Early morning, March 27th, my daughter arrived in Canada after a ten and a half year struggle to get her here. There is much to say about it and much to learn. However, one of the greatest gifts I have learned out of this past decade is that gratitude is a continual practice that always changes things. 

We are blessed in 2020 to benefit from incredible amounts of skilled research that is showing us what gratitude produces in our body and brain. As it turns out, gratitude is NOT about pretending everything is okay, when it really isn’t. (For the record, that’s called escaping reality).

Gratitude is less about consoling yourself to be content with what you are left with, and more about choosing a different way of showing up in life. Gratitude is about appreciating what is, in any given moment.

It’s a choice that we get to practice, over and over again. This means that it can even start by learning to appreciate the way things can be, even if they aren’t that way yet.

Gratitude is the foundational setting for the rest of our lives. It starts with the simplest of things, but it grows to help us construct our whole world.

When I made the choice to intentionally start appreciating what was, it wasn’t graceful or pretty. At first, it was like life support for my mental space ;)

I started with what was in front of me: we were safe today, we had contact with the outside world, I had family and friends who were supporting me, I had the chance to help shape her view of who she was in the world.

But gratitude is sneaky, too! It has a way of shaping who you are, little by little. As you use it, you start to lose your addiction to self pity and victimhood, and you begin to see what is possible. True gratitude allows us to separate ourselves from the circumstances enough to recognize that it doesn’t have to define who we are.

Gratitude began to shape me in surprising, beautiful ways...

As I was grateful for living in a certain place, despite all the limitations, Widlene and I built our local “family” in a new way, even resulting in an adventure of living with my dear friend, Michelle Bourdeau and her daughters for the past three years.

As I was grateful for the chance to still be able to get back out to work with the people in the garbage dump that I cared about, the idea began to form in my mind for Brave Soles.

As I learned to be grateful for this chance to raise her and be in her world, we began to rebuild relationships with her biological family and discover links to her past that are important for her future.

 As I practiced gratefulness around my situation in the littlest of ways, I began to see myself as separate from what I was experiencing.

I was still Christal, but I was now going through something that didn’t have to define how I saw my whole life and future. The best way I can describe this is to say that gratitude was the ultimate state of resilience I had been building in my life, without knowing it.

Gratitude is what helps me pivot my life and emotions, day in and day out. There have been many mistakes and low points along the way, but gratitude can become the compass with which we use to navigate it all.

When my daughter and I would talk about what life would look like when she arrived in Canada (because for me it was always about when, not if) we talked about everything from parties to the airport reception we saw in movies.

Instead we got a global pandemic and a late night arrival in a city 6 hours away on the last plane out, followed by 14 days of quarantine and a new life where her parents now live four hours apart.

I didn’t get to walk through passport control with her, hold her hand as the plane was taking off, and see her face in person when she first walked off the plane.

Ideal? Nope. Not at all.

But when I saw her for five brief minutes on the side of the road this past Friday, and could only be as close as two metres away, there was no resentment left. There was only gratitude for that moment and the possibilities it represents.

And as she drove away, I had momentary flashbacks of the first time she reached out and held my hand when we were driving in the car, of the fact that we have shared the same room together for 10 years and many nights fell asleep holding hands, and of countless, endless memories of discovering life together.

Just because it didn’t look like how I thought was not a moment to regret, tempting though it may be. It was a reminder that this, too, is an opportunity to build the life and world I want to be part of. And the adventure is found in navigating the unexpected and the “non-ideal” parts that I can’t control. 

Gratitude is not the practice of what you have left to be grateful for - it’s the gift of recognizing and celebrating what you have not yet seen until you acknowledge it.

It may feel awkward at first and we all have lapses in judgement and even private and public failures. Other people will always have ideas of what you could do better and what they think you are doing wrong. Perhaps they are right: maybe we do get to do better in the days ahead.

But this is one wild and precious life we are navigating, and we each have the chance to put one foot in front of the other and be honest about what you can choose in what we call “today”.

Because, dear friends, the greatest stories we will ever tell, are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and the world we are part of building, together.

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