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Turkey topped tables all over America will hear this question the third week in November: “What are you thankful for?”

At first glance, the successes, gifts and good health separate from the ho-hum and the crud of the year to take their place with the cream: top of mind, ready to scoop and share.
But what about the pain that brought you here? The triumph only felt after your long struggle?

Gratitude for the good is fine -anyone can do it. But finding the lessons and learning in the shitty is a true gift- and this type of reflection gives new meaning to terrible experiences.

I’m writing this with a tissue pressed to the base of my nose, eyes watering, breathing noisily out of my mouth. All signs point to the first cold-weather virus of the season. I’m annoyed at this unwelcome guest- aside from it’s physical baggage,  it also brings a trunk full of fatigue, plops it on my bed, and says: ‘I’ll be here for about a week’.

Ugh, okay. The timing here is shitty.

I’m up to my eyeballs in work with barely a break in the last 30 days. Instead of a productive, organized Sunday, I’m tethered to my bed, the couch, any surface really where I can drip and drool in the fogginess of my brain for hours on end. Doing NOTHING.

It’s exactly what I need.

If I’m being honest, a break was not in my future. I ignored the early signs of burnout and pushed through one day, one email, one blog post at a time.

I’m thankful for this shitty cold.  I need the rest.

In retrospect, I wish I’d just given it to myself- forgoing the raw nose and phlegm. Lesson learned (once again): listen to my body. Even when it says things I don’t want to hear.

When I look back on my year through the lens of the shitty, I see the ‘bad’ giving me perspective for the ‘good’. The hardships allow me the chance to rub up against something prickly and uncomfortable in order to grow. In many ways, these events deserve the most thanks.

My Grandma died in July of this year- she was 92 years old. I accompanied her by her bedside in her little Edina apartment, flanked by my weeping Mom and Aunt as she took her last laborious breaths.  Witnessing Grandma Katie pass into the next world, helping the coroner dress her still body, shakily sipping glasses of pinot with my Mom and Aunt was all at once the last thing I wanted, and the only place I wanted to be.  

I’m left with an all new perspective on my relationship with my Mom, a lucky 4-leaf clover keychain, (Grandma Katie was a very proud Irish woman), and less fear (somehow) of the death transition myself. Katie’s ongoing lessons surface in words she once said to me: “You just gotta have fun, my Stephanie.”- She knew I take myself too seriously.  

I’m capital T Thankful for all the new perspective that altogether shitty experience gave me.

Friction in my romantic relationship pointed to some tough (but awesome) conversations. My fiancé and I are learning how to be with each other in this new stage, and developing the skills we need to adapt to the next phase when it arrives. Ironically, many of our most meaningful conversations and break-throughs begin as disagreements.  Since we’re willing to talk through them, no matter how awkward and irrational, we end up in a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other.  It definitely beats my formerly-honed coping skills: stuff shit down, it’ll probably get better on it’s own, he really has a right to be his own human- don’t intervene’.

Without the resistance, without the shitty, we’re less likely to grow and change. And when I glance back at 10 years younger me, I’m SO beyond grateful for the sadness, heartbreak, pain, and even the abuse. These experiences sparked my most beautiful changes and have helped me show up more fully and intentionally. 

So, this year, when you’re reflecting and rewinding, make sure you review your struggles with your successes. The shitty deserves it’s spot at the table this year too.

Live Life (More) Beautifully

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