Almost exactly three years ago, I found myself reflecting on my life. I was filled with bitterness and anger. My life had not turned out to be what I had once envisioned. I was living in despair, blaming anyone and everything I could think of for my problems…and I felt like I had a lot of them! I was struggling physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our finances were a mess, my marriage wasn’t going well, my health was failing me…the list goes on and on. I felt as if the world were falling down around me! Things simply weren’t the way I wanted them to be and I didn’t know what to do with that reality. I knew something had to change, but I wasn’t sure how to correct the course that I was on.
When November 1st rolled around, I decided to do a “Gratitude Countdown to Thanksgiving” on Facebook. A friend of mine had shared something with me and I decided to put it to the test:
“Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results.” -Anon
I wasn’t feeling much gratitude at the time, but my hope was that by focusing on the good things in my life, maybe the negative would have less power over me. So the countdown began! I started out with gratitude for my job, my freedom and the ability to read and write. Then I moved on to music, modern medicine and the abundance of material things in my life. I remember it being very hard to come up with things to express gratitude for each day. I really had to think about it! From there, I moved on to people in my life, my children, my mother, my friends. I expressed gratitude for technology, trials and talents. One day, I even said I was grateful for Disneyland! For 24 days, I dug deep within myself to come up with something that I was grateful for in my life. I saved Jim for last. I was, and still am, most thankful for him!
By November 24th, I was beginning to see a change in my attitude. Nothing in my life was different except me. I had come to realize how blessed I really am and I had a great desire to keep sharing my gratitude with the world. I came up with all kinds of ways I could continue to express gratitude: posts on my blog, a year round “Thankful Tree”, sending notes to the many people who have blessed my life. But as time moved on and November turned into December, my focus on gratitude turned to other things and the momentum was lost.
Little did I know that just a few months later, my life was going to fall apart. I would be diagnosed with cancer, go through months of radiation treatments, have my oldest son come out as gay, be confronted with childhood abuse and begin intense counseling. I became angry with God and the despair I had felt before my gratitude countdown came back with a vengence! The feeling of peace I had begun to feel escaped me and I struggled to find anything positive or stable about my life.
Since that time nearly three years ago, I have been to the depths of hell and back. I have endured trials I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I have felt the influence of evil and have fought constantly to keep some amount of light in my life. It has been hard! But I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything different. The lessons I have learned have given me a perspective I wouldn’t have otherwise gained. These lessons have changed me and have allowed me to begin living my life in the light all the time, even in the midst of the most difficult trials. These lessons have settled deep in my heart and have brought about an entirely new list of things I am grateful for. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I want to share some of these lessons with you:
- I’ve learned that life is hard…always! I can look for the positive and live with joy…or not… but it will be hard either way.
- I’ve learned that I have no control over anyone or anything. I can’t control what my husband does or how he feels. I can’t control how my children act or what they choose to believe. I can’t control how other people treat me or what they think about me. I can’t control who is going to want to be my friend or who is going to shun me and my family. I can’t control the weather, the economy, the culture that I live in, the opportunities that come my way or the challenges life gives to me. My control is limited to my love of self, my love of others and my love of God.
- I’ve learned that I’m enough. I’m good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, motherly enough, happy enough, talented enough and energetic enough. I am ok, just like I am. There are many around me who may believe that I’m not enough because I’m not like they are, but that’s not true! We are all enough, just as we are!
- I’ve learned that most people are good, most of the time.
- I’ve learned that everyone has problems. Even those who seem to have perfect lives are going to have trials at some point. That’s what life is all about!
- I’ve learned that faith cannot exist where there is fear and that having faith triumphs over fear every time!
- I’ve learned that being vulnerable with other people and living life authentically brings much more happiness than hiding behind a mask of perfection or walls of anger. Usually, protecting myself from being hurt, shuts out the people that I love the most. Coming out of hiding allows me to feel great joy even amidst the most difficult trials.
- I’ve learned that I’ll never find the positive in life without facing the negative head on.
- I’ve learned that perfection is a myth. It is an idea created by Satan that thwarts what God expects of me. If he can get me focused on the unattainable, then the things that are really important will be shoved out of the way. As a mere mortal, I will never be perfect…and that’s ok. That’s the reason God gave His Son to be sacrificed. He atoned for my imperfections, my sins and my sicknesses. He knew that on my own, I would never be perfect enough to get back to Him, so He provided another way, one that wouldn’t require perfection. All I have to do is give Him my heart.
- I’ve learned that love really is the answer…to everything. It isn’t my job to fix or heal or make things better. Those jobs belong to Someone much greater than me. My job is to love. Occasionally, because of my willingness to love, I might be lucky enough to be used as an instrument in His hands to do one of those other jobs, but until that happens, I just have to love. I think I can do that.
The past 6 months have been some of the most difficult of my life, but because of the lessons taught to me through the other trials I have faced, they have been full of peace. I feel blessed in more ways than I can count. I am grateful for the love of family and friends who gave of their time, talents and resources to make sure my family was taken care of. I am grateful for my amazing surgeon who literally gave me back my arm. I am grateful for a wonderful home health nurse who took care of my every need and has become a cherished friend. I am grateful for a counselor who understood my need to be angry, then sad, then supported me through the really ugly things I needed to process. I am grateful for my 5 amazing children and my incredible husband. They have been through a lot, but have been consistently supportive, attentive and loving.
In 3 years, my life has changed in ways I never could have imagined. I am still dealing with some difficult challenges and I’m still learning lessons. By next year, I may have a whole new list of lessons learned and things I’m grateful for! But I can’t imagine that my heart could be any more full or my gratitude any greater than it is today. My thanks and my appreciation go out to all who have supported and encourage me these past few years. I couldn’t have made it without you!
One last lesson I’ve learned is that things can change in an instant. I wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING and hope you hold your families tight. Remember: Love really is the answer!