Once upon a time I was a princess – and then I woke up.

As Thanksgiving nears every year and I begin to be more in tune with gratefulness (I should be this “in tune” year round), I always think back to the time period that changed my life forever – those years of missionary work.

At a time when selfishness, arrogance, and taking things for granted defined my young adulthood, the experiences I had in those third-world communities during that phase of my life gave me first-hand insight into the real meaning of humility and gratitude.

From nerve-wracking trips up mountains through rugged and dangerous terrain, to shoveling dirt during construction of schools and aqueducts, to painting churches, to washing clothes in rivers, to tending to villagers’ open cuts, scrapes, and tooth aches, to distributing countless boxes of donated clothing and medicine, to sleeping on floors, to using latrines (have you ever used a latrine in the dark of night on the edge of a mountain in the middle of nowhere? It’s like being in your own horror movie). All of them experiences which shook me to my core and made me realize how fortunate I was; am. 

My parents, from very early on, made sure to show me and tell me how this was so. But some of us need more than show ‘n tell.I needed a life lesson in living color.

When I think back to those days I remember, more so than what shook me to my core, who rocked my world: The individuals I met over there.

The demeanor these people exhibited day in day out in the face of adversity made an incredible and long lasting impression on me – how they helped our group help them; how they offered us the little they had to make us comfortable; how they prayed with such devotion – all the while with a spirit of contentment. In my eyes they had nothing and lacked everything, yet their living conditions were heartbreaking only to me. Because the existence of nothing and everything, as it turns out, is in the heart of the beholder – they were rich where it counts and they knew it…..and we felt it.

Once upon a time I set out to help some people who, in turn, helped me. Today, whenever I catch myself in fleeting moments of that princess-like behavior, mostly as I take something for granted, I think about the sights, sounds, and smells of the villages I lived in during those summers. And thanks to the infinite wisdom of our merciful God, who sent me there because He knew I was in much need of a few great lessons (lest I forget those courtesy of my sister’s illness and death), there are enough of these incredible images engraved inside me to slap the foolish out of me and remind me of what counts.

Once upon a time I was a princess. I left a pampered city girl and returned dethroned carrying the sights, sounds, and smells of…….. humility, faith and love. This is the stuff that keeps one real.

I have so many reasons for which to be thankful. So many. Mostly, I thank God for the individuals He has chosen for me throughout my life (some of whom I miss terribly), and the lessons they brought along with them. 

Wishing all of you a wonderful journey of awareness leading up to Thanksgiving.

Much love. God bless.

“Thanksgiving is possible only for those who
take time to remember; no one can give thanks
who has a short memory.”
~ Unknown

Your love, Jesus, is an ocean
with no shore to bound it.
And if I plunge into it, I carry
with me all the possessions
I have. You know, Lord,
what these possessions are

the souls you have seen
fit to link with mine.

~ St. Thérèse of Lisieux


Once upon a time I was a princess – and then I woke up. — 7 Comments

  1. Connie:
    Very beautifully written piece on “Thankfulness” – – was not aware of your missionary days. Talk about a revelation, not to mention enlightenment of the purest kind!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Best Regards,

  2. Thank you Joyce. Revelation to the 10th power. The work was hard, especially our living arrangements there. We are so accustomed to comfort. But the hardest thing for me was leaving them. I left my heart there each and every time.

  3. I understand exactly what you mean! However, they will always live in your heart no matter where you roam in this life. I am also certain that you have a special place in their hearts, as well. Personally, I think every child/young adult should do missionary work or at least travel to a remote corner of the earth with a team of people, like UNICEF, to experience, first hand, what it’s like to live in a third world country. If this was a requirement for our youth, I can guarantee that our future here no earth would be very bright with all the correct values put into place in society!
    Thanks again,

  4. I agree. I would love for my kids to go on a couple of these trips, but if not able to because of school, work, etc., there is plenty of work to be done here to help the less fortunate. But yes, hands down, the effects of an experience like mine would be impacting, I think.

  5. Ah, amiga, I am sitting here laughing and crying at the same time, yet again. That latrine comment, horror movie and then some! You have a gift to hit the nail on the head, bringing to mind memories of loved ones long gone, adventures long forgotten. I am remembering my first (and thankfully only) encounter with that situation. In Puerto Rico, in the mountains, visiting an old school friend. They were living in a very poor area (yet we ate like kings that week) and when I finally just HAD to ask where the facilities were, I was told at the back of the house. Well, I walked all the way to the back of the house, did not find the powder room, came back into the living room (it was not a very big house) and said I did not find it, so the Abuela of the family started to laugh, stood up, took my hand and led me through the little house and outside to a little tiny wooden contraption with a door … the look on my face, I am sure, was of the “You HAVE to be kidding!” variety. Forgot to say, no electricity, only oil lamps, I think they called them something like “quinques” and she very kindly let me take it into the … facility. The better to see the odd little creatures scuttling about, some slithered, some flew and I could swear some had whiskers … I remember telling my Mom, when I returned home, I must have said a bazillion Hail Marys in 10 seconds flat. I have never been more thankful to get back to a hotel with hot and cold running water and all the rest of the amenities we take for granted. Oh, my! Yep, I definitely went there thinking I was a princess and came back absolutely dethroned, but boy, what a different perspective on life did I get that week! Thanksgiving, I have so, so much to be thankful for, so many blessings and your friendship, my dear amiga, is one those. A blessed, joyful Thanksgiving to you and your lovely familia. We are blessed, we are blessed, we are blessed.

  6. Yes, that totally sounds right — no electricity, no running water, and a small wooden contraption, full of God’s creatures of all colors and sizes to keep me company as I held my breath for as long as I could….
    I am blessed with your friendship as well, Amiga, no doubt.

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