Do you spend your days focused on and consumed by your problems? Do you wonder why bad things only happen to you? If you do, I can teach you a little trick that will help you start to forget your problems. It will help you begin to notice how lucky and blessed you really are instead. Ready to hear what the secret is?
Take your eyes off yourself and focus instead on helping someone else.
Did you know that whatever we focus our attention on consumes us and gets bigger? If you’re always thinking about your problems, they take full reign of your attention – front and center all day long. The bigger your focus on them, the more they make you feel slighted, mistreated and eventually you are consumed with self-pity.
When you begin to focus instead on what you have in relation to others less fortunate than you, it puts everything in perspective. I remember back in the really, really lean times when as a single mother, even though I worked full time, I was struggling to put food on my own table. I worked in downtown St Louis, which is somewhere I would never choose to hang out by choice. Every week when I got paid I would literally have just a few dollars left over after paying the bills that had to be paid that week. Without fail, I would walk out the doors on payday and come across someone on the street begging for money. Invariably, I would give them 2 of the 3 dollars I had to my name.
Why on earth would I do that? If you are spending your days walking up and down the street begging for money, you are clearly less fortunate than me. If you are sleeping on downtown sidewalks, you are clearly less fortunate than me. When you look like you haven’t seen a hot shower in weeks, I can only assume it’s been equally as long since you’ve had the pleasure of sleeping in a warm bed. Clearly you are less fortunate than me. Many years later my coworkers would tease me for doing that because they claimed those people that I gave 2 of my 3 dollars to would take that money and buy alcohol with it. I can’t deny I was saddened to think they would waste my money on alcohol. But I have no regrets because I still believe they were less fortunate than me.
Not only have I been the giver, I have found myself on the receiving end of a good deed and it feels amazing! During those same lean years that I was “foolishly” giving 2 of my 3 dollars to homeless people, I was reaching out to churches and other places trying to get help paying my own bills so my power wouldn’t be shut off, or so that I could feed my kids. I’ll never forget that a young couple with a small child “adopted” my kids and I for Christmas. They brought presents for my girls and a bottle of perfume called HOPE for me. They told me the perfume was not intended for me to wear so much as it was to serve as a reminder that there is always hope. They also brought each of my daughters Happy Meals from McDonald’s which was a big treat because we seldom had the opportunity to eat out during those days.
The fact that these people chose to think of others rather than themselves during the holidays was such a complete blessing to me and left a profound impact on my life. But the thing that stands out to me the most in their act of generosity was that they were trying to teach their 6 or 7 year-old daughter to always think of others. What makes this even more amazing was that their daughter did not have a hand. She only had a prosthetic hook for her hand. Talk about someone not focusing on their own problems!
Sadly, my Mom died exactly 1 week after my last post “Her Smile Said It All”. As tragic as it is to lose your Mom, I feel like we couldn’t have asked for it to go any smoother than it did. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003 and was given 6 months to 2 years to live. That was 11 years ago!
She decided early on not to fight the disease with chemotherapy and I can’t help but wonder if that was a blessing in disguise. Either way, the cancer itself didn’t seem to impact her life at all. Then about 3 months ago, she lost control of her right side, almost as if you would if you had a stroke. Within 2 weeks of noticing that initial decline, the doctor told her she could no longer live alone and he sent her home to die. Apparently the cancer had metastasized and spread to her brain and bones.
My brothers and I stayed with her around the clock for the next 5 weeks until she died. It’s amazing to me how much of a decline there was every day. I was the “weekend girl” and was responsible for caring for her each weekend. It was unbelievable how much of a change I saw week to week. I could have never foreseen the night that I got her all dressed up to attend her grandson’s wedding reception, and we posed for the selfies in my last blog post, that when I returned the following weekend, my Mom would no longer be able to communicate or interact with me. I don’t think anything prepares you for that. By the following weekend, she died….peacefully, surrounded by all of her children.
My brothers and I at her funeral.
The blessings in all of this are more than I can count, but here are just a few: 1) She didn’t suffer in pain for very long. It could have went on and on for years, but it didn’t. 2) She got to die at home like she wanted, surrounded by the people she loved. 3.) She could have ended up having to go to hospice which would have cost a fortune! 4) She got to spend the last 5 weeks of her life surrounded constantly by her loved-ones. 5) Exactly 2 weeks before she died, she was all smiles and so excited to go to her grandson’s wedding reception. To me, the fact that she was laughing and having fun with the people she loved 2 weeks before she died, was a gigantic blessing in itself!
I find myself today at an all too familiar place as of late, the bedside of my mother who has been sent home to die. We have had a very unusual relationship almost my entire life. Somehow, somewhere, early on in my life, I took over the parenting role. Not only parenting her, but also trying to parent my siblings as best I could.
Her health has been declining rapidly each day. Today as I watch her lying there confused, in pain and scared, my heart breaks for her. My biggest concern since she was diagnosed with cancer has been that I wanted to be sure that she knew God in the close, personal way that I know Him before she died. Unfortunately, from everything I can tell, and every discussion we’ve had, I’ve gotten the impression that she still doesn’t. She can no longer carry on conversations. So I quietly pray at her bedside for her.
The one sign of hope that I do have is that she was raised Catholic and I know that it has been very, very important to her that a priest visit with her so she can give her last confession. Because she has not been super active in church, we’ve had a hard time getting a priest to make that visit.
Moments after I began writing this post, there was a knock on the door. A priest that my brother had contacted was here to pray over her, take her final confession and do something Catholics call anointing the sick. Though my Mom was heavily medicated, it was clear that she understood what was going on. I felt such peace and comfort hearing the words the priest prayed over her – promising that God would comfort her, give her peace and that all of her sins have been forgiven.
As the priest left, my Mom thanked him wholeheartedly with a smile, nothing more. That smile was the biggest smile I had seen in days from her. And for that, I thank God. He reminds me there is always hope.
Can you believe that I started smoking cigarettes when I was 11 years old?! I can’t even believe that. Thankfully, I quit smoking in 1998. It definitely wasn’t an easy thing to do. In fact, I even took an anti-depressant medication called Wellbutrin for a couple of weeks because it was supposed to help you quit. I am confident today that I would have never been able to quit on my own without that medication. It worked really well and made getting through the first couple of weeks much easier.
When I started smoking, cigarettes were only 50 cents a pack. By the time I quit smoking, they were almost $2.00 a pack! In addition to the health risks, the cost of them was a big reason I wanted to quit smoking. Yesterday I was behind someone in line that was purchasing a carton of cigarettes. I was shocked and so thankful that I quit when I heard that he would be paying $49.00 for the carton!
This got me wondering how much money I had saved by quitting. So I came home and did the math. Can you believe that I have saved over $42,000 since I stopped smoking 16 years ago? That is a gigantic chunk of money! That’s the equivalent of approximately 3 brand new cars! Plus, I don’t have that nagging cough anymore. If you’re still a smoker, knowing this might be just the motivation you need to quit.
Are there people that you cherish and appreciate so much? Are there people that provide you with such excellent service that you never have to worry that they’ll do what they say they are going to do? What about the people that just show up and do exactly what they are expected to do? Do you notice these people’s actions?
What about the people that are supposed to be there in life for you and they are not? What about the contractor that you paid to make repairs who did a shoddy job? Or worse yet, took your money and ran with it? What about the person that cuts you off in traffic? Do you notice these people’s actions?
I’m going to wager that the majority of us notice the second set of examples more frequently than we do the first. We’re burning up the phone lines complaining (or blaring or horns!) when we feel like people have dropped the ball or treated us unfairly. But how often do we pick up the phone to tell a friend or family member how much they mean to us? What about calling to compliment the people or service providers that just show up and do what they have promised to do?
I’ll admit, I’m the first one to call and complain if something goes wrong. But, I’m also the first one to call when something goes right. I notice and acknowledge whenever someone does a great job. Yesterday, I received yet another sales call on my business line. These calls drive me CRAZY and distract me from whatever I’m trying to focus on. And the caller is usually rude and sounds like a robot with a prerecorded message. While I used to automatically just hang up on these callers in the past, lately I have been trying to remind myself that they are just people doing their job. A job they probably hate, just like I was. So I’ve made a conscientious change and I now sit through their spiels and then I politely decline whatever it is they are selling. But back to the sales call I received yesterday. The woman that called was so polite and genuine that I was highly impressed. I still politely declined what she was selling, but then I took a moment to thank her for her great approach and told her how much I appreciated it.
Well, I’ve been prompted the last few days to call my trash company and tell them how much I appreciate the guys that take my yard waste. They show up every week just like they are supposed to. Usually they have come and gone before I even wake up. The times I have seen them taking the yard waste, they always pick up any grass that may have fallen out of a bag that ripped as they pick it up. It’s those little, thoughtful things that usually go unnoticed. I kept meaning to call but kept forgetting. When I was prompted out of nowhere again today to make the call, I knew I couldn’t put it off one more minute.
I’ve learned that when I am prompted like that to do something, especially over and over, there is a reason for it. And it’s my job to act on it. I’ve learned that in those instances, that is when God is speaking to me. Now, I don’t know the first thing about the 2 guys that pick up my yard waste. But my sense is that one or both of them must be having a tough time right now or just need a little pick me up. I’ll never know how my phone call impacted their lives, or if it made a significant difference at all. But what I do know is that it was important that I make that call. Who can you call and thank today? What GOOD thing can you focus on today rather than focusing on a negative thing?