Creating a Checklist of Thanks

In the days to come, many of us will be spending time with friends and family and eating far more than our bellies can handle.thankful

By definition, the impending holiday is a time to reflect on the things in life we value the most.  But how many of us actually sit down and think, I mean really think, about what we’re most thankful for during this time of year?  The hustle and bustle of the season can often cause a distraction and lead us astray from focusing on what Thanksgiving is all about.

Even if you do have enough internal discipline to keep your mind focused on the most precious points of gratitude, do you take any action to express your appreciation?  Do you simply think, or do you “do?”

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take the extra step.  Instead of just acknowledging what you’re thankful for, turn those feelings into action by giving back in a way related to whatever it is you hold dear.  Begin by jotting down your List of Thanks.  Similar to prepping for exams back in the college days, transferring these pieces of gratitude from your mind to the paper will force you to dig deep and put genuine thought behind your selections, rather than just rattling off generic terms about the dinner table.  Then, think about how you can physically show your appreciation for each item on the list.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

If you’re thankful for your friends and family:

Hug them.  Tell them.  Make sure they know how much they’re loved.  Capture the moment in a photo.  Any day could be our last, or the last time we ever see the ones we love, so don’t take any moment for granted.

If you’re thankful for your health and the health of your loved ones:

Remember those that aren’t so lucky.  Choose a health-related non-profit, such as Susan G. Komen or ALS Association, and make a donation.  Alternatively, make a commitment to participate in an organized walk or run during the next year.  Volunteer at a children’s hospital (check the website of your local hospital).

If you’re thankful for those who keep our country safe:

The sad reality is that many of the men and women who defend our country won’t get to spend the holidays with their families.  Explore ways to give back to them this holiday season, demonstrating your gratitude for the sacrifices they make.  Though it won’t make up for not being home to open presents or experience the joy of watching their loved ones doing the same, even the slightest bit of joy could help morale.  There are several organizations that send Christmas cards to the troops or stores that allow you to purchase candy bars for them at the register.

If you’re thankful for the feast you’re about to devour:

Be sure to think about those that don’t know where their next meal will come from.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.   Deliver meals to the poor or elderly.  Participate in a food drive.

If you’re thankful for your pets:

First, give them a little love.  Then, look for ways to help out the animals that aren’t fortunate enough to have a loving home.  Volunteer at a dog shelter or make a donation to your local SPCA.  Think about adoption.  Or, for something more temporary, check our Dogs on Deployment, an organization that places dogs in foster homes while their owners are serving our country.

If you’re thankful for your job:

Pay gratitude to the people that helped to get you there.  Send your first hiring (or favorite) manager or mentor a note thanking them for the early lessons they taught you.  Repay the help you received by offering advice to college students or young professionals.  Become a mentor.  Tutor students from a local high school.

If you’re thankful for being free from financial burden:

Share what you have with those who don’t have as much.  Adopt an angel through Project Angel Tree where you buy gifts for children in poverty or with parents in prison.  Collect items for Toys for Tots.  Reach out to a local retirement home and ask if they’re accepting donations for residents.  Consider giving items or a monetary donation to victims of the South Carolina floods; last week we met with the LISC who said many families are just getting back into their homes finally learning what they lost after the flood devastation.  Donations are still desperately needed.

If you’re thankful for your children:

Remember the children that don’t have loving, safe homes like yours.  Volunteer at your local children’s home.  Give donations to a women’s shelter – often the only safe haven for women and children in dangerous situations.  Seek out organizations that provide support for foster children like Mercy for America’s Children, a North-Carolina based non-profit organization advocating on behalf of children awaiting adoption in the US Foster Care System.

Unmasking Depression: Looking Behind the Smiles to See the Truth

For the first time in two years, my mom is back.  She didn’t take a long vacation to bask in the rays of retirement.  She didn’t leave our family to find herself.  Physically, she’s been here all along.  But, she hasn’t really been with us.

Two years ago, we almost lost her.  It was a cold, but sunny Sunday afternoon and I was on my way to watch the Vikings-Packers game with some friends.  I called my mom before the games as I always do but on this particular day, my dad answered and I knew instantly something wasn’t right.  He said he was on the way up to the hospital in Richmond; my mom had been transported to VCU.  The only thing he could tell me was that something went wrong that morning during church with her kidneys.

I lived only a few minutes up the road from the hospital and was the first one to arrive in the ER.  I found myself standing in front of a faded, nearly motionless version of my vibrant mother.  Soon, I was joined by my father and our family minster and together, we learned that my mother had a tumor burst within her kidney and lost an excessive amount of blood.  Shortly after, we were awaiting an update from the doctor who performed her emergency surgery.  Over the next few days, each up seemed to be followed by another down.  She was diagnosed with something called Angiomyolipoma, essentially non-cancerous, blood-filled, fatty tumors within the kidney (the non-cancerous point was a huge blessing, and sigh of relief).  Between multiple blood transfusions, endless dialogues with the urologists and seeing the brightest of personalities not even flicker, that week will be forever marked as one of the toughest in my life.  Little did we know that while the bleed stopped, and eventually the physical pain ceased, she would develop a lingering, hidden pain.

I’m not being biased when I say my mom is one of the sweetest, happiest most genuine people in the world.  A serial smiler, she has never met a stranger.  She was always the first to strike up a conversation with a random person in the store, only to leave with their contact information and the beginning of a new friendship.  Whether with children, the elderly, or a sick friend, my mom was there offering a helping hand and making them smile, no matter the circumstance.  One of her biggest talents is making people laugh; those that saw her in one of her many costumes like Lucy Ball, Dennis Rodman or Dolly Parton surely understand this statement.

For the first few post-trauma months, she was timid, quiet, but after what she went through, anyone would understand.  Only as spring turned to summer and so on, nothing really changed.  We’d see glimpses of her old spunky-self, but then they would disappear as quickly as her smile.  She didn’t want to leave the house and would sleep constantly even though she wasn’t doing activities to exert energy.  She’d feel paranoid, nervous, and anxious; a far cry from the woman who was always up for an impromptu adventure.  It was though a piece of her, the most influential of pieces, was gone.  Not until this summer did we truly understand why.

In August, my mom was diagnosed with depression; sparked by the trauma she experienced on and during the days, weeks, months and years following that cold November day.  Depression is a silent killer.  It’s not a disease characterized by external features or malformities.  It’s not something that will show up in a culture sample.  It’s internal, and in many cases, those suffering have the innate ability to shelter others from the reality they are living in.  Much like Robin Williams, my mom always had the ability to bring joy and laughter to others, only she lost the ability to latch onto those positive emotions to the benefit of herself.

After three months on medication, my mom is finally back.  Hearing her laughter and trying to keep up with the massive amount of energy she possess are two seemingly simple, but truly incredible, gifts.  I thank the Lord that we did not lose her two years ago, but for the past two years, we didn’t have her wholly.  Now we do and my heart cannot contain all of the gratitude I have.

While this has been a difficult story to share, it’s necessary.  None of us know what is going on behind the scenes, or within the minds, of those we know and love.  Don’t take a smile for granted; there could be much deeper and darker thoughts behind the upward curvature on a person’s face.  Depression is an illness that has no outward characteristics, that holds no prejudice.  As a society, we need to eliminate the stigma attached to depression.  We need to actively support those that may be going through difficult times.  We need to seek help if we’re experiencing internal struggles or turmoil.  There is NOTHING wrong with offering or seeking help; the only wrong we can do is to stand by in silence.

During this month of gratitude, I have so much to be thankful for but everything else pales in comparison to having a permanent ray of light back in this life of mine. I selected the pictures below because each one was taken during her battle with depression, but one would never know by the smile and antics. While the medication has had a noticeable, positive impact on her well-being, it is by no means the end-all be-all.  Depression is an uphill battle; one that can only be managed with proper care and support.  If you know someone suffering from this disease, the best thing you can do is to be empathic and understanding of the struggling they are going through.  Lend a hand, an ear, a cup of sugar or whatever it is that person needs.  Be there for them when they’re struggling to be there for themselves.

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mom 18 mom 17 Mom 16 Mom 15

InVESTED in Fall Fashion

This is quite possibly my favorite fall outfit.  I have a weird (and expensive) habit of not liking to wear things more than once in a season but for this one, I’ll make an exception.

The plaid button up and navy vest both came from Marshall’s.  The button up was $19 and the vest just $24.  At full retail, we’d be looking at a combined retail over $80.  The boots were another awesome steal I found at Belk two years ago.  If you want a new pair of boots but don’t necessarily NEED them, then wait until the day after Christmas to make the purchase.  The longer you can hold out, the better the deal.  I purchased these at the end of January for about $20.

As you may have realized, I’m not one to pay full retail and am always searching out the best deals.  But sometimes, like allowing yourself to re-wear a season staple, you’ve got to bend the rules.  These DL 1961 jeans came from StitchFix and ran around $100 but were well worth it.  The fit and feel are perfect.

Thank goodness the shopping deals are more reliable than this truck!

Happiness is a choice

Happiness is a choice.  Not for all, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to be in full control of our emotional well-being, it is a choice that we make the moment we open our eyes each morning.  For the most part, I’ve always considered myself a persistently positive person but as of late, I’m feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and realize the strength to lift it cannot be found through toying with dumbbells or equipment at the gym.  The power to break through comes from within.  It often requires taking a difficult and critical look at yourself and opening your eyes to the toxins that have the ability to bring you down.

I realize that I am incredibly blessed with abundant love and opportunity, but yet sometimes, I let life’s stressors get in the way of recognizing those blessings.  Strangely enough it was my dermatologist, who typically rambles on and on about nothing of importance, that made me stop and think about the changes I needed to make in life.  Without any prompting, he went into a lecture on how we are the only ones to blame if we’re unhappy.  If someone constantly gets under your skin, you’re the one that keeps interacting with them and giving them the power to do so.  If work is wearing on you, you’re the one preventing yourself from finding new opportunities.  If someone cuts you off on the road, it’s up to you to decide if it’s necessary to blare your horn at them in range or to just keep on driving along with a smile on your face.  He explained that we are the only ones that can control whether the little things, or actions of others, get to us.

That conversation is the only one I’ve had with the wacky doctor that ever made any sense at all, but it was a message than dug far deeper than the skin he specializes in.  In a month where we celebrate the things we’re grateful for, I’m taking a new approach to recognizing and realizing those gifts.

I’m in no way shape or form a morning person (or a night person, really), but I’m forcing myself out of bed an hour early each morning for a period of reflection.  With a cup of coffee in hand, I’ll begin each day reading devotion from Joel Osteen’s Every Day a Friday, along with the associated Bible scripture.  Then, I’ll take a moment to think about something that took place on the previous day for which I’m thankful.  While we can’t let the little things the kooky doctor described get to us, we mustn’t also forget about the positive little things because sometimes, they can have the biggest impact on our happiness.

The holidays are a perfect reminder of the things that propel us forward in life.  If you’ve been feeling down or disconnected, I encourage you to make time to rediscover the things that make you whole.  Feel free to come along with me on this journey and share your experience!