When It’s Difficult To Be Thankful

In less than two weeks, most of us will be sitting around a table full of food, surrounded by those we love, counting all the reasons we are thankful.

But maybe some of you are in a hard place this season. Maybe you’re finding it difficult to give thanks in the midst of a marriage that’s falling apart or a child that won’t stop breaking your heart. Maybe as you face overwhelming circumstances, you can’t find that place of gratitude. Take heart in the fact that this too is a season.

Today my mind goes back to a book I read years ago, and a story that changed my perspective (and my life) forever. In The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Corrie’s life teaches that nothing is in vain, and because God has a purpose and a plan for my life, I can trust Him to use even the worst of times, for my good.

I’m sharing an excerpt with you today hoping that no matter what hard place you might find yourself in, and what “fleas” you are dealing with, you are also able to find joy in the midst of it. It is possible, and it is so worth it.

From The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom:Hidinh_place_book

[Corrie and her sister Betsie have just moved into permanent quarters in Ravensbruck concentration camp.]

“The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

 “‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

 “We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

 “‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

 “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

 “‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

 “I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

 “In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…'” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

 “‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

 “‘Oh yes:’…”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.'” 

 “‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

 “‘Such as?’ I said.

 “‘Such as being assigned here together.’

 “I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

 “‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

 “‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

 “‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

 “‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

 “‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

 “The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

 “And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”thumb_IMG_4038_1024

[Some time later, Corrie discovered Betsie was indeed right.]

 “‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

 “‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

 “That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

 “But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

 “Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!'”

 “My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.

I don’t know what “fleas” you are facing as you head into this season of thanks, but I do hope you know that your situation, however impossible it may seem, is not hopeless.

I want to challenge you today to believe that you will not only get through it, but you can even learn to be grateful for it as you ask God to work in it. Thanksgiving is a powerful force, and it has a way of working miracles, especially in our own hearts.

Do you believe it?

Gratitude, Not “Attitude”–7 Ways to Teach Thankfulness

My greatest blessings minus one :-(.

My greatest blessings minus one :-(.

I have always told my children that there is something to be thankful for in all situations, but finding just one in the port-o-potty of a Lancaster farm earlier this month was difficult for me. Although I was suspended between the door and the potty hole for mere milliseconds, to me it seemed much longer–long enough, in fact, to have a dozen possibilities race through my mind. You see, somehow I thought I could maneuver my way through the whole process of going pee in a 1X3 foot area with a cell phone in my right hand and the door slide in my left because, for whatever reason, it wouldn’t latch all the way. Somewhere in the midst of this task, I lost my balance and had a decision to make. Do I lurch toward the door and risk falling out with my pants down or do I lean back and…well, you know?

I chose dignity over sanitation and came down on my hip with a thud. Now any reasonable woman would know she can’t actually fit down a port-o-potty hole, but I was not exactly a reasonable woman at that moment, and I was certain there was the chance I’d be forever humiliated for having to be rescued from my toilet fiasco.

In any event, it all ended with little more than bruised pride and a bruised hip for which I was not the least bit grateful. Annoyed, I kept my little incident to myself and wanted nothing more than to take a bath in Lysol. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop my own words from creeping out from the corners of my mind, “Give thanks in all things.” Um, No. But after all day of listening to that nagging phrase, I finally threw up my hands and declared, “Lord! Thank you that my butt was too big to fit through the port-o-potty hole.” I know, it was pathetic and not very sincere, but sometimes gratitude is hard work. However, as in all things, practice makes perfect and the dividends are worth the investment.

For instance, new studies by R. A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis show that a heart of gratitude actually makes us feel happier, healthier, and behave with more kindness and goodwill toward others. Who wouldn’t like to see more of that in our families?

7 ways to move from attitude to gratitude that have worked in our family:

1. Say thank you. To everyone. The teller, the clerk, the waiter, and most importantly to those in your own house. Just the habit of saying those two words is very powerful and your children will catch on.

2. Teach your children not to compare themselves to others. They will always find someone who has more. Model this mamas. Please don’t let your children hear you wishing you were in someone else’s house or driving someone else’s car or living someone else’s life. Yours is an amazing one without someone else’s stuff.

3. Teach them to give and serve. This is huge and it doesn’t require much effort to find ways to reach out. Whether it’s as involved as serving regularly as a family at a shelter or nursing home or as simple as inviting a lonely person to dinner, making others a priority will help your children develop not only a heart of gratitude but a heart that cares.

4. Give thanks in all things. And now I’m back where I started. They’re really not my words, but the apostle Paul’s from 1 Thes. 5:18, and I have stood on a rather large soap box and preached endless sermons about this one to my children. I wholeheartedly believe that there is something we can be thankful for in every situation. Look hard; it’s hidden somewhere. While I’m still not grateful I beat myself up inside a smelly port-o-potty, I am extremely thankful I didn’t lose my phone in a pile of poop.

Courtesy debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net

5. “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God hath done!” It’s a great hymn and great advice. Whether you intentionally talk about them daily or encourage your children to write them down, recalling blessings helps us be conscious of all we have instead of focused on all we don’t. Let’s not limit it to a once-a-year ritual.

6. Pray. Gratitude is not easy so ask God to cultivate it in us and our children. James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask”, so ask and believe.

7. Keep at it. Let your children know it’s okay if they are only going through the motions but don’t feel grateful at first. Eventually it will move from an exercise of the mind to a response of the heart. It will.

There will always be too many reasons to grumble, but if we choose instead to move from attitude to gratitude, things won’t only feel better, they will actually get better. I’d say that’s a reason to be grateful.

Welcome to My Messy (Oops! Blessed) Life

Am I the only one who can’t find her kitchen sink right now? Who couldn’t get out of a house fire without falling over the half dozen outfits (which are all too small by the way, but that’s another post) strewn across her bedroom?

It seemed a simple thing this morning to sit down and write a few words by the end of the day. After all, I’ve had multiple experiences lately that make for hilarious reading. The problem is, I can’t seem to string two coherent thoughts together to make any sense.

Everything around me is a mess right now. My kitchen is a dish-filled mess. My room is a laundry-filled mess. And my brain is a foggy, dusty, clutter-filled mess. Please tell me you get it.

Clothes everywhere AND an unmade bed.

Clothes everywhere AND an unmade bed.

I woke up this morning with a plan. I always have a plan and am a devout scheduler, but somewhere between running out of milk and trying to balance the checkbook, it all fell apart. So, here I am with no plans for dinner, math drills that haven’t been done, and more cobwebs in my brain than there is enough coffee to clear.

It’s moments like this that I am tempted to point my finger at my family and demand why milk wasn’t written on the grocery list before it was drained and why the craft supplies were left out after the girls were finished painting their vase and why my husband has to work late on this of all nights. After all, didn’t he hear the panic in my voice when he called at lunch?

Thankfully, somewhere between my irritated heart and my unruly tongue, I had an ah-ha moment. It’s true my house is a mess right now, but that’s because I have healthy children and friends who fill it all the time. And, yes, I run out of groceries a lot but only because I have a full table every night and amazing people surrounding it. And while I wish my husband could read my thoughts and know exactly when I need him home, I realize that only happens in fiction, and I’m grateful that he loves to come home every night to be with his family. So why should I be annoyed when the very mess that irritates me is the proof of my blessings?

Life is a lot like that I think, a “messy blessing”. We plan for one thing but something altogether different comes along, something better many times, and yet we’re disappointed. We strive to juggle too many demands only to “drop the ball”, and we’re discouraged instead of relieved. We like everything to be tidy and certain but instead it’s disorderly and unsure, and we’re fearful when we could be expectant. Life’s messy. And yet, it’s good.

And it’s all that “mess”– that edge-of-your-seat-up-and-down wonder–that makes it good. It’s like being at an amusement park; you can only ride the lazy carousel so long before you get bored or you throw up.

Maybe the ride through Hershey Chocolate Factory doesn't technically count as a roller coaster, but with Kieran it should.

Maybe the ride through Hershey Chocolate factory doesn’t technically count as a roller coaster, but with Kieran it should.

You’re not meant to go round and round and look at the same scenery. Every now and then, you have to strap yourself on the roller coaster (even if it’s only in the kiddie section) to see what you’re made of.

After all, isn’t it true that the greatest courage often springs from the deepest fear, the most heartfelt joy rises from the darkest sorrow, and the most overwhelming peace settles amidst the noisiest chaos? At least in my life, blessings have rarely come without a toll and even more rarely look like I expect them to.

Tonight my blessed life looks a little messy, but that’s okay. We can eat pizza on paper plates for dinner, skip math for the night to watch Andy Griffith re-runs, and tackle the laundry pile tomorrow. Are underwear technically clean if you turn them inside out? Just curious.

Well that’s my messy blessed life. Your turn. What do your blessings look like? Look closely. God hides them in the most unexpected places.