Playoffs. There’s nothing like it. The excitement in the air is almost tangible. It’s like Christmas, your birthday and national donut day rolled into one.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was my senior year of college. The stage was set. It was a chilly, overcast November afternoon and after finishing the season as the second seed in our conference we had earned a home playoff game. A game we anticipated winning. We were pretty pumped.
But, as in sports, things don’t always go as planned.
Looking out across the field as the final seconds dwindled down to zero, the reality of the situation started to sink in: my soccer career was officially over. A hollowing feeling (I know so dramatic, but so real). Eighteen years of soccer suddenly came to a halt; done, terminado.
It’s weird and unsettling.
Our team sat on the field for a half hour after the game was over, desperate to cling to what we no longer had a grasp on. I think what really struck me as I was so dramatically mourning the loss of soccer is this: did I appreciate what I had? I mean yes I loved playing but did I appreciate it? Did I recognize what I had? Why is it that so often I don’t realize what I have until I don’t have it?
In the days following the loss an overwhelming sense of gratitude flooded in. After the fact.
As a result of overfamiliarity, (18 years of overfamiliarity) I’d, in a way, taken soccer for granted. When will I learn to appreciate what I have when I have it? Like holding a winning lottery ticket and not knowing it’s value until it’s thrown away.
Recently I, ever so gracefully, injured my back… again (I’m blaming the coffee table). Back story: I don’t have the best back, I injured it back in high school and have re-irritated it here and there over the years. Recently though the injuries seem to be getting more serious. This time I was just vacuuming. I bent over to move the coffee table and soon found myself in an unfortunately familiar position, lying on the ground, unable to move. I was bedridden for the next few days and needed assistance merely sitting up (infant status), walking and getting changed.
Forget a slice of humble pie, I got the whole pie.
This, unfortunately, is not the first time I’ve had a debilitating back injury. Two years ago I was in a very similar place. I was able to heal pretty quickly according to my doctor and before I knew it, I was back to normal. But with injuries like this, it’s not a one and done fix type thing. You have to keep up with exercises to prevent further injury. Now, I’m the first to admit, I’m not the best at doing my back exercies (well maybe my dad is). You think I would have learned my lesson at this point.
So as I lay on my back I just kept thinking, “when am I going to learn my lesson?” How many times do I have to throw my back out for me to make a change? This time is going to be different, right? This time I’m going to make the change. Famous last words.
I so quickly take for granted my health as soon as I’m healthy.
Isn’t it funny how the absence of something can make you realize how much you appreciate it? Like tying your shoes for example. A simple, subconscious task that I was unable to do when I injured my back. The day after my injury I ran into the office real quick to grab something (and by that I mean I gingerly walked and nothing about it was quick). Well, the roommates weren’t there and I could barely walk let alone bend down and tie my shoes, so untied they stayed. As I hobbled over to the office, I simultaneously embodied a 5 year-old and a grandma with my untied shoes and stiff, hobble-like walk. It was pretty special.
There is so much to be grateful for that I blindly take for granted; from simple daily tasks to people. So what’s the remedy? How do I avoid taking things for granted?
A common theme that comes up in my life is gratitude. Learning to be grateful in the day to day, yes in the big things but also, just as importantly, in the small things. Maybe instead of so often concentrating on what I don’t have, I can focus my attention on the multitude of things I have been given and appreciate them. Like the very ability to play soccer, a roof over my head, loving family and friends, arms and legs that work, an education, 3 meals a day, a car that works, clothes on my back, a mini computer that fits in my pocket and calls people. I could go on.
Being grateful, when practiced, turns into living with a grateful heart. And it changes things. I am able to see things in my life as the gifts they are. Living with a grateful heart has an incredible impact on one’s outlook on life. It’s transformative.
A grateful heart is not entitled.
A grateful heart is not envious.
A grateful heart does not demand.
A grateful heart recognizes, appreciates, and makes the most of what it is given.
A grateful heart has perspective.
A grateful heart is humble.
A grateful heart does their back exercises (ok that one’s for me).
It’s as simple as taking time to recognize what I have and that it’s a gift. When I begin to see all as gift, I begin to learn that the only appropriate response is gratitude. Taking things for granted is failing to appreciate them. When I take time to be grateful, to appreciate what I have, I am counteracting that inclination.
The Lord has given me so much, the least I can do is say thank you.
In the big and the little things, I am continually learning to be grateful. The Lord always has a knack for presenting me opportunities to learn. And sometimes those come in the form of immobilizing back injuries. But they do make you learn.
Because nothing quite makes you appreciate what you have like needing help tying your shoes.
Michele Volk, NET Mission Staff