THANKS & GIVING: Giving Thanks and Giving Back

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EDITOR’S NOTE: During the holiday season, we reached out to our writers and readers for inspiration. I don’t need to repeat the theme of this year’s trials and tribulations … we plan to provide you with thoughtful, uplifting reading over the next few weeks and throughout the holidays. Let’s celebrate thanks and giving. What are you thankful for? Give thanks, and let’s all be thankful that we live in this very special corner of the world in a community that cares for EVERYONE. You never know what someone is carrying, the weight of the trauma, and especially at this time treat yourself with kindness and gentleness. Thank you Michelle Jenck for sharing such personal stories, and for your strength, faith and caring.
By Michelle Jenck
In thinking about “Thanks and Giving” as this crazy year comes to an end, my first thought was how challenging 2020 has been for so many people. How my heart breaks for those most impacted. My thoughts shift, though, to how thankful I am for the challenges I have faced in my own life. I love who and where I am today, and I know I would not be here had I not endured trials in my life. So, I give thanks for those trials and offer up these thoughts in support of anyone going through their own struggles during the chaos of 2020.

While most people see me as a well-adjusted, positive, high-functioning person, I am only those things for having worked my way through some difficult times, going all the way back to my early childhood. In my 51 years, I have been through at least one “dark night of the soul” and more than a few storms. I am sharing these experiences to illuminate the joy and hope that can emerge from bleak and crushing events.
In thinking about my “top 3” soul-shifting life events, these were the most impactful for me: 1) playing a key role in an intervention to send my 14-year old boyfriend to drug rehab, 2) my college boyfriend dying in a traumatic car accident, and 3) being a parent to children with special needs.
Even as I type this, I feel waves of intense emotion, remembering (reliving) trauma, pain, loss, devastation and uncertainty. Each event and the months and years following, were very difficult. There were times I didn’t think I would come out on the other side in one piece. There were times I didn’t want to come out at all, at one point just existing in a dark void, thinking it would be okay if I just drove straight ahead where the road curved.
I look back and wonder how I not only survived these experiences but went on to live a life of joy and even gratitude because of them. Each of these trials gave me opportunities to grow and develop as a human being. The process has been a gradual, unfolding with many ups and downs. Why my life has ultimately moved in a positive direction, can be summed up with three key themes:
1) I have faith in a higher power that I believe created me for a purpose.
2) I developed an understanding that I am responsible for my own happiness, no matter what happens to me.
3) I seek to understand my gifts and I try to use them in ways that make the world a better place.
There is a quote from Abraham Lincoln that says, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” I am grateful I was exposed to a faith-based up-bringing, surrounded by others who modeled those principles. I don’t know if my journey would have led me to where I am today had that not been given to me. I did not appreciate or even participate willingly in a faith practice in my early years, but the seed was planted, and thankfully, germinated.
The happiness factor came about as a result of attending Al-Anon meetings at age 14. I dutifully read my One Day at a Time book, working the steps and listening to the stories of people who had been through a lot more hardship than me. It was eye-opening and it fundamentally shaped how I saw the world and my role in it from a formative age.
Seeing the world differently is a gift and it is one given to people who are born with neurodevelopmental differences. Raising children who think, communicate and sense the world around them in completely different ways has not only been eye-opening but also mind- and heart-opening. I see all people with new eyes and I am keenly aware of how unique each person is. I see how we each have our gifts, given to us to use to make the world a better place.
These learnings led me to the work I have chosen – or rather, the work that has chosen me. Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of reasons for giving back what has been given to me.