One of my favorite things to do at Christmas is to spend time in the wood shop making gifts for friends and family. With the right tools and a bit of experience you can make just about anything. The first year we were married, I made a oak kitchen table. It is farmhouse style with white turned legs, a clear finish on the top and a matching bench. The following year, I made a large oak entertainment center for Christmas. I’ve made jewelry boxes, mirrors, beds, checkerboards and lots of other fun gifts. At 13 years old, this started with a simple shoe polish box, and now I can make better quality that what I can buy.

Last week I was able to spend a few hours with a good friend of mine. Back in the 80s, his dad was my woodshop teacher in high school. Since Kerry and his dad had a cabinet business together, he was often at the shop. In my years since school, I’d drop by their backyard shop to work on Christmas projects.

In 2010, Kerry was on an ATV trip with his sons when he had a tragic accident where he was seriously injured. He’s lucky to be alive but is now living in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Soon after his accident, and after a therapy session, he told his wife how incredibly lucky he was. As she doubted and questioned his reasoning, he invited her to attend therapy with him the next day. After that therapy session, Kerry recounts that she was in tears and said, “you’re right, we are so luck that you only broke your neck.” In therapy, it was easy to see their good fortune as many other patients were suffering from serious brain injuries.  “We can do this,” she said. And, together, they set about creating a new life together.

Last week isn’t the first time that Kerry has spoken of the accident as good fortune. If you had a few minutes with Kerry, he would tell you that his relationship with his God and his family is significantly improved. Last week, he said to me… “I love living in a wheelchair.” Kerry has an amazing sense of humor and loves to use his current situation to push people to reconsider their own situation in life. He reminded me that we all need to accept the consequences of our decisions and life and move forward.

Like the rest of us, I’m sure Kerry has bad days and deals with regular demons that the rest of us can only imagine. But having a few minutes with him was super motivating. He is a regular Sunday School teacher at his church, speaks at corporate events, and created a new business hand-turning pens on the wood lathe and continued his cabinetry business leveraging his son’s hands and his decades of experience to guide them. While he has very limited hand dexterity, he has learned to adapt and continue to enjoy his love of woodworking. He is able to create beautiful pens – you can see a few of them on his blog.  He also finds great joy in helping and teaching others how to work with wood.

So, what’s the gift?

I’m thinking about the amazing ability to accept your current situation and press forward with optimism rather than backward looking gloom and doom. By accepting who we are today, we can learn, grow and create a better future.

Otherwise, we lack a foundation for the future. Blaming parents, accidents, spouses, managers, employees, siblings, or anybody else or anything else makes it almost impossible for us to move forward. Instead, these past problems act like a parasite that grows within us until our focus on it cripples our ability to progress. This victim mindset will never lead to victory.

It doesn’t matter where you are today. We are all blessed with personal freedom to choose a better future. Stop and consider. Do a personal inventory and count your blessings. If you can’t quickly find many things for which to be grateful, you need to look deeper. You have an abundance of strengths and assets in your life…even if you seemingly have nothing.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit many countries. Some of the poorest and most destitute individuals are often the happiest. Happiness and gratitude for them isn’t based on a new X-box, a new car, or a bigger house. It’s simple food, simple shelter, and daily protection from many of the things that can easily go wrong in their lives. Yet, they are happy.

Reject the victim mindset. Even if you are a victim.

Embrace faith and take personal responsibility for your future. Yes, this applies to most to many of the things that most people see and consider success. But even more importantly – it applies to how you see yourself. Don’t confine yourself to a metaphorical wheelchair. Viktor Frankl learned in the most horrific human conditions that nobody could take away his choice about how he would think and feel.

By faith, I don’t mean spirituality. Although I’m a big believer in the power of a spiritually centered life. I mean faith as confidence. Confidence that motivates you to believe enough to take action and move forward. Maybe that action starts with forgiveness of self and others. And then, faith to wake up, and take care of business knowing that improving your future is within your personal power. Yes, we all need some good luck and help from others. But, unless we are in the right position to capitalize on a moment of luck and help, it will vanish away and we won’t even know we missed it.

We all have unlimited potential regardless of our current situation.

Embrace, believe and create!

I hope you have had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukah, Holiday, and ready to embrace a new year, a new future, and a new you.