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Gratitude in the Dark Places

I am lying on the bathroom floor of my father in law’s house at 3 am searching for gratitude. I have been violently ill for the past 4 hours with what I suspect to be food poisoning. 


I’m shaky, exhausted and completely thankful.


Lying here I have had time to contemplate all the ways this could have been worse. I had just flown 10 hours to visit my daughter at college and I am so grateful this experience didn’t occur on a cramped airplane bathroom flying over the pacific.

My daughter and I had planned to do a road trip down to Tennessee to meet the amazing women I’ve been writing with for the past year, and I here I am sitting on the grimy floor of a random rest stop on the side of the highway.

Even if we had made it to Tennessee, I had procrastinated booking a hotel room for our trip and it being football season everything was booked up. My daughter and I had decided to be adventurous and booked a room that did not have glowing reviews.

In fact one online post was literally…

“It’s Nasty! Stay Away! Stay Away! Stay Away!”

I managed to get ill after I traveled and before we road tripped and despite the expulsion of everything good from my body, I understand how lucky I am.

I am safe, dry and protected. My father in law is helping me so the burden isn’t squarely on my daughter.


And in my misery I am grateful. 


While it’s not the sunshine and roses kind of #Blessed gratitude that we share around the Thanksgiving table, being able to find gratitude and acceptance for things as they are and not worse is a survival tool for military spouses.

So often things do not go as we had hoped and our only course of action is in our response.

I recently saw it described on social media as,

“it can make us bitter or it can make us better”.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t complain or aren’t disappointed but staying locked in frustration isn’t healthy or productive.

There have been duty stations I would have preferred not to live at and there were plenty of fellow sufferers, but stewing wasn’t going to help anyone.

We recognized this wasn’t our favorite place but then got busy seeking experiences we could take joy in.  With my family, swimming or skating is usually an agreed upon fun adventure but every family is different.


What works for yours? 


A passion of mine is running and I have used the “seeking gratitude” method to get me mentally out of some tough places.

A running coach somewhere along the way suggested that when fatigue sets in and resolve is slipping, checking in on your physical well-being can be powerful.


Starting at my feet I do a thorough mental examination of my whole body. 


Hmm, how are my feet doing? Any blisters? No, okay. 

How about my ankles, are they feeling weak? No, doing fine. Shin splints? Knees? I keep going, looking for issues, being grateful if I don’t find any.

When I do find one I look at my options.

Hmm, my stomach is cramping. Do I need to drink water? Maybe walk and massage it or can I soldier through? I’m problem solving as I go. 

Often I discover that no I’m not injured, I’m tired and I honor that but I give myself a little pep talk, cheer for the runner passing me looking good and I’m distracted enough to carry on. 

Using this method it’s possible to witness the challenges you’re facing but not allow it to defeat you by also recognizing the pieces of life that are going okay. 


The expectations and anticipation of the holidays can be challenging.


It can be difficult to find anything to be grateful for and sometimes I need to create things I can appreciate.

Taking time while I bring in the groceries to stop and admire the sunset or spending a minute connecting with an old friend over text.

Nothing big, expensive or time consuming, just enough to touch my spirit.  I admit I don’t do it daily but I do try and start my day with writing down 5 things I’m grateful for.

Often it’s “coffee” and “my cats” but some days it’s “my girl gets home in 2 days”. 

Just the act of recording my gratitude encourages me to seek it throughout the day and it’s a little easier to find it when you’re looking for it.

It’s also fun to discover these journals months later and revisit all the simple little moments as well as special times that brought me joy.

It’s not always easy to find gratitude or experience it in tough times but with practice it can become a helpful habit. 


*For more from Heather, Click HERE!



  • Heather Barnhill

    Heather has been a military spouse for an incredible 22 years. Despite her husband’s bedtime stories to their kids, she did not grow up in an igloo and was not delivered to Fort Drum by a dog sled team. Born in Nova Scotia she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Masters in Secondary Education in English and Drama. According to her bedtime stories to their kids, Heather met her handsome soldier Jason at a royal ball, just like Cinderella (if Cinderella met her Prince on the sticky dance floor of The Fire Station bar). They have 3 kids who no longer trust anything they say. Heather has sporadically been a substitute teacher, homeschool teacher and swim coach at their various duty stations. She spends her spare time volunteering for the PTO, helped direct the middle school musical, DUSA and sponsoring cadets. She loves writing and uses it to help her process military life. Her family is currently stationed in NY and are preparing for a high school graduation, college move in and overseas PCS this summer. She has fostered 19 cats and 3 puppies and enjoys swimming, running and theater.


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Supporting Our Military Children

Supporting Our Military Children

One thing that has been most important to me, as a military spouse, is figuring out how to best do this life while supporting our children with the changes and difficulties. When my children were very small, there were many times that my husband was away, and I had to parent my children alone.

Mission: Milspouse is a
501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

EIN Number: 88-1604492


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El Paso, TX 79904


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