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Practicing Gratitude In The Middle Of The Mess

I start a lot of blog posts that I don't finish right away. Sometimes I don't finish them at all. 

Some are about memory keeping or specific techniques or stories of our everyday lives I want to share. Many are thoughts/threads I'd like to follow or research or investigate. Some are one sentence and some are significantly more flushed out. 

Last night I took some time to look back through a few of my partially finished posts and came across this one that included two different threads about gratitude. The first I wrote right after a weekend with Aaron and all the kids more than a year and a half ago which is why I refer to him as "a friend" (he's significantly more than that now). The other is writing I did for a post on The Gratitude Project that I intended to share here at one time or another.

I'm in a different place emotionally then when I wrote the words below, yet they ring true to me now just the same. Some of my messes are still the same and others are new (or new versions of the old ones). Reading through the words about practicing gratitude in the middle of the mess all over again was a great reminder to check back in with myself and my current gratitude habits. 

This month there's a lot of people leading gratitude projects and talking about developing the practice of gratitude. Like Cathy. Like Rhonna. And probably many others I don't know about specifically. 

Now feels like a good time to share. 


I was chatting with a friend at the park last week and he made the comment that it's hard to savor the moment (beautiful sunshine, fresh air, good company) when the kids are all having their own individual meltdowns (throwing rocks, sulking, being unkind, etc).

Deep breath.

That was my answer. At least the answer in my head and my body's reaction to his words.

For me, taking that big deep breath is both a pause and a taking it all in. It's a recognition that all of this - the mess and the joy - is a part of my life. 

Learning to savor moments even in the middle of a mess is a practice that starts with a recognition that this is how I want to live my life. I want that for myself - to be the person who, even in the middle of all the crazy, can take a deep breath and be thankful. 

It's so not easy, but I'm pretty sure it's worth it. 

One of the ways I savor moments even in the middle of mess is to practice gratitude. Somewhere during that deep breath or immediately following, I identify one thing I'm thankful for, one thing that's good in my life. It might be right in front of my face or something I can't see at all. 

The key, I think, is to practice savoring moments and being grateful both when you're in the mess and when you're not in the mess.

Do it when it's hard. Do it when it's easy. That's what makes it a practice

I tell myself, "Look around, what's good? There is always, always something." Always


What are you grateful for?

Ah, gratitude. My old friend.

I’m obviously grateful for the beautiful basics of my life like my kids, my family, my friends and my home. I’m also really grateful for my work and for the many opportunities I’ve had to travel over the years both personally and professionally.

But at the heart of it I’m actually really grateful for the mess.

Even when I’m knee deep in the messes of life I’m thankful for the opportunity to simply be alive - to learn and grow and make-it-through and be a witness to humanity and all the broken beauty it presents. I’ve been in that place where I was doubled over with sadness and fear and it’s tough to keep an eye on gratitude in those moments, but it’s possible. It takes practice and a commitment to coming back to it again and again even when I fail miserably.

Expressing gratitude is my lifeline. The process of identifying the things that I’m thankful for in the middle of the mess gives me so much perspective. It’s a tool I learned from my Mom. She’s awesome at practicing gratitude in the middle of it all. She writes handwritten letters, she calls to say thank you, she’s conscious of her blessings, she’s amazing at forgiveness and she’s so very real about it all and the struggles she encounters on her own journey.

One of the significant ways I practice gratitude in the middle of the mess is through memory keeping. I use photos and words to document my life and express gratitude as I live my story from one day to the next.  It’s through this process of documentation that I truly see (make visible to myself) all the things I have to be thankful for every day of my life.

Here’s to second chances, forgiveness, compassion, embracing imperfections and gratitude in the mess.

Originally written for The Gratitude Project.


I also love this message from Danielle LaPorte about loving your sadness. It's all about living the length and the width.


As I re-read the above writing I can't help but think of Brene and the conversation we had during the filming of her Oprah class on The Gifts Of Imperfection. We talked about how photography is a big piece of my personal gratitude practice and how that has helped me through many challenges, including divorce. 

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29 thoughts

  1. vjm66 says…
    11/12/2014

    I really needed to read this today. Thank you for this beautiful post and for reminding me to practice gratitude even through the mess and chaos of life!

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. klamb67 says…
    11/12/2014

    Thank you Ali for helping me to put things in perspective this morning! It's encouraging to know that I'm not the only one who has chaos in my life and who struggles with how to handle it. Today I will choose to handle it with gratitude and compassion. I will take it one day at a time. I will give grace and mercy to those in my life, including myself; and I will thank the Lord that I am here, in the middle of the mess.

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Stheiner says…
    11/12/2014

    Thank you Ali. Really needed to read these words this morning.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. beverlydm says…
    11/12/2014

    I love this post and as always your words and inspiration :)
    I wanted to tell you about Ann Voskamp who lives on a huge farm in Canada. She writes (and photographs) beautifully the every day. She also writes books and talks about thanksgiving...1000 Gifts is the name of her first book. Check her out if you have not already. Thanksgiving leads to Joy which leads to Grace....

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Smylee87 says…
    11/12/2014

    I said those very words just a few dates ago- how documenting with my camera and scrapbooking is my gratitude exercise. So very true for me. It's why I can be found in my home "studio" late most nights working on one project or another. It always brings perspective to a crazy messy day. I find that I really need that time to feel more centered. Thanks for sharing these thoughts Ali- I love reading your words. I am grateful daily for your courage and this community you have built! And--for story stamps coming next week. They are perfect for expressing gratitude about every day messes :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. mollyirwin says…
    11/12/2014

    I've been aptly described as a "perfect melancholy." (I sometimes suspect that you may be as well.) That doesn't mean I'm always down - on the contrary! I'm truly grateful for the perspective that the trait lends. It's from some personality-focused book, but generally means that I sort of savor the lows. And I do. They are deeply special to me, and I actually take comfort in the fact that I'm not the one in control. I don't think I've commented on your new site yet, but I'm here lurking. xo

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Ballfieldmom says…
    11/12/2014

    Oh my gosh..... What a lesson you just gave me! I have a pretty good practice of gratitude, a little off and on, but that's ok. Ever since Oprah introduced the daily gratitude journal via Sarah Ban Breathnach. But the connection between forgiveness and gratitude? Wow!! And no wonder I have been a little off and focusing on my mess more than my blessings..... My "big camera" has been broken since July and I have not had the $$ to replace it. So I have not been able to exercise my gratitude! So, for next half of the "Gratitude Month" a switch of focus from what I have rather than what I have not. Thanks for the wake up call. Here's to the messes that are so bountiful!! And to looking through a lens of joy in every aspect of my life!
    Barb (aka Ballfieldmom)

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. kellyish says…
    11/12/2014

    it's easy to be grateful when life is 'good' and 'pretty'...but when life is hard...that's really when the rubber meets the road. thank you for always being so honest and sharing yourself and your art so generously. for reminding us to grateful even in the messes.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. summer82 says…
    11/12/2014

    Thanks. Puts life in perspective through your insight and wonderful writing. Now inspired to continue my 30 days journal.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Raylene says…
    11/12/2014

    Loving the Art journaling class that Brene gives from her book, the Gifts of Imperfection & Oprah.com
    She is so honest. Thankful for her!!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…
      11/12/2014

      Yeah, she's awesome. Are you doing the first one? Have you gotten to the part where I was her guest? That's what I'm referring to in the post above :).

  11. Joelaw says…
    11/12/2014

    I'm grateful for your "bummer" page - I just found it when I clicked on a link in an old blog post. You are hilarious!! You made me smile today!!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…
      11/12/2014

      Ha! Thanks! Feel free to let me know the actual address or link you are looking for when you encounter that and we can see if we can locate the correct page.

  12. mtercha says…
    11/12/2014

    We are seriously entrenched in the biggest mess we've had to endure as a family. The biggest challenges we have faced in about 7yrs of rough. Acknowledging my blessings has always been important to me, and teaching my kids that. It is hard to keep it up. We're all acting out, coming apart at the seams, and it's hard. The 15yr old tells you we're falling apart (hello, maturity?maybe?). You swallow and remind him that we've been very lucky, and we still are, and tell him why. Yes, hard. Not even close to perfect, want to be better. It's a definite practice. Plus reminding them that we will get thru it, intact, all of us, even when this time someone's luck might be running out. But yes, we are blessed, and they will continue to see that, even when I'm not so sure anymore. Beautiful post, super inspiring, gave me a little hope.

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. clickclick says…
    11/12/2014

    I love this post Ali. And especially the link about loving the sadness.

    Remember awhile back you wrote about your and Aarons relationship? There was supposed to be a second post about it. Did I miss it somewhere? I wanna read more!

    Melissa

    Reply 3 Replies
    1. AliEdwards says…
      11/12/2014

      Ha. I left it open as in "this story is continuing" not necessarily that I had another one in the works. He's not going anywhere.

    2. abbypimentel says…
      11/12/2014

      Love this!! Tee-hee! Sounds like you guys are on the right track -- and he definitely seems like a keeper! You deserve to be deliriously, crazy, happy!

    3. clickclick says…
      11/12/2014

      Well crap, Ali. i was hoping there was a proposal post coming.

      Glad your happy though. :)

  14. deigalynn says…
    11/12/2014

    Wow. I so needed this message today. Today did not start out as a good day, and I was feeling anything but grateful... but I have a lot to be thankful for and it's good to have a reminder about that every once in awhile. Thank you, Ali!

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. Ekaterine says…
    11/12/2014

    This post might just have saved my life today.
    Thank you, Ali. From the bottom of my heart.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Picnic05 says…
    11/12/2014

    Today, in the early morning hours of walking my dogs, a hummingbird flew past my ear and hovered close enough so that I could see it's long beak, green body and red breast. When it flew away all I could think was life is good. We all have a mess of some sort going on and as a reminder for myself I have license plates that say Lyf Gud. I got those plates while I was in the middle of a divorce with a one-year old and at different times its' definition changed but I am grateful for the journey and especially for mornings when I get to see a hummingbird up close. I really value and appreciate your writing. Thank you.

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. DonnaM says…
    11/12/2014

    I so identify with this. Last year my son was diagnosed ASD and in a very low place emotionally. While we struggled to learn as a family how to live with this, I learned to be grateful for the positives and look for simple joys. Amazingly from that (and your Hello Story and OLW classes) I'm somehow grateful that we had to go through so much turmoil to learn to appreciate so much more... if that makes sense.

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. jambajuice57 says…
    11/12/2014

    Thanks for this, Ali. My 2014 OLW is SAVOR. It's been a good reminder all year, of finding the positive in every situation, and I liked that you used that word in the post you quoted today.

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. ktber says…
    11/12/2014

    Thanks for this today.

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. PaigeSF says…
    11/12/2014

    Hi Ali,

    Beautifully expressed. Thank you. I have had a gratitude practice for the past 20 years, before gratitude journals were even popular. Now it is so integrated into my daily life, in the little moments with my children, husband, at work and of course in my photos and words. Fifteen years ago I was in a big mess, going through a divorce but I kept practicing gratitude and years later and further along in my spiritual path, a story arose. At first I didn't know what the story meant or what it would become, but as I grew, so did the book. And a couple of years I published 'The Flowering House' a simple parable about a woman living in a big mess until she begins to pay attention to the whispers of a tiny bell that lead her to open doors that have remained closed for years. Www.thefloweringhouse.com If you email me an address, I'd be honoured to send you a copy (or I can hand it to you at your workshop at Crop&Create in Markham next March. In gratitude, Paige

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. scrappysuenz says…
    11/12/2014

    sent this to my daughter. she needs something like this right now

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. aggietha says…
    11/13/2014

    Amen Ali - to everything you wrote.

    Amen.

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. pmmessner says…
    11/13/2014

    l o v e. & SO needed today.

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. Opallenorejd says…
    12/23/2014

    Just reading this now. A month after it was posted. I so needed this. Right now. In a mess and didn't realize until I began reading that I'd lost the lighthouse that is gratitude. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply 0 Replies

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