A State of Gratitude

soybean-clusterThrough sickness, good health, international travel, a grueling career and many days of ordinary life, for well over two years I consistently put something fresh here daily. Some of the deepest and most emotional happenings of my life have been openly shared since my first entry into this blog on April 25, 2011. It was a “Higher Power” thing from the beginning, as I simply woke up one morning and knew I was supposed to “blog” about gratitude and build a closer relationship with being thankful.

Focusing on what one is grateful for, especially for the difficult teachings that observed hardship and emotional suffering can bring, has been eye-opening. Thankfulness caused me to see more to be thankful for. Demons have been turned into allies. Dark corners have become illuminated. Animosities have been dissipated. Old wounds have found healing. Blessings and grace have become more profound. Each seed of gratefulness took root, grew and bore fruit. GoodMorningGratitude.com has been life changing beyond what can be easily explained.

In recent months I have too often lacked the inspiration for keeping up the typical daily entries but not because I was ungrateful. Quite the contrary. There just seemed to frequently not be something new to say. Often I just “posted something”. After near a thousand entries, so much of what I initially needed to express had been said and I found myself repeating thoughts too frequently. A good bit of the time I have been guilty of just ‘filling the space’.

I say all that to say, GoodMorningGratitude.com is evolving and I am making a fresh commitment to this blog. However producing a page and a half consistently every day is not where I am in my growth and development. My hope is make long-form entries when I am inspired to make them. On other days it’s my intention to simply share a gratitude-provoking quote, thought or poem posted with an interesting photograph/image. If I miss a few days, so be it, but I will be more consistent than in recent weeks. (Thank you to everyone who asked if I was “okay’!)

For those who supported this blog from near the beginning I am humbly grateful. To the thousands who discovered GoodMorningGratitude.com and turned others on to it, the words “thank you’ seem hardly enough.

I am grateful for the clarity of thought this morning that brought these words from my mind, mind and soul onto this page. To a greater degree than ever before there is thankfulness within for all the ways goodmorninggratitude.com has positively effected in my life and yet will.

The more you are in a state of gratitude,
the more you will attract things
to be grateful for.
Unknown

Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, All Secure…

MilitaryXmasReadily I admit I fought through watery eyes to get this retyped here. Though I did not serve in the military, I have known many good men and women who did. While the poem was written specifically by a Marine for Marines, I have placed it here as a tribute to all military men and women, past and present. I honor and thank you. By your efforts I am able to celebrate Christmas quietly and without fear.

“Merry Christmas, My Friend”
T’was the night Before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone.

I had come down the chimney with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live.

I looked all about, a strange sight did I see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree,
No stockings by the mantle, just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kinds,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen,
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I heard stories about them, I had to see more
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read,
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan,
I soon understood this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice.
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted into sleep
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still
I noticed he shivered from the cold nights chill.
I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and I covered this Soldier from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over and in a voice clean and pure,
said, “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and good night.

Although attributed to many and often amended, what I have included here is the original poem in its original form written by James M. Schmidt in 1986. In December 2002, he set the record straight about the poem’s origin when he wrote “The true story is that while a Lance Corporal serving as Battalion Counter Sniper at the Marine Barracks 8th and I, Washington, DC, under Commandant P.X. Kelly and Battalion Commander D.J. Myers, I wrote this poem to hang on the door of the Gym in BEQ. When Colonel Myers came upon it, he read it and immediately had copies sent to each department at the Barracks and promptly dismissed the entire battalion early for Christmas leave. The poem was placed that day in the Marine Corps Gazette, distributed worldwide and later submitted to Leatherneck Magazine”.

Please share this blog with others in honor of our veterans and soldiers.

From the bitter cold winter at Valley Forge,
to the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq,
our soldiers have courageously answered when called,
gone where ordered, and defended our nation with honor.
Solomon Ortiz

Posted originally on Christmas 2012

The Best Childhood Christmas

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It was Christmas morning and the first one without my father. My Mother, Brother and I now lived in an old country house that had never been painted on the outside nor finished off on the inside. The floors were uneven and sagged in places due to the foundation only being stacks of rocks underneath. In the three rooms used as living space the walls and ceiling were covered with flattened out cardboard boxes that had been tacked to the rough wall studs. The toilet was a small shack about fifty feet out the back door.

My Father was still in the world then. He had chosen to leave a wife and two young boys in favor of another woman who was pregnant with his child. The divorce was final and my Mother in her pride had told her former husband that she wanted nothing from him. And in doing so, she denied herself any sort of support from the man who had fathered her children.

The heat for the house we now called home was supplied by a long, squatty cast iron wood stove with stove-pipe that went up and out through the living room wall. Doors were always left open into the other rooms so heat could reach there.

Over in the corner was a beautiful holiday tree that had been cut from my Grandfather’s farm. Until I was almost out of my teens I thought a Christmas tree was always cedar because that is what we always had. Back then I did not realize how luxurious it was to have such a good smelling, almost perfectly shaped six-foot tree that had probably taken ten years or more to grow before we cut it. (There hasn’t been a cedar tree for the holidays since, but it’s something I should put on my bucket list.)

One convenience the home did have was electricity. The “juice” powered a single light bulb in each room that hung naked on a wire from the ceiling. The light was turned on and off by a string that hung down from a switch on the light socket. This morning the light was not needed because the lights on the tree gave the room a warm, multi-colored glow.

The six months previous has been sad ones for my brother and I. Our Dad never came around and we had to relocate to the free-rent old farmhouse my grandfather owned. The house was drafty, money was short and went mostly to feeding the three of us.

That Christmas morning my brother was five and I was seven years old. In spite of our recent sadness, we had complete faith in Santa Claus. And walking into the ‘living room’ we were not disappointed. There was a new, red Western Auto bicycle for each of us to replace our old tricycles. Neither of us cared that the only other things we got were “tidy-whitey” underwear and a bag of marbles. We had bikes!

Much happened as I grew up, bad things, and my Mother has responsibility in many of them. We have not spoken in years and are not likely to. I forgave her years ago. I will always be grateful for that Christmas morning when I was seven. I imagine she had to put the bikes on layaway or credit to be able to get them for us. In doing so she made the best childhood Christmas I remember and will always be thankful to her for it.

Forgiveness is a form of gratitude.
When we forgive others,
we show them the mercy
that we have often received
and been thankful for.
Sarah Ban Breathnach

Know When to Hold ‘Em

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St. Thomas is a pretty island, but a busy one. Business took me there last week and while I enjoyed the visit after a few days I was ready to leave. The cruise ships spill people upon the island like a stomped on anthill creating a contrary experience to what I prefer. I’m more into laid back, casual, out-of-the-way destinations. However, there was one Virgin Island sexperience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Lester was my driver of the van that was summoned to take me to the airport. I was the only passenger and the morning was foggy and misty. My driver was probably somewhere in his late 60’s or early 70’s. While quiet for the most part he did have a smile that appeared genuine and eyes that still had a sparkle for life in them.

About half way to the airport Lester started singing a song at a very low volume that was almost imperceptible. However, here and there were familiar words that I could not place.

So I asked Lester what song he was singing and he replied “Kenny Rogers song called “The Gambler”. He made note that a movie had been made based on the song staring Kenny back when he still looked like Kenny. Then my driver picked up where he left off.

…Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep”

And when he finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
And in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep

When the chorus came around, I joined Lester for a duet as we softly sang together the words I knew from memory.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Lester went on to do a rendition of “Coward of the County” that was soft and slow. He finished as we turned into the airport. Never will I forget the gentle soul who drove me to the airport on St. Thomas. I told him so and tipped big. An authentic smile came on his face  and our eyes locked for a moment. He said “take good care” and I responded “you too”. Now close to a week later the gratitude for the simple pleasure a stranger gave me is very much alive within. Thanks Lester. I hope you find “an ace you can keep”.

Maybe gratitude has nothing to do with joy.
Maybe being grateful means recognizing
what you have for what it is.
Appreciating small victories.
Admiring the struggle it takes simply to be human.
Maybe we’re thankful for the familiar things we know.
And maybe we’re thankful for the things we’ll never know.
At the end of the day, the fact that we have the courage
to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.
Meredith Grey

A Sense of Year-Round Gratitude

I feel gratefulness year round more than I have ever, but never as acutely as I do right now. I know this stretch of holidays from now until after first of the year will be a truly special time.

“Thanksgiving” by Edgar A. Guest
Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for a while at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

With a spirit of thankfulness and a sense of year round gratitude, I wish you peace that lasts, love that endures and the sense to appreciate them.

The very quality of your life, whether you love it or hate it,
is based upon how thankful you are toward God.
It is one’s attitude that determines whether life
unfolds into a place of blessedness or wretchedness.
Indeed, looking at the same rose-bush,
some people complain that the roses have thorns
while others rejoice that some thorns come with roses.
It all depends on your perspective.
Francis Frangipane

Taken from a post titled “The Day Before The Day Before Thanksgiving” originally posted on November 20, 2012

About a Year Ago…

A Precious Privilege

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I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

A quote by G.K. Chesterton I have personal proof of.

Gratefulness has a power to attract what I need and hope for; people from the past I lost but wanted to make contact with; money I needed arrived unexpectedly. With a grateful mind I sleep better; I am more productive; ALL my relationships are improved; life tastes better; I have more to look forward to. On and on to the point of near ad nauseam, beyond a doubt this has been proven to me in the last two years of writing here about gratitude every day.

Researchers in the field of gratitude, Psychologists Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis, and Michael McCullough, at the University of Miami, have learned what I know without research: gratitude is really good for you.

In an experimental comparison Emmons and McCullough found people who take the time to keep a gratitude journal on a regular basis exercised more often, reported fewer physical issues, generally felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who kept track of hassles or neutral life events. Another benefit found was participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to make progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based).

Other Research has turned up physiological benefits of gratitude. It has been found when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic – calming-branch of the autonomic nervous system – is triggered. This pattern when repeated brings a protective effect to the heart. The electromagnetic heart patterns of volunteers tested become more coherent and ordered when they activated feelings of appreciation.

There is evidence that when we practice bringing attention to what we appreciate in our lives, more positive emotions emerge. In a sort of positive pyramid effect, the more I pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence I experience internally.

Thank goodness research on gratitude has now challenged the idea of a “set point” for happiness. It was previously accepted that just as our body has a set point for weight, each person probably had a genetically determined level of happiness. Once upon a time I bought into that and believed since I suffered from moderate depression at times, I was doomed to have a set point of lowered happiness. Research on gratitude now suggests that people can move their set point upward to some degree, enough to have a measurable effect on both their outlook and their health. This works. My altered for the better state of mind is proof.

Emmons and McCullough said the following to their research subjects:
Cultivate a sense of gratitude’’ means that you make an effort to think about the many things in your life, both large and small, that you have to be grateful about. These might include particular supportive relationships, sacrifices or contributions that others have made for you, facts about your life such as your advantages and opportunities, or even gratitude for life itself, and the world that we live in. In all of these cases you are identifying previously unappreciated aspects of your life, for which you can be thankful.

Over a hundred and fifty years ago Ralph Waldo Emerson knew this when he wrote, the invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

A metaphor for my experience of focusing on gratitude is comparing it to exercise and physically work out. If I had spent an hour or more EVERY day for over a year and a half working out and getting exercise, I would be in the best physical condition of my life. The level of happiness I have and the belief I have in the future good that will come to me are at “body-builder” levels. Gratitude is the magic “supplement” that has made it so.

When you arise in the morning,
think of what a precious privilege
it is to be alive, to breathe, to think,
to enjoy, to love; then make that day count!
From “Life, the Truth and Being Free: by Steve Maraboli

RE-post from December 27, 2012

A Simple Life

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When I slow down and pay attention it is easy to be positively overwhelmed by the richness of my life; by how much I am loved; by how much of the good I have been afforded. Today with misty eyes, once again, I say “thank you” to the universe. I am grateful beyond expression.

Meaning is not something you stumble across,
like an answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt.
Meaning is something you build into your life.
You build it out of your own past, out of the affections
and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind
as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent
and understanding, out of the things you believe in,
out of the things and people you love,
out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something.
The ingredients are there.
You are the only one who can put them together
into that unique pattern that will be your life.
Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you.
If it does, then the particular balance
of success or failure is of less account.
John Gardner (Beth Jordan)

The Key To A Happy Life

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful and showing appreciation. It is a mindful acknowledgment of all that we have been given. When we focus on the abundance in our lives, we discover a greater capacity for generosity, cheerfulness, and contentment.

From “A Poem Of Gratitude” By Chuck Danes

I share my debt of gratitude with all my spiritual friends
Whether Christians, Muslims, Jews, and such or even Buddhist zens
Regardless of the place we live or where your faiths begun
My gratitude begins with this, “I’ve learned that we are One”

I’m grateful for the many days when clarity is strong
As well as those it “seems” that life has somehow led me wrong
For it’s those times that awaken me and nudge me toward the light
Till once again my hopes and dreams are clearly held in sight

I’m grateful for the love within the circles that I dwell
My family, friends and even those who’ve made life seem like hell
For each of those have taught me more regarding how to Love
Provide me feelings to express these things that I write of

I’m grateful too for false beliefs which led me on my quest
For mentors met along the way I truly do feel blessed
Who clearly showed me of the need to understand my worth
And “Higher Truth” which promises a life divine on earth

I’m grateful for the joy I feel, I’m grateful for the fear
Understanding what it is and that it draws me near
To the life I know is waiting on the other side
And when it comes I must hold fast and use it as a guide

I’m grateful for all nature, the birds the grass, the trees
The lakes which hold abundant life, a summer evenings breeze
The clouds above the ground below, the moon, the stars, the sun
The days and nights which represent that another day is done

I’ve learned to stay in gratitude no matter how things seem
That perceptions held as negatives will only slow your dream
So even though my path will lead through troubled spots I know
I must keep on, keep focus fixed, on life’s abundant flow

There’s so much that I’m grateful for, though sometimes I’ll forget
Beliefs rekindled from the past that I perceive as threats
But it’s these times I must remind myself of what I know
That when they show their presence, that they’re here to help me grow

One final thought I’ll share today before I say I’m through
I’m so grateful for these words to give today to all of you
It is my wish that they will help you keep the attitude
Which leads to that which you desire and comes through gratitude
Complete poem: http://www.abundance-and-happiness.com/a-poem-of-gratitude.html

Expressing gratitude is a rewarding habit that affirms the grace of the giver. Gratitude opens our hearts, encourages us to savor each gift that comes our way, and magically frees us from jealously guarding our possessions. It lets us celebrate today rather than waiting for the next level of accomplishment or wealth. It is a reminder that one can always find reason to be glad. open/close from http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtue/60-gratitude/meditations\

Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands,
because if we are not grateful,
then no matter how much we have we will not be happy
because we will always want to have something else or something more.
Brother David Steindl-Rast

First posted here on October 18, 2012

Richly Blessed

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Teeth are always in style.
Dr. Seuss

Oral disease has been a problem for humans since the beginning of time. Skulls of the Cro-Magnon people, who inhabited the earth 25,000 years ago, show evidence of tooth decay.

“Things have certainly changed from the Middle Ages to the early 1700s, when most dental therapy was provided by so-called ‘barber surgeons‘,” said Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Eric Curtis, DDS, renowned dental historian. “These jacks-of-all-trades would extract teeth and perform minor surgery, in addition to cutting hair, applying leeches and performing embalming.”

Dental practitioners migrated to the American colonies in the 1700s and devoted themselves primarily to the removal of diseased teeth and the insertion of artificial dentures. In the 1800s, dental practices included such duties as extracting teeth with a turnkey (a primitive tool like a ratchet wrench, used for extracting teeth), cleaning the teeth with scrapers and removing cavities with hand instruments. The filling materials used then were tin, gold foil, lead and silver. Dentures were carved from ivory or fashioned from the teeth of cattle.

In the past century, human life expectancy has almost doubled and immense changes in quality of life have occurred. An increase in people over the age of 65 who retain their teeth also has affected dentistry, with more attention being paid to the complex needs of this older population. A more knowledgeable and affluent U.S. population has resulted in an increase in dental visits for an improved smile, in sharp contrast to the reasons for dental visits 100 years ago, i.e., to alleviate pain and restore function. http://www.greatsmilesbaltimore.com/dental_information/millenium_dentistry.htm

Novocain was first introduced into U.S. dental offices only a little more than a hundred years ago. Penicillin wasn’t invented until 1929 and had a major impact on treatment protocols for dental infections. The first white composite fillings were invented in my lifetime.

I was born with genetics that gave me attractive straight teeth, but not strong enamel on them. Consequently I have spent lots of time in dental offices since my teens which has only increased in quantity as I have gotten older.

This week I embarked on having four implants done to replace broken down teeth that will take better than half a year to complete. It’s no fun what so ever, but I am immensely grateful for what dentistry can do today. Even with the missing teeth I have an “appliance” that fills in the spaces and protects my dignity. When the implanting is done I will have permanent replacement teeth that will last the rest of my life if cared for properly.

I am richly blessed to live in a time when modern dental restorative work is possible and grateful to have the resources to be able to have it done!

The man with a toothache
thinks everyone happy
whose teeth are sound.
The poverty-stricken man
makes the same mistake
about the rich man.
George Bernard Shaw