The Practice of Gratitude

I’ve been thinking about Gratitude lately. The topic seems to be popping up on blogs, and in social media and magazines. So what’s the big deal about gratitude and why are people talking about it?

In his essay, “Why Gratitude is Good”,  Robert Emmos, a scientific expert on gratitude writes, “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.” So far so good. Who can argue that it’s beneficial to recognize the good in the world and in our lives.

Grateful and blessed to see this view everyday.

In our plugged-in society we are constantly bombarded with stories of negativity, crime, terrorism, abuse and natural disasters. Sometimes it feels like the negativity washes over me, sticks to my body, invades my mind, drains my energy and joy and affects my sight. It’s very much like trying to look across a cigarette-smoke filled room. The colors are muted, eyes burn, images are distorted. The stench is foul and clings to hair and skin and clothing.

Practicing gratitude is a way of opening the doors and windows, letting light and fresh air replace the haze and putrid smoke. It’s like inhaling deeply of fresh, mountain, morning air.  It allows us to see things that we couldn’t see through the haze.

We live in a broken world. Bad things happen, children are hurt, disasters strike, we get sick, bosses are mean. You know this. You walk in those trenches every day. And it’s easy to begin to believe those things are the whole picture. They aren’t!

The world is also filled with beauty, kindness, goodness and love. Sometimes we just can’t recognize those things through the smokey-haze.

Grateful beyond words for these gifts…

Gratitude brings those things back into focus and in doing so it provides us with a whole host of benefits … It reduces depression, increases happiness and optimism. It has documented health benefits, affects neural activity (read more here), reduces stress, increases the length and quality of sleep, reduces pain, and boosts performance. Gratitude helps us see goodness.

Mr Emmos goes on to say, “The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

This, my friends, is the part that really spoke to me. For all it’s benefits, practicing gratitude is perhaps most beneficial in the way it affects our relationships. At the end of the day, it’s not the size of our house, the balance in our bank account, or the cars we drive that matter most. It’s the people who walk beside us, who share our lives, those with whom we laugh and cry and work and play.

And my fifth daughter!

And for this new son! (photo by Levi Tijernia)

Gratitude draws the connection between the goodness in our lives, those people who contribute to it and the God who is the source of it. It reminds us to be humble. It fosters kindness. It strengthens our connection with others. It helps us see the beauty around us, in nature, in situations, in people.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered this discipline, that practicing gratitude is natural and effortless. I haven’t and it’s not. It’s too easy to complain, to see the negative, to wallow in self-pity. But gratitude is worth pursing. And like most things, the more we do something, the easier it gets, until hopefully, it eventually weaves through the fibers of our being and becomes a part of our character. That’s who I want to be. So I will take the steps necessary to get there. I will put in the time and effort. I will practice the disciplines because I want to reap the rewards.  Would you walk this road with me, this road into greater gratitude?

Grateful for you!


Three ways to practice gratitude:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Before bed each night, take 5 minutes to write down 1-3 things for which you are grateful. Do this for at least three months. This is not a new concept nor a difficult one, but it does take commitment and discipline.
  2. Write a letter to someone who has influenced you and for whom you are grateful. This will foster gratitude in you and bless them.
  3. High/low game. When the kids were young we had a tradition at our dinner table. (I think we saw this in a movie, but to be honest, I can’t remember for sure.) As we ate, we would go around the table and each person would share their “high and low” for the day. They would tell something that was hard or disappointing and then they would share the high point. This is something for which to be grateful.

The Greenhorn Farmhouse Discovered


An assortment of cars, pick-ups and trailers pulled into the drive across the street. My normally quite road was packed with traffic. Impatiently, I watched and waited for my mom to arrive. As she pulled into my drive I pulled on my boots, met her at the door and we walked across the street to see what treasures the estate sale held.

I’d never been in the house before, or even up the long drive. In fact, I had never been quite sure if it was occupied or vacant. The occasional light would come on, but never very often and never for very long. I’d learn that day that it’s owner had passed away, that for most of the time I’d been living in my house, she’d been sick and staying just down the road with her sister.

I walked around looking at the sale items and creating my mental bid list. We made our way from the garage, past the barn and on to the house. When it comes to buildings, I have a gift of sight. I see past peeling paint and rotting wood and curled flooring. I see what could be. This day was no exception. As we walked through the house that had stood there for well over a century, I said to my mom, “I want to buy this!”

My Mom usually shares my gift of sight. We have a question, kind of a joke between us, “Can you see the potential”? If my dad happens to be in the vicinity, he shakes his head from side to side and rolls his eyes. He does not share our gift. But this day it was my mom shaking her head. On this day, with this house, she was blind.

It would be many months before I would purchase the house. I’d watch and wonder what was happening with it. Because my business had been keeping me busy, I hadn’t purchased any investment property in quite a while and I was missing it. I started contacting owners of houses I thought might meet my criteria. I contacted over 200 owners asking if they would consider selling their home. I also sent a letter to the address across the street. I knew the owner was gone and as far I knew my letter would end up in the basement of some government building in a graveyard for forgotten mail. I sent it anyway.

A week or so later I received a call from the sister. She was willing to sell the house and willing to work with me on the price. I was elated! This was the house I wanted more than any other. But I didn’t want to flip it. I wanted to keep it. To move my parents in and maybe someday have it for one of my kids. Eventually, the papers were signed, the sale complete and the work begun.

It would be months before that happened, however. On this day, the day of the auction, we visited with neighbors. We bid on our items. I bought a watch, and a couple of things for the kitchen. I missed out on an old tractor. I hesitated just a second too long and I still feel the regret. I bought a paint sprayer. Later, while using it to rehab this little house, I would think about this day.

I’d remember seeing the house and property for the first time. I’d think about my neighbor whom I never had the pleasure of meeting. Using the sprayer I’d purchased from her estate to rehab the home she’d loved seemed so right, like coming full circle.

I would think about her and her sister. This wasn’t just a house. It had been someone’s home. Someone had lived a life within it’s walls. Someone else had lost someone they loved. That reality was never far from my mind as I hung drywall, installed cabinets, chose tile and trimmed windows. I wondered if she’d be happy with the results. I hoped that my work honored her and her sister as well. By investing the time and the effort and the money, I hoped that this house would provide warmth and shelter, and that for another 100 years individuals and families would make a home here. I imagined meals being prepared in the kitchen, families gathered around the dining room table, sorrows being comforted and laughter shaking the rafters. I imagined future occupants referring to this house as “this place I belong.”

This project is complete, but you can follow the complete story of this rehab by subscribing below. I’ll cover everything from paint colors, to cabinets, and everything in  between, even  including  the  pantry door.



Thanksgiving and a Life in Perspective

I love Thanksgiving. The gathering of family, the traditions, the meaning behind the holiday. I love the decorations, the colors, the food, and the smells.

Last year nineteen people, including young children, gathered around the table set up in my living room. I loved having kids running around the place, jumping on the trampoline, gathering eggs, playing with the chickens, petting the horses, and chasing the cats.

I miss having little ones and sometimes I find myself bewildered when I consider my own kids. Where did those years go?

Nineteen years ago I was living in an old Victorian house, in a questionable part of town. In hindsight the house seems delapitated, but it had character and a spire at one corner and I loved it. My children were four, three, two and I was 6 months pregnant. Though my days were filled with endless chores (did I mention 3 kids and another on the way?) I still loved to entertain.

There’s something satisfying about setting a beautiful table, heaping it with lovingly prepared food and sharing it with others. Sometimes we’d have the luxury of lingering over dessert and a second cup of coffee while the kids ran off to play. We’d talk about our lives, our kids, current events, what books we were reading, our dreams. We talked about cooking, decorating, parenting, events in the Middle East and everything in between. The topic didn’t matter much. We were together. Sharing life.

About that time, one of those friends, Barb, first suggested I blog. To be honest, I barely knew what a blog was, and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to read about my crazy life. I wish now I had listened. I would like to have those years chronicled.

I wish I had been able to really grab ahold of the old truth, “time flies”. It’s the phrase so often and so wistfully uttered by those older, wiser individuals, with a sigh and slight shake of the head. The young nod in agreement, as if they understand, but the elders know it will be many years before the weight of that truth sinks deep and finds a home in the souls of the young. Sometime in a distant future when the young have moved from the ranks of young to the not-so-young, only then will they know.

Beautiful pies complements of my daughters!

So it is with me. I have left the ranks of the young … another truth whose reality eludes my comprehension. I don’t feel as if two of my children should have spouses, my baby should be in high school, and I should be a few short years away from an empty nest, from grandchildren. Yet the truth of it pursues me relentlessly.

I am learning to navigate this new chapter of my life. It feels awkward and unfamiliar, not at all like the transition to motherhood. Motherhood felt like coming home. This feels as foreign as any foreign land I’ve visited. Yet, I know the foreign can become familiar.

We have family traditions adopted from the countries we’ve lived and visited. Those scary, unfamiliar things have become part of who we are. And it’s good. I’m finding more time and money and space for things that have always been in me. Things like starting a business, flipping houses, doing rehab, refurbishing and repurposing old furniture, dabbling in agriculture, and maybe even blogging.

Maybe there are others who share some of my interests. Maybe others could benefit from my experiences. The young mom who doesn’t think she has the energy to change one more diaper. A young couple who would like to flip a house. The friend who asks how to grocery shop on a budget or how to create healthy, wholesome meals. The twenty-something learning to navigate her way into adulthood. The one who wants tips on creating a beautiful and functional home. Others, like me, learning to navigate a new season in life.

Maybe it’s bigger than just my experiences helping others. Maybe we enrich each other’s lives by sitting around my virtual table, sharing food, and ideas and life. By finding courage to be vulnerable. And being surprised by the freedom and joy that vulnerability brings.

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. ”

I would argue that it’s the birthplace of beauty too.

I am confident that this life is best lived in the company of others.  You’re always welcome around my table. So, pull up a chair and stay awhile.

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