Just this.

Dear friends,

There’s absolutely no reason for me to write this post. No urgent topic. No compelling story to tell. Nothing really.

Just this:

I’m sitting in my kitchen, staring out the window at the beautiful Missouri foliage and drinking coffee while my family sleeps in for Fall Break.  And my heart is full. Full to bursting.

So many times, it seems, we are pushed and pulled and frustrated and exhausted and worried and terse. I sometimes get a Bad Case of the Terse and I hate it even as I feel it overtaking me.

But every now and then, in fleeting moments, we soak up a drop or two of now. Of just this. For me, I relax my jaw. (My jaw is hardly ever relaxed by the way.) A surging tide of calm washes over my heart and I startle myself by actually being in my surroundings. I feel the comfort of my favorite chair. I see the soft stubble on Mr. Mom’s face. The narrowing of Parker’s eyes when he grins. The delicate beauty of Kate’s hands.

That, my friends, is God.

I may startle you by saying that because I never talk about God. (That’s because I figure God is not mine to talk about. God is yours to experience and I get fidgety, frankly, when people start talking about God like God is the celebrity on this week’s cover of People magazine and they’re all Oh, yeah, I know ALL ABOUT God.)

I won’t say anymore because you don’t need to hear it. But you may want to feel it, see it, let it wash over you and flood your heart like beauty sometimes does on a Thursday morning for no particular reason.

With gratitude {for tiny quiet moments just like this},

Joan, who has no agenda for the day other than cooking a great supper for her family and soaking up as much of this as she can

You can’t take the treadmill to Joyland.

Dear friends,

Wednesday night as Mr. Mom and I were about to drift off to sleep, he squeezed my hand and whispered “Did you find your joy today?”

We both snickered, and I admitted that given a taxing day at the office, I hadn’t even looked for it.  We talked about the thoughtful comments made by readers and the elements of your suggestions that resonated with us.  Finally he said, “Sometimes I think you have to stop thinking and start doing.”

His words echoed many of your comments, which suggested I get busy — responding to my creative urges, rolling out the yoga mat, or even cutting loose and dancing in the kitchen. Simple things, all. But incredibly uplifting things, too, if one does them consciously.

But let me tell you — the conscious part is not so simple.

Haven’t you ever felt like you were going through your days in a daze? Before we moved and I was still commuting two hours a day, there were times when the entire drive would go by and I’d have no memory of it. It might sound like a convenient mental trick, but there were instances when I’d pull into my driveway and “wake up” without any memory of the traffic or the landmarks (or, frankly, of any brain activity) of the prior 60 minutes. The feeling frightened me so badly that sometimes I would feel myself shaking as I pulled into the garage. And it convinced me I had to get rid of the commute.

But getting rid of the commute doesn’t mean I got off the treadmill. And by treadmill, I mean the automatic-pilot state, the sleepwalking trap that all adults but especially working mothers can fall into. I’ve tried very hard since I “remade” my life 10 months ago to stay off the treadmill.  But the truth is that some days I’m more conscious than others. (We humans are all a damn DIY project, aren’t we?)

When I launched this site on a whim in January, I chose the tagline “daily meditations of a mindful mother” for two reasons. First, because I needed a written promise to motivate me to blog daily (and blogging is my chosen method for cultivating gratitude). And, second, because I aspire to be mindful (though I so often am not). Thus, the daily part and the mindful part were at the center of my New Year’s resolution. And yet here I am, in early February, in a self-inflicted stupor wherein I whine publicly about how “I have no joy!”

So, I’m going to stop whining and start doing.  Do I know what my doing will consist of? Heck no! But whatever I do, I’m going to follow this advice:

As you walk, cultivate a sense of ease. There’s no hurry to get anywhere, no destination to reach. You’re just walking. This is a good instruction: just walk. As you walk, as you let go of the desire to get somewhere, you begin to sense the joy in simply walking, in being in the present moment. You begin to comprehend the preciousness of each step. It’s an extraordinarily precious experience to walk on this earth. —Peter Doobinin (from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review)

Don’t worry . . . I’ll report in and let you know how it goes. Because you can bet when I find some joy I’m going to spread it around.

With gratitude {for a husband who cares enough to ask about his wife’s joy and friends with much-needed perspective},

Joan, who wrote this late Thursday night in a hotel room while cultivating a little TGIF-joy at the thought of going home for the weekend

Joy to the me.

Dear friends,

Not me, but I aspire to feel this joyful every day.

Source: Pinterest

In case you haven’t figured this out about me by now, I’m a knuckle-down kind of gal.

I’ve been described as stoic, serious, determined, decisive, no-nonsense, persistent, and ambitious (among other less flattering adjectives).  No one has ever accused me of being fun. In fact, I’m probably known as a bit of a buzz-kill.  Best I can tell, I never get social invitations based on the bet I’ll get the par-tay started.

While in Tulsa last weekend, I had breakfast with an old friend whose good advice has been a staple in my life.  After we caught up on everything that happened in our worlds since I left town, she asked “So what are you doing to bring joy into your life?”

I nearly choked on my eggs.

“Joy?” I said, as if she had suggested I should be bringing nuclear fusion into my life.

Truth is, I still have no answer.

Okay, that’s not true. I cook and bake almost every weekend and that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I enjoy it immensely but I’m not sure I would say I’m joyful while doing it.

Fact is, I can’t really tell you what makes me joyful. I think this might be a problem. And it probably explains why Mr. Mom suggested as nicely as he knew how not long ago that I need to “lighten up.”  Have more fun. Quit taking life so seriously.

Knowing me, after he said it, I probably thought to myself something like “Oh sure, I’ll get right on that. Yes, sirree, I’ll be sure to have more fun right after I finish solving all the problems at my office and getting our new lives arranged and helping Kate navigate the rest of her life via the college search process.”

If I am honest, I will say that I have spent my life behaving as if joy is a momentary destination rather than a daily state of mind.  I tend to spend long stretches of time planning for large joyous celebrations (such as vacations, outings, holidays) rather than looking for and enjoying tiny bursts of joy in my everyday life.

I started this blog because I realized late last year that I needed to cultivate gratitude in my life – to consciously and determinedly identify blessings and take time to savor them. It has worked in many respects. I’m successfully cultivating appreciation for life’s small blessings, while reducing frustration and discontent in the process.  But I am learning that one can be simultaneously grateful and pensive. Joy is not an automatic response to gratitude.

This I did not count on. It seems to me that gratitude is more of a cognitive response (a reasoned conclusion to an analytical process), while I consider joy to be an emotional reaction. Analysis, I’m good at. Spontaneous gaiety, not so much.

But maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe joy is a fundamental condition of the heart, as much as gratitude, as much as love, as much as hope.

So what’s a girl to do when she wants to bring joy into her life? Should I start by trying to have more fun?  (I realize joy is not the exact same thing as fun, but I can’t remember the last time I had fun and yet failed to feel joyous.) I welcome any and all suggestions for how a tightly wound worrywart can get her joy on.  That child in roller skates in the photo? That’s my new standard of joy. I may not get there every single day, but I’m betting if I work at it I can beat my recent average.

With gratitude {for friends and loved ones who ask me the hard questions},

Joan, who was terribly disappointed when her three oldest friends told her she was the Miranda Hobbes in their foursome, but couldn’t really offer a solid counter-argument

Thirty days.

Dear Friends,

I was browsing Pinterest on Sunday.  (Is it my imagination, or has the internet gotten a whole lot easier and more fun to surf with Pinterest?).  And I tripped across this image, pinned by my cousin.

Source: Inchmark

Somebody suggested capturing happy memories throughout the year on pieces of paper saved in a jar. Then, on New Year’s Eve, pull out the memories and savor them, one-by-one.

“What a great idea!” I thought, before realizing that’s what I’m doing here.

This is my 30th post. The month has flown by and, so far, I’m delighted with my little gratitude project. My readership is small but devoted, though readers aren’t why I started Debt of Gratitude. I launched this blog because I wanted to deepen and enrich my appreciation for life’s small blessings and, on that count, I can say without hesitation it has worked.

It sounds too simple to be true, but it is: the discipline and routine of journaling every single day make a difference in my attitude that is distinct and profound. As I have reflected more and more on what I have to be thankful for, petty annoyances and frustrations have receded from my attention.

Every day, I find myself thinking “What will I write about tonight?” And after writing every night, I find myself thinking I’m the luckiest girl on the planet. My plan has worked like a charm, with growing contentment and balance as side benefits.

With gratitude {for each and every one of you — friend, family member or visitor — who have shared my first 30 days with me and who keep me motivated to blog on},

Joan, who wishes she could turn gratitude-discipline into fitness-discipline but needs a whole lot more than 30 days to achieve self-mastery

In contrast to my leisurely Saturday, I had a very productive Sunday. Head over to Domestic Dilettante for the evidence.

Says who?

Dear Friends,

Source: Best Made, available here

A couple of nights ago Mr. Mom and I were watching the local news.

This was, in itself, newsworthy. We never watch the local news for reasons that could fill another post but will become clear in just a moment.

For the weather lead-in, the female anchor said “It’s a rainy and miserable night out there, folks.”

To which Mr. Mom shouted “Says who?”

I looked at the man talking to my television, but he was clearly not done yet. “Really!” he continued. “By whose definition is it miserable?”

I wasn’t sure what surprised me most — a broadcaster declaring my evening “miserable” or Mr. Mom arguing with the broadcaster. (He’s really not the quarrelsome type, not to mention he generally avoids televised knotheads.)

Mr. Mom left the room, then, but I contemplated the point for a good 24 hours, reflecting on what makes people think they’re miserable.

Surely not a little mid-winter rain, do you think?

I could go on and on about the power of words, about the self-fulfilling prophecy of negative thinking, about the necessity of gratitude to positively shape one’s life, but instead of launching into what would probably be a very dry lecture, I think I’ll share this little gem instead, from Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine:

Whatever your difficulties . . . you can always remember that you are free in every moment to set the compass of your heart to your highest intentions. In fact, the two things that you are always free to do—despite your circumstances—are to be present and to be willing to love.

Oh, how those words sent joy pulsing through me. Just think, your heart has a compass and you are free — in every moment — to set it to your highest intention.

Have you ever heard anything so revolutionary? So empowering? So potentially potent?

And if it’s true, if we may chart our course by the nobility of our hearts, then there is really only one relevant question in our lives:

Why don’t we do it . . .

Every.

Single.

Day?

With gratitude {for the power of words to awaken and enlighten us},

Joan, who has always thought cock-eyed optimism is peculiarly underrated

Supper, my love.

Dear Friends,

Mr. Mom’s Cheeseburger Salad from Pioneer Woman  (Photo by Instagram)

You only need to know me for about five minutes to figure out my life revolves around food. It is my raison d’etre to the max, my greatest pleasure, my pastime, the object of my obsession, and the method through which, more than any other, I express my love and affection.

If Maslow were still alive, he might conclude I’m woefully underdeveloped in self-actualization because of my obsession with my next meal. A social worker might wonder if I’m food insecure. I think I’m neither, of course, but it cannot be disputed that I live to eat. I can say without hesitation that nothing short of the love of my family fills me with more joy and gratitude than a good meal. And since I experience food-related joy three times a day at a minimum, I’m typically a pretty happy camper.

Especially on nights like the one recently where Mr. Mom and I exchanged these texts at 5:00 pm:

Mr. Mom: Tell me when you will be home and I’ll have a good dinner ready.

Joan: I love you.

Mr. Mom: Is that code for 5:45? LOL.

There are millions of working mothers in the world who are just like me in so many ways, and yet only a fraction (probably a miniscule fraction) are blessed with a husband who cooks most meals. And lest you think I don’t know how lucky I am, I GIVE THANKS EVERYDAY FOR MY LOT IN LIFE. Geeeeez, I’m no dummy.

Besides the fact that Mr. Mom cooks supper most nights, I am especially fortunate because he takes orders. Wait, let me re-phrase that: he welcomes orders. Yesterday morning, somewhere between editing a magazine story and signing correspondence, I paused from work about 10:00 am to email him Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Cheeseburger Salad with this message: “Here’s a suggestion for tonight’s supper.”

And guess what we had? Oh wait, you saw the photo evidence above.

Normally, Mr. Mom and I text each other in order to time my exact arrival home to coincide with the serving of supper. But last night, Mr. Mom was otherwise engaged and arrived home just as I did.  (I think I might have actually glanced at my watch and said “You mean you haven’t started supper yet?” But in a nice voice, okay?)

So Kate and I, who were both starving, pitched in and helped Mr. Mom make quick work of Pioneer Woman’s tasty dish. And in the midst of it, as Mr. Mom chopped vegetables and I seasoned the beef and Kate grilled the croutons and we exchanged an easy, playful banter about our day, I thought my god there is nothing in life that beats this. This ephemeral moment in the kitchen — an expression of both teamwork and affection, a family communion as sacred as any and yet a spontaneous flash in the scope of a mother’s life — was undoubtedly a blessing beyond measure. Not to mention we had a pretty terrific meal.

With gratitude {for being exceedingly well fed},

Joan, whose faithful service to mealtime has permanently stunted the self-actualization of her abs

Just breathe.

Dear Friends,

I tripped across these words of wisdom yesterday on – of all places – Facebook:

One way to handle the impulses that bind us to suffering is through cognitive intervention. If we’re behind the wheel and another driver cuts us off, leans on his horn, or otherwise drives provocatively, we can construct a narrative to explain his aggressiveness: “He’s late for something, and probably not for the first time. He’s desperate to get there, and you know yourself what that’s like!” The same line of creative speculation works in the face of any form of hostility: “She may have just lost her job,” or “He just had a fight with his wife.” These kinds of stories, even if fanciful, offer us some breathing room, interrupting the reaction chain that binds us to suffering.   — Bodhin Kjolhede, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

There are two thoughts from this passage that really resonate with me. The first is: breathing room. In today’s fast-paced, uber-connected, over-indulgent world, it seems like we have such precious little space or encouragement to breathe. To reflect. To consider for one moment something other than our own immediate need or impulse.

Take Facebook, for example, which seems to offer as its chief attraction a fascinating and addicting milieu of low-brow instincts, mundane chatter and pseudo-aspirational bromides. I consider the site a virtual testament to a world increasingly devoid of impulse control and thoughtful reflection, though its entertainment value and instant gratification keep me coming back even as it depletes my world of oxygen.

The second is: impulses that bind us to suffering. I dare say you aren’t human if you claim you’ve never allowed aggression or insolence to beget your own rude response. The notion that my own thoughtless impulses bind me to suffering really stopped me in my tracks and begged the question – am I willing and able to interrupt the reaction chain?

I wish I had an answer for you but I don’t. I do have the impulse to give it a try . . . to search for more breathing room in my world and, in doing so, to create space for grace and kindness and joy for others in my orbit.

With gratitude {for wisdom that transcends my own},

Joan, who endeavors to breathe deeply every day

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