The midafternoon sun is devilishly misleading, for its bright rays beckon warmth when it is really the crisp autumn air that regulates the chill in the air and wafts with cinnamon and apple. The delicious smells spin in tendrils of steam from the crack of an opened kitchen window. But the window is not the only thing that is open in this house—the front door is wide and inviting as people stamp their boots on the welcome mat and hang their coats on the wall. The laughter mingles with the spicy aroma as they gather around the table. For a moment the scraping of chairs drowns out the greetings, but soon everyone is seated, the prayerhas been said, a cornucopia full of candy corns is being passed around. As each person drops a candy corn into the cornucopia, tears fall unchecked down their cheeks as an outward sign of the joyful heart that lies within. Gratitude for blessings is the common language of this Thanksgiving meal, and it leaves each person fuller than any turkey, stuffing, or pie.
Growing up, my parents always upheld the beautiful tradition of saying things for which we were grateful. We passed around a cornucopia filled with candy corns and we dropped more in as we enumerated our blessings. It was a sacred, special tradition, but I have never been able to say that I was truly thankful for my body because all I saw was flaws and all I felt was disgust. Not once did I feel gratitude. I intend to change that this year.
Before I launch into my new plans for this year, I want to share with you something deeply powerful that I learned about gratitude from Elizabeth Smart. I recently read her memoir “My Story” that discusses in intimate detail her nine-month kidnap, rape, and abuse over a decade ago. I knew going into it that she must be a strong woman, but I was unprepared for just how courageous she was—I finished the book overwhelmed not only with a desire to be a better stronger person, but with the knowledge of how to do so. Near the end of her memoir she speaks about how she was able to survive the ordeal and return to her normal life afterwards—and one of the most meaningful things she mentioned (which incidentally, shook me to the core) was her ability to maintain perspective through gratitude. Here is what she says (emphasis added):
“Gratitude has also helped me to keep a healthy perspective.
One of my favorite movies is Ever After with Drew Barrymore. For those of you who have not seen it, it is another version of Cinderella. Once of my favorite lines from the movie is when the evil stepmother tells Cinderella, “We mustn’t ever feel sorry for ourselves, because no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse!”
Now I know that sounds kind of pessimistic, but when I was being held captive, every time I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, somehow they always did.
So instead of looking at the evil stepmother’s words as being coldhearted and mean, I now translate them to say, “We always have something to be grateful for because there will always be something that could make your situation worse.”
The first time Mitchell made me go naked and said we were playing “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” I didn’t think anything could be worse.
Now I look back and I am grateful that I wasn’t being filmed and then exploited and traded through the Internet like so many other children have been. I’m so grateful that my captors were strangers and in no way connected with me. I don’t have to go home every night and see them, or see pictures of them hanging on the wall, or know that even though my family is so upset with what they might have done to me, there is still a piece of their hearts that cares and loves the abusers because they are their children, or parents, or brothers and sisters.
And there were other examples too.
Just when I though it couldn’t get any worse, Mitchell made me do something that made me sick. Just when I though it couldn’t get any worse, I went seven days without anything to eat. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, Mitchell made me drink until I woke up in my own vomit.
Knowing it can always get worse, I try to be grateful for whatever good I have” (My Story by Elizabeth Smart and Chris Stewart, pg. 303-304).
When reading this, I was floored that she could really have anything to be grateful for when she was in such a horrid situation. It made me weep with overwhelming desperation to want to be like Elizabeth Smart, not in an envious or self-deprecating way, but in a way full of admiration and the deepest respect. I want what Elizabeth has. I want to be able to see all my situations, most especially ones involving my body, as opportunities to actually see and feel gratitude for what I have.
Below is a section of a talk given by an elder of the LDS Church named Russell M. Nelson. He was a heart surgeon and subsequently had a deep respect for the body. I read the words he spoke about the human body and immediately felt overwhelmed with understanding. I focus on everything I perceive that I lack that I have never even tried to feel gratitude for what my body can do, and is, now. Following his talk, is my own personal “Gratitude for My Body” list that I have labored many hours over, so that it reflects my truthful and deepest feelings about my body. And to my surprise, I discovered that there are so many things I deeply appreciate about my body.
“THE HUMAN BODY
My professional years as a medical doctor gave me a profound respect for the human body. Created by God as a gift to you, it is absolutely amazing! Think of your eyes that see, ears that hear, and fingers that feel all the wondrous things around you. Your brain lets you learn, think, and reason. Your heart pumps tirelessly day and night, almost without your awareness.
Your body protects itself. Pain comes as a warning that something is wrong and needs attention. Infectious illnesses strike from time to time, and when they do, antibodies are formed that increase your resistance to subsequent infection.
Your body repairs itself. Cuts and bruises heal. Broken bones can become strong once again. I have cited but a tiny sample of the many amazing God-given qualities of your body.
Even so, it seems that in every family, if not in every person, some physical conditions exist that require special care. A pattern for coping with such a challenge has been given by the Lord. He said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; … for if they humble themselves … and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Stellar spirits are often housed in imperfect bodies. The gift of such a body can actually strengthen a family as parents and siblings willingly build their lives around that child born with special needs.
The aging process is also a gift from God, as is death. The eventual death of your mortal body is essential to God’s great plan of happiness. Why? Because death will allow your spirit to return home to Him. From an eternal perspective, death is only premature for those who are not prepared to meet God.
With your body being such a vital part of God’s eternal plan, it is little wonder that the Apostle Paul described it as a “temple of God.” Each time you look in the mirror, see your body as your temple. That truth—refreshed gratefully each day—can positively influence your decisions about how you will care for your body and how you will use it. And those decisions will determine your destiny. How could this be? Because your body is the temple for your spirit.”
Keeping in mind both Elizabeth Smart’s message of gratitude and Russell M. Nelson’s enumeration of the blessings of our body, I made the following personal list for my own body. As I wrote this, I wept, cheered, and gritted my teeth–every word of it is true, which made it all the more difficult.
I am grateful for…
- My eyes that not only captured the heart of my beloved husband six years ago, but allow me to take in all the beauties of this world with the need for contacts lenses or glasses—from the tender smiles of my children to the changing fall leaves.
- My nose, which helps me enjoy one of my greatest passions—cooking. It usually leads me right when experimenting on new dishes.
- My ears, that allow me to hear the sweet music of instruments and voices, the laughter of my children and family, and God’s chorus of angels.
- My tongue, which allows me to taste the bounties that are available on this Earth, especially since Intuitive Eating, where I have been truly able to savor all sorts of flavors.
- My voice, which allows me to sing sweet lullabies to my children at night as I rock back and forth in the quiet darkness of their rooms. I am grateful that I can speak my mind and can be heard by all.
- My mind, which is usually keen and helps me ask questions and find various solutions. I can think clearly for myself and keep a store of precious memories for later perusal.
- My hair, which allows me to feel as vibrant as Disney’s Pocahontas as it sways in the wind and adds variety to my everyday wardrobe.
- My arms, which are constantly moving, reaching, carrying, and playing my violin and flute (music has always been a special part of my life).
- My legs, which allow me to run, walk, work, and play. They are strong and sturdy and help me feel powerful as they take me where I want to go (they are also good at reminding me when I have gone too far in one day!)
- My muscles, which help me move with strength and the building up of which helps me feel powerful and relieves stress.
- My stretch marks that symbolize the birth of my two precious and healthy daughters (This one was hard to write, but in the end, I really felt it was worth it. In fact, almost on a daily basis, I am reminded about how much I am grateful for what they symbolize as I laugh, play, and teach my girls.)
- My breasts, which not only symbolize my womanhood, but allowed me to nourish my children after they were born.
- For pain and illness that my body has always been able to heal. They teach me to cherish the days when not in pain or ill all the more, and show me the miracle of healing and strengthening.
- My heart, not only the physical muscle that pumps blood and sustains my every breath, but also my compassionate, empathetic, loving heart that opens its arms wide to encircle others with love and understanding.
This list is not all encompassing, but I believe that it is a courageous and wonderful start to my Thanksgiving season. To all who have been with me so far on this journey, I challenge you to make a list yourself. It can be private or provided in the comments below, but do it. Take some time to really be truthful and sincere and please share if you feel so inclined. Happy Thanksgiving!