Feeling Grateful ... Feeling Positive

Approximately 16 years ago, at the age of 43, I remember lying in a tiny bedroom feeling loss, disappointment, pain and loneliness. I had fought for my (abusive, toxic, dysfunctional and unrewarding) marriage for 27 years. And yet, I still found myself ultimately giving up and getting divorced after losing all hope that I could ever make things become better, healthier, mutually respectful and loving (through my efforts alone). It felt like I had failed, even though I knew I hadn't. I knew how long and hard I had fought. I knew how willing I was to sacrifice what I knew I would never have (respect, kindness, consideration, emotional connection) in order to not throw in the towel. But here I was anyway. How did THIS end up the result of my determination to be a good wife, to help him be a better man? This same man had vowed after I left that I would get nothing (in the divorce) if it was the last thing he ever did. Nothing is what he thought I deserved for 27 years of giving all I had to him, our marriage and our survival as a family unit. I moved from a 4500 square foot dream home into two cramped extra bedrooms at my dad's. One room held my bed and dresser. The other held my computer (where I studied and wrote college papers) and my exercise bike.

The night I'm remembering was a low point. I wondered how I wound up, at 43, crammed into these two tiny bedrooms, living with my dad. And I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. But that only lasted for a few short minutes because my thoughts were interrupted by gratitude. I challenged myself. I started to think of how truly blessed I was. I had TWO rooms. I slept in a warm, comfortable bed. I was not alone in the world. I had a dad who didn't hesitate to take me in and give me a home while I finished school. I was halfway through college on a scholarship to an amazing private university. My child was grown and married. I didn't have to put food on the table for a family and juggle school, work, and responsibilities as a mother (like so many women in my situation).

Yes, I was having to fight for a single penny of spousal support at that moment. But my dad would make sure I had a roof over my head and food to eat. I had credit cards to pay for gas to get to campus. I had the opportunity to go to school and finish school. I had a supportive family to encourage me and give me emotional support. I had friends who assured me I was making the right decision and it was time to move on with my life; time to put an end to the abuse I had endured and enabled for so long. I was healthy. I was blessed. And I would get through this.

In that moment, I chose to focus on my blessings and not on my disappointments or wounds. I chose to focus on the good and the positive. And that moment is a pivotal memory; one of many defining moments in my life. I chose to believe I had good times ahead (in spite of the lack of evidence that it was so). And as it turned out, I did. Although, I had no idea that the blessings God had for me would far exceed my highest hopes or dreams. I had to choose to believe life would be better in time.

There is sustaining power in a positive attitude and even more power in an attitude of gratitude. It is impossible to feel sorry for ourselves while we are being thankful.

My life looks pretty perfect on Facebook because I post mostly positive, inspiring quotes and happy photos filled with love and travel. But I fought for the life I have today and I went through a lot of rough years to get here. The hardest fight was to get to where I am emotionally after so many years of emotional abuse. The fight to heal from my wounds and grow stronger; refusing bitterness and the identity of a victim. The fight to forgive any and every person who ever hurt or wronged me. The fight to stop caring who doesn't like me or approve of me. The fight to care for myself the way I cared for others. The fight to discover and embrace my own value and refuse to continue trying to earn value from those who do not value me for who I am.

No matter how perfect my life looks in photos, I want you to know (because I know many of you are struggling this Thanksgiving with circumstances and relational disappointments) that my life is not perfect. I have been in another season of personal disappointment for the last two years that may last for years to come. My husband has battled chronic leukemia since 2007 and we have weathered many challenges on our journey. There will be more bumps in the road ahead. But almost 12 years post diagnosis, he's still going strong. He's healthy. His CLL is again in remission from newer, cutting edge therapies. And the drug research is ongoing in his disease. When he was diagnosed almost 12 years ago, I had no idea what the next 12 years held for us. I had no idea if the future held 12 years. I was scared, worried and anxious. But on another pivotal day of my life, God spoke to my heart and reminded me that He held all our tomorrows and nobody has a guarantee of the future (with or without a diagnosis). He told me not to project myself into the future and grieve an event that hadn't happened. To live in the joy of today and be thankful for what I had at every moment of my life rather than being robbed of today's joy with the fears of an uncertain future. Because no matter how challenging our circumstances, there are so many in this world who have it harder and would give anything to trade places with us.

I am always going to choose gratitude and a glass half full outlook on life. Always. On my darkest days, I have found the will and the strength to put my disappointments in perspective and live from a grateful heart. I know that isn't a virtue on my part. God's grace plays a huge role. And my mom was such a shining example of a grateful heart and an outlook of perspective on her problems. On her deathbed, at the age of not quite 49, she was telling her family what a blessed life she had lived even if she didn't have more years. She was grateful for God's love, her happy marriage, her healthy children, having parents who loved her and cared for her as a child. She was my greatest role model in choosing to be positive and grateful. And I'm thankful for her heart and her example to this day. I treasure her more today than at any other time in my life, even though she has been gone longer than I was blessed to have her. 

All of these thoughts were inspired by an article a friend posted to Facebook this morning. And I felt compelled to share my thankfulness this Thanksgiving Eve. As I look forward to my favorite day of the year tomorrow, I am as thankful for the past as I am for the life I have today because what I haven't always had makes me even more thankful for the blessings I now enjoy. The hard times have increased not only my ability to appreciate the good times, but they have increased my capacity for empathy and compassion. I hope what I've shared encourages and lifts the spirits of someone who may not be having an ideal holiday season this year. 

Two of my best choices in life have been the investments I have made in relationships and the investment I have made in consistent physical exercise. I have always prioritized people and relationships in my life. I told my therapist recently that all of my life's goals are (and always have been) relational goals; the kind of wife I want to be, the kind of mother/grandmother/aunt/sister I want to be, the kind of friend I want to be. And, as I am enjoying the physical rewards of caring for my body, I am also reaping today so much of the love I have sown. I am not reaping it in every area I have sown it. But God has made up the difference in other areas. We don't control the harvest, but the sowing IS up to us.

So my advice to you (if you want it) today would be these seven things:

1) Be grateful
2) Be as positive as you can be
3) Look for the lessons to be learned from your struggles
4) Invest (sow) your time and energy into people and relationships
5) Take care of your body before you are forced to
6) Release what you cannot control (That was my word for 2018 and God has really taught me how to let go and let Him...)
7) Realize your own value; extend grace and compassion to yourself as well as to others
8) Choose to forgive as scandalously and extravagantly as God has chosen to forgive us

The choice to move forward in love and forgiveness is always there. We only have to choose it. Time that is lost can never be regained. But we can love and forgive even when full reconciliation is not an option. And when we choose love and forgiveness through pain and disappointment, the time is not fully lost because we have gained something in the process of making peace with our loss.

My heart is full and thankful. And on a lighter note, I'm thankful that my whole family knows how to cook and bake. Tomorrow is going to filled with love and laughter ... and delicious food.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends! If you're still reading this long post, THANK YOU! You are a true friend! HaHa.

Gobble Gobble.

*This is the article that inspired my thoughts this morning...