Monday, November 25, 2013

Snapshots of Joy & Gratitude

When I used to teach 3rd grade, I read Cam Jansen with my students. Cam had a photographic memory, so she would go around taking snapshots in her mind. She would later use these snapshots to help solve mysteries. 

Lately, I've found myself doing the same thing (well, the mental snapshot thing, not the solving mysteries part). I find myself taking a mental photograph of a situation as a way to pause and soak up the joy. The intentional pause also gives me a moment to acknowledge the gratitude I feel. 

It happens in simple moments, like when Matt, Henry, Tate, and I are "making a tent" on the bed by going under the covers or like the time Tate grabbed at Henry's breakfast taco and Henry said, "I guess we need to make him some guacamole to eat." Or it happens when Henry, Tate, and I are driving in the car, listening to Henry's favorite song on repeat and rocking out with clapping, singing, and fist-pumping. 

I am overwhelmed by my luck sometimes. I feel like it's all too good to be true. I don't know how I managed to give birth to two healthy boys and marry a man who is pure light. 

I don't talk about the contentment I feel regarding my life in blog posts very often because it feels like bragging. It also doesn't feel useful to me as an exercise. I gravitate toward blogging when I need to puzzle through something, think out loud, hold myself accountable to accomplishing something. I try to make other space in my life for expressing gratitude and celebrating the joy of living. Every night as I fall asleep, I try to reflect on the things I am grateful for. That practice--instituted as part of my New Year's intention process--has helped me focus on gratitude more throughout the day, too. Hence these new "Snapshots of Joy & Gratitude" that are popping up in my life. 

This weekend one of my friends posted on Facebook a request for wedding venues in Colorado. I recommended Sunshine Mountain Lodge and included a link to the story of our wedding there. Rereading the story, I was reminded of how much insecurity I felt as Matt and I forged our own path. I was reminded of how much hustling it took. We had to have a vision of what we wanted and we had to make it happen for ourselves, despite the resistance we experienced. 

And I don't mean to harp on this fact, but only spending $2,000 on our wedding put us on the trajectory that has led us to where we are now. We closed on our house in Houston just days after our wedding, which cleaned out our entire bank account. If we had spent any more on our wedding, we wouldn't have been able to afford the downpayment. 

Three years later, we were able to sell the house for a significant profit (we saved 3% on realtor fees by selling it ourselves), which allowed me to stay home with Henry and pursue my passion to open Austin's first public Montessori school (which was a volunteer effort for the past two years). 

We committed to living frugally for a year, so that we could save up to build a family home together.

And all the fights (caused by the restrictions of living on a tight budget), the insecurity ("Will we be able to save enough money for the downpayment on our permanent loan?"), the judgment (people write mean things about me on the internet every day because of the choices I make for myself) and the hustling (working part-time while volunteering for my school part-time while taking care of Henry after school and being pregnant with Tate--all while facing obstacles head-on and persisting) were all worth it. Life was still enjoyable while all of that was happening, but now we get to watch it grow and blossom. 

We hosted Matt's birthday party this past weekend. He wanted to throw a 1980s movie party--pizza, soda, candy, popcorn, and Goonies on the big screen. Our friends crowded into our home and congregated around the island. I used to daydream about that kitchen island while we were building our house. It wasn't the object itself that excited me; it was the potential of the object to help cultivate what I want more of in life--connection and community. 

Several months ago, our friends told us about a giant movie screen that was deeply discounted on We decided to purchase it because we had visions of hosting movie parties (mainly outside). In preparation for Matt's birthday party, we decided to research the possibility of purchasing a projector. We were able to snag an awesome one off Amazon for $322. 

As all of our friends crowded onto our giant sectional couch with blankets and popcorn, I was once again overcome with gratitude that we have been able to create the kind of life we want for ourselves. It was so great to spend quality time reconnecting with old friends and connecting with new ones. One of our friends stayed the night, and we all enjoyed waffles together in the morning. 

I'm so tempted to delete this entire post because--again--it sounds like I'm just trying to brag about myself. I promise that is not my intention. My intention is to say, "We did it! And you can, too!" Whatever vision you have for your life, it is within you to make it happen for yourself. That's such an incredibly empowering place to start. It's not easy to visualize the path and then follow it, but it's completely possible. 

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Sarah said...

I'm glad you didn't delete this post. Congratulations on everything you have accomplished. I find it inspiring to read about how you have created the life you want through deliberate choices, perseverance, and vision. Thank you for your courage to share it publicly, knowing that others may judge.

Julia said...

I really like reading when people stop and celebrate the awesome things in life. I feel like you worry a lot that people will think you're too happy, but joy is infectious. I think if we all took time to celebrate the good things we have, and just appreciate them as good and not feel guilty for it, we'd all be a little happier. Thanks for sharing this little piece of light :)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks for seeing it that way, Sarah!

Julia, your advice really resonates with me. There is some guilt I feel because American society is inherently unfair. I feel guilt about the privilege that comes from being white or from being heterosexual or from growing up within a family that encourages education, but I try to proactively address that guilt by working to make society more fair through high-quality education for all. I need to continually reevaluate whether or not I'm doing enough (for example, Matt and I are committing to donating more money to social justice organizations now that we have more income again). But while also doing that, I just need to celebrate what I do have.

Anthropolochic said...

I'm happy you wrote it. The birthday party sounds exactly like one of the many parties we threw in our last city. We've spent a year in exile from the place where all of my friends live. We miss them dearly. We are on an insanely tight budget right now, which leads to lots of fights. We are doing this so I can pursue my life dream. Your story reminds me of my own. Since I'm in the middle of mine, it is reassuring.

It has been a lonely and exhausting year, and your post has made me feel a lot better. We have many short term moves to come - moving to cities where we know no one, in pursuit of this career that will let me do something I think is important. Your post makes me grateful for our little one, marriage and the friends we have. It gives me hope that this stressful and lonely period will end soon.

Anthropolochic said...

sigh - I incompletely edited a sentence. We've spent a year in exile from the city where all of OUR friends live.

Sara E. Cotner said...

I totally get where you're coming from, Anthropolochic! When I think about it, I've spent the past FIVE years doing things that were less than ideal in order to set myself up to be in the best position to accomplish my dream. That's giving up a lot of short-term gratification to accomplish a long-term goal! Of course I've enjoyed the past five years of my life, but I've definitely had to do things that were hard or less desirable in order to get to the place where I am now. Wishing you all the best!

Kelly said...

Lovely post, Sara - so glad you had the courage to share and not delete! Isn't it funny how we feel discouraged from sharing the positives?

I was at a twin mom gathering tonight and everyone was asking how I'm feeling and sharing their difficult pregnancy stories. And sure, I'm exhausted and uncomfortable and stuffy and having trouble sleeping, but I'm just so busy being grateful for these two little lives that I don't wallow in all of that. I couldn't really say that tonight because it's kind of a conversational downer. But I'm so glad to be in this place, sleep or no sleep, and I'm glad to be able to share that here.

Being able to enjoy and appreciate the fruit of your labors is such a gift! I'm so happy you're enjoying your good luck and hard work. :)

Sara E. Cotner said...

I am so, so happy for you, Kelly! I cannot wait until your sweetest ones make their entrance into the world. Let me know when you can come over and we can bask in joy together! I'm sorry we keep missing each other.

Autumn Witt Boyd said...

Let me be one more voice of positivity amidst all the negativity that's out there. I've enjoyed reading your blogs since I started following you at $2000 wedding (when I was planning my own budget wedding at a state park). You've dreamed and worked long and hard for all you have. It's ok to celebrate it :)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks so much, Autumn! It's so nice to know you're still here. I appreciate your support and positivity. I hope all is well with you!

andee said...

This post was really encouraging to me; thank you for sharing all the good that has come out of your hard work and sacrificing. You are encouraging others to follow their dreams and goals, not bragging : )
My partner and I are going to start a five year plan to pay off our house in January and I know it'll mean a lot of sacrifice so I appreciate you acknowledging all the good that's come out of your sacrificing.

Marie Carlisle said...

Glad you recognize what you're grateful for. And it's obviously not too good to be true. You've been honest and have been open about having gone through a lot of challenging and trying times and fortunately, you have also been fortunate to be where you are now. So there is balance. Life isn't perfect and it doesn't need to be. Happy you are glad with what you do have. :-)

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