The journal I used throughout my PTSD treatment has a quote by Henri Matisse on the cover: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”
I chose this notebook because, during that time of my life, I was bombarded by fear, anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares – not to mention the PI-IBS flares, surgery recovery, and general weakness from being sick for so long. And yet, I was still constantly on the lookout for the “flowers” of my life. I’m what you’d call an eternal optimist, and I honestly think that’s what helped me survive – trying to find the bright side in any situation.
Reflecting on it over the last few weeks, it’s something I wish more people would do.
You see, I often hear people giving praise for their “blessings.” Nine times out of ten, those people are talking about getting something they want:
- A new car.
- A dream fulfilled.
- A job promotion or raise.
- A new house.
- A fantastic vacation.
But you know what I rarely hear?
People talking about blessings when things aren’t going their way.
That’s truly a shame, because that’s where you can often find the most beautiful flowers.
What are the things that stand out to you about my story, for example?
Is it the bizarre story of how I wound up with nerve damage throughout my digestive tract, known as PI-IBS? Or the PTSD I struggled through for months afterward? Is it the dietary restrictions? Or, possibly, how I faced a cancer scare and surgery after dealing with everything else?
If so, I’d tell you you’re wrong. You’re focusing on the difficulties and not the flowers.
Some of the many, many, many real flowers of my story are:
- The beautiful way my marriage stood (and grew stronger) through the most horrific times.
- The compassion, patience, and empathy my husband has shown every single day of this journey.
- The day, shortly after diagnosis, that my Mother ordered multiple low-FODMAP cookbooks to figure this thing out with me.
- The friends who have regularly checked in with me and who work their hardest to make me comfortable on our date/friend nights.
- The day my sister tracked down low-FODMAP birthday cupcakes and provided them for me at a family event, even though she didn’t have to.
- The night Erin and I went to a play, and I only felt a little anxiety (but had no panic attack) because my PTSD therapy had begun working.
- The joy of a new low-FODMAP recipe turning out well.
- The excitement and relief of not having “those” nightmares anymore once my PTSD therapy began working.
- The pride of trying something new, no matter how small, without triggering PTSD symptoms.
- The feeling of sun shining on my face as I go for a walk, alive and just honestly doing okay.
- A hug, forehead kiss, or sweet note of encouragement from one of my grandmothers.
- Being able to go to a doctor’s office or make a hospital visit without being flooded with flashbacks and anxiety.
- Texting my Dad and Pop during a Cubs game, because we’re all just chillin’ at home on a weeknight – no fear involved.
- Having a flare but handling it without panic.
- Getting up each morning and being able to workout again – because my body works and I have regained my physical strength.
I could, for-real, go on for hours about the ways this journey has forever changed my life and my outlook, but I won’t.
Instead, I want to share with you the secret I’ve learned through all of it. Are you ready for it? Here goes:
Blessings are not just getting what you want.
If blessings were about just getting what you want, my PI-IBS would’ve cleared up a long time ago, no problem…or, better yet, wouldn’t have happened in the first place. I never would’ve struggled with PTSD. I could eat whatever I want instead of being the drill sergeant of food. And I certainly wouldn’t have topped all that craziness off with a cancer scare and surgery.
But that’s not the way blessings work, my friends. Having a new car or going on a sweet vacation or having a lifelong dream fulfilled or even being healed from a medical diagnosis doesn’t make us blessed.
You know why?
Because those are earthly things – and earthly things shouldn’t be a Christian’s true goal.
In Colossians 3:1-4, we are told:
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
And in Matthew 6:19-21:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I don’t know why things work out the way they do – why some of us have while others don’t, why some get sick and die while others get sick and live, why some experience loss and others never seem to. I don’t understand a lot of things about this world. As Plato described Socrates, I can also describe myself: “I know that I know nothing.”
But I do feel pretty confident about this: if we’re depending on what we want to consider ourselves blessed, we’re setting ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointment. Life just doesn’t work that way…and frankly, declaring physical items or health or wealth as a blessing from God is a bold statement to make, especially considering the fact that we’re told over and over again not to fret over the things of this world in scripture.
Does that come as a surprise to you? It shouldn’t. God gives us what we need, even if it doesn’t fit the mold of what we want.
Today, I encourage you to look at your situation and find the good in it. Make no mistake – this can be a hard task. But it’s worth it. God’s blessings are not the world’s blessings, but they are blessings we can see – if we only look for them without a selfish lens. As Paul said in his letter to the Philippians (4:10-12): “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
When we’re searching for blessings, my friends, we have to go deeper than worldly things. We have to understand that God still loves us and He still blesses us, even if we don’t have a shiny car in the driveway or a cure on our medical records. We need to learn Paul’s art of being content in any circumstance. In need or in plenty, what are your blessings today?