The Gift of Gratitude With Love

No matter where one goes to do their shopping, it is evident Valentine décor and supplies abound. I noticed how quickly inventory hit the shelves in my local drug store, thrift stores, and yes, even on U-Tube creative channels to make crafts and décor.

Every time I think about Valentine’s Day, the image of my late husband coming into our home after doing the chores of the morning, laden with Valentine treasures. This 6’2” man, dressed in his old leather jacket and jeans announces to his six and four-year-old son and daughter, “Look what the Valentine Chicken left for us!” Yes, I know none of you have heard of this white chicken with heart shaped feet, wings and head in bright red, however, it still seems to visit the Strom residences at this time of year.

As I recall the event, it reminds me of my extended practice of maintaining a Gratitude Journal. For without a doubt the memory of this day is one I am so grateful to have etched in the memories of my children and I to this moment.

My new gratitude journal is a bit different from the ones I’ve developed in the past. It happened while I was in Woodinville, WA in August, during those my brother-in-law final days, I found this journal with quotations and suggestions for gratitude focus randomly placed within its pages.

One of the suggestions at the beginning of the book was to be grateful to people who make us happy. The quote reads, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” (French Novelist Marcel Proust 1871-1922) So started this journal of gratitude. Free thought gratitude pages allow for one to bring to the forefront those things that grace our lives while other pages provide a focus to ponder…

One of the benefits I’ve found in doing a gratitude journal is despite some of the experiences creating feelings of worry, frustration, sadness, etc., on a given day, I find it requires me to take another look of discovery for those things which make my day. As a photographer, I’ve learned to look closer and see the details one misses moving too fast. Yes, the sunrise and sunsets, my houseplants blossoming, the purr of the “furry purrie” who lives with me, and more.

Another topic suggested was to list three good things in our day. As I re-read what I wrote, I realize these three items have significant memories attached and etched into my heart.

I’m convinced the Creator allows me to happen upon events, ideas, and encounters at a time I need motivation, inspiration, or just some plain old noticing of what is in the moment. Why do I say that? Well, this week my journal has encouraged I think of those who are important in my life beyond family and friends. The instruction is to write a list, then begin composing a letter of gratitude to them. It became a list, after some thought, for those who serve in a variety of capacities. It was garbage pick-up day and I realized how often are these men and women thanked for their service? Then came my physicians, my vehicle service men, and some leaders of services for disabled, meal programs, and a note to the morning local programming TV station leaving their families to arrive by 3am to get their programming ready for broadcast at air time.

So perhaps it is wise for all of us to take the time for extending gratitude rather than complaint for today’s gift of life. Gratitude extended to those who make our life’s journey a bit better with a smile, a helping hand, the gift of warmth and cooling, the natural environment, etc. What or Who are you grateful for? Any notebook will do for a daily memo of those things and it matters not if it is just one, three, or more you list.

Try it out and discover how it changes one’s attitude towards self and others. Any time of day whether morning, before you retire for the evening, or both. French Philosopher Jacques Maritain said, “Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.” Thank-You!!!

(2-2018) Maralene C Strom is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant. FB Maralene C Strom Photo Creations, Blog: https://marlinky.wordpress.com/ 715-579-9768 or mcsbiz@aol.com

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WHEN THE MUSIC IS OVER…what is heard?

I see him again. He stands between the stopped cars at the intersection with a sign saying “suffering from cancer. Please help me, God bless”. It is common knowledge these panhandlers are astute enough to learn what kind of signage most often will give them a coin or dollar bill. I suspect it is no different than market research results gleaned from studies of commercials that work best just not as expensive to get the results.

His still handsome face is tanned with a couple days beard growth. His shoes have holes and a flapping sole. It appears  his once khaki colored pants are several sizes too large for his slim waist. A worn, frayed belt barely holds his pants up. Today his shirt has been buttoned askew. His shopping cart has his belongings. He doesn’t seem to notice or mind the looks of disgust from the many who motor through the intersection.

I wondered what happened to him to cause the music to leave his life. He was born like all of us. A fresh opportunity to grow and pursue whatever he wanted to become. What took the music out of his life. Did he hear too many tunes that were overpowered with discord. Were negative lyrics played over and over again enough times to convince him they were true.

What did happen. He was hearing the chorus within his own mind. Voices repeating and repeating again. They becoming so prominent in his head they became better friends than the voices attached to bodies  he saw daily passing as if he were invisible. Now he doesn’t trust anyone except those who play in  his head.

Every day he is passed by motorists who ignore or secretly glance at him. They are afraid of him really. Obviously, there is something wrong and if by getting too close it could happen to them. The reality of it is  he started out like most of them.

He graduated from high school in the top third of his class. He had a pretty girlfriend. His parents were proud of him when he received his letter of acceptance to NYU. He packed, said goodbye to his friends and family, and moved cross country to the dorms at NYU. He didn’t tell anyone  sometimes he heard a different chorus in his head over the past year. They didn’t sing all that often but when they did, he listened to their chorus.

Arriving at NYU was a flurry of activity. Dormitory living and roommates. Class schedules and matching them to classrooms. What didn’t  changed is the chorus in his head except the individual voices were becoming  more distinctive as solos.

The semester proceeds and studying seems to be constantly interrupted in it’s quietness with the music changing into voices talking rather than singing. They say, “We’re your friends, be careful of the roommate. He’s not to be trusted.”  That,  first signal of his paranoia emerging. “It’s OK, we can be trusted, we know what ‘they’ are thinking. We will protect you, just listen and follow our lead. You need to be afraid of everyone, no one can be trusted.”  And they were right. People did bad things. The television played the bad things over and over. He saw Time Magazine and others that said other people did bad things. No one could be trusted.

As the semester continued, he couldn’t study anymore, the voices overpowered his concentration. They told him what was really happening around him. Soon, he realized t even his parents were changing. They asked him strange questions. They wanted him to come home. They too could not really be trusted. His best interest was not their motive. The only ones he could trust were the voices in his head.

College was no longer a safe place. No building was safe. No person was safe. Only the voices in his head could be trusted and even they were not singing anymore. They couldn’t sing because even music couldn’t be trusted. Only the voices could be believed.

It’s fifteen years later and here he stands at the intersection with his safe possessions. He says thank you for the handout and the sandwich I gave him. Today the voices let him have the whole thing. Sometimes they won’t let him eat the filling or the bread. Today is different.

In reality it is really the same. The music has left him with only the trusted voices for company, direction, and enough lucidity to endure each day and night on the streets where he feels safest.  I know that there, except by the grace of God, it could have been me or you standing on that intersection with the music replaced by the voices of  schizophrenia.

(c)Maralene C Strom revised 12/2017

 

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Lessons By The Woman Under The Bridge

Bridge

Bridge

There she was again. I don’t know how many times I’d seen her as she dragged all her meager treasures in the rusted red wagon. Even though the heat of Houston caused the coolest dressed Houstonian to break a sweat, she wore her clothes layered topped off with her multi-colored hat and a feather bobbling as her toothless smile greeted passersby.

She never was without that smile as she made her rounds in the section of town I lived in. I lived there by choice because I wanted to be a part of the diversity of the ethnic and economic section of town…it kept me grounded so I couldn’t forget how it was to be living in an area that wasn’t always safe. She lived in the streets knowing full well what it meant to be poor, without the safety of a roof over her head, and to be ridiculed and taunted by truant youth or people who passed with nary a nod of recognition.

As a former human service worker I knew her story all too well in generalities. Workers would ignore her because she wasn’t in crisis. She’d hit their desks if someone would complain or she was found by law enforcement to be ill. Thus, in between these circumstances she would follow her daily routines of perusing her world to gather mementoes of colorful scraps of cloth, paper or fauna. While some would walk around her with disgust, pity, or as if invisible, she seemed to find the world she moved in filled with details others missed.

I rode my bike in the early hours of the morning along the bayou bike trail. There I’d find her making her early morning trek. She’d wander off the path to pick a small pink flower inhaling deeply to breathe in any fragrance lingering. I’d watched her more than once tenderly petting the petals as if a beloved pet.

I got so I’d bring along a banana to share with her, knowing it was the easiest for her to chew. Soon it became a ritual she’d expected and I’d bring her a bunch of bananas if I knew I’d be gone for awhile. She never conversed verbally with me, instead just smiled and nodded to statements or questions.

Bissonnet Street went over the Bayou, which meant there was shelter under the road. If you didn’t think about it you’d pass by without ever noticing the blankets, cardboard boxes which became home and shelter for people who chose to sleep in the open instead of going to the local shelters. During the summer, the location provided a cooling space in the shade from the hot Gulf winds and humidity.

One morning the faint sounds of crooning came from behind me. I stopped my bike to follow the sound. Under the bridge I saw her holding in her arms a man, rocking him as if singing a lullaby. As I approached, her eyes were filled with tears with grief, and she motioned for me to stay back…gently I spoke to her knowing she knew me well enough to know I’d not harm her in anyway. He did not die alone.

There is a tendency to judge why people “choose” to live in this manner. However, getting to know some of the homeless I discovered, for some it was a matter of freedom. From my multi-colored chapeau friend, I learned she thrived on the beauty of the bayou path along the canal. She would sit for hours watching the catfish jump, the long legged birds with pileated beaks securing their daily fish intake, and squirrels challenging each other for a fragment of food. She braved the steep bank just to touch a dandelion.

She often saw the nuances of life I would miss trying to bike 10 miles within a prescribed time frame. She, on the other hand, observed her surroundings with the passion of a botanist on his first discovery.

I think of her often as I live here in the north woods watching the snow fall lightly outside my window. I’m glad she lives in the south because life here would be so much harder for her. However, I do believe she would discover the same detailed interest in the world. I suspect snowflakes would hold a fascination with each crystal its own design.

She never did tell me her story…only gave me her smile and nods. I don’t know the circumstances of living on the streets with her precious rusted red wagon. I do know she would not allow herself to be taken away from the lifestyle willingly. Her monthly government check seemed to cover what she wanted and more than once, I observed her giving money to someone else. We were friendly acquaintances more importantly she became the teacher altering my perceptions of life.

When I think about her, she reminds me to view my world through a lens without the trappings of things to gain or achieve. She reminds me the world has details to discover, and care for tenderly. She and others are great teachers to those who think they know so much. She reminds me not to pass judgment about people I pass, who are living a life so different than my own materially. She reminds me the same Creator breathed His life into us. She is a valuable contribution to those who take notice and the others who share space under the bridge with her.

MCStrom ©01/03 © revised 4/15

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A Walk in the Woods

It seems like it has been a long winter here in the north woods of Wisconsin.  In addition, it seemed with the warmer temps arriving, the open water over the springs in the lake filled with waterfowl, it was imperative for me to take the time away from my home office, stress from the week unexpected, and take my camera and walk the forest path.

IMG_5207In all honesty, the unexpected stressor was consuming me with fear, what to do, how to resolve it easily, and of course the “why” questions. Thankfully, my life coach had walked me through the steps of “allowing & feeling” the day before to help alleviate the “liar” of the mind with all its stories of self-recrimination. Yet, I had trouble sleeping that night, and dove into working to try to push the pain of fear and how to resolve out of my mind.

The day was beautiful, and the wildlife outside of my patio door were busy at the feeders, and the noise of the waterfowl drifted into my space luring me to take a break from the office. So  with my camera in hand, I walked  the path into the forest towards the waterfront bench to take photographs and just let the sounds of nature infuse my soul. You see, I have learned  the silence is always present, and even sounds cannot take the silence away within my soul. I just sat there drinking in the warmth of the sun, sounds of nature, the cars passing on the highway over the hill, and the silence within and around me. No thoughts of the unexpected stressor, no searching for answers, no trying to get away, just sitting in the present of the “now” of those moments. Not wanting to miss a great shot of the flocks sunning themselves on the ice beach, or swimming in the open water, or taking flight. I was just there in the moment to drink in the world surrounding my being.

Soon I realized, my anxiety was reduced. I felt a sense of just being in the presence of Creation where life moves in the moment with no worries of past or future. Just now. I left the bench to return on another path along the lakeshore. I was nearly to the fork when I came upon a tree with unusual features as the trunk had a large bow extending toward the sky, and a short pillar at the bow. I took several shots and found a shot  appeared as if the cross was in the formation. As I stood before the formation, I seemed led to pray a simple prayer I learned at Mount Shasta while on retreat. “I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me, Thank-You (Mahalo). And in that moment, I named the tree, “Resurrection Tree”. Renewal, Gratitude, Faith.

The stressor still exists.  However, I discovered once again, I need to remember to take a real break to slow down; remember projecting beyond now creates even greater stress and fogs the ability to process logically. My wise life coach often reminds me, “Awareness with Gratitude”. His wisdom is truth, “God opens life experiences to expand our awareness and faith.”

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Renewal for 2013 with Awareness

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog. A lot has transpired over the past year as I shared in a number of significant events that have changed my life. Over the past 18 months my closest friend of nearly 50 years was waiting for a liver transplant. As her POA it was my promise to assure her end of life wishes would be honored. A little over three weeks ago it was determined she could not survive the transplant and approximately a month ago, she transitioned into eternity with the grace and peace she wished with myself and loved ones beside her in Cleveland Clinic Palliative Care Unit.

I’ve been fortunate to have a gifted life coach over the past two years who supported me with his wisdom of being in the present and awareness. This perspective was new to a person who had been conditioned to excel, to bury feelings in the role of caregiver or responsibility, and in many cases not even to show emotions too readily. So the past 18 months was a real learning experience to recognize a different approach to my way of being.

As I write this, my path as a Small Business/Marketing Consultant has renewed…funny thing not because of my effort, but by the design of timing and mission. Experience has taught me many things as I’ve worked in the non-profit world using my past experience and generating increased experience in fundraising/grant writing. I have taken on projects to market art, fund raising, and grant writing…and speaking to non-profits on building new programs, grants, and marketing options. I continue to assist small businesses get off the ground, write business/marketing plans, amid other projects coming my way.  I’ve never left the segment of Recovery From Loss,Passing Legacy Forward with the awareness knowing I have more to contribute with the added experiences of the past two years.

So renewal is here with a greater level of awareness and purpose. As always, change is part of life. Learning new strategies are never too late. Timing seems to come when it is right. And this blog will continue to be a mixture of Maralene’s Observations from professional and personal experience.

A new website will be coming soon. Thanks for your support and kindness, Maralene

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2011–Another Year to Make a Difference Within

I have a good friend out east, with whom I find myself sharing some of those moments of rankled-ness when something comes across my point of view. He’s been a childhood friend and has experienced a life filled with success, grief, and joy. A very human experience that is softened with a real personal communion of faith in God.

Today, he wrote a very profound observation about his own life’s journey saying, “… I feel that I’m getting to know who I really am. But then, I have spent a lifetime of finding who I am not ;-)” As I read this, I recognized many of us baby boomers moving into our fall of living are taking the opportunity to emerge from those days of looking back trying to make life work on other’s perceptions of who we are to taking our own stand on “knowing who we are” and discarding what doesn’t work and retaining the best of ourselves.

Each new year brings on those ideals of making resolutions to make ourselves reach goals. Is it not true, so many of those goals get stashed away, as we find ourselves unable to live up to them? Often the goals aren’t what we really feel passionate about, but rather what others think we “should” do, feel, or compelled for some unknown reason.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the emails in our boxes regaling us with New Year opportunities to lose weight, change our exercise habits, discover our inner beings, etc. And quite frankly, reading through these emails often strike my conscience with “surely, Maralene, you need to get on path of renewal”.

Yet, I know for a fact, if I do NOT have a passion for change there will be no difference within. I am totally aware, at this stage of life, that change will only make a difference within when I feel the passion to need the difference enough to move me.  It has to be what moves me, not what others think.

I started to think about what has made that difference within to me in the past to take risks, to move from one path to another, to see something move me to tears, etc.  What is it? It is passion for making a difference within. Without that passion within, it will not manifest the difference in my own life or for service to others. No one can create the passion in me; I must feel it, ponder it, grasp it, and move within it.

Zig Zigler said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become achieving your goals.” This year my goals are to move towards making that greater difference within to become more passionate, compassionate, to deepen my relationships that mean most to me, to open my heart more fully for my faith to flourish, and to seek those roads of making a difference to others.

These are not goals for seeking notice from others, but rather to make a difference within my own life and with gratitude that I have the opportunity to grow into the fall of my life with meaningful endeavors to enrich my world.

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Another Milestone

It is apparent aging provides an increasing number of milestones. Over the past year I particpated in my elder sister and her husband’s 50th wedding anniversary. Fifty years ago, on October 1, I and my younger sister, were bridesmaids attired in dresses sewn by our Mother. My brother-in-law was attended by his two younger brothers. As a 14-year-old, I felt so honored my sister had selected me as her maid of honor.  Adding to the event was my future husband–some 4 years later- using his 8mm camera to record the event.

The three-day 50th celebration brought us together. As we enjoyed each other’s antics surrounding the table with good food and a variety of card games, I realized how different each my siblings and I moved through the last 50 years. All of us found our paths leading in different directions. Yet, our parent’s influence remains embedded in our journey.

Each of us raised our children with values of integrity, independence, and to seek their own path of faith. We tried to create an environment of compassion for those with whom our children would come into contact. As we watch our children we see characteristics reflecting personality traits common to their families of origin.

With 12 years between my elder and younger sister and I in the middle, we each recognize our place in the family reflect a different time for each of us as the timeline of our country evolved. My elder sister’s high school years of the 50’s so different from the high school years in the early 60’s, and my younger sister’s of the late 60’s. Our differing perspectives colored by the times of our differing youthful experiences.

Today, I watch the evolution of our own families. Each of our children having grown up in different eras of experience in the timeline of history. Yet, what I observe is the enduring values passed from generation to generation. All of the cousins, even though separated by distance extending across the United States and Canada, hold those values of living and faith brought down from their grandparents and parents.

Without a doubt, these youngsters have created a brand of their own as they’ve gone through yet another segment of progressing time impacted by politics, war, economics, education, and personal experiences. Yet, the fragrant essence of long-held values and faith continues to unfold.

Today, my sisters and I enjoy the milestones of grandparenting. We relish in the joy of watching our children parent their offspring. We are filled with gratitude our children encourage our presence in our grandchildren’s lives. We unabashedly share the news and humorous antics of our grandchildren with each other. We thrill at each milestone our grandchildren achieve in school, sports, service to others, and watching their own faith grow.

With each milestone of my children and grandchildren, I cannot help but be reminded each one is a milestone in my own life. I am moving toward new experiences of aging. My life is still amazing new each day. I continue to seek adventures of living. I still desire my life to reflect a sense of humor, service to others, development of my spiritual life, and love for my family.

With unabashed shamelessness, I desire my children and grandchildren and generations to come, will hold to the values instilled in our family while making them even stronger by their own discoveries and experiences. And hopefully, they too will recall the origins and be proud of their own embellishments added to their values as they meet their milestones of life.

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