While growing up, I periodically told my sister something I never told anyone else.
“I think I’m going to die young,” I’d tell her matter-of-factly long before the popular song made such a dismal fate sound glamorous.
“Don’t say that, Rachel!” she protested the first time I said it. But after that initial disclosure, my sister seemed to get used to me saying it, especially around my birthday each year. By my twenties, my sister’s reaction to my depressing prediction was always compassionate and often inquisitive.
“Why? Why do you think that, Rachel?” she asked me as we drove to the mall on a bitter cold January day to shop for my 22nd birthday gift.
I didn’t know why. All I knew is that I could envision my demise like an intense movie trailer. In my 30-second preview, I could see I was around 33 or 34 years old and it happened on an Interstate.
Much to my dismay, my husband and I moved from Indiana’s slow country roads to Florida’s six-lane super highways right before I turned thirty. Naturally, that time in my life held a subtle sense of foreboding. To add to my worries, it was necessary to travel on I-75 to get to many places I needed to go.
I’d driven on plenty of Interstates in the Midwest, but this particular thoroughfare was different. It was faster. It was bumper-to-bumper. There was no shortage of intimidating eighteen-wheelers barreling past. And no matter what time of day it was, I could always count on seeing numerous roadside accidents. By age thirty-two, I had a precious baby in the backseat of the car as I drove that 12-mile stretch. I remember my hands becoming so sweaty that I could barely grip the steering wheel. I remember praying the entire way, hoping that particular trip would not be my last.
But here is where the goodness came in …
When I got to my destination, I promptly removed Natalie from her car seat and held her for a moment—a moment longer than necessary—and let gratitude wash over me. No matter how stressful it had been to get out the door … no matter how much she'd screamed in that car seat … no matter how homesick I felt to see my family and friends three thousand miles away … no matter how uncomfortable I felt in my post-baby body … no matter how late we already were, the only thing I could feel in that moment was gratitude.
Gratitude all encompassing
In that moment, I was most accepting of my life as it was, even though it wasn’t perfect.
In that moment, I was most accepting of who I was, even though I wasn’t perfect.
In that moment, I was most thankful to be alive.
Gratitude undivided—it has the power to strip away the bad so you all you feel is the good.
I am now in my forties. I don’t speak dismal predictions about my life anymore, but I still try to capture that perspective-altering type of gratitude every chance I get. Notice I use the word “capture” because I believe gratitude doesn’t find us; I believe we find it.
As odd as it may sound, I find gratitude each morning while making beds. When I come around to my husband’s side of the bed and pull up the covers … when I go into Natalie’s room and peel back her fluffy blanket in sea foam green … when I go into Avery’s room and move her beloved collection of stuffed animals, I always place my hand beneath the covers until I feel the warm spot. And when do, this is what comes to mind:
Sometimes when I am making the bed after you’ve gone,
I can still feel your warmth.
And if I hold my hand there for just a moment
This action has the power to
Change my attitude,
Alter my perspective,
Soften my heart,
About bed making
And other monotonous tasks
That consume the minutes of my one precious life.
That warm spot where you peacefully slept
Is my reminder
That gratitude won’t find me.
But I can find it
Even among tangled sheets and strewn pajamas pants
If I rest my hand there long enough to feel it.
And for one brief moment, I forget I am making a bed
And I remember instead that it is me
Who gets to feel your warmth
Each and every day,
Even when you are away.
That’s when I find gratitude
Changing my perspective
About my one precious life and what makes it so precious.
That’s when I find gratitude
Stripping away the bad
So all I feel is the good.
That’s when I find gratitude
Reminding me that I can feel thankful simply because I’m alive
If I hold on a moment longer than necessary.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2015
Friends, this is my birthday week and I am grateful to have lived to see 43. I am incredibly grateful that at age 42, I was blessed to become a published author with an incredibly supportive community to read the words that I write. In celebration of our journey together and my 43rd birthday, I have a gift for you …
Several years ago when I began blogging, I stumbled on Dear Audrey. I cannot remember how I found this blog, but I instantly knew I would come back again and again. I felt as if I was reading something very private that I should not be allowed to read. Julia’s exquisitely delivered words brought tears to my eyes and what really mattered to the forefront of my mind. I began to leave supportive comments to Julia who had unexpectedly lost her husband and was trying to go on for the sake of her daughter Audrey. My words always seemed insufficient, but I found out years later that even my awkward messages had meant something to her. Julia saw one of my pieces on The Huffington Post and reached out to me. Much to my delight, she was still writing and just recently started a new blog called Studies in Hope. Isn’t that beautiful? Be prepared to read life-changing words that will open your eyes and heart a little wider. Here are my three favorites to get you started:
Here I Am
This is For You
Recommended resources for cultivating everyday gratitude:
It didn't occur to me that some of the practices I use to grasp what matters like the one I described in today’s post could be meditative until my friends at Everyday Mindfulness asked if I meditated. I didn’t think I did, but my friend Shawn Ledington Fink has me re-thinking that: “You don’t have to sit on a cushion for hours to stay awake and be mindful. You can simply focus on each moment of your day as if it’s your last.”
I love these six ways to put yourself fully in the moment by Shaun. I also found Mindfulness & the Power of Appreciation by Alex Radcliffe to be incredibly enlightening.
Friends, do you have any practices that result in feeling Gratitude Undivided? Thank you for sharing your stories as well as your struggles. We can learn so much from each other. Thanks for being part of The Hands Free Revolution community. You are truly a blessing to me.
** The ONLY LOVE TODAY handmade leather bracelets are back in stock! As I mentioned last week, my sister-in-law is the amazing force behind the Hands Free Shop and is expecting her new baby any moment now. Delivery of your items might be slightly slower than usual for this reason. Thank you so much for your patience & support!
Thank you again for this beautiful way to start my day. Already checked out “Here I Am” blog…another reminder to take the time to have a real look at the things we love. That particular blog reminded me of a time when I sat down to sketch the faces of my two boys. I was surprised how well I did….maybe that was God’s way of telling me I need to do that more often. They are grown now but that makes it all the more important to cherish any time with them and really take a good look. Love your writing. God bless you.
Thank you for more of your beautiful insights, that made me cry this morning, in a good way, when I so needed it.
Thank you for sharing your imperfections and mind-altering discoveries. I feel uplifted after reading every post. I know the feeling of letting anxiety, depression, and at times anger get the best of me. I truly feel that when I take a second to just look at the angel beside me (my baby)-and I mean really internalize the beauty and joy he brings- I start feeling grateful for the little things. The little things that matter most and overpower the bigger issues that I sometimes wrap my head around for too long. I feel gratitude when I actually stop to look for it. It changes everything within me. It is a precious virtue!
On that note, I also have to thank you for your blog. You inspire me to make my blog one where I can do the same. I want to contribute to good on social media. Thank you for reinforcing that desire.
Indiana Lori says
I do this when I make beds too! It might be why I only ask the girls to make their own beds on the weekends. There is just something about the brief visiting of where my loves just were, and the spaces they left behind as they ran off to live their days.
It must be in the air. I started a piece last night about loving the things that were actually IN the parenting brochure.
Godspeed, my friend!
Morning Dew says
Beautiful! I love it. For me, I have found that journling helps to be more greatful. Personally, I use the Day One app to write every day about our life, together with photographs, generally taken with the phone. When you look back, you see all the goodness that one tends to forget, especially when things are going badly.
thank you. Great article. This really hits home for me. I can not thank you enough. I didn’t think other people could feel this way, like you described in the beginning in FL. I live every day like that so this is extremely helpful. You can only imagine! The power of your message is more than anyone has said to me. I am a blessed mother of four young children. Thank you.
Well, this is one of my favorites. And just what I needed this morning.
Thank you for more of your beautiful insights, that made me cry this morning in a good way, when I so needed it.
Jenny Johnston says
Such a timely post for me as usual. I am going through quite a trying time with my 7 year old right now. No matter how much attention I give her it just is not enough. I have sunk down into feeling so unappreciated and overwhelmed lately. You post opened my eyes to why….this line was what struck me
That gratitude won’t find me.
But I can find it
Even among tangled sheets and strewn pajamas pants
If I rest my hand there long enough to feel it.
I have fallen back into the feelings of thinking my girls have NO IDEA how much I have given up to homeschool them. They dont appreciate the freedom they have to play with legos right now, at 8:30am, instead of being in a classroom. They do now shower me with love and affection for having cooked them a fresh hot meal instead of food that comes out of a cold lunchbag….they do not say “Thank you” for having spent 2 hours reading to them on the couch, then coloring with them for an hour, then going on a bike ride. In my mind I have been going crazy, thinking – WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO APPRECIATE ME!!!!!!
Your post has stopped me cold in my tracks. the problem is in me, not them. Today, my focus will be on being the one to find that gratitude. I’m gonna pick myself back up, dust off my worn out body, and be the one to find appreciation and gratitude. After all, I am the one who gets to listen to them as they work together to build their lego structure. I get to spend this time with my children before they grow up and have better things to do then ask me to read them a book.
Thank you for opening my heart today and remind me that I am in charge of my own happiness.
PS. Have a beautiful birthday, Rachel.
Jenny- I just love that you realized this today and shared it with us. Because I too need the reminder that I didn’t sign up for parenthood to be appreciated but to love someone with all of my heart and share in their experiences. Have a great day!!
There are days that I feel so flustered and aggravated that I’m the main shuttle bus for our two small children. I feel resentful toward my husband for having the “freedom” to come and go from work as he pleases while I juggle work, daycare, rides to after school activities, play dates, etc. Your words today made me realize that I should be grateful for the time in the car traveling from school to gymnastics, the time I have arranging play dates with friends moms and the time I have before and after work that my husband doesn’t get with our children. Even that time is precious. Thank you for turning my attitude around!
I love your words: “Gratitude undivided—it has the power to strip away the bad so you all you feel is the good. ” Reason enough to count our blessings each day!
Tammy B says
Have a very wonderful birthday week Rachel! My birthday is next week and I have always disliked being born in the snowy, cold month of February. No outside birthday parties. Often a blizzard or extremely cold weather. This year I will have to focus on the fact that I was born and I’m still here, and be grateful for both of those. Thank you for your wonderful blog posts!
I find it’s so easy to get caught up in the “busy-ness” of life, that I forget to stop and be grateful. As a working Mom of 3 little ones, it’s difficult to show love every day, and I find myself being sorry all the time for the ways I fail my children. I too often show frustration and a lack of patience, especially when under a timecrunch (like in the mornings as we prepare for work/school), so thank you for reminding me to be thankful in everything, even those crazy times, as these are days I’m not able to get back with my children, and they will be small for such a short time. Your words inspire me daily….
Kim Cosby says
You Inspire and are lighing my soul everyday. A couple lost there 4 year old daughter and my heart hurts for them. I had still born twins years ago but losing a child is so hard at any stage.
Thank you for your uplifting words I so enjoy them daily.
I had a facebook friend post something similar last week, I thought I would share with you:
I am grateful for…
1. Early wakeups = children to love
2. House to clean = safe place to live
3. Laundry = clothes to wear
4. Dirty dishes = food to eat
5. Crumbs under the table = family meals
6. Shopping to do = money to use
7. Toilets to clean = indoor plumbing
8. Lots of noise = kids having fun
9. Endless questions = kids learning
10. Getting into bed sore and tired = I’m still alive
Chelsea Lee Smith momentsaday.com
Meredith W. says
These are good reminders, too. Thanks.
sahr syed says
we should pin these reminders in our house
This is the first time I have left a comment to your beautiful blog. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate and be thankful for every day. It makes me cry to think of the chances I have missed but resolved to appreciate them more tomorrow.
Your words struck my heart like a soft feather. I was just dealing with some disturbing news and there you were. Thank you. Will look forward to your encouraging thoughts on the future.
Tiffany aka Sita says
These words of yours brought tears to my eyes, softened my heart and brought hope to my sorrowful heart. I’m going through a rough patch. Ive been keeping a blog called “feeling love and gratitude” it’s helping me see the beauty and amplify it.
I am in whole hearted agreement. Your words hold the power to transform our perspective of life: Gratitude doesn’t find us, I believe we find it.
That’s monumental. With love and respect. I’m grateful to have newly found your blog!
I love reading your pieces! I really relate to most of what you write about. I have had similar experiences to what you wrote about in this piece when I am making my girls beds and cleaning out their drawers or rooms. My oldest daughters name is Avery and she too has a beloved collection of stuffed animals. She surrounds herself with about twenty of these animals every night before she goes to sleep. When I go to make her bed each day they are holding the outline of the space where she slept the night before and I look forward to seeing that when she is off to school each day.
Rachel Campbell says
A truly beautiful post, so inspiring and thought provoking. I will do well to remember your words. X
Fiona Moore says
Thankyou for the reminder about finding gratitude! I needed it after a frantic day of back-to-work and back-to-school/daycare etc. And another thankyou for the 3 blog links – so well written, and they resonate with the values and aspirations you share so well; I am buying flowers tomorrow!!
Thank you Rachel. You have spoken right into my heart. That has really made me think of things that I take for granted. It is so beautifully written. In fact I have found the post short I was sad to realise it is over. I wanted to just continue reading. Thank you once again Rachel.
Your words always, always, always find me at the right moments! I have been a long time reader for a few years now and I always come back to read again when I can feel the hustle bustle of tasks catching up to me and causing me to stress. So I guess your blog helps me recognize and remember all the things I have to be grateful for. Your blog allows me to slow down and remember the bigger picture. And your blog allows me to wash away any of the mom guilt and re-focus on me without thinking I should be doing something else. Peacefulness and quietness and nothing-ness is perfect sometimes.
Something else I do from time to time to relax is at bedtime. When I lay down, I close my eyes and give each part of my body a few seconds thought and relax and it’s amazing to me how much tension I hold in parts of my body without even knowing it.
I hope you are having a wonderful birthday week and I will cheers to you as we happen to share the same birthday week! 🙂
I just recently started making my kids beds again for this very reason. Of course when they were little it was my chore. As they got bigger, they learned to make them themselves as part of their daily chores. Then I got to the point of thinking ‘their room is their room, and if they don’t want to make their own bed, and keep their room messy, then so be it’. But now, as my oldest is applying to college, I realize that she will soon be gone, and her bed will always stay made. I find myself making her bed every morning, and feeling that warm spot, because the time will come all too soon that there will not be a warm spot every morning to feel. (Sigh)
thank you so much for your blog. I found it through a friend and it has changed my life. I have changed my life because of your writing. I now know I am no longer alone in the ways I felt and sometimes continue to get frustrated but I remember to breathe and count to 3 so I doubt crush my daughters spirit! I want her to be nothing like me other than the love that I give her and letting her be her! Thank you. A year and 3 months ago I almost ended my life with suicide because I couldn’t handle the world and I was resentful. Now I’m just grateful!! Thank you!
Rachel Stafford says
Oh Mary, I am so glad you are here on this earth shining your radiant light, giving others hope through your story, loving your daughter so fiercely that you are letting her own unique light shine! I celebrate how much you have overcome and who you are today! So inspired by you, dear one. THANK YOU for this comment. It just may be a life changer for someone else.
Happy Beautiful Birthday! Thank you for this profound reminder to stay a moment longer and really let gratitude, especially for the simplest and sweetest blessings, really sink in.
Such a touching piece. Thank you so much for writing this; also for the links provided to other helpful posts. I share the same fears as your younger self and it is good to read you made it through 🙂 All the best to you and happy (belated?) birthday!
Your post actually gave me goosebumps as I was reading it. Beautiful, honest and inspiring. <3
Musings, Rants & Scribbles says
So lovely. Yes, its easy to go through life believing we have all the time in the world, but no one really knows. In some ways, your premonition (although scary) was a gift. It caused you to see the world through different, more appreciative eyes. As I get older (I’m in my late fifties), I find myself stopping almost everyday and looking at my life and just saying, “Thank you.” We can take none of it for granted.
sahr syed says
I have always thought too that i wont live very long..funny thought..but good that someone shares it with me.
Just today..while making beds..i was thinking..”why cant everyone make their own bed in the morning..why only me?”
Now I know the answer…to find the gratitude.
but not the gratitude that I am alive…the gratitude that my kids are alive…my husband is alive.
Just last month, hundreds of children were killed brutally in their school in my country…their mothers wont have to make beds anymore for their kids.
Thank you for you reminder of finding gratitude everywehere.
happy birthday..:) and keep inspiring us.
I also stumbled on your blog. And I also knew from the very first words that I’m going to come back many times from now on. This post and the poem made me cry last night. Thanks for being such an inspiration!You were my angel for this day! You’re a truly blessed person!
Thank you so much for your emails I always look forward to reading them and they have been a godsend. I have shared with my friends and I feel incredibly grateful to have stumbled onto your site.
Thank you and happy birthday.
Thank you for this post. I have a lot of trouble these days feeling gratitude for what I have. This is a nice practice to aspire to cultivate.
There is much to be said for gratitude. It is a gift worth getting and giving.