For my mom’s birthday last February, I gave her a book titled Your Best Life Begins Each Morning by Joel Osteen. It’s one of those little devotional books that are meant to be read each morning of the year. On each page is a short verse followed by an inspirational pep-talk by the author which is supposed to help you get the most and best out of every day. I knew the power that a positive mindset can bring to any situation and I wanted my mom to experience the same thing.
I don’t know how much she read through the book but I know she did for a while. I remember her calling me to tell me how much she loved it and how strange that it seemed like every day that she read from it, she got just the right message to get her day off to a good start.
A couple of weeks after the accident, I came across the book. I asked my dad if I could have it (he said of course) and I brought it home. I was hoping that I would be lucky enough get the right message every morning because as we were all beginning to return to our regular lives, inspiration was getting very hard to come by.
I am really not sure what I was expecting to discover in the pages of this book but nonetheless, I opened it up one morning and began to read. The title was for that day was “An Attitude of Gratitude.” I read through it, not really inspired, but kept an open mind anyways. Maybe the next day’s message would be a little better.
Day two of the reading was about giving thanks again. Okay, same theme. “I get the message,” I thought flippantly to myself and went about my day. I returned to the office for the first time since the accident and got through the day quite peacefully. I began the drive home and started to reflect on the day’s events. I realized that I had gotten through it without a major crying episode. Awesome! Thoughts of my mom, Michelle, and Julia were always at the forefront of my mind but I had made it through. Maybe going back to “real” life would be easier than I thought. Then, I turned on the radio. . .
The song “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman (Here’s the song! 10,000 reasons) was just beginning to play. This song was sung at Michelle and Julia’s funeral. This is the song that reduces me to tears every single time I hear it. Instantly I began to sob. I remember looking up to the sky through blinding tears saying, “Really, really?” Can I have one day of peace? Just one? Why the constant reminders of the most painful experience ever? What was there, really, to be grateful for when our family had just suffered such a traumatic loss?
On day three the reading was incredibly about gratitude, AGAIN! In fact, the last line of the message for the day was this, “Until you have a grateful attitude, you are going to stay right where you are.” Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I began wallowing in a pool of self-pity, mumbling to myself about how easy it to be thankful when things are going your way. Even if your life isn’t exactly what you were hoping for at the moment, it is still easy to find gratitude when your problems weren’t as big as death. How can you compare something like job loss (like in the book) to a tragic loss of life?
Later that day, I was searching for some paperwork and I came across a memory book that my mom had completed years ago, a book I totally had forgotten that I had. Of course the tears came again along with the waves of self-pity. The icing on the pity cake came later that night when I was looking for something in my nightstand and I came across an old billfold. I opened it to find Julia’s birth announcement and one of her first baby pictures staring me in the face. Wow, the reminders of them were E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. Every single time I turned around it seems, I was reminded of the HUGE hole in my heart that was created by their untimely deaths. What was there to be thankful for?
Well, you can probably guess what the reading for day four was. Yep, gratitude and changing your attitude. This time though, I actually stopped to really think and reflect. I changed all of the perceived negatives from those last two days to positives–how extremely lucky I was to have a beautiful song that reminded me of my sister-in-law, how amazingly fortunate I was to have this treasure of a book written by my mom, and how incredibly blessed I was to be the aunt of such a beautiful little girl. I began to look at life again through a more gracious lens. I finally got the message. It had been right all along.
You see, in the days immediately following the accident, we were incredibly grateful. We were grateful for the brave man that rescued my nephew, grateful for the rescue workers, grateful for the doctors and nurses, grateful for each other, and grateful for family and friends. Most of all, we were grateful that my nephew’s life was spared. Gratitude–despite the terrible loss–came pretty easily. It was only now, upon my attempted return to a new normal, that my gratitude had left the building. I had briefly abandoned the “attitude of gratitude” that I practiced pre-accident, an attitude that had carried me through some pretty rough times before. I knew in order find a state of gratefulness I would have to consciously choose gratitude until it became second nature. I would have to make that gracious choice again and again regardless of how difficult that choice seemed at the time.
Thankfully, even though I still resort to an ungrateful attitude for brief moments-like when I reach for my phone to call my mom, make mental note of something I need to add to my list to tell Michelle, or see something that Jules would have loved–I immediately go to gratitude and the self-pity goes away. Not that my sorrow is any less, but I know in my heart that gratitude leads to hope, and hope leads to a promise of a better day.
The next time you are struggling with something, no matter what it is, I challenge you find something in your situation to be grateful for. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it is big or small, but find something, ONE thing. Practice gratitude every day, day in and day out, whether it seems logical or not. You may not be instantly lifted from a desperate situation but I promise–I promise–you will find a ray of hope. And sometimes, that is all we need to face another day.