The Gratitude Attitude: Counting Your Blessings Even When You're a Nickel Short of Buying a Cup of Coffee
A few years ago, I was almost homeless. My savings ran out. I was buried in credit card debts. My unemployment was running out and I couldn't find a job.
I was so poor that there were many days, I wanted to buy a hot cup of coffee but would be a nickel or a few cents short to pay for a small cup of coffee.
How many of you can relate to going to the check-out counter, all nervous and sweating, in a state of panic, hoping that you have enough money in your debit and credit card (combined) to pay for your basic necessities, only having to return one item at a time until you've taken off enough items for the transaction to go through?
Who can relate to having to decide whether to return a bag of bread or toilet paper, trying to figure out which one you needed more at the time?
In the meantime, you are holding up the line, you feel like everyone's eyes are on you, and you make yourself feel worse by making up stuff in your head about what they might be quietly thinking:
"Ugh! Another loser who owes too much on their credit cards!"
"Oh, I feel sorry for that girl. She must be so embarrassed. Thank God I am not in her position."
Sometimes, the shame feels so unbearable that you just blurt out some lie, like, "Ugh! I thought my bank fixed this mix-up already! I'm sorry about that," hoping they believe the BS you just said, while trying to not make eye contact as you take that walk of shame leaving all your stuff on the counter or shopping cart.
I had a great education. I did well in school and I was good at my job. NEVER in my life had I thought I would get to this point.
Yes, I was in debt. Yes, I made bad decisions; but I was also trying to be a good provider for my family. Mom was sick and we needed money to pay for medical expenses on top of our basic needs. I was making slightly above minimum wage and it was tough, REALLY tough.
I did what I needed to do to survive, including, emailing our local Councillor. I sent him a long email about my "situation," not asking for money, but for a job. He personally responded within a few hours and we met at Starbucks.
No, he didn't give me a job. What he gave me was more than that.
He listened, not as a politician, but simply as one human being to another, or, as a father would listen to a child who is hurting and scared.
He didn't judge me or preach at me.
I suppose he has lived enough and seen enough to know that there are many sides to a story and that we cannot judge others based on their current circumstance; that our circumstances do not define who we are nor dictate what we are capable of becoming.
Against much resistance, he convinced me to apply for social assistance. He said that there is nothing to be ashamed of, that my taxes pay for these services precisely for situations like this, when we need it.
Financial Poverty versus Spiritual Poverty
He also said one thing I can never forget.
He said, "You seem like a smart and hard-working young girl, so promise me, if things get worse, before going to a shelter, let me know, because you can stay with my family in our home. I've seen people go to a shelter and they never recover. You sound like a fighter and I don't want to see that happen to you. I want to do everything I can to give you a chance to get back on your feet."
That was all I needed to hear to have hope again, to feel supported again, to believe in me again, to feel empowered again, to feel "healed again."
I followed his advice and applied for social assistance, but in less than a week's time, I got a job!
I got off social assistance and thankfully, hasn't been on social assistance since!
People CAN and WILL recover from financial poverty, but only if our spirits remain intact.
We can let our circumstances dictate the trajectory of our lives, or, we can tap on our inner strength and CHOOSE to manage what we can to bring our life back on track.
No, it is not going to be easy, but before things truly get desperate and irreversible (spiritual poverty), we can harness our personal resources to survive, one step at a time, one breath at a time, one conscious and empowered choice at a time.
There is no shame in asking for help.
There is no shame in choosing to live.
Gratitude as a Means to Prevent Spiritual Poverty and How it Saved My Life
Even during this desperate phase in my life, I knew that if I even entertained the idea of giving up, that I will not stand a chance. I won't make it.
I've kept a Gratitude Journal on and off for years, so I decided this would be as good a time as any to re-start it.
I took an inventory of things I am grateful for:
1. Money to buy a cup of coffee.
2. Nice conversation with the girl at the counter at Starbucks.
3. The friendship I've developed with our local Councillor (Thank you, Councillor Jim Neill of Kingston, Ontario!)
4. Internet and a cellphone that worked.
5. My sense of humor and my gratitude attitude.
6. Friends who I can be myself with and accept me.
7. A loving and supportive family.
Before I knew it, my list just kept getting longer and the more I write, the more I remembered things I was and should be grateful for!
It was a mental, emotional and spiritual aerobic workout that made me feel good from the inside-out. Counting my blessings was exactly the "oxygen" I needed to boost my spirits up!
Being grateful allowed me get to a better place, where I can appreciate what I have, especially the people in my life and myself.
I started to feel happier, more hopeful, more positive.
I started to feel empowered.
It got me to a better place spiritually, mentally and emotionally, that I was able to sit in front of my computer and felt motivated to apply for jobs.
My cover letters sounded more confident and not desperate.
The energy I sent with each application was positively charged.
With the radiant, happy, upbeat energy I felt inside, I received more positive responses from people and I've attracted happier, more successful people in my life (who I am still friends with).
I was able to better support my family because they felt hope WITH and IN me. I didn't talk about hope. I lived a life of hope and faith.
I got hired in jobs where I didn't have the experience they were looking for but simply because "there was something about me" they connected with and liked.
As of this writing, I am not "there yet" in terms of my financial, personal and professional goals, but I haven't moved backwards in my progress either. I've just kept moving forward and upward. For that, I am grateful!
My One Saving Blessing During a Seemingly Desperate and Hopeless Situation
There were many times that I felt like giving up, that I couldn't make it, but I didn't, I could'nt. I had to make it.
I had to make it because I had (and have) something to live for - my family.
I had to be healthy and well, I had to be more than okay, because I knew, my Mom, my family, will be devastated if something had happened to me.
Their love kept me going, kept me strong and helped me to be more courageous, more resilient.
Eventually, I've learned (and still learning) that I also have to live for me.
Though my family thanks me for supporting them and taking care of them, I must humbly say, I will always be grateful for them, because they also saved me and they continue to save me. Because I have something to live for, I didn't give up on life and now, here I am - living life, loving life and hopefully, motivating others to do the same.
Give a Man a Fish...
We've all heard the expression, "Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime."
When I was working in the non-profit sector, this was a favorite quote used to preface a talk about "empowerment" and discourage "dependency" from financial or social assistance.
I am educated. I have skills. I have an impressive resume.
But (at the time) I was also hungry and I was at risk of becoming homeless.
I needed someone to almost literally give me a fish, food, or a job. I needed to eat, so I can "live to fight another day." No resume-writing or interviewing skills workshops would have kept me from passing out from hunger. I needed help immediately.
I am grateful for social assistance programs, food banks and volunteer-led organizations that continue to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and provide home for the homeless.
Thank you for allowing people like me live to fight another day.
Gratitude is not about deceiving your mind that you have more than what you currently have. For me, gratitude is about choosing a healthier, more positive, productive and helpful perspective that will allow you to expand your mind and condition your brain so it can come up with alternate and more effective solutions and strategies.
It is also a daily habit, a practice. It helps weed out negative, energy-depleting and spiritually-dampening thoughts and replacing these with more positive, higher energy and uplifting thoughts that can allow you to lead a healthier, happier and better quality of life.
What small changes can you start today (and maintain) to allow you to have more gratitude in your life and the people you love?
What practical exercises and habits are you doing to truly live and embody gratitude?
Alternatively, what unsupportive thoughts, attitude and practices do you need to weed out of your life to make way for better ones?
Do you know anyone who could use a life line right now? What simple act can you do today to throw a life line at someone?
Has anyone thrown you a life line? Is there someone in your life that could benefit from a genuine, heartfelt, "thank you" note from you?
It is not impossible to change the world and make a difference. One act at a time. One life at a time, starting with yourself and let the ripples expand.
© 2018 Maria Lina Castro