How to be Thankful on Hard Days

Sometimes I wonder if St. Paul was even human. How did he keep his spirits up when his world was falling apart around him? How can he say that we should give thanks in all circumstances? There are times I just shake my head and stick my tongue out at him.

Paul says in just about every letter he wrote to the early Christian church that believers should give thanks in all circumstances. He implies, if he doesn’t say so directly, that there are blessings in everything. Ann Voskamp reiterates that message in her wonderful book One Thousand Gifts.

The last four weeks have been difficult. If I had to count, the last eight weeks have been hard. My father was hospitalized right after Independence Day (the week after) for severe dehydration. At the time, we also knew that he had some sort of “blood disorder,” perhaps myeolofibrosis. The tests indicated later that not only was he having this blood disorder which caused his hemoglobin to be very low (two pints of blood transfused before he left the hospital), but he also had pancreatitis, which caused the nausea that led to the dehydration. Later, the blood work would indicate lymphoma.

On August 11, Mama readmitted Daddy to the hospital. He was weak and could not stand without assistance. After a long spell in the ER, he was admitted to the intermediate intensive care unit. He was sedated and fell into a sleep. On the morning of the 12th, the doctor told Mama that there was nothing more that they could do: his uric acid level was very high as was his potassium and magnesium levels. His kidneys were shutting down. His blood sugar was very low. Daddy never woke up. At about 10:15, Daddy took a breath and slipped from this world into Paradise, his family surrounding him.

John Donne wrote a poem to his wife before leaving for France on a diplomatic mission called “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” In the first stanza, he wrote:

As virtuous men pass mildly away

And whisper to their souls to go,

Some say the breath goes now,

And others say no. . . .

These lines describe beautifully the quiet passing. Pastor Beverly had not yet arrived, but when she did, she spoke the words from John 14, “let not your hearts be troubled. . . . where I go there are many rooms, and I go to prepare a place for you.”  These words also comforted me.

So, how do I be thankful during this hard month of grieving as sorrow? It hasn’t been easy.

First, I have continued my daily practice of listing at least three things for which I am thankful. Sometimes, they are trivial: that cup of warm coffee with foamy Bailey’s Creamer and a splash of salted caramel syrup and honey; or the slant of light through the window blinds at my living room window. Sometimes it’s more “serious,” as the forgiveness I received from a neighbor for something I had been led to believe I had done wrong. And other times, I express the thanks that my father did not have to suffer from the lymphoma (mantle cell lymphoma was the final diagnosis) that had attacked his eighty-eight year-old body.

Second, I am in the process of establishing a meditative photography practice. I take my camera out once or twice a week to walk it (much as we might walk our dogs!). And I gaze at the world around me and notice what an awesome Artist our God is. There is beauty everywhere.

And third, I lean on my friends. I have friends who have been a source of strength and faith throughout this long two months of sorrow, pain, and grief. And I am thankful for them.

I still have to process my images from this morning’s walk. I’m still trying to figure out, though, how to do the Cha Cha Slide while I’m walking and carrying around a giant camera—without looking silly. However, maybe I shouldn’t care! I should just be thankful that I have that kind of problem today!

By Olivia Fulmer

I am the OliviaIrene of OliviaIrene Photography. I am a photographer, a teacher, a story teller. I use this space to tell stories of life, family, and faith through words and images. I'd love to share your stories as well. Join me in this journey.

I love conversation, the close, intimate kind amongst friends. Won't you join me? I look forward to a good coze.

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