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The Challenge and the Grace in Being Grateful

At the age of 14, my niece Katie lost her mother (my little sister) to pancreatic cancer. That was two years ago. Last year her father died of a massive heart attack. I became her legal guardian and moved in with her. I, a life-long single woman, was now parenting for the first time at the age of 68. It has brought me to my knees.

Life has been hard for this 16-year-old. She suffers from depression and anxiety and is on anti-psychotic medications. As we approach the holidays, I worry so much about her. How can I ask her to find things to be grateful for when she has experienced such loss?

A few weeks ago, Katie's therapist recommended that every night she share with me something that went well during the day, something that didn't, and what she could do to make that better. I had already begun asking her during dinner to share one thing for which she is grateful (seems a bit more faith-connected than the therapist's language). Some days she says she is grateful for her dog Rocky; other days it's a teacher at school. But it is never Jesus. Katie doesn't want to have anything to do with God or faith or religion, and she shuts down whenever I try to bring it up. So what am I to do on Thanksgiving to help her see the grace and the gift amidst all the pain and the loss?

I have no magic formula. I know little about effective parenting. People ask me all the time, "Do you love her?" I reply, "Of course!" They assure me that is the most important thing I can do. And I know that is true. But I also want her to be happy. I want to help her find her way back to Christ and the Church.

I have come to realize that the best way I can do that is to be grateful myself, and to be a witness to the joy and the love of our faith. That isn't always easy. I sometimes slip into the very selfish "I want my life back!" mode. But I know I am where I am for a reason. God has a plan. I am learning to thank God for that plan, with all its twists and turns.

Betsie ten Boom, Corrie’s older sister
When I was a high school religion teacher, my students read The Hiding Place about a Christian family which hid Jews from the Nazis. Eventually they were caught and sent to the concentration camps. The two adult sisters, Betsie and Corrie, were together. Betsie thanked God for everything that happened; Corrie was skeptical (like most of us). Betsie even thanked God for the fleas which afflicted them mercilessly. Corrie considered that a bit crazy. The sisters found a way to conduct a Bible study in the camp dormitory and marveled that they never got caught…until the day they overheard the guards say they would never go into the dorm because it was infested with fleas. Corrie learned to thank God for the fleas.

It is easy for me to thank God for my blessings—my 96-year-old mother, my siblings, the in-laws, the nieces and nephews, the babies, and especially for my Katie. Today I am trying to thank God for the "fleas" in my life, too, and to have an attitude of abundant gratitude.

What are the "fleas" in your life for which you will give thanks on Thursday?

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