The Road to Faith: Part 2 – More on Gratitude

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Image by thewordsprite.com

The other day, Sandra and I were talking about the biblical story of Job. It’s a tale of a man who literally had everything. Faith, integrity, good health, vast wealth, and a loving family brought him joy and happiness. God decided to test his faith and allowed Satan to take everything away. Job became a broken man who lost faith and complained about the injustice that was done to him. Feeling sorry for himself, he went on a journey of despair questioning God.

He reached out to others to find comfort and justification for his sorrows. Although they tried to be helpful, the others lacked faith themselves and only made Job’s troubles seem deeper. Ultimately, he found faith by accepting what he couldn’t control, expressing gratitude, and serving God by praying for the non-believers. He learned life’s greatest lesson. Achieving success through hard work wasn’t enough. Faith was the key to peace and happiness.

I’ve been on a similar spiritual journey for almost eight years searching for answers to my lot in life. I’ve always admired people like my mom and Sandra who rely on faith to guide them. They understand something I don’t. To change that, I reflected on my own Jobian journey.

 

My life sailed along smoothly for the first 19 years until I flunked out of college. I felt sorry for myself and sulked my way to dead end jobs and a hard-partying existence. I rebounded a few years later to finish college and start a career. I learned my first life lesson (or so I thought): It’s all about hard work and getting ahead. I pledged never to fail again.

I married the love of my life, bought a home, and experienced the elation of being a father when our first daughter was born. I was on solid ground and poised to make a big move when my dad died. I took on the challenge of a lifetime by running for public office. I lost the election. After my second daughter was born, I ran again and lost again. Two years later, the third time wasn’t the charm. That was three crushing election losses in six years.

Through their faith, my mom and Sandra tried to reassure me that it wasn’t my time yet. “Be grateful for your family,” they counseled. “Your time will come.” I tried to be grateful, but I yearned for more. I learned my second life lesson (or so I thought): It’s not just about working hard. It’s about working smart too. I realized that I wasn’t ready for public life, so I needed to prepare. I decided to do everything with a strategic purpose.

My plan was to build a career as a successful corporate executive and run for public office again when the time was right. During that time, my mom and big sister passed away. Losing both of them in the same year was devastating. I learned my third life lesson (or so I thought): Life is a mixed bag, so working harder and smarter was the answer. Focusing on my professional goals went into overdrive.

At work, I rose from manager to director to vice president in six years. I served on several community and non-profit boards to raise my public profile. In 2006, the high school board of trustees appointed me to an open seat. My plan was working. I left the corporate world for a leadership role in local politics. I was on the way to my ultimate career goal. With each accomplishment, I inched closer to self-fulfillment and the happiness that would surely come along.

On June 6, 2010, I was on top of the world. Everything was falling into place. The next day changed my life. First, a massive heart attack nearly killed me. Then I went into cardiac arrest. A rare lung condition caused by a crippling side effect almost finished me off. This time around, the third time was the charm. I survived. I was alive.

When I awoke from a medically induced coma later that summer, I was paralyzed from  the sleeping medicine and a couple of months in the intensive care unit. I worked hard to recover. After a year of intense rehabilitation, I went back to work. Things went well for a while until disaster struck again. My career came to an abrupt and heartbreaking end. I had a mortgage, two daughters in college, and bills piling up. I was lost and unsure about the future.

Questions came rushing into my consciousness like a raging river. WHY did I fail at college? WHY did I spiral into alcohol-fueled darkness after that failure? WHY did I lose my parents when I needed stability? WHY did I fail at elective politics? WHY did I have a massive heart attack? WHY did my lungs stop working? WHY did my career end so suddenly and painfully? WHY me? WHY? WHY? WHY?

I turned to Sandra, therapy, our parish priest, and the bookshelves looking for answers. Jesus, the Prophets, Muhammed, Buddha, Ghandi, Mother Teresa all talked about the same thing: acceptance of God’s will, gratitude for the tools He gave you, and using your tools to serve others in His name was the secret to understanding faith. I’ve taken many long walks reflecting and analyzing all that I’ve learned.

I slowed down to appreciate everything around me. For the first time, I heard birds chirping and singing outside of my bedroom window. Slowly and surely, I began to accept the course my life has taken.

I’ve accepted my college failure, thankful that being more mature improved the experience. I’ve accepted that the party years were a reality, grateful that Sandra entered my life during that time. I’ve accepted my parent’s early demise, indebted to the values they bestowed on me. I’ve accepted my election losses, appreciating the resilience the defeats built in my character.

I’ve accepted that the medical crisis during the horrendous summer of 2010 has left me unable to live the life I dreamed up for myself. Through it all, I’m sure many wouldn’t blame me if I lived a bitter life without gratitude. My thankfulness, however, is overflowing. I’ve surrendered to God’s will, grateful for what He has given to me, rather than waging a futile fight for what I wanted.

In addition to the miracle of life, God has given me an abundance of tools to serve Him. Sandra and the girls sustain my life and give me hope to carry on. I have a wonderful extended family that brings joy and happiness to my life. I have good friends that inspire me every day. With these tools, I want to give hope to others by telling my story. I’m sure this was the real plan all along.

Thanks to faith, family, and friends, I’ve learned life’s greatest lesson. It’s all about faith.

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