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:
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.”
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!