It is that time on social media, where people are posting their funniest quotes, memes, and spoof videos on the horror that was 2016. I have been laughing along, and with that, have really been subscribing to the idea that 2016 was horrible. Like a lot of people, I am thinking more about the year I had and honestly struggling with an attitude of being mad and sad at my year.
The second half of this year did not look anything like I thought it would. I was sick with a bunch of random issues that took a lot more time and effort and money than I thought it would to figure out. I am still waiting to have surgery, and while it is nothing life threatening, it has been a struggle for me. I have missed my friends on the island and really missed doing things that I would normally do in the US, as well.
As I was reflecting on this (and feeling sorry for myself), I was also attempting to think about something I have learned this year. What popped into my mind after a little pressing was the word gratitude. Gratitude is something that I consider a practice these days. I have learned how to be grateful from a variety of experiences from people in the US and beyond, but as I have been thinking on and missing my island home lately- I would be remiss if I did not mention how much these folks have taught me about gratitude, as well.
Island life is kind of a perfect synonym for simple living. While there, a lot of times are only spent worrying about the daily tasks in front of you. It kind of adds a whole new meaning to "give us this day our daily bread." A lot of folks in Haiti and the Dominican Republic don't know when they will have their meal after next, just focusing on the here and now. For those of you who know me well, this is already a system that is built into my DNA (I blame my European roots)- where I really do try to take it easy and not worry about the future too much. However, I learned a lot from the way many impoverished islanders live their lives. I have learned to be content with what I have because of the outlook of several of my friends on this island. Their love for family and experiences far exceeds my understanding. They have taught me to be grateful.
One experience from this year comes to mind. Back in February, we ran a sex-ed class for some of our teenagers and I was nervous about it (with cultural taboos and all). I remember my friend Clelie telling me that there were a bunch of mommas waiting downstairs to talk to me during one day of this training. We put the training on hold and walked downstairs. What I expected was to be reamed out by disgruntled mothers. What I found was a heap of gratitude.
Our village in Haiti is one of the most barren places around. It is like a dust bowl, without much vegetation in the surrounding area. It is incredibly impoverished and I have heard the saying more than once that "Nothing good ever comes from Souboy" (the name of our village). But, there it was: an offering of fruits and vegetables for us and our team, there in our kitchen. The women from the community had gotten together and brought what they could to share their gratitude for the work we were doing in their community. To this day, it is one of the most sacrificial and humbling experiences I have ever had, to know how much these women sacrificed for this and to be on the receiving end of such gratitude- it was kind of overwhelming. Ryan, Jesselyn and some of our staff team, and a few visiting people, all took turns speaking to the women, thanking them for their thoughtfulness and (some of us) saying it through tears.
I think it has taken me a lot of the year to process that experience. I think when you work overseas, you get used to being in a position to at least consider yourself the giver, the more fortunate one. I was overwhelmed because, honestly, I was wrong. Having more doesn't mean giving more. Having more doesn't equate an attitude of gratitude or love right off the bat, let me tell you.
What this experience taught me was that we all have a choice: we can choose to move past our expectations, whatever they are and can move into a place of choosing gratitude. What a beautiful choice to make.
As I reflect on my own expectations of 2016, I can (and have) easily feel discouraged and let down. I did not do some of the things I had anticipated, nor did I prove to myself I could be the bionic woman who needs no help whatsoever. However, it did teach me one of the greatest things I could ever learn: that gratitude is a choice in every season, no matter what we have or have not, we can choose contentment.
So, thank you to my friends near and far who have reminded me of that choice. Thanks, especially, to my Dominican and Haitian friends who have shown me that contentment and gratitude are the best choices to make- every day and in every way. Happy 2017! And may we all realize the goodness lying right in front of us, the blessings of God our Father, and the love around us.