A Year in Gratitude (part I)

I dedicate this post to my soul sister “weirdo” – may we always live a life filled with gratitude and find joy in the simple things. Thank you for waking me up, Karina. xo

I’m also dedicating this post to Tonya – you taught me about the beauty of unlikely friendships and to have faith. xo

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. ~ Zig Ziglar

Come January 1, 2018, Willow and I will have completed our first 365 days of writing in a gratitude journal together and if I continue down the path I’ve been on, January 1st will also mark 81 consecutive days of meditation for me. Two things that have helped me tremendously. This past year has been full of ups and downs, joy and sadness, love and loss. But more than anything, these last few months have been filled with positive growth, learning, and freedom. I honestly feel like a new person or as if I have been reunited with my soul…that I have become the very person I have aspired to be.

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

Those who know me well, know that I have always struggled with balance. Whether it’s biting off more than I can chew, spreading myself thin, or feeling like a failure, the one consistent thing was that I was exhausted in every sense of the word and felt like something was missing. Today, all I feel is immense gratitude and love. Love for life, love for where I’m at, love for the simple things, and a deeper love for family and close friends.

Our favorite kombucha from 2017 even fit with this post…Living in Gratitude from GT’S. Not only is the flavor incredible, but the bottle itself is beautiful. Especially this quote found on the bottle:

“When we root ourselves in gratitude, our joy grows and blossoms. It reaches up and branches out until a forest blankets the earth and fills the whole sky.”

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

That quote on the kombucha bottle couldn’t be more accurate. I have found that when I am living in a state of gratitude (and not dwelling on the could haves, should haves, or negatives), my entire presence is overcome with joy…and my joy spreads onto others and vice versa. Which is why I have spent my last few months surrounding myself with those who live in gratitude and in the moment. Joy and gratitude are contagious.

We live in a very fast paced, go-go-go society and sadly, many of us have lost the beauty of stillness and being present. Falling into the habit of journaling with Willow, along with meditating, has taught me just how magical and necessary it is to be mindful. Both have taught me to slow down and appreciate what is right in front of me.

The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become. ~ Robert Holden

Every night, before we cuddle down to read and fall asleep, Willow and I sit down together in bed to share three things we’re grateful for. There were days where I wanted to hit a reset button or fast forward through due to the amount of meltdowns or challenges, but every single night had us focusing on the positives – the joys and things we felt incredibly blessed for. And every night, our heads hit the pillow with the rough day behind us. No longer upset or sad, but rather happy and at peace.

The other day, Willow asked to read through some of our earlier entries in the gratitude journal and a few things happened:

  1. We laughed…a lot.
  2. I noticed over time how Willow’s entries grew to be more meaningful and heartfelt.
  3. Lastly, I recognized some recurrent things that we were grateful for.

The things that came up repeatedly (and almost daily) were the little things, which in reality, were the big things: spending time with family; doing things together (reading, drawing, painting, dancing, hiking, etc.); good health; supportive + loving family and friends – both near and far. I am so incredibly grateful for my family and for the genuine friends in my life who have been with me every step of the way. I really am blessed to have relationships that feel equal and not one sided. This year I let go of those where I felt like a person of convenience and embraced those who lifted me up. Where the love and care came from both parties and not just me.

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living
Our first entry in the gratitude journal. Willow cracks me up with her replies the first few weeks. All about animals!

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

The theme throughout our journal was family and there was one big challenge we faced that really taught us just how important it is to stick together. Over the summer, we decided as a family that it would be best to find a new home for our dog Abbey. I saw the signs early on, but refused to face them because I loved her and selfishly wanted to keep her with us. Abbey was here for Willow’s first spoken words, when she learned to ride her tricycle (and bike with training wheels), Willow’s first camping trip, and when she started homeschool cohort. I associate a lot of memories with Abbey so this decision was definitely not an easy one. We weren’t just going to drop her off at a shelter or anything like that because despite our decision, she was part of our family. We adopted Abbey when she was 10 years old and I knew how hard it was to rehome senior animals – so after a lot of research, I found Senior Dog Rescue of Oregon. Which, as you can guess, was a group who found homes for senior dogs.

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

I reached out to them via email and telephone and we began the process. I helped to write up a bio about Abbey, sent them some photos, and then we scheduled an appointment for a checkup for her with our vet. Here is when things got really rocky and stressful. We took her in for what should have been a routine dental cleaning, but we received a call about an hour after dropping her off that her liver levels were elevated. So they couldn’t do the dental – instead, we were sent home with several prescriptions and had to postpone the cleaning for another month. Throughout this process, I kept the rescue organization in the loop and they began to grow concerned about moving forward.

I prayed and envisioned Abbey in a loving home where she could live out her remaining life in peace and no longer shaking out of fear with all of the loud noises and commotion in our house (between two cats and a busy five-year-old). She deserved better and I would do everything in my power to see this through.

A few days later, I received a phone call letting me know that there was a woman interested in adopting Abbey and that she lived in a house on a few acres of land (fully fenced in). In the bio I helped to write, I mentioned that Abbey needed to be in a home without children, cats, or small dogs. This woman met the first two requirements, but I was told she had a black Labrador Retriever – so clearly not a small dog, but we’d need to see if they got along.

Well, we brought Abbey in a month later for attempt number two at a dental cleaning and just like the first try, we received a call saying that her liver levels were double or triple what they should be. I broke down. Why was this happening? Was this a sign to halt trying to find her a new home? Who would be willing to take her on with health issues and numerous prescriptions?

I prayed again and told myself that whatever happens, things will work out the way they were meant to. If that meant keeping Abbey in our home and making some major adjustments or waiting for the right new home to come along, we needed to be patient and have faith.

Sure enough, I got a call saying that the woman who was interested was still willing to give her a new home and that the liver issue and prescriptions weren’t a deal breaker. I cried a mix of happy and sad tears. Happy that Abbey would be moving on to a better suited home, but sad because it meant we were going to have to say goodbye. I couldn’t believe this was really happening.

So we set a date in September to drive to Corvallis to meet – For us to meet Tonya (the potential adopter) and her black Lab Milly. The drive there was filled with heightened emotions and I began doubting our decision…and I seriously hated myself. I remember asking for a sign to tell me that we were making the right decision and not even 20 minutes later, a beautiful rainbow appeared. I remember my heart breaking while crying tears of peace. Since we had Willow in the car, I had a lot of internal conversations going on because I didn’t want to make things harder than they were for her. I told myself that if I didn’t like Tonya’s energy, we wouldn’t go through with it. And to be honest, a part of me wanted things to fall through – I was hoping to not like her so that we could drive back home and be the family I wanted to be. Sad, right? Like I said, I hated myself.

When we arrived at our meeting spot, I lost it. Tears couldn’t be stopped and I kept hugging and telling Abbey just how much we loved her. That just because we were letting go of her didn’t mean that the love wasn’t there – it was because we loved her that we recognized she deserved better. We ended up really connecting with Tonya and I could just feel the love she has for animals. She is very passionate and her dogs are her babies. Abbey warmed up immediately to both Tonya and her dog, Milly, so I knew that this was us saying goodbye to Abbey.

The next couple of weeks were some of the hardest that we faced as a family. I thought we broke Willow. Daily meltdowns, anger, and I felt like I didn’t recognize who she was anymore. Everything was a fight – getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating, leaving the house, cleaning up. All battles that I just didn’t have the strength to fight. So there were quite a few days of staying home in pjs in tears. Most days I beat myself up for being a failure to Abbey and for breaking my daughter’s heart.

What got me through? Josh listening to us cry about how much we missed Abbey and allowing us to fully process and grieve. Recognizing that we were all hurting and struggling meant that it was so important to be there for one another. To be an ear for words that needed to be spoken, a shoulder to cry on, and provide an embrace when the words wouldn’t come out. The biggest light was Tonya. We connected really well at the meeting that we exchanged phone numbers. She would text us daily with updates – letting us know how Abbey was adjusting along with an occasional photo. As the weeks went on, we really got a sense of how well Abbey was doing – as if she was thriving and getting to be the dog she was meant to be. She was exploring the land, becoming good buddies with Milly, and being spoiled by Tonya and her husband with lots of car rides, walks, and treats. One evening Tonya and I spoke on the phone for over an hour and that was when my heart was filled with tremendous peace. I knew we made the right decision and that Abbey was incredibly lucky to be with Tonya. All we ever wanted was for her to be a happy dog and Tonya has been able to make that happen. Every now and then I’ll get hit with a wave of “why couldn’t we be that home?” but more than anything I am grateful for the way things ended up. Abbey in a perfect home and Tonya gaining another baby AND I gained a friend. While it took us quite some time to fully process all of this, there were too many signs pointing to the Universe aligning our paths – that everything happened exactly as it was supposed to.

{Little similarities that made it all the more obvious our paths were supposed to cross: Tonya’s black Lab’s name is Milly….growing up, I had a black Lab named Milly. Tonya’s previous dog was named Maggie…my first dog’s name (the one before Milly) was named Maggie. And our shared love for dogs – they aren’t just a creature who walks on four legs, but rather, they have our hearts. They are family.}

From September to present day, I found myself mentioning Abbey and Tonya in our gratitude journal pretty regularly. Tonya set me free from the thoughts of being a failure and showed me that we tried all that we could to be a home for Abbey. Joy has replaced my previous feelings of sadness and pain – when I close my eyes, I can almost see Abbey’s energy and see a dog at peace – she is where she is supposed to be. And for that I am GRATEFUL.

GRATITUDE. GRATITUDE. GRATITUDE.

This year has taught me a lot. To find magic in the little things. To be be more aware and in tune. To recognize just how incredibly blessed I am. These last few months have been filled with so much beauty and joy and I can without a doubt say that going to bed with a heart full of gratitude has aided in that shift. I wake up with a grateful heart, which is how each day should be greeted. Now I see that there is SO much to be grateful for…that listing just three things each night has become difficult because I could easily write a full page. I highly recommend grabbing a notebook to start this daily/nightly habit. Just a few minutes out of your day can create big changes in your life and mindset.

I have really enjoyed watching Willow grow throughout this journey and seeing her recognize just how lucky she is has been amazing. I can see the light in her eyes when she talks about the things she is grateful for and that makes me a proud mom.

I recently asked Willow, “What do you think about writing in the gratitude journal? Do you like it?”

Her response: “I want to keep doing it when I’m 18 and 20!”

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

I’m looking forward to the next year spent in gratitude. What were some things you were grateful for in 2017?

Stay tuned for part two where I discuss meditation, mindfulness, and presence.

Thanks for stopping by! Wishing you all the very best in 2018!

10 thoughts

  1. These are the loveliest words I’ve read in a very long time! You’ve made me feel so many emotions just reading it. You are a gifted writer for sure. A gratitude journal sounds like an amazing way to keep the focus where it should be. I’m a great re-acter and find it easy to lose sight of what’s important when I get caught up in the everyday nonsense. Perhaps a gratitude journal would help me remember. What a gift you have given to Willow! You are a beautiful soul my friend Mandy and I am grateful to know you. I wish you so much love and happiness always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww!!! ☺️☺️ Thank you so much for reading!! I really appreciate the kind words, my friend – I’m actually hoping to share more this year, as far as writing goes. I swear, the gratitude journal is life changing!! Let me know if you end up using one ♥️ Thank you, again, Diana! Love youuuuu!!! XOXO

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  2. Aw Mandy! This is so beautiful and candid and real and emotional and relatable and gah I could go on and on and am almost crying right now. Animal stories always hit me deep, and I am so glad it had a happy ending even if it was reeeeeeeally hard along the way. I’ve lost two dogs and had to re-home one horse and it just never gets easier. Abbey is very lucky to have had you in her life and now Tonya in her life and so much love all around. I love the gratitude practice too, and totally respect that you made it all 365 days. I imagine it’s quite interesting to look back at the journal as a whole and see the big themes that emerge without even realizing it along the way. The little things are the big things–I absolutely agree. Always amazed by how honest you are with yourself and appreciative that you are so honest with us too. Much love and a very happy 2018 to you❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Natalie!! Awww! Thank you ❤️❤️❤️ Animal stories always hit me, too – Life would be so empty and incomplete without them – but it’s SO hard when you lose one. I’m glad our story had a happy ending because I know things can always be worse.
      You’re right! It was really interesting to go back and read through our journal…especially Willow’s entries 😉 Soon I’m going to have her start writing her own instead of me doing it for her so we can see how her handwriting changes over this next year! Thank you so so much for taking the time to read. Wishing you all the best in 2018!! Love to you! ❤️❤️ xo

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  3. I really loved this, Mandy! I cried both sad and happy tears over Abbey, I’m SO happy she found a loving home and you found peace. I love your gratitude notebook! We keep a gratitude jar and reread them on New Year’s Day, it’s one of our favorite traditions. I’m so glad you’ve been doing so good, and I really cherish our friendship. I hope 2018 is magical for you and yours! ❤️

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    1. Thank you so much, Carrie!! Oh, I love your tradition!!! What a positive way to start the new year! Ditto, sweet friend. I’m lucky to have you in my life! I hope 2018 is good to you and your family! You deserve it ❤

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  4. Oh my goodness Mandy, what an emotional and love-filled post! I felt so much while reading it and I know how difficult the journey has been for you with Abbey. I’m so happy you found Tonya and her taking her has, in the end, been the best and right decision for Abbey. It is apparent how much you love her and no matter how hard it was, your dedication to find her the RIGHT home and not just drop her off anywhere, shows how big your heart is and how much love you have for her. I’m so happy it reached that point. I can only imagine how hard and sad it has been for y’all to adjust but knowing Abbey is in a good home is what you need to heal and have peace. I still say almost daily how much I miss my cat, Kenny and wish so much I could hold him again. I just pray I’ll see him again (along with other animals I’ve lost) in heaven. Thank you for writing and sharing so beautifully. You really and truly are such a remarkable person and mother. I always look up to you. LOVE YOU so much. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We will definitely be reunited with our fur babies in heaven! Animals have our hearts and it’s amazing how quickly bonds form and we grow incredibly attached. It feels like a piece of me is missing with Abbey gone, but I am grateful for the time we had with her. We may not have been the right home to her, but I think she knew we loved her and she certainly taught me a lot. Thank you so much for the kind words and for always being so supportive. I always look up to YOU, mama!!! LOVE YOU tons!! xoxoxo ❤

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