Tis the season to be grateful. Isn’t it funny that we have a season to be grateful? It is nice to have a special time each year to reflect and express gratitude and I would like to suggest we be grateful in all things at all times. Thomas Monson said; “giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.” A Greek philosopher Epictetus said: ” he is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” I watched a short video from a TV evangelist the other day sharing the 80/20 theory. Do we look for the 20% we don’t have rather than focusing on the 80% that we do have?”
I have had the opportunity to go to China four times in the past four years to teach at a women’s leadership academy on a university campus. I have some wonderful students who come from rural homes that I have visited and have lived their whole lives very much like the pioneers. Outdoor toilets, no electricity, dirt floors,a roof over their head, land to cultivate and plant food on, animals to raise and eat or sell, and a village of friends and family. When I went back last fall I went to the home of one of my students. Her mother and I met the previous spring and became fast friends. Even though we did not speak the same language it didn’t matter, we loved each other. She called me “her sister in a faraway land.” Gloria (my student) told me her parents moved from the country to the city into a home with a yard so they could have a tree and a garden. We were going to spend three days at her home and I had envisioned in my mind what that home might look like.
As our driver drove down market street lined with vendors selling live fish, chickens, vegetables and fruits I saw her mother standing waving excitedly for our arrival. We exchanged hugs and kisses and she started wildly talking to me as I nodded in approval. We walked down an alley to the big red door entrance to their home. It was a cement patio area with a tree in a pot and other herbs in pots, and a cement building with four rooms. It was actually quite large compared to the country homes I had visited. I don’t know why I felt so shocked but I was. I had a bedroom to myself with a hard wood bed with a one inch cushion, I am sure she bought new sheets for me because Gloria seemed impressed with them. The bathroom was just off the kitchen with a toilet on the ground and a shower nozzle just above it. Her kitchen had running water, and a stove with gas burners. This is far beyond what the village homes had, but I was still wondering how can I stay here? I decided to be grateful for what was there. After hearing what they had come from, this was like living in a mansion for them. A year before I arrived they did not have a bathroom or running water, they built a fire to cook on and used the community bathroom down the street.I felt sorry for myself at first, and couldn’t sleep very well. I tossed and turned and hoped the three days would pass quickly. It was then that I realized I was missing the whole experience of being in the home of my dear friend in a faraway land, and how hard she worked to make my stay comfortable.
Gloria received a text and handed it to me and said: “what does this mean?” It said;”Are you present to how you are not present in this moment?” I asked her who it was from and she did not know. I told her it was a message for me and thanked her for relaying it. They don’t have fortune cookies in China but God certainly found a way to share with me a message I needed to hear. I became present to each moment and grateful for every little thing. I still cried a few nights as we went on to visit other homes. But, I became acutely aware of the good things, like a can of almond milk, a sweet breakfast bread, a bowl of porridge that seemed familiar, or a western toilet. It truly is gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind. Dieter Uchtdorf said :” When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. We sometimes think being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?”
If we express gratitude in all things we become present to every circumstance we are in. We look for the joy in the storms and for the life we are living not the life we might have.Take in the good and the bad, let it be a part of our life, and don’t wish each day away. A good friend of mine who was a Dr. passed away about 6 years ago. His voice mail said “have a great day because it might be the only one you have.” I want to live that way. Be grateful in all things.