I believe that you can find some pretty solid life lessons in almost any event that happens. However, I’ve always had an issue with the phrase “everything happens for a reason” and while I cannot say with any degree of certainty that it’s not true, I feel that it’s more applicable to say that “a reason can be found for whatever happens.” Thinking in terms of God’s plan and his purpose, maybe it can be said there is a reason for everything that happens. But when I think about it, and I think about it more than I probably should, I really believe that at the end of the day we simply live in an imperfect and all too often crappy world and sometimes bad things just happen. Whether it’s a someone else’s stupid choices having an affect on us or the ones we love, or the happenstances of life – bad stuff happens.
Welcome to life.
But, in the last sever weeks I’ve really seen my eyes opened to importance of attitude. Of having the right attitude to deal with what comes your way. As a missionary I spent a lot of time in the scriptures and in particular, I spent a lot of time in the Book of Mormon. Part of The Book of Mormon
tells the history of a group of people called the Jaredites. And while some of the my favorite scriptures come from this part of the scriptures, the ending of their story is also a tragic one. Their whole people become involved in wars with each other, and it comes down to two men, Shiz and Coriantumr, and at the very end, after millions have died, Coriantumr beheads Shiz, and then falls dead to his own wounds. As a missionary, I wouldn’t necessarily talk about this story often, but on occasion I would share it as more of a humorous message. And the ending moral of the story is that shiz happens, but you shouldn’t lose your head over it.
I always thought so. And maybe I just have an awful sense of humour, and that wouldn’t be too big of a surprise to me. But as I think about that lesson now, it strikes me that it has a definite ring of meaning to it. Sometimes in life, shiz is going to happen, and just because it does, it doesn’t mean that we need to lose our heads (not literally, I hope) over what happens to us. Yes, it sucks. Yes it can change our lives, our direction, our purpose. Yes it can make us question, wonder, doubt. It’s a challenge. It’s difficult. It’s a trial, and by nature those tending to be trying. BUT that doesn’t mean that’s all that it is. While those aspect of it will always exist, they don’t have to be the defining highlights of those experiences.
I have no idea who said this, but I came across it the other day. “Sometimes the things we can’t change end up changing us.” And I’ve been thinking about that for the last few days. We have the opportunity to learn and to grow, even from negative. Especially from the negative. And I as I pondered that, I realized that we still have to make the choice to learn. To change. To see the positive in whatever it is we are facing. When I received my diagnosis, one of my first thoughts was that I probably couldn’t be a special agent, which has been my career goal and dream for awhile now. And even if I could still, I have to consider that I still don’t know what direction my MS will head. I could be fine for many, many years with medication and physical exercise, but there’s always the chance that it does get worse, in which case, where will that leave me career wise. And honestly, that hit me pretty hard, and I was getting pretty down on myself for that. My thoughts were all about what I was going to do now, and I had no idea. And because of not knowing, because I felt like I was back at square one when it came to my life and moving forward, I allowed that to get me down. I became more pessimistic about it. And I didn’t realize at the time just how big of an impact that was having on me day to day.
What made a real difference for me was many of the people I’ve talked to. I met with a few different people here at BYU and talked my situation over with them, and explained what I was thinking and how I felt, and what took me by surprise was how positive all of them were. Each of them expressed high hopes that while I may not do exactly what I had planned I could still find something along those lines that I could enjoy doing. And while I still have no idea what that is, or how exactly I’m going to get there, I do feel better. I do feel that it’s not the end, but rather just a new beginning, a chance to change direction and alter my aim.
It’s really the same message my dad has been telling me since I told him I might have MS. He was the first person I called after the call, and I remember I was in the parking lot of the apartment complex, and I had just pulled some trash from my car and walked it over to the dumpster and was walking back to my truck when I called. And the whole time I’m walking my thoughts were along the lines of it’s going to be okay. I can handle this. It’s not the end. I realize now that as much as I had had the initial phone call with the doctor, and she had told me the basics of MS and the results of my first MRI- as much as that had happened and was real, the actual news hadn’t set in yet. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t until I was on the phone with my dad, that I was the saying “there are several white matter lesions, and the pattern that they are in is really typical of multiple sclerosis…” that it became real. The news really hit then. And it hit in the form of tears, of lost hope, of being lost and thinking that “I have absolutely no idea what MS is, but it’s chronic and the little bit I’ve heard is not positive, and this will change the rest of my life. And what the heck do I do now?” I’m lucky really. That as tons of negative thoughts began to go through my head right off the bat, my dad was positive. He was strong. He was adamant that we’d figure this out together and at no point would I be alone, that it did not mean the end of the world for me. I’m blessed to have a father like that, who can keep calm and level headed and perhaps most importantly, optimistic. Because when I broke down and lost it, I needed that wall to lean on. And he’s been there every step of the way.
That’s not to put down or forget everyone else who has expressed love, support, prayers and strength to me as I’ve gone through this. It was huge for me to see the outpouring of support that came, and I can only say that I appreciate more than words could ever adequately describe.
Back to where I started this though. It comes down to attitude. It comes down to the simple choice to stare a trial in the eye and come out better. Someone recently asked me what I thought the purpose of life is, and while I have answers based upon religion and my beliefs, the simplest and perhaps the most potent answer that came to my mind was this: To learn to smile. Because if you can learn to smile no matter what, you’re winning. That if you can stare down all sorts of hard times and smile, it’s like punching that trial in the nose and telling it that has hard as it can make your life, you’re not going to let it have the final say. Because smiling shows others around you that there is something worth smiling for, even if they don’t know what exactly that might be. Smiling is hope. And that’s something that I feel everyone could use a little more of in today’s world. If you can smile, you’re going to be more positive. You’re going to feel more optimistic. You’re going to see reality, yet see your dreams, hopes and desires also paint their own picture and watch the two of them emerge. Smiling will say “even though shiz will happen, I’m going to smile.”
Smiling won’t erase the pain, take away the fatigue, restore balance and stop dizziness. It won’t ease the loss of a loved one, the pain of watching someone you love go through hard times. Smiling won’t do a lot of things. But smiling does work miracles. And it works them on an individual basis, beginning first with you, and then branching off to all you might come in contact with. In the last few weeks I cannot count the number of times someone has smiled at me, said hey, waved or just reached – even people I didn’t know- and made a difference right then in my life. I sat down in a class and a girl I’d never talked to or seen before began talking to me. And we talked after class. She may never know that that was just the lift I needed for that day. That she happened to talk about topics that were on my mind and weighing me down. But she had a smile and was friendly and I think that counts for a lot more than I’ve ever given them credit for.
Attitude. Is it important? Yeah. How could it not be? I have the choice and ability to decide how I react to every situation I find myself in. And you know what I’ve learned so far? Being positive and smiling is a lot more fun than frowning, dwelling, and focusing on the bad. It’s not easy, and sometimes maybe downright impossible in the moment to feel positive, to be hopeful and to press forward, but we can make the choice to work towards that point. I can make that choice. And I do. I choose to be happy. To be positive. To joke and laugh and plan pranks. I choose to accept that life has dealt me a hand I’m not happy about and one that does make a difference and have a lasting impact, but that at the end of the day I can go to bed knowing that it’ll work out. That I can learn from this and grow, and find a new inner strength. That I can be now be aware of the impact others can have on me and hopefully in turn be a strength to others around me
It’s definitely a process. The decision one day to smile doesn’t mean it just happens. Rather it’s a constant choice throughout the day. It’s a choice I make when I stumble over what I’m trying to say and can’t. It’s a choice to laugh when I get dizzy and walk into a wall. It’s the choice to enjoy the rain and snow that Utah can’t get rid of. Yeah, it’s inconvenient and cold. But it doesn’t mean that I have to let it get to me and affect the rest of my day. It’s the choice that even after I nail myself in the side of my head and will sport a bruise to wind the yoyo back up, laugh and try that trick again.
Life’s too short to not smile.
Above even the darkest of clouds still lies the bluest of skies.