Faith, Hope, Pain and suffering

Cultivating Gratitude When Life Sucks

Let’s face it: sometimes life just sucks.

I’m not one to use any type of profanity, but I’m not sure there’s any other way to describe 2016. It’s been an unbelievably difficult year, filled with life-changing realities that have permanently altered our lives. And here we are, with the holidays upon us, trying to figure out how to be grateful, to cultivate the Christmas spirit, when our entire lives have been toppled and tossed.

November started with my daughter suffering yet another grand mal seizure. Her world has been rocked by the sudden onset of a disease previously unknown to any of us. Her future is uncertain.

Then came Veterans’ Day. As the military bugler played the melancholy Taps, my children found themselves taken back to that April morning when they stood by their father’s graveside, watching as his body was lowered into the ground.

With my own surgery and multiple emergency room trips for my daughter, the financial stress of this year is enough to make anyone ill. I find myself buried beneath a sea of debt that I didn’t have at the beginning of the year, wondering how God will come through, mounting pressure for the holidays.

Then there’s the false accusations, absolutely horrible things said about me. I still find myself angry, incredulous that anyone could be so low, so vindictive, so blind to the truth. Sadly, it seems the root of these attitudes lies in greed.

I’m sure I could go on with the events of this year, with reasons I am more than ready to kiss 2016 goodbye. I want to believe that 2017 has to be better, but there’s a part of me terrified to verbalize that hope.

As we enter the holiday season, I’m not seeing a lot of gratitude in my house, and there’s no magic to this holiday season.

Instead, there’s a host of other attitudes and emotions: fear, anger, bitterness, depression. There’s a sense of betrayal and rejection. There’s more hurt and pain than we can process.

Maybe you understand. Maybe your circumstances, although different from mine, ring of the same emotions. Maybe your marriage has breathed its last breath. Maybe your world has been rocked by adultery. Maybe your loved one has spiraled helplessly into his addiction. Maybe your child is suffering medical issues. Maybe your parent is locked in a world of Alzheimer’s. I don’t know your circumstances, but I know what it’s like to feel like life is just a cruel joke.

The truth is, this life is sometimes cruel. Jesus told us in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). It’s a certainty of this broken world. But at the same time, we are told He has overcome the world (John 16:33), to consider it joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2).

So I’m left wondering how we can cultivate an attitude of gratitude and capture the magic of the holiday season when life is so hard.

Focus. It seems like I return to Isaiah 26:3 over and over.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

When we are focused on God, our problems, our circumstances get smaller. When placed next to the Savior of the Universe who is able to do all things, our problems pale in comparison to His power. When we are focused on Him, we enjoy His peace permeating every part of our lives.

Just like Peter who was able to walk on water, we are able to navigate even the most tumultuous of circumstances as long as our eyes are Him. But as soon as we begin to look at the waves crashing around us, we begin to sink.

To cultivate gratitude, we must keep our eyes on Him and know He is bigger than all of our problems.

There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. Psalm 43:4

Worship. When I finished my Bible reading plan recently, I began to look for a new plan. I quickly decided I needed to be in the Psalms.

The Psalms were written as songs of worship to the Father. Many were written in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances. Whether fleeing from his enemies or being brought face-to-face with his own sins, David had a way of turning his attention to God, of praising Him in dire situations.

And when I turn to the Psalms, my heart is also turned to God. I am reminded of His faithfulness throughout the ages, of His steadfast love for me. My burdens lift and I am able to rest in Him.

Worship helps us turn our hearts to God and away from our problems. Whether it’s a reading of the Psalms or listening to praise music, worship is essential to cultivating gratitude.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Psalm 103:1

Count our blessings. There has been so much turmoil this year, it’s sometimes easy to forget the many blessings we have experienced. We are blessed with family who loves us, with having all of our needs met. We are blessed with a good job and we’ve never once gone hungry. We are blessed with each other, with love that runs deep.

And we’ve had our share of blessings this year. God has brought some amazing new relationships to us, people who are helping us become all God intends for us to be. We’ve seen these relationships blossom and grow. And God has given us a new vision of the plans He has for us, a vision that far exceeds anything we could ever ask or imagine.

Sometimes I just need to sit and awe over the grace of God, of the many answered prayers and the many ways He has loved us.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. Psalm 103:2-5

Remember His past faithfulness. I have walked through many trials in the last decade. Adultery. Divorce. Financial devastation. Loss of friends. Loss of family.

And in all these things, I’ve seen God take the pain and use it for good in my life (Romans 8:28).

God has been in every detail of my life, working to create a beautiful mosaic. He has been faithful to care for my every need. Through the trials, He has molded me and shaped me into His image, given me a heart of compassion. He has shown me His great love and forgiveness. He has faithfully guided me every step.

And as I reflect on His past faithfulness, I am reminded He won’t leave me now. He will carry us through, give us joy once again. He will redeem every hurt, every pain. He will resurrect us from this season.

Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Zechariah 9:12

Focus on the future. It seems every single day I remind my daughter that God is using these trials to mold her into His image, to prepare her for the great work He has planned out for her. I pray over her daily that God will do a mighty work in her so He can do a mighty work through her.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I was recently talking to Cassie, asking her how she was holding up under the stress and strain of all she has going on. She amazed me with her maturity.

“It’s hard,” she began, “but when I get scared, I just remember that God is doing something in me. I try to remember He’s preparing me for my future.”

but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13b-14

Yes, it’s been a tough year. But God is still good. And I know when I let Him have my full heart, we will find joy in the midst of our grief.

For all of you who are reeling from the trials of life, for all of you who are grieving as we are, for all of you facing uncertain futures from illness or loss… please know you are not alone. My children and I stand with you. We are broken and hurting in this holiday season.

But we do not grieve without hope. Our hope is in the One who came, the One whose very life we celebrate in the next month. Will you put your hope in Him as well?

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18 thoughts on “Cultivating Gratitude When Life Sucks”

  1. Thank you for your honesty in writing this post. This past year has also been difficult for me and my family, but your words really touched me. Thank you and may the Lord shower you and your family with great peace, hope, joy, and love always.

  2. I too have had so much loss in my life. Divorce, illness, trials in caring for a loved one, struggles to keep my faith strong. God has never failed me. His goodness is ever before me. Take heart all who trust in God, He will have the victory. He will overcome, where we see no way. “Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer.”

  3. Dena, Thank you for your transparency. We share not only loving our Savior but also a life filled with trials designed to mold. We share a life long habit of turning to our heavenly Father in the midst of those trials, looking to Him to cause then to work for our good. I continue to pray for you, your ministry, and your family. It is a privilege to take to the throne of grace the needs you so willingly share. “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
    Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.” Ps 37:23&24 It’s not IF but WHEN he falls. The Lord of the One who holds out hand.

  4. Dena,i love reading your blog. I know exactly how you feel for i am in the same boat as you and your family. My heart is so broken i feel as if i cant breathe,i know Jesus is my savior and i love Him so but the hurt is so inmense ive wish to die so many times. When i first learned from my husbands affair i tried to kill myself but the fear of living without Chris stopped me from doing it. We are still “together” but i dont know for how long,he continues to hurt me with his words. The thought of been without him hurts but at the same time been with him hurts. I wish we could sit down and talk,i could really use a friend right now. May God bless you and your children.

  5. God bless you and your family Dena ❤ Hebrews 12:2 and Luke 10:42 have always been the greatest help in guiding me to a place of refuge where I can 'handle' this thing called 'life' and all it throws my way. Also, not worrying about a time or season but rather one day at a time(or sometimes one second lol) takes off a lot of the pressure to _______(fill in the blank). This Thanksgiving I am thankful for you and your blog, helping me in ways you'll never know until we have the chance in eternity to maybe get together and catch up 🙂 Be well, be loved~ Beth

  6. Dena; My heart breaks for you, I know all too well the intense and deep emotional suffering that this broken world can bring. I went through my own desperate crying out to God, at the end of more than a year of…words fail, it was just devastating, and as terrible as the physical was, by far the worst was internal. That year was the culmination of many years of betrayal, pain and loss, one wound piled on top of another, and another. I can give you hope, however. I was literally a split second away from total loss, I still can’t believe I didn’t actually die right then and there, or go utterly (no hyperbole) insane. I cried out, “You need to heal me, or kill me,” and it was literal. I was totally, completely, without any more ability to continue, done. He healed me at that moment, and told me in a very quiet clear whisper, “Sometimes the cure hurts worse than the original wound.” That was a couple years ago, and I am still awed daily, sometimes hourly, by the grace and mercy that brought a joy and peace that has been constant ever since,

    I have followed your blog for quite some time and what I would like to tell you is that from afar, I see some things that perhaps you don’t fully realize because you are just too close to the storm. I see you and your kids drawn closer and tighter together than maybe you realize. I see some very brave and beautiful children learning that they must turn to each other, and you, in support and this will keep them in good stead in their later years. Your willingness to share is a wonderful example for them, and others, that the willingness to be vulnerable shows more courage, strength and faith in our Father than can be expressed. You are, by practical example, showing your children that we can recognize the emotions and express what we are feeling, (sometimes in ways we cringe at later!) and still know that God understands and loves us. Perhaps you don’t see, through the tears actual and figurative, the level of support that you truly have. That is completely understandable. The pain is immediate, and words are so inadequate. At the end, I have no prophetic glimmer of when or how this will end for you; I can only say that I will continue to pray for you and your family. You are not alone, and you will be blessed beyond all measure, contrary to what seems insurmountable right now. THAT I can say with confidence.
    Bless you and your children.

    1. Oh! How my heart hurts! I know how you feel and this is my 6th holiday season. Always hoping and praying this will be different this time. It’s so hard to feel joy and be thankful this time of the year especially. I keep hoping though, keep thinking God can change it all in a moment. There’s so much I don’t understand but I keep hoping in him. That my miracle is coming. 2016 what an awful year, here’s to praying that 2017 will be our breakthrough year.

    2. This is very true. May God bless you Dena. Remember the verse “There is mourning at night but joy in the morning”. It will not last forever unless there is a greater purpose but for now while you are in the mire and mud God is walking with you. Thank you for the absolute blessing you have been to my life as I also have the annus horribilis.

  7. You are an amazing Mom!!! I have walked some similar paths and know the stress and exhaustion and spiritual struggles that accompany this journey. Please know I have found strength and encouragement in every post you have written. Thank you for being honest and not sugar coating, but still pointing to our only Hope. Praying for you and your kids daily.

  8. I listened to Dr David Jeremiahs pod cast today about being thankful. He talked about Paul in jail telling all the beatings and suffering he did for Christ and I believe it’s Gods Holy Spirit that carries us when we run out of juice and come to the end of us and our strength which can be very frustrating for anyone 🙏🏻 As always praying for you and your family

    Brother Anthony in the Lord 🙏🏻👌🏻

  9. Dena,i so know how you are feeling. 4 years ago i found out about my husband’s affair,we decided to save our marriage but now its crumbling to pieces. Unfortunately he believes the child the other woman had is his and it has been a very low blow to me. I even tried to take my life knowingly that it would separate me eternally from my Jesus,but the pain was too much to bare. Again i find myself having those same thoughts for i feel worthless,unloved. I want to same my marriage,i love my husband but he has been really cruel to me lately,the holidays dont even touch his heart. My heart is broken to pieces,my soul aches,and my spirit is ripped to pieces…when will this be over??? I feel as if i have no more hope in me,i can no longer bare the pain. Your blog has given a glimpse of hope that one day,my God will take this all away and give me a new beginning. I pray for you and your family to always feel His love and mercy…i hope yall can pray for me and my family as well. Thank you for your words and for sharing your story with us. God bless you.

  10. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

  11. Thanks for the encouragement Dena. My 2016 has been the worst ever as well. My wife was arrested in May for domestic assault and we havent spoken since there is a restraining order, etc. Im just barely keeping afloat financially, the newspaper insinuated her attack was due to infidelity, my wife will find out next week about the divorce coming and i was accused of racially discriminating against one of my students cause she failed. Now i have to defend myself in front of the superintendent. Lord when is enough? You have my attention! Really! But you remind me that HE has a plan in all this. Pray for me Wednesday and thanks for blogging!

  12. Love your title to today”s blog Dena!! Thank you from all of us…your readers hearts… to yours for being honest and vulnerable. You give “voice” to the agony of suffering that many of us have or are currently experiencing. It can be a very lonely…confusing…bewildering….
    “faith sifted like wheat” daily journey. It seems to be a path that those called to be “lights in the dark times” must sometimes walk through and bear the burden of. And–
    often with the suffering…..
    the judgment…rejection…and or indifference of others’ to our suffering is equal to or harder than the challenges we face!! It can seem so very unfair as one looks around and others seem unscathed by suffering. So…I thank you for giving voice to pain & suffering. For holding on to hope and encouraging others to do the same.
    I’m with you on the Psalms reading plan. It has been the only spiritual food that I’ve been able to ingest during times when life hurts!!
    Praying always for you and your children!! Grateful for you!

  13. I’m so very thankful for your honesty, and the comfort of sharing our trials together. You and your family are in my prayers as we walk (crawl, etc…) through these journeys.

  14. Thank you for your honesty and openness and for pointing others toward hope. My husband and I have also experienced life altering illness in the form of Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. He was diagnosed at 49 and could no longer work, which caused major financial hardship. That was 2013. Then we lost his mother and my grandmother in 2015. My parents and both our siblings have walked away because they don’t understand the disease we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with anger, grief, helplessness, hopelessness, and a host of other emotions. There have been times the knowledge that God loves me is the hope that got me through the day. But we still carry on as best we can and God still blesses us. We have learned to focus on the little things because life does suck sometimes and there’s nothing we can do about it. I found your blog on facebook and have been reading ever since. I look forward to each new entry. Please know that I pray God meets your needs.

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