Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Finding Hidden Blessings and Gratitude in Our Most Difficult Situations

On this the Eve of Thanksgiving, I am reflecting on my many blessings and feeling thankful for the lessons I have learned from my mom and dad. My dad, my living Ray of Hope, is a survivor, and he taught me by living example, how one can find the hidden blessings in difficult situations.

Growing up, I tried to run away from difficult situations; If I couldn't run away, I urged punitive actions and plotted my escape. As a teenager, I saw my brother make one bad choice after another. He verbally abused my parents, skirted the law and made me uncomfortable in our home. As a know-it-all-teenager, I pointed my finger at my brother and advised my parents to "Send him away." I told them, "He needs a military school. His behavior is intolerable."

When my parents ignored my advice, I sought refuge in my room, in my studies and in my goals. After high school graduation, I enrolled in college and felt lucky to escape from the daily rants, rages and excuses. The drama and trauma of living with a younger brother who marched to the tune of a different drummer was more than I wanted to deal with.

When my brother threw shoes at me in anger and was not challenged, I fled to the safety of my sorority house. I felt powerless and heartbroken as his tirades continued. I saw the frustration and exasperation in my mother's eyes and I left with a sense of relief and guilt. I could no longer witness the challenges he presented and after graduating from college, I headed for Germany where my sister and husband lived as part of the American military community.

Little did I know then, that I could not run far enough or fast enough to escape the lessons that were meant just for me. In the intervening years, I have learned that when I ran away and did not choose to learn the lesson at a given point in time, I was given more opportunities to master the lesson and given similar challenges to face. As the saying goes, "YOU CAN RUN, But YOU CAN NOT HIDE," until the lesson is mastered. I have also learned that challenges and failures are not the enemy and often our best teachers.

While I was not in CA to witness the events day to day, I did learn of the threats on my brother's life and did learn that my parents moved twice in quick succession in an attempt to protect him and get him away from bad influences. I shook my head in disbelief and was glad I was not facing the challenges at close range. At the age of 23, I thought I had escaped for good and I was convinced that I would never have any children of my own.

Meanwhile, my mom and dad remained steadfast in their devotion to our family. We lost my mother to cancer when she was only 55 and in my heart I sensed that she could bear no more. In her lifetime, she had shouldered more than her share of heartbreak and she did not know how to tap into resources outside of our family.

If my dad grew tired of the challenges of dealing with my younger brother and his various addictions, I never witnessed his despair. Instead, I saw a man and a father who consistently saw the best in any situation, in my brother, and in the people around him. My dad loved us all unconditionally and believed in looking for the blessings in difficult situations. Time after time, he encouraged us all to persevere, to learn from our mistakes and to try again. Through good times and difficult times, my father celebrated the blessings and lessons learned.

Slowly, I began to absorb the lessons I witnessed and decided not to run away anymore from my challenges. My direction and tune changed. I decided that I very much wanted to have children and when my husband and I faced multiple miscarriages, we decided that we would take deliberate action and adopt our children.

We lost my brother, Ray Jr., when he was in his early 30's, shortly after we adopted our first son, Greg. Greg was only a little boy when my brother gave him a prayer that still hangs in his room. On occasion, I stop to read the words of that prayer and I am reminded of the blessings that my brother brought to my life.

Despite his challenges, my brother, inherited my dad's generosity of spirit and is remembered with gratitude. He brought joy to the lives of the people he met and never knew a stranger. Within minutes, he would draw a crowd of those who wanted to hear his stories and adventures. As his sister, I did not always appreciate my brother's gifts, but my dad always did.

Today, I realize that my brother served me in many ways. The brother who made many mistakes while seeking to live life to the fullest, was loved unconditionally and in the process, I saw my father grow in stature. My dad's faith, hope and love were constant and as result, I was able to learn by example.

As a parent of three young adults with a variety of unique needs, I can truly appreciate the lessons I learned in watching my father and brother deal with learning, social, and addiction challenges. In my darkest hours and in the most difficult situations, I remember how my dad stood strong and was ever ready to support my brother, my sister and I. As I reflect, on his life, I am inspired to walk in his footsteps... to love my children unconditionally and to stand by them as they learn from their mistakes, and to believe in a Ray of Hope when the situation looks bleakest.

When I feel weary, I remember my mom and her early departure and take time for reflection and rejuvenation. I have learned to take time for myself so that I can tap into the reservoir of faith and have more to give to my family, my friends and community. In tough times, I reach out to my extended support my family, friends, teachers, school administrators and counselors. I believe, as Hillary Clinton said, "It takes a village to raise a child."

I remember my dad and am strengthened by my his humor and example. He found time to laugh, to enjoy the moment, to celebrate with us, to support us and to work through the problems we encountered individually and as a family. Today, being the adult daughter of a Ray of Hope, I believe that there are hidden blessings in our challenges and failures and I am filled with gratitude.

Who is part of your village and who can you turn to when your child presents a challenge that must be acknowledged and appreciated? Who serves as your Ray of Hope and how will you share your gratitude on this day of Thanksgiving?

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