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In Everything Give Thanks

Tomorrow is my daddy’s birthday in heaven. In remembrance of him and the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday, I’m re-posting a story I shared a few years ago about parents.

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 week later, a blood clot ended her life.

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. We buried her on the Saturday before Memorial Day in 2003.

For weeks, I instinctively reached 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.” I pondered this scripture and 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 forty-two-year-old woman having a temper tantrum like a three-year-old. Later, I picked up the Bible and noticed the broken spine. Ashamed, I hid the Bible in my closet. If Mom had witnessed this, she would have sent me to the willow tree for a switch.

It was rare for me to find time to read the Bible, much less to study it, but I didn’t know where else to turn. Mom looked to scripture for comfort. Through her life, she battled illness, she nursed a father with tuberculosis, buried my infant twin, lost everything in a house fire, nursed two sisters through cancer and lost both. Through every trial, she sang praise songs and spent time studying His word. The joy, peace, and hope in the scriptures she embraced were elusive to me.

I’d never endured a tragedy, and discovered I had a shallow faith. I’ve learned that to have a deep faith, you must “Love the Lord, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5. But to do that, you have to know the Lord. And to know the Lord, you must spend time with him through prayer and studying His word. I’d counted on Mom to pray for me. I’d leaned on her faith, instead of building my own.

God would not let go of me and the scripture “In everything give thanks.” continued to haunt me. What could I possibly find in the loss of Mom for which to be thankful?

Lonesome and depressed, Daddy began to lose weight. I started calling each evening. He’d never been one to talk on the phone, and it surprised me how long we talked. One night, I smiled when I disconnected and it occurred to me, I’d always communicated with Daddy through Mom. Whenever I called their home, I  talked to her. Even if Daddy answered the phone, he would pass the receiver to Mom. Daddy, and I spent more time talking in the months following Mom’s death than the other forty-two 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  would not have truly known him. “In everything give thanks.”  I’d been taught that there is a blessing in every difficult circumstance, and here was the blessing I’d missed. Because Mom died first, I developed a deeper relationship with Daddy. And today I know, if I can discover a blessing in the death of my mom, then I can find a blessing in every trial.

During our last conversation, Daddy and I talked about death. 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 only hope we have is to have things right with the Lord.” These words have stayed with me and I thought of them as I stood over his grave on the next weekend…Memorial Day weekend. Daddy died of a sudden heart attack exactly a year after Mom’s funeral.

“In everything give thanks.” I pondered these words and discovered I could give thanks. I was thankful 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 grateful l 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 visited with my younger sister who had completed twelve 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.”  But I struggled to give  thanks for losing my job?

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.”

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 Thessalonians 5:18.