Tag Archives: Gratitude

Count your blessings

A couple of years ago, I went through some deep shit of my own making, and having come out the other side of it all in one piece, I’ve learned a few things.

For starters, I’ve learned that most, if not all, of the chaos that happens in my life is self-created. There’s almost never anyone out to get me. I either do something stupid, or when something happens, I have a self-destructive reaction to it and compound the original incident with my own nuttiness.

One of the ways this happens is by buying into lies that swirl around inside my mind most of the time. I imagine we all carry around a headful of lies and fears that originated around the time we had our first conscious thoughts: you’re not good enough; you’re not smart enough; nobody likes you. And on and on.

In my experience, those lies have always been there, and most of the time, I’ve been able to overrule them with rational thought and a boot-strapper’s mentality towards life. I got into trouble when a couple of bad things happened in succession, around the time of the big recession back in 2008, and I gave into those thoughts. Once you start buying into lies, they quickly pile up on you.

At first, the lies were about what I was lacking, and then they morphed into what was wrong with my life and those around me. I suppose that morphing was a survival impulse that kept me from getting overwhelmed by the accumulation of accusations – a kind of blame-shifting that made some outside force or forces responsible for what I thought was wrong with me.

As the spiral tightened on all that negativity, the lies grew worse until I finally crashed and had to deal with truth.

At first, the truth seemed like a lie. And then, it just seemed impossibly hard. And then, one day, I had an insight. I realized that by buying into a reality where everything was wrong, I was closing myself off to the possibility of what was right to the point where I couldn’t even see it anymore. I realized that somewhere along the way, I’d stopped counting my blessings.

Once I realized that I wasn’t taking the time to consider all the positives in my life, I immediately began to take a daily inventory of things that I was grateful for. If you grew up going to Sunday school, you may remember a song called “Count Your Blessings.” The refrain goes like this:

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Count your blessings, see what God has done

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Count your many blessings, see what God has done

                     “Count Your Blessings” – by Johnson Oatman

It’s amazing the amount of perspective I gain each day, just from pausing to think about the many blessings are contained within it. Even when I’ve had the shittiest day imaginable, I can point back to the love of my wife and children, a decent job, good friends, good health and a host of other things that are abundant in my life. And when I’ve remembered to do this, I’ve never failed to gain a new perspective on the problem that was causing me so much stress.

I was reminded of this tonight, after dinner, when I had a conversation with my 15 year old daughter about a stressful time she’s having with a close friend. It’s so easy, as a 49 year old, to look at the problems of 15 year olds and shake your head and laugh at how dramatic they’re being over what seems so trivial. But when I remember back to how high the stakes seemed to me at that age over the same kinds of trivial stuff, that’s when I begin to take my daughter’s problems more seriously because this is the first time she’s dealing with this stuff.

At a point in our conversation, as we were talking about how to approach this friend, we talked about this business of counting blessings and I was so blessed to hear that my daughter had heard a message like this from my wife not too long ago, and it was a key in pulling her out of a bad spell. Hearing that was certainly one of my blessings for today.

My prayer is that she’ll somehow be able to communicate this wisdom to her friend who’s also having a hard time seeing anything positive in the world. If this negativity is simply a matter of buying into lies and negativity, I pray that this individual will stop and consider everything, rather than just what’s wrong. Maybe in doing that, a new perspective will be gained that shines enough light to overcome the darkness.

So much gratitude

My heart is filled with such gratitude this evening.

For starters, I just got off the phone with my oldest daughter, who’s a sophomore at Asbury University. She wanted to bounce an idea for a school project off me. It’s a documentary that involves some sensitive family history, and she wanted to know if I thought the family members involved would be down with participating in the project.

The conversation was priceless to me for many reasons. First, it was great just to talk to her and hear her voice and know by the sound of it that she was happy. Also, it made me feel so good that she called me to consult on a project in her life – a storytelling project, no less! As a parent, you go through those teen years where your kids like to pretend they’re orphans and avoid answering the least little question about how they’re feeling about anything. When they come out the other side and start to relate to you on an adult level and respect your insights into the minutiae of their daily lives…well, that’s special. Finally, I’ll say that the call was special because of the intimacy it afforded – to have this project to talk about while really practicing love with one another. As father and daughter. As human and human. As storyteller and storyteller.

She told me about the one project, then told me about three others. Her class watched the documentary Helvetica today in class. We’ve attempted to watch it together a few times, but have never made it all the way through together. I saw it years ago, and now that she’s seen it, we were able to talk about stuff like Vignelli and his signage for the New York subway system and geeky stuff like that that we both love and can use to bond over.

She also emailed me a couple of design projects she did for class. One was an exercise in using a grid system to layout a page (yet another reference to Vignelli!), where she was only allowed to use the Helvetica font and some preset text. She had three different pages with completely different looks with the same text. I thought it was great.

The last project was a poster describing herself that everyone had to do. Hadley’s was very simply laid out, with skyscrapers representing her love of New York, augmented with some simple text gathered from a personality profile she’d taken that interpreted her personality. I loved it, too.

I’m such a doting father, I know, but I can’t help it. Everyone should have a daughter like this kid.

Finally, it was time to let her go so she could get to her work and I could get to mine. I hate saying goodbye, but we both have miles to go before we sleep and all that crap.

If that weren’t enough, a good friend came over to drink a few beers and swap stories. Angell cooked a fine dinner of Mediterranean food, and we ate our fill and drank around the first fire of the season in our den.

We both have very busy lives, so getting together like this is no small task. The visits are infrequent, and we simply talk about where we are and go from there, free from the pressures of posing or fear of judgment. We can let it all hang out and let the words that have been swirling around inside our heads get out into the ether and breathe a little and maybe mix with the words of the other.

Good conversation is hard to come by and often longed for. Tonight, I’m grateful for having had my fill.

Yes, indeed. So much to be grateful for.