Gratitude, Again

Let me take this moment to breathe a sigh of relief and say: Thank God April is almost over. Whew.

It’s not that April was a completely horrible month. It was more of April kicking me in places that I didn’t know even really existed. I wasn’t particularly sad, but it felt like there were too many things this month that had been pulling me down. It was harder to be happy and stay happy because I was worrying about a million and one things, I was busy with a thousand and probably paranoid about a hundred things. Almost everything is getting into my nerves. I was hardly calm, and even when I find a sense of calm sometimes, something happens (or I do something stupid) that knocks me off balance again and I go back. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But April is also good, in a lot of ways. I surfed. It was our book club’s anniversary month, so we had a ton of activities here and there — book covering for hours and hours, my first outreach event, our first (real) pool party, and a road trip across the city to watch a movie that is showing everywhere but we wanted to watch it there just because. There were phone conversations, assurances and things to remind me of who I am, of what I am capable of, and people who are willing to stay up to 2 in the morning talking to me because I feel unsettled. There were lots of laughter. And hope. Lots of hope.

So while April is busy kicking my butt, it’s also busy trying to teach me a lesson. Or several lessons. Most of them are too lengthy to blog about — patience (as always), balance, trust, friendships and relationships, graciousness. And just recently: gratitude.

Remember how at the end of March, I was so grateful for all the things that I was given during my favorite month? How all I can say was thank you, and my heart was bursting with gratitude because it was such a beautiful month? I wanted so much to get into that state again in the midst of April, to be grateful for the good things again because it’s easy to be thankful then. It’s easy to go back to those happy moments and say thank you. But when things aren’t going my way? I can’t even say thank you at all.

However, I have learned that gratitude isn’t exclusively for the good things. Gratitude applies to good and bad things. It takes a lot of maturity and courage to give thanks for the bad just as you say “thank you” for the good. It’s all about perspective, they say, and that’s true. I just forget it too easily.

Image from we heart it
Image from we heart it

April is ending, whew. I am happy it is, and thankful for all the lessons it has taught me. I’m pretty sure it’s far from over, but thank you anyway, April. I won’t miss you, but thank you. For May…

…I pray for the strength and courage to be truly thankful, even when everything feels like they’re falling apart ((Often, they’re not. I just feel like it does, sometimes.))

…I pray for grace and peace for the moments when I worry, cry and complain, so I can just be grateful for being where I am.

…I pray for the trust that even if things aren’t going my way, I will remember that I am blessed and say thank you.

We’ll give thanks to You
With gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in You
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need. ((Gratitude, Nichole Nordeman))

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Subtle Shifts and Trusting People

I was writing a letter to a friend last night ((Because you can never write enough letters. And, you always need a pen pal in your life.)) and I wrote something about how I am able to recognize subtle shifts in my mood, and my thinking. Like, how I was so busy last week that I barely had time to think about anything else, and now that things are winding down, I suddenly find a lot of free brain cells that started thinking of things again.

Being aware of these subtleties and these shifts is a blessing, because I can force myself to slow down and eventually, stop. Over thinking is my number one sin to myself, and this awareness helps me stop it before it starts. I realized that when I go on that mode, I become a selfish little brat because I tend to think that everything is about me. Things are happening (or aren’t happening) because of me. People are mad at me, or are talking about me. I need to do something. I need to say something. I, I, I, me, me me. But now, I try my best to stop and remind myself: hey, it’s not always about you.

This reminds me of one of the early lessons I got back during my birthday week. Remember how I said I tend to be especially bratty when it’s my birthday month? Well, as it turns out, being bratty doesn’t always work, and is not really a good thing to do. Especially when it’s with people you care about. Maturity, and all that. Sometimes you don’t get the things you want, and you probably never will, but it doesn’t mean that everything is ruined. You just have to grin and bear it, because it’s the right thing to do. ((And sometimes, you get something better in return. But that’s for another post.)) So I see this way of recognizing these shifts as a way of maturing, of being a grown up and in return, relating better to people.

I think one of the sure signs of maturity is being able to trust people. Not just with things or thoughts or secrets, but you know, yourself. Your heart. That’s one of the lessons I’ve been trying to learn in the past weeks. Some people who know me in real life will probably laugh at this, given that I can probably get into a conversation with anyone but the people who really know me know that this openness is my defense mechanism. I talk a lot because it gives me control of the conversation, and I get to pick what the other person knows about me. And I get to laugh about too many things, too, so I can avoid those things that can actually show my weaknesses.

I’m trying hard to get those guards down, because…well, I want to have a brave heart.  You know, a heart that isn’t afraid of vulnerability. This reminds me of this amazing TEDx talk I watched recently, thanks to one of my new favorite blogs. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks that we need to be vulnerable if we want to truly love, and it gives me hope that maybe, I am in the right place. What I didn’t really count on is how trying to be vulnerable can just really hurt. Too much, sometimes. I know it’s not easy. Sometimes I just want to pull up my defenses again, and fight. Fight, because I don’t feel safe. Fight, because no one can hurt me first. Fight, because nothing is sure, and and I can’t handle it. Fight, because when things aren’t assured for you, you must do everything in your power to make sure it’s yours, especially when others seem to want to take what you want from you.

But fighting is exhausting. It may keep me safe, but it stresses me out. Sometimes I feel like learning to trust other people is harder than learning to trust God. It makes trusting God easy all of a sudden. Okay, maybe not easy, but easier, given the nature of who I am trusting. God is trustworthy and faithful and He has good intentions for me, so I will definitely trust him. But other people? Who knows what their intentions are? How can I trust them with even just a small piece of my heart when they can easily crush it?

I honestly have no easy answer to this, because like I said, I’m still trying to learn it. There are days when I feel so ready to trust another person and I actually really do so, but then some things change — there’s a subtle shift somewhere — and I pack up and go again. Sometimes it feels like it’s one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes, it feels like I actually got it and I can hopefully move on to the next lesson, ((I imagine God laughing at me whenever I think this, and then He puts a hand on my shoulder and says, “Not quite yet, my daughter.”)) and then I get hurt and I crawl back into my hole.

But I have to have courage. If I am to have a brave heart, if I am to be wholehearted, I have to learn how to trust people. To be seen and known, just as I am.

There’s a lot of adjustments, many things to learn and unlearn. It is all completely messy but also beautiful, and I think it’s just how relationships are. Right?

Be Here Now

April has been strangely hard so far, for some reason, and I can’t really point out why. It shouldn’t be, especially after a quietly victorious Holy Week, and how the first three months of the year has just been really good. Why would April be so hard when I’ve got so much fuel to keep me up?

Anyway. I went surfing with some friends last weekend. I wiped out more times than I was able to stand, but that few seconds of being on the board and actually riding the waves felt almost surreal. I know most first-time surfers had the same sentiments that I have. I understand what makes it so fun, why people want to do it over and over again. Truth be told, I almost wanted to quit after wiping out for the nth time…and then, I actually managed to stand up. It was just a few seconds — few, precious seconds — before falling off again, but it had me whooping like an excited idiot when I surfaced again (not that the water was deep, anyway). Then I ride the again to try one more time. Again and again, against the waves, with other surfers, while the sun beats down on everyone.

I was thinking of a corny analogy for that — you know, compare life with surfing? But it already sounds corny in my head, so let’s not get to that. Instead, I think of how surfing requires so much…hereness. You know, focusing on where you are, right now.

Let me elaborate. I’m not a huge fan of deep water, even if I can swim. I admit that surfing made me apprehensive because the ocean is so big, the waves are so strong and what can a small person like me do against something that big and powerful? Anything can go wrong, and I can imagine all the accidents that could possibly happen, and how I may never, ever want to do it again. ((Hello, over-thinker!))

Being out there, however, with the instructor telling me what to do, taught me that lesson on being here. There’s no room for over thinking there, there’s just room for now. You can’t wonder endlessly about what happens next, because before you know it, a good wave comes, and the instructor pushes your board and the only thing that can have room in your mind is “This is it, let’s do this”. There are no guarantees if you’ll be able to stand, or if you’ll wipe out in the most embarrassing fashion, but you can’t possibly care for that anymore because the wave is here, and you just have to ride it now.

That’s the thing: in the midst of all the crashing waves and the fear of things going wrong, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to just be at the present. There’s no way for us to know if things will go our way or not, if we will be able to stand up or wipe out. Stop thinking of what could be, of the what-ifs, and just be here now.

Image from we heart it
Image from we heart it

My heart in the past two weeks was like the ocean I experienced in that weekend. There were too many things, too many questions and too long silences that made my emotions as turbulent as the waves in La Union. It rattled me because I wanted to get back to that highness and wonderfulness that is March, and I worried of what will happen in the future. But if there was anything I learned in that weekend where I first rode a wave — as corny as this may seem — it’s to just be wherever I am. Be in the present, not in the past or in the future.

Be here now. 

Sometimes, when everything is too noisy or messy or when everything seems broken, the best thing we can do is to sit and revel in the now. Sometimes, the bravest thing we can do when nothing makes sense, when the waves are stronger than us, is to lie down on our board, wait for that wave and that push. Feel the motion of the water and then try to stand up…and then laugh in glee as you feel the exhilaration of being fully where you are, riding that wave, before you gloriously (and sometimes, embarrassingly) wipe out.

But it’s okay. And then, you go back up and try again. And again. :) Because sometimes, there is no better place for us — for me — than to be where we are right now.

Be brave, love. Be here now.