How to Cultivate Gratitude

I am happy and blessed with my life, though it is not always free of challenges and trials.  As I have shared before, I have struggled with depression since I was a little girl.  Though this was not the cause of all of my depression, I found that when I realized what I actually had rather than focusing on what I lacked; I found that I was able to cultivate more joy and gratitude into my life.  Yes, cultivating gratitude can sometimes be a challenge, especially when you are facing something tough and personal. However, it still can be done. Gratitude should be cultivated even more during times of prosperity and peace.  Here is what I am learning and have learned about how to cultivate a grateful attitude:

  1. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have: I believe that the number one barrier to being grateful is our focus. When we focus on all the things that we lack, we tend to develop an attitude of self-pity, which often leads to complaining and bitterness. When we focus on the things we do have, we realize just how much we are blessed. For instance, when I get frustrated at myself because I don’t know how to do something right, my focus is wrongly on the talents that I don’t have instead of my strengths. However, if I shift my focus on something I am better at—such as writing– I find that I can be much more encouraged and less upset at the thing in which I am struggling.  Many people who struggle with being grateful for what they have also struggle with envy because their focus is on getting (or wishing they had) something that someone else possesses, instead of what they have already been given.  For instance, I used to envy people who were happily married and had children, because, as a single, I did not have those for myself. However, when I instead focused on the relative freedom and time I had to help others, I realized the blessing that I had being single that these married people no longer had.
  2. Know that we are often given more than we deserve: Many people, including myself, at times, struggle with the fact that we get more than we deserve, because of our sense of entitlement. However, even though we have all hurt others, though maybe not all intentionally, most of us still have people that love and care for us, and we have some semblance of joy in our lives.  The fact that others still give us mercy even though we may have hurt them before should cause us to rejoice and be thankful!  If you drive, have you not gotten a ticket even though you were speeding through traffic? That is evidence of mercy!   Or you made a serious error at work, and your boss does not fire you? That, too, is evidence of grace and mercy!  Bring to mind the moments when you should have had to bear the consequences of your bad actions, but in God’s and others’ mercy, you didn’t have to.  Moreover, think of the times when you did something careless, but you were saved from disaster.
  3. Consider others who are in worse situations than you: Finally, a great way to cultivate gratitude is not to look at others who are doing better than you, but see the people around you who are in more difficult situations than you. For instance, some people I know have either a loved one struggling with a serious medical issue or are struggling themselves. This helps me to be grateful that my family and I are in good health, even though I may come home from work tired sometimes. Recently, at work, we had a celebration for the bonus that my co-workers and I were able to get on our last paycheck.   They served pizza. Though the pizza became cold after being out for several hours, I was grateful work provided pizza for us because of what I heard about the struggle of people in other countries to get any food at all. In particular, I was thinking about the people of Venezuela. I heard that since they have had an electrical shortage, meat cannot be adequately cooled in freezers, so eventually it becomes spoiled, but the stores sell them anyway because people need food. So, the people actually buy the spoiled meat, season it with some spices, and eat it!  Their dire situation helps me be grateful that we have so much food, electricity, and working cooling systems (freezers and refrigerators) in the U.S and that we can eat delicious, edible food that is not spoiled.

By focusing on all that God has blessed me with, by knowing that I am often being given more than I ultimately deserve and by considering people in worse situations than me, I am able to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for my life. When I do this, I find that I am not only able to be more thankful for what I have, but I am also to have more joy, even in the tough times. Even though we may face many challenges and struggles, we still can cherish and appreciate what we do have before it is too late.

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Healing

Author’s note: This poem illustrates how God has saved me from darkness and depression and has given me love, joy, and peace. This poem also illustrates how I aim to love others who are going through suffering and trials. Many interpretations are possible. I hope this poem gives you hope if you are going through a trial right now. 

poem written: 8/29/2018

The same things every day

You are tired of the drudgery

And of all of the hurt and pain

Hoping that you still stay sane

 

To the world you wear a smile

But inside your heart is breaking

From all the agony and guile

Of the people surrounding you

 

You ache for something true and real

You want an end to all this pain

You want to taste joy and love

You want peace from up above

 

I will hold your hurting soul

When you feel broken inside

I will heal your hurt and pain

So again you can be whole

 

I will give you all of my love

I will sacrifice myself for you

So you will know true, real joy

And the peace from up above

 

 

How Suffering Can Build Character

Ever since I was an infant, I have always hated suffering.  I don’t only hate going through suffering and trials, but I hate to see other people I love in pain. Violence on television sometimes makes me cringe.  However, in the past few years, I have learned over and over again, had it not been for certain bouts of suffering in my life, I would have never been the kind of person I am now.  I am still far from perfect. However, I can attest that most, if not, all the trials in my life have served to strengthen and better me as a person.  Here is what I learned about how certain areas that I experienced suffering in my life have helped build my character.

Suffering physically/health-wise

For regular readers of this blog, you have probably read the story about when I almost died in June 2014.  To make a long story short, I started having more and more pain in my side area of my body. I thought it may have been from heavy lifting, until I started throwing up blood. Thankfully, the doctors and nurses found the source of the problem: my gallbladder, which was twice the size it should have been, inflamed, and had at least several gall stones in it.  Then, the next day, the gallbladder was taken out before it could have burst—just in time.  During and after this ordeal, I learned many things.  First of all, I learned not to take life for granted, especially the time spent with loved ones, because you never know when your time is up on this earth.  Secondly, I learned how lonely and depressing being sick and/or bed-bound can be. I only experienced this for about several days, and already I was depressed and had cabin fever.  I could only imagine how people who cannot get out of bed for weeks and months at a time must feel! Thus, this incident has caused me to pray more for people in my congregation who are sick and have more compassion for those that cannot get out of bed.  One of my pastors told the congregation about how people in our church who have been battling cancer do not come to the pastors first, but to other people who have been through the same thing they have, and thus would have more experience and compassion in how to best deal with their situation.

Being bullied in school and elsewhere

Some people I have met in the past few years would probably not believe that when I was growing up, I struggled a lot with making friends and was getting picked on regularly by my peers, because my life is so different now. However, I remember, especially in middle school and my first year of high school, people mocking me for everything from my ethnicity to the clothing I wore.  To make matters worse, most of the teachers were either unaware of what was happening or partly blamed me for being victimized by my own peers and thought I should try to “fit in” better.  (NOTE: Abuse and bullying is NE VER the victim’s fault!)  Also, some people pitied me and tried/pretended to be my friend, but they never stuck around long.  Even though these years were some of my most miserable and depressing, these events also served to strengthen my moral character. Out of these events, God developed in me a heart of care for all those who have ever been abused and/or bullied by others before. To this day, I have a strong urgency to do something to help those who have experienced abuse, bullying, or any other type of injustice. I do not want other people to experience the loneliness, desolation, and depression that I had experienced during some of those years in school.  I also don’t want people to think that they are unimportant or insignificant to this world, because every single person can make a positive contribution to this world. (Yes, this includes you!) If I had never been bullied in school, I would probably be extremely narcissistic and self-centered, as I was before this experience.  Even though I would not wish these experiences on anyone, I am thankful that I learned how to not treat people and thus, by default, know to treat others the way I would want to be treated.  I learned the high value of all people, even the ones that don’t stand out as much in this world.

Being unemployed or underemployed

There are many people I know that assume that most people can find a job in several weeks, and if they take longer that they are either “lazy” or “incompetent” in some way. I used to be one of those people when I was growing up.  However, during the times when I was looking for a job, I realized how arduous and discouraging the task can be, especially if you struggle with a disability or are somehow labeled as “different” from the normative idea of an “employable” person.  The interview itself can be very nerve-wracking. Something as insignificant as clothing choice or perfume smell can negatively impact an interview and also the chances of the applicant getting the job. This trial helped me in at least two ways: 1) I have more compassion for people who have a difficult time finding a job, but who still try, or even those that cannot work at all, no matter how hard they try.  2) I appreciate the job that I now have more because of the work and time it took me to get to where I am even now.  I work harder because I relish the joy of being able to be productive and make a difference in other’s lives.  I don’t take my job for granted, but have passion in what I am doing.

General suffering

In general, going through the trials I have has made me be able to comfort others who are going through similar things that I have gone through before. I am able to relate to them on a deeper, more intimate level, than if I couldn’t relate to them at all.  I have been able to develop more compassion for those who are suffering.  Also, I have hope, that, through the most difficult things that I experienced, that future trials will a.) Either not be as bad or b.) I will be able to overcome them with the help of God and of the people that will come into my life to help me through it.  Finally, through all the pain and hurt I have been through and witnessed others go through, I have realized both the value of people and time.  Because of this realization, I have been able to let certain irritants go  and just focus on making the best of my time with the people that love and care for me.

Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis

dedicated to: someone who inspires me

written on : 8/20/2018

When I first met you

You were full of grace

And I saw something true

A soul to embrace

 

Then the darkness fell,

Your light was hidden

The dark engulfed us

But then the sun rose

 

Again I saw your light,

Shining many colors

Like a butterfly

Flying in sunlight

What I learned in Five Years

Five years ago today, I had just been employed at my previous job for a few months.   Also, I was five years into membership at my previous church.  I had just met my mentor J, maybe a year back.  All in all, I could have never known the adventures in my life that awaited me, even a year or two later.  Five years later, I can honestly say that I have learned so much. Here are some of the things I learned:

First and foremost, I learned how to relate better to other people.  The one thing that I will always appreciate about my former place of employment is that they taught me so much about how to relate successfully to customers that I also apply to the job that I have now.  For instance, I learned how to cater to the customer’s needs, even when it may have been inconvenient or difficult to do so. Thus, I learned just how valuable the customers are to the business.  More recently, I have also learned the power of forgiveness. I can think of several people that I currently work with or for that I had misgivings about in the past, with whom I now get along great!  One important thing that I learned from those experiences that helped me to be able to forgive these people is to put myself in their shoes.  I know it may seem very difficult to do, especially since they hurt you! It was tough for me too, but when I was able to do this, I found that I was able to see, not just the person that hurt and damaged me, but maybe a hurting, vulnerable soul inside. I was able to see them through eyes of compassion and love, instead of through eyes of hate and disgust. Thus, I also learned how to love people better. Though being angry is still a struggle for me, I have learned so much about understanding others better and being a living sacrifice both for God and others.

Secondly, I learned some secrets to be content. Overall, I can say, five years later, I am more content with my life than I had been before.  One secret of contentment that I learned is gratitude.  In 2014, a year after 2013 (which was five years ago), I became very ill and had to be rushed to the E.R one day. (For the full story on this, go to this link.).  To make a long story short, I had an inflamed gallbladder that was twice the size it should have been, and it had to be removed. However, it was only three years after the surgery that I realized that I could have died had the surgery not occurred when it did! So, realizing that, I have learned to value my life more.  Also, many people around me have either gotten sick or died, and experiencing these trials alongside them has helped me to appreciate my good health more and also the value of making a positive difference in others’ lives.  Very recently, I have also learned to worry less. Though I still struggle with worry sometimes, I can happily say it is less than before. I have learned to trust God’s plan for me and also to let certain things that used to worry and aggravate me, go. For instance, I used to get really upset when traffic was really bad and people cut in front of me.  However, ever since my recent vacation where I learned how to tolerate traffic that was BEYOND horrible (even though I did not drive), I learned to be more patient and grateful for the comparatively smoother traffic I have where I live!

Finally, I also learned how to stay motivated and passionate in life.  One of the things I learned was to widen my interests. I learned this primarily by reading others’ blogs, as part of the blogging community I am part of online. Reading blogs covering a variety of topics, has piqued my interests in things that I didn’t care about or focus much on before, such as cooking and travel.  I also met diverse groups of people at work and at church. Meeting these people has also helped me discover new interests and things to learn about that I have never explored before.  I also have learned how to look to the life beyond the grave. Because of what I have learned in church and in life, I have learned to focus on a.) eternal rewards (i.e heaven) and b.) leaving a positive legacy for future generations more. This focus has motivated me to do the best I can in almost every aspect of my life. I want to leave this world knowing that I contributed something of value to it, and that I loved others as the valuable beings they are.

Overall, though these past five years have gone by so fast, I have learned so much. I can honestly say that I am a different person than the one five years ago. In the future, I want to continue to grow as a person and continue to live a positive legacy for those around me.

On Loss and Love: Lessons Learned 

-in memory of all my loved ones and friends who have passed away

This past week, for me, has been a week of both contemplation and mourning.  The day when I was to attend a memorial service for my friend’s sister, I found out that a dear congregant of my church, who I was just starting to know, had just passed away.  Meanwhile, I heard on the T.V broadcast, more sobering news about the problems of violence in Chicago. Also, I heard on the broadcast that white nationalists and anti-racist protestors where planning marches all across the country. The last time this happened (i.e  last year), there was widespread violence—especially in Charlottesville.  While I have heard that both my friend’s sister and the dear congregant valued people and life, sadly much of society is turning the other way.  I believe that one of the roots of most of society’s ills is the fact that they don’t really value people.

In fact, one lesson that I learned on loss and love is not to take others for granted.  Unfortunately, all of us (including me, of course), have been guilty of taking for granted someone’s presence, at one time or another.  For instance, for many years, I had not taken much of an effort to really help or get to know my aunt. Yes, I appreciated all that she had done for my family and me, but it didn’t register in my head just how much she had done, until she got very sick when I saw her about a month ago.  Fortunately, I still can get to know her now. Also, I was very fortunate that I was able to visit my dear congregant before she passed away and realize what a beautiful and joyous soul she was, even in the midst of her pain and suffering!   Had I not realized how much my aunt had done for me now, and had I not taken the time to see and get to know my dear congregant friend before she had passed away, I would have been filled with regret and deep sadness about missing opportunities to see such beautiful souls.  One practical way not to take others for granted is to thank the people in your life who have had a positive impact on you.  Don’t just assume that they will be with you forever, because even tomorrow is not guaranteed for us—or them either.  Don’t assume they will be able to provide their help or impact you in the way you want them to, because sickness or death may take them.

Another lesson that I have learned on loss and love is to value the time that I have on this earth. Strive not to waste time. I know waiting in line or in traffic may seem like “time-wasters,” but I don’t mean those. The more dangerous time-wasters in our life, I believe, are being jealous of someone, chasing material wealth, and obsessing over our outer appearance.  I am beginning to learn more and more that being jealous of someone (for more on jealousy, or envy, please see this post.)  is so much a waste of time, primarily because it does not work to improve oneself, only to destroy another person.  Also, thinking in your head ways to destroy a person ultimately not only hardens your heart, but also ultimately destroys you, if this envy is left unchecked.  Chasing material wealth is a waste of time because it does not last forever. When you die, you cannot take your wealth or even your car with you.  Being generous and leaving a positive mark on this world will last longer than trying to hold on to something that ultimately will be destroyed or lost.  Obsessing over outer beauty is also a waste of time because ultimately it won’t last. We get older, and eventually our body decomposes after we die.   Yes, we should strive to look and smell decent whenever we can, since this is a gesture of politeness. However, we should not have to spend hours looking good every day just to impress others.  So, how do we save time? I would attest that the best uses of our time are to spend it joyfully with those you love and/or care about, by serving others in need, and by doing what you can to benefit others.

Thirdly, another lesson that I learned in love and loss is to forgive, forgive, and forgive.  Even when a family member hurt my friend and her sister, they still took care of and loved this person when they became sick.  Had they had still held on to their bitterness and resentment, things would have probably turned out much differently.  When we die, knowing we forgave those who had hurt us, I believe we will leave this earth much more joyfully and at peace than if we hold on to bitterness and anger against someone else.  This is one reason that I am glad that I was able to forgive some of the people that I worked with that had hurt me emotionally.   I know I have forgiven one of them, because now I feel closer to them and actually care about them more deeply than I have ever had before.

Finally, but not least, another important lesson in loss and love I learned is to strive to enjoy life.  My dear congregant friend, even though she could barely get out of bed and was in immense pain, still was able to greet my other friend and me with a joyous demeanor when we saw her.  From her, I learned that one is still able to have joy even in the midst of life’s trials. I can have confidence that either or both God and my loved ones will always be with me in the midst of my pain, and in that I can rejoice.  I can look to the positive aspects of my life that are still intact, and focus on those, instead of my pain. I am still struggling to apply this to my life, but I do see some improvements.  My congregant friend, even though she is no longer with us, still inspires me with her infectious smile that was present even in the midst of her illness and suffering.  I also have learned to enjoy every moment of my life.  Even in waiting in line to pay for groceries, for example, one still can enjoy it by striking up conversation with the other people waiting in line for you. This can be an opportunity to see the beauty in the souls with you.   Learn to enjoy life even in the mundane tasks that you may have to do at work or at school.  I see too many people just going through the motions, and then wondering why life is so hard and depressing.  Find joy in the people you are with. Don’t assume that everyone you are going to meet is a jerk. Yes, some of them are, but there are also others who may be very considerate and loving of you.  Try not to focus on the tasks and the people that make us miserable, but on those that help you get through the day.

Both my friend’s sister and my dear congregant friend embraced life and others in a way that allowed them to both enjoy life and value others.  This is the legacy they will leave to me, and this is the same way I strive to live my life. Sometimes, death makes us ponder what our purpose in life is and where we are going.  This pondering is vital so that we can fulfill our life’s purpose and be more focused on what’s most important in our lives. We have only a limited time on this earth. Let’s make it count!

Precious Soul- a poem

written on : 8/1/2018

The world judged you,

Left you to die

Forced you to hide

The light inside you

 

But you survived

And lived to fight

Against the dark

That hid your light

 

Angels peeled away

The layers of dark

That hid your light

Out of your sight

 

Then, I saw you

A precious soul

Amazingly whole,

So full of light