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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When Thanksgiving isn’t Happy

photo (9)A not-so-happy, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to you. I don’t want to bring you down, but not everyone is happy this Thanksgiving. Some folks are in tremendous pain having lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or the very worst, a child this past year. There will be an empty place and a voice missing as they sit down to their Thanksgiving celebration. Inside of them, there won’t be any celebration at all. I have to ask you to be gentle with these grieving ones, if their tears fall, or if they don’t show up at all, overwhelmed by all that will never be again.

Others are experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, maybe a broken relationship with a prodigal child, or the betrayal of their own body brought on by illness or aging. This always seems worse as the holidays approach. There are also those who have no family to fit into. Single moms and dads who pack up their little ones and send them off to a family they are no longer part of, while spending the day alone. They act brave in front of their children, waving good-bye from the front door, but when they close it, they often feel the sting of rejection.

Some people have grown so used to spending Thanksgiving by themselves, that it becomes easier to decline the offer from a well-meaning co-worker or church friend, than to be a part of someone else’s gathering reminding them that they have no real relatives of their own. Long ago, their family might have been broken by circumstances too painful to remember.

All of these folks, even the grieving ones, are brave and forge ahead most days, trusting that God has a plan and that He does all things well. But on holidays, they feel small, weak, and orphaned, wondering what on Earth they have done to end up so isolated when everyone else seems to be a part of so much more. The Gospel tells them to go help someone in need, but they can’t even help themselves, so that becomes one more burden of guilt. Yet, their heartbreak does not go unnoticed by a God who has big shoulders, and can take it, when His children get angry that life seems so unfair. The Creator steadfastly loves them, when they are at the top of their game, but He holds them closest when they are at the bottom. Psalm 147:3Psalm 147-3

For whatever reason, if this Thanksgiving is not a “happy” one, we must be careful not to get swallowed up in self-pity, because that can open a door to long-term depression. Instead, it’s important to realize that probably half the world feels lonelier at holiday celebrations than any other time of the year. Besides, it is so easy to concentrate on all that is gone, but what remains? What is there to be thankful for? Even if the word, “thankful” might be a difficult pill to swallow right now, what is it that you can hang onto? Hang onto that, with all you are worth. You are not alone. You are loved more than you can imagine by a God who sees every tear, and even when you don’t believe He hears your prayers, He is still listening. Ask Him to help you get through this day. If you are like me, remember, “It’s [always] one day at a time!”

The Legacy of the Runner-Up

 

HeadlinesDespite isolated protests, by now most people are probably glad that the election is over. We can once again go about the routine business of our everyday lives. If your candidate or issue didn’t win, it might be difficult to trust that all will be well with the world. Besides, in our competitive society, there is an entrenched stigma involved with losing anything. But in Norton, Kansas, a small city with a population of just under 3,000 people, a museum honors presidential candidates who have lost. The portraits of those who have been unsuccessful in their bid for the presidency are displayed inside the First State Bank on the mezzanine overlooking the lobby.They Also Ran Gallery will soon include a picture of Hillary Clinton in their collection after obtaining permission and finding just the right photo according to museum curator Lee Ann Shearer. About 250 people visit this unusual museum each year, especially those “who love political history,” said Shearer who is also an employee of First State Bank.

In 1965, former Norton bank president William Walter Rouse conceived the idea for the gallery after reading, They Also Ran, a 1943 book by historian Irving Stone. To learn more about the museum’s Hillary Clinton inaugural event visit their Facebook page or their website at www.theyalsoran.com. they-also-ran-gallery-3Like Clinton, countless individuals have experienced the anticlimactic letdown of being a runner-up? Whether it was in a political contest, a professional endeavor, a sporting event, a romantic relationship, or a beauty pageant, only one person walks away with the crown. The loser on the other hand often drops below the radar, and is sometimes never heard from again. Or else, an individual can handle a loss optimistically, and begin planning a new strategy.

For example, many people know that Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin and received limited education as a child. He repeatedly experienced challenging circumstances. According to www.u-s-history.com, as a young man, Lincoln had a hefty monetary failure in the grocery business, but later went on to study law. In 1843, www.historyplace.com states that Lincoln was “unsuccessful in a try for the Whig nomination for the U.S. Congress,” but in 1946 he was elected to the House of Representatives. This Website also records that twice he was not chosen to be a U.S. Senator. Yet in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was finally elected as this country’s 16th president, and was responsible for the history-altering Emancipation Proclamation during his presidency. Most people would have given up, but Lincoln’s key to success was simply that he refused to quit. For me, he has long been a role model of persevering in the face of defeat, because it’s then we have to find a new plan.

Purpose Driven Life coverIn the classic bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold over 40 million copies, Pastor Rick Warren emphasizes the fact that there is a divine purpose and plan for every person. When we lose, we especially need to believe that something better is around the bend, because coming in second place can be deeply disheartening. I know because I’ve been a runner-up myself a few times. For instance, the day before Thanksgiving over 15 years ago, I received a phone call informing me that I was a runner-up out of the final three candidates for a job that I desperately needed at the time.

The representative phoned to tell me that he had been in favor of my hire, but unfortunately his vote was not the majority. I began to feel sorry for him, as he stammered and stuttered, while expressing his disappointment in the decision. Of course, I was disappointed, too, but I told this gentleman about my profound belief that some things are meant to be, while others are not. Later, I found a position that was a much better fit, but the key was not giving up.

Like Abraham Lincoln, who in his first inaugural address on the brink of the American Civil War, desperately tried to create unity within our country. “We are not enemies, but friends,” he said. “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Let us remember the wisdom of this historic politician as our nation strives to find unity. During this Thanksgiving season, may we also be grateful, despite the fact that we don’t always take first place in the game of life.

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