ast year I wrote a Tri-City Herald column about how to turn a burden into a blessing.
It's a "one word wonder," I wrote changing "I have to" to "I get to." The idea is to see the blessings in what we have the opportunity to do, instead of just seeing the burdens of what we feel we must do.
I believed what I wrote then, and I believe it now. And, I have recently been faced with a huge test of this idea and often I fail. Completely.
In that column I mentioned my sister's health challenges.
"I have to call her" (depressing and scary for me) changed to "I get to call her," showing love and concern so she would be less depressed and scared.
Then four months ago, my sister had a stroke, and I'm still dealing with her needs.
Suddenly everything about her life became an urgent, confusing, expensive part of my life. I had to make health care decisions; I had to pick out a nursing home; I had to wade through the financial crisis. I had to sell her house, and I had to clear out decades of possessions and clutter. I had to file Power of Attorney papers constantly.
Notice I didn't use "get to" about any of these tasks. It felt — and often still feels — like a burden, taking up hours almost daily for months.
"Had to" couldn't morph into "get to" while I was so angry with her for not downsizing years ago; for not having a person living on her side of the country to handle her affairs; for hanging on to so much stuff; for sticking me with this mess!
People said I was a blessing to her, to do all this. Then why did it feel like such a burden to me?
Wrestling with all I've had to face, I have learned a lot about what gets in the way of turning burdens into blessings.
I have learned that anger is safer than what I'm actually feeling, which is fear.
I'm afraid I will make a calamitous mistake in handling her finances, possessions and health care decisions. The responsibility is huge. Facing my fear is a necessary step toward changing my anger into compassion.
I have learned that striving for forgiveness for what she did and didn't do that could have made this crisis so much easier, is not a productive path. Forgiveness just brings up old wounds and picks at the scabs. I learned that mercy is much more helpful.
I truly understand why so many prayers ask God for mercy, or celebrate God's mercy already received. We don't have to revisit the old wounds, fail at forgiveness, or ignore our own pain. Mercy is a balm for the soul, undeserved, unearned, nothing needed, nothing held back or offered at a price.
Mercy is the miracle for the heavy heart.
The crisis surprised me with how much anger and fear and resentment I had stashed away for a rainy day, mistaking hiding it for healing it. And when the deluge came, I was overwhelmed.
A Psalm says: "Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul . put your trust in God."
It took me a lot of prayer to finally allow God's mercy to support my imperfect efforts and calm my irrational fears.
Mercy for my struggle, as well as hers, has created a place within me where "haves" can transform into "gets," and blessing can flow for both my sister and myself.