Written by Laura Crist
This past Sunday, a woman stood up at our church, raised her hand and thanked God with tears streaming down her face and lights beaming off her beautiful bald head. She was thanking God in the midst of her battle with cancer. I - and the entire congregation - did a double take as I listened to her thank God for the cancer, because of all the ways He is blessing her during this time. Collectively, I'd wager we were all simultaneously struck dumbfounded by her faith, inspired to reach a little deeper in our own, and yet marveling how this could be. Lord, help me to live like that, but preferably without the cancer.
I cannot speak to that kind of tragedy. Most of us are accustomed to this exercise: surveying what seem like impossibly crushing circumstances, wondering at those who endure and even overcome through them, and under our breaths thanking God that that is not our fate. Even we who preach, and truly believe, that He is good in all things. That He is enough for every trial.
I may not yet have suffered what I'd imagined to be my life’s worst-case scenario - the ultimate test of faith - and perhaps neither have you. But chances are we've lived long enough to experience true suffering, real hardship, trials that left us helpless and speechless and, aside from a loving and living God, all but hopeless. I have not yet mastered the art of giving thanks in all things, as Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. But I do like to think He has grown my perspective to be able to give thanks for many things I never once thought possible, at least on the other side of them. These ways He's proved faithful, time and time again; these "Aha" moments of seeing terrible and painful circumstances work out into something beautiful before my eyes - this is not knowledge God owes me. But they are mercies that slowly grow my faith and prepare me for the next trials.
I have not personally faced cancer. But I have suffered through years of infertility. Questions without answers - many for which we still have no answers. I know what it's like to fill my days so full that maybe I will forget to feel enough to drench my pillow at night. I know what it is like to feel stuck in a painful wait with no signs of an end and no faith to see the end. The frustration of a (very supportive) husband who has only the best intentions when he tells me He feels God has told him we will have a child, and I have had no such revelation. No amount of present joy can make me forget the very real valley we lingered in for so long and the depth of pain. If I let it, the pain and the whys and the what-ifs could still consume me.
I once was blind to God's work in this area of my life, but now I see.
Now I can give thanks in all things - or at least in infertility. Now I can even give thanks for that infertility. It is the only reason I have my son. It is the only reason I now know and dearly love like family a dozen different people who I didn't know a year ago and never would have otherwise met.
I cannot imagine a greater display of God's miraculous intervention in my life than what He did through adoption to bring us our son. I cannot imagine our story unfolding in any other way.
In December of 2016, the Lord broke my heart and any hopes that fertility treatments might be successful. I remember the exact place and moment when the doctor's office called to tell me we'd have to abandon our plan that month because my blood work had come back so bad. And though we had not been down that road long and were far from exhausting all medical options, I somehow knew in my gut that we were meant to be done pursuing that path.
What I did not know at that moment was that my son was already growing inside his first mother's belly. What I could not have comprehended at that moment of deep grief and loss, was that I would have a son almost exactly nine months later.
I could not have known that the next two months of contemplating further treatments would *almost* waste precious time we didn't have. Or that the very early stages of the adoption process we had started to tiptoe through would give us only days to spare in completing a home study and the mounds of required paperwork that were submitted just days before my son's birth. That God would give the special needs, not-child-friendly foster pup, who looked like he'd be with us forever, a home just two weeks prior to finding out about our son, so that we wouldn't have to worry with the practical and emotional hassle of doing so. Or that God would use a small group of men - in which I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with him confiding - to connect us with my son’s birth family. If you’d told us in late April, when we began baby-stepping into the adoption process, that we’d be holding the newborn child of our prayers and dreams just 101 days later, I would never have believed you. I would have laughed in your face like Abraham’s wife Sarah, and I might have punched you just for good measure.
Sometimes time and distance allow us to explain away or grow indifferent to the direct, personal work of an almighty God in our lives. I honestly don't know, as I recount all the details of our son's adoption story, how I could ever arrive at that place. And I hope I never do.
What I can tell you is that I have already, many times over, forgotten His goodness in moments when event the smallest life stressors appear: when the basement floods and the pipes disconnect, when the bathtub leaks and the AC fails and the insurance bails and the hubby leaves me hanging. When the miraculous baby boy-now a full blown toddler-resists the diaper change, determined to cover us both in poo. How can I so soon forget His goodness? When did I stop praying for a blessing and start sweating when any sign of trouble appears?
I sense the urgency with which I must get about the business of learning the lifelong art of gratitude. The call to start does not wait for the circumstances of my life to settle in order around me; I am called to a state of gratitude in the midst of demands that cannot be met, tempers that flare, spilled milk, impossible deadlines and even more impossible colleagues and family members. I am called to gratitude when the enemy has whispered in my ear that nothing will go right and there really is no good in the world, so why bother?
If this sounds impossible for my human efforts, perhaps that is because it is. For me, there is no single way to maintain a heart and mind of gratitude outside of a focus on Jesus. He alone opens my eyes to my own deceptive thoughts that rob me of joy; He alone helps me to see the beauty and gifts of the moment when, to my natural eyes and those of the world around me, all looks bleak. He alone nudges me back to Him when my resolve and my eyes have focused on lesser treasures here below. He alone, not only provided, but gave me the gift of seeing that provision play out before my eyes in a way that boosts my faith and becomes a touch point for trusting him over and over again, even when circumstances in my future may not come together so clearly this side of heaven. And though I will continue to fail, I know He alone will patiently keep showing me how it is possible to give thanks in all things.