We Grow the Most When Times Are Tough: From Personal Struggles Come Reasons for Gratitude

Last week, I wrote a Gratitude Daily Devotional shared by my church, Kenilworth Union Church. These daily devotionals are rooted in scripture and provide a brief opportunity for reflection and gratitude as we prepare to face the day ahead. Whether you’re religious or not, a daily gratitude practice has been shown to be one of the most reliable ways to improve your mood. Here, I share a recent challenge I faced and the opportunity for growth I’m so thankful it afforded me.

We make our plans and God laughs. That’s the story of my complicated, abundantly blessed life, and I’m so grateful for this!

Growing up in the most diverse and integrated section of Indianapolis, working in our family owned grocery stores, attending a 90% black high school, I thought my generation modeled the ideal, color-blind future rapidly in development. I also imagined I’d marry a man who felt similarly about Indianapolis and that we’d raise two kids who would grow up working in our family business too.

Ha! God’s plan actually included me commuting from Chicago to Indianapolis for almost a year while pregnant with my fourth (our combined sixth) of eight children, in the black fog of grief, to navigate that beloved business through bankruptcy and closure. My dad died of a stroke soon after the “big box” grocery stores came to Indianapolis. The stores died from the overwhelming competition which devastated similar businesses across the country.

Fortunately, it is true that we grow the most when times are difficult—if we stay close to God. I’ve carried important lessons from that difficult time with me in my entrepreneurial social impact endeavors ever since. (I pray that this will influence my children and grandchildren too.)

Kenilworth Union Church has been a North Star and strong connection point in my unexpected life, helping to keep me focused on the importance of living generously and with trust in God’s abundance. Blessings rain down, I pay them forward. Trials come, I grow with God’s guidance. An example of this is that long-time, beloved Kenilworth Union Church member Dick Kiphart recruited me to the small board of trustees for the Poetry Foundation (PoFo).

People find solace in poetry during troubled times like these—a pandemic, racial injustice, environmental disasters, a contentious election. So I expected my affiliation with the largest endowed poetry institution in the world to be a comfort to myself and others. Instead, when #BlackLivesMatter came to the forefront, PoFo was attacked by other poetry leaders for being out of step, insensitive, and unresponsive to opportunities which would serve poets and social justice needs well. Their open letter demanded the resignation of all leadership, including our board. It prompted the widely reported resignation of top leaders within the institution, but not the entire board.

Once again, I’m confronting a hard personal truth. Despite a lifelong progressive perspective and good intentions, I’ve been blind to—and unwittingly exacerbated—profound racial inequities. And not just through my PoFo board service. Now, though, I’m grateful for the PoFo position, because it’s helping me learn faster how to be affirmatively “antiracist.”

I’m also grateful that PoFo makes it easy to find solace in poetry through their “Poem Of The Day“—and that the one which arrived in my inbox on Saturday, October 2, inspired this reflection on my life, God’s plan, this church, perspective, and gratitude:

Thank You

By Ross Gay

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Let Us Pray:

Dear God,
Thank you for the gift of love through family, church, and community.
Thank you for blessings that arrive disguised as challenges.
Thank you for your constant, loving presence—even when we forget to look for it.
Thank you for opportunities to serve others, which pay forward the blessings you rain down on us, and further enrich our own lives.
Please bless everyone now suffering because of the pandemic or other health crises, racial or other social inequities, natural and man-made disasters, and political distrust.
Please show each of us ways to help navigate these challenges and arrive at a better world.
Please bless our political leaders and give them wisdom to navigate these complicated, painful times too.
In Jesus Christ’s name we pray,

Zest, Grit, Optimism, Gratitude, Social Intelligence, Curiosity, Self-Control

The seven characteristics to develop for a successful life: zest, grit, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, curiosity, self-control.

A few days ago, I had the good fortune to moderate a discussion about character development by the KIPP network of charter schools at the Winnetka Community House. With this experience I definitely received more than I gave.

KIPP has refined its programs to include development of the above seven characteristics along with strong academic achievement. I like the concept so much that I put copies of their character cards on my home refrigerator and office bulletin board to remind myself to nurture these in myself and others.

KIPP is the most successful charter school model in the country for a reason. One hundred forty one schools nationally, four in Chicago – growing to twelve in 2020. Learn more here.

Thank You League Of Women Voters

“To the wrongs that need resistance, to the right that needs assistance, to the future in the distance, give yourselves.” Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League Of Women Voters.

Catt’s quote is as true now as it was when the League of Women Voters was founded in Chicago over 90 years ago. And the League still provides the best source for unbiased analysis of election issues that could help assist rights, resist wrongs, and create a better future for all.

The Illinois League of Women Voters just celebrated 100 years of voting rights for women. We thank them for their continuing good work.

The members of the League of Women Voters take a moment to join with the League Lady for a picture from left to right: Barbara Marsh, Henrietta Saunders, Sheri Latash, Joan Ziegler, Mary Hummel, Janet Kittlaus, Jane Ballengee