I’m excited to introduce you to my friend, Marabeth Quin. I wanted you to hear her thoughts on living gratefully because I’ve personally witnessed a profound change in her life over the last several years. On the journey you’ll read about below, most of us would waver. Many of us would crumble and retreat. Witnessing their response firsthand, I can tell you that little else has inspired me more than watching Marabeth, her family, and most especially, her amazing daughter, Sophie. To read more about Sophie’s story, please visit sophieshines.com. And you must do yourself the favor of visiting www.marabethquin.com to enjoy her paintings.
I used to think gratitude was about certain words we said, or saying ‘thank you’. But today I think of it more like a lens—a way of seeing your life. And like glasses, you can wear it or not; you can take it off and on all day long. Blurry, clear, blurry, clear. The question is, ‘Do you want to see accurately?’
My life is currently in a state that some would find hard to believe I can feel genuine gratitude about. My previously robust and healthy 18 year old daughter had a massive stroke eight months ago that left her paralyzed on one side of her body. It also knocked out the language center of her brain, leaving her unable to read, write or talk. Ironically, she was studying at the time to be, of all things, a writer. Now, she spends her days working incredibly hard to relearn her ABC’s and the names of friends and family, to walk and attempt to negotiate life with the use of only one hand.
Before the day our lives changed, I’d been on a four year journey of practicing the art of gratitude. When my first child was preparing to leave for college in 2008, I understood that I might be swept into emptiness or grief.
So I reached for something else.
To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over; just be happy it ever happened at all.” When I found that thought, it took any sadness I had about my son leaving home, and filled me instead with a sense of awe and amazement that I’d been given the role of mother in the life of a creature as wonderful as him. I felt so chosen, so blessed, so loved and fortunate beyond measure.
The change was so sudden and dramatic, it got my attention and begged me to ponder. If I could be feeling sad about something, and then simply think about it from another angle and feel joy, what did that mean about my thoughts? Could I choose faith instead of fear – joy instead of sadness? Was my experience up to me? And so, it began.
I became extremely picky about what I was thinking.
I practiced paying attention to what I thought on a minute-to-minute basis.
I listened to what others said about the power of our thoughts. I tested it, swam in it, ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If a thought left me feeling uneasy in any way, I literally refused to dwell on it.
I quit watching the news.
I listened to what came out of my mouth and tried to not voice any complaints.
I cared more about what I was thinking than I did about what I was seeing.
For four years, I worked harder at this than I ever had at anything in my life. And I couldn’t help but notice I was becoming increasingly more stable, peaceful, happy and clear. So when this happened with Sophie, I couldn’t have been more armed for the situation.
I immediately sensed the danger before me—upon hearing that my beautiful, healthy daughter had just had what amounted to an electrical storm in her head that left her body ravaged. My thoughts were barreling in one direction—“Oh my god, will she die? What is her life going to be like now? What does this mean? Why did this happen?”
Not even a minute passed when the resulting feeling of all these thoughts set in. My reaction was akin to an experienced adventurer suddenly aware that what lay ahead in the darkness was a nearly bottomless abyss. And if the present course were kept, all would truly be lost. So with the practiced experience I had garnered over four years, I simply changed my course of thought to all my practiced thoughts, and suddenly they started coming —
She is alive.
She is strong, and we are equipped.
This will be an amazing adventure.
Life doesn’t happen to us, but for us.
All is well and everything is good.
From that moment forward, my course was set. This journey with her has been the most defining experience of my life so far. I’ve experienced something that, by most peoples’ standards, would be characterized as traumatizing, but it hasn’t been experienced that way. My experience is no longer determined by what happens to me, but by what is happening within me.
Through a lens of gratitude, I watch as Sophie constantly improves, defying the odds. I was there when she spoke her first words – when she took her first steps as a baby. And day by day, I get to witness that again as she conquers the biggest challenge of her young life… as she writes her story. The gratitude that found me when my first child left home has now allowed me to see him return. I watch him walk slowly beside her, holding her hand, steadying her, laughing with her; all of this, just for me. I can know this, because above all else, gratitude is the realization that everything is a gift.