How a Thankful Heart Saved My Life

Thanksgiving is important to me, because once upon a time, a thankful heart saved my life. Now, that’s not easy to explain, but it all started with something I’ve mentioned before.  It started with a blueberry.

But not like THAT, like this:

Now that you’re (hopefully) smiling, we can rewind to just after my sister died a horrifying death that changed our family forever.  Her death was all the more difficult to process because she died by murder at her own hands.  We stood weeping in her front yard the day she died, held back by police tape, not knowing what to do,  as they carried her out in a black body bag.  She was 37 years-old.

As children, my little sister and I struggled to grow up, clinging to the edges of a sometimes rocking boat.  The experience cemented us together.  But as we grew, we took different paths and we drifted apart.  Thankfully, forgiveness and unconditional love brought us back together before she died.

But on the day my sister died, as I stood sobbing in her front yard, I felt myself slipping and stumbling, and eventually full-out falling into blackness.  Of all the hardships that I’d lived through up to that moment, I’d never experienced anything so deep and so frightening and so completely awful.  It was like living in a horror movie.

After the funeral, when the Blended Ones trudged away, life resumed, but for me, the blackness didn’t lift.  I walked through the days as one in a trance, as one marching slowly through a cornfield, parting the stalks with my hands in front of me.  As I pulled my arms back, a path opened, and the cornstalks folded sideways, and closed and melted behind me.  But always there was more cornfield before me, behind me, all around me like a cartoon with a repeating background.  Through the endless days I shuffled along in the cornfield without seeing anything.

corn plant over cloudy blue sky Stock Photo - 5709008

I had a little son who watched with full moon eyes and a heart that was breaking.  He didn’t understand.

Months passed, and I eventually wandered out of the cornfield, but my eyes still didn’t see and my dull heart still didn’t stir.  The repeating cartoon background changed, but I didn’t.  And still, my little son watched and waited and hoped.  My husband and my other children did, too.

It was Christmas time now.  I had no heart for it.  But I had a bustling house full of children who did.  I didn’t see them, nor did I care, because I still didn’t see anything but my own pain.  And I was quite busy nursing a bulging grudge against God that had grown quite quickly into a raging fury.  After all, didn’t He let my sister die?

One night, as I struggled to pack away the day, crawl into bed, and put a period mark on everything until the blasted sun rose again, to my dismay, I noticed it was still too early.  And I had a sudden urge to distract my mind by watching something mindless and funny.  I wanted to watch something utterly childlike and harmless.  I wanted fluff.  So I instructed my children to pop a Veggie Tales video into the VCR, the one I hadn’t seen yet.  It was an animated story, and it was about a blueberry.

Her name was Madame Blueberry, and she was a very blue berry. In fact, early in the story, she was crying and slinging tears all over her tree house, as she sang this little song:

I’m so blue-hoo-hoo, blue-hoo-hoo, blue-hoo-hoo, HOO…I’m so blue I don’t know what to do.

Madame Blueberry was inconsolably sad because she didn’t have all of the things she wanted.  But (just in time) they were building a massive new Stuff Mart near her home, and she decided to go buy all of the things that others had that she didn’t, and that she couldn’t live without.

Along the way, Madame Blueberry encountered various people who had happy hearts.  Although these people didn’t have the things they wanted either, they had happy hearts because they were thankful for what they did have.  And time after time, they sang a little song that went something like this:

…because a thankful heart is a happy heart.  Be glad for what you have; that’s an easy way to start.  For a God who really cares, and He listens to our prayers.  That’s why I say thanks every day.

After buying so much stuff that her tree house was full to the point of collapse, and after encountering yet another person who had managed to have a happy heart in spite of challenges in their life, Madame Blueberry began to ask her shopping assistants (who happened to be scallions) on which isle could she find the happy hearts?  They were silenced momentarily, but eventually admitted that they didn’t sell those things.  Those things couldn’t be bought.

In the end, before she could stop the deliveries, Madame Blueberry’s house did actually collapse from the weight of all the things that she bought, but at this point, she didn’t care, because she, too, finally found the secret of a happy heart:  thankfulness.

Okay, silence, roll credits, yada-yada.  The video was finished, and it did its job.  I was momentarily distracted, and the day was officially over.  But in spite of myself, I was thoughtful that night when I stumbled into bed.

And then, the other shoe fell.  Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, I awoke with a dream that gradually swirled through the mist into conscious thought.  And at first, I thought I heard God speaking through the mental fog, quite sternly to me.  It was God, I believed, giving me the what-for, in a sense, and explaining that I was an ungrateful wretch, and that I was so furious with Him that I was pouting like a child, and calling my anger grief.  I had my arms crossed and my back turned, and I was refusing to play life anymore.  And in doing that, I had closed my eyes to the good things (God gifts, every one) all around me, sprinkled like wildflowers on a roadside, glistening like unopened treasure boxes:  my family; my home; my health; my little son, waiting with a rending heart (needing me); Christmas, with its sounds and smells and wonder, for starters.  I was so immersed, by choice at this point, in my own pain that I couldn’t see my family, and I couldn’t be a wife or a mother.  My sister was dead, also by choice, and that couldn’t be changed, but I was alive.  And I needed to start acting like it.

I sat bolt upright in the bed, gasping, sweat beads popping, eyes bulging into the darkness, processing for a moment what I’d dreamed or thought or heard, and oh-my-goodness, I realized with a massive thud in my gut that God was right.  He was right. Every single word was true, completely and utterly true, and sitting there in the bed, with my husband sleeping unknowing and peaceful beside me, I knew it.  I couldn’t deny it, or explain it away, no matter how badly I wanted to.

After panting and thinking for a few moments, but before I could change my mind, I made a conscious decision.  This was a water-in-the-face revelation, but it was truth, and I was going to accept the words and act upon them, beginning with the approaching dawn.  I gave myself a symbolic slap or two across the face and I swung my feet over the side of the bed to start the first real day in a long time.

The dawn was washing pink and glorious, and I began the first day of the rest of my life with some intense time with God.  There was so much I’m sorry to be said, and so little time to say it, and I didn’t hesitate, and I didn’t gloss it over, either.  I got down and real with God, and we hashed it out, and He gently explained through the pages of His word and in my heart how it was already forgiven and forgotten, and He drew me up onto His lap and He held me, rocking.  He had been there all the time, waiting. It felt like lancing a wound, and all the poison and pain flowed out, and I rested there in the arms of Perfect Love and Light and Warmth.  And I began to heal and to be restored.  Anger at God can fester and kill us from the inside out, just like anger at others can.

As the day broke, I had a spring in my step as I deliberately turned on the Christmas music that my long-gone mama used to love, and I loved as a child, and my sister did, too.  It was the music I had refused to play in my rage.  And we bought a little living Christmas tree, the Christmas tree I had refused to think about, and we planted it on my sister’s grave, all decorated, in the frosty cold, all of us together.  My little son helped.  As we turned to get back in the truck to go home, I lifted my son up onto the seat and the joy and adoration in his eyes was evident.  He knew I was back, and he was making his own silent thankfulness notation, and he was sending out his gratefulness to me, too.  We were all smiling real smiles, and we passed out hugs, and it was going to be okay, and we knew it, even though nothing had changed but my heart.

That was the year 2000, and those holidays proceeded, and many more, and I stand today, ten years older, at the threshold of another holiday season.  As this coming holiday season closes, I will complete my first Gratitude List, begun on January 1, 2010, after being referred by a friend to a quiet, little blog that I’ve come to read and love.  My gratitude list has over 1600 entries on it, and I can’t wait to start all over on my new list in 2011.

So you see, to me, thankfulness is so much more than a holiday rapidly being squeezed into oblivion between bloody skulls on iron fences and snowmen, candy canes and Santa Clauses.  It’s not only how this country was begun, on the shores of Plymouth Rock.  It’s much more than items listed on a gratitude list.  It’s a state of mind, it’s a way of life, and it helped to save mine.

So, there you have it.  It’s a hard story to tell, but a good one, too.

There is more to this story, but thankfully for you, I have simplified it today.  And although I can tell my story, I cannot necessarily explain it.  How can one explain a miracle?

So, today I walk in joy, and I walk in peace.  And I walk, period, for which I’m eternally thankful.  Because you see, if it were not for the miracle of a cleansed heart, the very reason Jesus came and died, the very gift He purchased for us at immeasurable price, I would quite likely be pushing up daisies right beside my sister.  And that, my friends, is worth putting on my list.

5 For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

(Psalm 30:5, NKJV)

holy experience

(#1633 – #1650 on the Gratitude List)

*Life

*The miracle of a cleansed heart

*The drive-in theater on a cool night with the Boy

*PG movies

*That paint colors can be happy

*Text photos

*Farm eggs

*Thanksgiving!

*Pumpkins and hay bales

*Harvest colors

*Healthy teeth

*A new day with headaches gone

*Grandchildren

*Family coming to visit

*The smell of wonderful things cooking

*Reading good books

*Madame Blueberry

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14 Responses to How a Thankful Heart Saved My Life

  1. Rebecca says:

    Beautiful Steph! It looks likes your words are back. I love you and am so thankful for your miracle.

  2. Your post is wonderful. Those who have walked the same valley so understand! Gratitude changes everything.

  3. Ima Dale Foster says:

    Stephanie, This is a beautiful story and I am blessed to know you. I can never thank you enough for the involvement in one young man’s life that means so much to me. I know God lives in him, but I know you and your family had a lot to do with the way he turned out! I never could have picked a husband for my daughter better than the one God chose for her, I think you had a great influence on his life.

    Thank you friend.

    Ima Dale

  4. Charity says:

    Veggie Tales also helped me walk through a very difficult time, when my mom tried to kill herself at the beginning of my Junior Year of college. While my mom lay in a coma, I could picture over and over how long it took her to take those 150 pills. That image did not allow me to sleep. So I grabbed my walkman, put in the Veggie Tales very silly singalong tape, and played it all night. Right now I am walking my own journey with postpartum depression, but am seeing improvement. The Lord is using my children mightily in this dark walk.

    Thank you again for sharing so clearly.

    • Bless you, bless you, Charity. I will pray! During hard times, I sometimes also listen to Steve Green’s “Hide ’em in Your Heart” CDs. They are scriptures, put to sweet music, sometimes with little children singing. I have testimonies about what those songs have done for our family. It helps to keep my mind positive, filled with good food.

      One of my favorites is “If We Don’t Lose Heart”…

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. misty says:

    stephanie…… your words made me cry. yes, i’ve read the bits and pieces of your story (his story?) here and there, but THIS version hits home and speaks to me.
    i had to ask my doctor for the scariest (to me) thing ever… i had to admit i needed help and that i couldn’t stand on convictions while my little ones were hurt by my absence and depression. i asked to get on an antidepressant. it hasn’t really sunk in yet (too soon) and i’m still fearful and feeling at odds…. but i want to SEE, to see his hands, to be willing to be willing to look for him in the rubble. and i haven’t been able to do that in a long time. i am eager for the look of acknowledgement in my sons’ eyes. i know they love me and i pray they know i love them… i want it to be tangible.
    thank you for writing. and for what it’s worth, i’m so glad your words are back. so, so glad.

    • Misty, I’ve never met you, and yet I feel a bond. There are a lot of things I could say, but it all boils down to this: I care. Just know that I care, Misty, and I pray for you. And I think of you often. Keep your chin up, friend, and “just keep swimming”. Thank you for your comments. They encourage me. ♥

  6. Rene' says:

    Steph, I am so touched….speechless….enjoying the silence as I ponder your words! Although I know your story, you shared it beautifully here. What a sweet story of the power of thankfulness and the wonders of His great love. Love you!

  7. Sarah Jane says:

    You are such a beautiful writer!! I somehow stumbled on your blog and was so touched by this post. It was so honest, vulnerable, and true. And it emanates the sweetness and tenderness of our Father that He has been teaching me about lately. I have struggled to understand how He can be glorified through our pain, but He is slowly teaching me He can… as He is through your life! What an inspiration you are!! I love that our Lord can use Veggie Tales and His Word to change us from being an “ungrateful wretch” to a godly woman who boldly shares His work in our life. Thank you so much for sharing this story and for allowing Him to use you for His glory. I am encouraged and eager to seek His face daily. Enjoy this season and let Him continue to pour out His sweet, sweet Spirit on you and your family.

    Much love,
    Sarah Jane (Kenny Wright’s wife)

    • Sarah, I have been out of pocket, and just today found your comment. Thank you (simply and humbly) for your kind words. They mean more to me than you’ll ever, ever know. You’ve been part of our lives, part of the tapestry…such enrichment, such treasure. Bless you.

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