Category Archives: Feeling Gratitude

Fear, Hope, Pride and Gratitude

My nephew became a bar mitzvah. We spent a beautiful Shabbos spent at my sister’s house. There were adults, teens, toddlers and babies filling up every space of her home. Following that Shabbos, I had an opportunity to talk to my brother-in-law’s mother, Mrs. Yehudis Flagler. I mentioned that it must have been so special for her to spend Shabbos at a simchah with so many of her children and grandchildren, ka”h.

Mrs. Flagler then shared her beautiful and poignant thoughts. When she was a young girl, she was stricken with polio. She lay isolated in the hospital for weeks while the virus was still contagious.  This period was followed by intense and often painful physical therapy to overcome the resulting paralysis and enable her to walk again.

One day, shortly after an extremely painful procedure, little Yehudis’ parents came to visit her. She was still sobbing from the pain, her cheeks damp from tears. For a mother to see her child like this was devastating, and the fear that took hold of Yehudis’ mother at that moment never completely left her. She wondered, what is going to be with this child?

B”H, this young child came home. She grew up and became a young girl and then a teenager. But the effects of the horrible disease never completely left her. Her mother experienced the constant fear and worry: Will my daughter ever get married? Will she have children? Will she be able to raise them? Her fears were shared by her daughter. Would she have the capabilities to raise a family and fulfill the dream that most young girls have?

B”H, she got married. And B”H she had a large family, ka”h.  With Hashem’s help, she raised a beautiful family that would make any mother proud

As the bar mitzvah celebration for her grandson was taking place, Mrs. Flagler sat in the corner of the room and thought, Surely my mother, from her place in the Olam Ha’emes, sees all this and is deriving much nachas from her beautiful family.Look at what I have. Look at what Hashem has blessed me with. I have so very much to be thankful for.

From such a bleak situation there emerged tens and tens of grandchildren, k”ah, who are continuing to follow in their grandparents’ ways.

Recently I took the old VHS tapes from my childhood and had them converted into DVDs. I popped one in to the computer, and suddenly I was watching a typical scene in my parents’ house. My mother and sister waved goodbye as they headed toward the front door for yet another trip to the mall.  Two of my siblings were sitting at the table doing homework. I was baking, and another sister walked over to the just-out-of-the-oven cookies and was sampling. There was music in the background; the scene lookedsurreal to me.

This brought to mind another memory. One evening amidst the typical hustle and bustle in the kitchen, my father walked in and looked around. With so much gratitude he said, “I can’t believe that all this is mine.”

I really didn’t understand what he was saying. I think I just thought he was being overly sentimental. But one thing I learned as a parent is that I experience similar emotions to what my father expressed that day.  Today I really understand him. I can’t believe what I can call mine. I am so grateful for it. I recognize that Hashem has truly showered me with berachah.

Lately I have been feeling fearful as well. Will my children turn out good? Will they get married and live productive lives? Will they travel the road I want them to travel? Will they achieve their potential? Will they live until 120? Will they have healthy children?

And I wonder, did my father ever look at his family and feel fear? Did he have all these questions swirling in his head?

I think that to some extent every parent worries. But too much worrying also means a lack of trust in Hashem – and it doesn’t accomplish anything!

Recently I was asked to define the word hope.

I realized that when I feel anxious, scared and apprehensive, then I feel hopeless. But when I can calm myself and recognize that my life is in Hashem’s hands, then I become transformed into a calm peaceful person. I would say that for me, the definition of hope is knowing that regardless of what happens, I will be okay.

For now I will try to incorporate the lessons of gratitude I learned from my sister’s mother-in-law. I will try to feel the pride that my father did. And I will try to worry less and hope more.

With continued tefillos to Hashem, I hope to one day sit in my children’s home enjoying true nachas.

Shehechiyanu

Life is settling down into blessed routine. Yom tov was wonderful, B”H. Although very hectic as usual, there were so many special moments I feel grateful for. But after weeks of cooking and serving and then doing it all over again, I am ready for routine.

As I was putting away the last of yom tov I found my mind wandering to many past yomim tovim. The family dynamics are constantly changing. As the children grow older and mature, the conversations change. The chol hamoed trips change, and even the kind of food I cook changes. When my kids were all little, I couldn’t imagine that the day would come when I’d have mostly big children, ka”h. It is amazing to watch as the family’s flavor changes with the different emerging personalities. And I feel so grateful for the home and the atmosphere that is being created.

I also found myself looking back at this past year. So many tragedies have happened – it was a very turbulent year. Unfortunately, the year before was also difficult. We all feel this galus, and I think with each passing year we yearn with more longing for Mashiach. In the emotion-laden tefillah of U’nesaneh Tokef we say, “M’i Ba’eish?” But this year we truly understood what those words mean. Last year, did any parents saying those words imagine that seven of their children would perish in a fire? What about the parents who davened for shidduchim for their children? Could they have imagined that these precious daughters would be killed in a car accident while on vacation? That instead of bringing their children to the chuppah, they would bring them to kevurah? Or the girl that did become a kallah – how could she have imagined that her simchah would be turned upside-down when her chassan and parents would die in an accident? It can be so quick. A young mother who is healthy one Rosh Hashanah can become sick and pass away by the next Rosh Hashanah. And icy conditions can create almanos and yesomim within seconds.

Although I am very much not up-to-date with current events, it seems as if the tragedies don’t end. What is going on In Eretz Yisrael is frightening, and the deaths of so many innocent people is heartrending.

I used to feel so secure. I thought all that stuff that happens, happens to other people. Not to me. Not even to anyone that I know. It is awful, but it won’t be me. And even once it did happen to me, I still felt certain that it wouldn’t be me again. I was safe.

But as I get older, I don’t feel that way anymore. The ground under my feet is shakier. I do not know what Hashem has in store for me or my family. Today I feel grateful that B”H we are here, and we are all healthy. But I feel a certain anxiety, hoping and praying that these blessings will iy”H stay with us for tomorrow and all the tomorrows until next Rosh Hashanah.

AS I bentched licht on the first night of Rosh Hashanah this year, and I said the berachah of shehechiyanu, I felt such strong gratitude to Hashem.  Here I was zoche to once again celebrate a Rosh Hashanah. I was zoche to have another chance to do teshuvah and to work on myself. I was zoche to spend another Rosh Hashanah with my family. Maybe that is why I was able to enjoy yom tov so much. Yes it was busy, tiring, hectic and, at times, overwhelming. But the warm feeling that I experienced on the first night of yom tov as I said that shehechiyanu stayed with me throughout. Hashem has given me so many berachos this past year. Each time we spend together as a family I am able to access that hakaras hatov for all that He has given me.

I don’t know what this upcoming year holds for me. But I continue to daven that iy”H it should continue to bring me berachah and more berachah. I hope that it will bring all of Klal Yisrael lots of berachah. And this year we should be zoche to say the berachah of shehechiyanu upon the arrival of Mashiach.

If My Siddur Could Talk

It was the night before my chasunah. I can still feel the mixture of fear and excitement that I was experiencing. When a small box was delivered to my house with a card, I tenderly opened it up, and there inside lay a beautiful leather siddur engraved with my new name. I held it. I looked at it. I smelled it. I opened it – and I knew I would treasure it forever.

It is now sixteen years later.  The siddur is torn, the binding separated from the cover. The thumb grips are tattered. And some pages are torn in half. I can’t use this siddur anymore. I realized my davening was compromised as I searched for the missing pages or concentrated on making sure that no loose pages fell to the floor. This siddur has been through a lot with me. But now it is time to put it away, high up on a shelf where it is safe, in a place that can’t be reached.

But I wonder – If my siddur could talk, what would it say?  If we took a trip together down memory lane, what would its memories be?  I suppose it would go back sixteen years ago to the day of my wedding. I was eager with anticipation. A whole new life beckoned to me, a life I was about to embark upon. It was hard to visualize my future as I held tightly onto my siddur, and I davened. I davened that life with my new husband should be as glorious as I was imagining it to be.  I davened that we should be zoche to a bayis ne’eman where there would be berachah in abundance.

And so began our journey together. Through ups and downs my siddur was with me. When I was full of gratitude for a healthy baby, I thanked Hashem from my siddur. When my husband left yeshivah, and I felt apprehensive, I took my siddur and asked Hashem to guide us. When I felt tired and overworked, my siddur reminded me that I can ask Hashem for physical strength.

As I watched my two young children play together, I grabbed my siddur and exploded with praise to Hashem for these gifts. And when I gave birth to a set of healthy twins, my siddur helped me remember that it was all due to Hashem’s kindness.

It was my siddur that I cried into when my sister was diagnosed. And I continued to cry into it when my mother was diagnosed. It was my siddur that I turned to as we anxiously awaited results. And it was my siddur that carried me through the difficult days of shivah for my father. As the roller coaster ride got bumpier and bumpier, I held on tightly to my siddur.

It was with pride that I davened on the day my oldest started learning Mishnayos and later Gemara. And it was with pride that I davened as each one of my children continued to reach milestones.

It was my siddur that was there for me as I sat in the hospital room watching my sister die. And it was that siddur that I cried into, joy mingling with pain, as my newborn daughter was named after my sister.

I held on tightly to my siddur as I begged Hashem to give my mother a refuah sheleimah. I cried into my siddur as I heard the doctor’s hopeless report. And I continued to cry into it as I sat shivah for her.

I grabbed my siddur as my bar-mitzvah bochurim made me proud. And I continued holding onto it as we navigated the road of mesivtas.

My siddur gave me strength when I felt sad and alone. My siddur reminded me of all the blessings Hashem has showered upon me. My siddur watched me grow from a young innocent girl whose world was full of excitement and expectation into a mature woman.

My tears of pain have ripped the pages. And my tears have gratitude have torn the binding. I kiss my siddur and put it high up on a shelf out of reach.

Today I got a new siddur. It isn’t leather, and my name is not engraved upon it. It’s not wrapped up, and it didn’t come with a card. But I hold it filled with hope and anticipation. The future continues to beckon to me. I know there will be ups. I know there will be downs. But I know that my siddur can always help me find expression for both the good times and the sad times.

We are about to embark on a journey together. If my siddur could talk, I wonder what it would say.

Enjoy the Moment

A while ago I came to the realization that life goes by so quickly. It seems like yesterday that I got married. And it seems as if it was only the day before that I graduated high school. When I made my first bar mitzvah I said, “If this is how fast it takes for my child to turn thirteen, then it will only be another few minutes until I start marrying off children, iy”H.”

So I decided it is time to start enjoying the mess and the chaos that take place here at times. It is time to stop being annoyed at the towels that don’t get hung up after the showers and the clothes that are not put into the hamper.  It is time to appreciate the many things I have to do, and the many things I am doing at once (although it seems as if my children forget that I am not an octopus with eight hands but rather a human with only two hands, which is definitely limiting).

The other day I was talking to a friend. The subject of my sister came up. The pain of not having her here hurt so badly it left me almost gasping for air. When thinking about it, I realized what was really hurting me. I feel bad that I didn’t take more opportunities to spend time with her. I don’t feel guilty. I know that I was there for her as much as I could have been at the time. And she knew that if she needed me I would show up for her. But for me it is a lost opportunity. How I wish for one more conversation, one more visit, one more argument – just one more.

Looking back I wish I had done things differently. I was always so anxious about my multiple responsibilities, never sure where I belonged and always doubting whether I was in the right place or not. Today I know I would make different decisions. I would spend more time with my sister Esti. I know that she would be my first priority.

But this is life. We grow and learn from our experiences. Today I look back and feel sad at my lost opportunities. Tomorrow or in years from now I don’t want to look back at today and feel that sadness again.

It is time to revel in the joy of what I have today. The business of life is not here to stay. The mess will stop creating itself long before I am ready for it. I want to look back and remember the good times my family had as they grew up. I don’t want to look back and remember the negative feelings I had when yet again I tripped over shoes strewn on the kitchen floor.

My family has so much to offer me. My older ones make me laugh as they recount their day’s experiences in yeshivah. My middle ones’ curiosity leaves me amazed. They ask me question after question on so many topics. I have no answers but they keep on asking. My youngest is still figuring out how the world works and leaves us all chuckling with her wise advice.

It is so pleasant when the atmosphere is light. Talking, laughing and connecting as a family is what creates memories that my children will carry with them forever.

Planting nectarine trees, trying out the new lawnmower and buying bikes together bonds us and makes us into a happy, well-adjusted family. So does sucking on frozen strawberries together, overturning pots and making a family choir or filling up every table and counter with painted pictures that need to dry. This is what I want to look back at and remember. Not the torn books, the disappearing phones and the missing CDs.

Oh yes! I want to know that from the pain of Esti’s death I have grown and made changes. So I will choose to revel in the glory of this family and all of its idiosyncrasies.

Uh, Oh! I walked away from my computer, and my determination is wavering. My son’s Shabbos shoes are still on the living-room floor. My other son left his pizza plate and the bottle of pizza spice on the table. And the briefcases are scattered all over.

I think I will just go to sleep. Good night.

Finding the Gratitude

Finding the Gratitude

I recently read in a weekly publication about a retreat encampment named Mount Misery. In that area there is a Mount Misery Brook and a Mount Misery Road. The author of the article wrote how this road goes on and on and is rumored to never stop.

When I read this, it struck me. It is so easy to get stuck on that road of misery. Like getting stuck in quicksand, misery can suck me in with seemingly no way out. My quicksand is called self-pity.

I can easily fall prey to self-pitying thoughts. They tell me to look at my life. I have so many challenges. There are so many areas that are so rough. I’ve been through so much in the realm of sickness and death. Who sat shivah four times by the time she was in her early thirties?

But I always knew that I didn’t want to live on Misery Road. I want to feel content and happy. I don’t want to be that bitter and rancorous person. I have had a lot of challenges, and today I continue to go through challenging times. But turning myself into a victim will never bring me the joys that life has to offer. And there are a lot of them.

I can be very cynical at times. I’ll read about how a person responded with gratitude toward Hashem for something small in the most painful situation. My thoughts are usually along the lines of I don’t believe it or she was trying to pretend to be this great person.

But then I realize that that is exactly the path to serenity I crave. Why Hashem has chosen me for such challenges, I do not know. But even in the middle of painful times, Hashem has shown me that He is here for me. I just have to make the decision to find him.

I started focusing on my gratitude toward Hashem with very specific examples. Yes, I am grateful for my children. But I feel so much more gratitude to Hashem when I realize the specific things about my children that I am grateful for: two children playing nicely together creating a warm scene; an adorable comment that a child makes; a good PTA report.

I am grateful that B”H I am healthy. But when I watch a person who has difficulty walking I become so grateful for my ability to walk without any problems. I become grateful that I have my full mobility. I can go and come, drive or walk as I please. The same is true with my sight. I am grateful for my eyesight. But when I focus on what I am seeing, my gratitude increases.

Having an unexpected expense can make me feel very nervous. But when we have an extra expense and I feel calm, I am grateful for that serenity. When a friend is making a simchah, and I can feel real happiness for that person, I am grateful that I can feel true joy. If I see a relative making a choice I would not make, I am grateful when I am able not to judge and to maintain my inner peace.

Feeling gratitude to Hashem brings me to a level of serenity that I always want to have.  I don’t know if there is a street with the name Gratitude Road. But if there is, I will choose it over Misery Road any time.