Gratitude Within The Storm

Storm

Thanksgiving is a time that we look at life and contemplate what we’re thankful for. When life is going well, this is a fun and an easy task; however when life brings us challenges, acknowledging what we are thankful for can be difficult.

The second half of 2018 was particularly difficult for me. Hiking is one of my favorite pass times and for years, I have enjoyed hiking at least a couple of times each week. On the week-end I challenged myself to long, strenuous hikes and loved every minute of it! In May 2018, I began feeling tired. I thought that I was fighting some sort of flu bug. This feeling increasingly became worse and worse to the point that it was difficult for me to even walk up my stairs. My Fitbit recorded my heart rate and I noticed that my resting heart increased from an average of 65 beats per minutes to 125 beats per minute, while lying in bed. To my dismay, I quickly watched my muscles disappear.

After running a series of tests, the doctor informed me that I had an autoimmune disorder and that there is no cure… She said that I can expect to continue to lose muscle, I may lose all of my hair, and I may not be able to work…ever.

It took a little time for me to process this information. At first, I was in shock. I kept replaying the doctor’s quotes over and over in my mind. “There is no cure.” I thought, Is this my new normal? Will I ever hike again? Will I be able to work? What will my life look like? Do I need to shift my hopes and dreams to match the “new normal”?

After the shock wore off, I found that I was a little angry. I have always been an active person and I had so many things that I wanted to do in life, but my physical body yelled back, “NO”! The anger turned to sadness and I went through a time of mourning the loss of the future that I saw for myself. This was a dark time when I focused what I CAN’T do.

Through self-reflection, I realized that I wasn’t being very kind to myself. I thought of what I might say to someone else who was going through this. After some time, I realized that I needed to accept myself exactly where I was. This wasn’t my new normal, but this is where I was on that particular day. I vowed to stop comparing myself to others and to stop comparing myself to myself 2 months ago. Instead of looking at what I could NOT do, I started looking at and celebrating what I COULD do. I stopped saying things like, “I only did….” Or “I just did….” Because the words only and just really took away from the accomplishments. I started to get excited and to be thankful for the little acts that I could do. I accepted myself 100% and honored myself exactly where I was each day. As I celebrated and acknowledged the small stuff, I noticed that I started getting better…getting stronger. I began swimming because swimming is a gentle exercise that strengthens all of your body. Initially, I could do 2 laps. I fought my mind that wanted to say, “I ONLY could go 2 laps. I used to climb mountains and now I JUST did 2 laps. Instead I celebrated, “Yesterday, I did nothing. Today is the beginning. I swam 2 laps!” 2 laps increased to 4, then 6, then 8, then 10. Today I swam 40 laps. There were ups and downs and I had days that I was tired and felt that it would be best if I didn’t exercise. I have taken on the mindset to except myself each day, no matter what; to never say statements that would make me feel bad that I didn’t do something. I will be a loving cheerleader for myself.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8)

Re-building my strength has been challenging. This experience has highlighted to me that in order for us to overcome any challenge, we must become the master of our minds. What we think matters. We can’t be overcome with negativity. We can’t wallow in the doctor’s words and give up. (i.e., “There is no cure.”) We can’t judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others or compare our abilities to what we used to do.

I noticed that as I began to acknowledge my small accomplishments and feel gratitude for where I was in the moment, I started to see new possibilities. I felt empowered and this is where the healing began!

I found myself stumbling upon many natural healing solutions. I changed the way I ate and cut out gluten, soy, and dairy. I increased my fruit and vegetable intake and bought organic, non-GMO, everything. I begin each morning with 16 ounces of celery juice. I replaced my home products with natural products to eliminate as many chemicals as possible.

I’m pleased to announce that to my doctor’s surprise that I am healing. I have been quickly weaning myself off of medication. The doctor said that I may be off of all medicine in December! If I am not off of the last of the medicine in December, I will continue to celebrate the milestones and focus on what I CAN do and how far I have come. I accept myself unconditionally throughout this journey!

Looking back, I do not think healing would have been possible without first finding gratitude within the storm. Without feeling gratitude, it would have been impossible to celebrate the small steps (which were actually huge) and then to build on that to become stronger and stronger.

I’m grateful for my healthy body and for where I am today.

What are you grateful for?

Katherine

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***For those of you who may not have heard yet, Through The Fire is now available on Amazon. I wanted to give a special thanks to so many of you who have already purchased the book and I really appreciate all of the thoughtful messages. I’m so pleased that the book has had such a positive response. If you know someone who may be struggling and may benefit from this story or someone who may enjoy the book, please share. Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Scientific Research Demonstrates How Gratitude Cultivates Happiness

Sunflower

Happy Thanksgiving! This is the time of year that we pause from our busy lives and think about what we are thankful for. Research has shown that gratitude cultivates happiness. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have conducted extensive and fascinating research on gratitude.

In one study, they divided the research participants into three groups. One group wrote about what they were grateful for daily. The second group wrote about what irritated them daily and the third group wrote about daily events with no emphasis on them being positive or negative. Over time, it showed that those who exercised gratitude felt better about their lives, they exercised more and had fewer doctor’s appointments than the other two groups.

I found this study interesting because clearly all people in each group experienced things they are grateful for and things that irritate them. We all have good and bad in our lives every day. This study shows that it doesn’t really matter how much good or bad happens in your life, but rather what you focus on and express that manifests the degree of happiness in life.

Another leading researcher, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, compared with a control group who wrote about general experiences from childhood, like a diary or journal. The group of participants which showed the greatest impact when looking at happiness scores, wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone in their life who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Upon delivering the letter, participants exhibited a significant increase in happiness scores and these benefits typically lasted for over a month!

Other studies have shown that gratitude can improve relationships. Couples who regularly express what they are grateful for to their partner, demonstrated an increase in happiness as a couple.

Cultivating what we are thankful for changes us. These thoughts have powerful effects on our lives. What we think about is so important and determines our level of happiness. It has been proven scientifically that having gratitude will exponentially increase our happiness. The bible is also consistent with this research and repeatedly tells us not to worry, to be thankful and to guard our thoughts.

“Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

I think a key in the previous verse is the peace “which transcends all understanding” In my kidnapping experience when having a near heaven experience, the reality of what I was experiencing was the polar opposite of what an onlooker might assume. This transcends all of our understanding, based on what we “know.” If you have a loved one who is terminally ill and suffering, this is only temporary, they are going “through the fire” and there is something beautiful on the other side!

“Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3: 5-6

It’s natural to focus on the negative when we are going through a difficult time, but in order to get through the fire with happiness, we have to do what might not feel natural. We have to guard our thoughts- as negative thoughts enter, have a positive statement ready to replace that negative thought. For example, if you are thinking that you aren’t good enough, as soon as you notice that thought, think the opposite of that. “I am enough.”

As research and the bible both consistently show us, we must find something to be grateful for. Based on the previous research, here are some tips for cultivating happiness in your life.

  1. Write a thank you note. Research showed this to be the most effective activity to achieve and sustain happiness.
  2. Thank someone mentally. If you don’t have the opportunity to write a note or tell the person, just thinking about them and why you’re thankful can create happiness.
  3. Start a gratitude journal and every day write down what you’re thankful for.
  4. Count blessings as you go through your day. Make mental notes of the many blessings in your life.
  5. Pray “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

*For encouraging thoughts, follow my Instagram and Facebook page which can be found on the sidebar of my blog!

I am humbled and deeply thankful for all of the people who follow my blog and support this project. I’m thankful that Through the Fire is being published and will be released in early 2018. I’m thankful for our Heavenly Father who can take even the darkest of stories and turn them into a story which heals and brings hope to others!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Emmons, RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Verses Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb2003): Vol.84, No. 2, pp 377-89

Lambert NM, et al. “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior.” Emotion (Feb 2011): Vol 11, No 1, pp 52-60

Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions.” American Psychologist (July-Aug 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410-21.