In Everything Give Thanks

It had been a weekend of celebrations, my niece’s graduation from nursing school and Mother’s Day.  If only I’d known it was to be the last Mother’s Day with Mom. Would I have done things differently?  On Tuesday, Mom fell and broke her leg. People don’t usually die from a broken leg, but a blood clot ended her life. We buried her on the Saturday before Memorial Day in 2003.

On her last night, I’d stayed with her at the hospital. She watched a program on HGTV while I worked on my laptop. With visitors interrupting all afternoon, I’d hardly accomplished anything. At 11:00 pm, I turned out the lights, but I could hear her sigh and every few minutes she’d ask me to readjust the pillows under her leg or back. When the clock showed midnight, I convinced her to call the nurse and ask for pain medication. After taking the pill, she was asleep within minutes. When my sister arrived early the next morning, I whispered, “She’s had a rough night.” Mom seemed to be comfortable so I didn’t wake her before I left. The doctor had scheduled her release from the hospital, but my only concern was a meeting with the board of my company.

All eyes were focused on the CEO when a knock interrupted his speech. The receptionist stood in the doorway searching the room until she locked eyes with me and crooked her finger for me to come. I felt the stares as I exited. She whispered, “You have an emergency phone call.” As any mother would, I thought the call was about one of my children. I walked to the nearest phone, and picked up the line the receptionist indicated. My older sister was waiting and said, “You need to come to the hospital now.” and hung up.

As I made the short drive to the hospital, I fumed, “What could be so important? Didn’t she realize that I have an important job?” When I arrived at the hospital, both of my sisters were crying and I saw something I’d never seen before, fear in the eyes of my father.  He said “They’re still working on your Mama.”

“What do you mean they are working on her? She was fine when I left this morning.”

My cousin, a cardiologist, stepped out of Mom’s hospital room and seemed to be speaking from a bad  television script “We did all that we could but she’s gone.”

His words echoed through my mind. “She’s gone? He can’t mean she died. She was fine this morning. People don’t die from a broken leg.”

I remember little of the next few days other than standing for hours greeting those who loved Mom while smelling the scent of roses behind me. For weeks I would instinctively reach for the phone to call her. The patterns of my life had shifted, and I was off balance. While reading scripture, I ran across 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” As I pondered this scripture, I became angry. “Give thanks! Give thanks for everything. I’m supposed to give thanks to God for Mom dying.” In a rage, I threw my Bible across the room. I was a 42-year old woman having a temper tantrum. Later in the day, I picked up the Bible and noticed the broken spine. Mom would have been ashamed of my behavior and I knew I was failing her. It was rare for me to find time to read the Bible, much less to study it, but I was confused and didn’t know where else to turn. I knew that Mom had looked to scripture for comfort but I found nothing but fury. Mom had battled illness throughout her life, nursed a father with tuberculosis, buried my infant twin, lost everything in a house fire when I was four, and she nursed two sisters through cancer and lost both. Through every trial, she would sing praise songs and spend time studying His word. I couldn’t understand what she found in scripture that I was missing.

For the first time in my life I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I’d had minor disappointments, but nothing came close to losing Mom. I’d never faced a tragedy and the result was a shallow faith.

I didn’t know how to accept Mom’s death and Daddy suffered too. God’s words continued to haunt me “In everything give thanks.” What could I possibly find in the loss of Mom for which to be thankful?

Lonesome and depressed, Daddy started losing weight. In an effort to lift his spirits, I started calling each evening. He had never been one to talk on the phone, and I was surprised at how long we talked each evening. One night, I was smiling when I hung up the phone and a thought occurred to me. I’d always communicated with Daddy through Mom. Whenever I called my parents, I  talked to her. Even if Daddy answered the phone, he would hand the receiver to Mom. Daddy and I spent more time talking in the months following Mom’s death than the other 42 years of my life combined. He told me stories about his boyhood and shared suggestions for dealing with my teenagers, but most important, he became my friend. I realized that had Daddy died before Mom, I never would have truly known him. “In everything give thanks.”

Daddy and I talked about death. I’d taken him to the funeral of a friend who had suffered from stomach cancer. That same weekend, a young man had been killed in a senseless car accident and I worried about my own son’s driving skills. Daddy shared his wisdom. “If you are born, you are going to die, and no one can do that for you. The good Lord will call us when it is our time. Worrying will not change it.” These words have stayed with me and I thought of them as I stood over his grave on the next Memorial Day weekend. Daddy had died of a sudden heart attack exactly a year after Mom’s funeral.

“In everything give thanks.” I pondered these words and discovered that I could give thanks. I was thankful that his days of mourning were over, thankful that he no longer feared being ill and lingering attached to machines as his own father had suffered. And I was thankful for his wisdom that I could pass on to my children as I grew older.

After Mom’s unexpected death, I never left Daddy without hugging him and telling him that I loved him. “I love you” were the last words I spoke to him. “In everything give thanks.”

It was to be another difficult year. My younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. My older sister had a strange abscess on her thyroid and almost died in an emergency surgery. My brother suffered a back injury and didn’t know if he’d be able to return to work. With each crisis I realized how much I could lose and that I was dependent upon God. “In everything give thanks.”

On the weekend before the next Memorial Day holiday, I was visiting my younger sister who had completed 12 weeks of radiation treatments. I studied the sparkling water in her backyard pool on a perfect spring day and said, “If no one I love dies this week, then I’ll be happy.”

The next day at work, the CEO informed me that he’d decided to outsource my department and they no longer needed me. I remembered what I’d said  and tried to smile. “In everything give thanks.”

I went through the festivities of my son’s high school graduation that week. When I study the pictures of me smiling with him in his cap and gown, I look happy, but I was numb and broken. A good description might be “the walking wounded.” But no one could see my wounds. As I recall those long summer days, I see the blessings. I had always worked outside of my home, and spending the summer with my children was a gift. But I was still hurt and angry about my uncertain career.

The remnants of hurricane Dennis dumped a week of rain on our farm. When the skies cleared, I went to work in the garden. I hadn’t had the time for a garden in years. My childhood summers had been filled working with my family in our abundant garden. I studied the rows filled with weeds in my own pitiful plot. I wanted to give up, but I knew that would have disappointed my Daddy, the farmer. I’d had hard rows to hoe in my childhood, and Daddy would say “Just keep your head down and before you know it, you’ll get through it.”

I knew the hoe was going to be useless. In my fight with those thick weeds, I had to get on my hands and knees. As I smelled the loamy soil I was taken back to my childhood. I had to smile as I thought of the elegant boardrooms I’d had the privilege to sit in. If they could see me now on my hands and knees in the dirt! In the back of my mind, I could hear Mom saying “Looks like someone got too big for her britches.” With each weed I pulled through my ‘long road to hoe,’ I thought of my parents and my love for them. A cardinal’s song reminded me of Mama singing as she worked. As squirrels ran above me in the trees I reminisced of my brother and sisters playing in the woods as children. A robin pulled a worm and fed her babies and I remembered to thank God for being able to provide for my family. With each weed I pulled, I thanked God and started singing. When I got to the end of the last row, I sat back and looked at the wilted weeds strewn to the side, and I could see the beautiful garden. “In everything give thanks.”

God’s timing is always perfect. I started my new job on Veterans Day just as my severance pay was ending. When searching for a new job, I had decided to focus on what I love instead of the salary and job title. I accepted a position as the director of a small town public library. I’ve always loved books and seeing the cover of a book I’ve enjoyed fills my heart with a warm feeling. How had I missed this when choosing a career path? As I sat on a bench looking at the building full of books that was to be my new workplace, I was in awe of how God had blessed me. “In everything give thanks.”

I keep the Bible with the broken spine to remind me of the valleys I’ve crossed. It reminds me of Jesus and his broken body. There have been more trials in my life, and I wish I could say that “in everything I give thanks,” but I’m stubborn. I’ve learned to try to look for the blessing in each hardship because I know that if I can find blessings in the deaths my parents, then I have the hope of finding a blessing in most any circumstance. The other lesson I learned is that when I want to give up, the place to be is on my knees thanking God. It could be that He needs to pull the weeds that are choking me. It may be painful, but it is His will that must be done, not mine. “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonia

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About shelia@sheliastovall.com

Shelia Stovall is a Southern, small-town librarian, and has an understanding of what women like to read. She is a member of ACFW and is currently the Treasurer of the Middle Tennessee ACFW Chapter. Shelia is a member of the Ky. Public Library Association and the American Library Association. Her short story, The Barber’s Sanctuary, won the fiction division of Kentucky Monthly’s sixth annual Writer’s Showcase in the November 2013 issue. Shelia is a weekly columnist for the Citizen-Times, based in Scottsville, Ky. Shelia’s Southern, small-town roots have given her an understanding of community and women's friendships. Her writing deals with difficult contemporary issues, but there’s always a thread of hope amid the calamity. Shelia is passionate about African missions and has traveled to Africa annually for the past four years. Community service is also important to Shelia, and she has volunteered as a crew chief for five years at Camp Habitat, (a Christian youth service camp that partners with Habitat for Humanity).

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