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All of us have so much to be grateful for.

I got the following as part of an email exchange with a friend who reads my blog, and who responded to THIS post, and I decided to share it with you, too.

(It’s a side note, but I’m very happy to put chizzuk and other people’s perspectives up on my blog, when it resonates with me, and I have another reader’s email that I’ll be sharing too, along those lines.)

In the meantime, here’s a different perspective that made my very grateful for all the blessings I still have in my life, despite all the challenges:

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 I know we all have an endless list of wishes, but maybe sometimes we don’t value many good things we have.

Having money to pay for food is a blessing.

Being able to pay a rent without shame, without having to ask anyone without having to go from one place to another with how little or much you have without having to pay a place to put your things, is a great blessing.

 Having a clean, painted house, with a room or two, having a bath with water in your own home is a blessing.

Having a husband who loves you and struggles to be better, to study, to pray, is a blessing.

Having synagogues and Mikvaot near you and your family is a blessing.

Having healthy and intelligent children of you and your husband is a blessing.

Having a car, money for gas, is a blessing.

Having something to work on is a blessing.

Having good health is a blessing.

Living in Israel, going to pray at the Kotel whenever you want, living in a Jewish world no matter how difficult it is to “fit in” sometimes, is a giant blessing.

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My life IS really good, despite the darkness within and without.

Thank You, God.

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It’s always the way of Adar, isn’t it?

To keep us all running around, busy, busy.

If we’re lucky, all we’re busy with is organizing costumes and mishloach manot and Purim seuda invitations, and running around to see our kids in Purim Shpiel plays.

Last week, I was busy, busy all week, but thank God, it was all for good stuff.

One day, I was driving up to the new city of Harish to see how the apartment we are buying is coming along.

After the disastrous house purchase in Jerusalem fell through, costing us a few hundred thousands of shekels, my husband and I realized that buying a property in Jerusalem is currently off the cards.

Around that time, Rav Berland gave a shiur about buying a property in Harish on the cheap, and gomarnu.

So, naïve believing-in-the-words-of-true-tzaddikim idiot I am, I went to check out Harish – and I can’t tell you what a blessing that place is turning into.

It’s a totally new city just off Highway 6, and it’s growing so fast, most people still haven’t heard about it, so they don’t know that it’s turning in to the next ‘boom’ place in Israel.

But soon, they will.

So in the meantime, I had to drive up to take a look at the construction on the new flat, and I was so impressed with just about everything, Baruch Hashem. But, it was a whole day of driving.

Then the next day, I had to spend a morning choosing tiles for a close family member abroad who decided he wants to buy in the same building, so that was more busy, busy.

All for good things.

I sat in that tile shop, pondering on how good God really is to me. If my house purchase in Jerusalem hadn’t fallen through, I never would have found out about Harish, or bought there, and then neither would this relative.

And I’m so thrilled this relative is getting a place in Israel, it’s a massive silver lining around all the fall-out that happened with the flat in Jerusalem.

Then, the next day I was off to Bikaa Yarden area, where my kid was starring in the lead role of her school’s production of ‘Mikimi’, about a TV presenter who gets frum the Breslov way. Of course, I had to take 4 teenage girls with me, so even though I told everyone we were leaving three hours before curtain rising, by the time we’d actually collected everyone, I barely had an hour to get there.

Busy, busy.

Then the next day, I was at the theatre again, as I promised to go and support an old friend who was appearing in a production. I was so tired, my eyes were crossing, but a promise is a promise.

Busy, busy.

All for good things, thank God.

Motzae Shabbat, we got a call from my husband’s family back in the UK: his uncle is on his last legs, and it’s a matter of days.

My husband flew out today for an unplanned lightning visit before Purim kicks off.

My husband’s family don’t really ‘do’ Purim, they don’t really realise it’s Adar, yet they are ‘busy, busy’ same as we are right now. Just for much harder, difficult things, like pinging in and out of the hospital every few hours to see where things are holding.

Adar is the month of busy, busy, that’s just how it is.

But God is showing me, better to be busy, busy with mitzvahs, mishloach manot, prayers, kindnesses and ‘good’ things, than otherwise.

Because one way or another, we are all being run off our feet.

Last week, I wasn’t having a very good week (I know that’s not a newsflash, if you read this blog on a regular basis).

I was walking around last week feeling physically, mentally and emotionally stressed-out of my skull – and that’s even before I got out of bed in the morning! So any of the regular, routine stresses that we all have to deal were just throwing me for a loop, and making me feel like life is un-doable, un-copable, un-liveable…

I made a rule a long time ago that I would share the ‘downs’ as well as the ‘ups’ with you, dear reader, because otherwise, I’d stop being a real person, and there’s sadly already more than enough ‘shiny fakers’ out there.

So, you heard all about the ‘downs’ of last week, so now let me tell you how God kick-started the ‘ups’.

I woke up on Wednesday super-stressed again, and feeling very stiff and achy everywhere.

I came over to my computer, switched it on, and saw the email from my very nice designer with 7 covers of ‘Fatima the (muslim) Jewish housewife’, and my mood sank even further. A quick email turned up the problem: there were really NO usable images of a Jewish housewife anywhere on the net, so my designer had hit a brick wall.

For the next half an hour, I started to feel really, really sorry for myself again, and how hard it all was to get anything done, and how impossible it is to be a ‘frum’ woman in our modern world and to really get anywhere blah blah blah.

Then, I got really angry about the whole situation, and my ‘stuck’ frustration boiled up so high I decided to go down to the Kotel with my camera and take my own pictures of Jewish women!!!!!

(Clearly only from the back, with no skin or identifying features displayed…)

I am so not a proper photography.

I’m far too shy to stick my camera in people’s faces, or to make a spectacle of myself lying on the floor or climbing poles just to get ‘the perfect picture’. But really, I’d hit that place of utter desperation.

I sat at the back of the Kotel, with my camera on ‘super zoom plus’ mode, and just took pictures of everyone and everything I could, in the hopes that something would turn up as a replacement for ‘Fatima the Jewish housewife’.

“God, please send me one of those gorgeously coiffed bandana babes from Geula, and let them stand right in front of me, and don’t let any savta-types be standing behind them having a conversation…” I muttered under my breath.

That didn’t exactly happen. I snapped whoever I could snap, but my heart started to sink:

‘Forget it, Rivka,” my yetzer whispered at me. “You can’t fix this problem. You paid all that money to the designer for nothing…your cover is going to suck.”

I packed up, trudged back home, and about 5 minutes away from my flat I realised that I lost my purse. And my phone. And credit card. And my I.D.

Great!

“This is what you get for trying to take sneaky pictures of frum people at the Kotel!” I berated myself. I got home, prepared to call the bank to cancel my credit card – and noticed my purse on the table. Gosh! I must have just left it at home.

Nope.

What happened is that some wonderful person at the Kotel found my purse, and arranged to deliver it back to my house before I even realised, really, that it was gone.

God arranged the balm before the blow.

Next, I started sorting through all my pictures to see if there was something remotely usable that could be photo-shopped to fit the cover, and again, the cloud descended. So many out of focus pictures! So few really decent shots of anyone! Sigh.

Which is when I noticed ‘Ms Perfect’ in the denim jacket. I only had one picture of her, but it was a corker – and I’d actually been trying to get a shot of the ‘Geula babe’ next to her, who had such a stunning mitpachat on I didn’t even notice this other woman who was standing there and quietly davening to herself.

Once again, Hashem had hidden the ‘solution’ to the problem away in plain sight.

There was definitely a theme going on here, and I started to perk up.

The nicest surprise happened that night, when I was going to bed. One of the people I live with (who will remain nameless as I don’t want to embarrass them) had tucked a handwritten note, together with quite a large stash of shekels, under my pillow, telling me to go shopping tomorrow, and buy that fancy cardigan I’ve been eyeing up for months, and feeling SO bad that I can’t buy stuff like that anymore.

I did.

It’s stunning.

All in all, God showed me that times ARE tough at the moment, and stressful, and often overwhelmingly yucky. But Hashem’s kindness is still woven into the fabric of all the difficulties we’re all going through, just waiting for the right moment to be revealed.

Trying to see the good is sometimes so hard for me. So I decided to devote a good chunk of time to at least trying to switch into seeing more of the good in my life, and having more gratitude.

This is what I did as part of my most recent six hour ‘only say thank-you-athon’:

I first warmed up with a whole bunch of genuine thanks for many of the blessings in my life. I thanked God for my husband, my kids, my health, my home, my ability to type, my ability to think, my ability to write, hot water in the shower, food in the fridge, clean socks living right near to the Kotel etc etc.

I first did that for two hours, because I knew the next part was going to be much tougher: saying thank you for the things that have caused me a lot of pain and heartache over the last few years.

I decided to do a mind-map of all the hard stuff I wanted to say thank you for, so that I could go through each item one by one, thank for it, and then try to see what good had actually come out of it.

I’m not going to share the whole list with you (because let me tell you, I used the biggest bit of paper I had and I still had to write small), but I wanted to share some of the highlights, because it was an amazing exercise to do and I hope maybe it will inspire you to do your own version.

So on my massive bit of paper, some of the ‘lacks’ I wrote down were as follows:

  1. Professional success and accomplishments
  2. My own home
  3. Old friends and new friends
  4. Family support and financial help
  5. A bath
  6. A community

First, I said thanks for all these ‘lacks’.

Then, I started to break them up into all the different elements of ‘lack’ I felt they represented.

  • When I left my career, I went from earning loads of money to earning barely anything; I also lost a lot of social status, and I struggled for years to find a sense of purpose. (thanks, God!)
  • Ironically, I’ve moved so, so many times in my life, but I hate moving, and always have daydreams of settling down in my own cosy home. When we burned through all our house money, that meant we no longer had a deposit to be able to afford to buy a house again. So even though my husband is now back at work, it seems as though I’m going to be stuck renting forever. (thanks, God!)
  • It’s pretty lonely where I live. No-one ever pops in to say hello, and I have no friends within a 20 minute walk of my home. (thanks, God!)
  • Someone was telling me about someone they know whose parents helped them buy a flat outright in Jerusalem, so they can continue learning without having to worry about paying rent – and I got so jealous. (thanks, God!)
  • I have to get to my mikva 40 minutes ahead of shkia to make sure I get dibs on the only bath, and then I have to clean it like a crazy person because I have germ issues…(thanks, God!)
  • I don’t feel I ‘fit’ anywhere. I’m not part of any community. I don’t have that sense of belonging anywhere. No-one invites me for Shabbat, and I have very few people locally that I can invite, too. I have nowhere to daven. (thanks, God!)

Ready for the magic to begin?

After I’d spent some time sincerely saying thanks for these (and a few hundred other) things, God started to show my something amazing: why it was actually the best outcome it could be for me.

Here’s a taste of what I started to get:

  • Once I got out the secular rat-race, it freed me up to really start learning and living about life differently. As a result, I’ve already written 5 books, I have 3 blogs, and I’m on a mission to share what I’ve learnt with others. I’m SO much happier writing about emuna and God-based holistic health than I was writing speeches for ministers about why everyone needs a pension.
  • If we’d have bought that flat 2 years’ ago, we’d be so miserable right now. I’m not sure I’m in the right place, and until I know where I really will be happy, and who I really am (which is getting closer all the time…) it’s much better for me to have the freedom to rent. When I know where it’s really good to settle down, THEN God will give me the money for a house.
  • Do you know how much I get done on an average day? It’s mindboggling…and there’s no way I could write so much, so fast, if I had more people to talk to in the day. People actually go away for 6 month retreats to write, and here, God gave me that peace and quiet in my own home.
  • When you don’t have others to rely on, you have to turn to God for your needs. You have to trust Him much more. You have to really live your emuna that God’s looking after you. It is really, really nice to have parents support you if they can afford to do that, but if they can’t (or won’t), it’s because God wants you to deal direct.
  • You know, I am going to appreciate having a bath again SO MUCH when it happens. Also, it’s taken my OCD tendencies down a notch, because there’s only so much cleaning you can do before someone starts banging on the door and asking when you’re coming out.
  • I was a wannabe charedi person when I moved to Jerusalem. Now, I learned I’m not. If I’d found a community of lovely people back then, I’d be stuck trying to fit in when it wasn’t really the right mode for me. God saved me a lot of hassle by not making me have to choose between being true to myself and having friends. The community will come when I know what it is I really need and want.

How’s that for amazing?

Thanks God!

At the end of the process, I stopped carrying that grudge around with me that’s been weighing me down for years, already. I know I have to carry on working my gratitude, but it really was a huge weight off to know that God doesn’t secretly have it in for me; that Rav Arush was right about everything (including doing six hours, moving to Jerusalem, and saying thank you); and that life is coming good, even if the ‘good’ isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

“I said thanks, and I saw miracles!”

Last week, I read something that completely changed my take on how difficult my life seems to have been the last decade:

Don’t collect things, collect experiences.

By the ‘stuff’ measure, the last few years’ have been almost a complete bust. I have less net worth at 42 than I had at 23 – and that’s sometimes a pretty painful realization. (Hopefully at least one of my books will take off big-time in the next 20 years or so, so I can afford to retire at some point.)

Buying stuff has been very far down my ‘to do’ list for years now, partially because I just couldn’t afford much, and partially because the shine went off all the gashmius and I realized that keeping the clutter, gadgets and outfits to a minimum actually makes me feel much happier.

But that London part of me still occasionally registers its displeasure with the way things have turned out. I mean, I can’t afford my own house! I don’t have a bath! I don’t have a garden! I can’t entertain more than two (thin) people at a time in my compact flat! Etc etc etc

London Rivka tells me: ‘You know, I hate to share this, but I think we might officially be a loser…’

And until I read that line about collecting experiences instead of stuff, I didn’t really have much to argue about.

But now? Now it’s all different!

Because while my bank account has been pretty empty the last decade, my experience bank has been full to busting. I’ve been to Uman 8 times; I lived in so many different places in Israel (and elsewhere); I’ve met so many interesting people; I’ve lived 50 lifetimes in the past 10 years, and packed so much into every day.

Now, I go to the Kotel pretty much every Friday night – and it’s an amazing experience that money really would be no substitute for. I’ve seen my kids blossom and grow into the most amazing young people, with far more insight, maturity and wisdom than I ever had at their age. Me and my husband could write 50 books about the challenges we’ve had to weather in our 19 years of marriage, from multiple moves, to multiple bankruptcies, to health issues, family issues, infertility issues, crazy friend issues, crazy rabbi issues – you name it, we’ve had a dose of it.

And until last week, I’d filed all that stuff away in the ‘debit’ column, but no more!

Now I’m starting to see that every single experience I had gave me something priceless. I learned so much. I grew so much. I hope I improved so much and worked on a bunch of bad middot that otherwise I wouldn’t have got near in a million years, if I was still pulling things off on the ‘more stuff’ front.

As time goes on, I’m truly feeling like the stuff comes along as the cherry, once you’ve experienced whatever it is you’re meant to, and squeezed every last drop of knowledge out of it.

So if you’re currently struggling to have much to show for yourself materially-speaking (and even if you’re not…) I invite you to join me in changing the focus completely around, and looking at life as more a collection of experiences, than a collection of things.

It’s a small mental switch, but it’s put me in the best mood I’ve been in for ages.

Life is such a fragile thing, isn’t it? We don’t like to think of it as being so (especially if we’re parents), because it would make it too hard to function, in some way, if we really ‘got’ how temporary everything is.

But when we don’t grasp the ephemeral nature of life, we can so easily end up missing the whole point of being alive.

The same day I got the terrible news of the car crash involving the Rav’s son and family, my daughter’s pet bird died. (I’m not for one moment suggesting there’s a parity, G-d forbid.)

But my daughter loved her pet, as children do, and was terribly distraught for two days’ afterwards. She also has a hamster, and now that the bird had gone, she was worrying that something ‘bad’ was going to happen to her other pet.

When she found out about the car crash, that seemed to tip her over into some massive ‘where is G-d’ moments, and she was really angry that G-d could let so many apparently horrible things happen in the world.

‘Why was G-d killing innocent pets, and even more innocent people?’ she wanted to know. ‘How can G-d be good, if He’s doing things like that?’

These are not simple questions.

They go to the heart of what it means to really live our emuna. They underpin a whole worldview, and whole perception of life down here as just being ‘prep time’ for the place where it’s really happening.

If it was just the bird, I probably would have managed it better. Bird and crash together meant that G-d was giving me a big exam in emuna, too. Because kids know when you’re sincere, or when you’re just parroting ‘religious’ stuff at them because it’s the right thing to do, and not because you really believe it yourself.

We ended up having a long discussion about it (relatively – she is still 11), and I can’t say that I totally convinced her, at least, not initially, that there was a big plan and that everything was exactly how it should be.

As I was talking to her, I could see I still needed some convincing myself. I mean, Rav Arush is my rabbi, and as I’ve posted here a few times already, he is a very holy, kind, humble, sincere person. And so are his kids.

On some level, I hate what’s just happened.

On some other level, I know that what Rav Arush himself wants from me is to NOT question G-d’s ways, and to accept 100% that G-d is only good.

I went to a ladies’ prayer thing at the yeshiva yesterday, for the refuah of R’ Shimon and his family, and that message came across loud and clear:

We do not question Hashem’s ways!

Rav Arush and his family are being tested so hard because he’s standing in the breach for Am Yisrael. We moan about our parnassa, or about our housing, or about our pet bird dying – instead of trying to be grateful for all the blessings G-d is continually doing for us, and all that complaining creates a massive spiritual debit against Am Yisrael.

That our tzaddikim pay off with their mesirut nefesh and suffering.

But I don’t want Rav Arush to suffer any more on my account!

The other thing that came across loud and clear from my prayer thingy is that GRATITUDE is the main area that really needs the work.

The more I, you, everyone, says ‘thank you’ to G-d, the easier it’s going to be for all of us.

I’ve struggled to really be grateful, especially recently. But I decided I owe it to Rav Arush – and the other tzadikim who are holding the fort for Am Yisrael – to really give it my best shot, now.

I want to hear good news from the hospital. I want to enjoy my own temporary life as much as I can, while I’ve still got it. I want geula to come fast, the sweet way. And I want to really show my children that G-d IS good, even when their pet bird dies unexpectedly. And I think working on my gratitude, and my emuna, is the only way I’m going to be able to do it.