Today in America we are celebrating Thanksgiving. Each month while writing these blogs, the topics selected are usually driven from passion, experiences, or current life events that move me and can relate back to overall health of a person or a community. When I realized that readers would be reading this on Thanksgiving my vision for the blog started to come to light. Why? Today is one of my favorite days of the year as its a day that we pause from the hustle of everyday routines. We gather around a dinner table with our family and friends to eat a bountiful meal and reflect on why we are thankful and to celebrate our blessings. Which brings me to the topic of this blog, each family has their own reason to celebrate thankfulness, especially those families with a child or loved one with a disability.

A new father goes to work after his first born twin sons are born.  While most new fathers would be gushing about their newborns he instead vents to co-workers with frustration. One of the twin boys was born with Cerebral Palsy.  The father asked the questions with tears in his eyes, “Why me? Why did I have to have a son with Cerebral Palsy? Why?”. The co-worker responds, “Why Not?”. In that moment that father paused.  He reflected with hope and faith. The question of “Why Not”, enabled that father through the years to be thankful for his co-workers question. He realized he can embrace that not only is he an amazing father, but he was the chosen father to celebrate, honor, and find the hidden blessings within the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.  Blessings that he is thankful for everyday of his life, because not only did it build him into a strong man, but a grateful, giving and loving person. His son did that, and he is thankful.

A mother talks with her daughter as tears filled her eyes.  Both her children are grown, her son with a Chromosome disability and her daughter healthy and happy.  The mother says to daughter, “It has taken me 30 years to understand why God created a child for me who had a disability, but I’m thankful I finally understand.  And that is because without him, my daughter wouldn’t be the person impacting lives everyday”. That daughter was me, and those words were spoken to me by my mother before addressing parents at the first Puzzle Pieces’ banquet a few years ago .  My mother is thankful.

A mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome hugs me after touring Puzzle Pieces.  She states with tears in her eyes, “Today I am more thankful for my daughter. Although some days are hard and difficult, I am thankful for her exact disability and her given abilities.  I realize my daughter has struggles, but I now know other parents out there may have children with far more significant disabilities.” This mother is thankful.

A young married couple holds their first born with severe health complications for a few hours before she passes.  Although terribly heart wrenching, the couple will cherish the memories they had with their baby girl. They will cherish rocking and looking into the eyes of their daughter, no matter how short it may have been.  Those moments are remembered and they are thankful.

A woman carrying her second child, receives the scan results back from her ultrasound that the child she is carrying will be born with special needs.  Without hesitation, but yet among tears she states, “There are women in this world who would give anything to carry their own child. Although I am scared to death that I might not be a strong enough mother to handle the special health needs to care for my own child, I am thankful I am able to experience being pregnant with my child.”  The mother was thankful. 

My son, Landon, is a peer mentor at Puzzle Pieces (An activity day center for those with disabilities) and also the nephew to his awesome Uncle Nick. I asked him, “What makes you thankful for having Uncle Nick, who has a disability, and your friend Peyton at Puzzle Pieces?” He looks at me and simply says, “If Uncle Nick didn’t have a disability he would be 37 years old and wouldn’t play with me. I love him so much, because we spend all of our time playing.” Then he went on to say, “I’m thankful that Peyton loves me and he wants to be my best friend.” As I wiped the tears from my eyes, I was reminded in that moment, my 9 year old son is exactly right. He embraces their differences, sees value in his Uncle Nick and his friend Peyton, and has a deep connection and love for them. He is thankful, and I am thankful for his loving spirit and empathy.

In conclusion, these stories are real with raw feelings that many of our readers experience. We each face circumstances in life that we might question why, we might feel we are inadequate at providing, we might feel guilt for the feelings we are bottling, we might not know what tomorrow will bring, and we might have to make sacrifices that we never thought would be part of our plan.  However, I ask my reader to look deep within and see the little things in life to be thankful for. Be thankful for the memories, the experiences, the opportunities, the love, and the journey of life. Sometimes in the desperate moments of hardship, receiving a diagnosis, fighting through sickness, challenged with moments that test your innermost ability to get through…in that moment know that someone else is out there fighting another battle maybe more or less difficult than yours.  So I challenge each reader to channel their inner strength to find the blessings in their lives to celebrate and say, “I’m thankful for…”.