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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Transformational Power of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  On this celebratory day off we make traditional food and gather with people who are important to us.  We reflect on what we are grateful for, what has brought the most meaning to our lives, what makes us happy.  Today, our definition of love and who makes our lives full, rich and purposeful are called to mind.

This Thanksgiving, our family is reflecting back on our most challenging year as Mark awaits a heart transplant.  His fragile heart is sustained by an impeller pump that takes on the infinite duty of distributing his blood around to his vessels and organs.  He has no heart beat but the whirl of a machine instead keeping him alive as we wait and desperately hope.  Life had never been so fleeting and precious.

What we celebrate today on Thanksgiving has transformed a dark, difficult time into a season of great blessing. At every Mass as part of the liturgy, said everyday of the year, our Priests remind us that 'we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks'.  We've heard it countless times but this year, as Mark has fought to remain with us, giving thanks has become a lifeline.  Deeply impacted by the research of Dr. Robert Emmons and his book Gratitude Works, we set out on a journey to be intentional about capturing the good in each day, despite enduring the precariousness of Mark's health in this marathon journey.  Our gratitude practice became the shield that protected us daily from anxiety and despair.  It was the sword that beat back fear and kept my mind in today rather than thoughts of a black, shadowy future where I'm a widow and single mom.  Gratitude brought me back to the reality of Mark still here - what a relief to steer my mind back to the present.  Pausing, taking in the now, wanting more of what is right here, right now - that is gratitude...lifesaving, life-giving gratitude.

Desperate for fresh air and the inspiration of nature, I'll never forget a winter walk I took last March as Mark was running out of time waiting for a heart, living in ICU indefinitely.  The sky matched the colorless gray of the snow-covered ground.  The trees were devoid of all color except for the craggy, dreary brown of the bark.  Brown and gray matched my floundering heart. Suddenly, a brilliant male cardinal flew across the trail, the red flash capturing my full attention popping against the dull, winter backdrop.   My anxious thoughts couldn't help but be averted, my mood immediately lightened just by seeing this bright, beautiful creature.  A few moments later, as if on cue, the female mate, more muted in color but still revelatory, flew across the trail.  Together, 20 years into this journey - in sickness and in health - color pops against the gray, light is present amidst the darkest times.  An intentional gratitude practice - chronicling the positive moments present in each day - has helped me be watchful, expectant, hopeful rather than despondent.  This is the transformational power of gratitude - it makes me want more of what I already have.  The now is good enough, wonderful, in fact, and I want to savor it, encircle it and be present to capture it.   Gratitude keeps the uncertainty of the future at bay.

With deep gratitude, we want to thank all of you who have encouraged us this year, reached out to us with expressions of love, checked in on our status.  For those who braved the roads to visit us in the depths of winter in Minnesota.  For meals, cards of encouragement, Facebook messages and comments, calls, gifts sent in the mail.  Prayers - so many offered up on our behalf and we believe will be answered in some mysterious way.  We are humbled and thankful for you standing with us. Our gratefulness for you has fueled our faith, courage, resilience and hope.  Gratitude has the power to transform our lives - may everyday be Thanksgiving!

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