Several years ago, I attended a workshop led by a gifted poet, writer, teacher, friend and mentor, Marilyn McEntyre. Among her many books is Make A List: How A Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives And Open Our Hearts. Marilyn discovered that the value of making lists goes far beyond detailing what we need at the store – making lists can uncover important aspects of our inner life and creativity that may be hidden from us.
One exercise we did at the workshop really hit home for me, and I later put it to good use when my wife and I observed our 40th wedding anniversary. I’m sharing it in this post and encouraging you to try it.
Let’s start with what we did at the workshop.
We were asked to make two lists of ten items each.
The first was to list difficult situations we’ve faced.
When we finished, she had us review what we’d written and share impressions. It was sobering to remember what it felt like to live through those challenges.
Then she asked us to make a second list: significant blessings we’ve experienced.
When finished, we again shared reactions. It was a revelation. I thought, “I’ve faced some hardships in my life,” I thought, “But look at all the graces I’ve received!”
By doing the list of hardships first, the list of blessings became much more than pleasant memories of just positive thoughts. Instead, it became a testimony to the fact that we can find blessings in the hardest of times.
A few months later I decided to adapt the idea for our 40th anniversary and share them with our daughters at dinner. (The original list included specific details about our personal lives known to our family, which I’m omitting here.)
First, I listed 40 challenges my wife and I have lived through. Here’s a sampling:
- Getting married when we were naïve and unprepared.
- At one point realizing we didn’t have $74 for a dentist visit for our five-year old.
- Experiencing my own depression at age 38 when I saw all my friends “getting ahead” – buying houses, vacationing in Hawaii, and going skiing when we could not afford any of that — and feeling I was a total failure.
- Raising kids and you realizing you can’t save them from potential harm. The many sleepless nights and ardent prayers. And realizing it doesn’t end when they turn 18.
- The sudden death of my mother and brothers.
- Caring for our aging and dying parents.
- 🚴♂️Family medical emergencies that involved ambulances and times in the ICU when we felt helpless and afraid.
- Several crises and conflicts in my career.
- The tragic death of people we loved over the years, including young mothers and teenagers.
- Watching our bodies age and how we could no longer do activities we had taken for granted.
Then I read my list of ”40 Graces.” Here’s a sample:
- The amazing discovery of God in our lives.
- The way we were embraced and supported by the Point Loma, Santa Paula, Wapato, and Goleta congregations through 30 years.
- Looking into the eyes of each of our daughters when they were born and seeing them grow.
- The excitement of moving to New Jersey for seminary, even though all we arrived with was a rocking chair and Hoover vacuum cleaner.
- Moving to the Campbell Farm in rural Washington and discovering the richness of rural life.
- The abiding friendships we’ve developed every place we lived.
- The positive impact of the teen “Love Of God” program on each of our daughters.
- Holding each of our three grandsons in our arms and seeing them grow.
- The love and support we received from friends during emergencies and crises.
- The care our parents received at nursing homes from nurses and aides.
Making a list like this is easier than you might think. I encourage you to do something similar for special events, or as a simple way to review your life. You can just start with lists of ten. Like I said, it’s a profound way to appreciate what you’ve gone through and the gifts you’ve received. And when you find yourself once again facing a serious challenge, it can be a reminder that grace is already close and waiting for you.
Photo credit: “Inspiration Point, Santa Barbara,” Brianne from Everyday Runaway