“Finding the Treasure in Our Gifts from God.”

That was the title of my speaking program in Uganda this year, and it’s one I’ve been invited to present several times since coming back to the States. Part of the program focuses on our talents and traits – the skills and abilities that come naturally to us that we don’t always appreciate and sometimes don’t even realize that we have. Another part of the program calls attention to the gifts that are all around us – our family and friends, as well as beautiful gardens and gorgeous sunsets – that we sometimes don’t notice and often take for granted.

The part of the program that has the biggest and most profound effect on people, however, has to do with gifts in our lives that don’t seem like gifts at all. They are the tragedies and traumas that bring us sorrow, suffering, and sleepless nights. They are the experiences that hurt us, that devastate us, and that sometimes take away the people and possessions that mean the most to us and that give us our joy, our pleasure, and our sense of satisfaction and security. It’s difficult to see these experiences as gifts, and even more difficult to be grateful for them.

Yet they are the ones that often give us our greatest strength. If we can weather the storm, if we can keep ourselves from drowning in despair, if we can get up again after being knocked down – sometimes over and over – we will eventually discover the gift that has been given to us. It reveals itself in what we have become, or what we are now able to do, because of whatever we had to endure.

It’s not easy, of course. Although the insight can come to us in a lightning bolt of recognition and understanding, or can develop gradually over time, it often takes an enormous, deliberate effort on our part to find the gift. And even more of an effort to acknowledge it or to be grateful for it.

I’ve experienced this over and over again in my own life, and I’ve seen it in the lives of other people. People like a friend of mine who often says that developing breast cancer more than ten years ago turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. Or another friend, blind since the age of four, who says he has achieved much more as a blind person than he ever would have as a sighted man because he was so determined to prove wrong the people who kept telling him he couldn’t accomplish things because he was blind. Or the friend in Uganda, a loving and devoted husband and father, who told me that his mother died when he was very young, and his stepmother made his life a living hell. He never thought of this as a gift until he realized that everything he endured while he was growing up shaped and molded him into the person he is today.

As I reflect this Thanksgiving on the gifts and treasures in my life, I am grateful – as always – for my family and friends, for my health and home, for the joy and satisfaction I get from my work and my activities, and for the many blessings and gifts God has given me. But I am also grateful for my problems. For the fears and frustrations I go through on a regular basis. For the situations and occurrences that overwhelm me, that scare me, and that cause me to worry about the future or to wonder about my safety and sanity. These, too, are gifts. They give me strength, they give me wisdom, they give me compassion and determination. They are gifts that I welcome. And for which I give thanks.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on November 22, 2012.
©Betty Liedtke, 2012

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