Counting Little Blessings

Newly divorced, I was waiting tables at a little diner in Ponca City, Oklahoma, barely scraping by. My three-year-old son, Scott, had chronic asthma and the medical bills were overwhelming me. Worry undermined my thinking. My faith in myself and God was crumbling. "Why am I going through this?" I asked the Lord. "Why aren't you helping me?"

One day my good friend Bea came over and sat at the kitchen table with me as I recounted my woes: "Scott isn't getting better. I've brought him to the best doctors I can afford. He's taking five different medications, but they don't seem to do any good. The landlord is raising our rent. I can't work any more hours. I'm so tired I can hardly open my eyes in the morning. . . ."

Scott sat on the floor at his toy piano, pounding out a perfect rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

"Wow, would you listen to that," Bea exclaimed. "That kid's got talent!"

"Lord knows he's had lots of practice, stuck inside all day. He can't go out and play like a normal kid," I said, sighing.

"Do you hear yourself?" Bea said. "It can't be all bad. When things are rough, you have to look for the little blessings. Don't you have any happy moments?"

Her words felt like ice water on my face. Easy for her to say, I thought. She has a husband and a healthy daughter. What do I have? "It's hard to keep the faith when things stay bad for so long," I offered, sounding as lame as I felt.

We sat for a moment while Scott played a song he'd made up. Finally Bea spoke. "Try something for me these next few days. Get a notebook, and every evening after you tuck Scott in to bed, write down just one little blessing."

I nodded. Bea rose to go.

What a stupid idea, I thought after she'd left. How can keeping a "happy list" pay the bills or make Scott well? What good will this do?

And yet for the next few days, almost in spite of myself, I began looking for blessings---little ones, to be sure; anything to make me feel hopeful once more. Driving home from another long shift at the diner, I saw a short line for gas at the local station. Back then, in the '70s during the oil shortage, that was a real rarity. What good timing, I thought pulling in. At work a customer passed on some magazines I'd wanted to read. Bea's right, I thought as I wrote in my spiral notebook that night. It isn't all bad news. Soon I was writing in my journal whenever I could snatch a free moment.
10/24 Scott and I are having our oatmeal by the fire this morning. He slept well last night and is full of talk.

11/1 Got a five-dollar tip today at the restaurant. I'm used to seeing coins on the table! I'll use the money for Scott's birthday.
The more I wrote, the more my attitude shifted. When I read over my journal entries, I could see how every new challenge turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
12/16 Because of Scott's worsening condition, another day-care center has rejected him and my job is on the line. Must think of other work options.

1/5 Bea gave me the idea to clean houses. I can take Scott with me (making sure he isn't near when I dust, of course), save on child-care expenses and watch him while I work!

3/20 I'm paying bills I thought I'd never be able to pay!
"I told you so!" Bea teased one day, sitting at my kitchen table. "You can focus on your troubles or you can focus on your blessings. It makes all the difference in the world!"

Our lives improved so much that I was ready to face the challenge when our doctor urged us to move farther west to a drier climate for Scott's asthma. My one great sadness was saying farewell to Bea. On the day we left I thanked her for all her help, struggling to find the words.

"You keep writing," she said, "you hear?"

Scott and I settled in Colorado. For the next 10 years I wrote every day, no matter what. And not just journal entries. I began to think of myself as a writer. I tried writing magazine articles. In one, I described having to put my dog, Shorty, to sleep. I sent it to a small Humane Society magazine. They actually bought the piece! I took writing classes at the community college and scoured the library to find more places to send articles. Every so often I combed through my old journals for story ideas.

Scott's asthma steadily improved in the dry climate. By the time he graduated high school he was a healthy six-footer, with a room full of awards from piano, saxophone and marching band competitions. But that same year I received a sad letter from Bea.

"My life, I'm afraid, is dreary now," she wrote. "With my husband gone and my daughter's diabetes, I wonder sometimes what has been the purpose of my struggle."

I know just what she needs, I thought. I dug out my old faded spiral notebook. I put it in a manila envelope along with my son's senior picture and a note that said, "A wise friend once told me, 'When things are rough, you have to look for the little blessings.' "

A month later I received a small parcel from Bea: my old notebook with a few pages attached to the back.
6/12 Today I took my hot tea to the garden and read. My flowers are in full bloom and the yard smells so sweet.

6/19 The doctor says it would be fine for me to enroll in water aerobics. I'm scared, but I'm going.

6/21 Made a new friend, Maude, in aerobics class. She goes dancing every Wednesday evening at the senior center.

6/26 There aren't many men to dance with at the center, so all of us "old widows" dance with each other. What fun!

6/30 I have never felt better. It must be the exercise and the "little blessings."
At the bottom she'd added a note: "I'm returning your journal in hopes you will write about this someday and share it with others. I love you. Bea."

Yes, Bea, I will.

. . . whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Philippians 4:7

Blessings are upon the head of the just . . .
Proverbs 10:6

[ Lou Dean -- from ]


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