My goal this week is to spend less time on work and technology and more time with friends and family. That said, here’s my Thanksgiving post a bit early. It’s all about reflecting on my blessings from this past year. While I know that such a positive focus can sometimes be tough to celebrate when you’re facing big challenges of special needs and tough life trials, I hope my words will move you to try.

This year, I’m thankful for my daughter and son in law and the fact that I was well in time for their beautiful wedding. I’m thankful for the friends and family who love them and us enough to have joined us for the magical September ride on Lake Michigan. I’m thankful that my creativity and passion for my special needs work/advocacy has returned in full measure and then some (sometimes bordering on manic). I’m thankful for my surgeon who helped ensure that these good things happened and for all the friends and family who saw me all the way through a long, challenging recovery. I’m thankful I can bless/forgive those who, for whatever reason, chose not to. I’m thankful that I still hate math and love fashion and have experienced a full recovery. I’m thankful my loud laughing fits have returned. I’m thankful my beloved dog, Jack, could play in drifts of crunchy fall leaves instead of snow on this morning’s walk and that I still haven’t had to put Trax on my shoes. I’m thankful that I live in a community that has relatively little crime and residents willing and able to pay the salaries of those who keep us safe and answer our cries for help.

I’m thankful that Jack and I get to volunteer our time to work with kids and just maybe, make a difference in their lives. I’m thankful for their blessings and hugs and deeply moved each time I see their hands stroking his fur and the smiles on their faces and their joyous cries of “Jack’s here!” when they see us coming down the hallways. I’m thankful for all the amazing people who’ve come into my life this year and shared their talents with me as I worked really hard to reclaim my life and creative self and figure out my future, including one terrific photography teacher. I’m thankful to my local newspaper for all the photo publishing opportunities they’ve given me this year, including two covers, and to media nationwide that stills see the value in spreading my timeless story. I’m thankful my desire to write has returned.

I’m thankful I chose to focus on possibilities, not limitations or self pity, even when it was tough. I’m thankful for women like Summer and Aura who feed my passion for fashion/design locally so I don’t have to travel so far to indulge in creative fixes. I’m thankful for Summer’s beautiful smiling face and her amazingly generous ways and the beautiful Pashminas that kept me looking/feeling good in the hospital and after. I’m thankful for enough food to eat and abundant choices, knowing not everyone is as fortunate. I’m thankful my husband and I agree on how important and necessary it is to share our many riches with others in need as often as possible and how good we feel when we do so. I’m thankful we’ve survived 35 years of marriage and the death of a child and still want to take road trips together. I’m thankful he was my rock during recovery. I’m thankful that when I look into my closet and see how overstuffed it is, I know I need to share with others less fortunate.

I’m thankful I have a solid sense of right and wrong and choose not to compromise my morals or ethics for greed or self gratification. I’m thankful that my age and tough life experiences over the years have helped me keep my professional success in healthy perspective. I’m thankful for my voice and communication gifts and my willingness to use that voice when others choose to remain silent. I’m thankful for those who support my work and me, and bless those who choose not to, for whatever reason, knowing there is a lesson in that, too.

I’m thankful for each day’s encounters knowing everyone has a story to tell and a lesson to share if we only stop talking and listen. Did I say I’m thankful for the wedding and our wonderful new son in law? I’m thankful for Facebook and blogs and the ways in which they allow us to connect with others and reconnect with those with whom we might otherwise lose touch. I’m thankful for Jack, my own personal therapy dog/protector and the way he cuddles in the morning.

I’m incredibly thankful that RicStar’s Camp, the wonderful music haven we created to honor our son’s life and legacy nearly ten summers ago, is still changing lives. I’m thankful I don’t have to cook dinner on Thursday. I’m thankful you took time to read these words. I’m so, so thankful, I could burst. Hope you are, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, and out.

Photo Judy Winter 2011