Today, so many people are celebrating Independence Day with friends and family, hot dogs and beer, swimming pools and fireworks.

I am celebrating the freedom of our country as well but also, the freedom of believing in a new life for myself that involves peace, truth, joy, self-love and appreciation.

In the past 20 months, I have been through the following on the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory: #3, #7, #9, #11, #15.

And the biggest one, which is second on the list and hopefully complete by the end of the year, #2 (divorce after 17 years of marriage).

Despite all of this, I woke up today with the words “this experience is a gift” on my mind and I knew I had to share why I feel this way with my community in hopes that it might also help some of you through difficult life experiences – especially the trauma of divorce.

You see, over the past year, I have come to view experiences as gifts with various wrapping paper.

Some gifts have ugly paper (a broken washing machine when you have ten loads to do, a sick pet, a failed launch on a program, a betrayal by someone you trusted) and some have beautiful paper and a stunning bow (new friends, a new car, a new client, fun times with your child).

The beautifully wrapped presents are always a pleasure to open. It’s what most of us long for and look forward to in life.

But the gifts with the ugly wrapping paper are what I want to talk about today because those are the gifts that hold the power to make us or break us. The good news is that the outcome depends solely on your perception of the experience.

In the past, when someone would give me an ugly wrapped gift, I perceived it as painful and awful. This would set me up for more pain.

But over the course of the most emotionally-taxing year of my life, I have worked hard to see those ugly gifts in a different light. I have worked hard to see them as opportunities to learn, to heal, to rediscover, and to address old wounds.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it can be incredibly difficult to shift our perception of bad experiences…of the ugly gifts we’re given – but it’s something that must be done if we want to be able to move forward.

But how does one do this? How does one see the good in an ugly gift?

The first step is to see the person (people) who handed you the ugly gift as a human being.

As I work on forgiveness, I am trying to see their wounds as the precursor to the pain they gifted to me and try to receive it with an open heart. Part of this is knowing that this painful experience was not about me.

When someone does terrible things to you, says awful things to you, or just plain neglects to treat you like a person with love, it is always about them. I am slowly realizing this and this has helped me tremendously.

The next step is always honoring yourself first.

If you receive an ugly package that is too much to handle, put it away until you can take care of your needs first. This is what I’ve been doing.

Maybe that means I wrap myself a pretty gift of a night with friends or a quiet session of watching the birds outside my window or something else that brings me peace.

By making these changes, I’ve been feeling my heart cracking open lately and letting in more compassion and empathy (even when I didn’t think I had it left in me to offer). More freedom for me! YAY!

Of course, it’s not easy and I know I will still fail on occasion. On bad days, I’ll try hard to seal that crack in my heart and shut out forgiveness but all I can do is keep moving forward and try my best. That’s all each of us can do.

In closing, I want you to know that it’s my wish for you that you see all your experiences as gifts, regardless of what kind of package they are wrapped in. I also hope that you honor yourself and choose to surround yourself with people who wrap your gifts with more than plastic bags.

You deserve that. And, so do I.

We all do.

Freedom comes in many forms – the freedom of our country, freedom from a job you hate, freedom from old thoughts, freedom from toxic people.

This fourth of July, I’m giving myself the freedom to move forward and take care of myself first and I am going to celebrate and embrace it.

I’m returning to the me that was buried for so long. The person who loves to offer beautifully wrapped gifts to those who are willing to receive them; the person who doesn’t waste their gifts on those who don’t see them – or me – as valuable to their lives.

And let me tell you – that is a freeing feeling.

With that said, I can’t end without mentioning my kiddo who is REALLY celebrating freedom at High Rocks Camp for Boys! He gets a whole month of COMPLETE freedom doing everything a boy could ever ask to do – riflery, tennis, fishing, soccer, hiking, swimming, singing camp songs and just plain being a dirt-covered teenaged boy.

Happy FREEdom and fourth of July!

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