Grateful for Good Timing

November 27, 2010

The Thanksgiving week forever changed for me in 1997. For, on November 21st of that year, I was driving down the interstate when my front left tire blew sending my van careening across all three lanes of traffic heading my direction, through the median, and into the oncoming traffic. I hit a car, a car hit me, and it about killed me.  The doctors told my family there was no chance that I’d ever make it

I spent the next 13 consecutive months hospitalized, and really the majority of ever year after that in hospitals across the country throughout the next ten years. 2008 was the first year I didn’t stay at least two consecutive months in a hospital bed.

In many ways, this second accident has been more difficult than when I broke my neck. Some may think it impossible to have a paralyzing diving accident surpassed, but where the first accident had an instant totality; the second has had a persistent longevity.

In large part, two years after my diving accident I knew what my life was going to be like. I was back at school full time, driving, with the stamina of my peers. I knew those limitations, and other than a few bladder infections there was a baseline I could count on.

The second time around has been the complete opposite. It’d probably be easier for me to name the bones I didn’t break, than to list the ones I did. It brought with it a chronic pain that for much of the time kept me in a narcotic fog or debilitating pain. It’s been anything but dull though. Oftimes it’s felt as though just as one issue is resolved, another rears its ugly head.

Now, make no mistake, there’s been more joy and happiness in the days since November 21, 1997 than doom and gloom. We even celebrate the day of my accident. It’s an anniversary after all, and anniversaries are made for celebrating. (for more on the second accident and the anniversary tradition, click here.)

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard though. It doesn’t mean that, try as I might, I don’t find myself wondering what might have been. It doesn’t mean I don’t get tired, down, frustrated and depressed. There are days when it takes everything I’ve got to keep on smilin’.

But every time that week in November rolls around, the 21st hits and it gets as difficult as it is at any time in the year, I get a blessing most don’t—Thanksgiving—a day when all you do all day long is think about your blessings. I know a lot about adversity, and there is nothing you can do to light up depression’s darkness than shine bright gratitude upon it. A thankful heart is the antidote to depression’s deadly venomous sting.

For some reason, this 21st was harder than most. I’m not exactly sure why, but my spirits were way down, and my chin was far from up. Things were hard leading up to the day, and for some reason I really got thinking about “Could have been’s,” and, “Why me’s?” (and we all know those don’t ever do anyone any good) and the fact that I wasn’t as vigilant about celebrating my “anniversary” didn’t help at all (see what comes from getting lazy!)

But then, just when things started getting their bleakest, four days later my annual blessing—Thanksgiving.  And ironically, in a year when this day was the most difficult in recent memory, I had more to be thankful about in recent memory.

Here are a few of the gratitudes that topped my list:

My Faith: In a year where I’ve been pushed to the brink, I know that I would have gone over the edge without my faith in God. His words, His Spirit, and His love have helped me get through those un-get-through-able days, and allowed me to find peace in a world swirling all about me. I know God lives and there is nothing in my life I have to be more grateful for than that.


My Girl: You don’t have to be around me long, or read much of what I’ve written to expect this one on this list. But this year is different. On the first of June, Ko was hospitalized with acute gall-stone pancreatitis, and on the third at 3:00 am I almost lost her. Just writing those words makes my eyes well up. But, as I think of the courage she’s shown and the valiant way she’s fought every day from that first day to this very day, makes me weep. She’s my best friend, my love, my hero and my inspiration—my everything. I am so grateful she’s still alive, and am blessed to have witnessed and continue to witness her strength and courage.

My Wingman: He’s been with me through it all this year. I don’t know what it is, but he has wisdom beyond his years. He always seems to know the right thing to say, the way to make me smile, or just the right look to lift my heart. I’m never alone with Coleman around. I am grateful for the light he’s been in my life. Just hearing him bust through the door screaming, “Dad!” brings light to my darkest day.

The Chorus:  A chorus by definition is a group of voices that come together. There’s no soloist, in fact, the reason great choruses sound so beautiful is that everyone contributes equally with everything they’ve got. I wouldn’t have made it any day of any year since 1997 without my chorus. But it hasn’t been shown as clearly or exhibited as perfectly in any year since ’97 than this one. The people who have pitched in to help me and mine make it through the hardest days than the support my chorus has provided this year. Many of the faces are ones you’d recognize. Parents (on both sides), brothers and sisters from the same, cousins, friends, and neighbors—they’ve all been there. In hospital rooms, bringing meals, watching Coleman, sharing a kind word, a compliment in person or on the blog have lifted my spirits more than anyone will ever know. I am lucky and grateful to have such people blessing my life.

These big gratitudes have lifted me, obviously through the whole year—but especially through the last few days. One of the things I love about gratitude is that it always makes me feel rich.

With things like this to be grateful for, I dare you to show me a wealthier man in all the world. I’m blessed—In so many ways. Not the least of which is that Thanksgiving is so close to the 21st of November.

I encourage you to partake of some of this “good medicine” for yourselves. Take a moment to leave a comment about something you’re thankful for. Doesn’t have to be a big act or blessing, it’s amazing how sometimes the littlest things bring the most mercy. The more of us that share—the more we each get to think about the great and wonderful in our lives. And the more that attitude of gratitude spreads the more the doom and gloom, the frustration and consternation are chased from our souls letting the light of hope shine bright.

I am grateful for the power of gratitude.


PS: in an effort to show my gratitude for your sharing, one person leaving a comment will win a set of my motivational cards,  one of my autographed DVD’s (both seen here) and a $15.00 gift card from Walmart for munchies. ‘Cause what DVD’s not better with a little treat to go with! —Right?

And spread this one around; let’s see how many gratitudes we can come up with. Comments must be entered by Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm PST.

…And Now For Something Completely Different

January 5, 2009

I thought today I’d offer up something different.  I’ve attached a video clip of me doing what I do. This is a clip of me speaking about gratitude. If it sounds familiar it’s because I’ve already posted this story written here. But, reading it and seeing it presented are two different things. Enjoy, and tell me what you think.


Number 99

November 26, 2008
One Grateful Little Boy

One Grateful Little Boy

In those first days in the hospital after breaking my neck my parents kept my spirits up by creating a list of my blessings and reading it to me every day. Some time after that on a day when I was feeling a little down I decided to pull out a piece of paper and write down 100 things I had to be grateful for.

I had no idea how difficult a task I had set before myself. The first 25 were easy. There were things like family and friends, a good home with good food. The second 25 took a little more energy and a little more thought. The third 25 made me really think. To complete my list the final 25 consisted of any little thing I could think of. I was thankful for ketchup, light bulbs, socks, etc. If I could see it it went down on my paper. Number 99 on that list was the fact that I could pick my nose.

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t pick my nose. When you have to ask someone to help you pick your nose you find out who your friends are. This is not something a lot of people want to talk about, but definitely something you’re grateful you can do when you need to.

I learned to be grateful for this small blessing from a great man who visited my home in my youth. We had been told a few months before that a man of some importance in my church named Robert Harbertson was going to come and stay with us for the weekend. My father went to pick him up at the airport and we all waited in our Sunday best for them to return.

We knew that he was important not only from his reputation, but from the fact that since the day we learned he was going to be in our home my mom began the etiquette lessons. All of a sudden we were eating our SpaghettiOs with three forks, a couple spoons and a cloth napkin.

Finally they arrived. As they got out of the car and walked up the steps to our front door every member of my family wondered what words of wisdom this great man would have to share with us. Robert Harbertson came in our home, looked at me, brandished his signature smile, and walked straight over to where I was sitting.

I couldn’t wait. I wondered what spiritual nugget or life lesson he would have to impart to me. He stood in front of me, looked me in the eye and said, “Jason, I want to see you pick your nose.”

Of all of the wisdom that I thought that he might impart, of all of the words that I would have guessed he might have used, asking me to pick my nose never entered my mind.   But, my parents had taught me to respect my elders and to do as they asked. So I attempted to pick my nose.

I will tell you—there is only one thing more embarrassing than picking your nose in front of someone you have a high regard for, and it is being unable to pick your nose in front of someone you have a high regard for.

He knew about my recent spinal cord injury and that at the time picking my nose would be a struggle for my weakened arms. He looked at me, smiled again and told me that the next time he saw me he wanted me to be able to pick my nose.

Not wanting to disappoint him I spent the following weeks and months working to pick my nose. This is something you do alone. This is not a tag team event, not something you want to get lot of people involved in. But nearly every day I worked to pick my nose. I would sit in my room by myself working to get my hand to my face to accomplish this goal. I wanted to make sure the next time he saw me that I had done what he asked.

Almost six months later, in Salt Lake City, I saw Robert Harbertson again.  The minute he saw me, he walked over to me, looked me in the eye, smiled that same smile, and said, “Jason, I want to see it.”  I will tell you this;  never before, and never again has a nose been picked with the vigor and excitement that was that day. I mean I really  picked my nose. I wanted to make sure that there was no question that I had completed my assignment as asked.

He laughed, and as he did I realized that he didn’t really care whether I could pick my nose, but he did care that I was working to improve the strength in my arms. Even still, every time I think of this experience with my friend Robert Harbertson I think about how grateful I am to pick my nose. I think about all the other “little things” that are a of my everyday life that I so easily forget to count as blessings.

Counting our blessings brings with it an amazing power. Gratitude for one blessing allows you to be grateful for others. Once I learned to be grateful that I could pick my nose my eyes were opened. and I was grateful that I could wash my face, brush my teeth, and feed myself.

Bringing this kind of gratitude into your life will chase away depression. For, there’s not enough room in the human heart for depression and gratitude at the same time. They are oil and water. They cannot exist in the same place at the same time. In fact, the one repels the other.

The wonderful thing about Thanksgiving is that it gives us each and opportunity to count our blessings–to chase the Depression from our lives. During this Thanksgiving I issue a each of you a challenge. Pull out a piece of paper (Kolette has a great one ready to download), number it as far as you like (at least to 10) and fill it with things you have to be grateful for. Then, take the time to share one of those things as a comment on this blog.

If we really get behind this idea, we will marvel at the things we find on our own lists, and have the ability to grow those lists as we see the comments others leave. If you read this post during this season, just take one moment and make note here of something you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be long and drawn out. It can be simply one word. But, if we will all do it then we will all be better for it. I’ll leave the first one, the fact that I can pick my nose.

The more comments that are left, the more thankful we will all be. If you don’t usually comment, do so–just this time. Encourage your spouse to leave a comment, ask your children to do so as well. Forward the post to a friend and invite them to put down what they are grateful for. Let’s grow this comment list as a Thanksgiving gift to ourselves.

For, I have learned that by writing down the things I am grateful for, I have a better chance of keeping the depression out, and the gratitude in.


A Grateful Heart + Winner

November 25, 2008

First, congrats and an autographed DVD to Sue for her winning inspirational thought.  I love her spirit about the “change” cancer has brought to her life.

Six years since my diagnosis of Breast Cancer. It was a hard time for my husband, my boys and my extended family and of course for me.
I consider every day a gift and I don’t like to waste even a minute on hard feelings, mean people (I’m in retail, LOL) or anger. I just don’t have the time!
Cancer did change me but it is all good!

Now Today’s Post:

My Hands

My Hands

With Thanksgiving on it’s way, I wanted this weeks posts to center on gratitude.  I’ll post today and Wednesday and then be off for the weekend.

During my hospital stays, I have never had any real depression.  The closest I ever came was in the middle of the three-month stay after breaking my neck.

When I was in the ICU, I was so ill and so focused on staying alive there wasn’t much time left to think too far into the future.  As I continued to get better I began to wonder what life after the hospital would be like.
Moving from ICU to the Rehabilitation wing brought the thought of “after” permanently to the fore of my mind.  That’s their job there—to get you thinking about living versus just staying alive. It was there I began to understand what it meant to be unable to move my hands.

In rehab, I was working every day to get the most out of the few parts of my body that still worked, trying to sit upright on the mats, increasing my strength with the weights and working to push my chair.

At night in my room, I would watch my hands. I would see them move in my mind, concentrating until it hurt, hoping for them to work; needing them to work. But they didn’t.  Not a single movement.
One night lying in my bed, I struck a deal with God.  I told him that I would live the rest of my life happy without the use of my legs if He’d just give me back my hands. “Keep my legs;” my soul would scream,” Just let me have my hands.”

It didn’t seem like too much to ask.  Most kids at fifteen were worried about what they would wear the next day to school.  I couldn’t feed myself, clothe myself, or get myself into or out of bed.
Day and night I would pray, “Please God, heal my hands, make them move, make them work,” and every time—the same result—nothing.

I knew that having my hands would open up a whole new world for me. I knew it meant that I could push my own chair, put myself in and out of bed, pick something up off the floor, wash my face, brush my teeth, comb my hair—things that would make my life easier a hundred-fold.

I knew that if God were ever to accept my deal, He would have to see me working hard every day. So, I had decided that in daily therapy I would give everything I had. Hour upon hour I exercised— stretching and pulling, doing everything in my power to strengthen the remaining muscles.
The work was tedious and the progress slow, but the tiny daily victories coupled with my hope made it all worth it—until Daniel came.

Dan had been in an accident similar to mine, but had escaped with the total use of his arms and hands and partial use of his legs. Every day the therapist would offer to work with Dan. “Today, let’s concentrate on your upper body.  Today, let’s strengthen your arms and hands.” the therapist would plead, only to hear Dan’s all too familiar response. “No,” he would reply, “Today I want to watch my legs, maybe today they’ll move—maybe today they’ll work.

Frustrated to no end, I thought, “Don’t you see what you have?  Don’t you understand that you have access to blessings and opportunities that I can only dream of, that I can only pray for?  Yet ,you’re so wrapped up in what you don’t have, you can’t even see what you do have.”

Ready to quit I headed back to my room.  On my way there I stopped in the room of a friend, Rich Hullinger.
Rich was also a quadriplegic.  As I spoke to him that day, I noticed that he wore leather braces on his wrists. I had worn similar braces at the beginning of my hospital stay, but as my wrists had become stronger, I was able to function without them.

It seemed odd to me that Rich, who had been in hospital longer than I, would still be wearing them.  Our injuries were similar. We were both quadriplegics at about the same level. But, he had been in the hospital longer than I, and so I began to wonder why would he need the leather braces on his wrists?

Curious, I asked Rich about them. I told him that because of the time that he had been in the hospital, he could remove the braces from his wrists.

It was then Rich had his beautiful young wife come and remove the braces.  I watched his wrists fall.  He explained to me that the break in his neck was one pinhead higher than mine.  He told me that because it was, he was unable to move his wrists up and down or even hold them against the power of gravity.
I returned to my room so ashamed. I had found in myself, all the things I hated in Dan.

That night lying in bed I watched my hands, but this time for a different purpose. Instead of waiting for them to move or work, I watched as my wrists moved up and down.

Over and over I moved my wrists up and down, all the while thinking of lessons Rich had taught me.  I began to think of how blessed I was to be able to move my wrists up and down.  I wondered how many people were praying that night for that one singular blessing.  I wondered what else I had access to that others could only dream about.  Each time I moved my wrists up and down I would think of a blessing that was mine.
I thought about the family who loved and cared about me.  I thought about the friends who cared little whether I was sitting or standing and cared only that I was their friend.  I thought about the fact that I had never wanted for food, clothing, or a place to stay.  I thought about how I had never had to find shelter from the rain. I realized that I lived in a country where I was free to worship as I pleased; where I could get the best medical care.

As I moved my hand up and down I became thankful in my heart for things that I had otherwise forgotten.
I had spent the bulk of my time concentrating on what I did not have when I should have been focusing on what I did. By wishing for different circumstances, I had become totally oblivious to my life’s many blessings.  This oblivion caused my outlook on life to become tarnished.  It affected the way I dealt with others and my zeal for life.  It affected the way I felt about myself. 

With this new realization, I began to feel more blessed.   As I felt more blessed, I became more thankful. As I became more thankful, I developed a sense of worth which brought with it new vigor for life.

Rich’s lesson to us is to take a moment each day to look around our lives and realize our blessings.  There are blessings all around.  Each of us needs only to take a moment and see how blessed we are, no matter how dark the night or difficult the day, no matter what adversity stands in our way. If we will open our eyes and look, we will see that we have blessings that others only think about; blessings that others can only dream of–that we have blessings others can only pray for.