Begin where you are; utilize what you possess; and do what you can.
Throughout my life, whether confronted by adversity, striving to achieve goals, grappling with the pain of witnessing a loved one’s battle for life, or facing the loss of a dear one, I strive to recall and enact one of my cherished quotes: “Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.”
I am composing this blog with the hope that it resonates with at least one person’s heart. Countless times, in my journey, I have encountered questions: What lies ahead? What should be my next step? Will everything be alright? The fear of the unknown can be overwhelming. This apprehension enveloped me at the age of 13 when I embarked on a solitary flight from Haiti to Miami, Florida. During that moment, I was oblivious to the impending transformation of my life. I had no idea that I wouldn’t see my parents again for numerous years. Those questions reemerged when, at 14, I was sent to live with another family member. The same questions arose again at 16, as my cousin gave me a ride to a friend’s house, where I was offered a spot on her floor to sleep. Each time these queries emerged, I reminded myself that things would eventually be alright.
As we approach this holiday season, I am aware that it will be a challenging time for many. The past nine months have presented numerous trials, and during this holiday season, the realization that we’re in extraordinary times will become even more evident. For many, travel to reunite with family may be impossible due to factors such as COVID, health concerns, or financial constraints. Furthermore, the absence of loved ones who have passed away will cast a shadow. More than 260,000 lives have been lost to COVID and related complications. As a result, families are bracing themselves for an even more unusual holiday season.
Within my family, we will be grappling with the absence of my beloved mother, who passed away unexpectedly a few months ago. My mother emanated a warm and loving spirit. She delighted in preparing meals for her family, friends, and church community. During Thanksgiving, she would prepare large quantities of food for friends and family. I often playfully told her, “You’re not running a restaurant, Mommy.” Her joy came from observing us relish her meals and savor leftovers for days. Last year, we sat around the table with her during dinner. However, this year is different; she is no longer with us. I am fully aware that my experience is not unique. Numerous individuals are grappling with similar feelings of loss, whether concerning friends or family, and for some, these losses are multiplied.
I am once again confronted with the task of recalling the mantra to start from where I stand, employ the resources at my disposal, and do whatever lies within my capability. I am faced with putting into practice the guidance I have dispensed and taught over the years: to remember God’s promises, to give back, to uplift others, and above all, to be thankful and cultivate gratitude even amid pain and sorrow.
Take a moment to step back with me. Temporarily set aside your own suffering. Consider the countless individuals harboring profound sorrows within their souls. Many have had to terminate relationships this season. Others have lost their jobs prior to or during this crisis. I encourage you to remember those battling for their lives in hospitals, the children born into poverty, the orphaned, the families across the globe lacking clean water and sustenance, the homeless, the widowed, the divorced, the singles, the single parents, the victims of gun violence this year, the elderly, and all those enduring solitude during this time.
Numerous individuals couldn’t bid farewell to friends and family members who passed away in hospitals, isolated. Please know that I share in your grief and anguish. As daunting as this may seem, I pray that you find the strength to be grateful for the time shared with them and to treasure every moment with those who envelop you with love and support. Let’s pause for a moment and send love and peace to everyone.
We are all distinct, and at various junctures in life, we each face suffering and hardship. What I can unequivocally assert is that there exists something capable of alleviating anger, resentment, bitterness, and the burdens that encroach upon our lives. One thing has the potential to introduce peace and even joy—gratitude.
The teachings of scripture encourage us to offer thanks in every circumstance.
1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Allow me to share a profound insight: When an individual lies on their deathbed, their most cherished possessions are their loved ones and relationships. According to the book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware, the five most common regrets and unfulfilled desires of the dying are:
- I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, rather than one expected of me by others.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with friends.
- I wish I had allowed myself to be happier.
What I know for certain is that during the final moments of transition, an individual’s most cherished aspects are their loved ones, relationships, peace, and the memories they have nurtured. They don’t dwell on money, possessions, societal status, or academic accolades. It boils down to the love and tranquility surrounding them.
How am I privy to this insight? I stood by my mother’s side as she transitioned from this life. My sister and I remained with her as she took her last breaths. She was surrounded by the individuals she treasured most and who cherished her deeply. Her children and grandchildren encircled her. We serenaded her with songs and prayer. On the night preceding her passing, we prayed together. She rested her head on my shoulder while I touched her back. Unbeknownst to us, she would depart mere hours later. To me, this was a divine gift, a memory I choose to hold dear and be thankful for every instant of my existence.
Steve Jobs, a billionaire, succumbed to pancreatic cancer at 56. His final words on his sickbed were: “I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In the eyes of others, my life is an exemplar of success. Yet, beyond work, there is little joy. Now, lying on this sickbed and reflecting on my entire life, I realize that the recognition and wealth I once prized have paled and lost meaning in the face of impending death.”
As you grapple with various challenges and sorrows during this season—whether contemplating the risks of travel or considering inviting loved ones over—I urge you to prioritize safety and the well-being of your family. Ensure you’ve done all within your capacity to safeguard yourself and those you hold dear.
Furthermore, I implore you to cultivate gratitude in all aspects of life. Seek out reasons for thankfulness. Craft memories with your family and friends. Reach out to loved ones and express your affection and appreciation. Pen a letter or send a card. Cherish the moments, whether in person or through virtual connections. Be present, grateful, and seize every second.
Amid the pressure of seasonal gift purchases or the temptation to spend beyond your means, remember to start where you are, employ your resources wisely, and do what you can. Your loved ones and children yearn for your time, love, and attention. Avoid plunging into debt or exceeding your means. Your children desire your happiness, not your stress. Discover alternative methods to forge memories that defy monetary valuation.
Let us all be grateful for each new day and take action to give back. Whether through prayer for our global brethren or donations to food banks and homeless shelters, through acts of service and leadership, we can make a difference. Regardless of our life stage, we must acknowledge that the final curtain will fall someday. Remember to begin where you stand, use your resources judiciously, and do your utmost. In the face of storms, allow God to be your shelter.
Cherish every moment and remain in the present. You needn’t always comprehend everything; take life one day at a time. Be thankful for the gift of love shared with your family, spouse, and friends. Extend to yourself the patience, kindness, love, and care you offer others. On weary days, surrender it all to God. Keep in mind, after the rain, the sun always shines. Revel in life’s small pleasures.
Leo Tolstoy aptly advises, “Remember that there is only one important time, and it is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have control. The most important person is the one before you, for who knows if you’ll interact with anyone else in the future? The most valuable pursuit is ensuring that the person beside you, the one standing at your side, is happy; this alone constitutes the essence of life.”
I hold the belief that everything unfolds for a reason, and love is the essence of our existence. Material possessions lost can be regained, but one thing, once lost, can never be recovered life.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: Ecclesiastes 3
God is love!
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