Perspective: The Happiness Found In a Thankful Heart

Often it’s not until a traumatic change takes place in our lives that we really value the normality of our everyday lives… It’s all linked to perspective.

Three months ago I wrote the above words in my first blog post on perspective. 

How true those words were in the season ahead. For about 12 weeks our family’s normality was snatched from us and we lived out a new normality that involved coping with injury, illness and a massive change in our day to day lives. 

It’s now 3 months since I sustained a brain & spinal fluid injury and at last I feel pretty much normal. I finally feel like I am getting my life back. I still get a bit more tired than I would have done pre-injury and experience some other milder symptoms if I do too much, but I can finally begin to move on in my life and put the injury behind me. 

‘Normality’ never felt so good!! 

To be able to function pretty well in everyday life feels like such a blessing. I am so thankful for health, energy, family & friendship. Before my injury I could at times take these things for granted but through my injury I have suddenly become so much more thankful for them.  

The last three months adjusted my perspective. 

Sometimes it’s not until your normality is taken away that you really do appreciate it. 

This week my husband was away with work and the kids were on school holidays. I was so thankful to be able to look after the kids properly and get on with life with Matt not being here – something I could not do for 12 weeks. I have also been able to get the calendar out and make plans for the future. It feels great! 

It’s made me think a lot about thankfulness and how it is so often linked to our perspective.

If we take things and people for granted – we will no longer feel grateful for them.
If we dwell on the negatives of our lives – we will no longer see and be thankful all the positives.
If we feel entitled to something or someone’s attention – we will see it as a right rather than a blessing.

Thankfulness can be life changing for BOTH those who give and those who receive it. This is because when it is heartfelt it comes from a place of humility. To say thank you and truly mean it is a small act of generosity and appreciation and – although small – can be powerful. 

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But if gratitude is so important why is it sometimes so difficult to maintain? 

I often see within myself and those around me how quickly we can slip into an ungrateful perspective. It can happen subtly at first, but often gains momentum, as we compare our lives and situation to others. When we measure our lives against our perception of others’ lives (which are often incorrect anyway). The results are jealousy and envy which are often the culprits behind our dissatisfaction. 

If only……. I had a better:
Spouse, partner, family, house, job, looks, body, car.

If only……  I had more:
Money, holidays, rest, friends, food, things.

Then I would be happy. Then I could feel thankful. 

It’s a vicious circle. It never ends! 

The dissatisfaction takes over, it eats away at our hearts. It blinds us til we no longer see what we do have, instead focusing our thoughts & even words on all we don’t. 


 Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt


This dissatisfaction is often fueled by media, advertising, social media and looking at others lives around us. We are sold the lie that we will be happier if only we have more than we do now. 

When we can only see what we don’t have we will not be thankful for what we do have. We will also not be able to feel thankful for what others have when we consider them to have more than us. 

Instead we become consumed with envy and it destroys us from the inside out. 

I believe that thankfulness is one of the main keys to happiness. There is so much joy to be found in a grateful heart. 

Maybe we need to see our lives with more grateful eyes. 

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We don’t need to wait until we lose something to embrace a more thankful perspective. We can choose to see things differently now. 

The last three months opened my eyes and helped me to develop a more thankful heart towards everyday life and those around me. 

However.

I am very mindful of the fact that it is so easy for me to fall back into old habits and old ways of thinking as time goes on. How easy it is to forget lessons learned in the past. So I hope through writing this and my other blogs about what I have learned over the past three months, that I will be able to remind myself about remaining thankful.

For each breath that I take. 

For the wonder and opportunity of each day. 

For friends, family and community. 

For health and energy. 

For the beauty of the world around me.

For our beautiful home and food on the table. 

For provision in so many ways.

For everyday life and even the ‘mundane’ aspects of it.
(When you can’t have this you crave it. When you do have it you often crave something more exciting).

And on those days when I start feeling fed up or sorry for myself: because the kids are playing up, the house is in a mess, I look dreadful, I have too much to do, things are breaking and I can only seem to see what I don’t have & can’t afford. I hope that I will quickly choose to remember, to shift my perspective back to a more grateful perspective and remember when getting through each day was all I could focus on. When health and normality were longed for and yet seemed so far away. When I just hoped to soon be well enough to able to get out of bed and walk outside on my own, so that I could fulfill some of the simple things in life like get the kids to and from school, get the dinner ready for my family and keep the house tidy. 

We have so much. Look around you and see with new eyes all the blessings in your life.

A simple thought or act of gratitude will bring you so much happiness. 

We can develop a habit of waking up each day and thinking about things we are thankful for. You may well find that your day starts better when it begins with gratitude. 

My injury and illness only lasted three months. Some people face bigger storms: a much more challenging health diagnosis, the death of a close family member, a marriage break down or they lose their job and can’t find another. 

So many different storms can shake our normality, but thankfulness always remains one of the best keys to finding the strength we need to push forward with a positive perspective. 

There is always something to be thankful for.

 It’s all about perspective. 

Try it!  What can you be thankful for today?  Who can you say thank you to? 


Give thanks in all circumstances. – The Bible. (1Thessalonians 5:18)


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We Are Not Meant To Be Alone: Individualism vs Community

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
― Mother Teresa

In my last blog post: Surviving the Storm I shared some of the story of the last 3 months of my life. During the post I wrote about the journey I had been on following a fall off a ladder which, for a while, left me with a debilitating brain & spinal fluid injury which stopped me in my tracks for a number of weeks. (And included a two and a half week stay in a local hospital).

It was an immensely challenging time for us as a family. Suddenly I found myself lying in bed pretty much all day, for 10 weeks, and if I did get up, for a minimal amount of time (usually 10-30mins) I was so lightheaded, dizzy, uncomfortable & in pain that I couldn’t function normally and quickly had to return to bed. Even lying in bed I battled various unpleasant symptoms.

My husband Matt, whose job can take him all over the country, as well as being one of the leaders at our local church, suddenly lost the day to day support of his wife (and our girls (age 8 & 10) mum) and had to take on many of my roles whilst coping with his own. Anyone who knows what a ‘full’ life we normally lead knows what a challenge that was for him. One to which he stepped up to and executed so well and calmly amidst a very challenging time.

However, in this season one thing we knew early on is that we could not face this alone – without our daily life falling apart.

We needed help.
We needed support.
We needed others.
We could not cope on our own.

It’s a humbling process when you can no longer manage day to day life on your own. Having to ask for and accept help from others so that life can somehow keep moving forward each day.

For this season we could no longer be the ones to offer help. Instead we had to accept others help daily. And that brings a new level of humility as well as a new level of gratefulness for family, friendship and community.

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It was the:
love,
kindness,
service,
sacrifice
and generosity
of so many people around us that made our storm bearable. This combined with the inner strength and peace that came from our deep relationship with God allowed us to push through our weaknesses and somehow weather the storm.

We are not meant to be alone.
We are created and built to be together in family and community.
We are built to show and share love even beyond our natural families.

It is so sad that our western societies often place individualism over community. I believe that individualism is often a fruit of selfishness and self preservation and it robs us of the joys of true community. Our societies have lost so much community spirit and although various people attempt to revive it, it can be a challenging battle to fight. People are so busy with their own lives & families that we can easily loose a sense of community on a wider level.

Although myself and my husband are big advocates of community; sharing our lives and journeying together through life with others through local church and in our general lives, the last three months revealed that even after years of advocating community we too could still be too self-sufficient, individualistic and prideful in our own thinking.

How did we recognise this?

Simply that we soon discovered that early on during my illness we didn’t find it easy that suddenly the roles reversed and so many people had to help us in so many ways. That we were the ones struggling, the ones in need of help and support.

I realised that I was so used to being self-sufficient, getting on with life, facing challenges, keeping going and often the one helping others that it was a challenge when we became the ones that people rallied around to help and support.

You can feel weak and helpless, a bit of a burden to people who are already so busy with their own lives and commitments. That you are letting others down by them having to find the extra time and energy to cover your roles. 

Matt and I are great advocates of grace and generosity. We believe in giving without expecting a return, loving whether or not someone is deserving and serving others without expecting anything back. We constantly do our best to teach and model all this within our church community.

Why then can it be such a challenge for us to receive others help and generosity ourselves?

Please don’t misunderstand me: we were utterly blessed by it. It touched us deeply to have so many people look after our children, get them to and from school, prepare us beautiful meals, shower us with flowers, cards and gifts, clean our house, step into our roles at work, church and school and offer up prayers and words of support.

We were and are so very grateful and thankful for the support of so many wonderful friends and family. It was a lifeline at a very difficult time.

However, I realised that sometimes we may not naturally allow others the joy of giving and helping us because of our own pride and self sufficiency that says we are OK and can manage, even when in reality we are struggling. This is often because we do not want to trouble other people and so we think we are helping them by not letting them share in our struggles.

from darkness

Thankfully in our case we have friends and family who know us well enough to know we needed help regardless. We hardly needed to ask because the offers came pouring in which was truly a God send and a wonderful blessing. However, we still learnt that people will not always have room to be the blessing they desire to be if we do not allow them into our weaknesses and struggles. One of the reasons we don’t always let people in is because it is not easy to be vulnerable.

It is not easy for self sufficient people to be the ones in need. 

Perhaps many of us are too used to being individualistic and self sufficient.
Maybe we are more a product of our western society than we first thought.

I have realised that my own self sufficiency can actually get in the way of us building the community that I believe God created us to live in. And that community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.

When you are used to giving, it is not always easy to receive. On the reverse, some people are so used to being in need and receiving that they do not find it easy to give. Which is a challenge, because we need to be doing both for community to work.

Our own individualism and pride can stop community working as it should, if we do not allow others to share in our STRUGGLES as well as our VICTORIES.

As I wrote in a recent blog post about the anniversary of my Mums death I believe that:

Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed.
Our weaknesses need to be seen.

I believe it is important because it’s often our vulnerabilities that bring us the greatest connection to other people. It’s in our weaknesses that we realise:

That we all need others.
That we are not built to live life alone.
That pride & self-sufficiency are the enemies of true community.
That if we want to be part of a community that we need to let people into our lives – warts and all.

The challenge of community is to become people who are open about our lives and will choose to both GIVE and RECEIVE graciously.

The beauty of humanity is majestically displayed when we are loving & serving one another. For it is love that creates real community. At the heart of love is humility & generosity. And it is humility & generosity that breaks down pride, individualism and self sufficiency.

Which, in turn, opens the way for true community.

We may impress people by our strengths; but we connect with them through our vulnerabilities. – Nicky Gumbel

How can we allow others to share in our lives in a way that builds true community? Do you find it easier to give or to receive? How can we embrace the humility needed to model healthy community to others?


Community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.


 

Perspective: Stepping back from the detail to see the bigger picture

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Yesterday I was painting a mural on a wall at my girls school. In the evening I was talking to my husband Matt and I was saying that because the picture is so big, as you are designing and painting it on the wall, you have to keep stepping back to get a better perspective. When you are next to the wall, drawing or painting, you lack the ability to see the bigger picture. You can’t quite see if something is straight or big enough or if it fits together ok with the rest. So you have to keep stepping back to take it all in and see how everything is fitting together.

It’s all about perspective:
When you are close to the details you can’t see the bigger picture.

Perspective is so important in life.
Perspective often dictates our response to situations.
Perspective is often limited to our view of the details in front of us.

For instance, if I have a critical or negative perspective about something or someone, I will tend to see everything from that perspective. Even if something good happens or the person does something good, I will often not see it, because I will only see what was wrong. Unfortunately, I will also communicate to others from that perspective, meaning that they too are now being influenced by my limited negative and critical perspective.

On the other side of the spectrum, when you love someone you should have the opposite perspective. (We often use the old ‘rose tinted glasses’ saying to describe seeing things from a rosy perspective when we are overly positive or especially when we are in love!) When you love someone you see them and what they do through different eyes. You demonstrate compassion and understanding. You choose to see more from their perspective rather than just your own. Because love is primarily about sacrificing your selfishness for another. Which means thinking less of yourself and more about them.

So perspective matters.

So much of what we do is connected to our attitude and perspective. How we choose to ‘see’ affects so much of what we do.

I may not be able to change the world I see around me, but I can change the way I see the world within me. -John Maxwell

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Sometimes we can become so consumed with our day to day lives, struggles and priorities that we can lose the bigger picture. We are so focused on ourselves and what we need to do that we become blinded to the challenges that others face, which in turn means we can lack empathy and understanding.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Sometimes we need to look around us and choose to ‘see’ with a larger and more understanding perspective. Sometimes we need to see with ‘new eyes.’

New eyes of:
Gratitude
Compassion
Love
Generosity
Kindness
Forgiveness
Renewed hope, purpose & vision.

Often it’s not until a traumatic change takes place in our lives that we really ‘value’ the normality of our everyday lives. It’s not until we lose something or somebody that we realise that we maybe valued the wrong things. It’s all linked to perspective.

However… we don’t need to wait until something bad happens to us or someone close to us to change our perspective. We can choose to do it now. Sometimes we do not need a major change in our lives. Instead we have to choose to see things differently. Sometimes we need to see life and the people who surround us with ‘new eyes’. Maybe we need to open our eyes to a new way of thinking and a new way of relating to the world.

It’s then we realise that our problem was not really the circumstances of our lives but was instead our limited perspective and view of it.

What will our lives look like if we choose to ‘open our eyes’ to a new perspective?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Who am I…. Really? Embracing our uniqueness in a world full of labels.

Who am I? Why am I here? What is all this about? What’s the point of life? What difference can I make? What defines me?

Whoever you are. Whatever you do. I am sure you have faced those questions. Sometimes they knock at our minds when we face those rare moments when there is no noise around us. Sometimes they mould and define us as we carve out our place in this world. Some of us never truly discover the answers.

Many of us are defined by the titles and boxes of what we do: I am a parent, I am a nurse, I am a teacher, an IT consultant, a cleaner, a banker, a student, an employee, a manager, a boss, a leader. Often that is all the world around us wants to know ‘What do you do?’ As if by knowing what you do it can quickly sum up ‘Who you are’ and more importantly ‘how significant or important’ you are.

But that is only part of the story.

As John Maxwell says: “In our culture, people ask, “what do you do?” not, “who are you?” or “How are you making a difference?”. Most people place too much emphasis on titles and position instead of on impact.”

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So some of us look to personality types: I am an introvert, an extrovert, a thinker, a doer, an explorer, realist, creative, pioneer….

All these things help us to explain who we are and help other people to understand us more. But these things can also place us in boxes that we can’t escape from. Boxes that are only half the story. (I always find myself in the middle of a few, struggling to pin point labels that actually make sense of who I really am.)

What if we were less caught up by trying to be ‘defined’ by positions, titles and labels and more caught up in discovering and embracing our own uniqueness. Instead of allowing ourselves to be dictated by the boxes we are placed in, and place ourselves into, what if we gave ourselves and others the space to find out who we really are and who we are meant to be.

Losing stereotypes.
Looking beyond titles.
Seeing the real person rather than just their position.
Speaking about people as individuals, rather than grouping them together under headings that supposedly define them.
Allowing people to break free from their past and the labels that have been attached to them.


What if we were less caught up by trying to be ‘defined’ by position, titles and labels and more caught up in discovering and embracing our own uniqueness.


These questions have defined a lot of my life. My life’s journey has often battled the quest for labels and titles that ‘define me’. Names that I can hold up as badges to explain who I am and gain credibility & others approval, in a world where people love to feel ‘important’. And while I have, at times, desired those badges, they often seem to have eluded me. (Which has, at times, been a challenging journey and a personal battle I have had to face.)

But I have learnt that until I stop trying to be defined by ‘titles’ or ‘positions’, I will not push through to discover who I am really meant to be. Until I give up the need to explain to others who I really am and instead just BE who I am, I will not allow others room to be who they really are, regardless of their labels, titles or positions.

So I choose to believe that it is not ‘how important’ we sound that defines us. It is not the boxes of labels, titles and positions, whether self-imposed or imposed on us by others, that dictate who we really are.

We are who we are.
An individual.
A one-off.
With a unique past, present and future.
Not to be tied down by one definition.
Not to be defined by someone else’s words or phrases.


Until I give up the need to explain to others who I really am and instead just BE who I am, I will not allow others room to be who they really are


I wonder what life would be like if we all stepped back from the badges, titles, positions and labels that have defined us all for too long. And instead sought to be real and honest with ourselves.

Seeking to discover the:
Gifts,
Talents,
Idiosyncrasies,
Uniqueness
That we all have.

And just get comfortable in our own skin.

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Pressing on…..Regardless. My journey to starting a blog in 2015.

It’s a new year. A new day. A new season. What will it bring? What changes will evolve or be thrust upon us this year? What new challenges will we face? And what new adventures shall we embrace?

At the start of 2015 I have decided to put to paper (or I should say screen) what I have felt for a while in my heart. I am going to start to write. Everyone who knows me well knows that I love words. This is because I believe that words are powerful.

Words have the power…
to uplift,
encourage,
inspire,
motivate,
and touch people deeply.

Words can also….
take away,
hurt,
damage,
control
and wound people deeply.

Words, whether used rightly or wrongly, are powerful. So at the start of 2015 I have decided to start writing. This year that ‘writing’ begins in this blog.

I have been considering doing this for a couple of years. But when I have thought it through I have usually dismissed the idea asking:

Who am I to write?
Who wants to listen to what I have to say?
What am I going to write about?
What if no one reads it?
What is the point of writing if not to be read and heard?

However, then as we approached 2015 I felt that prodding again in my heart. To PRESS ON REGARDLESS!

writing

Regardless of:
Who wants to listen.
The impact quantified.
The applause given.
The approval gained.

Because none of that is important. (It feels important at the time but the importance gained is only temporal). When your heart says write. You should write. When God says write, you should listen, and respond…… Regardless!

Because life is not about:
The approval gained.
The applause given.
The impact quantified.
Who wants to listen.

It is about following the still small voice in your heart that knows you better than you know yourself. The one who knows the future panned out for you. Who created you for a purpose. The author of life. And the architect of words.

So in 2015 I choose to write. And primarily I write for an audience of one. Because that is what is right. Because that is all that really matters.

And yet….
If anyone else is inspired, encouraged or challenged by these words. Let it be so. I write because this is who I am. I write because this is who I was created to be. And in 2015 my resolution is to write.

Regardless of the ifs and buts.
Regardless of the results.

So today, I invite you & others to join me on this personal journey of courage (it is taking a lot of that) as I explore life with words, thoughts and observations. As I attempt to somehow convey some of the complexities, perceptions, questions & thoughts that fly around my mind.

I do still hope that some of you might connect with the words. Be inspired. Be encouraged. And maybe at times even challenged.

And if I do look for a response – let it be this: That you will also find the courage to pursue what is impressed upon your own hearts. Regardless of the ‘results’.

writing

Writing to explore what life is about, in the hope that we can learn, grow and be inspired together.