Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 151, May 31

Today I saw a news story about parents who were raising their month old child to be gender-free. No one outside the family and the midwife knows if the baby is a girl or a boy. I struggled to understand why seemingly loving and responsible parents would want their child to question his or her identity.

Gender is more than a set of body parts. It is more than whether we buy Tinkerbell panties or Batman briefs for our children or grandchildren. It is more than whether a child plays with trucks or dolls, whether a teenager goes out for football or cheerleading. These are only the outward trappings.

Gender is an inherent part of our nature. We came to earth with a spirit, a spirit that is already defined by strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, talents and, like my singing ability, un-talents. Of course we can work to develop our talents, to build upon what lies within us, but we cannot ignore the signficance of that unique and eternal spirit.

Our spirits are also defined by gender. How do I separate myself from the fact that I'm a woman? Why would I want to? To deny gender, to pretend that it doesn't exist, is not only foolish, it is dangerous. It denies God's wisdom and His plan.

So, for today, I am grateful for the wisdom of the Father's plan.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 150, May 30

I've written before about my love for our country and my respect for those who serve it. My father was a World War II veteran. Two of his brothers died during the War. He regarded protecting his country as a sacred duty and a privilege.

I wonder what those who currently serve America and veterans think of "Memorial Day sales" and the commercialism which shrouds it. Do we, as citizens, understand its meaning? I admit to having to do some research about this sacred day to learn its history.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on the fifth of May, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873.

For many years, what we now refer to as Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. Visits to my mother's family in Tennessee often found our cousins, my sister, and me making flowers to decorate the graves. Made from crepe paper and wire, these humble flowers quickly "wilted" in the humid Tennessee air, their bright colors running together, but we took pleasure in the making of them.

With our parents, aunts and uncles, and grandmother, we trooped to the small cemetery and there laid the flowers on the graves. Sunday clothes were a must. Stories were told of long-gone ancestors. Every grave was decorated, whether they were those of "our people" or not. Fifty or so years have passed since that time, but I remember those days vividly.

So, for today, I am grateful for Memorial Day and the service men and women who protect our country.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 149, May 29

The other day I watched a decorating and lifestyle program. The theme centered around adding metallic to one's wardrobe, home, and party-giving. Entranced, I sat glued to my seat as the hostess showed me how to gilt my life. Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, to turn my shoes and clothes, furnishings and home, even my toenails, into a glittering array of sparkle.

I've written before about the media's invasion of our everyday lives. We look at movie stars, compare our own un-airbrushed reflections and decide we need a nip and tuck. We peek into the home of a billionaire and wonder why our home doesn't have a built in pool and bowling alley. Dissatisfaction with our appearances, our homes, ourselves is the result.

As I watched the program which showed how to gilt body parts and home parts, I wondered if I it would be more accurate to describe it as how to guilt the viewers into wanting things that don't matter. Am I less of a person because I don't have Jimmy Choo shoes studded with gold and fake diamonds? Is my house less of a home because it lacks cathredral ceilings and frescoed walls?

Today, I walked around our house. Humble pansies glistened with morning dew. Irsises, dressed in royal purple, bloomed in a splash of color and exuberance. Rose bushes, poised to bud in the next few days, swayed gently in the breeze. God had already gilted my world with His beauty.

So, for today, I am grateful for nature's gilting.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 148, May 28

Last week I wrote about the port-a-potty in our front yard. It's still there. And will be there for some time to come. When two friends visited, I joked about "Keeping up with the Choates." (For those who don't know, Choate is my last name.)

At different times, I've written about the dangers of trying to keep up with other people. A popular reality show, "Keeping up with the Kardashians," comes to mind. I don't even know these people, but the whole concept strikes me as wrong. Why would I want to keep up with people I don't know?

Though I take a certain measure of pride in the fact that I have never watched this program, I cannot deny trying to keep up with other people, and, to my shame, of measuring myself against them. I look at one friend and think, "She's so much more talented than I am." With another friend, I feel a traitorous envy, "She's sold more books than I have." And so it goes. She's thinner than I am. She's prettier than I am. She has a bigger house than I do.

Occasionally I allow these thoughts to rampage through my mind with insidious results. I indulge in an exclusive pity party where I am the only invited guest. I rave and rant against the unfairness of life. I pout. (On a three-year-old, pouting can be cute; on a woman of my mature years, it loses all semblance of cuteness.)

So what's my point for today? Trying to keep up with others is a wasteful activity, draining me of energy and time and self-esteem. Remembering that the only Person I need to keep up with is the Lord sets me back on track.

So, for today (and again), I am grateful for lessons from a port-a-potty.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 147, May 27.

Harry Truman, born May 8, 1884, was a different kind of President. Truman probably made as many, or more important decisions regarding our nation's history as any of the other 42 Presidents preceding him. However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.

The only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence Missouri. His wife had inherited the house from her mother and father and other than their years in the White House, they lived their entire lives there.

When he retired from office in 1952, his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an 'allowance' and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.

After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves. There was no Secret Service following them. When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he declined, stating, "You don't want me. You want the office of the President,and that doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it's not for sale."

Even later, on May 8, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, "I don 't consider thatI have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise."

I cannot help but contrast President Truman with politiciains and leaders of today, whose primary motives seem to be those of self-agrandizement and profit.

So, for today, I am grateful for Harry Truman, the President and the man.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 146, May 26

A house is more than walls and ceilings and floors. It is more than plaster and wood, brick and mortar. A house is feelings and memories. Especially memories.

We moved into our house when we had only one child. Since then, we've added four more. The house quickly turned into a home, filled with cribs and changing tables, toys and books. (Always books.) New carpet became stained, pristine walls took their share of dings and scrapes. Toddler-sized shoes evolved into size 12 basketball shoes.

Over the years, my husband and I talked about moving out and moving up. Each time, I resisted. How could we move away from memories? How could we move away from the house that was our home for more than 35 years?

Today, workmen are pouring footings for a new foundation for an addition that we are planning. Why build an addition now? Our children are grown, some with children of their own. They have their own homes, their own lives. And yet ...

In indefinable ways, our house is still home to them. We want it to welcome them, to welcome their children, to make this a gathering place.

So, for today, I am grateful for memories of home.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 145, May 25

Life has a way of humbling you when you're least expecting it. Perhaps it isn't life doing the work but the Lord. I always figured it was my children's job to humble me, but I realized that my arrogance is such that the Lord had to step in occasionally and help them out.

Let me share a couple of humbling experiences with you.

One of my books that I was especially fond of (and proud of) was reviewed by the Library Journal. (This erudite periodical reviews books of all kinds.) Of this particular book, the Journal wrote, "the writing is naive and simplistic." The review went on to lambast other aspects of the my writing as well.

A week ago, I took my kitty to the doctor. I wore a spring-green blouse, a color which many people had said complemented my coloring. I was feeling pretty good about myself, even more so when the vet commented on it. When I returned home, I noticed that I had misbuttoned the blouse, so that one side hung lower than the other. I had spent the morning feeling that I was, for once, looking put-together only to discover that I couldn't even dress myself properly.

My list of humbling and embarrassing experiences could fill several books on its own. I look back on these and smile at my foolishness over being upset for even a moment. They are fleeting, hardly worth a mention. Yet I allowed myself to fall victim to these things of the world.

What must the Lord be thinking when I am arrogant and willful over obeying His commandments? Why do I struggle over keeping the simplest of commandments? Why do I believe I know best--about anything?

So, for today, I am grateful --eventually--for experiences that humble me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 144, May 24

I love the smells of spring and summer. In particular, I love the aroma of berries--strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. I love the blend of scents that the berries produce when combined.

Berries don't try to upstage each other when they share the spotlight, whether in a dessert or a fruit salad or a parfait. They complement each other's flavors, bringing out the best in each. Strawberries turn sweeter and blueberries more tart when they work together.

I have many friends who do the same. They work to bring out the best in others, deferring talking about themselves to inquire about their friends. They offer compliments and, in doing so, complement each other. In this way, everyone wins.

Unfortunately, I also know a few people who demand to be the center of attention at all times. They pout if they are upstaged, if their needs and wants are not immediately fulfilled. Those around them rush to do their bidding, because they don't want to suffer the unpleasant consequences if these individuals are not catered to.

So, for today, I am grateful for berries and people who bring out the best in each other.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 143, May 23

In the Mormon church, members contribute their services, everyone holding jobs or callings. My current calling is that of pianist for the Primary (children's group). I love watching the children and listening to their sweet voices as they sing of Heavenly Father and Jesus.

One song in particular touches my heart, "Children All Over the World." In this song, children praise the Lord by giving thanks in different languages: Gracias (Spanish), Malo (Tongan), Wirdankendir (German), Tak (Danish), Merci (French), Kansha shimasu (Japanese). The song reminds me that saying "thank you" is a universal need and that there is a universal need to hear it.

As the children sing these words with enthusiastic fervor, I wonder why adults frequently find it so difficult to say the same words to family members and friends ... and the Lord. We resist uttering the words, as though somehow we will detract from ourselves if we give voice to them. As in many things, we would do well to emulate the example of our children.

So, for today, I am grateful for the words "Thank you" in whatever language they are spoken.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 142, May 22

A few days ago, I wrote about graduations. The following day, I received a graduation announcement for a friend's daughter in the mail. The young girl looked radiant, poised upon the cusp of an exciting journey.

Graduation ceremonies are often referred to as commencement, another word for beginning. I wonder if that beautiful girl views her graduation from high school as a new beginning.

Beginnings come in all shapes and sizes. A five-year-old child starting kindergarten is beginning. An eleven-year-old entering middle school is also beginning. A new job represents a beginning. Learning a new skill set is also a beginning. And so on. Beginnings can be scary. They can cause us to doubt ourselves, our talent, our faith.

I entertain these doubts and more on a regular basis. When I start a short story or a novel, I am faced with the dreaded beginning. Where do I begin? Do I start with dialogue? With action? With a description of the scenery? Or with introspection? There is no right answer.

Despite doubts and fears, beginnings can be a good thing. They can be a chance to start over. They can represent a shedding of old habits in favor of new, more productive ones. They can open up possibilities of which we had not dreamed.

So, for today, I am grateful for beginnings.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 141, May 21

I love lilacs. I love the color variations, from pure white to rosy pink, palest blue to deepest purple.

Our family also has color variations. My husband and I are both blond and blue-eyed with fair skin. Our first four children are also blond and blue-eyed. Our adopted daughter, Ann, has dark hair and dark eyes. Rob, our first son, adopted two little boys. One has dark hair and olive-colored skin; the other is half African American and half Dominican with black hair and skin the color of cinnamon. Our daughter, Alanna, has two children as well, both blond and blue-eyed.

All the children and grandchildren are beautiful. Each is unique in his coloring. Even among the blond and blue-eyed ones, there are differences. Two children have reddish glints in their hair. One of our sons can actually tan a bit. Some have freckles; some don't.

More important than coloring, though, are the unique talents and traits that set them apart. One son excells at math. Another has a wicked sense of humor that shows up at unexpected times. Alanna makes beautiful cards and scrapbook pages, as does her daughter. And so it goes.

I love these differences in our children and grandchildren. I love that each brings something special to our family, strengthening the individual and the family as a whole.

So, for today, I am grateful for variations in color and spirit ... in lilacs and in people.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 140, May 20

As I mentioned in a previous post, our backyard is torn up, resulting in a port-a-potty sitting in the front yard. The recent rains have turned the dirt of the backyard into mud-filled craters. I briefly considered giving myself a mud bath, an expensive procedure at upscale spas. (I have only read about such things, never having visited a spa.)

As I pictured rolling around in the mud, I realized that much of what our culture deems important could be compared to mud. The media is filled with news of infidelities, cruelties, both large and small, and gossip. Yet we remain glued to our television sets, our computers, and other venues to find out the latest in the love-child sitiuation of an ex-governor, the murder of a child by his mother, the beheading of people in foreign lands.

I am not immune to this. How can I resist such riveting subjects? I excuse myself by saying that I want to be up-to-date. The truth is, knowing the details of these topics will not make me a better person. In fact, they drag my thoughts downward into a spiral of depression.

Why does the media not turn its considerable power to the uplifting? And why do I give my attention to these negative things? In our church is a family dealing with leukemia. Members have rallied around the family, doing whatever we can to help. Why is this not news? Also in our church are parents with seven young children who homeschool them and involve them in charitable acts, teaching them what is truly important. Why is this not news? I could go on with dozens of other examples of people who act intelligently, courageously, compassionately.

Rather than reading of the latest scandal, would not my day be better started by reading of such individuals? Would not my heart be more likely turned to eternal things rather than those of the world if I engaged my mind in stories of people who inspire me to do better in my own life?

So, for today, I am grateful for people who inspire.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 139, May 19

In doing the "Gratitude Project," I frequently do not know what I will write about until I put my fingers on the keyboard. A constant prayer runs through my mind as I ask my Father in Heaven for His help in knowing what to say and how to say it.

One thing that helps me in continuing this blog is the encouragement of friends and family. Several people have been especially supportive, leaving comments or sending indiviudal notes saying that my words touched them, made them laugh, or brought back sweet memories.

I've written in past posts about the importance of kind words. Our society seems to eschew the power that loving words hold. At the same time, we give credence, even approbation, to the negative, the inane, the profane. I occasionally wonder why some people withhold praise while others give it so freely. And then I consider myself: do I give kind words as often as I could? The answer, is, of course, no.

So, for today, I am grateful for those of you who support me in this year-long quest.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 138, May 18

I have always dreamed of having a third bathroom. Yesterday, my dream came true. A port-a-potty sits proudly in our front yard. We are having work done in the back yard, and the workmen set up "facilities" in the front.

You probably remember the adage, "Be careful what you wish for." Well, I did wish for a third bathroom. And I did wish for work to be done in the backyard. My result is a turquoise port-a-potty.

I wish for many things. I wish to be thinner, younger, and more talented. I wish that my hip didn't hurt, that I had every designer purse ever made, and that I could write a New York Times bestselling book.

As I review that list of wishes, I realize how selfish and shallow they are. What am I not wishing for a softer heart and a more forgiving spirit? Why am I not wishing that I could be a more loving wife, a more supportive mother, a better friend? Why am I not wishing that I could show my Father in Heaven by my actions and words that I love Him?

So, for today, I am grateful for a port-a-potty in the front yard and the reminder it offers to be careful what I wish for.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 137, May 17

It is graduation time. A time filled with excitement, anticipation, and, perhaps, a bit of fear of the unknown.

Every day can be a graduation time for each of us. When we do something better than we did before, we have graduated. When we accomplish a difficult task, we have graduated. When we conquer a destructive habit, we have graduated.

One of my favorite quotes is "Fail. Try again. Fail better." Failing better is a type of graduation as well. When I first started writing, I collected hundreds, if not thousands, of rejection notices, form letters without an editor's signature. Within several years, I started receiving personal rejections, occasionally accompanied by a personal note from the editor encouraging me to try again.

I was still being rejected, but I had graduated to a better kind of rejection. Then it happened: a sale. One sale turned into two, two into three, and so on. My writing still garners more than its share of rejections, but I have enough acceptances under my belt that I keep trying.

Graduating from high school requires hard work, discipline, and more hard work. Graduating every day requires the same: hard work and discipline. When we look for opportunities to do something better, to face a challenge, to develop a new skill or talent, we have graduated.

So, for today, I am grateful for graduations.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 136, May 16

Yesterday I wrote about spending a day with our granddaughter. Among the things we did was planting flowers. I am not a gardener, but between us, we managed to plant a row of petunias.

I like petunias. I like their bright colors. I like the fact that, once rooted, they spread, almost contagiously. Petunais are a humble flower. They don't grow very tall and don't pretend to be more than they are. They remind me that God's creations are perfect.

Our culture has little patience with things and people who are not perfect. Artificial standards are placed upon us, the messages bombarding our senses through television, movies, advertisements, and the internet: "You're not thin enough." "You're not pretty enough." "You're not smart enough." "You're not popular enough." "You're not rich enough." In short, "You're not enough."

These messages are not confined to adults. They infect our children, our grandchildren with insidious feelings of inferiority, of not measuring up, of being less than what they are. Just as petunias spread, so do these feelings. How does a vulnerable little girl deal with hearing a classmate taunt her, "You're fat?" How does she feel upon watching television shows like "Little Miss Perfect?"

We, as parents, grandparents, teachers, have the opportunity to combat these messages. We can treat our children, each other, and ourselves as what we are: children of a divine parent. We can remember the petunia, one of God's perfect creations.

So, for today, I am grateful for petunias.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 135, May 15

Yesterday, our granddaughter Reynna, 11, spent all day with us. Reynna is smart (and she will be the first to tell you so), funny, and totally charming. I delighted in her, in our time together. My husband said, "I could tell you were in grandma mode yesterday."

I admit it: I love being Grandma. It is a role I have prepared my whole life for, even though I didn't know it. At twenty, who thinks "I'm going to be a grandmother someday?" At that age, I was still in college, still wrapped up in myself. At thirty, I had three children, with two more added in the next few years. Grandmothering was still far away.

When Reynna was born, I fell in love. It happened again and again and again when three grandsons came along. As Grandma, I can be impulsive in a way I never could be as Mom. When Reynna was three, she spent a sleepover night with us. The following morning, she and I tried to decide what to have for breakfast. A brownie mix beckoned.

We made up the batter, then, unable to resist, we each dipped a finger in to it. It was more than good. I got us spoons, and we proceeded to each have another taste. One taste became two, two became three ... I'm sure you can guess the rest. We never baked the brownies. We spooned our way through the entire bowl of batter.

So, for today, I am grateful for grandchildren and the joy they bring into my life.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 134, May 14

My mother didn't have a clothes dryer until well after my sister and I had left home, married, and had children of our own. Hanging sheets and pillow cases, towels and clothes, was a joy to her. Nothing smelled as good as sun-dried sheets.

She had a special apron with pockets for the clothespins placed high where she could easily reach them. I remember her with a clothespin held in her mouth, ready to be used even as she pinned a garment to the line. Those were sweet days, innocent in a way that is foreign to most of us now.

My dryer has been put to hard use. When my children were all at home, it and the washing machine chugged away on a daily basis. I appreciate the ease of it, but I miss the sweet scent of the sun clinging to each piece of linen and clothing.

A friend sent me the following poem. When I read it, I smiled. At the same time, a pang settled around my heart as I thought of my mother:

A clothesline was a news forecast
To neighbors passing by,
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.

It also was a friendly link
For neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.

For then you'd see the "fancy sheets"
And towels upon the line;
You'd see the "company table cloths"
With intricate designs.

The line announced a baby's birth
From folks who lived inside -
As brand new infant clothes were hung,
So carefully with pride!

The ages of the children could
So readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed,
You'd know how much they'd grown!

It also told when illness struck,
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe, too,
Haphazardly were strung.

It also said, "Gone on vacation now"
When lines hung limp and bare.
It told, "We're back!" when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare!

New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy and gray,
As neighbors carefully raised their brows,
And looked the other way .. .

But clotheslines now are of the past,
For dryers make work much less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody's guess!

I really miss that way of life.
It was a friendly sign
When neighbors knew each other best
By what hung on the line.

So, for today, I am grateful for clotheslines ... and for memories of my mother.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 132, May 12

(Dear friends: Blogspot had issues yesterday (May 12) and apparently deleted my post, so I am going to try to recreate it. Please bear with me.)

Today a dear friend is in the hospital having a bone marrow transplant. In preparation for this, he had to endure several grueling rounds of chemotherapy. Thankfully, the treatments didn't make him terribly sick. A miracle.

Today my kitty is ribboning her way through my legs as I sit at my computer. Last fall, she underwent a serious operation, and didn't know if she would survive. Here she is now, demanding my attention and being her sweet self. Another miracle.

Today marks 132 days of my blog, "The Gratitude Project." When I started this, I didn't know if I would have the emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical energy and discipline to keep at it. With God's help and the support of friends and family, I keep going. Yet another miracle.

Miracles, large and small, abound in my life ... if I but take the time to look for and to acknowledge their presence. My mind is too frequently on the things of this world and not enough on the things which the Father has bestowed upon me and upon all of us.

So, for today, I am grateful for miracles, including that of blogspot being in operation again.

Day 133, May 13

Yesterday, I discovered that blogspot.com was having "issues." No one could read my post, nor could I post anything new. I was as bereft as if I'd lost my favorite designer purse!

To tell the truth, I was put out at blogspot. My husband, saint that he is, pointed out that it was free and that I should be more grateful for the service instead of complaining about it.

He was right. Here I am trying to do a gratitude blog and I complain about the very thing that allows me to do it. Obviously I haven't learned much over the last four and a half months. My prayer today is, "Heavenly Father, please don't give up on me."

How many times have I given up on myself? Too many to count. But I know the Father never does. Every day I wonder how He manages to keep loving me despite my selfishness, my weaknesses, my sins. And every day I am grateful (or try to be) that He keeps trying. Why can't I do the same with myself and others?

So, for today (and every day), I am grateful for a Father who doesn't give up.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 131, May 11

Yesterday I wrote about showing up. After re-reading my post, I realized I neglected to mention Someone who always shows up. The Savior.

The Savior shows up for my morning prayers, whether I do or not. The Savior shows up for my scripture reading, whether I do or not. The Savior shows up for the times I could reach out to others, whether I do or not.

The Savior shows up when I am in tears. The Savior shows up when I am discouraged and afraid. The Savior shows up when I need to feel His arms around me.

He is always there. Sometimes I do not recognize or acknowledge His presence. How much happier and more content would I be if I lived in such a way that I felt His presence in my life? How much less frightened? How much less selfish?

So, for today, I am grateful for the Savior, who always shows up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 130, May 10

Last night I watched a program on television where a man asked another the secret of his success. The second man replied, "Showing up."

I belong to several writers' groups. Over the years I've watched some members sell book after book. Guess what the secret of their success is. If you guessed showing up, you'd be right. They put their seat in the chair and write. Writing is one of those things that no one else can do for you.

Another thing that no one else can do for you is being a parent. In the last year, I've observed husbands and wives abandon their families, content, eager even, to abdicate their responsibililties. They failed to show up.

National news is replete with examples of Congressmen and women who don't appear for important votes, who prefer junkets to work, who actually hide out when faced with difficult decisions. They failed to show up.

Thankfully, there are people who show up every day. There is the father who continues to care for his sweet children, doing the large and small things necessary, after his wife leaves them. There are the church members who step in to help a family in need. There is the friend who gives love and encouragement to another who is suffering from depression.

So, for today, I am grateful for people who show up.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Day 129, May 9

Yesterday, in church, a lady gave a talk about "three important phrases." Can you guess what they are?

"I'm sorry; please forgive me."
"I love you."
"Thank you."

I evaluated myself with these in mind and found that I came up short. How many times do I sincerely apologize to my husband, my children, my friends for things I have said and done that were less than kind? How many times do I say "I love you" without there being a special occasion for the words? And how many times do I thank someone else for a favor bestowed, a sweet compliment, an unexpected gift?

The answer to all the above is "Not enough."

I sometimes wonder what kind of world we would have if more of us used these phrases on a regular basis. Would there be less hatred, less crime, less abuse? Would there be fewer broken families? Would the worldwide landscape be littered with fewer wars? Would there be more love, more charity, more hope? I don't know, but it's fun to speculate on the possibililties.

So, for today, I am grateful for the power of kind words.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 128, May 8

Today is Mother's Day. Like many mothers, I have mixed feelings about this day. Sometimes it is the source of laughter; at others, tears. And always love. Isn't that what motherhood is all about?

I received a card from my youngest son yesterday. The front of the card reads: "Mother's Day is a chance for us to treat you like a queen!" The inside message continues, "A queen with really lazy subjects who don't listen very well."

I love this message. I love the humor in it and a son who knew I needed a laugh.

Being a mother is demanding, humbling, and downright hard. It is filled with questions. Did I do enough? No. Was I patient enough? No. Was I compassionate enough? No. Was I wise enough? No. Did I love enough? We'll see. For my job of being a mother isn't over. My children are grown but (I like to think) still need me.

Okay. We've established that motherhood is a mix of laughter and tears, hard work and humility. (Did I mention guilt?) My memories are also a mix. Washing filthy clothes after a son's week at scout camp. Listening to a child say his first prayer. Helping my daughter choose a prom dress. I take out these memories and others and hold them close to my heart as I would a flower pressed between the pages of a book.

So, for today, I am grateful for the joys of being a mother.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 127, May 7

The other night I was watching a television program with a theme of foster parents and children. Predictably, the plot centered around the foster parents abusing the children entrusted to their care.

It hurt my heart.

Twenty-three years ago, my husband and I applied with the county to become foster parents. We took classes, underwent a background check, and waited. During our training, we met other foster parents, some already certified and some, like us, going through the process.

These parents came in all shapes and sizes, social and financial backgrounds, faiths and races. Some wanted to foster teenagers; others wanted elementary school aged children; and still others asked to care for disabled children. What they had in common was a fervent desire to give a needy child a familyand love.

No one signed up with the intent of making money. (To refute that claim, I once figured the hourly rate. It came to less than fifty cents per hour.)

Eight months after we had applied, I received the call. Could we take an infant girl? I answered yes. Giddy with delight, I called my husband who came home from work. Our other four children gathered around as a policewoman delivered this small spirit into our family.

It was love at first sight. Ann was tiny, dark haired, and dark eyed,, a contrast to our blond, blue-eyed family. She looked into my eyes, and I knew she belonged with our family. The children fell in love with her as well. Our middle son, Steven, said, "Mom, I can't imagine our family without Ann."

When Ann became available for adoption, we rejoiced and did what was necessary to make that happen. Two and a half years after she was placed with us, the adoption was final. My feelings for Ann, first as a foster parent, then as her mother, hadn't changed. How could they? I had loved her from the beginning.

So, for today, I am grateful for foster parents and the love they share.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 126, May 6

Yesterday I shared memories of squirming under barbed wire fences to get to a creek. What I didn't share was what we did at the creek. Grubby little creatures that we were, my cousins, sister, and I caught crawdads.

Armed with tin cans and sticks, we waded into the creek and turned over rocks, hoping to unearth the canny crawdads. When one shot out, we urged him backward (that is how crawdads move) with our sticks into the cans. After collecting an impressive number, we made the trek home, once again navigating the barbed wire fence, with our treasures. There, we showed them off to mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and our grandmother, Mamaw. Bolstered by their praise, we made the return trip when we would set the crawdads free.

Once again, I smile over those sweet memories and wonder how we managed to wash off the murky water and dark mud that covered our hands, legs, and feet. In those days, I lived in flip-flops or thongs (no, not THAT kind of thong). I think of those unsuspecting crawdads and can only imagine their surprise and outrage at being herded into a tin prison, however temporarily.

Like the crawdads, I spend a good deal of my life moving backward. I joke that I take two steps backward for every step forward in my writing and consider myself successful if I sell one story out of every ten submissions. In my personal life, I also seem to move backward. I make the same mistakes over and over, even while promising myself that this time will be different.

Past hurts and old grudges sneak upon me, and I find myself back where I started, or even several steps beyond that. The idea of moving forward, of making true progress, appears hopeless. Why should I try?

And then I remember: the Savior has not given up on me. The reminder gives me the strength to try once more.

And so, for today, I am grateful for lessons from crawdads ... and the Lord's constant care.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 125, May 5

As a child, I spent summers in Tennessee visiting my grandmother and other family. My sister, cousins, and I loved to cross the country road and play in a slow-moving creek. In order to get to the creek, we had to slide beneath a barbed wire fence. One of us would gingerly hold the fence up while the others crawled beneath it. Those on the other side would then repeat the process for the last person.

Crawling under a barbed wire fence is not for the squeamish. The barbs could and did tear clothing and, sometimes, flesh. Squirming under the fence involved getting up close and personal with the rich Tennessee mud and the occasional cow pie.

I look back on those days and smile, thinking of my younger, intrepid self. Navigating barbed wire fences is not unlike navigating the prickly thorns of relationships. Family and friends, church members and business associates, we all have to find our way through the maze of understanding and accepting each other.

Sometimes we are the ones left behind to hold the fence for another. At other times, we are first in line and, later, take our turn to lift the fence for the last person in line. Either way, we must do our share of the lifting. Patience and loyalty, love and unselfishness are required, with a healthy dose of humor thrown in for good measure. When we fall short, we try again.

So, for today, I am grateful for memories of barbed wire fences and the lessons they taught me.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day 124, May 4

I am proud to be an American. And never more so than at this time when brave men and women risked their lives to gather intelligence about the location of bin Laden and then took him down. Who can resist hearing of SEAL Team Six fast-roping into bin Laden's compound?

I've written before about the debt of gratitude we owe the military. The people who serve our country are heroes in ways that we will never fully understand or appreciate. The media delights in spotlighting movie stars, athletes, socialites, and politicians, giving them celebrity status. Many of these people do nothing but exist for their own pleasure. (Anyone heard of Paris Hilton?)

Yet rarely do the media or the rest of us pay due respect to the courageous men and women who protect us on a daily basis. These individuals make it possible for me, for all of us, to go about our lives, secure in the knowledge that they stand as a first line of defense against those who would seek to harm us.

So, for today, I am grateful for those who serve and protect our country.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day 123, May 3

I have a friend who sews beautifully. She has sewn her daughters' wedding dresses, has upholstered chairs, has even tailored a suit for her husband. When her children were small, she made most of their clothes, including coats. One thing that makes her work stand out is her attention to detail.

Another friend writes heart-touching inspirational romance novels. Her finely-drawn characters and intricate plotting are complemented by her historical accuracy. Everything, from the characters' speech to the mode of transportation to the clothing, is painstakingly researched through such sources as diaries, recipe books, etc. Again, attention to detail.

My husband is a meticulous record-keeper. Our checkbook is always balanced, our financial papers in exact order. It is no wonder that he is the financial clerk at our church. Once more, attention to detail.

There is Someone Else who pays attention to detail in His work. Have you ever noticed the symmetry of a rose? The petals lie in perfect order, each working with its neighbor to produce a lovely bloom. His creations are beautiful because He cared enough to give loving care to each. The Father's attention to detail remains an example for all of us.

Hallmark is famous for its advertising program entitled "When you care enough to send the very best." I always appreciated that sentiment of caring enough, of giving the best.

So, for today, I am grateful to those who pay attention to detail and give their best.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Day 122, May 2

Rocking chairs hold special memories for me. As a child, I frequently visited my grandmother in Tennessee. What I remember most is her porch with the rocking chairs placed on it. The chairs were not made of fine wood; nor were they polished to a sheen. Instead, they were roughly painted with a few splinters for the unwary. Despite their humbleness or perhaps because of it, they invited visitors to stop in and stay a piece. (In the South, the phrase "a piece" could mean anything from fifteen minutes to hours.)

As a young mother, I nursed my babies in an old vinyl upholstered rocking chair. I spent many hours there, nuzzling these sweet children, murmuring soft nonsense to them. The chair saw us through four babies, withstood vomit and other bodily fluids, and sometimes became my bed as I fell asleep with a baby cuddled close to my heart.

When our oldest daughter turned three, her grandmother gave her a tiny rocking chair. It was then her turn to "nurse" her babies, holding them and talking soft nonsense to them. (Where had she picked that up?)

As I look back now, I realize it wasn't the chairs themselves that held such tender memories for me but the feelings of love and care they represented.

So, for today, I am grateful for rocking chairs.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Day 121, May 1

Today our grandson Christopher turns eight years old. With his blond hair, fair skin, and blue eyes, he closely resembles our three sons. He also shares some personality traits with them in that he is intelligent, funny, and curious.

Despite their similarities, each of these boys (really my sons are now men, but they will always be my boys) has a unique Spirit. They did not develop this Spirit or cultivate it. It accompanied them to this mortal sphere. The Spirit is eternal. The Spirit is what makes each individual unique.

It is convenient to clump people in broad categories. We define ourselves by our political leanings, our race, our religion, etc. I do it myself, and sometimes I forget that which makes each of us individual. Certainly, talents, skills, and interests play a part, but (I believe) they are the by-product of our Spirits, the gifts that we carried with us on this leg of our eternal journey.

So, for today, I am grateful for the Spirit that shines through each of us.