When we sit down at the table for a meal, I usually ask my children what they want to be thankful for that day. Inevitably, their answers are...interesting. “I’m thankful for peanut butter!” pipes my 4-year-old. “Doll!” says my 2-year old. I smile, because for children, being grateful for food and entertainment is not a bad thing. But my husband and I always try to end the discussion with the words, “Be thankful for your blessings, but be grateful for your hardships.”
This is perhaps a weird thing to say. Hardships? No one really wants to hope for those, right? But in my house, we’ve had each in equal measure. Most folks have. “But why,” demands my 4-year-old, “should we feel grateful for things that make our life hard?”
In many ways, it’s easy to be angry when things don’t work out the way we want. I want to be frustrated with traffic or angry when I’m late. I want to be upset when I am stressed out or the surprise expense appears. Even deeply difficult things in our lives like lost jobs, sickness, or death make us want to shake our fists and vent our hurt and anger. The hard truth is that these moments have a purpose in our lives. We cannot grow as human beings without hardship.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Malawi, Africa on a medical mission trip. We helped set up clinic at a place called Potoweera. Peter Masako, the director and only doctor, had founded the orphanage / free medical clinic / woman’s domestic abuse shelter. He worked six days of the week to run the clinic and spent his time on Sundays helping tend the compound’s livestock, running a private clinic for all the children of Potoweera, and doing the odd jobs often required of him to keep everything functioning. He proudly showed us the buildings that had concrete floors and tin roofs. There was no electricity, but there was running water from the well. The exam rooms each had a big window, and while they lacked glass, they were each covered with mosquito netting. His was the only clinic available to many, as the nearest hospital was 56 miles away. Without his care, many of the villagers in the surrounding area would have succumbed to disease or infection. In those weeks I helped him care for those such as an abandoned baby, weighing only 4 pounds. I saw many with cerebral malaria, including a 7-year-old boy, who was seizing from fever. I saw cholera, flu, and many with chicken pox. Peter treated them all with a gentle kindness and humor.
It was during my stay at the clinic that there was a break-in by thieves with guns. They demanded what little money there was to be had. They ransacked the clinic at night, stealing anything that might be of value. Even the cheap thermometers were taken. In the morning, I walked with Peter to view the damage. He was angry and frustrated. His sole purpose was to keep this small island of hope running for so many who needed it. But when he spoke, his words were not of anger or defeat. He looked at me and said, “This is the Devil trying to keep me from my work. But I will not let him win! I am grateful for the chance to forgive.”
I have never forgotten Peter or his message. Gratitude, in its many forms, is crucial to our lives. Like a house that needs repair, my mind and attitude often need a little work. In my struggles I look at my hardships and try not to see the issue, but rather the opportunity to build, to be grateful, and to keep working through.
Written by Meredith
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.