This morning I had the incredible privilege of speaking at a local Philadelphia middle school where I was able to share my story and talk about adversity, gratitude, perspective and faith. The blog below is an abbreviated version of the talk and I feel that it’s the perfect message with Thanksgiving right around the corner. I hope that the content below finds you well and that you can spend the coming days full of gratitude no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.

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Adversity

a difficult situation or condition

I learned what adversity was when I was 10 years old and one morning, without warning, I woke up and couldn’t see out of my right eye. Overnight, my world changed. I came to learn that I had a condition called Best Disease – something that would cause me to lose my eyesight over time and something that could eventually leave me blind.

In an instant, school, sports, relationships and just about everything else got harder and because of that, when I was younger, I lacked confidence, I felt anxious and I was afraid of what the uncertain future held. I spent a lot of time wondering why this had to happen to me and why I couldn’t be like everyone else.

In this moment I’m legally blind in my right eye, but with both eyes open I can read, drive and do anything else that you can think of (except maybe hit a baseball). I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I’m incredibly grateful for what I’m struggling with because just like lifting weights can make our muscles stronger, handling adversity well, with the right attitude, can make us stronger also.

Gratitude

a feeling of appreciation or thanks

I wake up every single morning not knowing what will happen when I open my eyes. There’s a good chance that nothing has changed since the night before. However, there’s a small chance that I’ll open my eyes tomorrow and not be able to do the things I can do today. Every time that I drive a car I know that it might be my last. Every time I read a book I know that it might be my last. Every time that I look at my wife I know that it might be my last. While that sounds scary, it’s allowed me to appreciate life on a new level. I feel a sense of gratitude for everything that I get to do because I never know when I won’t get to do it again. Before I move on, I want to share a Latin phrase with you that helps me practice gratitude.

Memento Mori

This Latin phrase translates to “remember, you die.” While that sounds intense and dark, it’s actually not. It’s a beautiful reminder that we only have one life and it can help us practice gratitude in the face of adversity because things that are fragile (life) are also precious. The next time that you’re facing adversity remember that your struggle, just like life, is temporary, beautiful and precious. Be grateful for the opportunities that adversity presents and make the most out of the life you’re given because it’s truly a gift if you choose the right perspective.

Perspective

a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something (a point of view); it’s what allows two people to look at the same situation (or circumstance) and see different things

For a long time, I was angry at life for taking away my sight. It just didn’t make sense and it didn’t seem fair. However, it wasn’t until I was 24 that I began to realize that while I couldn’t control my circumstances, I could control how I viewed them and how I responded to them. Just like a glass of water, I realized that I could see my condition as burden or as a blessing; as a bad thing or as a good thing. That perspective was in my complete control.

I decided that I was going to change my perspective and see the glass as half full. In everything that I do, I get to do things, I don’t have to do things. That perspective has changed my life but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s really hard to see hard things as good things when they’re happening and when we’re hurting. It’s with hindsight that we can make sense of things and when I look back at my life, I see that everything that’s happened, has happened for a reason and for that reason I believe that…

What I’ve lost in sight, I’ve gained in vision.

To me, sight is what you see with your eyes open while vision is what you see when your eyes are closed. No matter how good your eyes, sight is limited; vision is limitless. As I was able to see less of the world around me, I began to see the power of perspective more and more and I was able to appreciate all of the possibilities and all of the opportunities that come with each new day. The perspective that I have is influenced heavily by faith.

Faith

is complete trust or confidence is somthing or someone (often times that we can’t see)

I grew up going to church and while I always knew that God existed, I didn’t know how to get closer to Him. When I went to graduate school here in Philadelphia I was going through a very dark time in my life. At the time, it felt like God didn’t care about me and so I stopped caring about Him. Instead of chasing God, I started chasing a girl. After a few months of spending time with this girl, she invited me to church and of course, I went because I liked her.

It was that day, standing in church that I felt God’s presence and understood that while I stopped chasing Him, He never stopped chasing me. I realized that all of the adversity that I had ever faced in my life was happening for me and it was part of His plan. In this case, God used the darkest season of my life to bring me to the biggest blessing I’ve ever had – my wife. From then on and for the past four years I’ve come to understand what it means to live with faith.

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It’s here that I want to ask a final set of questions…

When you put a rock underground, what surrounds it?

dirt (or soil); it’s in a dark place

When you put a seed underground, what surrounds it?

dirt (or soil); it’s in a dark place

What’s the difference between a rock and a seed?

The rock is buried, the seed is planted.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried but you’ve actually been planted.”

Christine Caine

Just like the seed, we will all experience dark times in life but we have to have faith that we are planted and not buried. In order to grow, sometimes we need to be planted in a dark place. We have to trust that everything is happening for us, not to us. In those dark places, we need to remember that we have life inside of us and that we have people who care about us.

What I just did here is tell you my testimony – an expression of how I see the world.

Like I just did, speaking our testimony is great because it has the potential to impact people in a meaningful way. However, more often than not, people don’t need you to speak your testimony, they need you to live it.

When we go through hard things, it’s easy to ask, “why me?”

I want to encourage you to ask a different question… “why not me?”

As you finish reading this and go back to “regular life,” I want to encourage you to find ways to use your adversity to be a blessing to someone else. Whatever it is that you believe, talk about it less, be about it more and love others well in all that you do because you never know when someone else needs a little love.

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We can’t control what life throws at us and while it comes in different shapes and sizes, we will all face adversity. While hard things happen to us, we can always find things to have gratitude for if we look in the right places. How we respond to adversity and how we feel gratitude starts with the perspective that we choose to see the world with. The hardest part about life is that we don’t know what comes tomorrow, but faith allows us to trust that all things are working for our good (because they are). Make sure to choose gratitude today, tomorrow and always.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

Albert Schweitzer

Happy Thanksgiving!

Joe Rinaldi

IG: @joearinaldi

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P.P.P.S. If you’re interested to hear my story through a different lens, check out this feature in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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