Sitting in my window seat on the flight home from this weekend’s conference, my mind swirling with thoughts from the weekend, I look out the window, and am pulled away from my contemplation by one of the most remarkable visions I’ve ever seen while flying. There is a thin sheet of wispy clouds below me just thin enough to still reveal the city night lights beneath. Off in the horizon is an amazing lightning show visible from behind a much thicker mass of dark clouds. Most of the lightning flashes fill the distant sky without actually seeing the lightning bolt itself, but every few minutes a solid bolt breaks through the clouds, lighting up the entire scene. In all, it’s an awe-inspiring contrast of man made and natural light, creating a mood altering and surreal scene before me.

As I look down through the clouds onto the homes, businesses, churches, and communities below, I think back to a woman waiting in the airport with me just an hour ago. She had been bumped from a previous flight, and while waiting at the airport, had received a call that her young son had been in a serious car accident while she was out of town. He was on his way to the hospital when I first overheard the situation. After a few minutes of nervous pacing, she received another phone call. I could not hear what was being said, but she collapsed in uncontrollable grief and sobbing. A friend finished the call for her, and several minutes after I heard the update: her son was unresponsive, and was being airlifted to a different hospital in a last attempt to save his life.

I missed my kids. I longed to hold them.

Surely every home spread about below me had some kind of problem, difficulty or stress facing it. Many of them probably facing multiple issues, from strained parent-child relationships, to crumbling marriages, to financial issues caused by poor money management or unfortunate circumstances in their work situations, to health issues for family, friends, and loved ones, and even devastating loss. It reminded me of the recent loss of my grandmother, my grandfather’s failing health, the closing this week of my families church for the last 20 years, a fire that burned the church down a few years ago (we rebuilt it), and even back to the tornado that destroyed our home back in ’92. At some point in our lives, we all face many of these problems, but I wonder how often we remember to be thankful and appreciative during the times when we aren’t dealing with severe issues, and I wonder how empathetic we are to those going through them now, and more importantly how willing we are to help those dealing with an issue.

As I head home, I also have thoughts of the projects I’ll get back to work on and what direction I should take with several of them. I have new thoughts and ideas stirring in my mind, inspired by the speakers and conversations from the conference I attended. I can’t wait to take action, to have more conversations with my like minded friends and partners, and get back to doing what I love. But though I love what I do and I love working with some truly great people on some really exciting projects, I can never forget the big picture; the other things in life that matter, and I’m thankful for the little reminders in life that come along, often just in time.

I’ll never know what happened to that woman’s family, nor how the outcome will shape her family for generations to come. All I know is I prayed for her many times on the flight home. I felt her pain, and I used it to remind myself to really cherish the times I have with my children and my loved ones.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with grief or stress from a situation you find yourself in, stop and get some perspective. Sit by a busy place, perhaps in a mall at a coffee shop, and watch the hundreds of people walking by and remember that each one of them is facing difficult times, at least at some point in life. Remind yourself you aren’t alone and your problems aren’t a unique curse on you. It’s just part of living life.

Then, find someone in need, and offer to comfort them, pray for them, or help them in some way that you can. Remind yourself of your blessings and enjoy them, guilt-free, while you have them. Gather your loved ones, and express your appreciation for them. Embrace what you have, while you have it, even in the face of difficult times. That’s all we can do in the end, because the troubles on our path ahead are out of our control. As scary as that is, we have only one choice: live each day to the fullest, love life, love others, give and serve in all we do, enjoy the fruits of our labor for as long as we have them, and handle trials and troubles with integrity, honesty, faith, and perseverance.