Monday, July 25, 2011

Gratitude

David at Mas Shamrock, St. Remy, France
You may know that I love to start the day by reading devotionals. I get a cup of coffee, sit on our cozy yellow couch, and open my emailbox to take my time reading three devotionals to which I subscribe, from A Daily Spiritual Seed, www.gratefulness.org, and the Center for Action and Contemplation (you can find links to all of these on the sidebar). The Daily Spiritual Seed site has a link to the USCCB site, which contains daily lectionary readings, in text, video and audio - something for everyone! If you can't read, you can still hear the Word. I love that.

Today's lectionary was perfect for me. In case you are interested, here is the link. It seemed to go so well with the other two. I've been thinking alot about Fr. Rohr's writings in the CAC devotionals of late, because recently they have a lot to do with the difference between the first half of life and the second half of life. Being over 50 myself (52 as of now), I am very much interested in the changes that life has offered. I won't say "the changes that life has forced upon me," because we can refuse to cooperate with change. Refusal will not stop us from changing, but it may distort or twist the changes that occur within us. The CAC devotional from today included the following from Fr. Rohr:
"Usually, without growth being forced on us, few of us go willingly on the spiritual journey. Why would we? The rug has to be pulled out from beneath our game, so we redefine what balance really is. We eventually get a feel for true balance when we fall and rise a number of times.
More than anything else, this falling/rising cycle is what moves us into the second half of our own lives...There is a 'necessary suffering' to human life, and if we avoid its cycles we remain immature forever. It can take the form of failed relationships, facing our own shadow self, conflicts and contradictions, disappointments, moral lapses, depression in any number of forms. All of these have the potential to edge us forward in life, or dig in our heels even deeper, producing narcissistic and adolescent responses that everybody can see except ourselves. We either 'fall upward'...or we just keep falling."
Yes, I can see my path in his variety of descriptions of "necessary suffering." It is easy to recognize my own errors in many of them. For sure, I carry my gifts in "earthen vessels," just as the scripture says! The suffering that did the most for me in the way of teaching surrender, beyond anything I could have read or studied, was (of course) accompanying Katie (as well as David & Gregg) on her path of suffering.

What is necessary now, is to find my way, as some of the grief, sadness, paralysis and depression lift - and they are lifting - as my interest and joy in, and gratitude for, the life which remains takes hold and grows stronger. Where to go? What to do? How to serve?

Writing is a big part of this. Advocating, finding my voice and helping others to find theirs, encouraging others, and moving through and beyond the world of cancer are part of this. I don't know what comes next. Finishing the book, working to get it published, completing the video and working to get it delivered and distributed, are all part of it. Being Gregg's wife, and David and Katie's mother is part of it. Being a friend, a child of God, a daughter and community member are all part of it.

I think, at this point, the most important practice in my life is gratitude.
I was discussing this with Gregg yesterday. It's as if gratitude is my new "religion." In observing and interacting with others, I notice how many people do not seem truly happy. Even after going through the illness and death of our beloved daughter, we are actually pretty happy right now. I wonder about this, when I look around me and see so few people actively enjoying the gifts of their own lives. What is it that overshadows them? Only they know.

Being born in the U.S.A., we are already living with many blessings and freedoms, and many difficulties, which are different from our brothers and sisters in other times and places...yet we have in common our humanity. Human life is complex and challenging. We face horrendous issues as a nation and as a world community. Yet, humankind has faced horrendous issues in every age. What is the key to being happy in the presence of difficulties, suffering, terror, uncertainty, hardship, loss?

I don't know what it is for others, but for me, the daily practice of gratitude has kept me afloat - literally, kept me from "going under" during the past four - no, five - years of suffering and loss. It is not always easy; I am not always "successful" at being grateful; it is a practice. But as I endeavor to practice noticing and being thankful for the many blessings in our life, I grow happier, and I want to share that happiness with you. Gratitude for any and every little joy and gift, as many as I can detect - gratitude to the giver...and the Giver, blesses me. I pray that reading this will bless you.
Abbeye de Senanque, Gordes, France

8 comments:

Robin Gaphni said...

Karen,
Thank you for today's devotional, as well as your own "spot on" observations. While I'm not as far along in my own grief journey, you voiced much of what I have been mulling over these past few months. I understand what you are saying in so many different ways. Thank you. I am grateful to have you in my life.:-)
Robin

karen gerstenberger said...

I'm grateful to have you in my life, too, Robin! Looking forward to our next get-together.

Elizabeth said...

You really are such an inspiration, Karen, and while I hate what you had and have to endure to be so, I can't help but think your gratitude is inherent -- it's a part of who you are, how you were shaped, how you've worked and studied and prayed to be. Thank you, always, for sharing your gifts and knowledge and humanity with all of us.

I know that despite my own considerable struggles and sufferings, I feel essentially "happy," for what that word means. I forget this sometimes and am reminded during quiet reflection and mindful meditation -- I also see it reflected in my children's eyes -- even Sophie's, despite her continued struggles.

Thank you for a beautiful post -- for more inspiration and courage.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I so HEAR you on the gratitude. I know of people who have not had any hardships in their lives and they are never ever happy.....makes me a little crazy. I am so thankful for everthing!
So glad you are doing well and enjoying your morning devotionals....you are inspiring Karen.
xoxoxo

Anonymous said...

Karen, I am indeed blessed by your observations on both change and gratitude. I agree that gratitude "in all circumstances", or sometimes in SPITE OF all circumstances is a necessary foundation for a positive life outlook.

Karen B.

Gabriele said...

Thank you again for a timely post.
Gabriele

Mary Potts said...

The practice of journaling daily gratitudes with Erin for two years while she was sick before she died was a lifesaving focus. Even on the most challenging days, we each found things that offered comfort, humor and sanity amidst the unthinkable lives we were living. I treasure those books now that she's gone, and her words inspire me on the path that now seems vastly empty without her.

Yes, I feel joy... sometimes... You are some steps ahead of me, and as I work to turn my grief into a positive force through the events of fundraising, blood drives, my kidney donation and just plain daily living, I still find that making the conscious effort to stop and notice the "small things" provides a semblance of sanity as I continue to live the unthinkable.

Thank you for sharing these thoughts.
hugs to you

AnnDeO said...

Thankyou for reminding me. If I slow down long enough to write down one thing I am grateful for during the day my jotting soon becomes a list.

"with joy" is what I tell Land when he skateboards... and I have to say that to myself in even the most mundane tasks.

I am so grateful I found your blog and have access to your profound spirit and wisdom. God Bless.