Welcome to Off Topic Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving. On this special day, I would like to share with you the chapter, Giving Thanks, from my book Developing Awareness.
Developing Awareness is a collection of personal stories from my life. It is the first volume of the Answers are Within Series. These fun, uplifting stories range from my experience working with a Shaman to How I changed my money reality. At the end of each chapter are tips and tools for people that like to go deeper, develop awareness and change anything in their own lives. If you are interested in Change then this is the book for you. If you are interested in learning the Change Anything Process and attending one of my seminars this is the first place to start. It is packed with inspiration and tools for personal insight.
Here we go: Chapter 8 from Developing Awareness – Giving Thanks
“Be joyful always; Give thanks in all circumstances”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I was on a day trip in Berkeley. I visited the library, the bookstores, walked the streets, and was in my car about to leave the city. I was feeling pretty good. Then, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and University Avenue, it happened. I am still not sure what I did wrong. As I finished my left turn onto University Avenue, however, I noticed a motorcycle cop trying to pull me over.
Police stir an amazing array of emotions within me: Dread, fear, shame. The whole gamut. Usually there is the fear of the fine and the economic whiplash for having the violation on my driving record. This is accompanied by rapid thinking. My mind fluctuates between methods for convincing the officer to let me go un-cited to how I can just go to traffic school and should not worry. I feel shame that I made a mistake. Or, in other circumstances, I might have an uncomfortable feeling from knowingly violating a traffic law and getting caught.
Today I was somewhat puzzled, since I did not know what I had done wrong. My mind considered that I had a burnt out light or perhaps my registration sticker had been stolen. (Which actually happens to people in the city.) I did know, however, whatever was about to happen was not going to be pleasant, if for no other reason than the myriad of emotions I was bound to feel. So as the policewoman walked up to my vehicle window, I simply said “Thank you” to myself.
My dear friend and a devote Christian, Judy Lampe, had once told me that everything we get comes from God. As such, it is just as appropriate to give thanks for the good things as the bad things. In fact, she even implied that saying thank you for something unpleasant was a sure way to turn that thing into a gift. To illustrate the point, my friend had told me a story about Corrie Ten Boon.
Corrie Ten Boon was a woman who helped protect people from Nazi persecution during World War II in Germany. She was eventually caught and sent to a concentration camp. In her story, The Hiding Place, she tells of entering the cramped, filthy, flea-infested barracks of the camp for the first time. The conditions were such that she and her sister, Betsie, were nauseated from the stench. Corrie exclaimed, “Betsie, how can we live is such a place!”
Her sister simply prayed, “Show us. Show us how.”
An answer came to Betsie. Earlier that day, when they had been reading the bible, they had come upon the passage that instructs one to “give thanks in all circumstances”. Now, Betsie decided to put these words into practice. Corrie was less inclined to be thankful for their situation, but her sister urged her on. “Thank you for the crowding… Thank you for the fleas…”
This was too much. Corrie exclaimed, “Betsie there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
Her sister insisted, “‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ It doesn’t say in ‘pleasant circumstances’. Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
Corrie went along with her sister, but she was sure she was wrong about this. It was not until later that she found the gift of the fleas. It was because of the fleas that the prison guards would not come into their section of the barracks, and this allowed them greater freedom and privacy. In a place where guards could lash out at any time for any minor offense, this freedom was priceless.
Now in the face of an unpleasant event I decided to be grateful for the circumstances and wait for the gift. The police officer came up to my car. She was not very friendly. Something about my left-hand turn was illegal. She seemed to think that I should know that, but I was unable to figure out what I did wrong. The intersection was behind me and it was not worth turning back and driving through it again to figure out where I had gone wrong. I accepted the ticket and put it out of my mind.
This was a gift in itself. I have been known to berate myself for not being able to get out of a ticket. I had a coworker that had been stopped many times, but always managed to leave the scene without being ticketed. So I knew it was possible to get stopped and not get a ticket. This would have been a perfect opportunity to evade a fine, since I did not even know what I did wrong. I could have easily given myself grief for not even trying.
Instead I chose peace, I chose gratitude, and I let the whole situation go. Maybe I had a fine to pay, but on the hour and a half drive home I was not even worrying about it. In fact, I was a little excited. Who knows what was going to come of this. I let myself expect to be shown a gift. But I was also just plain excited about trying a new spiritual practice. I had said my prayer, “Thank You.” And now I was listening for the answer.
Before long the ticket arrived. It was for $70. I decided to go to court and request community service. I was not working, had a small child, and thought community service might be fun. Maybe this was the gift?
I drove back to Berkeley for court where my request was honored. I was assigned about twelve hours of community service. They charged me a small fee in Berkeley and gave me a number of the local organization that could handle my community service. I was not exactly thrilled by the number of hours, but reminded myself that this was my choice and it might be a good thing.
Back home, I called the local agency. They wanted to charge me an additional fee to transfer my case to our county. I also realized that I could not really do community service during my time with my daughter. I had originally thought of community service as a family activity. That was the main reason the community service looked attractive in the first place. Now I realized I would either need to put her in child care or do my service when she was with her father. The community service plan was turning out to be a disaster.
Within a couple days I got the follow up note from the courts. They acknowledged my assignment to do community service, but also said that I could opt out of the community service by paying a fine of $100 instead. Why was the fine now $100 and not $70?!
This was horrible. In the beginning I could have just paid the $70 fine, but now I was out a car drive to Berkeley, the $20 court fee, and would either need to do community service with a local transfer fee or pay $100. I would say the situation had gone from bad to worse. I felt I had made a mistake. That $70 looked like the gift now and I wanted it back.
This was the moment of despair. I was not happy. I felt I made a mistake. I was not sure what to do. When situations like this happen, I tend to feel betrayed. I was acting on good faith and I expected the universe to deliver good stuff. I felt like a victim. I wallowed between thinking and feeling I was wrong and thinking and feeling the court system was wrong. Neither of these beliefs or thoughts left me with any peace.
Finally, I resolved to face my situation. I considered the reality of the situation and got clear on what I wanted. I did not want to do community service. For whatever reason, I had changed my mind. Doing community service seemed too hard and with the additional fees and child care costs was rather expensive. What I really wanted was just to pay the $70. I did not understand why the fee was increased to $100 and thought perhaps this was just a clerical error. I decided to write the judge a letter.
In my letter, I explained that I had opted to do community service because I expected it would save me money. I then said that I no longer wanted to do this because of the many hidden costs, such as the court fee, the transfer fee, and child care. I closed by saying that I wanted to pay the original fine of $70, but the fine was raised to $100 after my hearing. In hopes that this was a clerical error I enclosed two checks, one for $70 and a second for $30. I requested the judge change my fine back to $70 and destroy the second check.
I mailed the letter, convinced that I had done the best I could in the circumstances. I had been tempted to plead or exaggerate my circumstances. I was pleased that I was able to make my request without doing so. I had shared my reasoning and made my request, nothing more. I was hoping that the judge would just cash the $70 check, but I was also okay if the court took the full $100. It was a lot of money for me at the time, but I was not poor. I had resources and assets.
Then the gift came. It showed up one day in my mailbox. It was a letter from the court. In the envelope was a short note from the judge and my two checks. The note said my case had been dismissed.
It hit me hard. I still cry when I think about it. I had let go, accepted the reality of the situation, and taken action on my own behalf. What I received was a true gift. I got kindness from a stranger. Where I had felt a victim and a mistake, I now felt loved. Where I had felt betrayal and despair I now felt protection and gratitude. It was a big deal to me.
I reflected back on when I got the ticket and I had said thank you. It certainly took a while to get to the end of the story. Only in the end was I able to see what I was grateful for. Like many situations in my life, it got worse before it got better. But in the end, I’d say that it was worth what walking the path cost me.
That incident paid off well, but it also was an investment that keeps on paying. Today, when things look bleak for me, I draw on this story to remind myself of the possibilities. I say thank you when I can see no reason to be grateful. I also give thanks when I am filled with joy.
* End of Chapter*
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