I work in real estate. I spend my days looking for potential sites, reading regulatory documents, running numbers, filling out paperwork, and trying to make deals competitive so we will be awarded funds to build apartments. No two deals are ever the same, and my day looks different every single day. I am the nerd who loves to read regulatory papers, highlight things, use Post-its, and fill out paperwork (every August, I get sad I can’t buy school supplies). I love my job, but it can be extremely demanding and stressful.
Two years ago, around this time, I traveled for work AGAIN. The year had been one of the heaviest travel years in my career. Traveling does have perks. I have seen amazing things, eaten fantastic food, met a lot of people, and had a lot of fun. However, traveling is also really grueling. Long hours in the car or airport and being away from my husband is not my idea of fun.
I remember I was getting crankier as we got closer to the due date of the baby we lost that Spring. I found myself struggling with things that didn’t use to bother me. I felt like every trip I went on, I would get grumpier and less fun to be around. I was easily annoyed and quick to anger.
I remember, one day, I had traveled for 7 hours with two coworkers and then immediately went into meetings and networking events. Not my idea of the best day ever. The next morning I woke up extra cranky. The last thing I wanted to do was put on my professional face, attend training sessions, and network all day.
I wanted to either stay in bed and hide from the world or get back into the car and drive back to my husband. Unfortunately, neither of those was an option. So, instead of getting up and trying to work on my attitude, I just let it get ugly. As I got ready, my cranky feeling escalated into anger. By the time I walked down to breakfast, I was a bear. I wasn’t angry at anyone in particular but also angry at everyone all at the same time.
As I quietly stewed, the first speaker of the day was introduced. I had never heard of this man, but his story caught me from the first minute.
Aron Ralston was hiking in April 2003 by himself when a huge boulder fell on him and trapped him for 127 hours. Aron ended up amputating his own hand with a dull pocket knife in order to safe himself.
If anyone deserves to be cranky about life, it’s this guy! The things he had to do in order to survive are horrifying. Seriously unimaginable. Aron said one thing at the start of his presentation that I may never forget. He said “Many of you know me as the man who had to cut his arm off to survive. However, at the end of this presentation, I want you to remember me as the man who cut his arm off with a smile.”
Whoa. Cut his arm off with a smile? Think about that for a minute. He was in the worst situation he could possibly face. He was choosing between two impossible situations. Cut my arm off or die. Choosing to smile in that situation? My mind can barely wrap itself around the thought.
A friend of mine always gives an illustration about two young girls celebrating their birthday. Girl A was placed in a perfectly decorated room with the most amazing food. She was dressed in the cutest clothes and given the best toys. It was the dream birthday! However, one of the toys quickly broke.
Girl A immediately started complaining about how the entire day was ruined. As a matter a fact, she was determined to hate her birthday for the next several years. Nothing could fix her attitude because she was focused on one broken toy in a sea of awesome!
Girl B was placed in a room with no decorations and no food. She was given dirty clothes to wear, and the only gift she was given was a box full of manure. The little girl opened the box and started giggling and throwing the manure all around in the room in complete glee. When asked why the little girl was so happy, she quickly responded, “With this much manure, there has to be a pony around somewhere!”
I know the illustration is silly, but what would happen if I started acting more like Girl B? What if I looked for ponies instead of focusing on my broken toys?
Did changing my attitude mean my situations suddenly got better? No. I still had to deal with my grief, and honestly, I am still waiting for a miracle baby. I still have stressful days at work and will still have to travel. Does changing my attitude mean I won’t have bad days ever again? Absolutely not. Choosing joy and looking for ponies doesn’t mean we can’t have bad days. It doesn’t mean that we ignore the pain we are feeling. It simply means that we choose to praise God even in the midst of the pain.
I always have thought James had a funny sense of reality when he said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3, ESV). How can someone “count it all joy” to have her faith tested? To me, it sounds like James was encouraging the Church to look for ponies. When our faith is tested, it brings steadfastness. We aren’t meant to begrudgingly walk through life. The Lord has called us to walk in freedom. Even when trials come—and they will—we can choose joy.
I want to be known as the girl who faced the ugly in life with a smile. The kind of girl who thrived and walked in freedom. The kind of girl who threw around manure because I know there is a pony somewhere. What would it look like if we all chose to be that type of person?
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on borderless.blog
Featured Image by Christine Mendoza