Monday, November 20, 2017

What I'm Thankful For: Writing Belle's Thanksgiving Week

A lot of people look at Thanksgiving as perhaps nothing more than a purely American-only holiday, where families gather around a table and pig out on copious amounts of rich food. And hey: for some, that's probably true! The point of Thanksgiving, however, is to be grateful for the blessings in our lives, and to reflect on all that we have been given. Because I guarantee you - whether you see it or not - there are things in your life that are good. There are things in your life that are great. Sure, life is hard. Sure, life sometimes beats the crap out of us all. But there are people, places, and things that give us joy, warmth, and love. Thanksgiving is about remembering those things and humbling ourselves and allowing our hearts to overflow with gratitude. 

I'll be honest. It has taken me years to really stop and realize all of the blessings that are in my own life. Like many people, I always struggled with focusing on the negative rather than the positive, but I'm happy to say that I have clawed my way out of that backwards mentality to see the world for what it really is: a combination of highs and lows. How you feel about life comes down to your mindset. Thanksgiving is a reminder to me to be thankful for the lows and well as the highs. Without the lows, I wouldn't be able to learn, grow, or evolve. Without the lows, I wouldn't appreciate the highs. 

Here are 10 major things that I'm thankful for this year. I challenge you to make your own list, too. Tape the list to your desk or pin it to your bulletin board! It helps to keep things in perspective when the going gets tough! 

1. My job. I'll be the first to say that the career path I chose wasn't an easy one. Being a full-time writer was a hard thing to do. It still is! When I started working toward this job, I was only 13 years-old. I didn't get my first paycheck until I was 17, and for years, I pinched pennies and worked my butt off. Every step of the way was a learning experience, a painful experience, riddled with failures that paved the way to successes. Today, I'm so proud of what I do. I get to write books and manage a publishing company and work as a writing instructor. I'm grateful for every opportunity that my career brings me. 

2. My friends. I've never had a very big family, so I've always said that my friends are my extended family members. I have friends here where I live, as well as friends who live across the country. I'm thankful for all the guys and gals who make me laugh, offer a shoulder to cry on, and just like to have fun together. I love the saying, Friends are God's way of taking care of us. So true! 

3. Failures. This is a weird one, but I'm grateful for every failure I've had in my life. I still fail, all the time. It's hard to go through, but every time I fail, I can't deny that I learn something incredible because of it. Life is very painful, but it's also very educational. I have to be thankful for failures, because they have shown me the reality of the world we live in. Sometimes forcing yourself to be grateful for something messy or unhappy is hard, but it's a huge attitude game changer. 

4. My husband. I met my husband in a Sunday school class, of all places. I was still just a teenager, and at that time in my life (I was 19), I had honestly not given a single thought to ever getting married or even dating (I was very goal-oriented, and considered dating a waste of time, which some people thought was strange - but I thought it was efficient, haha). I was solely focused on one thing: my career. Don't ask me why; I just never gave marriage any thought back then, and still didn't, until later. My husband changed that. He was the first and only person to impress me enough to make me consider a relationship. We started dating after only a couple of weeks of knowing each other, and after 4 years of enjoying each other's company, we got married. I chose to get married not because I felt pressured to, or because Cosmopolitan Magazine said it was a good idea: I got married because he was my best friend, and we are equal partners in everything we do. I am grateful for him. Not just for his love, but for his willingness to do hard things, and for the way he and I function as a team to both enjoy and endure life. Marriage, to me at least, is about putting your partner first instead of yourself. It's really a very healthy thing, because guess what? It's not about us - it's about others. Always.  

5. My town. I live in a small farming community in California. I was born here, and despite an 8-year detour in Sacramento, this has been my primary place of residence. My town is known as the "World's Fruit Basket." Agriculture is the backbone of our area. Most of my friends are farmers. My husband and our family works in agriculture (I'm the anomaly, because I'm a writer!). The small town vibe is relaxing and quaint. Our local church is over 100 years-old. Our main street is 3 blocks long. I always said I wanted to settle down in the country, on the outskirts of a small town. Goal level? Achieved! It's funny, too, because when I finished high school, I had my sights set on moving to Anaheim, California, and working at the Disneyland Hotel in marketing. I ended up staying in my hometown (better for me, because I hate SoCal traffic!), and now I get to visit Disneyland as a guest every year! 

6. My students. I teach writing classes every semester. I started teaching simply because somebody asked me to, and I decided it was something I liked, and hey: I made a side career out of it. I have taught writing/grammar for about 5 years now, and every student I have ever had has added to my life in a wonderful way. Any teacher knows that we oftentimes learn as much from our students as they learn from their teachers. I am grateful for every kid I've ever helped teach writing to. They are a blessing to me.

7. My dog/animals in general. I'm a huge animal person. If I had more time (and room in my backyard) on my hands, I would be taking home every stray that needed a home. I love dogs, cats, and everything in between. I love my dog because she brings me laughter and snuggles and companionship. I'm a huge supporter of protecting animals. I support zoos and endangered species breeding programs. I do not support hunting (although I know some people who hunt, and my belief that sport hunting is wrong is not meant to offend anyone: I understand that everyone has their own opinions, and I respect that). I always encourage people to help out an animal in need; they're just like us: all they want is love! They brighten our lives by existing, and we should show them the same respect!

8. Music. This is pretty general, yeah. But without music, my life would be a lot less interesting. Music helps me to get with the program while I'm working. It inspires me, relaxes me, and touches me. I have been a music junkie since I was a kid, lying on the floor, listening to my boombox, playing my Sound of Music cassette tape over and over again until I knew every note of every song and instrumental. 

9. Traveling. Whether it's a day trip or a flight to another state (or country!), traveling every once in a while is one of my biggest joys. Traveling to new places gives me inspiration for new books and stories. I adore exploring new locations with my husband (he's not as much as a travel junkie as I am, but we make a pretty good balance). Traveling is one of the best parts of life! 

10. This country. I love living in the United States. Not only do I have the freedom to work and live as an independent businesswoman, I also have the ability to voice my own thoughts. I have the freedom to choose my religion. I have the freedom to write books without censorship. I have the freedom to go to church. I have the freedom to vote, to state an opinion (or withhold it), and to engage in free business. The first Thanksgiving was a feast. Native Americans and Pilgrim immigrants came together to celebrate the bounty that God had blessed them with in a New World, and that, my friends, is the root of Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the men and women who have fought and shed blood for this country for centuries. Thankful for wonderful veterans like my late grandfather, who gave 21 years of his life in the Navy to help protect the future of his children, grandchildren, and beyond. That is something to have deep gratitude for. 

What are you thankful for? I encourage you to reflect this Thanksgiving on the blessings in your life, big or small. Stay humble. Stay kind. Stay loving. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! 

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