Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to another chapter of Grateful Heart Monday, where gratitude is always the sole subject of my writing, which for today is for the 2nd annual men’s retreat I was just on over a week ago now.

I belong to an organization called The Mankind Project (MKP), which has been essential to my life with breaking through various issues that therapy and 12 Step recovery work hasn’t been able to. Within MKP are various groups called “I-Groups” that meet on a varying basis depending on the group itself. Mine meets every other week and once a year we take an annual retreat to further solidify our bond and connection to each other as friends and brothers. Last year, we held our first annual retreat to a great success. This led to continuing in the tradition by planning a second one, but none of us could have predicted that COVID-19 was going to hit in 2020, which almost derailed our retreat. Thankfully it didn’t.

Over the course of three days, we gathered in the same lodge we gathered in last year. A few of us went up early for an initial night of relaxation, which proved to be a lot of fun, as I got to play a really cool miniature golf course called Kensington Mill Falls near our retreat center and then dined afterwards on some incredibly tasty burgers and fries at a place called The Burger Joint. I also enjoyed an amazing Aztec Mocha from a local coffee shop called The Proving Grounds nearby. The evening ended watching a few scary movies with a toasty crackling fire in the fireplace.

The first full day of the retreat itself began with a wonderful brunch at a restaurant called Lena’s Kitchen where I had the most delectable vegetable and cheese hash alongside a chocolate Nutella crepe! I spent the afternoon hiking all those calories off during which I was able to clear my mind and draw a little closer to nature and God. Even in the stressed state of health I was, I hiked several miles where I saw 11 swans swimming in a graceful “S” pattern, a beaver hard at work preparing for the coming winter, a dragonfly landing on my shirt for several minutes where it felt like it was looking deep into my eyes, and a breathtaking view of the lake and forest below. Later that evening, I enjoyed a beef stew, some salad, and cornbread, and then made s’mores over a roaring fire outside while several played music on their guitars and other makeshift instruments. I also shared my “Would You Rather” cards from the board game I had brought, which led to some hilarious conversations about the choices we’d make! The second evening ended with another scary movie and warm fire inside.

For me the highlight of the retreat came on the morning of the second full day after I had feasted on a scrumptious traditional breakfast that included eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, fresh fruit, toast, orange juice, and coffee. I shared with the group a blog article I had written about being picked on and the bullying I experienced for much of my life, where afterwards, I asked each man to share about their own experiences with bullying. I got pretty emotional hearing all the stories shared and it helped me to connect deeper to each man. Shortly after that exercise, I lead another one where each man had previously given me a song that represented their life. As each song played, the men had to guess which man around them had selected it. Ironically, no one was successful in connecting my song to me, which was “Mad World” from the Donnie Darko soundtrack! Lunch was yet another feast with the consumption of some homemade minestrone soup and a grilled turkey and cheese. Just after that, five of us took a silent hike into the woods with the only focus of observing the world around us. At one point during that hike, we came upon a soybean field just off the marked trail we were on. As the five of us stared out onto that field together, I truly felt connected to each of them and to God as well. I also hugged an enormously huge tree during the hike which opened my heart chakra a little better and found the clearing on the water’s edge I had seen the day before from high up on the ridge. After a freeform coloring exercise later that evening, I dined on chicken parmesan, angel hair pasta, salad, and coconut crème pie. Needless to say, I surely didn’t go hungry on this retreat! After dinner, I started a game around the fire outside by beginning to tell a story that continued in a completely unknowing way with each subsequent man, which totally led to quite the comical result! And I completed the trifecta of scary movie nights that night with another cozy fire.

While I struggled incredibly on the last day of the retreat due to my ongoing health issues, I appreciated the homemade chocolate, coconut, walnut, and blueberry filled pancakes that were made specifically for me. Wow is all I can say to them! After feasting on them along with fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns, we held a closing exercise where many shared their appreciation for all the planning I had put into the retreat. I truly felt very appreciative to hear all their blessings. As we got ready to part ways, the men honored my request to circle up outside in the sunlight, arm in arm, something we haven’t been doing in a good while due to COVID-19, as I was really needing to feel love and connection.

So, yes, there was plenty to be grateful for, even in the heavy storm of pain I experienced throughout the entire retreat and there are plenty of positive memories that will always be remembered as well. As a final thank you, I offer my thanks to God, for the completely sunny and fall-like cool days that helped to solidify another successful annual I-Group retreat.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to another chapter of Grateful Heart Monday, where gratitude is the only focus of the day, which for today is for a guy named Shane Loux, a retired pitcher for the major and minor leagues, who also just happened to be the very same guy who aerated my yard recently for the company I use for lawn service.

I would never have thought that a retired major league baseball player and presently a minor league baseball coach would have ever been someone to show up at my house for one of my regularly scheduled lawn services. But, that indeed is what happened early one morning at the wee hours of 7:30am when a kind gentleman showed up at my home and introduced himself as the perso who would be aerating my yard for the day.

As Shane did his assessment of the job and got his machine ready to go that does the aeration, I asked him a number of questions, including whether this was his full-time job or not. That was when I became very surprised at his answer, as his normal job was a coaching one for a minor league baseball team, the Missoula Osprey, under the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise.

I’m not sure I ever would have guessed that Shane was once a Major League Baseball player or that he was now a coach under a major franchise. I guess the idea of plugging a yard with a bulky machine, getting super muddy in the process, and then walking around with a hand-held feeder to place seed down everywhere is not something I’d ever imagine a former MLB player would do. Maybe that’s because I’ve always had this image of all professional athletes having mile-wide ego’s where doing something like aerating a yard would seem quite beneath them. But that is indeed why I’m so very grateful that Shane came into my life that day, if only to teach me how wrong I was in a long-standing silent judgment.

For the brief two hours Shane spent at my home doing the lawn service I was paying for, I truly saw a humble, egoless, kind, and spirited soul. Shane had such a soft presence about him, one that really reminded me of another guy I wrote about a few years back, a guy by the name of Nevin Martin, who was a gentle soul and the pilot on a small charter plane I flew one day.

Like Nevin, Shane carries this extremely positive energy about himself, one that makes a person feel quite uplifted by just being around him. There were never any judgments that came from his mouth and no negative comments, not even to any of the OCD behaviors I’m sure I exhibited by asking him one question after another! He exuded such a great sense of patience with me, like Nevin did, and is someone who I feel would be the type of coach I’d want to have if I was a young kid aspiring to be a baseball great one day.

I think it’s pretty awesome to see a guy like Shane doing a yard job during the summer for a company his family owns in an area that’s pretty far from his regular home in Arizona, just to lend a hand. The humility in Shane’s actions, the friendliness of his soul, and the genuineness he brings to the table by just being himself is truly something to be grateful for and why Shane Loux is a well-deserved recipient of this week’s Grateful Heart Monday.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to another chapter of Grateful Heart Monday, with gratitude being the only focus of my writing on this day, which for today is for a group of nursing students I gave an alcoholism and drug addiction presentation to recently that surprised me at the end with a gift.

For the past four years I’ve been working with a teacher of nursing from The University of Toledo (UT), Judy, who was a subject of a previous Grateful Heart Monday. Her presence in my life has continued to be a blessing for the further volunteer opportunities it’s led to for me in my recovery program.

In light of this ongoing COVID epidemic, where opportunities for in-person engagement with others have been so limited, especially with 12 Step recovery work, I’ve been exceptionally grateful for this specific volunteer work still continuing. Recently, this work has expanded greatly, as other nursing instructors in the same department as Judy have caught wind of what I have been bringing to each of her classes. Because of it, I was contacted by another nursing teacher, Skylar, a few weeks ago, who asked me if I could meet with her set of students, which of course I quickly jumped at the opportunity. Fulfilling the purpose of the 12th Step itself, where I’m passing my experience, strength, and hope in recovery to others, I am thankful for anytime I get a chance to pass the message on. Another teacher, Carilyn, a day or so later, also contacted me and asked if she could combine her students into the same presentation I was going to be doing with Skylar’s students, and I saw no problem with it.

When the day of the presentation came, it was with some 40+ students in a lecture hall in one of the medical buildings on UT campus. It really felt good to stand up there and profess to know something in this world, as lately, I’ve often found myself asking if I even have a purpose for God. Ironically, that question seems to get blatantly answered anytime I find myself pondering it, because at the end of this significantly larger presentation than normal, two students approached me with a card and a gift that was from their entire class, thanking me for the volunteer work I continue to do in a field that is typically often thankless. The gift was this special UT laser pen and a vacuum sealed water bottle. The sentiment I felt from it was most definitely heartfelt.

While I don’t do this volunteer work for any reason other than to help others and stay sober, it is things like this that I receive from time to time that remind me why I’m meant to continue doing this. It’s also what reminds me that I do have a purpose in this world for God and for that I’m exceptionally grateful.

So, thank you, UT nursing students, for helping me to remember why I’m still here, doing something that for me, is just telling my story, but for you, has become a blessing more than not. It is why I’m dedicating today’s Grateful Heart Monday to you and the  small gift you gave me that meant a lot more to me that you can imagine!

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson