The first, is that I love Autumn because I can put up Autumn decorations in September and I don't take them down until December. Sweet! Three months of harvest decor! Fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving all in one. One theme to rule them all!
The second, the most profound, the point of this post, is what #1 shared with us at Young Women in Excellence earlier in October. She said that as a goal, she decided her nightly prayers (before bed) would be gratitude prayers. She would only tell Heavenly Father what she was grateful for and not ask for anything. She said that as she kept doing this, she found herself falling to sleep before the prayer was over because she had so many things she was grateful for. The list was so long, it never ended.
I was both surprised and impressed. Surprised, because she hadn't mentioned it until then, and impressed, because that is such a beautiful attitude and way of being. (She constantly amazes me with her maturity.)
To be grateful is to be joyful, dear reader. Without gratitude, we would despair.
I've been thinking a lot, lately, about how to be grateful for the hard things in life. Things that seem so difficult and horrible and yet... when seen in a different light, they are absolutely blessings. Blessings in disguise. Tender mercies. Moments of clarity that teach us how every thing can be used, by God, for good. Even the most horrible atrocities committed by man can be turned to further light, truth, and love.
One of my most favorite moments in all of literature is also a moment that actually happened. The true story of Corrie ten Boom and her family during WWII was captured in the novel, The Hiding Place. In it, she describes life in the concentration camp, and how devastatingly humiliating it was, not to mention just physically horrible. But throughout her and her sister's experiences there, they learned more about gratitude than most people learn in a lifetime. Here are some excerpts from the book that showed how they could have gratitude in such horrible circumstances:
"Fridays--the recurrent humiliation of medical inspection. The hospital corridor in which we waited was unheated and a fall chill had settled into the walls. Still we were forbidden even to wrap ourselves in our own arms, but had to maintain our erect, hands-at-sides position as we filed slowly past a phalanx of grinning guards. How there could have been any pleasure in the sight of these stick-thin legs and hunger-bloated stomachs I could not imagine. Surely there is no more wretched sight than the human body unloved and uncared for. Nor could I see the necessity for the complete undressing: when we finally reached the examining room a doctor looked down each throat, another--a dentist presumably--at our teeth, a third in between each finger. And that was all. We trooped again down the long, cold corridor and picked up our X-marked dresses at the door. But it was one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me. "He hung naked on the cross. "...The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh--at the time itself, on that other Friday morning--there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now. "'Betsie, they took His clothes too.' "'Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. 'Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him...' "
'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!' ............
"'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."......
"Back at the barracks we formed yet another line--would there never be an end to columns and waits?--to receive our ladle of turnip soup in the center room. Then, as quickly as we could for the press of people, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship "service." Around our own platform area there was not enough light to read the Bible, but back here a small light bulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, and here an ever larger group of women gathered. "They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. "At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.
"One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling. "'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."When I first read this, many, many years ago, I was absolutely struck by their ability to be grateful in every circumstance. And that God had, in truth, blessed them in the most unusual and --to a mortal's view --illogical way.
Here are few difficult things that took me a long time to be grateful for:
1. My depression --I'm so grateful for my mental illness because it has taught me about compassion, patience, understanding, the Atonement, healing, forgiveness, trial and error, and relying on others.
2. My asthma --I'm so grateful for my chronic asthma because it has taught me about health, physical ability, how to treat my children's sicknesses, how my own body works and reacts, and empathy for those with physical ailments.
3. When we've had financial problems, lost jobs, moved, had unexpected bills, etc. --I'm grateful for these trials because they have taught us how to be more frugal, how to trust in God, and where we can do better.
4. I'm grateful for exhaustion --it shows me that I have a beautiful, meaningful life with a lot of people depending on me, and that I have the physical ability to do what I want to do and take care of them.
5. I'm grateful for the bugs and humidity because it means I'm living in a place that has tremendous plant life with so much beauty, my soul aches.
What are you grateful for? What trials are you glad you've been given because of what it means or what you've learned?