This is last post of the guest blog series on Resilience by Nancy McCranie. This series looks at resilience and explores self-care practices you can use.
Be grateful for your life, every detail of it, and your face will come to shine like the sun, and everyone who sees it will be made calm and peaceful. ~Rumi~
In sixty-five years, Wanda has seen more than her share of heartache. She had her first two children when she was a teenager, quitting school so she could take care of them. Later, two more children came along and Wanda worked even harder to make sure they always had enough to eat; a well-rounded education; and a secure, loving home. About 18 years ago, Wanda was diagnosed with lung cancer, had a lung removed, and was admitted to hospice care in the small Arkansas town where she lived. But after about a year, she got better. She was discharged from hospice and moved with her family to Central Texas. One of her sons built her a little house out of cinder blocks, doing all the electrical work himself. She furnished it with odds and ends from local thrift stores and garage sales. And then a few years ago her house burned to the ground. She lost everything. Her son bought some more cinder blocks and they re-built and re-furnished.
Whenever I call Wanda to say hello or to see how she’s doing she is unfailingly upbeat and kind. “Hello there, ladybug”, she likes to say, “how are you today, you sweet thing?” I’ve rarely ever heard her complain about anything or anyone. She’s always busy making something (food, Christmas ornaments, curtains, clothes) or trying something new (belly dancing!) or getting ready to go somewhere in her reliable little pickup truck. Not just into town, but honest to goodness road trips to places like Tennessee and Missouri and Arkansas. And she can grow practically anything.
One day Wanda was at our house and I was bemoaning the very sad state of our back yard. “Just look at it, Wanda,” I groaned, “nothing will grow under all these cedar trees in this sandy soil except scraggly old weeds. It looks terrible. What I should do?!?” Raising both arms out to her sides she took a deep breath and smiled, “Just say, thank you, Lord Jesus, thank you.” It wasn’t exactly the horticultural expertise I was looking for, but I definitely got the point.
“You have a home, a yard, and trees for shade; you have a comfortable place to sleep and plenty to eat. You have people who love you and children who are healthy. You have a job and friends. Be thankful for it all, even the scraggly weeds and the sandy soil. No matter what, give thanks, and you will discover that your life is overflowing with all kinds of goodness you may have been too busy to notice.”
Seven years ago, just before Thanksgiving, Wanda’s oldest daughter was killed in a car accident. Needless to say, this was a shocking and devastating loss. Privately, I wondered if Wanda would ever recover. Several weeks after the accident I took her a hand-knitted prayer shawl and gently put it around her shoulders. “So, you will feel enfolded in the love of your friends,” I said.
“Oh, ladybug,” she said through her tears,” I have so much to be thankful for. I had my beautiful daughter for 50 years and I will never stop missing her. But I can’t stop living. After all, I have three other dear children and seven precious grandchildren and wonderful friends like you. I am so blessed.”
Wanda reminds me that Thanksgiving isn’t just a day. It isn’t even just a season. It’s a way of looking at the world, a way of looking at your life. It may be the most powerful tool for cultivating resilience we have. Even in the face of the unimaginable. Whenever the burdens of life begin to overshadow its blessings, I hit the re-set button by returning to gratitude. It always helps me find my way back to center.
To Practice: Every day for the next week try writing down five things you are thankful for in this moment. It can be as simple as a cup of coffee or your favorite pillow. It could be for a person or an event.
Feel free to start right now:
Visit our grief resources page for additional tools that may provide comfort through your grief journey.
Nancy McCranie is the author of our guest blog series on Resilience. She began working for Hospice Austin as a chaplain in 1996. Since 2009 she has served as the Director of Volunteer and Bereavement Services. Nancy is an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and holds an M.Div. Degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is Chair of the Clinical Pastoral Education Committee at The Seton Family of Hospitals, a member of Mission Presbytery, and Parish Associate for the First Presbyterian Church, Elgin, Texas. Nancy is married to Bill, an organic/bio-dynamic farmer & rancher who raises blueberries and beef. They have two sons, three dogs, two cats & a donkey.