(Most January’s I try to share an update on Ashley. This year I thought I would share how Ashley changed my life, and how she can inspire others to do the same. Here we go…)
I recently made the statement that gratitude is not about being happy when things are good, it’s about being happy when things are wrong. Later on I reconsidered. While this statement may be true (IMO), I think that what I was trying to explain wasn’t gratitude, it was grace.
Before I found grace my family friend kept telling me, “you need to find grace.” At that time I was so confused, I kept asking, “What IS grace?” When you don’t have it, it’s hard to wrap your head around.
We found out that our middle daughter, Ashley has severe special needs when she was 1 year old. I spent the next year worried out of my mind. Every second of every day I tried to picture her future, and I felt intensely afraid. I didn’t know how I would ever stop worrying. But I didn’t want Ashley to hear what people were saying about her. So I hid our fears, and instead I made her a positive affirmation which I hung on the fridge.
I cut a big heart out of red construction paper. On the heart I wrote, “I know you can talk. I know you can walk. I know you can feed yourself. I’m so proud of you. I love you.” Every day I carried her to the fridge, showed her the heart and read her the affirmation. I smiled into her eyes, hugged and kissed her.
It didn’t matter if those things would come true or not. I would love her no matter what. It just mattered that I admitted that I didn’t know the future, and that anything could happen. It mattered that Ashley knew I believed in her. I think what I was doing for Ashley had a lot to do with what happened to me.
When Ashley was two and a half years old the constant worrying wore me down, waaaaay down, and I just kind of snapped. I cried very much, and very hard, and finally, suddenly, I let go of everything that was worrying me. Not only that, but I had this overwhelming realization that everything I was worried about would be fine.
Let me be clear: there was NO sign that anything wrong in my life would be fine. THAT’S grace. Grace is when you believe things will be okay with all your heart, for zero reason whatsoever, and you find joy amidst the trouble all around.
I think this is what Martin Luther King meant about not seeing the whole staircase, just taking the first step. When you find grace you just do it. Whatever IT is. You aren’t afraid anymore because it doesn’t matter what the outcome is. You know that everything will be fine, no matter what.
I decided I would rather have nothing than be miserable for one more day. I decided that my special needs daughter would be okay, even if I stopped worrying about her. I decided to let go of anyone who wanted to bring me down, even if it was really hard. I chose happiness when there was nothing apparent to be happy about.
The tricky part is that you never know HOW things are going to work out. You just have to know that they WILL. And for me, that’s when the magic happened. My life changed big time when I got ridiculously happy for no reason, and broke up with worrying.
We got rid of everything: our house, our second car (the nice one), all of our furniture and processions. We moved across the country. We found a new and amazing life. We were blissfully happy with what little we had.
Sometimes things go wrong, but that’s okay. Sometimes when things go wrong something amazing happens, and sometimes not. But we’re still alive, and being alive is ALL you need to be grateful. When you’re grateful to be alive, everything else is just icing on the cake.
Smile to yourself when you wake up in the morning, and be grateful you’re alive. Take a breath and let it out. Relish in the fact that you have a warm cozy bed, a hot shower, and coffee on the way. Eat your meals slowly, focusing on the textures and flavors. Be thankful that you have food to eat and enjoy. Hug and kiss the people you love. Tell them you love them every day. Be amused by all the little things, don’t take them for granted. Let the joy of being alive fill you with bliss, and shower the people around you with the love and happiness you feel.
It’s hard taking care of my daughter with severe special needs, but that’s okay, because it means that I HAVE her. It’s hard keeping my house clean and meals made, but that’s okay because I HAVE a house and food. In one of our favorite children’s books it says, “You can be happy and sad at the same time. It just happens that way sometimes.” Life is hard, and it’s okay to acknowledge that, but if we’re acknowledging it then that means we’re still living it.
I’m so grateful for Ashley, that she’s alive, that she’s mine, that she reminds me constantly to live in the moment. Ashley shines her love everywhere she goes. She reminds me that love is all around us, no matter who we are, no matter how able we are, no matter what challenges we face.