We’ve had some major changes to our lives this year, which we’ve been reluctant to share with the interwebz. In part, because they were embarrassing, in part because we didn’t want to air dirty laundry, and in part because, … well, we weren’t very grateful.
For quite some time our breadwinner was not receiving a living wage at his place of business. He was a partner in a small town law firm and worked days, nights (sometimes through the night), and every weekend. As a partner he was no longer on salary, but profit-shared at the end of the month. Sadly, the economy tanked, profits dried up, and the firm was ill-prepared for the drought. His partners outvoted him and continued to spend like happy days were here to stay, with no budget, no plan, and no interest in cutting spending. This meant our family suffered. Our breadwinner took on not one, but two additional jobs to make ends meet… so we could keep the lights on, buy the groceries, etc. The children and I bartered for services we wanted that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. We kept thinking this was a temporary thing: a bad month or two, but it turned into a very bad 18 months, with little heat in the winter and meager rations. Our marriage took a toll, we blamed each other, and failed to see our own roles in things. And we failed to be grateful.
While visiting family over Christmas break, a job offer came in from another state, we had to sell our beautiful home at a loss, leave our friends and parish, and my parents suffered some very serious health issues (my mother has leiomyosarcoma, a non-curable cancer, from which she became very ill, and my dad had a serious bicycle accident, which landed him in the hospital with a broken pelvis and separated AC in his shoulder). Everything happened so fast. His new job wanted him to start right after returning from our trip. We didn’t have time to properly say goodbye or even return home together. Our family was in crisis, financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And we had to do what we had to do to keep our family together and afloat. And I cried. A lot. I felt so much loss all at once and I still couldn’t figure out how to stop. Or how to be grateful.
The fall-out from that decision was huge. Matthew’s partners are understandably very upset about him leaving. It happened suddenly. They weren’t prepared for it. They took it personally. They had planned to retire in 5-10 years and expected Matthew to buy them out. Despite his warnings that he wasn’t able to pay our mortgage, they were apparently oblivious to what we were going through… and continued to spend… a lot. Now, by their own estimations, they owe Matthew $70,000, but are punishing him by not paying him what they admit that they owe him. By our estimations, they actually owe him more than that, but we’re not going to get into the details here. We need to stay focused: gratitude.
This business ended up with our family being separated for three months, our hero had to drive our one and only car to the new state, rent a room from a stranger, and start his new job. I had to drive myself and three children cross-country (through the mountains, in the winter time, in an older, relatively unreliable car), pack up our beloved house and sell it, sell off a lot of our furniture, take care of major car repairs, and arrange a cross-country move with simultaneously caring for our three, special-needs children and two dogs all by myself. Clearly, this was a path we felt we had to take–we weren’t doing this for fun.
So, gratitude. Eucharisteo. My sister gave me a book for Christmas called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It changed my life. At first I couldn’t stop crying (or even get out of bed), but there was a moment when things started to change. I was driving my mom home from radiation. She was vomiting in the car next to me. I was dying inside and fighting the tears. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. It was the kind of sadness that gives you a lump in your throat, empty-rock-filled belly, and heat in your cheeks and nose. The tears welled. I inhaled hard to keep them from flowing. So I could see. So I could drive. It was a foggy day in the NW. I’ve always loved the pine trees, especially on a foggy day. I took a leap and thanked God for the pine trees. A weight lifted. I could breathe again. Then I thanked God for the fog. More air. My burden lifted a little more. I thanked God for my mom and that there was a treatment they could give her for her pain. More relief. And I realized that my gratitude was changing everything. It was the antidote for my suffering. It was the antidote for fear, anger, stress, sadness… everything. Gratitude could keep the tears at bay and help me to breathe again. Gratitude got me through that time of transition. It helped me keep going when I felt I couldn’t go a step further. God helped me through it… one mile at a time… one revolution of my tire at a time. Eventually, I came to understand that in my sufferings, there is always something for which I can be grateful. And eventually, I came to learn that my sufferings themselves were gifts. God was pruning me for something better. He was stripping away many things I loved because He saw how sad we were and wanted to give us something better. I was like an out-of-sorts child throwing a tantrum when it was time to leave the playground. God was my parent, offering me food, rest, and something even better to do afterward. I was so utterly ungrateful.
This new town has been a place of rest and recovery for us. We feel we have been called here to rest and recover from our ordeal… and that He has better things in store for us here. Our children are receiving much-needed services from specialist doctors we didn’t have available to us before. We have enough. We are smiling again. And we recognize that all our sufferings were all for our benefit. It is as it was meant to be. Nothing is a loss.
Our initial sufferings taught us to persevere, to do without, and to advocate for ourselves. The losses gave us the gift of detachment and childlike trust in God (we had no other choice–things were so out of our control and we couldn’t see beyond the bends in the road). This gift is the one I’m most grateful for. It’s become a welcome friend. Our months-long separation solidified our marriage and reaffirmed that we’re better off together than apart. We’re a good team and we love each other very much. But the best gift of all has been the gift of gratitude. We are so, so grateful! We’re grateful for the speedy sale of our house, the good new buyers who love it like we do, that our family is all together again, that we have such great friends we’ll forever cherish, and for our new friends we’re just meeting, for friends we’ve been reunited with here, for good parishes all over the place, for good landlords who share our Faith (and not having to do home improvement projects), for our families and their support and unconditional love for us, for the former partners who gave him his first start and showed him the ropes, for trees with dappled sunlight outside our windows, for walking trails and close-by playgrounds, for good doctors, for health insurance, for a regular paycheck, and so many other gifts too countless to mention. For second cars and second chances. For a blog to chronicle our new-found gratitude. For our struggles that chip off our rough edges and help us grow in holiness. And most of all, for God and His overpowering, overwhelming love for us. Now I find myself tearing up when I think about how much He loves us and just how very, very good He’s been to us. Gratitude preceded the miracle. We are so, so blessed indeed.