Though my childhood now seems a bit like a story I read long ago, I remember a thing or two about those early days. Among the fading memories is a severe lack of gratitude, especially in my teen years.
I was one of those kids that started working well before high school. Growing up in a family of six (4 kids and my parents), we didn’t have a lot of extra money. We also had dogs and cats to feed. Many times, we had chickens, horses and other farm-like animals to feed. My folks are two of the smartest, hard working people I know. But anything more than one kid is a heavy lift, even back then. They stretched a dollar about as far as it could go. Sometimes, that dollar broke right in half. I didn’t appreciate how that broken dollar still managed to get whatever we needed.
I contributed too by babysitting, picking berries and moving pipe during summers. By the time I reached my last year of high school, I was firmly resolved to put myself through college so that I never, ever had to do physical labor for work as an adult. That success has been a blessing my whole life.
Carrying 3 jobs and way too many credits on my way to that first degree, I recall not-so-fondly eating a steady diet of Top Ramen, boxed macaroni and cheese, and whatever Taco Bell item was cheapest. I was under a healthy weight. In fact, I was down right skinny. I had a car that ran most of the time, but only because my father had the skills of a master mechanic. Again, I was ungrateful. And in that, I recall totalling several vehicles during my teen years. Thanks again to my loving parents, cars kept appearing so that my journey could be a bit easier.
Still, I was one of the most ungrateful kids around. In fact, the fruits of my early adult years speak for themselves. I left a path that evidenced my ungrateful outlook in the wake of my 20’s. About the only smart thing I did back then was finish college, and it took me years to appreciate that accomplishment.
I didn’t thank my mom enough, maybe not even once, for the home cooked meals that she magically created night after night from seemingly nothing. (I thought we should eat out more, and I recall being quite vocal about that.) My mother’s words echo in my mind to this day. “Someday when you are a parent, you will appreciate this food a lot more.” She was right about that. Those home-cooked, prepared-just-for-me meals disappeared all too soon, and eating has never been that easy since.
I took my dad for granted too. They both deserved much better. But youth is wasted on the young, isn’t it?
Today, things are different. I know better than to get too far away from my daily habit of counting my blessings. Every person. Every thing. Every single opportunity. Every door that has opened before me (those doors have been plenty).
I have also become my mother in my dealings with my own daughter (she was right about that too). Countless times over the years I have said to her, “You will appreciate this food a lot more when you have your own kids.” Thankfully, she is more grateful than I ever was at her age, picky-eating aside.
Somewhere between my ever-distancing youthful days and the present, I figured out that I will have more and do more if I focus on gratitude. And I know now that it is not enough to just count blessings. As part of this unexplainable Universal Law, I must also take care of what I have already been given, including the people close in my life. I don’t know how it all works together big-picture. I just know that it works. Gratitude = more blessings. It’s the smartest answer we will ever learn.
Conversely, a lack of gratitude produces the opposite. Things and people can disappear from our lives very quickly if we take them for granted. If we begin each day counting our blessings, what is the worst that can happen? Even if more blessings are not readily apparent, we will at least have a more positive focus. I see no down side.
Regardless one’s beliefs, beginnings, political affiliation, culture or preferences, there is much to gain by focusing positive energy on the people and things in our lives. They are blessings, each and every one. Even the most difficult person can teach us something about ourselves. Learning those lessons is a blessing too.