The Grass Is Greener Where It Is Tended and Watered

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November is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving. The month when we take time to intentionally practice being grateful and declare our blessings. The month when we walk around with our eyes wide open to our experiences and search for kernels of personal happiness in each moment.

As I sat on the sandy shores of Bimini last month and stared out at the calm, tropical turquoise water—water that looked like it had been dyed with food coloring from a bottle the size of an ocean liner—it wasn’t too hard for me to practice gratitude. And having my family right there with me in that instant empowered me to declare my blessings a little louder. It was a surreal moment full of peace and gratitude that I wanted to somehow bottle up and carry back home with me to North Carolina. Surely, that view alone could continually bring me gratitude.

The fact is that I’m already blessed with a view that every stranger that visits my home in North Carolina loves. Everyone, literally every single person, that visits us steps out of his or her car and scans the rolling countryside while proclaiming some version of “wow.” I love it, too. This view, along with the old farmhouse and windmill, are the very reasons my husband remarked, “We are bidding on this house today,” before we even stepped out of our car onto unfamiliar land more than twenty years ago.

I guess I’ve grown accustomed to the view in my backyard and sometimes overlook it—just like how I would probably overlook the tropical waters of Bimini if I saw them every day.

Oprah Winfrey recently posted on gratitude http://www.oprah.com/spirit/oprahs-gratitude-journal-oprah-on-gratitude. In this post, Oprah discusses an old gratitude journal of her own and how it sparked her to ask why she no longer felt joy in the simple moments after accumulating so much more. Interestingly enough, Oprah discovered she had to make gratitude an intentional, daily process.

We all want to feel joy, peace, and love but, too often, our focus turns us away from the simple things that bring us these pleasures. Our lives become busy with things and people—not in the grounding and bonding ways that bring us contentment, but in the search for affluence, material success, social status, and validating personal worth.

As we turn towards the world and away from our hearts, we begin to think we need more. I want what she has. His life is so much easier than mine. Her romantic husband … his comfy lifestyle … those shoes … that house … and the list goes on and on. But we are never full, never content, and never satisfied. Our hearts should be our contentment meters, yet our minds seem too distracted to listen to what our hearts truly want.

Twenty-six years ago, when I was dating my husband, I went with his family to visit his maternal grandmother’s home in South Carolina. We circled around the mountain and visited his great-aunts and uncles, cousins, and neighbors who had become family over the years. I was surprised that many of these relatives didn’t have bathrooms in their homes. And they also didn’t have modern heating and cooling units. Instead, woodstoves and fireplaces provided heat in the winter and the creek was how they cooled off in the summer. I was humbled by the joy this family shared in just seeing one another and openly acknowledging what they did have. I still remember that day as a day of laughter, and fondly look back on a picnic by the creek listening to the family reminisce about summer gardens, canning, walking down a dirt road to school, and picking blackberries for Great-Grandma.

We also visited Great-Grandma on that trip. There wasn’t much laughter and joy in that portion of the trip; Great-Grandma was sick and in a nursing home and she was miserable. Over and over, she said she wanted to go home. Eventually, Great-Grandma’s children helped her return to her heart’s home—her front porch—before she passed away. If you were ever able to sit on her porch and see her view, you would understand why she insisted on returning and why she clung to life until she was able to sit on her porch again. Great-Grandma’s old home is deteriorating and the meadow to the right of her home is well past overgrown, but even now, immeasurable beauty, peace, and serenity surround her mountain home. The memory of children’s laughter still dances in the meadow with the sunlight. The kitchen still holds past trips over the mountain to collect blackberries for Great-Grandma to cook up into something good. And the rotting porch still holds an invisible rocking chair and a sweet little old lady that loved the view she tended and watered.

When I reflect on that trip to the mountains, I am reminded where thankfulness resides: in the moments when we can connect with our hearts, with what is already in our lives that brings us joy. If my heart is like Great-Grandma’s garden, these moments of thankfulness are the water that bring it to life, and the effort to make gratitude a daily process is how I tend it.

What are you tending and watering today? Please go to my Facebook page and leave a comment.

Dear Fall

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Dear Fall,

You have always been my favorite.

I love your promise of cooler temperatures and vibrant colors, and your scents of spices and freshly baked pumpkin-everything.

You, with your soft, warm blankets, oversized sweatshirts, and fluffy socks, are what I long for when the ocean air has grown stagnant and the sand is overcrowded with bodies crammed against the dunes and swatting at no-see-ums as the tide rolls in.

It must be hard for you to follow Summer’s long, sunny days and happy vacations.

She’s the fun one, the highly anticipated one, the sought-after-by-teachers-and-students-everywhere one, and the please-don’t-ever-end one.

Still, I crave you.

I eagerly anticipate your arrival and the quiet beach days you bring, days when my treasured island becomes uncongested and almost desolate except for the speck of movement that can be seen far in the distance.

You, Fall, have always been my longed-for one.

 

Still, this year, it feels as though you betrayed me.

I know it’s not your fault, and I’m sorry that I have pinned all the blame on you, but Hurricane Season has never caused this much trouble for my happy place before.

For the last ten years, Hurricane Season has felt shorter and less chaotic.

But this year, the season of menace imposed itself over your months to put on a destructive show, wreaking havoc on my home away from home.

Hurricane Flo dumped unprecedented amounts of rain all along the Eastern Coast, washing out roads and bridges, flooding homes, and toppling trees.

Now my island is desolate, its solitude much different than the kind I longed for before.

The sand still carries remnants from Flo’s unwanted visit and her left-behind murky pools of water reek. Meanwhile, Hurricane Season churns on, threatening more harm to my tranquil abode.

 

Dear Fall, I hold hope Hurricane Season’s inconsiderate visits won’t spoil the fun we planned.

No, my trustworthy Fall, while the waters gradually recede and the sun reappears from behind gray clouds, bringing with it blue skies and warming rays, I know you will sneak in to return as always and restore a gentle peace to the island and its horizontally striped lighthouse.

The banging of hammers will be accompanied by the rustling of wind through the leaves. The newly replaced DQ sign will announce a special fall flavor. Potted mums will pop up around the island in assorted colors. And I will notice you.

I will slip my fuzzy socks into a pair of flip-flops and, with my beach chair and new book in hand, I will find an empty spot along an uncrowded shore and bask in the warmth of your mild days while my precious Oak Island embraces my chosen season and all of her beloved inhabitants all over again.

 

Oh My Dearest Fall, isn’t it obvious? No matter what happens or what other people say, you will always be my most loved season.

 

Sincerely Yours,

 

Learning About Love, Compassion, and Forgiveness Through The Pages Of A Book

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The Novice: A Story of True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh – I read this entertaining, educational, and inspiring parable (based off of the real life Vietnamese bodhisattva Quan Am Thi Kinh) in one day! It is an easy read that kept me turning the pages and left me wanting to practice more forgiveness, self-control, kindness, love, and compassion in my personal life. Talk about a transformative read!

“A bodhisattva is a great being, an enlightened being who is animated by the desire to help all beings suffer less and enjoy peace and happiness” (page 107). This is exactly what Kinh Tam, the main character in The Novice, did through her actions and how she lived her life.

There are spoilers ahead, but I do not give the whole story away.

Kinh Tam was a young woman who desired to live the monastic life in order to grow deeper in her faith—but in Tam’s culture, a woman’s role was to get married and raise a family. Also, in Tam’s culture and during her lifetime, temples for nuns (women) did not exist. Still, Tam was interested in Buddhism and wanted to practice this monastic lifestyle of great compassion and loving-kindness.

Tam’s opportunity to do exactly this came after her in-laws unjustly accused her of an offense she did not commit, then sent her away. Tam disguised herself as a man and begged the elderly abbot at the monastery to ordain “him” as a monastic disciple.

Kinh Tam’s knowledge, insight, and dedication to the Buddhist practice inspired everyone around “him.” Even villagers found peace in “his” presence. And no one suspected that “he” was really a woman.

A young maiden villager, Mau, fell in love with Tam. But Tam did not return Mau’s affection. This humiliated and angered Mau so much that when Mau became pregnant, she accused Tam of being the father of her unborn child. Of course, this was impossible, but Tam still did not tell anyone her true gender. Instead, when the village council questioned Tam, she denied being with Mau—the daughter of the richest family in the kingdom. Tam was repeatedly beaten for denying the accusation, but Tam did not plead for mercy because she loved her life in the monastery and did not want to have to give up her opportunity to grow deeper in her faith.

The abbot at the monastery asked the village council to have mercy and release novice Kinh Tam back to the monastery for further council. The council agreed, but the monastery received much ridicule from the townspeople for letting Tam stay. The townspeople believed Tam was lying about “his” transgression against Mau. Tam felt horrible about the monastery receiving unjust scorn because of “him” and decided to live in a straw hut outside of the monastery.

Months later, Mau abandoned her newborn baby on the temple’s steps. Tam knew “he” would be persecuted further for helping the abandoned child, but “he” felt compassion for the baby and decided to look after the baby and raise him.

This beautiful story does not end here. No, the lesson of this story follows soon after Tam has rescued the baby. But I want you to personally experience this story, so I will not spoil the ending. Instead, I encourage you to find a quiet spot to read this deeply engaging book. I know you won’t be disappointed.

 

Have you checked out my What I’m Reading page on my website? I list fiction and nonfiction books that have made an impact on my personal views and values, along with small reviews of each book and links to find out more about the books and the authors. I’d love to here what you are reading.

 

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