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  • Writer's pictureBrenda Benalcazar

Great Things Begin with Gratitude

I slowly walked to the car, not knowing what would happen if I turned my back on him. I smiled reassuringly at the nervous faces of my children strapped into their car seats. I put my seat belt on, took a deep breath, and put the car in reverse. As I pulled out onto the street and put the car in drive, I watched him slowly fade out of sight in the rearview mirror. Deciding to get divorced wasn't easy, but it was necessary. There were no tears nor regret, only relief and a slight glimmer of hope. I reluctantly drove home to Montana, where I grew up. I never wanted to go home again, but I had nowhere else to go. I drove for three days from Chicago with two kids in tow until I finally reached the place I had left 18 years earlier to find adventure. I looked at this as a time to reevaluate and reflect on the whirlwind that had become my life. My children and I moved in with my eighty-eight-year-old grandmother. I was very grateful to have a safe place for us to live.

Looking back over my marriage, I realized I had lost so much that I didn't feel like a whole person. The person I have slowly eroded one decision over the years. I lost my voice and fell silent. I decided to feel grateful for what I had left that year in Montana. I was so thankful to be a mother of two children and be healthy and alive to care for them. I was also grateful for the new religion; I brought back home that I didn't have when I left. I chose to pray and be led by the Spirit, as it had been a constant guide during the past three years. And I began to trust myself again.

Being home for a year gave me a chance to heal and grow. But then, it was time to move on. The Spirit prompted me to move to Utah. Once the choice was made, everything fell into place, which solidified my conviction to follow the Spirit. I knew the Lord would provide a way for us to be all right as a family. I didn't know how it would work out since all I had were my kids, car and some clothes. I didn't even have beds or dressers, just a few pillows and blankets. But the Lord works miracles through other people. At the time, I didn't know that many people heard of my story through friends and decided to help. The day that we moved in was a huge surprise. We had an apartment full of furniture, all the supplies necessary to run a household, and clothing for my children and me. I was so incredibly humbled and thankful for all that I was given. Gratitude was an excellent teacher.

I began to reflect on my children. My son was three years old when my daughter was born. Not long after she was born, I felt that something was wrong. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined my eight-month-old baby girl was dying. Several months later, I heard the four words no parent ever wants to hear, "Your child has cancer." Looking at my sweet baby, I couldn't believe that cancer was in her body and would spread and kill her, according to the doctors. She was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, cancer in both eyes that is also genetic. We were sent to the children's hospital in Chicago. Because of the genetic factor, my three-year-old son had to be tested. I remember feeling the crushing range of emotions from deep sadness and total disbelief as my little children, whom I worked so hard to bring into this world, might leave before they even started. Thankfully, my son did not have cancer. The team met with us, saying they wanted to remove my daughter's left eye. As the meek person that I had become and not having made a decision in years, I spoke up and said no.

After two years of treatment, my daughter's cancer was once again very deadly. It was growing and about to spread. At this time, a feeling of peace entered my heart to let me know that it was now essential to remove her left eye. I held my sweet baby girl in my arms, walked her down the hallway, gazed deeply into her big brown eye for the last time, sweetly kissed her on the cheek, and handed her over to the nurse. After the doors closed, I broke down and sobbed. She woke up the next day like the child she was always meant to be, free of pain and discomfort. A few weeks later, when I took off the bandage and she realized for the first time that she couldn't see, she grabbed me tightly around the neck and quietly wept. Then she pulled away, looked at me, smiled, and ran into the next room to play. She was two years old.

Around this time, I started noticing some unusual behaviors in my son. I thought that his behavior was just his personality. I also knew he was having difficulty sharing me with his sister; now, she had cancer. It was hard for me to wake him up before the sun rose and come home after the sun had set, picking him up from a different house every time I had to be at the hospital with my daughter. It nearly broke my heart when he asked me when it would be his turn to go to the hospital. He wanted cancer if that meant that he could spend that much time with me. It also broke my heart when so many people with good intentions would tell me my daughter was a special spirit in front of my son. The deep sadness in his big brown eyes and the look on his face will be forever etched in my mind.

After Sarah was cleared of cancer and we moved to Utah, I took my son to several types of doctors. He had various diagnoses, but in my gut, I knew there was more. Then I finally heard the words,

"Your son has autism," I remember mourning for him and being so deeply saddened. It was reminiscent of going through cancer with my daughter. I cried for three months before pulling it together and being grateful that I knew the diagnosis to help him. I studied everything I could about autism and even went back to school to study nutrition.

Shortly after my son's diagnosis, I was introduced to and started on a personal development journey. I began to work through my issues while uncovering some new ones. The first lesson I learned was that to make things better, and you get to take full responsibility for your life, which meant I could no longer consider myself a victim. This concept was life-changing because it meant I had the power to heal from the past and choose a new course for the future. The second lesson was so much more challenging. I got to forgive everyone, clear up any ill feelings I harbored, and release them. I also stopped using words like "have" and "need" and replaced them with "get" and "want" to focus more on positivity, abundance and choice. I started by forgiving myself for all my mistakes and then radiated outward until I had no one left that I felt needed forgiveness on any level.

After a year of reading self-development books, I discovered a limiting belief created when I was ten. Growing up, we rarely went to church, but I remember hearing the story of Jesus and the rich man. The rich man inquired of the Lord what he could do to inherit the kingdom of Heaven. He was told to sell all his belongings and give them to the poor, then follow Him. The man loved his riches more than he loved the Lord and walked away. I remember thinking I should be poor so I wouldn't have to make that choice. This limiting belief was buried in my subconscious for years and could easily explain my relationship with money. This tenet was also coupled with the scarcity mentality of my family and the generations of having just enough. The ancestral memory written in my DNA houses the memories, anxieties, and fears of my grandmother growing up during the Great Depression. Her fifth birthday coincided with the worst financial crisis of the twentieth century, the Stock Market Crash of 1929. My mother and father both grew up poor, so scarcity and lack also held a place in my DNA.

Shortly after this realization, I began to study the law of attraction. I could change this belief about wealth now that I was aware of it. Advances in science now tell us the theory that our DNA and genes are set in stone is no longer valid. Scientists have also studied the neuroplasticity of the brain and the role between the conscience and the subconscious. Simply put, you can rewire your brain by focusing on what you want.

Another result of changing my belief was finally getting the books stuck in my head onto paper. My children have grown up around pediatric cancer patients, and now both will attend a school just for children with autism. They are aware, kind and accepting of special children, and I want to share our stories with the world so the world can become aware and enlightened about the challenges that come hand-in-hand with cancer and autism. It has always been my dream to be a writer; by doing so now, another wish is fulfilled.

It's incredible where your mind can travel when you look over your life's roadmap. I am still standing. I realize that my children are fully developed spirits and have their unique challenges and gifts. I am their guide, and they are my teachers. I am still a work in progress. And I have noticed that great things happen when you are grateful for what you have been given.

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