thank you for serving our country.” Once a veteran told me it was the first time that he had ever been thanked

On the upcoming July 4th holiday, I will be remembering Huston and all the other brave men and women who died defending our freedom. Their sacrifice has allowed America to remain, “The land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

This blog post is dedicated to my nephew, Nicholas Anthony Lombardo who is currently serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

 

 

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