This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. This is a scripture of great gratitude found in Psalms 118, verse 24. A scripture that I have become so familiar with over the years of my journey as a Christian. Earlier this year, familiar words written across a page in the Bible became a code written across my heart as COVID-19 shifted the world.
I have always been ambitious with a focus to obtain more. I have two degrees and I am blessed to enjoy a creative career. It has taken much patience, tenacity and perseverance to overcome many challenges. It took me nearly 10 years to complete my bachelor’s degree. By my sophomore year at Frostburg State, I was over school. In fact, I began to loath it. I grew increasingly impatient with completing mundane coursework that was not stimulating or engaging.
I began earning straight F’s because I was so disconnected. My GPA plummeted below a 1.00. Besides, I grew tired of being a broke college student. So, I decided to take a sabbatical from school, return home, and get a full-time job so I can live independently; however, I soon learned that that was not a sustainable plan.
My lack of education and experience landed me consecutive low paying, mediocre jobs, none which were rewarding. After reality set in, I realized that I needed to complete my education to transition from mediocre jobs into a lucrative, fulfilling career. So, I enrolled in evening courses at the University of Baltimore while maintaining a full-time job.
I worked as a secretary at a medical practice from 8:30am to 4:30pm, then attended classes from 5:30pm-8pm, then from 8:15pm-10:45pm. During my second to last semester I earned my real estate license in addition to that. By my final semester, I was working on building my real estate business, while working my full-time day job, and completing a full-time academic schedule, including an 8-hour weekly internship. I really wanted MORE. The struggle was very real; however, constant self-reminders of my past failures pushed me to persevere. Also, the desire to earn a comfortable salary remained a driving factor.
At the time, I was sleeping on the living room floor of my grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment with other relatives. I felt like a failure because of my past mistakes. I knew that I should have been further along in life and I felt regret each day. On top of that, I constantly witnessed my peers enjoying awesome careers, buying houses, etc. and there I was making $15 an hour, still trying to get through undergrad. I really overcompensated by pushing myself hard. I completed my bachelor’s degree with over a 3.00 GPA and I was honored to give the commencement speech as the graduating class representative. The constant longing for more only grew from there. The desire to grow is natural; however, when it impedes on our ability to enjoy the now, it becomes toxic.
Pre-pandemic, I remained in pursuit of more with this subtle, yet constant concern that I was missing out on something. I would wake up early to get extra work done. I would spend hours online seeking new opportunities. I felt that I was never working hard enough. Honestly, the pressure I placed on myself became exhausting, denying me of the peace and joy obtained through enjoying each day the Lord has made. Looking back, I can honestly acknowledge that I was often too optimistic about time, setting daily goals that were not realistic. For example, my to-do list would include something along the lines of completing a few job applications, working on my thesis docuemntary, blogging, finding new photography clients, and getting better with different creative software. With a 3-hour daily commute to a full-time job, I just did not have the time to complete everything from the to-do list. I often went to bed at night feeling unproductive with to-do items incomplete. Sometimes I would try to make it up by resuming after returning home from work, which was unhealthy because I made room for nothing else – no leisure or pleasure, only work from the early morning into the late night. This is the epitome of self-sabotage and it felt horrible. This is the result of overcompensation.
My unraveling from the constant feelings of needing more began when COVID-19 afflicted the world. Each day I heard the tragic stories of those affected by the disease. Suddenly, I joined society in what I believe was a global call to slow down. I began to unravel from many toxic ideologies that became grafted in my mind over the years. In a world full of suffering, I gained a deeper appreciation for life. Though many of my prayers were aimed at healing for the suffering, many prayers were also charged with much gratitude for my blessings.
I exchanged the constant pressure to obtain more for enjoyment of the now, en route to the more. I slowed my pace and made the decision to be present in each moment, no longer feeling guilty for relaxing and having fun. Each day really became the day the LORD has made; so, I chose to rejoice and be glad in it. I have never been happier or healthier. Interestingly, I am still unraveling. It is an ongoing process, and like many other processes, some days are better than others. Fortunately, my overall condition is far better than what it was before.
When quarantine began, transitioning to remote work saved me a 3-hour daily commute, which provided extra spare time to think, reflect, etc. As the whole world was forced to slow down, I had quite an awakening. I was forced to look at the reality of life. Life is too sweet to miss the present moment, chasing the next. I heard about people dying every day. Hospitals were overflowing. People all across the world were hurting. My heart hurt for them, but my heart grew so full of gratitude because sickness never touched me or any of my loved ones.
I became so grateful just to be alive. I swelled with joy just to be able to spend time with family. With unemployment increasing, my heart grew even warmer toward my job. As I witnessed the tragedies on the news, I humbly realized that it could have easily been me, or a loved one. My gratitude is a deep knowing, enjoying, and acknowledgement of my blessings.
I realized what really mattered the most to me, and that is God and family. I realized the urgency to cherish each moment. An opportunity can be replaced, but a life cannot. No amount of success or money can buy good health. So, I closed up my MacBook when my work hours ended, and I started enjoying more movie nights with my family. I slept a little later. I began setting more realistic goals. I ate loads of cookies and milk. Sometimes I layed in bed and starred at walls. I listened to new music. I started new creative projects that bring me joy. I spent more time having fun conversations over the phone. Some days I never changed out of my PJs. I played my Playstation 4 more often. I realized that everything is okay, and everything will be okay.
I decided to give up my strong will (i.e. the need for things in my life to go my way according to my timing). Parallel to the message of the brilliant Mercy Me song that was released during quarantine, I learned to “hurry up and wait”. Only in my early 30’s, I realized that I have no legit reason to rush everything like there is no tomorrow. My success is not based upon anything except the willingess and boldness to live according to my purpose, which I have been doing. Thus, I am already successful.
I renewed my gratitude by taking my eyes off of the next, and gazing at the now. I took a deep look at my life and what I saw was beauty. I took a deep look at myself and what I saw was a perfectly imperfect woman who is growing deeper in purpose each and every day. I saw a woman who is enough. I replaced my complaints with praises for the beauty of each day, from the grey skies to the presence of my 75-year-old grandmother in my life. I gave thanks for everything.
There are some moments when my mind tries to wonder left, but I have gotten so much better at capturing the toxic thoughts and refocusing on the truth that matters. When I begin to feel that opportunities are not coming fast enough, I just remind myself that I never even applied for my current job. It was offered to me, at no effort of my own. That is a blessing worth thinking about, and it helps to keep me hopeful that even greater is to come.
I am a firm believer that shifting our focus to gratitude can bring great joy amidst some of life’s most challenging situations. When you wake up, write down every blessing in your life. Write how they make you feel. Reflect on them throughout the day. Filling your mind with your blessings leaves less space for negative thoughts. During quarantine, I have been rolling Philippians 4:8 around in my head like crazy and it has helped me so much! The scripture states to intentionally focus on what is most dope – everything that is lovely, pure, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. In order words, I’ve learned to combat tormenting, negative intrusive thoughts by interrupting them with something positive, from a compliment that someone gave me to the friends and family who deeply love me.
I capture the negative thoughts and cast them away by intentionally thinking of something good in my life. For example, when I start feeling inadequate, I think back to how I persevered through undergrad, evolving from earning all F’s to standing on the stage to give the commencement speech before my graduating class. That is a blessing I should think of! Another example, when I get tempted to get frustrated about money, I think back to when I was sleeping on the living room floor of my grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment. I now enjoy my own home in a great area. That’s major progress, so sobering– a blessing I should think of! Another example, when I start growing impatient while waiting for greater opportunities, I think about how I was making $15 an hour at a medical practice answering phones all day (which was so miserable). I am now a contractor with a digital media production company, using my creative skills to tell stories and actualize visions. That’s major progress – a blessing I should think of! There is even greater power with verbalizing positive words. For example, I often verbally remind myself that I will meet my goals, if not in my planned timing, in God’s perfect timing. This is how I combat negative thinking and it has been highly effective.
In the evening, write down every good thing that happened to you throughout the day. Feel free to even speak them out loud. Call someone you can trust and confide in to talk about your blessings and ask them to share theirs. The practice of gratitude is contagious! Reflect on these good things before you go to sleep. Wake up and repeat.
May we all develop a deeper love for life, while helping others. This is the day the LORD has made; so let’s rejoice and be glad in it.
Enjoy this MercyMe jam that helped me to hurry up and wait (Isaiah 40:31).