When you’re thankful through all seasons

Let’s be perfectly honest—sometimes life is just plain rough, and it’s challenging to find reasons to be thankful. At times, it feels like you’re either sinking in quicksand or going through a never-ending storm that doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. Your heart hurts, your brain hurts, and all of the emotions are making your body actually physically hurt.

You might often hear people talk about the different seasons of life—seasons of change, seasons of joy, seasons of pain, seasons of sorrow, seasons of financial troubles, seasons of success, seasons of being alone. So.many.seasons. But what about those perpetual seasons that don’t seem to want to change from one to the next?

Pretending that fall is actually here

I’m a pretty joyous person, and I try to help others to have fun in most situations, but I also know what it’s like to have a heavy heart and feel like no one truly understands the pain you’re going through. It’s sometimes difficult to focus on the reasons you have to be thankful because you’re consumed by the reasons you have to struggle. While I think it’s important to acknowledge the bad things in your life and to feel the emotions resulting from them (I’m actually still learning how to do this), I also think it’s healthy to find bits of gratitude, especially when you’re going through the darker points in life.

Years ago, I started wearing pink on Wednesdays. Sure, it was originally inspired by Mean Girls, but I later learned that pink is the color of gratitude, and now I treat that day as my weekly day of thanks. Three of my dear friends in California and I email our reasons to be grateful every Wednesday, and it’s a tradition I’ve come to love. No matter what messes we’re facing, we each find a list of things for which we’re thankful and share our bits of joy with one another.

Lately, just in my own life to myself, I’ve been trying to find those gratitude tidbits more and more on a daily basis. I’ve been in one of those tough seasons recently (or, more accurately, one that just hasn’t ever ended), and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to throw a pity party for and with only myself. But when I push those thoughts away and then, instead, focus them on the reasons I have to be grateful, my heart’s emotions shift, and the desire to feel sorry for myself disappears. Rather than thinking about what I wish were different, I think about what’s so wonderful as it is.

And joy takes over.

Thankful that I got to spend some time with my forever friend over the weekend

In the Bible, Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances, not just the good ones. No matter what you believe, I think this is a wise way to live. It’s definitely not always easy, but it’s good. There are challenging situations that many of us haven’t ever been through, and it’s always easier to say something than actually to do it, but I truly believe that you can always find a reason to be grateful, no matter what you’re facing.

Last week, I absentmindedly left my classroom in a hurry during my conference period so that I could go to the bathroom and get back before the bell rang. In doing so, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to see my finger get caught in part of this strange rolling contraption thing on the door latch (a horrible description, obviously), but I sure felt it. For the first few seconds after it happened, I couldn’t look down—I was sure that the top part of my finger wasn’t there anymore. When I finally got the courage to let my eyes stray that way, I saw plenty of blood and a finger that was somehow still intact.

I have an extremely high pain tolerance—I once went almost an entire day with a 9-millimeter kidney stone (most of them are 3 or 4 millimeters) traveling through my body before I went to the ER. In this moment, though, I wanted to let myself cry. I didn’t, but I really wanted to. My whole hand was shaking, and I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. As I’m writing this, it makes me sound pretty wimpy, but I feel like I could quote Monica in this case: “You can’t say that! You don’t know! I mean, I thought I was going to pass out from the pain.” I actually also thought that I was going to have to get my finger amputated (I’m clearly not one to dramatize a situation), but thankfully no one had to pee on me to get rid of the pain.

I wrapped a paper towel around my finger to try to stop the blood, but I’m not sure that I should have been squeezing something that had just been smashed as hard as it was. At that point, I only had like three minutes until the bell, so I just walked with my wrapped-up finger back to the classroom, purposely avoiding eye contact with the door that had just tried to kill a piece of me.

It’s my pointer finger. I’m not making a rude gesture.

I had a bunch of students entering into my classroom who were relying on me to be there for them, and I didn’t have time to focus on the pain and the fact that I still haven’t learned to slow down in life. Instead, I decided I was going to be grateful that I still had my finger. And you know what? I put a Spiderman Band-Aid on that mess, and everything was fine. Sure, I didn’t sleep that night because my finger was throbbing, and the nurse told me the next day that I needed to go to the doctor to have them drill a small hole in my finger to drain the hematoma that had become my new worst enemy (I never made time to go—oops), but I was grateful, and I’m convinced that it helped to minimize the pain.

Yes, I realize that a finger that survived getting caught in a door contraption that I still can’t accurately describe well is rather minimal compared to many much more difficult situations that people face on a daily basis, but comparisons often minimize more than they should, including how we view ourselves. Regardless of how big or small our troubles are, though, I still believe that there are always bits of gratitude that we can find to help us make it through the rain (sing it, Mariah, my ultimate soul sista).

The broken hearts try to break every piece of us. The dark times try to steal every ounce of our joy. The setbacks try to keep us from rising back up. The illnesses try to tell us that there’s no hope. The losses try to convince us that there are no wins in sight. The mistakes try to keep us from believing in grace. And so many more tough situations try to stop us from being thankful.

The key word is try—we don’t have to let those things win.

We don’t all live in an episode of Full House in which all of our problems will be resolved in less than 30 minutes when the “this is a valuable life lesson” music starts to play. Our situations won’t always pan out as we hope, but even in the midst of the worst storm you’ve ever been in—even when the torrential rain gets more powerful and daunting by the second—your heart can still find reasons to smile.

My precious JoJo (aka Jayna)

When I was in the hospital for five days or whatever it was for one of my many stays (thanks, kidneys), I remember being hooked up to IVs and on so many hardcore pain meds that still didn’t get rid of all of my pain but probably made me send some questionable text messages to people and feeling absolutely miserable—not just physically but also emotionally. But then my sweet friend Jayna showed up with a box of Wheat Thins, a coloring book, and a pink phone charger, and my whole outlook on everything changed. In that moment, I was thankful for her genuine heart and the thoughtfulness of her gifts that only a true friend would know that I would appreciate dearly. Sitting there with hair that I hadn’t washed in about nine days, morphine and dilaudid pumping through my veins, and a body that couldn’t even move half of an inch without excruciating pain, I sat in thankfulness.

I hope that you’re able to find reasons for gratitude when it seems like you can’t. If nothing else, it might help you get through those difficult times, even if in a very small way.

And give you a new reason to wear pink on Wednesdays.

When you worry about situations that don’t even exist

Things aren’t necessarily always as bad as you think they will be.

But that doesn’t stop us from letting our imaginations get the best of us.

I think it’s easy sometimes to create worst-case scenarios in our minds that don’t actually exist, and we end up dealing with unnecessary anxiety. There’s an episode of Modern Family that depicts this pretty perfectly when Claire freaks out about Haley’s whereabouts and what possibly could have happened within the last 24 hours. She spirals down a crazed worry path, but it turns out that Haley was upstairs in her room the entire time, and all of Claire’s panicking was for naught.

I’ve definitely been guilty of that more than once in my life, and I let those anxious thoughts get the best of me recently.

If you’re worried about being on a trip without your purse, get yourself a pink fanny pack from the nearest Walmart. It’s less than $8 and is a total game changer.

Last week was rough for a number of reasons, mainly because of the whole kidney stone thing. I’ve been feeling like a train wreck since then because something still isn’t right (don’t worry—I’m going to the urologist this week), and I didn’t do a great job of making sure that I got enough rest. I made the perhaps unwise decision to play in my flag football game on Saturday morning, and when I was getting closer to the beach, I noticed a strange sound coming from my car’s front right tire. I started worrying that my car was falling completely apart and that I was going to have to get an entirely new car ASAP if I wanted to be able to drive anywhere. But I really don’t want a car payment right now, so this wasn’t going to be good at all.

I parked on one of the streets near the beach and got out of my car to inspect the damage. All I saw was some circular silver thing stuck in my tire, and I wasn’t able to pull it out, no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t have time to deal with it at the moment because I needed to get to my game, but during my walk over to the beach field, I started thinking about how I was going to return to a flat tire, and I didn’t know how to change a flat. I didn’t want to have to call anyone to help me, so I then started worrying about trying to figure it out on my own and putting it on the wrong way.

By the time I got back to my car, the tire was still intact, and I drove to the nearest America’s Tire (I have a lifetime warranty with Discount Tire, and America’s Tire is the same thing as Discount out here), but it had closed at noon that day. I called two more America’s Tire stores, but it turns out they all closed at noon for some company event ON THE ONE DAY THAT I NEEDED THEM TO HAVE THEIR NORMAL HOURS.

As I drove to the nearest auto place that Google Maps had found for me, I started panicking about how much it was going to cost to fix it or get a brand new tire all because freaking America’s Tire had to have a company event. (I honestly hope that all of the employees had a great time—I used to love it when my company in Dallas would close early to have some fun as a company family.)

I sat inside and watched college football on my phone (don’t ask me why the store had a throwback NBA game on its TV, instead) and had a convo with God to try to get rid of my worrying. It wasn’t too long later that the guy who had been working on my tire came in with the keys and gave them to the guy behind the counter, who turned to me and said that I was all set. It was a bolt that had been in my tire, and homeboy had removed it and then patched up the hole. I braced myself as I asked him how much it was, and he said four words that made my heart soar: “Don’t worry about it.”

He didn’t realize it, but he was speaking to me about so much more than the tire.

All of that worrying and stressing ended up being a waste of energy that I really didn’t have in the first place. I feel like I should know by now that going down the worry path is a horrible idea and usually leads me in the wrong direction. What’s the point in stressing so much about situations that don’t even exist and may never be actualities?

I’m really thankful for people like Amanda who remind me what it means to be a good friend and go through tough times together. (P.S. IT’S HER WEDDING WEEK!!!!)

I have a lot of unknowns ahead in my life right now, and at least one has been causing me more anxiety than it should. Here’s the truth, though: I can handle anything that comes my way, because I know that I’m never alone, and God has never once turned away from me—and He won’t start now. No, that doesn’t mean that everything will always work out in my favor, but it does mean that I can endure the trials and trust Him through them all.

Life is going to throw challenges at us, and there will be times when it leaves us feeling anxious about what may or may not happen. There are questions constantly filling our minds: How much is this going to cost? What if I can’t afford this? What if I’m single forever? What if the dreams in my heart don’t come true? What am I going to do if this happens? What am I going to do if this doesn’t happen?

You can “what if?” until you’re blue in the face, and you can sweat over your mind’s inquiries until you wear yourself out completely. But, rather than spending all of your energy worrying about things that aren’t realities and may never be, why not use it to enjoy where you are, trust that what needs to happen will happen, and love the people in your life in this very moment?

Because one bolt in your tire can’t destroy the entire car.

Multiple hospital trips and realizing “normal” doesn’t really exist

I never thought I’d find myself as part of the mall walkers crowd on a Sunday morning, but I also never thought I’d be making three trips to the hospital in less than a week.

So I guess life doesn’t always pan out like we thought it would.

I’ve been having kidney pain since a little before Thanksgiving, so I had surgery more than a week ago that was supposed to fix everything. When I woke up from anesthesia, I asked the nurses where my Wheat Thins were and when we were going to the bowling alley, so I assumed everything had gone well.

But Sunday morning, I woke up with a pain I don’t even know how to describe. I called my parents, and before long they were at my apartment to drive me to the ER. I was admitted to the hospital and stayed there until Monday. They sent me home Monday morning, but that exact same pain was back that evening. I really thought I was going to die.

I called my friend Michelle, and she hauled tail to pick me up and take me back to the ER, and it wasn’t long before my sister and brother were there, as well. The time in the ER waiting room felt like an eternity, and the pain just kept getting worse. I think at one point I tried to collapse to the ground, but my sister wouldn’t let me because of sanitation concerns she had.

I guess someone has to pay attention to that kind of stuff.

I was finally taken back to an ER room and hooked up to IVs that pumped some morphine and I think other stuff in me. I got a CT scan, and Dr. Kevin (whom I credited with saving my life and my kidney) discovered I had a kidney infection. Dr. Kristen (I’m pretty sure that’s her name—I can’t say everything from that night is crystal clear) said it could have come as a result of the surgery or could have been there prior to it, contributing to the pain I’ve been having for months.

I was admitted to the hospital (again), and my sweet sister stayed with me until almost 2 in the morning when I finally got up to the room. She is pretty freaking incredible—she had to administer standardized testing that day, operating on very little sleep.

For this go-round, I was in the hospital until late Wednesday with antibiotics and pain meds going through my veins. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, and I would never wish that kind of pain on anyone—and I really mean that.

As I stayed there in that bed, I was reminded of how much we need people in life. First of all, nurses are a different breed of human. I honestly think you have to have a very special heart and personality to be a nurse. They’re so kind and comforting and have to deal with so many different types of people who are suffering from a variety of things. Yet they handle it all with such grace and encouragement.

And I needed my family. I don’t think there was a day that went by that I didn’t have one of them with me for at least a little portion of the day. My parents took of work on different days, and one night my mom even slept on one of those horribly uncomfortable hospital chairs.

I think I took this to send to my friend Bonnie at some point.

And I needed my friends. Whether they were stopping by in the hospital to visit me and bring me necessities (Bonnie with a stuffed dog I named Buddy and Jayna with Wheat Thins, a coloring book and crayons, water, and a pink phone charger) or texting me to check on me, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed in a good way by all of their prayers and well wishes.

But I also realized that life won’t always be the “normal” we want it to be. I had planned on missing two days of work for the surgery. I ended up missing almost seven. Nothing about my life during that stretch of time in and out of the hospital felt normal. My stomach was super inflated from the surgery and then all of the IV fluids, and I even had a minor panic attack when the nurse told me I had to get a shot in my stomach to help prevent blood clots while I was lying in a bed for so long, and I told her that if she stuck a needle in me that my stomach would pop like a balloon. It turned out to be a bit irrational—she gave me the shot, and nothing exploded.

I blame the drugs.

The truth is, though, that the whole normal thing I’m seeking doesn’t always exist. I know life isn’t perfect, and we have to face trials we don’t want to go through. But, for some weird reason, we need them—they help make us who we are. Sure, they may look a lot different than what other people face, but we can’t all have the same things. I’ve been learning that more and more as I see most of my friends find love and happiness, and I have to remind myself that their stories are not my story. Just like my kidneys are not like their kidneys, my fairy tale (if it exists) is different from theirs, too.

Mall walking is obviously very intense.

With each day, the kidney pain is starting to lessen, and I do look forward to feeling more normal in that regard. But I also understand that I have to be a little more cautious because it’s prone to kidney stones and now apparently infections. I can’t run for a little while more, and it was pouring rain Sunday morning, which is why I went to the mall to walk for some exercise along with some guy named Larry and a bunch of others who seemed to be regulars there. It wasn’t quite the norm for me, but it was alright for a one-time bit of a change of pace and scenery. And I’m also OK with the rest of my life not being the definition of normal I would have defined it as years ago.

I don’t think normal ever really fit me well, anyway.