As American families everywhere prepare to give thanks for the abundance of blessings in their lives, I thought an unexpected extension of this activity might be in order this year. It's common for us to be thankful for our warm houses, steady jobs, loving families, healthy bodies, nutritious foods, and our many freedoms, but how often do we stop and give thanks for the painful parts of life? Not so often for me. So this week I decided to intentionally identify and be grateful for the difficult seasons in my past that have brought me to where I am today.
Age 12 - My family moved from our 144-acre farm in a tiny rural village in Upstate New York to what seemed to me at the time like a very elite and scholarly town in Connecticut. My dad had been promoted and was asked to relocate the family. We left all of the familiar people, places, and things we loved so dearly and ventured into a whole new kind of life. Instead of horses, tractors, barns, snowmobiles, and motorcycles, we now had new carpeting, fresh paint and wallpaper, wealthy classmates with country club memberships and Ivy League ambitions, a humble 1.3 acres, and a newfangled home intercom system that was initially "so cool!" but almost never used in all the years we lived there. To my knowledge, moving from New York to Connecticut was the hardest thing our nuclear family had done to that point, and each one of us individually, and together corporately, felt the unique heartbreak of leaving our one true home. Had we made a huge mistake? And yet, in time, we adjusted and I adjusted and even thrived in this new setting, and learned what it meant to adapt, start over, find my place, and push ahead. These are skills that still serve me to this day.
Late teens/Early 20s - My college experience started off pretty rough and wasn't at all what I had envisioned. I was miserable with a terrible, awful, no-good roommate situation, self-inflicted overwhelm with way too heavy of a class load, lots of difficult stuff happening on the home front, crushing homesickness, and a Division I field hockey experience that fit dreadfully with my personality and expectations. It was the first time in my life that I had come to the end of myself in such a complete and severe way - developing assorted eating disorders and coping obsessively with constant exercise and intentional social isolation. But as brutal as that season of life was, it was also the genesis of my health story that has shaped me and is still unfolding today. And all the painful things endured during that time have ended up making me stronger, smarter, more self-aware, and more compassionate. It also made me incredibly grateful for the resilience of my body, and its enduring patience with me, despite how badly I treated it. I would never want to suffer through those years again, but I wouldn't trade them for anything either. Through them I gained perspective, balance, a better understanding of wellness, and a keen appreciation for healthy boundaries.
Late 20s/Early 30s - Following an 8-year career in elementary education, I launched into two jolting employment situations that pressed me in on all sides. One position was in a government contracting company, and the second was an administrative position in the university setting. Both were fun and exciting at first, but ended up being so toxic and stressful that I began having trouble eating, sleeping, and functioning like a real person. I dreaded going in to work every day where I would witness so much corporate deception, selfishness, ugly professional interactions, and general mismanagement. I was intimidated, manipulated, and targeted. But despite the drama during this time, out of necessity I developed really thick skin and a very strong spine. I learned how to speak up for myself, question authority, and stand firm in my convictions. I realized integrity was everything, and I never wanted to work for another individual or entity again, if it could be avoided. I also met my husband...so, totally worth it!
Mid 30s/Early 40s - Marriage is no joke, friends. I mean, I love my husband and am very happily married, but this "two becoming one" gig is so hard! I remember sitting in a church service with my husband one Sunday back in the day, and the sermon topic was relationships - specifically marriage. The pastor explained how marriages naturally go through seasons - summer (easy and fun), spring (new beginnings, deeper roots, and growth), fall (change, adaptation, preparation for harder things), and winter (cold, dark, barren, silent). Later that same day, we honestly asked ourselves, "Why are we so stuck in winter?" Don't get me wrong - with three amazing children and a relatively privileged and easy life, there were many moments of sunshine back then. But we also had some very unique roadblocks and significant relational challenges right out of the gate that made those early years of marriage exceptionally difficult. Difficult to the point of giving up. BUT HERE WE ARE! Still a team. Still figuring this out. Still maturing, forgiving, extending grace, pivoting, loving, and laughing. Still committed to sticking together despite what comes our way. Our life together is not always easy, but it is full and it is blessed.
40s to the present - Parents are aging. Bodies and minds are getting weaker, medications and visiting nurses are becoming commonplace, and I'm spending more time in doctors offices and hospitals and hearing of others my age doing the same. People who once anchored and cared for me when I was little now need my care and steadiness, and that is both heavy and beautiful at the same time. I think it was Glennon Doyle who coined the word, "brutiful." That word is so perfect. All of it reminds me to be wise in how I nourish myself today and in the future - body, soul, and spirit - for my own children are now watching and learning from me. But I am also reminded that these meatsuits are not meant to be permanent. Our earthly lives are fleeting, and this world is not our home. I want to make the very best of the time I've been given here, do the most good that I can, and complete whatever work God has laid before me.
And so, anything in my life that has stretched me to the limit and threatened to crush me has also given me opportunity to return to the feet of Jesus, the source of my strength and the author and perfecter of my faith.
Thankful. Grateful. Blessed.