Gratitude Takes Our Problems and ‘Makes Them into Something Beautiful’

On Thanksgiving Day, a mom learns to see her life with brand new eyes

About a year after our oldest son was born with a severe disability, my twin sister asked me, “If there was one thing you could change about your life, what would it be?”

I immediately thought to myself: “David wouldn’t have a disability.”

But before I said anything, I paused.

I glanced over at my adorable son, cozy in his bed. I looked at his curly hair and adorable face. I loved him so much.

Would I change him? If David didn’t have a disability, he wouldn’t be the David I knew and loved. He would be a completely different person.

I wanted David, disability and all.

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Of course, I wished he didn’t have a heart defect that required open heart surgery. I wished he had five fingers on his left hand instead of only two. I wished his life wouldn’t be shaped by having to live with a severe disability — but, oh my gosh, I loved him just as he was.

I loved the smell of his skin close to mine. He had been smiling for a few months and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He was tracking toys with his eyes and beginning to reach for things. He was amazing — exactly as he was.

In that moment, I realized I didn’t want to change him.

Then I realized something even more profound.

I was thankful for David. I was grateful for this amazing gift God had given us.

I’m not saying I was grateful for the pain of having a child with a severe disability. I wasn’t grateful he would have to struggle through life. It was so hard.

But the pain, the struggle, was producing something beautiful in me and us — and that’s what stunned me.

I was grateful David was helping me understand that love doesn’t have to be neat and shiny. It can be messy and broken and so beautiful.

I was grateful that David, with his small hand and physical differences was teaching me not to worry so much about the 10 extra pounds I was carrying on my body. As I fell in love with him and began to accept him as he was, I was learning, slowly but surely, to accept myself as well.

I told Chrissie all these thoughts and we processed it together.

I can’t remember if I ever answered her question that day. I just remember how drastically my thinking shifted. That conversation changed my life.

As a culture, we talk about gratefulness and cultivating a grateful heart — and I love that. I believe if we are grateful for what we have, where we are, those around us, we will live lives that are beautiful and full. I believe people who are grateful are happier.

But how do we really cultivate a grateful heart?

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Of course, we should be grateful for the obvious blessings around us, such as our homes, our clothing, food to eat, a warm place to sleep. These are not small things, and if we can recognize the obvious blessings, we become grateful instead of bitter.

But there is more — so much more to be grateful for beyond the obvious things.

What if I could look at the struggles in my life and find opportunities for gratitude? What if these struggles are here to help me change and learn and grow?

My unhappy marriage? It was a chance to do some soul searching, to look deep into my heart and think about what I needed and wanted. I was not powerless. I was not a victim. I was part of this marriage, and therefore I was part of the problem. I may not have been able to change my husband, but I could change me. I am grateful for the hard seasons in our marriage because those are the times I have grown the most.

Related: 10 Reasons to Be Thankful, This Year and Always

That person at work who drives me crazy? Maybe he is a teacher, here to help me learn something I need to learn. I am going to have to speak up, be braver. This relationship is going to stretch me, but I will step in and be strong. I am grateful for the opportunity to grow and learn how to interact with confidence — even if the process is scary and frustrating.

My son’s disability? He shows me what joy looks like, and it’s not based on things like money, clothing or the size of our home. I still worry about him; I still get tired from caring for him, and it’s still hard. But he’s showing me that joy is an inside job. It comes from the heart. It comes from being present in the moment and accepting things as they are. I am grateful he is showing me true joy.

Gratefulness is empowering. I play a role in my own life. While I don’t wish for pain or struggles, I recognize they are inevitable — and they’re making me into who I am.

The pain in our lives can mold us into stronger, kinder beings who love more deeply.

Instead of wishing things were different, I want to approach life with a different perspective. Instead of feeling powerless, I want to live life open-hearted and ready to learn and grow. Instead of being bitter, I want to be grateful.

Gratefulness doesn’t solve our problems: It takes our problems and makes them into something beautiful. Our struggles become an opportunity to bloom.

The pain in our lives can mold us into stronger, kinder beings who love more deeply.

Maybe being thankful comes from looking at each situation from a different perspective. Instead of complaining or wishing things away, I want to open my eyes and embrace life — as it is — with a grateful heart.

Lisa Leonard is the founder of Lisa Leonard Designs. She started making jewelry as a hobby-business and together with her husband, Steve, built it into a multimillion dollar company that today employs more 300 people in five countries. Her book, “Brave Love: Making Space for You to Be You,” will be published by Zondervan on Jan. 29, 2019.

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