When I was in high school, my most influential teacher once said, “Great writers don’t write for money. They write because they have something to say.” It’s stuck with me, and now that writing has become my career and continued to be my passion, I constantly ask myself:
“If I only had one chance to express my feelings, if this was the last chance to share this thought, what would I say? How would I say it?”
Maybe it’s because of this philosophy, but I put a lot of stock in never missing a chance to tell someone what they mean to you.
Often. Frequent. Unashamed.
My father died by suicide on April 8, 1999. It had been a year since I’d seen him, as he was stationed in Germany as a member of the Special Forces. It has brought great agony knowing I never got a chance to say goodbye. I used to try so desperately to remember what the last thing I said to him was. And even though I know, really, that I had no power to stop him from taking his own life, I can break my heart wondering if he had any clue how much I loved him. Because I really don’t think he did. I can rip the sutures on my heart open wondering if it would have made a difference.
From that point forward I’ve lived in terror of goodbyes and a feeling of finality I can never shake. It’s influenced a number of defining moments in my life.
It caused me to tell the man I loved that I loved him. I stood there and told him how I felt in jumbled words that did little justice to what was actually going on in my heart, for the transformation that took place in my soul every time I was in a 100 foot radius from him.
It caused me to push myself to the brink of an emotional breakdown as I lead numerous organizations on my college campus, believing success would garner the love and admiration I felt completely void of.
It caused me to not truly pray for my step-father when the e-mail came to me on my mission, telling me he was in the hospital. After all, there was no way God was going to do that to me again. That wasn’t the God I knew. He wouldn’t take away my step-father, and if he did, he would give me a chance to say goodbye. It’d been nine months since I’d seen or talked to him. If there was anything certain in my life, it was that my step-father would live, so I said I simple prayer and got off my smooth knees.
He died a week a later.
President Monson once said:
“We often take for granted the very people who most deserve our gratitude. Let us not wait until it is too late for us to express that gratitude. Speaking of loved ones he had lost, one man declared his regret this way: “I remember those happy days, and often wish I could speak into the ears of the dead the gratitude which was due them in life, and so ill returned.”
The loss of loved ones almost inevitably brings some regrets to our hearts. Let’s minimize such feelings as much as humanly possible by frequently expressing our love and gratitude to them. We never know how soon it will be too late.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, our hearts naturally become soft with gratitude. Around bowls of fluffy mashed potatoes and crisp, bronzed turkeys, we’ll share what we’re grateful for. But as we wake up the next morning, and every morning, may we remember the admonition of Amulek:
“..live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.”
I would never suggest that anyone should use fear as I often do, loving and living because the chance to do so may be gone too soon. But as I’ve worked to overcome my anxieties, I have come to learn that gratitude, when truly realized, changes our hearts. It no longer remains a holiday tradition, but an integral part of our daily lives. As we look upon our loved ones, we are naturally inclined to share our tender feelings because we recognize the blessing they are to us. When that which we hold dear is ripped from us, we are able to conjure up in our minds joy for the things that are left. We give more freely of our substances and ourselves to those in need. In all things, we acknowledge Father and His guiding hand.
Gratitude not only helps us recognize our blessings, but “it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.”
We express gratitude by the actions of our life. From our humble prayers of thanks to the whispered words left to a family member when you leave for work in the morning to the often unnoticed and unheralded acts of service you do, living in thanksgiving daily is a conscious work that can soften our hearts and hasten our souls forward to that more perfect day. It takes humility, admirable effort, and soul-twisting patience.
We won’t be done by the time we chink our glasses together over our hopefully stuffed stomachs. But we’ll be closer, and for that I am grateful.