Have you ever had one of those “bedroom moments”? You are getting ready for the day, the radio is on and a story is so intriguing that, although you are ready to go downstairs to leave for the day, you just have to finish the story?
Last Saturday, I had one as I was listening to NPR’s Only a Game . The story was about Scott Hamilton, the skater. He has an unbelievable life story. One of loss, health scares, survival and success. He was a sickly kid, failing to grow which confounded the doctors as to the cause. He lived his early life in and out of various hospitals. No diagnosis and no effective cure. Eventually the doctors told him to go home and be a normal kid.
It was skating that seemed to help- he found his niche and his self-confidence and finally started to gain weight and grow. His mom sacrificed to provide the resources so that he could continue to skate. Skate he did- winning four consecutive world championships and an Olympic gold medal in 1984.
But at the age of eighteen he lost his mother to cancer. Twenty years after that, he himself was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Then later in his fifties, he was diagnosed with craniopharyngyioma- “brain tumors a child is born with that usually show themselves due to a lack of growth and development." As he says, that finally explained his whole childhood.
While there are many different life lessons in his story, what I find so encouraging are his thoughts about his diagnosis. He is grateful that the doctors didn’t discover the tumor when he was little. If they had, he knows that his life would not have turned out as it did.
"Now I look in the mirror and see all the scars from all the different injuries and surgeries and all the other things, and I look at them differently than I thought I would," Scott says. "Normally, you look at scars as, like, disfigurements. And I look like at them as, you know, sort of badges of honor. It's, like, that skin is tougher than it’s ever been. And it will never be hurt the same way it was before."
What an encouragement to hear how someone overcame adverse conditions to survive. He not only has he survived but thrived. He and his wife continually give back to the community in so many ways and he appears to be a man who has found peace, love and joy.
Of course, he has connections that you or I do not. But it is not so much his connections as it is his attitude and we all have access to controlling our attitudes. He could’ve decided that “Life has given me a lot of hard knocks. I have overcome them and I have worked very hard to achieve all that I have. I do not owe a thing to anybody. I am entitled to live however I see fit.” If he thought those thoughts, he pushed through them. He chose to see the bigger picture of his life and in turn was/is able to see that life is more than just about him.
I think of my friend Becky, who has also had an incredible life journey. A journey of “death, divorce and disease.” She could easily say that she has had more than her fair share of disappointment with the way that life has played out for her. Yet, through it all or despite it all, she has given back to so many through her words of encouragement.
“In everything give thanks,” the apostle Paul writes. (1 Thessalonians 5: 18) It does seem to be a strange suggestion. How in the world can one give thanks in the midst of tragedy? Why in the world should one give thanks? Aren’t we entitled to be just a little miffed if things do not go according to plan? When I start feeling that way I need to stop asking, “why?” and rather ask myself “why not?” Why should I be excluded from difficulties? Why do I think I should? Why not me? Why not test my mettle and see if I can handle it?
And it doesn’t have to be the big, life changing issues for which we need to give thanks. I also see ingratitude with the day-to-day challenges of life. There is an old nursery rhyme that warns about paying attention to details. I also think it applies to how we live our lives: we can let our attitudes with the seemingly small annoyances of life overshadow our entire persona. It is the attitude of the interruption to our planned day that can lead to a loss of joy which in turn can lead to a loss of all that God has for us.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the rider was lost,
For want of a rider the battle was lost,
For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
When we pay attention to the “want of a nail” and practice gratitude even in small situations, we begin to develop a “muscle memory” of how to handle gratitude in larger situations. That remembrance can lift us out of self-pity and move us along on our journey.
When, and it generally takes me a little time to do so, I finally move out of self-pity and begin to give thanks, I find that I am more than just a Pollyanna. I am looking at the situation with a longer viewpoint. I can begin to see glimpses of why such and such happened. I even can see the longer viewpoint in the people around me. And I can give thanks to God for His sovereignty.
What about you? What things have you faced recently? Is there any way to see the blessing beyond the pain? Too soon in the process to do so? What about past situations? Can you apply the “want of a nail” to the situation and its outcome?
At the end of the day, I would hope that I am recognized for being faithful in gratitude for both small and large matters.