Commentary: You are indeed greater than you know you are

“You are greater than you know.” This simple quote, attributed to various authors, is displayed in a prominent location in my family’s home. Every member of my family sees it every day and is thereby reminded of it. Every day. It was true whenever it was first said, and it is true now — for every one of us, every day. “You are greater than you know.”

In 2007, my wife Katie and I were anxiously anticipating the birth of our first child — filled with all of the hopes, dreams and aspirations that accompany that great event. Those who know my family are aware that 12 years later, we now have four amazing little boys — for each one of whom we are forever grateful. But most are not aware that this first child was a little girl — a perfect, beautiful baby girl who weighed 5 pounds, 9.4 ounces, was 19.25 inches long, had her mommy’s eyes and her daddy’s nose and was born on Valentine’s Day — a girl named Sophie who died about two days before she was born. She is forever in our hearts and forever a part of our family.

Events like this can, and often do, change us. They can change our perspective, our approach to life, how we think about and see the world. Sophie did not do a single thing in this world aside from being born. And yet her very existence changed the world — at least, her family’s world. Words can’t express the pain we felt at the loss of our firstborn child, and I would be remiss not to say that it was our family’s faith that sustained us through this trial — but living through this trial, in turn, deepened our faith. As George Bailey learned in the timeless classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” every one of us matters — every one of us. And Sophie is a constant reminder of that.

Our perspective, our thoughts — how we think about ourselves, others and our circumstances — It is these thoughts that lead us to greater faith, joy and resilience or to despair, to give up, to devalue ourselves or others. As a psychiatrist and now as a squadron commander, I have learned both in my personal and professional life that our emotions are born from our thoughts and that thoughts are, by definition, not facts — They are just thoughts.

Some are true, some are not, and there is always more to the story. But it is the thoughts we choose to believe, focus on and embrace that determine our own reality — emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. It is true that I cannot control the waves on the sea, but I can build, strengthen, maintain and repair my ship. I can choose not to believe or to focus on negative or destructive thoughts about myself, others or my circumstances; I can choose to believe in myself, in others and in good things to come.

And for every success you and I have in so doing, we will impact not only ourselves for good — we will impact our families, our coworkers, and the world — even if only one person’s world. Because you and I are greater — far greater — than we know.

By Lt. Col. Andrew Rees

By Lt. Col. Andrew Rees is 436th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron commander at Dover Air Force Base.