Gratitude in the Off season

It’s nearly the end of March, and I should be blogging about my next book that will hit store shelves in a couple of weeks. I am quite excited about it, however, I have other things on my mind tonight. But to answer Jennie’s question—and thank you for your kind comments—my next book, Captive Heart, will be released in April. Go here, and you can read all about it. Come back next week, and I’ll tell you more—including how to win a free copy. I’ll be giving away about a dozen.

So next week fun; tonight, a little serious.

Last November, in the typical season of Thanksgiving, I worked hard all month to help our family think about and express gratitude. My daughter and I die cut what seemed like about a thousand paper leaves, and every day of the month each member of our family wrote one thing he/she was grateful for on a leaf and put it on our patio doors (note: double sided sticky tape on glass doors is a bad idea). Some of those expressions of gratitude had me rolling my eyes (Facebook, seriously?), but others I could tell had actually taken thought and reflection. For me, at least, it really was a month of Thanksgiving.

And then the year rolled on.

And then the new year came.

And then March was upon us, before I’d even managed to get all the Christmas decorations collected and put away. My own March Madness ended up being a little more intense than I had planned. In addition to finishing up/turning in a manuscript (enough by itself on top of my usual, overbooked schedule to make me sufficiently stressed), our family has been slammed with varied and yucky illnesses all month.

Our two-year-old hasn’t been to church the past three weeks, while he’s been battling a runny nose, chest cold, fever, cough, croup, can’t-sleep-all-night thing. It’s been a pitiful sight each Sunday to see him pull his dress shirt and tie from the closet and croak in his raspy voice, “church,” when he notices the family members who are healthy (a whole two of us, on average) preparing to leave.

My husband, who is never sick actually took time off work, went to a doctor, and ended up with two prescriptions. My oldest daughter, currently in a beat-the-clock race to finish courses in time for graduation, has been wiped out too. Last week I became the final one to fall and succumbed as well. For the past five or so days, I’ve been sorely missing my ability to breathe normally. Just when I thought that surely, we were all on the way to being healthy again, today—in a fitting end to our sickly month—the family computer contracted a virus and crashed. Now, not only can I not breathe without sounding worse than Darth Vader, I cannot pay my bills online. Hardships indeed.

And yet . . . I’ve had much opportunity this month to think about how very blessed we are. Yes, money always seems to be tight, and we have been worried about finding new renters for our previous home. But, we have a home! Two of them, in fact, that are standing and in good repair. We have a pantry and refrigerator full of healthy food. Clean water flows from our tap. We are warm, safe, and mostly well.

Our son has been stressed about the cost of college, finding a good job, and choosing a less expensive school to attend next year. But how wonderful that he has a state full of universities to choose from. How blessed we are to have him home again.

I am often stressed because my days are ridiculously full. No matter how hard I try, I can never seem to fit in all the playing with my toddler, homeschooling my daughter, helping and listening to my older children, spending time with my husband, serving in my calling, cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, bill-paying, and writing that needs to be done. And yet, I am here to do it. What a wonderful blessing.

Last month my husband and I attended a funeral for a family friend. I didn’t personally know the woman, a mother of five, not much older than me, who had passed away. But her funeral so touched my life that I doubt a day has passed since that I haven’t thought of it—of her. She was a beautiful woman who loved life and especially her family. Her bishop and husband both spoke of her reluctance to leave them behind. She suffered greatly during her last seven years of life and battling cancer, likely staying on earth as long as she did to raise her children as much as she could.

I imagine that those last seven years were a little different than some that came before she was ill. Perhaps things like keeping her home clean, staying caught up on the laundry, and even paying the bills slipped in their level of importance. Certainly time spent with her children did not. But I imagine that daily interactions with them—even things like helping with math homework, reminding them for the sixth time that it was their night to do the dishes, or caring for them when they were ill became precious moments of opportunity. Not simply one more part of a too-busy day, as I have often felt.

When we returned home from her funeral, I kept the program, reflecting on the life of this woman I’d never met, and tucked it in my nightstand drawer, as a frequent reminder to feel gratitude. Turns out, that was good timing, because March has been a bit of a rough month for our family, in more ways than those mentioned in this blog. But it has also been one of reflection. Who am I to complain that I feel awful? That our toilet paper consumption has doubled from the blowing of noses? That some of our children are struggling? That we’re probably going to have to buy a new computer? I’m here. I am alive. I have the opportunity to keep loving and serving my family, difficult and busy as that may, at times, be.

The tragedies unfolding in Japan are overwhelming to contemplate. To lose family, friends, a home and more is suffering beyond what I have ever been called on to endure. So I am left to think that a little sniffle, a little extra worry now and then is probably a good thing because it makes me grateful. For health, for family, for the opportunity to have a maddening month every now and then.