For the past couple of years, throughout the month of November, I have taken a Gratitude Challenge. Sometimes, the gratitude challenge is on Facebook, by posting things you are grateful for over the span of one week, other times, I have written posts here on the blog, and other times, I have posted photos with captions on Instagram sharing the many things I am grateful for in my life. I think I am better at expressing myself through my words, so I was always a little bit critical of my photography skills.
November is the perfect time to do this for me, because I can reflect on the year’s blessings, challenges, and pivotal moments that have changed my life. Back home in New York, it truly is the month of Thanksgiving, as we even have a holiday to pause and take stock of everything we are grateful for.
In years past, I enjoyed challenging the guests at my Thanksgiving table to share what they are most grateful for while we are breaking bread together.
I’ve done this by asking them to share things simply, by prompting everyone seated at my table.
In other more elaborate ways, I have cut strips of paper and asked them to write their blessings on each strip of paper to create a chain of gratitude that I would later hang on my then mantle of my fireplace which warmed our dining room. I would leave this chain of blessings and gratitude hanging throughout the entire Christmas season, as a reminder that I was not only blessed with more than enough, but also reminding me that my family and friends were blessings to me as well.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege to be invited once again to the monthly gathering of B.I.G.
BUILD. INSPIRE. GIVE. is a group of ten women who have found that they can empower one another through the sharing of stories. Spanned across four generations, these women can share and embody the female experiences of daughters, wives, mothers, friends, and so much more. Led by Martha Uy, they invite a small group of women to get together monthly to look for inspiration in the mundane, and strength in the shared challenges.
Many times, they invite resource speakers to share their LIFE experiences according to the pre planned theme for the forum. During the month of February, Martha invited me to speak about the love of a mother for her child with special needs. This was a perfect oppportunity for me to share about Down Syndrome and not only create an awareness for kids and adults like Gellibean, but also use the opportunity to share my story and to let everyone know, that if they know a mom of a new baby with DS, that they are not alone. Because, sometimes, we just want to know that we are not alone.
Other times, like yesterday afternoon, it is the ten ladies behind B.I.G. who shared parts of their stories with the other women in attendance.
The theme was of course an ATTITUDE of GRATITUDE, and each of their talks shined a light on so many of the same things that I too, am grateful for.
I was a little bit late so I missed the first two talks, but I caught the last part of my friend Maricar’s story where she shared about her grandmother and the amazing woman that she is. Maricar’s grandmother was surely an important influence on her growing up, and just sitting around the table afterwards while chatting with the ladies and learning more about them, I was amazed at the wonderful ways her Lola was able to gather her family weekly, and keep them near.
I can only hope to be that same kind of Nana to my future grandchildren, if God chooses to bless me with them through my children.
I had some time to chat with Martha afterwards and asked her (even though I have asked her at least once before) about how the idea came to her to put this group of women together. Here are some thoughts she shared with me:
“Everyone has a story to tell. If you have something to give, it is your generosity in sharing your story, that some how it comes back to you, because you bless others with the wisdom of having gone through a particular experience.
But not everybody is willing to speak about their difficulties in life. Or their treasures. Or what it is that they have gone through. But when we are open to tell our story, we don’t know that our stories are able to touch someone else’s life who may have gone through the same thing.
More importantly, it is with the perspective of four generations of women that I have put together, that lends understandings which span each of the parts of our lives as women…
We can listen to the women’s experiences and find meaning in LIFE.
I always wait and think of something that would be different. I’m anti gossip. Gossip is different. It is different when you have become a richer or better person because of what you heard. Then you can find meaning in it and apply it to the life you lead every day.”
Martha reminds me, “God is so real. He’s not only the Big Guy Up Above, if you welcome him to your heart, he resides within you. In fact, it is Him, who inspires me to do what I do. It’s His way of allowing me to glorify Him in doing good for others. Because when you do good for others, when you reach out to others, you’re glorifying Him. ”
Wow. This was a moment for me. I know why I share my story here on the blog. Because in my small way, I want to hope that I can reach someone out there who many have needed to hear what I went through.
As a mother.
As a wife.
As a sister.
As a friend.
As a daughter.
As a woman who is trying to find meaning in her life as well.
I actually took notes because I wanted to be sure to share my reflections on what these wonderful women shared with me during this particular forum. This forum came at the perfect time, because my faith in some other people in my life is being challenged. I realized long ago, that the only thing I can change in this lifetime is myself. But even in knowing and learning this, and embracing this fact, it still doesn’t take the pain away when someone deliberately tries to hurt you.
Hurt hurts no matter what way you slice it, so remembering that I have so much more to be grateful for in this life is a small part to finding the key to my happiness. If I can separate myself from those hurtful people and the things that they have done, then I can remember that even in pain there is a chance to learn.
Marienne Pimentel posed the question:
WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?
I wrote this question down for myself, because I wanted to ponder it on my own. I wanted to discuss what I came up with, with my husband. I wanted him to think of his answer to this question as well. Even the question that Marienne poses, leaves me with more questions of my own:
CAN WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO BE CONTENT AND GRATEFUL FOR WHAT THEY HAVE ALREADY BEEN BLESSED WITH?
In a society where consumerism shapes so much of what our children see and hear, how can we teach them gratitude?
I have some ideas, and I written about them before, but this is a topic, that was good to revisit. It got me to thinking. And thinking is good when it’s productive like this.
Patty Olbes shared how she faces many of the challenges that arise in her life with a simple phrase.
ROSES & THORNS.
In every situation that she finds herself in, she realizes that there are roses and thorns. The thorns represent the not so pleasant side of our lives. The challenges. The discoveries and circumstances that may lead us to ask WHY?
But she cites a simple way to find the beauty in both life and challenges in a way that we can ALL understand here in Manila.
Instead of lamenting about the time she wastes in traffic every day going to work, she takes advantage of the time she spends in the car by catching up with friends and family near and far. She makes great use of her UNLI phone plan and enjoys the time that she has to reconnect with people dear to her.
If that weren’t enough, to be grateful for, she also knows that at the end of her car ride into work, she will begin her day helping those who need it most in the marginalized communities here in Manila.
This is where her thorny ride in traffic, leads her to the beauty in the rose that is her work.
The last speaker of the afternoon was Martha Uy.
I shared with Martha when we were chatting one on one, just how inspired I leave her place when she hosts these forums. I am not sure exactly why everyone’s stories touch me so deeply, but I would be led to believe that somehow it’s just meant to be this way.
Maybe I am ready to hear what the speakers have to share.
Maybe God somehow knows that it’s what I need to tackle the challenges I have ahead of me.
Maybe it’s just the idea that I’m not alone in my trials as a mother and a wife.
No matter what the reason is, I also know, I had to share my thoughts on this wonderful gathering with all of you. Sometimes, we just need a little reminder how to to return to our center, and how to get back to yourself.
My biggest take away from Martha’s talk?
THE MAIN INGREDIENT OF GRATITUDE IS HUMILITY.
I have always considered myself a humble person. But in the challenges of my life that have been presented to me this year, I have found that humility doesn’t come as easy as I once thought. Part of that has to do with my pride. And in thinking about my pride, I recall my ninth grade honors English teacher, Mrs. Suchy.
One of our assigned books to read that year was The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst.
Ah. This quote. For those of you not familiar with The Scarlet Ibis, there are two main characters. Brother and his baby brother Doodle. The novel is about how Brother accepts (or doesn’t accept) his younger brother’s disability. He experiences the pride and shame in having a disabled brother and through his pride teaches Doodle many things that the doctors did not believe Doodle would be capable of. It was his own pride that guided him to push Doodle to achieve more.
This is a good thing.
But the story ends, when Brother pushes his brother too hard. Doodle loses his life and cannot keep up with the physical demands that Brother puts on him. Brother realizes that his pride had destroyed his Doodle’s chance at life.
The reminder for me is in the duality of my pride.
Pride is wonderful when it pushes us to do more and better ourselves.
Pride is terrible when it causes us to lose sight of the bigger picture.
And the bigger picture in all of this?
The idea that we can live a grateful life. A full life. If we just take time to be thankful for all that we have and all of those people whom we love.