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In Everything, Give Thanks

“Are you doing okay?”

I sighed and chose to be honest. “Not really. I’m a little down because they had to bump up his oxygen to 100% again.”

It was day 2 of our third baby, Asher’s, stay in the NICU after being born at 35 weeks. Originally, we were told he would only stay overnight and his respiratory problems would be solved. I lay awake the first night after giving birth dreaming of him coming down to our little hospital room and my being able to look over at him whenever I wanted. I was awake almost the entire night (who sleeps right after they give birth, anyway?) praying that God would let Asher and me be discharged from the hospital at the same time. God told us “no.”

We saw great progress with Asher’s breathing that morning, day 2, but he had some setbacks during the afternoon and evening. I had only been discharged from the hospital myself that afternoon and spent the rest of the evening back in the NICU. It was very late, and I was tired and emotional, though trying my hardest to keep my spirits up. I was supposed to be joyful in everything, right? Wasn’t this what it meant to be a Christian? To be happy through the most exhausting of moments and trying of circumstances? To have it all together because you're trusting in God?

I stood across the desk from the NICU doctor, a transplant from Phoenix for the week while our city’s regular NICU doctors were out of town. She looked at me and said, “Don’t focus on the numbers. Asher has made huge progress since last night. He’s pink and not yellow, he’s breathing well, and he’s more satisfied. His chest x-ray was so much improved. I think he’s just hungry, and that’s why he gets so angry. Now that he’s getting milk, I think he will make great progress.” Up to that point, Asher had been struggling with his breathing mostly when he got so upset and couldn’t calm down. This was ultimately why they brought his oxygen levels back up.

In those few words, I found myself extremely encouraged. Here was a doctor who knew what she was doing and had confidence in the progress of my son. I could choose to still focus on the negatives, or I could focus on what progress I was shown.

On my drive home that evening, I recognized the parallel between what had transpired and my spiritual walk. A few words from someone who knew what she was talking about had entirely changed my perspective. Similarly, words of truth from the One who is Truth could entirely change my perspective in any circumstance. In the spiritual world, the cliche term "the power of positive thinking" actually means "my life changes when I am thankful."

God has given me everything I need to live a thankful and encouraged life. This doesn’t mean my life is always happy, and I don't believe that I always have to "be happy,” too. That is not the reality of living in a world full of sin (plus, God’s Word tells us there is “a time to weep, and a time laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance,” Ecclesiastes 3:4). It does mean, however, that if I am not grateful or hope-filled, then I alone am to blame. His Word is filled with all the truth I need to have hope, and His character and being and actions are the complete subjects for my thankfulness.

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Why would one pray without ceasing if one had nothing to pray for? These verses take into account that there are things in our lives that push us to pray consistently (this includes hurts and trials and pain), but that through those, we can both rejoice and give thanks. And to whom do we give thanks? Ultimately, to God for Who He is and what He has done (another reason for ceaseless prayer), no matter how great or small. Our dependence on God can clearly be seen when we bow before Him in prayer and when He is the One for Whom we are thankful and to Whom we are grateful.

Rejoicing and giving thanks for what I am going through (another NICU baby) looks differently from an always-happy bouncy attitude. I think it looks much more like a calm and quiet spirit that has “been still and known God,” and therefore has the greatest gratefulness for how He has shown Himself.

So, my thankfulness specifically in this circumstance looks like this:

  1. I posted our first NICU story at the beginning of this month (you can read that story here). The events and details I had forgotten for over a year were then made fresh in my mind and now consistently pop up in my thinking. I don’t think it was coincidence that God used the retelling of that story to remind me of the lessons He taught me the first time just three weeks before I would go through it the second time. Now, we know what to expect, we understand what is going on, we know what schedule works the best for us, and we feel better prepared for going through this again.

  2. Having another NICU baby means hours of quiet time in a hospital room. This has given me extra time to read God’s Word and encourage myself through it. I’ve also been working through a short book called Mom Enough that has seemed to hit every point of my mom life right now: dealing with worry, when exhaustion is another way to see my dependence on God, choosing to live in God’s view of who I am, and more.

  3. There is a beautiful little garden that surrounds the NICU entrance. Every time I open the door to head outside to my car, the scent of fresh roses and lilies greets me. I have been so thankful that, several times a day, this reminds me that God has made a beautiful world and gifted me with His creativity.

  4. Our church, as always, has supported and loved us. Meals have been set up for the next few weeks and people have been more than willing to take over childcare for our “big kids” so I can spend the mornings with our new baby. They tangibly live out love and service to our family.

  5. God never changes, through every circumstance (Psalm 102:27; Hebrews 13:8). I have known His love and goodness every day through the ups and downs and unknowns. I am thankful I am not alone. I am thankful I don't have to always "have it together"--His grace is sufficient, His arms are open, He sees my tears. When I feel most weak, He reminds me that He is strong and has enough strength for me to get through today (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Giving thanks and choosing a grateful spirit is not a drudgery we have to force ourselves to do in order to obey. It is a part of the healing process through a difficult circumstance. It pulls our minds away from ourselves to focus on our great God.

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