We welcome in the Christmas season with some wonderful wisdom from Amy.
TIS THE SEASON TO BE THANKFUL
‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la la….
I am not sure where the year has gone or how it is possibly the start of December this week, but it is, and so the most crazy, busy, stressful, financially draining and exhausting weeks of the year begin.
But to be honest, I don’t see it like that at all. Let me start again….
I am not sure where the year has gone or how it is possibly the start of December this week, but it is, and so the most wonderful, joyful, family-centered, season of giving begins. Bring it on!
I love Christmas. I love the parties; the way people get together and rejoice in each other’s company. I love the atmosphere out and about – carolers, decorations and excitement in the air. I love the smell of pine throughout my house and the giggling of my girls at the slightest thought of anything christmassy.
But most of all, I love the traditions that come with Christmas. I am grateful for the traditions my parents established for us as we grew up – fresh Christmas trees every year; setting up the nativity set without baby Jesus who would magically appear on Christmas day; reading ‘The Night before Christmas’ after mass on Christmas eve before we would set out food for Santa and his reindeer. My girls now follow the same traditions and have some new ones to call their own. We now make a point of travelling to the city to see the Christmas windows; our advent calendar brings gifts from Christmas angels; and our Santa photo experiences are traditionally a disaster! All these things add to the season and they make me happy.
This year I also wanted to start two new traditions with my girls. The first stems from something my mum did when I was younger. Mum would often make up a hamper of food and presents at Christmas time for a family in need. It was a different family every year. Mum would find a way each time to anonymously deliver the hamper to this family. One year the hamper went to a family of a lady mum worked with. The lady didn’t know me so mum dressed me up as an elf and sent me off to deliver the hamper. I will never forget the look of gratitude in her husband’s eyes as I gave him the hamper. “Who is this from?” He asked. “Santa,” I replied. “Thank you. Thank you.” Hopefully, our new tradition will teach my girls that it is more important to give than receive.
The second tradition I want to start is centered around gratitude. Each day when we mark off a day on our advent calendar I want us to write down something we are grateful for as a family. I want to string these pieces of gratitude together and hang them around our tree. This is what I want Christmas to be about for our family – gratitude. Gratitude for all that we have had throughout the year; gratitude that we have our health and each other; gratitude that we have a house over our head, food on our table, presents under the tree.
Christmas should be a time to celebrate each other and give thanks for all that is good in our lives. Maybe it is time to start a new tradition in your house too?
And while you are thinking about what that tradition might be, spare a thought for poor mothers everywhere, trying to get the perfect Santa photo to place on the mantelpiece
I think I am with Amy on this one. Just about to head off there now. Thanks, Amy, for sharing your life with us.
“I need to go,” I say.
“Why?” he replies.
He just doesn’t get it! I NEED to go. I am homesick.
“But you are at home…” he says.
Did I mention he doesn’t get it? He is used to it though. It is not the first time this has happened and he knows it won’t be the last.
“Well, get packing”, he says smiling.
“GIRLS… We are going! “
Annabelle and Penny do a happy dance in the lounge room as we begin to pack supplies for the days outing. Already my heart is singing.
Ten minutes later we are ready to go. Two-year-old Penny looks ridiculous. She has her swimmers on, her hat, her goggles over her eyes and her inflatable swim ring pulled up around her middle. Annabelle doesn’t look much different, but she has chosen a boogie board instead of the ring and is surfing down the patio stairs. I smile. I think they have my genes.
We pile in the car and begin the drive to the beach. It is only a forty minute drive from our house to the beach, but as I have spent most of my life only five minutes away, forty minutes seems like forever.
I grew up on the Central Coast of NSW. I was surrounded by the beach and beach culture. The beach was a place my family connected after a day of work and school. It was the place where I reflected on my life and found clarity when I needed it. When I was older, my brother and I used to walk on the beach together a few times a week and I loved the conversations we would share. I spent hours on the beach with my friends laughing, swimming, sharing stories and creating new ones. For me the beach, any beach, feels like home and sometimes I am over-whelmed by a need to be there and only there.
Finally, after approximately one hundred and eleven ‘Are we there yet?‘s”, we arrive. I open the door, step outside and breathe.
Oh salt air, how I love you.
I give thanks to the sun for its beams, to the waves for the beautiful music that rings in my ears, and to the sand for the way it shifts to accommodate the shape of my feet.
The kids are already building sand castles. I walk to the shore and dive into euphoria. I am home and I am grateful.
A couple of times a week I have the opportunity to work with my dear friend in her year 7 English class. I always feel blessed to be given the opportunity to step into another teacher’s class and last week was no exception. My friend told me before the lesson that we would be completing a writing task about fear and asked if I had a story of a time I had felt fear to share with the class.
I couldn’t think of a thing!
I racked and racked my brain and eventually came up with a story about my travels in China. It went something like this:
When I was younger I travelled to China where I worked and studied for a few months. One day my travelling companions and I decided to take a two day trip out of home in Nanjing to explore Huangshan – The Yellow Mountain (part of the largest mountain range in China). We ascended up the mountain by cable car where we stayed the night in a hotel at the top peak before we started our descent down the Western Stairs the following morning. Sounds like a walk in the park right?
The Western Steps are 15km from top to bottom. They are at times so narrow that they will only hold the breadth of one person. (Which is ok unless someone is coming up the other way.) Some parts of the stairs have railings, some parts don’t. Some parts have ‘railings’ but you and I probably wouldn’t refer to them as that!
So here I am with my four companions ready to descend, a little afraid of heights but I have told myself it can’t be too bad. We want to reach the bottom well before sunset. About half an hour into the trek it starts to rain. We have raincoats so it isn’t too bad. About an hour later it is no longer ‘just rain’ but torrential rain. Water begins to cascade down the cliffs. It flows across the narrow, ancient crumbling staircase, which seems to be clinging for dear life to the side of the mountain. I begin to feel afraid. Each step is taken slowly, with caution. None of us want to slip of the edge.
To be honest I thought we were going to die that day.
By the time we reached the bottom it was dark, we were hungry, frozen and none of us were talking to each other at all.
“Would you do it again miss?”, asks one of the year 7 kids. “Absolutely”, I say without hesitation. “It was exhilarating”.
On the way home from work I kept pondering this idea of fear. I had difficulty when first asked to come up with a story. Why?
I realised it was because once we have passed through fear we no longer see it as fear. Instead we see it as an accomplishment, a moment of strength, a glimpse of courage. In a sense, we become fearless.
I actually have faced fear many, many times in my life, (in fact I talk about the most scary time in my life in 365 Grateful), but the fear isn’t what I remember about those times. What I remember is… “I made it”.
So today, I am grateful for fear…
For without fear we wouldn’t have courage,
Without courage we wouldn’t have strength,
And if we never discover our own strength,
How can we possibly know what we are truly capable of? by Amy Gill
This week we have one of our regular guest posters: Amy, thank you , for another delightful post!
"There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
Over the past few weeks I have had the utmost pleasure of rediscovering, through an old friend, the wonderful and inspiring words of Lucy Maud Montgomery. You all know Montgomery, I am sure - writer of the classic tales of Anne Shirley.
Anne Shirley has always been my heroine. So much so, the Anne in my daughters name came as a result of the effect Anne Shirley had on my life. I used to think I was Anne of Green Gables and would lie by the lake reciting poetry praying that Gilbert Bligh would sweep my off my feet. I became a teacher, just like Anne. I am a dreamer, just like Anne and now, as I get older I am becoming a storyteller, just like Anne. Maybe, just maybe, I am the modern Anne of Avonlea?
All this got me to thinking of the power of story telling. I am a creative person – a drama and music teacher. I don’t think mathematically or scientifically, I think with my heart. Books, music, theatre, photography, art, architecture all awaken my soul. Without creative inspiration I would be lost.
So today I am grateful for my dear friend who has brought me back to Montgomery. You are a kindred spirit through and through.
I am grateful for Montgomery whose literature makes my heart sing, Anne Shirley who set my imagination free and all storytellers whose words can have such a profound affect on our souls.
I am grateful to my friend Kim who I love sharing books with.
I am grateful for creativity, for imagination. Grateful for music, art, and my beloved theatre.
I am grateful for Hailey Bartholomew whose photography was my saving grace. You are a creative genius!
And most of all I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story through 365.
I think Montgomery also understood the power of gratitude –
"I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string."
I love this wonderful blog post from our regular guest poster Amy.
Snap. I have taken my first photo and my 365 journey has officially begun.
Snap. I have taken my 50th photo and I am starting to feel change.
Snap. 104 photos in my album and I am beginning to heal.
Snap. 223 and I am definitely feeling happy with so much to be grateful for.
Snap. Up to 300 and I now feel alive.
Snap. 365 - Time to start living!
My 365 Grateful Project was in many ways just the beginning for me. The first step in renovating my life. Since completing my project I have started to repair some of the cracks, clean up the areas in my life where grime had begun to build and polish the areas that I know used to shine and could again.
Doing this also meant that I had to open a shoebox that I had stored in the darkest place and for so long I had chosen to ignore. In this box I had placed memories that I hadn’t been able to face for over 10 years.
You are probably thinking, “Man, what horrific trauma did this girl endure?”.
I am not sure I can call it a horrific trauma, but I am pretty sure that is what my later teenage years felt like at the time. Yes, that’s right… my later teenage years filled with endless emotion, loads of dramatic tension, heartbreak and bad decisions.
Such a profound effect did this time have on me that I was unsure whether I could lift the lid on the box. I thought I had filled the box with regret and pain, but when I finally summoned up the courage to open it I found it was filled with love, friendship, excitement of things to come, life’s biggest lessons and the foundations on which I was built. I could see the mistakes I had made but I could also see they were lined with hope. Hope that one day I would know what to do with them.
And I do.
“Get closure. Heal all the rifts in your life. Apologize if it’s overdue. Release anything or anyone that’s hanging over your head. Speak to someone who’s not speaking to you or to whom you are not speaking. Forgive them. Forgive yourself. Any unresolved issues, fallings out or grudges can hinder progress and render you incapable of flying high through life.” (Anthea Paul, Girlosophy).
I am grateful for those years in my life where I had the chance to make mistakes.
I am grateful to that boy in my biology class that taught me how to love.
I am grateful for my friend Joanna who held my hand through those years and who welcomed me back in her life just last week with open arms and forgiveness.
I am grateful for the power of enduring friendship and the gift of kindred spirits. (Thank you Mel and Cath.)
But most of all, I am grateful that I survived!
That shoebox is part of who I am and instead of continuing to hide those memories away, I am going to leave the lid open and embrace them.
365 Grateful - a documentary about the extraordinary power of gratitude
When I was younger I used to spend every second of my spare time dreaming up my future. I would imagine every detail and I would yearn for each dream to become a reality.
That was until age and the busyness of my life took over. Slowly I started filing my dreams away in a drawer. There was the Maybe One Day file, the Too Hard At The Moment file and the Not Likely To Happen In This Life file. Occasionally on a rainy day I would pull them out and flick through them for a while, but they never stayed out for long.
That was, until I came face to face with the fragility of life.
Within a 30 day period I gave birth to my beautiful little baby girl and also said goodbye to her at her funeral. For 24 of these days I sat in the NICU and watched sick babies and their families come and go. For 24 of these days I watched my little girl make each moment count. This type of experience alters you beyond measure and although it was the most difficult and challenging time in my life, I am grateful for it. Grateful because it taught me two important lessons.
2. How to live.
After saying goodbye to my daughter, I went to the filing cabinet and I pulled out those three files. I went through each of my dreams. I spread them all over the house and there I let them stay. I packed my grief inside the cabinet and I threw away the key. For the next 365 days I covered that stainless steel box with snapshots of gratitude until you could no longer see any grey.
Over this time I let my dreams run wild, but I had my eyes and heart set on two. These were the two I had put in the Not Likely To Happen In This Life file.
“You can make us happen”, one taunted. “Dare you to catch us”, said the other.
So guess what I did? I began chasing these two dreams.
For the last two years I had been plotting to catch these dreams - sneaking up behind them when they weren’t looking; setting traps for them to walk straight into. They always managed to stay out of reach though until two weeks ago.
BAM! I caught one. A really big one. I was so excited and scared and proud and overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe that the dream from my Not Likely To Happen In This Life file was is my hands. It was exhilarating!
The next day I was still holding it, getting to know it, when it told me a secret. Yes I had caught it but I couldn’t have it, as it wasn’t right for my family. I had to let it go.
NO! I couldn’t let it go. I kicked and screamed and fought it, but in the end there was no use. I had to say goodbye.
I was so angry. I cried and sobbed and cried some more. I wanted to tear off each snapshot, unlock the drawer and stuff my dreams back inside with the grief.
Instead, I bundled into the car with my family who were keen to go on a bushwalk. My dream wanted to come, but I told it that it had to stay behind.
When we arrived, Andrew and the girls went ahead. I walked slowly behind.
And then I saw it. I saw big bright blue dreams, small hot pink dreams and tiny little turquoise ones surrounding my family as they moved ahead. Tears welled in my eyes and I felt a tug at the cuff of my jeans. There was my yellow dream that I though I had left behind.
“Don’t forget me. Take me with you. Put me in your pocket until the time is right.”
And so I did. I picked it up, put it in my pocket and ran to catch up with my family.
I am grateful that I was inspired to let my dreams run wild.
I am grateful the filing cabinet is locked.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience one of my dreams even just for a moment.
I am grateful for possibilities, for what the future may hold.
But most of all, I am grateful for my family.
I am grateful that I have them to share my dreams with.
I am grateful they are there to hold my hand as a try and reach my dreams.
I am grateful that I have the chance to share and embrace theirs.
I am grateful for the lessons I have learnt, the life I am living and the experiences I am yet to have.
This week my oldest daughter Annabelle is turning 5. I thought I would share with you a letter I have written for her.
My Darling Annabelle,
Happy 5th birthday!
Five years ago, you came into this world the way you wanted – feet first. You didn’t cry. You just looked around with your big blue eyes ready to start this adventure we call life. I took you in my arms, kissed your little head and in this moment my heart exploded. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so much love, to feel so alive. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart on the day that we met.
Since that day I have learnt a lot from you. In many ways you have been my greatest teacher.
You taught me to be a mother.
You have loved me unconditionally, which has helped me to love myself.
You have shown me that laughter is the best medicine and that dancing in rain awakens the soul.
You have taught me to look for ladybirds and to say goodnight to the moon.
And when you say “I love you mum”, my heart sings.
To you, my darling girl, I will be forever grateful. You are the sprinkles on my cupcake, my rainbow in the sky, my beautiful pumpkin girl and I love you.
I will love you forever and always.
365 Grateful - a documentary about the extraordinary power of gratitude
Guest Blogger Amy Gill shares again, having eaten the delicious food at her house I can uphold the claim that food is a big thing at here house. What a cook! Toni
Every fortnight my husband Andrew arrives home with a small box. He kisses me and says, “This is for you because I love you and because I know you love them”. I wait until the girls are asleep and the house is quiet, I take out the box, open the lid and there are always four beautifully crafted macaroons. This small gesture never gets old.
I love food. When I look back over my 365 Grateful Project or my Hundred Hits of Happiness, I am always surprised by how many photos I have of food. Reflecting on this though, it occurs to me that food is more than just substance. Food is family, friends… togetherness.
Growing up, the kitchen was always the centre of household activities. I loved to sit at the kitchen table watching my dad cook. (Yes, my dad!) His passion for food and his need to feed others has been passed down during those many moments in our small kitchen. For Dad and I, it is a way we bond and now, similarly, it is a way for me to connect with my girls. Nothing beats the smile on their faces when they get to lick a beater or see their hard work laid out on a plate in front of them. These moments with my Dad and now with my girls are precious. And so, for them I am grateful.
Food inspires me. It awakens my imagination as I touch, smell, hear, see and taste what it has to offer. I am grateful for the release I feel as I knead bread. I am grateful for the smell of fresh spices roasting in the pan. I am grateful for the sound of friends chattering away as we share paella. I am grateful for the beautifully decorated cupcakes my girls make. I am grateful for the taste of rosewater macaroons crumbling on my tongue.
However, what I am most grateful for is the way it unites us.
When my family or friends come together for any reason, there is always a feast to be shared. We laugh and we cry as we break bread together. This is the power of food. It allows us to break through our hard toffee exterior and dig deep into the rich, creamy custard underneath.
Food does not only fill our stomachs, it has the power to erase the hunger in our hearts. And for that, I am truly grateful.
365 Grateful - a documentary about the extraordinary power of gratitude
The weather impacts on how we feel, what we do, what we wear and what we eat. Each season has different qualities, gifts to us as human beings, and I am immensely grateful for these gifts. I must say though, no season affects my mood as much as autumn. I love autumn, and this is my tribute to the season of change.
Nothing beats a perfect autumn day. When I first step out in that chilly morning air I feel alive. The crisp breeze awakens my senses. I pull my scarf around me and breathe in the smell of a wood fire fading away from the cold night before.
Then I see it. Clear blue skies and the many colours of the trees and plants that surround the area in which I live. These colours are warm colours – oranges, browns, reds and yellows. They, as Toni and Hailey would say, warm my heart.
I step out into the sun. It cuts through the cold air and rests on my shoulder like the hand of God reaching down to embrace me. I am afraid to move. I want that perfect feeling to last forever. I close my eyes, breath deeply, and give thanks.
My girls run past me giggling excitedly. We are going on a picnic. They love autumn picnics.
Reluctantly I step away from the hand on my shoulder and we bundle ourselves into the car. Songs are sung all the way to our favourite park. When we are there we play in the leaves looking for the prettiest colours and shapes on the ground around us. We lie in the sun, feed the ducks, and fly our beautiful kite. It is soul nurturing at it’s best. It is perfect.
As I lay on the grass, while Andrew pushes the girls on the swings, I feel the hand on my shoulder again and autumn memories shimmer before me.
My birthday is an autumn. I see my family around me and remember each celebration. I remember feeling loved.
The final months of my pregnancy with Annabelle were in autumn. I remember the wonder I felt at each tiny kick from within.
Easter is an autumn, rich with memories of my short time with my beautiful butterfly Rosie, our special time together. I remember feeling needed.
Then I am showered with a handful of autumn leaves, two bounding little girls, and a kiss from my husband. It has been a perfect autumn day. I close my eyes, breath deeply, and give thanks.
Annabelle thinks that autumn is when all the fairies come out with their paint pots and cover the leaves in every tone they can imagine. I believe it is our gift from God, letting us know that change is ok. Whether it is the fairies, or God, mother earth or pure magic… it is perfect.
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365 Grateful - A Documentary about the extraordinary power of Gratitude