40: The Journal

40: The Journal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

The Journal

For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food, for love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was almost Christmas in 1997. After going through a sad divorce I was happily remarried and enjoying life once again. My wonderful husband Joe and I went to work each morning to jobs we loved. On the weekends we went dancing at the local country western roadhouse. All of our children were doing well and were happy for our happiness. We were in a very good place and grateful for all that we had found in each other’s love.

While I was Christmas shopping for my sisters at the local bookstore, I saw a display of gratitude journals. I decided to buy four of them, one for me and three for my sisters. My plan was that beginning on January 1st, we would write five things every day that we were grateful for in our lives. I looked forward to sharing my good life with my journal.

Starting the journal was fun, and I found five things to be grateful for every day without any problem at all. With my life sailing along so joyfully, it was easy to be grateful. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of sitting at my vanity every evening and writing my five entries. I entered the names of new friends we met and the musicals we saw together, the new restaurants we tried, the touching things my husband said to me, the exciting things my sons were doing, and the encouraging comments from the parents at work. On and on the words spilled from my pen.

But my life changed quickly and unexpectedly. On a Wednesday afternoon in early February there was a knock on my door that changed my life forever. When I opened the door, two men who worked with Joe stood in front of me with distraught expressions on their faces. They told me that Joe had been found on the floor in his office and taken to the hospital. They came to take me to see him. I climbed into the company car with shock. It was an icy day and the ride to the hospital was painfully slow. With the pinging sound of ice hitting the roof, I prayed to and bargained with God for Joe’s life during the entire ride. But, it was too late. My husband had already died.

Keeping my gratitude journal wasn’t so easy after that. Through February and March the pages of my journal stayed empty. I was too filled with fear and sorrow to make room for gratitude and optimism. But as the weeks went by, I began to realize that it is during the hard times that we most need to find and acknowledge the good things in our lives. I remembered learning at church that we are to be thankful in all circumstances. We’re not expected to be thankful for all circumstances, but we are to be thankful in all circumstances.

I didn’t want to be the kind of person who gave up on life. I decided to take on the challenge of being thankful and positive in the midst of my grief. Once again I sat down at the end of the day and tried to find five things that I was grateful for and write them in my journal. What had been so easy before my husband’s death became a nightly struggle.

My first new entries into my journal were like those beginning steps that a little one takes on her first birthday. They were wobbly but determined, and often ended with a fall. One evening I remember crying and writing “I’m glad that this day is over” five times. But I stuck with it and slowly my gratefulness for life returned. By making myself write something every day, I forced my soul to see and feel the good mixed within my pain. The sun still rose, the flowering dogwood tree bloomed, the toddlers at the center still reached their arms out to me, the robins came back, and I could laugh at a corny joke once again!

Instead of trying to figure out the answers to all of my problems by myself, I asked God to send the right people into my life to help me. Again and again He did. A real estate friend found the perfect small house for me, and my family and friends helped me move into it on a warm day in May. Some family members and close friends donated money to help me out, and co-workers covered for me on days when I was clearly struggling. My sons knew when to comfort me and when to make me laugh. My best friend and her husband met me every Friday night for dinner and never once made me feel like the proverbial third wheel. Blessings just gushed into my life, and every night I listed them in my journal.

I still cried into my pillow some nights, but I began to understand that I was lucky to have memories so good they were worth crying about. It wasn’t easy, but I began to feel powerful and strong enough to handle my life with grace and a sense of humor. I became the person I was meant to be.

I remarried three years ago, and despite many bumps along the way, my positive outlook continues to bring joy and contentment into my life. Even though my pessimistic husband Tom teases me about being a Pollyanna, I know that life looks better through the lenses of gratitude and positivity. Life is going well for me now, but I am wise enough to realize that I will face more difficult times. I know that I will be sad again, but I also know that with time a thankful optimism will replace my tears and carry me through. The twelve-dollar cost of that journal I bought so many years ago was such a small price for the lesson of a lifetime!

~Audrey Smith McLaughlin

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