Your Own Sunshine

The adage appears on the side of a Recycled Zip Pouches pouch: Some days you just have to create your own SUNSHINE. I thought when I read it that the tough part is figuring out how to create sunshine, but this particular adage came with instructions—and they work!

My friend Erica (actually another Sue—Erica Sue) has had a “stinky” year. Already living with type 2 diabetes, at sixty-three, she was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a progressive chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the voluntary muscles of the body. Just as she was beginning to cope with that completely life-changing news, she was hospitalized with serious diverticulitis. During surgery for the diverticulitis, she suffered cardiac arrest. Since the surgery, she is having to learn to cope with the colostomy performed in a hurry even as doctors worked frantically to restart her heart and save her life.

After such a year, many of us would be spending our days attending our own sustained pity party—but not my Erica. On her sixty-fourth birthday, she threw a party of a different kind—a party of celebration for her girlfriends! Erica treated seven of us to lunch at her favorite restaurant, Royal Thai, and she gave us gifts.

That’s right: It was her birthday party, but we got the gifts!

The colorful, zippered sunshine pouches she distributed, one to each, were her presents to us. Inside were snugged one tiny bottle of perfume to change the scent of the “stinky year” and two #10 envelopes. The first envelope held a $50 bill, ours to “make someone happy.” In it also were the instructions to spend the money to “generate as much happiness as possible” while “having fun and thinking outside the box!” She requested that the gift be anonymous—not anonymous in its being from us but in its being from her! Her “reward” would be our sharing our adventure with her “over lunch or in a letter to keep in my permanent happy memory file.”

The $18 in the second envelope were to “buy yourself a present . . . from me. Purchase something silly, practical, self-indulgent, or pretty that will remind you every day how much I love you and value you as my friend.” Then, again, share the gift with her as a memory.

Erica explained that what sustained her throughout her hospitalization was her knowledge that her family and her friends were waiting for her, pulling for her, praying for her, loving her. She struggled with and continues to struggle with the pain, the misery, the trauma of her experience, but what makes that struggle possible are family, friends, laughter, joy, and generating happiness. She said that she knows she will never have the means to be the wealthy philanthropist she aspires to be, but in these small ways, she is practicing philanthropy.

As is no doubt obvious, Erica never needed lessons on how to be a friend or how to love or how to appreciate or how to create sunshine. She already knew. She is wealthy in ways few are. But her “stinky” year reminded her, as it did her friends, that our time to create sunshine even when we know how is limited, and we truly do not know exactly when that time might run out.

I find that I am blessed not only by my friendship with Erica but, in much the same way, by my friendships in Abel House. The outpouring of love I witnessed recently when our Abel House family worked together to celebrate Julie and Rhett’s marriage and to join each other for the Ash Wednesday service and anointing with oil for Tom fill me with the same sunny warmth as did my time with Erica and following her instructions later to create sunshine for another.

May we all, with God’s help, look for ways to “create [our] own SUNSHINE and then thank Him for the opportunities as we turn “stinky” times into rich, rewarding times for others and ourselves.

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