“How much do you see?”, she asked tentatively. Her smile was sincere and her eyes kind. She had seen my white cane, noticed that I could not read the handout being passed around. I calmly explained the background of my degenerative eye disease and my limitations. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “But God has gotten me through it all, given me so many blessings. I’m grateful for that.”
As I walked away, I thought to myself that every word I said was true. And that was, quite simply, amazing.
If you had told me 23 years ago that I would be able to share my story with a smile and a grateful heart, I am not sure I would have believed you. In those days, the thought of going blind was almost unbearable. The hurdles seemed insurmountable, the grief so intense. Life without vision terrified me. All I could think about was slowing the disease process down or finding a cure.
Yet, life goes on. Heartbreaking things happen and you have to go on. Though you struggle, you have to keep trying. You cannot live life wishing the hard things away. You cannot live in the land of wishful thinking, focusing on what might have been. While regrets are a part of life, dwelling on them steals your joy. Life becomes a mere existence and your gaze is fixed on the past, a past you cannot change as much as you would like to.
We have to keep moving forward. We have to savor today, make it count and hope for tomorrow. There is always hope if we make room for it to live within us.
At a local nursing conference in 1990, I heard a speaker share his life story. He had been severely injured in a motorcycle accident that burned most of his body. He was a paraplegic, destined to spend the remainder of his life in a wheelchair. As he told his story of tragedy turned to triumph over his life-changing injury, he uttered a line I will never forget. “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it that makes the difference.”
I was 29 years old when I heard the speaker say those words. I remember thinking how powerful those words were. I was so moved by his positive attitude, his willingness to meet those challenging circumstances and triumph over them. Sitting there in that auditorium, I had no idea that 3 years later I would be dealing with my own tragedy.
I won’t pretend it was easy. I won’t deny their were some very hard days, some desperate moments of pain and loss. There were many. There still are.
Yet, even in my darkest days, I knew I wanted to live. I knew I wanted more from my life than a deep dive into the pit of self-pity. I could not spend my life awash in a sea of bitterness, resenting my lot in life. There was no one to blame. Stuff happens. Even if there was someone to blame, blaming does no good. It solves nothing. It changes nothing. It only leads to bitterness and that is a horrible place to live.
Everybody has something. Everybody suffers in some way, at some time. The real question, the thing that defines the course of your life, is what do you do about it?
Life is about choices. When faced with devastating circumstances, you get to choose. You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be miserable. Joy or despair, those are your options. Your circumstances do not necessarily change. You cannot always control the situations you find yourself in. Nevertheless, you can control your response to your circumstances.
Your choice makes all the difference. I have seen despair in others. I have known despair in my own journey. It is a desperate, lonely, painful place to be. It robs life of its beauty. Your world becomes small, dark, oppressive. It is a tragic way to live and I made a determined choice not to reside there.
I choose joy. Joy allows you to live beyond your circumstances. It does not mean everything is fixed, that all is perfect, that there is no trouble in paradise. Quite the contrary. Joy sees the losses, sees the hardships and consciously chooses to be happy, to live abundantly no matter what the circumstances are. Choosing joy requires you to accept where you are and what you must deal with. When you let go of the blaming and the resentments, you find you can see the light in your dark situation. You can focus on the positives and there are always positives. You make the best of it. You smile anyway. And, somewhere along the way, your heart catches up with your face and starts smiling too.
Joy is a little miracle available to us all. It is a choice. It is a conscious moment by moment decision to notice and enjoy the blessings of life all around you. It is so worth the effort it takes to get there.
We search for so many things in life. We search for love, for friendship, for success. We search for the next thing that will make us happy, the car, the sofa, the house. Though we search, these things leave us wanting, never quenching our thirst for more. Things will never satisfy us. Even our most cherished loved ones cannot fill the ache that is inside all of us, the void that only God can fill. Amidst all our searching, why do we so often stop searching for God? Why do we give up on Him so easily? Why do we choose a life of bitterness and despair when there is a far better way to live?
Life is about choices. Your choices define the kind of life you will have. Choose joy. It will make all the difference.