We all know people who manage to find the silver lining in every storm cloud — those people who are perpetually positive. But learning to be grateful in the midst of real struggle — sometimes deep and lasting sorrow and suffering — requires more than a penchant for choosing joy over sadness; it requires deep faith.
Those people who can see the blessings even in their burdens typically don’t consider themselves anything special. It’s just business as usual, this quiet confidence that life is unfolding as it should and that God in his goodness has a plan that will make sense of it all, if not in this life then in the next. Here are three stories of people who have managed to remain grateful for their blessings even amid life’s trials.
Mary DeTurris Poust writes from New York.
Lisa Ann Wheeler | Woodstock, Georgia
For Lisa Ann Wheeler, a wife and mother who lives outside of Atlanta, seeing blessings in times of struggles isn’t just about keeping her own life on an even keel; it’s about showing her young children how to do the same. Wheeler and her husband, Tim, have a daughter, Elizabeth, and three foster children.
“My husband and I have chosen to build our family through foster care adoption. This has been a great blessing as we have experienced one beautiful adoption already, but the process is agonizing,” said Wheeler, who is the president and founder of Carmel Communications.
|Wheeler with Elizabeth. Courtesy photo
“We currently are awaiting the decision on three children placed in our home. ... The biggest difficulty is the unknown. You fall in love with these children because you embrace them as your very own, and you live with the very reality that any moment they could be taken from you. We’ve experienced this once, and it’s heartbreaking.”
Wheeler told OSV that she had prayed to experience motherhood for many years but because of infertility was unable to conceive. Now she is “grateful for every moment” that she gets a hug, a goodnight kiss or a little voice calling out “Mommy.”
“When things get really stressful with four under 5, I remind myself that my hands could be empty, and the wave of gratitude rushes through me again,” she said, adding that she found comfort and inspiration in the book “One Thousand Gifts,” by Ann Voscamp (Zondervan, $10.99).
“Voscamp says eucharisteo — thanksgiving — always precedes the miracle, and so I have adopted that as my ‘attitude of gratitude’ because I want there to always be miracles in my life. So I am always thanking God in every struggle, every disappointment, every setback,” she said, adding that prayer — her own, the prayers of friends, the intercession of saints — have kept her going. She calls Our Lady, Undoer of Knots a “page turner” in their adoption struggles.
“We almost lost Elizabeth several times, and that novena turned her whole case around, so I am convinced that when things are at their worst, the prayer chain of intentional believers can shift things with heaven’s help,” she said.
Jeff Hensley | Fort Worth, Texas
“I realized that I either live or I don’t live; either way, I am in God’s hands,” said Jeff Hensley, a husband, father, poet and editor of the North Texas Catholic. “There’s a positive resignation to the outcome that I’m God’s love whether I live or whether I die. ... That’s what constantly gets me through when I have dark nights or questions or wish things were otherwise,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.
|Despite health issues in the past, Jeff Hensley, editor of North Texas Catholic, says he focuses on God’s blessings. Courtesy photo
“I am constantly turning to God in prayer,” said Hensley, who has had two brain surgeries, two intestinal surgeries and one hip replacement since 2003. “I just have a tremendous sense of God’s love for me personally and for everyone else. That doesn’t mean there are not dark times when you wish everything was back to normal, but the ultimate thing is that simple faith that God’s presence in and around me is going to get me through.”
He is also able to see the miracles — great and small — in the midst of his pain, such as his doctor’s willingness to put Hensley’s welfare over his own comfort and convenience when emergency surgery was required, or the fact that he was sitting up in his hospital bed and talking to his wife after his first brain surgery, something that shocked even his doctors.
Perhaps more importantly, however, Hensley is able to look beyond his own discomfort and worry to recognize that others may be hurting even more. “Even if you’re someone like myself who’s had a lot of surgeries, you still realize that there are those who are in constant danger, or have debilitating diseases, or have diseases that are ultimately going to end in their death sooner rather than later. ... You can always look around and see someone that has it a lot worse than you do,” said Hensley, who cited Brother Lawrence’s “Practice in the Presence of God” as providing great gratitude guidance.
“You get what you need when you need it,” he added. “You can never anticipate what it is you are going to need. You just dig deep when you reach that point.”
Suann Malone Maier | Yardley, Pennsylvania
|Maier Courtesy photo
Prayer is the backbone of gratitude for Suann Malone Maier, mother of four, grandmother of 10, retired teacher, and wife of Fran Maier, who is special assistant and senior adviser to Archbishop Charles Chaput in Philadelphia. When the Maiers moved from Denver to Pennsylvania a few years ago, the upheaval proved more traumatic than Suann Maier had expected.
She was cut off from friends, facing a lot of new stresses, and trying to help her special-needs son and her nearby daughter and grandchildren. The stress began to take its toll. One night while out to dinner Maier, 63, asked to be taken to the hospital; she was in the midst of a major heart attack.
She says she believes that gratitude is the beginning of joy, but it takes effort. “The hurt can get bigger and bigger and bigger, and if you don’t focus on God’s grace and cooperating with that grace, you’re dead; you go down that dark tunnel, and it’s very hard to come out because it’s just continual self-focus,” she explained.
To keep her spiritual focus in check, Maier told OSV she attends daily Mass, walks three to eight miles a day while praying the Rosary, and tries to attend adoration.
“Every day I also try to do something for someone else, focus on one person that is not me. ... I live in a world of special needs. You can always be taking care of someone in a special way,” she added, saying that it’s important to always “keep the balance” in life — exercise, prayer, Mass, service. “There’s plenty of grace, but you have to choose each day to be grateful and to cooperate with that grace.”