Thursday, January 9, 2014

Finding the Light Through Gratitude

 How I learned to be grateful for a death, shattered plans, and a whole lot of heartache.  

So many times I pray for my husband's safety as he walks out the door for shift. I pray during the day and always thank God when he returns. But what would I do if the prayers for safety weren't answered? Could I possibly be grateful for an unanswered prayer? Could I be thankful for something I never want to happen?

When I was in Junior High my family moved from the small town we lived in to Bozeman, MT. I was in the really terrible transition of not a little girl, not yet a woman. For me, it totally sucked. But in moving to Bozeman I found one of the dearest friends I have ever had...and she happened to be right in my family. My mom's sister, Aunt Gloria.

When Gloria was 12 she came down with Rheumatic Fever, a complication of Strep Throat. Because of the severity of her illness, her heart valves were damaged and health problems became her life. At eighteen she had her first open heart surgery, and by the age of 62 she had had five total. She never was able to run or be active for long periods of time because she would fatigue too easily. Her lips would turn blue and she would breath heavy. She took handfuls of medications and would bleed like a stuck pig from a paper cut. Little accidents might cost her her life because of the blood thinning meds she took to keep her heart pumping.

Despite all the struggles, Gloria was so full of life. She loved to cook and entertain. Even though we had to stop a million times to rest, we hiked to beautiful waterfalls, spent the afternoons gardening, and went on countless road trips. We thoroughly enjoyed each others company. I loved my parents but Aunt Gloria gave me the chance to get out of the house and experience life...even though she fought so hard to live it.

From the time I was 13 until I was 23, Gloria was a part of my life in so many ways. We cooked together, we had wonderful conversations, she was always willing to do something with me and it made me feel valued. When we first moved to town, I was having a really hard time transitioning into a new school, leaving my best friend, and dealing with all the not-so-fun aspects of being a teenager. In a way that completely highlights Gloria's zest for life, she appeared at my school, whisked me back to the house and presumed to prepare four pounds of crab legs for us to consume. Which we did, in about two hours. We didn't always get along, and she proved a really crappy match maker, but she was such a wonderful, spunky, lively woman, and she taught me to love life too.

Several times throughout our years together she had close calls with death. She had a shoulder replacement which caused her to nearly bleed out. In a random car accident, she scalped her forehead on the rear view mirror of her car which landed her in the ICU. There were other times where complications developed from her heart or from other health issues. Three times I said good-bye to her, and all three times I knelt and begged God to spare her. And every time He did. She always joked she had nine lives like a cat, but I think the truth was, God knew so many people still needed her.

In the late summer of my 23rd year, Gloria's youthful body began shutting down. We gathered as family to support her, something we had done many times before but this time was different. I believe Gloria knew it was drawing closer to the end and we all tried to be honest with the reality. I still prayed for her recovery. We had been in the same place three times before, it was possible for the Lord to work yet again. I still needed her, and I wasn't ready to say goodbye.

We don't always get what we pray for, and on the morning of September 16th, Gloria passed away. My prayers went unanswered and my life turned upside down. I remember driving home from her house after we had gathered after her death. I had worship music blasting and I was crying so hard I couldn't see the road and nearly hit a car in front of me. I was so confused and hurt. I felt let down and fearful. I was stopped at a red light (where I nearly hit the car) and I remember people staring at me and then all of a sudden, the soft voice of God spoke to me and said, "She is with me now." And I got this overwhelming peace and feeling of comfort. I began imagining her singing and dancing before the lord to the same song I was listening to at the moment.

Gloria's zest for life, and her ultimate death lead my husband and I to begin to plan for a baby. We wanted to bring a life into the world after so much heartache. I had seen how someone could live life despite her diagnosis and the statistics. We decided to move on and in the process, give life so our baby could live it.

I prayed for a baby but month 1 went by and no baby. Two months, no baby. Three, four, five months, still no baby. I began to worry and grieve. Then in the sixth month we found out we were pregnant. The same month we bought a house, and unexpectedly, my husband got his job with the Highway Patrol. Everything had been going so well and suddenly we realized he would be gone when our baby arrived. Our plans for our baby's beginning were upturned.

I had just lost a dear friend and someone I considered a second mother. Now our timing for everything was screwed up and I was confused. How could God allow everything to fall apart? Especially when we felt so confident in the steps we were taking. If you have read our story on the blog, you'll know I specifically heard the Lord's voice say, "Who are you to limit me?" in regards to not wanting my husband to apply for the Patrol. Now he had the job, we had just bought a house, we were expecting a baby when he would be gone...and this was NOT what I wanted!

Fast forward 9 months and our baby arrived on a Saturday morning, my husband was back at the Academy Monday evening. Every week he came home for a few days and then would leave. Looking back we realized he had only spent 20+/- days with our daughter in the first 5 months of her life. I was SO angry! This wasn't what I wanted at all!

Then another blow. Word arrived that we would have to move. I would have to leave my family for the first time in my life. I had always dreamed of raising my kids with their grandparents in the same town. We could have dates as a couple, our kids could learn from other people we trusted, they could have relationship, and we would have support. Wasn't gonna happen and again, I became angry. Yet another thing I didn't want to happen.

We packed our bags and moved across the state, four hours from all the support and friendships I had. This was not what I wanted! So first one of my best friends dies, then it takes forever (to us at least) to get pregnant, only to have my husband receive the job I didn't want for him, only to have to sell the house we just bought, only to move away from my family that I desperately needed. Why? Why? Why?

Because I needed to grow, and growing pains always hurt. I sit here today, writing this, and it feels like all that has happened is so long ago. But the woman I am today would not exist without those hardships. I felt pain, loneliness, anger, depression, name it. I honestly think I have PTSD from the whole experience and daily I pray for healing and understanding. And you know what? The Lord answered my prayer. I have received healing and understanding, and it's been through a huge slice of humble pie. I have learned a lesson of gratitude that has changed my life and made my role as an LEOW much easier.

I learned gratitude. Not for the things I wanted, not for things that worked out or for my answered prayers. I learned to be grateful for the things I didn't want. I learned to be thankful for unanswered prayers. 

If Gloria hadn't passed away, I never would have understood the full circle of a life, and that we all have the right and choice to live the life we were given. I wouldn't have had the passion to create a life, which turned out to be the most beautiful, amazing little girl I have ever been around. I learned that the crappy timing of our baby's birth and the fact my husband was gone for the first 5 months made me a stinkin' strong woman. I learned to stand on my own, to hit rock bottom and fight to get up. I learned that as meaningful as my family is, I don't need them to be confident, successful, or happy. Those things need to come from me and moving away allowed me to find new abilities within myself. I tasted what it would be like to not have my husband in my life and I learned to cherish him with a renewed passion.

I learned that I would be ok if something happened to my husband. Because of all of that pain, and my ability to be grateful through it, I learned how to overcome my fears of losing him. God's kindnesses will continue whether my husband lives with me till we are old, or if he is taken early. I am in His favor not because of who I live with, but because I am His completely...through good and bad. 

I didn't want any of what happened over those two years...but I learned so much because of it. So when you find yourself experiencing pain or hardship, when prayers seem to go unanswered, fight to stay grateful despite all of it. Because in the end, the Lord works for GOOD. You can turn anything negative into something positive by learning from it and being grateful. There are always mysteries in life, and you can get down, or you can crawl out of the pit and continue on with renewed strength knowing the hands that hold the universe, hold your heart too.

I pray you find hope through your difficulties. Sometimes hardships make life dark but with a little effort, we can always push through to find the light...having gratitude for the difficulties is one way to begin to banish the darkness. Look hard for the positive things that have come to pass because of the difficulties...I promise, this ability to see the positive and be grateful will make your life sweeter, your hardships less difficult, and it easier to hope. It is NEVER the end, no matter how painful it may be. Just because God does not answer every prayer does not mean He has abandoned us, and it absolutely does not mean He is no longer working things for good. You are HIS...even through the darkness. 

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