Granted Today, Not Guaranteed Forever
As we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States, I am thankful for the things I’m able to take for granted — because I’ve had a year in which things I’ve taken for granted became prized possessions I no longer had.
Life can change in a flash. (A hot flash?)
Recognize your blessings and be thankful now.
This year, I’ve gone through peri-menopause and just recently graduated to menopause, because I’m hot like that. (Yay, me!) I’ve experienced a bum shoulder that has forced me to alter how I sleep, put on clothes, wear a purse, and exercise (more variation, less swimming) and add physical therapy exercises to my routine. This year, I also lost my one remaining parent, and I was surprised by grief, thinking I already had grieved as I lost her to Alzheimer’s incrementally the last ten years.
My losses this year remind me to be thankful for what I take for granted. I don’t want to overlook the blessings I continue to have.
What You Think Can Distort the Truth
Once I spent an entire year thinking I was a year older than I was. (I wasn’t 17 believing I was 18 or 20 thinking I was 21.) I was old enough to start counting my years by how many I likely had left. When my birthday came around and I realized I was only then the age I’d considered myself to be for a full year, I felt cheated.
I’d lost a year and only had myself to blame.
Just recently, the staff in my department had formal photos taken for the directory on our website. I recently stopped fighting my natural curl and need a cut that will better showcase my curls and waves. Need, not needed. As in I let my shaggy-haired, style-needing self have photos taken au naturel.
I hated every single one.
Since I am the marketing and communications manager at work, I have the privilege of seeing every single person’s photos resulting from the photo shoot. I work with people who are much better looking than me and certainly most of my colleagues are more photogenic than me.
But I’ve had a number of requests by gorgeous people with model-worthy images to “please pick one for me” as “they’re all awful” or “I can hardly bear to look.” (One colleague asked to have his “man boobs” edited away but said he didn’t need more hair, a tan, or jewelry added. A number have asked if they can use last year’s photo.)
We are our own worst critics (at least when it comes to photos of ourselves). I can see that in others, but it’s harder to see that in myself.
The humiliating part of this experience was that my colleagues thought my photos looked just like me! (Although I would say the same of their images.) But as we looked at my photos together, trying to select the best one, I stopped seeing my awful hair, wrinkles, and the scar in the middle of my forehead. Instead, I saw me through the eyes of my friends, and I liked the image they suggested I use.
I’m not sure if they distorted the truth – or if they realigned my thinking with the truth. But I realize what I’m thinking isn’t always truth, and one day I’ll look back on this awful image and think differently.
When I was in my 20s, I fretted over my “cellulite,” trying to hide my legs. But years later, when I looked at photos of myself, I saw pretty legs, not cellulite, and I thought about the years I’d wasted not appreciating what I had. (So many years wearing Bermuda shorts when I had legs to justify Daisy Dukes!)
I don’t want to go forward 20 or 30 years to realize I’d lost these years to insecurity or image hating though I was lovely and young. They say “youth is wasted on the young,” and my youngish self doesn’t want to waste these youngish years!
If You Missed Paying It Forward…
In September, I started volunteering at an assisted living facility by helping host a church service on Sunday afternoons. The opportunity caught my eye because my mother lived in a memory care facility of the same name further south. I thought of the people who had volunteered on my mother’s behalf all those years and wanted to “pay it backward.”
Actually, I’m paying it inward.
Each Sunday, we have anywhere from 15 to 50 residents attend the hour-long service we host in the facility’s theater. Some come from the memory care center, some from assisted living. Some are a bit feisty; most are genuinely happy to be there.
I am genuinely happy to be there too.
My first visits felt a bit awkward as I tried to get to know the residents and they began to know me. I couldn’t always see beyond what I saw (and sometimes smelled) to the people they were and are. I’m not going to lie; the red-rimmed eyes, the noticeable tremors, the blank stares, and the obvious confusion are off-putting. It takes time to delve beyond the picture-perfect (or imperfect) to see who they really are.
Week by week I learn more. M. and T. worked at the university. E. was part of a singing group. L.’s high school mascot was a bald eagle. P. served in the Navy. The 100-year-old resident who always appears to be asleep is merely hard of hearing; speak loudly and she’ll respond to your math problem with the correct answer or sing loudly along with you.
Week by week I love more.
If You Don’t Realize You’re Blessed, Look Around You
These lovely elderly people inspire me in two ways:
One, they remind me that time is short. This past week a couple residents mentioned the year they graduated from high school — and I realized it was the year I was born. I am only 18 years behind them.
Muhammad Ali once said, “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” Who am I to think I’ll have as much time as these residents? I’m not guaranteed another 18 years — or tomorrow, for that matter. But if I live thinking “time is short,” maybe, just maybe, I’ll accomplish more because I’ll feel that deadline pressure.
Two, these lovely people remind me that I’m just a baby. I’m young (at least to them)! I’m physically and mentally healthy and strong, able to live independently — quite well!
I still have a lot that I can take for granted — and I need to thank God for all that I am and all that I have.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays I take yoga with an instructor named Susan. She is 71, thin, fit, and agile, and she inspires me to live a healthful life. She also inspires me to be thankful.
Typically, we’ll do some poses that we’ll do first on the right side of the body and then on the left side. As our instructor points out, rarely do both sides feel the same, and she’ll say something along the lines of “… and dream of the day when both sides behave equally.”
After some particularly difficult poses, especially if we’ve fallen or failed in some way, Susan will remind us to thank our bodies for all it does for us.
One of my classmates has some sort of brain injury that gives him symptoms of cerebral palsy such as trembling, spastic or stiff muscles. Poses that I find difficult, he must find nearly impossible, yet he pushes his reluctant, awkward body to its utmost.
When I feel like whining or quitting, I’ll catch a glimpse of this man struggling but continuing, and I feel shamed and inspired to keep working. I can take for granted what he cannot.
So I want to express thanks for the things I take for granted. For comfort, for health, for loved ones. For a job I love, for a church where I grow, for friends that challenge me physically and spiritually. For electricity, for indoor plumbing, for a beautiful home and yard. For the sun rising, for the coolness of fall, for the beautiful world God created and my ability to walk in it.
I, like you, could go on and on about all the little and big things I take for granted — if I simply stop to think about all I have and share and experience. Sometimes it takes the absence of one of those things to realize how blessed I was — and how blessed I still am.
Lord, help me to count my blessings on Thanksgiving and beyond.