Have you ever felt like you’ve had too many broken dreams to leave room in your heart for thankfulness? Or you don’t know what to give thanks for when life is reeling unpredictably and out of your control? I have. God has been (and still is) working on my heart, trying to teach me how to give thanks when life doesn’t go my way.
We’re all probably familiar with the Scripture admonishing us to “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).
And I do give thanks for the little things, like I wrote about two years ago (just after a huge loss). I am relishing the glories of fall, as described in last month’s guest post, The Gospel According to Autumn. It’s the “in all circumstances” that trips me up sometimes.
In the span of two and a half months, my hopes have been raised, dashed, then immediately replaced with two other realities I did not wish for.
This has thrown me off kilter, and I’m finding myself reeling not only from the quick succession of changes, but also from the sinful selfishness the Spirit of God has used these events to reveal to me.
How do I give thanks amid so much disappointment, so much laying down of what I wanted, so much surrendering of my will?
The disappointments I am wrestling with are not tragedies and may sound trite compared to the challenges you may be facing. Yet the spiritual element of “giving thanks in all circumstances” applies to each of us.
Let’s Back Up–Life Already Wasn’t Going My Way
This all started over two months ago. September was already an incredibly emotional time for me, leading up to our stillborn daughter Portia’s birthdate at the end of the month.
Additionally, while our second year of homeschooling (following the Charlotte Mason method) was already a great improvement for my daughter and me over the previous year’s more traditional approach, with so many factors we loved, we still faced many challenges.
After the newness wore off, attitudes were less than perfect, many days losing battles for willingness and cheerfulness.
The most insurmountable difficulty, however, was not being able to even give my daughter five minutes worth of undivided attention, because of a toddler who was vying for attention, screaming, getting into trouble, or causing emergencies every two minutes. Focus and attention are already a challenge for my daughter, and I couldn’t even model that for her.
Though I loved so many things—short, interactive math and reading lessons, so many delightful read-alouds for science and history and literature, outdoor time for nature study, learning hymns to sing together as a family, weekly Bach performances on Youtube that entranced my second grader AND my toddler—I was seething with frustration at my inability to provide the kind of structured, clean, quiet learning atmosphere my daughter needed.
“Help! But What Kind of Help Do I Need?”
One day full of desperation I cried out to God, “I need help!” But I had no idea where to turn.
I had wracked my brain for days to no avail:
Do I need to hire a weekly babysitter so I can declutter or work on projects? (But our son is so clingy he always screams for me and I still can’t get anything done even with a babysitter in the house.)
What about paying the extra fees and tips for grocery delivery? (Doing grocery pickup is much cheaper and isn’t that hard to fit in my schedule.)
Should I hire a house cleaner? (But how? Our house is too cluttered for someone else to come in and clean. I know—I paid my way through my first years of college by housecleaning, and things were always picked up and ready for me to clean surfaces.)
Could I serve pre-packaged meals to save time, or get takeout more often? (It is a tough pill to swallow to give up my standards about food and nutrition…and frugality.)
Gulp—do we need to give up homeschooling? (Seeing my desperation, my husband even called a local Christian school to see if they had room to enroll mid-year. When he told me, I felt both grief and relief at the prospect of quitting homeschooling in the middle of the year and sending our daughter back to school.)
I had tried—in the limited ability of my constantly distracted brain—to think through solutions, but came up confused and void of answers.
Unable to decide what kind of help to ask God for, I cried out in utter helplessness, “Lord, what kind of help do I need?”
Thankfulness for A Quick Answer
Within days, my husband (who always keeps his eye on real estate) found a house listing that piqued my interest. It was in the country but not too far away, four bedrooms instead of the typical three, an open concept to better accommodate hosting, closets and storage right where I needed them, a fenced-in yard to help me get the young children outside more easily, a flat yard (hard to find here in West Virginia), lots of beautiful woods, and an already-cleared garden area. Perfect!
Going to see the property, my excitement grew. This was my dream! Room for the children to run, while I could keep an eye on them, and ideal for homeschooling. Such a great place for the children to grow up. After touring the garden, orchard, and wooded areas, the thought echoing in my heart and head was “This place speaks to my soul!” I had never felt this with any other house we had looked at.
And wonder of wonders, my husband and I were equally excited about it! This piece of real estate held the rare concurrence of everything my husband wanted and everything I wanted—in the same place!
This was it! This was my answer to my desperate plea to God for help! I could hardly contain my excitement.
I knew I shouldn’t let myself get my hopes up too much before we settled on the house. But when we finally found “the one” after 9 years of looking, and the sellers actually accepted our offer, I couldn’t help myself. It was so fun in the evenings to plan and dream with my husband about a place to make our own, together. (I spent the early years of our marriage learning to make my husband’s home feel like my own, too. Finally, we could start fresh, together, an opportunity to declutter and only take to our new home the belongings that we truly wanted.)
Then came the home inspection. We knew there were issues and had made our offer accordingly. But the home inspection revealed problems much worse than had been disclosed. We were already stretching ourselves financially to buy this house, thinking we could do the repairs ourselves. But this turned out to be a much larger project than we anticipated, more than my husband wanted to take on himself.
With incredibly mixed feelings, we rescinded our offer.
I cried for days.
Too Much to Ask
In the middle of this difficult decision—Of all times, God!—a lady from church called and asked if we would be willing to take in a relative’s child who was being placed in foster care. Yes, we wanted to help out a friend (and the child), but NO! my heart cried, This is horrible timing!
I was already overwhelmed with caring for our own three. Plus, with the devastating loss of my dream home, I felt in no emotional state to care for an additional child—a second toddler, our son’s age. This was not a smart idea. I felt so completely incapable to doing this thing.
That Saturday, I spent the day crying about two overwhelming decisions—whether to let the house go and whether to accept another child into our home.
At one point, Jesus’ words came to mind: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV).
I couldn’t say “no” to Jesus. So we said “yes” to the friend.
Nevertheless, I selfishly continued to cry for the next few days as the details were being worked out with social workers. Though I had said “yes,” not liking to say “no” to a child, my heart was full of resistance to what was being asked of me.
It was enough that I had to give up my dream of a larger home for my family. Now I had to figure out how to fit an extra child into our small home! It felt like a slap on the face. Every fiber of my being grieved–no, rebelled–against the giving up of what I wanted for what was wise (letting the house go) and good (helping a child torn from his family).
Submission and Blessing
Lest you blame my husband, this was a decision we made together. We moved forward because I said yes. He promised to do what it took to make this added responsibility work. And he has.
Again I cried out to God, “I can’t do this! Give me grace to love and accept this child coming into my home.” And He did.
The night we started tearing down the unused bunk beds and setting up the extra crib, something switched in my heart and I began to move forward happily. When little toddler number two came the next day, we spent a happy afternoon playing and getting acquainted.
And he has been a joy, fitting into our family quickly and seamlessly. In fact, I’ve found that two toddlers might even be easier than one! They entertain each other instead of constantly begging for my attention.
One big change that has made this new addition work is sending out daughter back to school. I didn’t want to. I almost daily see the spiritual battles in her heart that led us to homeschool in the first place. And I still inwardly mourn every time I look at the now unused books and materials from our Charlotte Mason curriculum sitting neglected on the shelf.
While this was an unwanted change, it has also been a relief. Now my attentions are not so divided. I can play with both little boys, giving them the attention they need, without feeling so stressed about getting through the school work. My days feel even a bit less chaotic than while homeschooling!
And Changes Keep Coming
Shortly after welcoming a fourth child to our family, some new health concerns led to extended-family discussions about us moving in with my mother-in-law. (Nothing serious, just enough for my husband to not want his mother to be alone.) To my surprise, my husband’s proposal was eagerly seconded by family members, and preparations quickly got underway to prepare separate quarters for her.
You know that feeling of being in a canoe, driven down a flooded river, without a paddle to steer it?
Or being “spun in a blender,” as my Aunt Peggy Fitzpatrick (who wrote last month’s post) recently described her week to me?
That’s how my life feels. No control over the speed or direction of things that affect our family.
Of course I want to help my mother-in-law. I love her–she has always been there to help out whenever we needed her. It’s now our turn to be there if she needs us. And this move will have some mutual benefits.
It’s just my heart has to continue choosing to accept what God’s plan is when it goes against dreams and expectations. (I always thought we would buy a bigger place and she’d eventually move in with us.)
You know that dream property that so spoke to my soul? We had prayed for God to make it work out if it was where he wanted us, or to make it fall through if it wasn’t a good place for us.
But secretly, I wanted that place in the country so badly I almost didn’t care if it meant giving up ministry opportunities in town. Deep down, I wanted that place no matter if it was God’s will or not. And that can be a dangerous place to be.
A recent reading for my BSF study in Matthew had this to say in relation to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33: “Intentionally focus on His kingdom, not your kingdom.”
Everything I was clinging to—hopes for a bigger house and more land in the country, waiting until I felt capable before accepting another child into our home, choosing our own home rather than having it chosen for us—all these were about building “my kingdom.” These were all about my sense of control, my pleasure, my desires and dreams. Staying in town closer to community, helping a child, caring for a parent—all these are ways to build God’s kingdom.
My friend Gloria Yoder shared a thought in her November 15, 2021 email edition of The Amish Cook: “The more it’s NOT about you, the more you will love what you do.” All of my frustrations with these recent events came because I didn’t get my way. I’ve been focusing a lot on myself lately.
Giving Thanks for The Spirit’s Work
“Give thanks in all circumstances.”
So will I moan and groan and forever mourn all that I have lost or let go?
Or will I give thanks that He holds all things in His hands and orchestrates events beyond what I can see and understand?
Will I give thanks and praise the Lord for his grace in granting strength and provision? (This new house will be bigger and have room for a larger garden and have a grandma whose presence will help with crying, squabbling children).
Will I give thanks that He cares most about my heart and is faithfully working to root out pride and selfishness and willfulness and replace these with trust and surrender and gratitude and joy?
The Heart of the Matter
So you don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that we should never have our dream houses. Or that we must say “yes” to every foster child who comes our way. But in our heart of hearts, we need the Spirit’s gentle reminders, “I am not my own, I was bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, paraphrased); so “…not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NIV).
My dream house—though I still have that sinking feeling of great loss whenever I think about it—may not have been a good thing for us, for multiple reasons which I may never know.
This happy child we said “yes” to has brought joy and fullness to our home, and provided many valuable learning opportunities to our son (ahem, how to share, among other things).
And moving in with my mother-in-law will have such blessings as I do not yet fully comprehend.
And so the Lord of the universe holds me, he holds my dreams, and he holds my future.
Through these painful losses of my dreams, He is graciously refining me, patiently teaching me to let go of control and trust him more completely.
I can trust Him to do what is good, even though I may feel “spun in a blender” for a time.
I can thank him for that. And you can, too.
So whether in broken dreams, or the relentless spin of events beyond our control, may we give thanks to the Creator who sees and knows and has our spiritual good as His highest plan.