Full of Gratitude

It’s the end of November and in the US that means school children learning about pilgrims, turkey dinners and a month of prolific gratitude posts on Facebook.  Some may want to argue the validity of some of these practices but no one will disagree that true gratitude is both ennobling and a sign of a humble spirit.  It was with this mindset that three years ago I listened to a dear friend, Anita, share that she keeps a gratitude journal.  Every day she would write in her journal something for which she was grateful.  Imagine the group’s surprise when our teacher, a rather acerbic old soul named Eric, said, “That’s kindergarten stuff.”  Most of us had spent quite some time under the tutelage of this man and trusted him; so, instead of shock, there was a great deal of curiosity about what he meant.  He went on to explain that it was quite likely that every entry in Anita’s journal was about something pleasant and enjoyable.  “It’s easy to be grateful for the things we like but the truly enlightened person steps barefoot in warm dog shit and, as it squishes up between his toes, he is grateful for it.”

Well, this week my family and I have been stepping in it and I am finding—gently, slowly—gratitude for it.  Here is the litany of the last 11 days now:

My wife and I have been working to refinance our home as part of a process to eventually have her mother move in with us.  We knew we owed a little over $94,000 on the house and decided to refinance for only $95,000 and we would pay all the closing costs up front rather than roll them into the loan.  That cost would be $6,500 but we had been saving and this would not be a problem.  The loan was approved and last Saturday we received the final payoff information from the USDA—our mortgage was actually a farm loan from the ’70s—and it was then that we learned there was a subsidy recapture included in the payoff of $3,700 for a total of $97,900.  We had the extra money but it was money dedicated to tithing.  As part of my LDS faith, I donate 10% of my gross income to the church.  As part of my dedication to a yogic lifestyle I following Gurudev’s advice from my Level I teacher training:  “Earn by honest work and give with an open heart.  Donate about 10% without expectation of recognition or reward.”  Every part of my spiritual devotion said I must make that donation at the end of the year even if it meant only eating beans and rice until New Years which was the plan.

Out of frustration and needing to vent, I had shared some of the predicament of my loan with my mother.  She told me to ask my father for some help and I assured her that we could make do, we would simply have to pinch every penny and rely on the food we had on hand for a couple of weeks.  The next day she showed up at my home with a check.  “Is this a loan?”  “Nope.”  My parents were a school teacher and a school secretary and are both retired.  Accepting a loan would be easy because then I could repay it and even with some interest and feel that I am supporting their retirement.  Accepting a gift was difficult because now I felt I was taking money from their retirement.  The next day, the loan officer called me to say that the subsidy recapture was already included in our closing costs but those costs were now $7,500.  Still, less than what I had thought and the money given me by my parents made up the difference between the first estimate and the actual closing costs almost exactly.

A week ago Sunday my son, Jonathan, my wife and I met with our stake president and Jona received a call to be a service missionary for twelve months beginning January 3rd.  As my wife wrote on her blog, the road to him receiving this calling has been very difficult and very uplifting for both of us.  Eleven years earlier on Sunday the 17th of November, my maternal Grandmother, Grandma Fay, died.  She loved serving in the temple and was a temple missionary after Granddad died.  As I recalled this and thought of how her great-grandson had just received his mission call, I felt a sense of gratitude that my son’s mission was somewhat tied to my missionary Grandma.

Thursday, my dear wife and our two daughtersMcKenna Neck were in a minor car accident.  Everyone seemed OK and the damage to the vehicles was ugly but not catastrophic.  My oldest daughter, McKenna, suffered whiplash and so the medics insisted she have an x-ray of her neck.  The medical staff sent her home in a soft neck collar because the x-ray showed a possible fracture in her neck.  Yesterday, a CT scan confirmed that she has a non-displacement fracture of vertebrae C2 and C3.  Today we learn whether she can simply continue to wear the soft collar or whether she will need a hard collar.

Saturday afternoon we celebrated what would be my Granddad’s 100th birthday were he still alive.  Bittersweet memories were shared and we had a generally good time.  As our gathering came to an end, we were reminded to keep family who have been suffering in our prayers.  Of course, my own daughter came to mind but also an aunt and uncle, Steve and Nila, who have faced tremendous health issues over the years and were absent Saturday as a result and another aunt, Lori, who was scheduled for a hysterectomy on Monday due to uterine cancer.

That same night, my wife heard water running through the pipes, not unusual for a family of six.  What was unusual was that no one was showering,Dig It the dishwasher was not running and the washing machine was not running.  With the amount of water running through the pipes, there should be a new Lake Ormond forming somewhere but a search of the house revealed nothing.  I turned the water off at the meter and we went to bed.  Sunday morning, I turned the water back on so everyone could quickly shower for church.  While I was in the shower, I prayed aloud, “Father, I knew this week would be difficult.  Jonathan’s call rather guaranteed it but right now, I don’t need more challenges.  I need YOUR help!  I need to find that leak.  Help me!”  I dried myself off, dressed and went out to turn off the water.  I put down a towel to keep my church pants from becoming dirty and opened the cover to the Trench of Trials 1water meter to find water running into it.  “I will always be here,” whispered in my heart and echoed in my mind as I looked up through the bare willow branches toward the heavens and said through tears, “Thank you, thank you.”  It was then, in the quiet silence of a Sunday morning that I heard the sucking sound of water seeping down into the earth and followed it to the exact location of the leak, four feet from the house foundation.

Ten minutes later, we were in the chapel for sacrament meeting.  One of the bishopric counselors asked Jona if he would like to share his news with the Jonaward.  Shanna and I sobbed as we listened to our son explain that he would be processing genealogical records from around the world so they would be available for free to anyone through FamilySearch.org.  Some of the ward leadership, hearing Jonathan’s gentle words and seeing our obvious tears began to cry for joy themselves.  Little did they know that we were not only crying because of our love for Jona but also as a release for all the difficulties we had experienced so far in just over a week, let alone the difficulty of a home with no water and farming our kids out to family and friends.  Included in my rollercoaster of emotion was this same day, again 11 years earlier.  That was the day my wife’s grandmother, Grandma Louise, died.  Again my kindly son brought some joy to a day of difficulty from the past.

The Easy

There are many easy things for me to be grateful for from these 11 days:

  • Jonathan’s mission call
  • All of the ward family that so often expresses so much love for our children and especially for Jonathan
  • We have loving parents and a wonderful extended family
  • We have wonderful family and neighbors who love us—I would have to take five showers today to keep up with all the offers of a place to shower if needed
  • Shanna’s sweet sister-in-law invited us for dinner when she heard of our troubles
  • My aunt’s surgery went very well

The Not-So-Easy

These tend to be the things I became grateful for when I really wanted to find gratitude in the difficulties we faced.

  • No one was hospitalized or died in the car accident, it could have been so much worse
  • At least the leak was outside the house, it could have been so much worse
  • Shanna wasn’t at fault in the accident in anyway which means our deductible will be waived, it could have been so much worse

There is gratitude there but there is also an obvious, unhelpful trend there.

Refiner’s Fire

Without the troubles of the last 11 days, I would not have experienced any of the following.

My son has autism.  Over the years we have done everything we could to see that he had the same opportunities as any of his peers and siblings.  He went to public school from the time he was in Kindergarten.  He’s made friends and enjoyed life.  Being excused from a proselyting mission came as a relief to him but came as a blow to my own expectations and pride.  Working with him and the stake president these last few weeks to create this new mission call has shown me, again, the great love of God for all of his children and how my son will be part of helping others feel that sublime love.  Even writing this, I feel overwhelmed and surrounded by the boundless love of God.  My son, all four of my children, are such a blessing to me as is my wonderful wife and all my family whether by blood or by love.

God is a personal God and I am his child.  I was very angry in the shower Sunday morning.  I knew God had purposefully not prevented any of the difficulties we experienced these last few days.  I feel that it was, in part, to see if I was willing to cry, “Enough!  I need help not more challenges right now.”  At the very least, it was a clear reminder to me that God hears my pleadings and is aware of me.

I’ve only seen my children for a minute or two since Sunday and McKenna has a serious neck injury.  I realize that I do not cherish my children like they deserve.  I am a good father and I love my children.  I need to remember that more and they need to feel it more.  Just because I assume my children and theirs will outlive me is no guarantee of that.  I am so thankful to know this so profoundly and still have all my little ones around me.  I know so many who have also learned this lesson but rather than digging a trench in their front yard, they were required to dig a hole in the ground for an entirely different purpose.

Asking for help is frighteningly difficult for me but I am braver than I think and others love me and my family more than I allow myself to ever imagine.  Even as I asked for help, I knew the answer would be yes.  I knew that others would rally to our aid and that not a cent would be asked.  I knew that the money I had consecrated as tithing would be allowed to remain undisturbed.  Still, going to my quorum president and asking for help required every moment of sadhana I have ever experienced as I sailed over the edge into an abyss of fear.  At that moment, I felt I would die from the pressure in my chest and head.  I have served in leadership for years and watched and helped as others in similar need have asked for and received help.  I knew the outcome before I asked and yet asking was nearly beyond my ability.

I have often shared with students about edges, I wrote about it last week in fact.  Ignoring edges to break through them will lead to injury.  Respecting edges and working with them increases capacity:  More flexibility, strength, endurance.  This is true of physical and psychic/energetic edges.  Force a muscle and it will tear.  Force yourself to do what you fear and the mind may tear.  However, mindfully pushing further into a pose as the body relaxes will open the body further and that physical edge will begin to move.  Mindfully moving into those things we fear most, with love for ourselves, will not only move the psychic edge that has been holding us back but will often cause it to vanish altogether.  This usually requires us to intentionally sail right over that edge in a leap of faith.  Sometimes we land on solid ground; sometimes we fall but discover we can fly; sometimes we discover that we are lifted up and carried in the arms of those who love us.

I am grateful for the troubles of November 2013 and all the gifts they have given me.

Jai Bhagwan!

There is great power in gratitude. As I realized how grateful I feel for these troubles, they have become so much less troublesome.