The Discipline of Gratitude 

I was taught a lesson (a discipline, really) during my senior year of high school that has had a profound impact on my daily life: the discipline of gratitude.

A wise woman in my church (named Vicki Allwardt) handpicked a few of us to mentor and disciple; our journey formally began on January 1, 2001 and ended when we all left for college, but I have never forgotten the wisdom that was conveyed.

She handed us all journals and asked us to write at least three things each day for which we were thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She included verses on colorful paper about thankfulness at the front of the journal.

I faithfully wrote in mine that year and sporadically the next. The entries are amusing at first, giving insight into my eighteen year old mind (I was very thankful for boys 😉 ), but a gradual shift can be seen as I fine-tuned this discipline of gratitude.

Looking back, it isn’t the specific things for which I was thankful that had an impact: it’s that I was taught to recognize God’s hand in my life in such a simple, yet incredible, discipline.

Now, fifteen years later, I am a thankful person most of the time and I don’t even have to purposely try to think of things for which to be thankful. It’s part of who I am.

Gratefulness naturally flows out of my heart because I have trained my heart to be thankful in ALL circumstances.

This goes beyond optimism. This goes beyond happiness. This is a form of worship because you are continually recognizing God’s presence and His faithfulness all around you.

 


Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[a]

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

— Philippians 4:4-9 NLT

This passage from Philippians contains SO much wisdom about how to live life, but I want to focus on these three things:

  • ALWAYS be joyful. We are commanded to be joy-filled (remember, joy isn’t happiness) at all times, in all circumstances (v.6).
  • Prayer – including thanking God for what He has done – will be followed by God’s peace (v. 7).
  • Focusing on things that are good, true, and pure (in other words, God’s character traits), and continuing to try each day to live as Christ did will bring peace (v.8).

Joy + gratitude + Godward focus = peace.


As I started to write this post I did some quick research and found a couple of great articles about this discipline, and you can read them here and here.

The first article mentions suffering and why we should be grateful even during those times:

Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person…

…Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

I loved this quote from the second article:

“When we discipline our hearts and our lives to see that all is grace we are filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything.” – Sam Luce

When you are grateful, you are more likely to be:

  • humble
  • joyful
  • generous with what you have been given
  • content with what you have been given
  • focused on God and His sovereignty
  • at peace

This discipline of gratitude is why Brennan and I can be so overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grace even though He allowed Tori to have Krabbe…even though He took her to Heaven at such a young age…

“…even so, it is well with my soul.”

“Your grace has overwhelmed my brokenness…”
– Hillsong

We have learned to focus on all the good He did in our lives and in the world through Tori instead of on her earthly absence.

We have learned to praise Him for the time we had with her, for the memories we made, rather than all that we won’t experience with her.

After all, what good does it do to dwell on the things we cannot change?

We are not perfect, we don’t live this out perfectly, and there is certainly nothing wrong with mourning the loss of her and the life she could have lived. We did that frequently while she was with us, mostly in unexpected moments, and I know that we will grieve her absence at times throughout our earthly lives.

But, the discipline of gratitude has brought us such peace even in the midst of a parent’s worst nightmare, because we are focused on the truth of who God is – a loving, gracious Father who loves us more than we can fathom, and who works all things for our good. He is a Redeemer, and He will redeem all of this someway, somehow. 

For now, we thank Him for all that He has done and praise Him for He is worthy to be praised.


Six years ago I had the privilege of going to São Paulo, Brazil, to observe and serve alongside missionaries there. One conversation starter they often use is this: Where did you see God this week?

It doesn’t require a super-spiritual answer. Wherever you see goodness, joy, grace, kindness, love, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23) you are seeing God at work.

God IS love, and He is kind, gracious, and just, so whenever you see those things in the world, you are getting a glimpse of His character, and it gives you fresh reasons to be grateful.

We’d like to encourage you to cultivate the discipline of gratitude in your own life, in all circumstances. Look for God at work all around you and write a few things down each day. You won’t regret it.

The Joy of the Known

I realized recently that part of our inner joy and peace comes from the knowledge that we don’t have to wonder anymore when she will be taken from us. We don’t have to live each day wondering if it will be her last.

  
In retrospect, we can see that Tori’s brain was struggling for about six weeks before she went to Heaven. Though we rarely spoke of this, she had been having “blue episodes” every few days and the first few scared us so much. We were so panicked when they happened, as we watched her oxygen saturation drop as low as 10% at times.

She always jumped right back up to the high nineties, and she was alert and responsive even during these episodes, so we weren’t concerned about losing her soon.

Dr. Escolar was aware of these and acknowledged that Tori was in stage 4, but she wanted our next appointment to be in six months. She wasn’t concerned about losing her soon.

Yet, every time one of these episodes happened, our hearts filled with fear and dread as we wondered if this was it. Would she leave us now? Tomorrow? Months from now? We had no idea.

The unknown took its toll on our hearts and minds, even as we tried desperately to trust the Lord and His plan in those moments. 

We shed many tears during those episodes because they reminded us of her fragility.

One month before she passed away, we had blogged this post about feeling unprepared to lose her. We couldn’t even begin to imagine how we would handle losing her.

Now, we are amazed at how well God actually did prepare us without us even realizing that He was doing it. This knowledge – along with the knowledge that she is whole and healed and with Jesus – has brought us abundant joy and peace.

One of my favorite lines that I have written (it feels strange to say that!) is this: 

The joy doesn’t replace the heartache; rather, they tensely coexist each day, fighting for our undivided attention.

This is true today, as well. 

But, joy wins. Peace wins. God wins.

We will always love our girl, and we will never be the same. But, how can we not praise the One who made her, who so perfectly orchestrated her entire life and even her death? 

As He said to Job thousands of years ago, who are we to question Him? Who are we to challenge the One who knows everything and created it all? 

Just as He knows each star by name and each hair on our heads, so He also knows exactly why all of this happened and how it will unfold. We take joy in knowing that this same God loves us and will never leave us. 

Krabbe needs to be known. Every baby deserves to be tested for this wretched disease at birth so that they have a chance at life. Ignorance is NOT bliss when it comes to leukodystrophies, and we will continue to educate people so that no one else has to go through what we have gone through.

Our hearts ache to hold our beautiful daughter once more, but in the meantime, we will continue to advocate and fight in her honor to eradicate this disease from the face of the earth. It’s the least we can do.

Gratefulness 

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:6-7

 Always be joyful. Never stop praying.
Be thankful in all circumstances,
for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

We have been overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness and His grace in all of the events surrounding Tori’s home-going – which are nothing short of miraculous.

It’s been stunning, really, even though we shouldn’t be surprised. He is a great God who loves His children.

I’m not sure I ever expected to describe a death as miraculous, but it truly was. God’s hand was so evidently working to make things happen the way they did!

Here’s the list of things we have noticed, and I’m sure there are even more that will become evident as time progresses:

  • We weren’t in California.
  • We bought the trip insurance for the first time ever, ensuring that we would get our money back from our cancelled flights to and from California, which made it easier to choose to stay home.
  • We weren’t in the van, driving back to Pennsylvania from California.
  • We were home. Together.
  • She came back to say goodbye and to give us peace with her second passing.
  • She went peacefully, in her sleep.
  • We didn’t have to invoke the DNR and make the choice to let her pass. God did it.
  • My parents were here and not in California.
  • We spent the week together traveling – something we all love – and were able to create new memories with her.
  • Brennan was with her constantly for nine full days before she passed.
  • We never had to adjust to home nursing, which would have been a mixed blessing.
  • I took many photos of her during her last days of life on earth because I was so excited about my new camera.
  • She never knew sickness – not even a cold.
  • She never greatly suffered.
  • She wasn’t on any pain medications like morphine or valium – only a low dose of gabapentin. She wasn’t in pain.
  • She was only hospitalized once, and that was to stabilize sodium, nothing intrusive.

 

God chose Brennan and me to be Tori’s parents. What an amazing, humbling honor. He could have given her to anyone, but He chose us. We are so thankful for that.

Tori’s story started on Easter Sunday 2009, when Brennan and I met at church. Her earthly life ended on Easter Sunday 2016. ❤


 

We have heard from a couple of people that the Holy Spirit was at work at the time she passed:

I wanted to write you a quick message as something quite unexpected happened yesterday. As I was sitting in church (before hearing the news) I was praying for Tori…and suddenly had a glimpse of her as a resurrected self. In that moment, I sat in awe of Christ’s hope, but had no idea how present it was.

Our church starts at 9:00am and this past Sunday it started a little late. Our daughter, who never talks about Tori but has known the whole story since she was diagnosed, saw Tori’s name on our prayer list, where it has been for over a year. She said, “It’s so nice that we pray for Tori. Don’t worry, she will be okay, Mommy.” After church, as we headed to my parents, I received the text of Tori’s departure.


One thing I realized last night was that I believe my tendinitis – which I developed suddenly about two months ago – served a greater purpose than I realized.

I developed tendinitis in my left arm from sitting and holding her for many hours each day. It got so bad that I could barely grab a water bottle, and so weak that it was difficult to hold her head up. Because of this, I was forced to lay her on her pillow more frequently in order to alleviate the pain. In the past two months, I gradually held her less and less.

I truly believe God was preparing me to never hold her again.


 

For these things – and more – we are so thankful. We cannot help but praise the One who made her, the One who so evidently put all of this into place in His perfect timing. His Word is yet again proving to be true: “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I have long been taught that thankfulness is the antidote to anger, jealousy, bitterness, and other such attitudes. This week I have learned that thankfulness can also lessen the blow of deep sorrow.

We will – and do – have moments of sorrow as we miss her presence here with us, but we stand in awe of our loving and gracious God who so perfectly arranged all of these details so that we could find peace in her passing.

You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
– Psalm 139:16 –

We’re NOT Entitled to an Easy Life…

A couple of weeks ago I listened to a sermon by Pastor Chris Brown of North Coast Church in California. Chris was our campus pastor for three of my four years at APU and his teaching style impacted me greatly during those years. God used him to challenge me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Just looking at the margins of the Bible I was using at the time would show you how much I learned from him!

This particular sermon was about getting “Unstuck” from religion. It just happened to be the next sermon in the series – I didn’t listen to this specific one for any particular reason, but God knew that I needed to hear what Chris would say.

I’m not going to detail out exactly what he said – you can listen to it here. But I do want to mention some of the lessons from his teaching that God has used in the days since to show me more about this unwanted journey we are on and how we should respond.

After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?”

– 1 Samuel 4:3

In short, this passage in 1 Samuel 4 is about the Israelites relying on religion instead of God. They believed that their rituals would bring them success, but they left God out of it entirely, and they were defeated. They were clueless as to why the Lord allowed them to be defeated. Chris said a lot more about this than I will, as that’s not the objective of this post.

As he continued through the lesson about how you can know if you’re stuck in religion, his second and third points were the ones that impacted me greatly. It’s not that Brennan and I are stuck in religion (thankfully!), but the Lord used his words in a powerful way to speak to me.

The second point was titled, “My focus is on what I get, not the giver.” He discussed the point of prayer: is it to get things to go better for us or to have a relationship with God? 

‘We have turned prayer into what we get from God, not how we get TO God…”God, give me…God, do this…”‘ – Chris Brown

Is God useful or is God worthy? Are we asking Him to give me something or to change me?

The third point was: “I’m angry at God when I don’t get what I ask for.”

“We’ve got the wrong idea of prayer if this is where it leads us.” – Chris Brown

Pastor Chris then talked about when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him, and yet His prayer sounded nothing like what ours would have been.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”  He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”  – Matthew 26:36-39

Jesus, knowing that He was about to be brutally beaten and crucified, prayed that God’s Will be done, not His own selfish desires. In his grief and desperation, He knew that what God had planned was best for not only Him, but for all mankind. So He submitted to the Will of His Father, despite the personal suffering He would undergo.

If Jesus Himself suffered, why do we think that our lives should be easy and painless?

“We expect a much better life than Jesus and His disciples, and we all know they got killed and tortured. But we deserve a much better life than that and we demand it in prayer. And when we don’t get it, it leaves us angry and frustrated with God.” – Chris Brown

I’m not entitled to a life of comfort and perfection. WE aren’t entitled to that life! No matter what our culture teaches us, or what the media portrays, life is not supposed to be easy and carefree. God never said that would be our reality.


As we walk through this season of knowing that we are likely going to lose Tori, it has been so tempting to be frustrated with God. We haven’t been angry with Him, but there have definitely been times when it seems like He is so far away, like He is ignoring our prayers. Sometimes it feels like we are alone.

The unanswered prayers for Tori to be healed aren’t the ones that cause the frustration: it’s the simple prayers like the ones for her to sleep so that we can sleep, because our continual sleep deprivation is wearing on us. It seems like something so easy for God to do, and yet He doesn’t answer them the way we want Him to answer.

We’re constantly asking God to make things easier for us – and while there’s nothing wrong with asking for those things, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we’re constantly asking for Him to do things instead of asking how we can serve/learn/grow through these things.

Who are we to ask God to change His mind? We have no idea what He has in store. We can’t even imagine how He is going to use Tori’s life (and our lives) to impact the world! If He took this cup from us, would His impact on the world through her/us be the same?

When we think about it like this, it almost feels selfish to pray for God to heal her (almost – it’s obviously not selfish to want to keep your precious child).

We will continue to pray for her earthly healing, but we also pray that God will continue to use this situation to impact the world, to grow His Kingdom though Tori’s precious life, that there will be VICTORY through Victoria even if there isn’t an earthly victory FOR her.

Your will be done…


Pastor Chris gave a beautiful example of how we can pray through things like this:

“In the midst of this, if it doesn’t go this way, give me what I need to walk with you and be a light. And God, if this is the darkness we have to walk through, may we shine and may we shine brightly.” – Chris Brown

The Bible contains so much wisdom about how to live this life in a way that honors God. He never promised to do miracles – but He did promise that He would always be with us (Matthew 28:20).

His presence is worth more than His presents.

He tells us to cast our cares upon Him so that He can walk through these trials with us, so that we don’t go through them seemingly alone.

Sometimes He doesn’t take the problems from us, but He always carries them with us if we will allow Him the opportunity.


Lord, may we shine brightly through this unbelievable trial that you have allowed to happen in our lives. Please forgive us for believing that we are somehow entitled to a painless life, free from sorrow. We continue to plead with you to heal Tori, but more than anything we want YOUR Will to be done in her life, not our will. 

The Hardest Thing

There are very few things I haven’t been able to accomplish or obtain in life with a little hard work and perseverance.  This applies to nearly everyone who is willing to work hard in life. We live in a world where so much is possible for those who pursue their dreams!

This is not to say that things have always gone my way, but I have rarely been in situations so out of my control that there was nothing I could do to change the outcome.

Until now.

As I have pleaded with the Lord to spare Tori, as I have tried to bargain with Him (I’m human, after all) and convince Him that He should allow her to be healed here on earth, it has occurred to me more than once that this situation is so unbelievably out of my control. 

There is literally nothing that I can do to change the outcome.  

I cannot find words for my desperation. I often fall silent when I attempt to pray. 

When I look at her precious face and I watch month after month as Krabbe changes her outward appearance (eyes more closed, face becoming more relaxed) as well as her inner functions, I feel so desperate. So powerless.

No amount of money can fix her damaged brain.

No amount of love can restore her to perfect health.

No amount of hard work and effort can make a difference in her nervous system.

I have never felt so powerless in my entire life.

Nothing…except God.

As we have said before, we will desperately pray for her complete healing until she is healed here or in Heaven. 

But we also recognize that God’s plan could be bigger than anything our earthly minds can conceive, and we choose to surrender to His sovereign and wise plan.

But, God…

This is the meaning of true surrender, of total trust. I have no choice but to place her in HIS hands because there is nothing on earth that can save her.

But He can.

Until His plan is revealed, we will love her fiercely, live life abundantly, and choose joy daily. She is worth it.

Psalm 143

This was the Psalm for the day in my One Year Bible…I love it and I am using some of these verses as my prayer today. ❤️

Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my plea! Answer me because you are faithful and righteous.

Don’t put your servant on trial, for no one is innocent before you. My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave…

I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done. I lift my hands to you in prayer.

I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain.

Come quickly, LORD, and answer me…Don’t turn away from me, or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you.

Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you. Rescue me from my enemies, LORD; I run to you to hide me.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.

For the glory of your name, O LORD, preserve my life.

Because of your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress. In your unfailing love, silence all my enemies and destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.

Psalm 143‬:‭1-12‬ (NLT)

“Do you ever tell God that you are angry at him?”

We are asked fairly often if we are angry at God or frustrated with Him.

We can honestly say no. We are not.

Are we curious to know why this is happening? Of course.

Do we have our moments of sorrow and frustration at our circumstances? Definitely.

But anger at God has not been and is not currently something we are experiencing.

God is God and we are not.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8

As I wrote before, we trust God completely and, even though we don’t like what is happening, we know that we will eventually (even if in Heaven) understand why this happened. We know beyond any doubt that He is trustworthy, faithful, and loving.

We know that He will be glorified through her life no matter how long we have her here on earth.

This doesn’t mean that we are “okay” with Tori’s situation, blindly accepting it without emotion. But, it does mean that it’s “okay” in the sense that we know that God is in control, we know that He loves us – and her – and we know that He has an amazing plan for all of our lives. We are unable to comprehend His plan at this moment, but we trust that He has one.

We are filled with His peace that exceeds all that we understand. There is no earthly reason for us to be so at peace with all of this – it is absolutely from God. Being at peace doesn’t mean that we are okay with any of this, but it means that we trust the One who knows all and created all. We trust Him fully with our precious Tori and know that He loves her even more than we do. We know that He eventually uses all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

It is a moment-by-moment process of surrendering all of this to Him and choosing to not worry, to not be angry, and to continue to hope that He will choose to heal her here on earth. He is more than able, and nothing is impossible for Him (Luke 1:37)!

The daily reading for today is from Psalm 66, and it is so fitting for our situation, and for this question:

Psalm 66

Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth!
    Sing about the glory of his name!
    Tell the world how glorious he is.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.
Everything on earth will worship you;
    they will sing your praises,
    shouting your name in glorious songs.” 

Come and see what our God has done,
    what awesome miracles he performs for people!
He made a dry path through the Red Sea,[a]
    and his people went across on foot.
    There we rejoiced in him.
For by his great power he rules forever.
    He watches every movement of the nations;
    let no rebel rise in defiance. Interlude

Let the whole world bless our God
    and loudly sing his praises.
Our lives are in his hands,
    and he keeps our feet from stumbling.
10 You have tested us, O God;
    you have purified us like silver.
11 You captured us in your net
    and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.
12 Then you put a leader over us.[b]
    We went through fire and flood,
    but you brought us to a place of great abundance.

13 Now I come to your Temple with burnt offerings
    to fulfill the vows I made to you—
14 yes, the sacred vows that I made
    when I was in deep trouble.
15 That is why I am sacrificing burnt offerings to you—
    the best of my rams as a pleasing aroma,
    and a sacrifice of bulls and male goats. Interlude

16 Come and listen, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell you what he did for me.
17 For I cried out to him for help,
    praising him as I spoke.
18 If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.
19 But God did listen!
    He paid attention to my prayer.
20 Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
    or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Praise God who does not ignore our prayers or withdraw His unfailing love from us.