Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Being Thankful for Our Problems

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As we start this month of November, many of us find ourselves desiring to turn our hearts toward gratitude. In the month of November, I see posts from a myriad of friends who are posting on Facebook something each day they have to be thankful for as they approach Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving approaching, it is a natural time of year to focus there. As we do so, we often focus on being thankful for what we have. We look for the bright spots in our lives. We find the good. We find the things we can be thankful for midst the difficulties of mortality.

There is certainly merit to being grateful for what we have. I have kept a gratitude journal at various times in life and it is beneficial to focus on and see the many things we have to be thankful for in life. We count our blessings and we are able to be happier because our focus is on what is good in life. It shifts our perspective.

What if we take it up a notch.

What if we are grateful not just for the good, but find ways to be grateful for the difficulties.

Hmmm...

Many of us can look back on difficulties with our now perfect hindsight and say, "Wow, I really see the hand of the Lord in my life during that time and I am grateful for what I learned through that." How many of us are able to take that one step further and be grateful for the difficulty even in the moment we are living it? Right as it is happening. How many of us are grateful now rather than waiting for the time we can look back in hindsight?

I believe this is indeed taking ourselves a level higher. To be grateful for the trial during the trial definitely takes a very faithful person. This takes a person of maturity. This takes a person who trusts that the Lord has gotten her through the difficulties in the past and will do so again.

I recently heard a talk from a church leader titled "Grateful in Any Circumstances." This talk quite frankly blew my mind in reference to thinking about gratitude. He talked about the merit of being thankful for things, but added, "...I don't believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease." He suggested developing an attitude of gratitude where we can be grateful no matter what our circumstance. Perhaps the best scriptural example we have of this attitude is Job, who was grateful when he had an abundance and was grateful when he had nothing.

Life is hard, right? When we wait for the difficulty to pass before finding the parts to be grateful for, we lose so much joy. We spend so much time trying to survive the pain rather than trusting the pain will strengthen us. What if we were able to be grateful in those painful moments?

Almost a year after my third child, McKenna, was born, my body went crazy. I had a two month long period. Not fun, ladies. I stopped ovulating and was diagnosed with PCOS. We assumed it must be a sign from the Lord that we were done having children, though it hurt my soul. I prayed every day from McKenna's birth on to know if I should have more children or not. I waited impatiently for an answer to a question I felt was a very pure question worthy of an answer.

During that time, I read a talk that said to be grateful for the difficult trials in life and the times the Lord didn't answer your prayer immediately because those were times that would make you grow immensely. I took the speaker at his word and let go of the stressing. A year after that, I ovulated for the first time. A month later, I got pregnant with my fourth child. McKenna was a little more than 2.5 years old. As I look back, I see how much I grew, and I am grateful for that learning experience. I also see the wisdom in being grateful even during the difficulty. How much life I spent worrying and consumed with wanting to know the future! For 2.5 years, a good portion of my focus was spent agonizing over whether or not I would have another child.

Despite experiences such as these in life, it doesn't mean that I am at a place where I face great challenge with perfect faith. Last month, I took Brayden (now 9) to the doctor. He had a tumor behind his ear. Over the course of the month, he had appointments and finally removal of the tumor. It was then sent to pathology and we waited.

Oh how it hurt me! I am sure you can imagine how hard I fasted and prayed for the tumor to be benign. I worked hard to keep my brain at bay. I tried to stop myself from traveling down the "what-if" path. I like to be prepared for things, but preparing for how I would possibly handle my child having cancer was not something I could let myself do unless I needed to. Comments would break my heart. Kaitlyn said one day, "It is so great having a brother!" after he had done some very kind things for her. My immediate thought was, "She might not have a brother! And if he dies, Brinley won't even remember him!"

Through this, I knew I wanted to write this post. I had already heard and read the talks I mentioned above. I tried to think of how I would manage to be grateful for the difficulty during this great time of trial if it came. That is what I did to prepare myself. I worked to have the faith necessary to face it with gratitude.

I am happy to say that we learned on Halloween at 5 PM that Brayden's tumor is benign! 

Several months ago, I read the book The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. This is really a must read. Really. This book is an excellent read for helping your figure out what being grateful even in difficulties looks like. This book is a true story about a Dutch family during World War II. The ten Boom family is full of shining examples of people who loved others and showed gratitude even amongst the worst of circumstances--including being in an extermination camp during World War II. Corrie's sister, Betsie, at one point tells Corrie they need to pray in gratitude for their circumstances shortly after they arrived to Ravensbruck. This camp was the largest for women during World War II and a vast majority of the women sent there died. Betsie told her sister they even needed to pray in gratitude for the fleas. Corrie protested that she would not be grateful for the fleas that infested their bunks, but Betsie insisted and did. Later, they discovered that their bunks were a safe place from guards because the guards did not want to go near the fleas. In the end, the fleas were indeed something to be grateful for! This book is full of great examples like this that show real life examples of people being grateful even in their extreme difficulties. 

I encourage you to seek this skill of being grateful even during difficulties. I am not encouraging you to bury or hide emotions. I believe emotions are part of this life and need to be experienced. However, I also believe that we can develop an attitude that is grateful even during emotionally turbulent times. I also believe that it is a skill that needs to be developed--not one you can just say, "Okay, I will do it" and it will happen, but rather something you decide to do but need to spend time cultivating. This desire of your heart will be tested. Recognize the good that has happened in your life so you can have faith looking forward and looking at your moment. Find examples of what it looks like to be grateful even during difficult times. Work to develop this trait in your own life, and you will see the beauty of life even during the bitterest of times. You can get there.

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