Several years ago my son Jordan and I travelled to Kenya to provide training to athletes and coaches through the running of a variety of sport camps. It was a great trip and an amazing time to spend with Jordan. In fact, for me, it was the greatest adventure I’ve ever taken with my son. Over the three weeks we travelled together Jordan and I bonded through the sport camp work we were engaged in and we found a great love and passion for the Kenyan children we were working with. In addition to our work we also had the chance to explore and learn a great deal about Kenya’s people, culture, countryside and nature. To this day I think of that trip as an amazing father and son time.
Some of the most cherished days of the trip were those Jordan and I spent with Catherine Ndereba and her husband Tony in Nairobi. Catherine is known as the “Queen of Kenya” in her country. She’s a very successful marathon runner who has twice won the gold medal at the World Athletic Championships, and won a silver medal in the Summer Olympics in 2004 and 2008. She is a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon as well as a winner in countless other marathons around the world, and has been described by international sport columnists as the greatest women's marathoner of all time. In short, she’s pretty darn successful!
I met Catherine at a social after one of my speaking engagements in Nairobi. She approached me after the event to visit and with an invitation to Jordan and I to join her and Tony for dinner one night at her home, which I quickly accepted. The next morning we received a call from Catherine wondering if Jordan and I might want to actually come and spend a few days with her family at their home. Surprised, I accepted and later that day we were picked up by her driver and for the next three days enjoyed an amazing time.
Catherine's home was filled with trophies and medals from her years of competition. As we visited we learned a great deal about what makes an elite athlete tick and how the support system around her helped push her to another level. One of the more interesting things we witnessed was the amazing level of gratefulness the family lived with. Every morning as they readied themselves for the day ahead they formed a circle in the family kitchen, held hands and prayed, thanking God for the night’s rest and for their safety as they slept. They prayed for the day ahead and that, with the rest and strength God had provided them as they slept, they would do his will and good work today. Then, together they would sit and eat breakfast prior heading off into their days. In the evening, prior to retiring to bed, the family reconvened in the family room, held hands in a circle, talked about their day and prayed to God thanking him for safety throughout the day, asking him to bless the work they had completed on his behalf and for a safe and good night’s rest.
After the first day together Catherine and Tony and I were having afternoon tea and I asked them about the family prayer ritual. Catherine shared her perspective on living a grateful life. It was interesting to hear this world-class athlete who had accomplished so much speak about the need to spend her life living on this earth as a grateful tourist, as she called herself.
“We are only here for a short period of time Tom, we can live life like the world owes us something or we can live life amazed and grateful for every day we are here.”
Catherine went on to explain how the morning gathering was to be grateful for the fact that each family member had woken that day, “you do realize that we have a one-in-three chance of not waking up Tom?” she asked before going on to explain that there are 24 hours in a day and the average person sleeps about eight of those hours which is one third of every day. Which means that if we are going to die, we have a one-third chance or a one-in-three chance of dying in our sleep. For Catherine and her family just the fact that they all had woken up was a blessing and something to be grateful about.
“It’s the small blessings that most people don’t think about, that are the great miracles of each day,” Catherine told me one morning after breakfast. “Without those miracles occurring, often without even noticing or realizing they are happening, we may not even be alive to wake up. Like breathing…how many of us don’t even consider that each breath we take is a miracle and we should be grateful that we get to take them?”
It’s been several years since Jordan and I took that amazing trip to Kenya. I’ve thought about the time we spent with Catherine and Tony a great deal and it has helped form my own thought patterns around how I view and live life. What I’ve come to realize is that many of us (myself included) often take life for granted. Rather than being grateful and making the most of our days, we tend to waste large portions of them focusing on the things that aren’t necessarily going the way we want them to instead of acknowledging and celebrating the things that have gone well in our day.
When it comes right down to it, for most of us a lot of things do go right nearly every day. Until I met Catherine I used to take many of those things for granted. For example, waking up every morning just seemed to me to be the thing that was supposed to happen. It couldn't not happen could it? But in fact, as Catherine reminded me, I don’t have to wake up. There is a one-in-three chance that I won’t wake up some day. That thought alone has helped me learn to wake up and be grateful that I did. Every morning I wake up and I think wow – I actually woke up! And I remember who I am (that’s a miracle!) and I remember who’s lying beside me, I know what I did yesterday and what I am supposed to do today, and a hundred other miracles happen through the course of the day! It’s amazing, when you think of our bodies, which are so complex in their functions, and the fact that we need all those functions to work properly every second of the day to live health, active lives. It’s amazing that, for most of us, our bodies do perform the miracles needed daily to allow us the opportunity to experience another day gratefully.
And so I encourage you as you move through your day today and every day forward that you start your day and end your day being grateful for the fact that you woke up and were able to go out and make your day happen in a good way. Every breath we take, every heartbeat that happens inside of us, the eyesight many of us have, the thought capacities of our brains, and so much more are the miracles that we should begin our days being grateful for. The fact that most of us will wake up tomorrow and are able to wiggle our toes as we lay in our beds and contemplate our busy days is where we need to start our grateful thinking and carry that gratefulness on through the rest of our days no matter what challenges life throws at us!
Grateful people just seem to handle life better. Be grateful today, and be grateful tomorrow!