When I got back the pictures from our summer vacation and looked through the first several shots, I was shocked to see how exhausted and sad I looked. But then, it had been a difficult year.
I had been assigned to a new school where colleagues refused to work together, and I struggled with the most unruly class of my long career. Our only child had left the nest to pursue career goals thousands of miles away. His new schedule wouldn't mesh with mine for the winter holidays, and I anticipated missing him.
My husband had been suddenly laid off, which was distressing enough, but I'd had to turn down a writing workshop I'd very much wanted to take, because we expected to have to move if my husband found a new job. The tension, anxiety, and resentment I'd felt had left me tired and ill most of that year.
I always use part of my vacation time to pray as I read Mary Baker Eddy's book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." The second day of our trip, I wasn't feeling well again, so I stayed behind instead of going on the day trip. I was disappointed to miss it, because our son had joined us, and I wanted to spend every minute I could with my family, but I knew how important it was to make time for prayer.
Asking God to show me what I needed to know, I picked up Science and Health and opened to the first chapter titled "Prayer," which asks the question, "Are we really grateful for the good already received?" Being grateful was part of spirituality, I knew, but it was the following sentence that caught my attention: "Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more."
I asked myself, "What are the blessings that teaching brings me?" I was surprised to find answers flooding in. I enjoyed planning lessons that resulted in students' clearer understanding and rising grades. Even the most disrespectful of my students had improved.
I had enjoyed cheering for my students at athletic games. Most of all, teaching was a profession I was proud of. It gave me opportunities to truly serve and be part of something substantial that benefited my community.
Teaching wasn't a job; it was a complete experience, full of opportunities to do everything I loved - art, charitable work, writing.
Yes, I was truly grateful.
So how could I "avail" myself of those blessings? I wasn't sure, but I had a peaceful, intuitive feeling that God would show me.
From that moment on, the blessings began to flow.
I realized I was feeling much better, and in a little while, my family came back sooner than expected, because the day trip hadn't worked out. I was able to join them for the rest of the day, and for the rest of the trip, with no more illness or fatigue.
When we returned home, my husband was immediately offered a position, and he started the new job close by, making a move unnecessary.
I kept my same teaching assignment and was asked to join committees involved in areas new to me. Instead of hesitating and fearing an increased workload, I accepted, remembering the rest of the paragraph I had pondered on vacation: "Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech."
Because of a staffing change, my new schedule left me free during our son's vacations. My new colleagues worked together with enthusiasm. My new class of fifth-graders was exceptionally well-mannered.
I was able to attend the workshop, substituting for someone who couldn't go. I had agreed to teach the summer session, but, even before I brought the schedule conflict to my principal's attention, someone volunteered to fill in during the overlapping week (something almost unheard of).
The new view of God's blessings that had lifted my spirit while I was on vacation had since become tangibly evident in several ways.
Incidentally, the last picture in the batch of photos, taken at the end of our vacation, shows me sitting in a deck chair, laughing. Gratitude had eased the tension and lightened my heart. I'm not afraid to face the future. God's grace has taught me that every unpleasant circumstance is an opportunity to trust Him and see His good flow into my life. My happy expression shows I expect God's blessings, and that I'm already grateful for them.