What I’m Thankful For
I’ve just come off of a 9 month campaign trail having run, albeit unsuccessfully, for State legislative office, my first run for political office. I’m at a critical mass point at my day job, with the universally stressful Holidays fast approaching, which is not when anyone wants upheaval and change happening at work. I just joined a local board of directors to help combat violence against women. I’m also contemplating major renovations in my personal life, and as always, my wonderful husband and my three children need me, which I must balance with my community volunteer commitments.
Isn’t this a rather typical story for many people? We love to do good things and be a good person, but sometimes we do too much of a good thing. Sound familiar?
What I am getting at is, we are all “busy” in some form or fashion, but I don’t want to glorify busy.
I don’t want to be the kind of person who broadcasts how busy they are so they can receive either praise or pity. I love my life and my life’s work. I love my family. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I choose my words and actions carefully so I don’t fall into the trap of glorifying busy. It’s a bad place to be, this glorifying busy, and Americans seem to excel at doing it, to the detriment of our own health and even our productivity as a Nation. We are no more productive than any other country and yet we work more than any other country.
What I want from life is for my work and living to have purpose, to accomplish something bigger than myself, so my life’s mantra is simply this: To help others.
If I stop and take a moment to count my blessings, I am thankful for every single one of those challenges I just listed.
Because the bottom line is, I’m plenty old enough to realize that through all the trials I’ve endured, I need adversity to make me stronger. I can’t get stronger if I don’t lift the weight.
That is important enough for me to repeat to myself. I/we can’t grow without growing pains. We must face challenges, relationship hardships, & loss. It’s a part of life.
Whether it is lifting the weight of a barbell in a gym to make my body stronger, or lifting the weight of the social or psychological demands that my day job brings…Whether it is lifting the spiritual weight of running my household and nurturing my marriage and children to make sure we thrive as a family and as individuals….overcoming challenges is a part of life.
What I am describing is a kind of biopsychosocial way of practicing gratitude, of shedding the human part of me that wants to seek the easier, well traveled path, the unattainable dream that if I can empty my proverbial and literal inbox, then I can relax and take it easy.
I am learning, day by day, that with age does not come wisdom. On the contrary, wisdom comes with having tackled adversity and hardship head on.
And as I age, I’ll be the most blessed woman on earth if I can just hang on to this truth. We don’t get strong by avoiding the spiritual “gym” or the psychoemotional “cross fit”. We have to get in there and duke it out with our fears, struggles and demons and we must do it with grace, thanksgiving, and a truckload of grit.
So when I reflect on what I am most thankful for this season, I have to say I am most thankful for adversity. For challenges, for the things in life that test me, refine me, and help me to emerge stronger, more resilient, more compassionate, more thoughtful, and more like the Self I want to be.
I am certainly thankful for all the things I would usually list, like my husband, my children, the roof over my head, the ability to work and earn a living, and the motivation to learn and create and be a spiritual creature.
But none of my successes made me who I am today. It is the pain of loss and of unwelcome change, the shock of trauma and of having to starting over and rebuild something from scratch, the feelings of inadequacy and aloneness and self-doubt, that allow me to sit and stew, reflect and meditate, create and reimagine myself and my potential in new, better ways.
When I was a child I used to wonder “Why me?” when something bad would happen around me or to me, but I figured out swiftly that was the wrong question to ask. I survived a lot of trauma and witnessed a great deal of abuse growing up. Death and loss were a regular part of my childhood.
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I deliberately shifted my mindset from being a victim to a victor.
I was barely 18 years old, and I was working on my summers off from college as a missionary. That day as a teenager I made a promise to myself and God that instead of asking “Why me?” I would ask “How can this make me a better person?”
That mindset shift was permanent, and the adversity that brought on the realization was the best thing to ever happen to me. That little mindshift provided a deep, abiding strength that I carry with me today, and it has profoundly shaped my mantra, “To help others.”
Ever since that day, I’ve had far less trouble out of adversity, and far more gifts and gratitude reaped from it. Like the poet Rumi asks of us in one of his most well known poems, “The Guest House”, adversity never seems to be a good friend, much less a teacher, but if we welcome it simply as that, we will truly bloom wherever we are planted.
I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with aromas of all your favorite sights and scents, and with just a pinch of challenge to keep you humanly grateful. If you want to how I get through the Holiday Season, here is a past post on how to play The Thanks Game.