A few months ago I took a weekend trip to Mexico, on the Yucatan peninsula. As I drove down the highway from the airport to my hotel, I listened closely to the radio and translated as much in my head as I could. Something about “Saturday at 7,” and “huge sale on cars, call this number!” I did my best.
At some point on my drive I realized that the hotel was a straight shot from where I was, so all I had to do was look for it on the right side. Of course I missed it anyway, so I took a right turn shortly beyond the main strip— at sunset, which I was grateful to witness—and then another right down a side street to double back.
Just by detouring one block, I wound up on unpaved back alleys, passing children on bicycles and men on foot. There were corner stores with bars on the windows, small colorful homes in need of repair, then: a shanty village.
Several blocks’ worth of homes were made of sticks, plywood, and mud. Each tiny home couldn’t have been bigger than an American walk-in tool shed. The borders of the village were lined with trash, fires were burning, spare tires were strewn along the walkways, and then another right turn and I was suddenly at my hotel…
My gorgeous hotel with the restaurant serving fresh fish and designer cocktails, the lit-up pool in the middle of the lobby with the open ceiling design, the rooftop hot tubs and air-conditioned rooms. All this for us foreigners a block away from abject poverty.
While it might be a cliché to say “Thank you, God, for the roof over my head…” practically speaking, any of us could be one of those people, around the corner from luxury, with no roof or a roof made of a single board.
I always have had a roof over my head, but most of my life I took it for granted.
Growing up in Richmond, CA was hard, but not that hard. I was lucky enough to have a mom who placed me in private schools in a nice area. Being that we were on lots of financial aid, most of my friends were much wealthier than I was. This never caused problems between us, and we didn’t judge one another.
Eventually I became more aware of my immediate surroundings. Richmond was one of the most violent cities in California at the time, and anything beyond my block was off limits for me, until I was in high school and had more freedom to explore. Once I did, I realized that most people didn’t live the way my school friends did. Most people who lived around me were struggling to get by.
I started to internalize this mentality and recognize my own family’s struggle, though they’d tried hard to hide it from me for so long. I became less grateful for what I had, and more envious of what my wealthy friends had. I resented them for their privilege. As I did, I forgot that I too was participating in all the same events, teams, and clubs they were. I forgot my own privilege.
Looking back on all that now, it’s been my experience that when I don’t appreciate blessings, I lose them. My lack of gratitude caused me to lose so many things that I should have appreciated at the time. And getting those things back is so much harder.
Furthermore, when you stop being grateful for what you have, you lose your ability to be a blessing to others in need. This is the most tragic loss of all.
As I’ve grown and built my own life, it became more apparent how blessed and lucky I was, how good I really had it. Gratitude has become a regular practice for myself and everyone in my home, because I’m more aware of the good things I don’t want to lose.
This year, at the Thanksgiving table, while I’m stuffing myself with all kinds of delicious food cooked by my family, under a secure roof in a beautiful home, I’m going to be planning ways to bring security and peace to others. I’m thankful, most of all, for the ability to be a blessing to other people. It’s not a quality I take for granted.
Take this holiday as a reminder of your ability to bless others, to serve others, and to make people smile. They might need it more than you do.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on being humble from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.