Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Gratitude with Attitude" Flip the Coin, St. Therese!

It's complicated....With age comes both grief and deep gratitude, a strange friendship. They are opposite sides of the same coin that you can easily flip which ever way you like.  I find myself grieving for the things I have lost as I age while feeling grateful for how those things changed my life.  I'm no longer able to run 15 miles on a Sunday morning.  My body insists I find my sanity elsewhere.  I no longer catch the eye of the cute guy shopping in the produce section on a Thursday evening.  Instead I have a few close women friends that recognize my moods before I do.  I don't think as quickly, have the wit I once had, have the confidence in my fashion decisions or my hair but it doesn't seem to matter as much anymore.  I find age brings with it a sense of loss and with it a deep ability to feel grateful. 

It grieves me to know I will not compete in another Western States100 race in this lifetime but I feel intense gratitude for having found many answers under the stones on that trail.  When I look in the mirror, it grieves me to have spent all that time in the sun.  Now I am grateful the sun comes up each day for me.  It grieves me to realize that my beautiful smoothly shaved legs are fast becoming a thing of the past but I am so grateful they still get me to the bathroom in time.  I am often upset by losing my keys but I am grateful for St. Anthony's help in finding them.  Grief and gratitude make for an interesting soup, sometimes tasty and nutritious.  Other times, I have to choke it down. 

St. Therese Statue from Chris Hart Studio
I don't always feel gratitude and often have to remind myself to be grateful especially when things don't go the way I think they should.  My mother always told me...."be thankful" but sometimes it's easier to whine. When good things happen I find it easy to take them for granted and feel smug.  When bad things happen, it is my nature to blame not forgive,  hold onto anger and stir  up the muck of self loathing.  That's when I know I need to call upon St. Therese, the little flower.  I keep her statue by my work table to remind me that gratitude for little things is what's important.

I was too young to remember when our house burned to the ground.  My family only had what was on their backs that day.  My mother said over and over "Thank God, it was something, not someone".  Her greatest regret was that she had lost all of the family photographs.  No mention of her fur coat, her jewelry, her favorite mixing bowl and recipe book  or the handmade silver service my father brought from Germany years ago  for their engagement party.  What was it like to have all your stuff taken away in an afternoon house fire?  " I'm just glad no one was hurt." she would say with grace.

For me it is harder to have something taken away than it is to wish for something I may never get.  Getting the Golden Artist Set for Christmas was not as much fun as wishing I was Leonardo da Vinci.  Hoping for a horse to win an Olympic gold medal when I was 6 was more fun than cleaning stalls.  Losing a relationship is harder than dreaming of a relationship with someone.  Fantasy is fun because you get to play in the fog of illusion without the drudgery of real life.  The rewarding work begins when we learn to be grateful for what we actually have.  St. Therese said on her deathbed "I love only simplicity.  I have a horror of pretense".

St. Therese Holy Card
St. Therese dreamed of being a missionary but her ill health at a very young age prevented her fantasy from coming true.  Instead she was accepted into the Carmelite Order at 15 where she died  in 1897 at age 24 of tuberculosis. She teaches that our challenges and sufferings are opportunities for compassion and forgiveness, to do ordinary things with extraordinary grace and that the smallest action done with love is more important than great deeds done for personal gratification.  St. Therese saw herself as a child of God.  She scrubbed the floor as if the Divine himself would be walking on it.  She washed the dishes as if God himself would be eating from them. She was mindful that God was in every situation, in every person and in the daily details of life.  The power and simplicity of her message is why the church declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

St. Therese is the one I pray to when I have to do things I don't want to bother with because I'm tired or too busy.  She helps me do the cooking and cleaning when I would rather not.  She shows me the value in doing small tasks for those I love without keeping score.  She makes me slow down and appreciate the littlest flower in my garden that blooms without much light or care all summer long.  St. Therese helps me seek grace in my pain and compassion for those I want to blame for it.  She helps me open my heart when it's closed tight and she encourages me to forgive those around me for my own short comings.  She puts my focus on the tiny things I can do and to not be overwhelmed by the big things that seem impossible as I grow older.  Grief and gratitude, opposite sides of the same coin.  I pray to St. Therese to help me choose the side of grace.