It was the summer of 2010 when I was awoken at 3 am by a loud crash and the sound of my little sister screaming. I ran downstairs and saw three feet of muddy, murky water in my family room with more rushing in by the second. I calmed my sister down and we quickly saved what we could. Her journal, scriptures, and a few pictures. Everything else was ruined. My mom’s wedding dress, old family albums, TV’s, furniture, you name it—gone. A flash flood had caused a dam to break just north of my home. The first house in its path was mine, and 23,000 gallons of water is not very forgiving.
My mother’s reaction to the scene has stuck with me ever since. I watched her closely. I thought she would see it all and break down in tears, and rightfully so! Her home was ruined. We didn’t have a ton of money, definitely not enough to fix the mess. She scanned over the scene before her, took a deep breath and said, “It’s just stuff.” She hugged my sister, dad, and me, and we went to work.
That experience, traumatizing as it was, taught me many great lessons. Lessons that I try to emulate in my life, and that have helped me learn to find gratitude in all things.
Play In The Mud
While cleaning up that day, we played in the mud. We drew war paint on our faces and made a game of it. Whenever a trial comes my way I tell myself I have two options. I can choose to wallow in the muck of my sorrows, or I can make the best of it and play in the mud. Even in the toughest of situations, if we look hard enough, there is always something to be grateful for. There is power in choosing to focus on the positive and making the best of every situation.
“We can lift ourselves, and others as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.” Thomas S. Monson
This is one of my all-time favorite quotes on gratitude. There’s something about “refusing to remain in the realm of negative thought” that’s so inspiring! No matter how tough a situation may be, I know I have a choice. I can make it as hard or as easy as I wish, and so can you! If we choose gratitude even when it isn’t the easy choice, we’re also choosing happiness and joy. And who wouldn’t want more of that?
It’s Just Stuff
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I learned that day is that so much of life is just “stuff”. Perhaps it’s because of that experience that I try my hardest not to place too much value on materialistic things. Everything in this life is temporary, and you never know when a flood will come and take it away. On the other hand, when I count my blessings, I try to count things that will last forever. My family, my faith, my testimony of the Savior, or the fact that I know I’m never alone in my trials.
More Than Enough
It can be easy to focus on what we lack, rather than the blessings we have. To keep myself in check, I like to think of our Savior and His example when feeding the 5,000. When presented with the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, it would have been easy for Christ to say, “No this will never be enough. We need more. How could this possibly feed 5,000?” But instead, He took the bread, blessed it, and gave thanks! (Luke 9:13-17.) Then immediately after giving thanks to the Father for all he had received, a miracle happened. Not only was there enough to feed 5,000, but there was more than enough. Have you ever wondered what miracles might happen if you applied this principle to your own life? How might the Lord bless you, if you frequently gave thanks for all that you have, instead of focusing on what you lack?
Show Up With A Shovel
The day my house flooded, our home was filled with people from my community cleaning, bringing meals, and doing all they could to lend a hand. We were so incredibly grateful. I’ve learned there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who say, “Let me know if you need anything” and those who come over with a shovel in hand, ready to work. I try my hardest to always be the latter.
I will never forget seeing my then 90-year-old grandpa with a broom, sitting on his wheelchair, sweeping up a small corner in the midst of the catastrophe. Big or small, there is always something you can do to make a difference. Serving others brings us closer to God and helps us grow in gratitude and thanksgiving in a way that nothing else can. When I’m feeling particularly low, I’ve learned it’s best to focus not on myself, but on the needs of others. It helps me see more clearly of God’s love for his children, and in turn, His love for me.
In Everything, Give Thanks
“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.” -Alan Cohen
Even though the fact that my house flooded was pretty terrible, we still had an incredible amount of things to be grateful for. There truly are blessings in everything! We just need to remember to look for them. How grateful I am for my mother’s determination to focus on gratitude in the midst of a muddy, dirty catastrophe. I know that if she hadn’t, that day and the upcoming months of restoration and personal trial in my own life would have gone very differently.
When reflecting upon my own personal trials, I’m surprised at how it’s often the small things that make the biggest difference. There is always, always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest hour. I know that “playing in the mud,” focusing on our eternal blessings, “showing up with a shovel,” and giving thanks in all things may seem like small things, but I promise they will make all the difference as we strive to increase in gratitude.