When what you’ve asked for doesn’t arrive as expected
It used to be that the morning after Thanksgiving, families across the country would get dressed up and go downtown to look at the store decorations. In the windows along the streets, works of art, mechanical and sometimes with real people or animals, the displays would draw thousands inside the store. There, the consumer would be wowed with an even bigger surprise. The purpose was for the store owners to express their gratitude for the support for the previous eleven months. Feeling appreciate, the consumers made even more purchases, the act an expression and receipt of gratitude.
This reciprocity between retailer and consumer was so successful, that the Friday after Thanksgiving became known as black Friday, because retail stores operated for eleven months of the year at a loss, or being “in the red,” then on one day, the store finally made a profit, or went into the black.
Sadly, this tradition of showing thanks has lessened, gratitude
replaced with expectation, the expression and receipt of gratitude gone.
Theologian Thomas S. Monson said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
Ugly sweaters and gratitude
At times, it’s hard to feel gratitude if what we have sought through sincere prayer doesn’t match what the Lord has delivered. It’s like asking for a sweater you expect to be soft, beautiful and well-made. When the big day comes, the wrapping is wrinkled, the bow not tied properly, and within, is a sweater, yes, but it’s doesn’t fit, the material is coarse and doesn’t fit quiet right. It’s an ugly sweater.
Looking back on my life, I’ve had plenty of gifts I’ve hated, real
or figurative, but it wasn’t until the last ten years or so that I started to
look beyond the delivery method and my disappointment to focus on the positive
aspects of what I’d received. Roger, my husband of nearly 21 years, has often
coached me (scolded? demanded?) to be grateful for the gift, regardless of
whether or not we like it. Easy in principle, harder in application.
In a recent example of this, I’ll refer to my family. Over the
years, our strong personalities and life decisions were like a lake gone dry.
Without the replenishment of understand, the land grew cracked, then scorched, many
spots barren. My parents prayed for reconciliation, certainly without asking or
expecting additional heartache for each child, but that’s what occurred. Within
six months, challenging issues with a teenage or adult children arose of a
severe nature. The package of the sweater was awful and the garment inside
But then the miracles occurred. Previously unresolvable issues with
siblings and in-laws were set aside, pride and ego associate submerged as the
parents came together and held a fast for these precious children. We were
united in heartache and strengthened in faith, ultimately incredibly grateful
for the hard circumstances that finally brought us together in the spirit of
Christ. The Lord, in His wisdom, knew that these challenges brought us together
when nothing else could.
We all learned that an ugly sweater can still keep you warm.
Over the years, I’ve found three principles are consistently associated with gratitude. The are trusting in the Lord, keeping perspective and practicing remembrance of our blessings.
Trust in the Lord
Dieter H Uchtorff said that: “True gratitude comes from
acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life, but trusting
that one day we will.”
was required when not long after I was married, my husband decided he didn’t
want children. He enjoyed the financial freedom we had, and didn’t want to be
tethered to the home for any reason, including a pet. Years passed, and when I
was thirty-two, I’d passed through periods of anger, hopeless, apathy, and then
resignation. I loved him, and not having children wasn’t going to change that.
One night, while I was praying, I recall turning it over to the Lord, asking
him to fill the void I was feeling. I distinctly thought the words: “Thy will
be done,” hoping to find contentment in my situation.
The nights were warm, and our home was without air conditioning.
Rog was awake and working but I was tired and went to the basement where it was
cooler, falling asleep quickly. I woke up to a figure at the end of my bed. Assuming
it was Rog, I mumbled something, turned over and went back to sleep. Sometime
later, I woke again, and this time, the person was very close, leaning over me,
wearing all black. I sat straight up, tried to scream but was voiceless with
fear. By the time I could yell, he was out the door. When the police sat with
us, they said intruders hate lights and dogs. The very next day, we got a dog, my
husband’s prior proclamation about no pets in the house long forgotten.
“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all
things,” is a phrase often repeated.
All things means just that: good
things, difficult things—not just some things.
While I was unspeakably grateful for my safety (and to finally get
a dog), it took me a while to see that this event was the first step in many
the Lord had to orchestrate in our lives. The second step was more gradual in
nature, but far more devastating. At the time, I owned a business with a dozen
employees that had been thriving for a decade. For some inexplicable reason, our
projects were drying up, some naturally concluding while new ones were stalled
or cancelled. Having never been through an economic down cycle, I didn’t
realize we were on the leading edge of the 07/08 recession. My stress level
rose as one employee after another was recruited by clients who could offer
more long-term stability. One day, Rog looked at me with a bit of pity.
“You are trying to put out the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he
began. Seeing I wasn’t getting the reference, he continued. “You’re the
religious one, not me,” he pointed out. “But I don’t think God wants you to be
in business anymore.” Rog then joked something to the effect of: “We haven’t
killed the dog, and have to be home with her anyway, so maybe you should go to
the doctor to get checked out.”
Could it possibly be that through the ugly sweater of first, the intruder
and then the business winding down were to result in what I’d been wanting for…praying
for seven years would happen? No, the sweater wasn’t pretty, but it certainly
A Christian philosopher said: “The Lord’s hand in
our lives is often clearest in hindsight.”
Within the year of Rog telling me to “get checked out,” I was in
high risk pregnancy. Yet I still tried to conduct business with a few remaining
clients I could handle myself. One day, the doctor told me I was “A zebra in
the Serengeti, being chased by lions.” He said I was pushing my body to the
limits, even by working from home. He warned that if I did not stop all
activity, save going to the restroom, I would lose the baby.
Now, for those of you who know me, I’m not really the type to sit
still, let alone lay bone straight, in bed, for months. Yet, in hindsight, the
Lord knew I needed to have a long period of time alone and without distraction
as a transitionary period to prepare me for the life-altering situation of motherhood,
and to be grateful for the gift of staying at home.
Dieter Uchtdorf said that: “Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges.”
The rule of Threes
This was highlighted when I was nine months pregnant, and was finally
allowed to drive. It was a clear, blue and happy day in Seattle, which is a
rare and wonderful occasion. Although the recession was in full-swing, I felt
all the gratitude that eight years of praying to have a child and receiving an
answer could bring. In other words, I was now wearing
the warm sweater, but was I wearing it with pride? No, not yet. In fact, I was
going to get another ugly top.
Cruising along that sunny day, I received a call on my cell phone,
and the first words my husband said to me was that he was out of a job.
At that moment, I purposefully lifted my foot from the gas pedal.
It was not possible. The company he founded was profitable, employed many
employees and growing. The board however, decided they wanted an older, more
experienced person to take it to the next phase in its life. Rog was devastated
and I was worried sick.
In an April 2014 talk on gratitude, Uchtorff counseled us “To be
thankful in our circumstances…not to keep score by counting the number
of things to be grateful FOR.” He was talking about the overall spirit of
In an October 2007 talk, Henry B. Eyring said the key to gratitude
is remembrance and specifically, the hand of God in our lives. He related a
time in his life when he was discouraged. An associate counseled him to write a
recall and write few lines for those things he was grateful for—every day. Eyring
said he specifically asked himself: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or
our children or our family today?”
If we do this, “Gratitude will grow in your heart as
it did in mine,” Erying promised.
In that moment of driving on the freeway, knowing neither of us
had a source of income, telling myself to breath, I remembered the hard
experiences that had brought us to that point, for what I counted must have
been the fiftieth time.
The break-in of my home had led to a dog. My company had effectively
shut down, but I became pregnant. Bad had been followed by good; what had
occurred was orchestrated in the Lords way and in his timing. I had to
purposefully set aside temporary fear, the journey, have gratitude for all we
had and importantly, continue the faith. As Eyring has promised, remembrance of
the blessings truly grew the gratitude grew in my
Within a few months, Rog
started a new business, allowing our family to grow and prosper. He also had a
newfound empathy and compassion for others; that very hard trial evolved him
from a good man to a great one.
Still waiting for the
pretty sweater, and I got what…another ugly one that doesn’t fit!
If you’ve been following
my summer journeys, you know I landed in the ER in Verona, Italy, tumors were
discovered, an infection controlled and lots of pain was to be endured. Upon my
return, I’ve spent the days seeing different specialists; the tumors have grown,
I have a different (and yuckier) issue, the hysterectomy and tumors removed but
the “yuckier” issue will be with me perhaps permanently for-the-rest-of-my-life.
Really?? At times like this, denial is a good thing, but it’s temporary. As my
13-year-old daughter pointed out: “We were praying for change. Don’t you think
this is the Lord’s way of answering our prayers?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I do.”
That’s where the faith
and trust comes in to play. These two items create the cement of faith that
dries, and I rely upon it every day as I put one foot in front of the other, trusting
in the Lords plan . It’s what I lie upon when the tears come because I must decline
being active with my family due to pain. Downtimes come, I acknowledge the
emotions, take a break, then get right back up and get going. Time, health and
money are not entitlements; they are a privilege. That too, is another mantra.
I am grateful for my
challenges and wouldn’t take them back, because each one has led me and my
family to a better place. And in truth, if the only way I can better understand
the gospel of Jesus Christ and become more like Him is to get knocked around
mentally, physically or financially, then this will likely continue.
My newsletter comes out once a month (when life is normal) and you can sign up at the main page on my website, and comment on my Facebook page at sarahgerdes_author on Instagram.
Feature image: the Italian Alps, which seems appropriate when talkin about the cliffs of life; you are either staring up, scaling them or falling off.