DIRTY DISHES & A LESSON IN GRATITUDE
As Thanksgiving approaches, I couldn’t help but reflect back on two elderly women I met while working as a home health physical therapist a few years ago. These two women from neighboring cities greatly altered my view of what it really means to be grateful for what you have, no matter what your circumstances.
One woman had suffered from years of severe, debilitating arthritis throughout her body, for which she had undergone more joint and spinal surgeries than she could count. On top of that, she was also suffering from a type of cancer and had just concluded a vicious round of chemotherapy right before I was called in to assist her. As I reviewed her medical file before going to see her for the first time, I expected to encounter a downtrodden and emotionally spent soul. But to my shock and amazement, I instead discovered a woman who wore a constant jubilant smile, and literally exuded joy and happiness from her presence.
As I began to visit with her and assess her physical condition, which was every bit as worn down as her medical history indicated it would be, I couldn’t help but finally ask her, “How is it that you are able to stay so happy and positive considering all you have been through and are still suffering?”
Joyful tears came to her eyes, and it took her a moment to compose herself before she answered, motioning to all the family pictures which literally lined the walls of her home, “Just look at all of this family and posterity I have. Some of them I haven’t seen in quite some time because they live far away, and (with a teasing wink in her eye) some I see more often than I would like, but I have been blessed to have all of these wonderful souls be a part of my existence, and because of my faith in Jesus Christ and his great plan of salvation, I know that I will have all of them as a part of my existence through eternity as well. Isn’t that the most joyous thing you have ever heard? How could I be sad, knowing that even after all I have been through, that I can have my family and loved ones forever?”
I was deeply humbled by her gratitude for the Lord, and despite all she had suffered, and continued to suffer, that she refused to see anything but the blessings of family and loved ones in her life. Her vision of faith greatly inspired me and helped me realize how many things I took for granted far too often in my own life. My visits with her are cherished memories and lessons in optimism.
The second woman also suffered some longstanding debility from a previous stroke, as well as other medical conditions. When I first met her and entered her house, I could feel a definite spirit to her home. I couldn’t really define it, but it was palpable. We visited for a few minutes and while I was providing some treatment with her, I asked about her life, how long she had lived there, and so forth.
She told me that she had 7 children all fairly close together, one of them severely crippled, and then unexpectedly, her husband had passed away, leaving her to raise those 7 children, the oldest of which was 11 and the youngest only about 10 months old. Less than 6 months later her crippled child also passed away, and she thought she would never recover. But the night after her child’s funeral she had a very spiritual experience (which is far too personal and sacred to discuss in this informal setting) but she said it forever changed her perspective.
She then told me, “All those tough years that followed, trying to scrape by a living and raise my other remaining 6 children, I went to bed every night and thanked the Lord for dirty laundry and dirty dishes!”
I kind of laughed at this statement, but that was only because I didn’t understand its meaning. She went on to explain, “I praised the Lord every time I washed dirty dishes because that meant that my children had food to eat that day. And every time I hand washed the dirty laundry, I thanked the Lord that my children had clothes to wear. The Lord took care of me, and always provided sufficient for our needs. We never had much, but we never went without.”
Once again, I was humbled by how often I had taken so many simple things for granted in my life. This woman had endured through trials I would never know, and yet, had seen only God’s hand blessing her and her family through their meager existence.
What these two women taught me through their joyful, living examples, was what President Russell M. Nelson recently shared in the October 2016 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, when he said, “Life is filled with detours and dead ends, trials and challenges of every kind. Each of us has likely had times when distress, anguish, and despair almost consumed us. Yet we are here to have joy… My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives… (Because of) Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening – or not happening – in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”
Such words ring as resounding and uplifting truth to our ears, but how often do we hear such wisdom, and fail to apply it in our own lives and circumstances? What these two women showed me by their living examples, is that true joy and happiness, and deep abiding gratitude, CAN be found and truly experienced as a part of any reality IF we focus on the source of joy in our lives, rather than be distracted by all the trivial matters which otherwise weigh us down and make us feel like victims of our circumstances.
So at this time of Thanksgiving, may we lift our gaze upward, and not just speak the words of thanksgiving for a day, and then revert back to our prior lives, but may our hearts truly feel that gratitude for all of our countless blessings, and our eyes be changed to see all that we truly have to be thankful for!