Have you ever taken something for granted?  Maybe you took your job for granted, until you lost your job.  Perhaps you took your health for granted, until you found yourself unable to walk, eat, or breathe normally.  Or you may have lacked appreciation for your family or friends, until one of them passed away.  In life, we are given many things.  Some of these things are desired and some are undesired, some are happy and some are sad, some are uplifting and some are distressing.  Regardless of whether or not you appreciate the blessings God gives you, there is one thing that is absolutely certain: God will always give you what you need, when you need it, whether you think you need it or not.  You could be taking something for granted right now, whether it is the food you eat, your home, a loved one…do you give thanks for the things God has blessed you with each and every day?  Or are many of them simply taken for granted?

In August 2009, on the first morning of preplanning for teachers, I had an experience that caused me to reexamine the blessings God has given me.  One morning, when I got out of bed, my face was no longer normal.  As I looked in the mirror, I immediately realized that I could not blink my eyes, talk clearly, or even smile.  Fear dominated my thoughts.  Countless questions filled my mind.  I wondered, Was this permanent?  Did I have a stroke?  What could have possibly caused this?  I wondered why God would allow this to happen.  I could not understand the purpose in God’s plan.  After all that had happened in the previous year, I could not comprehend why God would add yet another trial for me to have to face.  Why should I have to go through this, of all things?  This experience put me in one of the lowest places I had ever been.

That very week, I went to my family physician, hoping to receive some good news.  My physician told me several possibilities that it could be, a few quite severe, and referred me to first see an optometrist.  I couldn’t believe, after 27 years of 20/20 vision, that a visit to an optometrist was necessary.  After a full examination, I was told that I likely had a severe case of bilateral Bell’s Palsy.  Although I have since heard about many cases of this condition, I had never heard of it before.  I was given several prescriptions to help with swelling and infection, and told to go home and basically wait it out.  How long would it last?  Neither the optometrist nor the eye specialist could tell me for sure, but they simply said it could be anywhere from days to weeks to months.  Or, it could be permanent.  This word seemed so final, so irreversible.  So, permanent.

Having lost my Mom just a year before, I was completely and utterly distraught.  I did not understand why I should be subjected to such pain, discomfort, and fear, in addition to the distress and sorrow I was already experiencing.  I was told one of the possible causes could be stress-related factors.  When I look back on that time in my life, I realize this was certainly the case.  Not only had our summer vacation come to an end, but it was the one-year anniversary of the loss of my Mom.  The more I tried to not think about this “anniversary,” the more I thought about it.  Every time I tried to miss my mom a little less, I missed my mom a lot more.  School was starting, which meant the end to our summer travels, there was a “to-do” list that seemed longer than the Nile itself, and the absence of my Mom made even the least significant detail or minor setback seem like an international incident.  Needless to say, I worried that I would drown in this sea of stress-related factors, never to smile again.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I smile all of the time.  It’s almost as if God has placed a perpetual smile on my face.  Although I had always been one to smile all of the time, I never gave it much thought.  For me, smiling is just as natural as breathing the life-giving air that God provides.  As such, the idea that I might never smile again was terribly frightening.  In addition, I was concerned about my eyesight.  While I had always had 20/20 vision, this medical condition made it difficult to see clearly enough to read an e-mail, to watch television, or to even drive a car.  On top of this, I could not raise my eyebrows, blink my eyes, speak clearly, or chew properly.  I was embarrassed to eat in front of my friends at school.  Eventually, they encouraged me enough to where I ate in front of them, reassured that they would not judge me if a morsel of food escaped my lips.  They loved me for who I was, with expressions or without expressions.  My entire face felt as if it had literally been frozen.  In one single night, I went from being able to smile, see, speak, eat, and express myself to being an expressionless individual who was falling into a sea of despair.

Someone once said, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.  I never truly knew what this meant until this particular time in my life.  While I had lost three grandparents, two infant brothers, and most recently, my mom, I never once remember a time when I took my family for granted.  They have always been the second most important thing in my life, God being number one.  And I had been in the hospital in critical condition, but I never recall taking my health for granted.  But, the simple act of blinking my eyes and turning my lips upward into a smile…I never fully appreciated the ability to perform these actions.  Such simple things, until I was unable to do them.  Through this experience, God helped me learn that I should never take anything for granted, even blinking my eyes.

During this time, my friends and family were so supportive of me.  Because I could not see very well or control my eyelids very well, my dad assisted with eye drops at home.  At work, a dear friend graciously offered to help out whenever needed.  In fact, God used this ordeal to build a sense of trust between this particular friend and I, a bond of friendship that He would later use to help me through my grief.  Speaking of friends, this experience helped me realize that I was taking my friends for granted as well.  While I missed my mom greatly, God used this case of Bell’s Palsy to help me see just how precious my friends truly were.  They embraced me when I needed a hug, they gave me advice when I sought their wisdom, and they sat in silence when I needed a listening ear.  Looking back, I wonder how I would have gotten through this trial without my dad and these dear friends God had placed in my life.

Approximately four weeks later, God completely healed me of Bell’s Palsy.  It was a gradual journey to healing, but I must say that the journey was a journey of hope and healing ordained by God.  Every time I blink my eyes, each time I move any part of my face, and all of the times I smile, I remember the moment God fully restored my health.  Every expression that I can apply to my face is a constant reminder of God’s grace and His healing touch.  Each moment I express myself is a gift from God that I will never take for granted.  Every friend who stood beside me, through painfully dry eyes and unsmiling lips, will always be appreciated by me.  And yet, while they are the ones who inspired me to maintain a positive attitude, many of them told me what an inspiration I was to them, keeping a positive attitude throughout the whole ordeal.  I may not understand God’s purpose for my suffering, but this is such a perfect example of Romans 8:28 (NIV): “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  No matter what I had to endure, God used it for good.

What about you?  Have you faced a trial in your life?  Is there something you are taking for granted right now?  It could be something simple, like taking your pet for granted, or more complex, like taking your children for granted.  Perhaps you can walk on two feet, breathe deep breaths of air, or swallow your food.  Maybe you can talk, hear, see, blink, or yes, even smile.  Did you ever think about a life where you could not do one or more of these things?  Such small things, until they are gone.  Then, they grow in proportion and importance.  When you wake up in the morning, thank God for all of the things you have.  Thank Him for everything you can do, instead of complaining about the things you cannot do.  Give thanks for the family and friends you do have, rather than yearning for the ones you do not have.  Praise Him for the life He has given you, as opposed to asking Him for the life you covet.  Appreciate what you have.  God doesn’t want you to take life for granted, but to enjoy the life He has lovingly granted.

In Christ’s Love,