Grateful During Suffering?

“A grateful spirit is what enables people to view and respond to the most painful circumstances in life with thanksgiving. As one person observed, ‘Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns.’”

I borrowed this quote from Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth, who has touched the lives of millions through Revive Our Heart, True Woman movement, and through her books. (Please see Nancy’s bio at the end of this post).  

I don’t know about you, but having a grateful attitude doesn’t always come easy, especially when facing difficulties. Sure, I’m thankful when all is well and life is free from any struggles and heartache, but these times seem to be few and far between, at least for me. Oh, see there! —‘at least for me.’ I believe I need an attitude adjustment!

I recently ‘stumbled’ across a video by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth titled, Nancy Shares Her Gratitude Wall, and her article, The Attitude of Gratitude. To be honest, I didn’t just stumble across these, but rather, I located them online after learning of Nancy’s husband’s cancer diagnosis.

A brief background:

Robert and Nancy Wolgemuth

Nancy surrendered to God’s will early in her adult life, to serve the LORD as a single woman. Then, in her mid-fifties, God brought “the unexpected” into Nancy’s life. Robert Wolgemuth, a friend, whom after the loss of his first wife, Bobbi, began corresponding with Nancy. At first, Nancy hesitated to reciprocate, but as she sought God’s guidance and the counsel of close friends, Nancy and Robert began a courtship, which led to their marriage, November 14, 2015. This is a grace-filled story in its own: The Unexpected Grace: Nancy and Robert’s Story: https://www.reviveourhearts.com/videos/unexpected-grace-nancy-and-roberts-story/

Nancy continues to surrender to God’s will in her life and marriage. In March 2020, Robert was diagnosed with melanoma, and in August 2020 Robert received a second cancer diagnosis of B Cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

There are times in life when we are faced with a vitally important question. Will I choose to trust in God and His providence for my life, or will I falter and succumb to overwhelming fear and disillusionment, leading to despair and hopelessness? Nancy and Robert are choosing to trust in the faithfulness of God, as He writes their life stories. (See link below to the co-authored book by Robert and Nancy Wolgemuth, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.)

I hope that you will find encouragement through Nancy’s Gratitude Wall. I know I did. I’m known as the Post-it queen in our family (I use post-its everywhere…on my car dashboard, mirrors, refrigerator, and at work), so I totally love this idea. And most recently, our eight-year-old granddaughter, Emeree Faith, started leaving post-its for me and her Pappy.

As you watch the Gratitude Wall video,* I hope that you will find the blessing God desires for you, whether in plenty or want.  https://www.reviveourhearts.com/videos/nancy-shares-her-gratitude-wall/

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Additional Thoughts (from Charmé)

While reading through the Bible this year, I found myself in the story of the ‘grumbling Israelites’ during their forty-year wandering in the wilderness. They always seemed to be grumbling about something! Does this sound in any way familiar, possibly in today’s culture, in your life and mine?

I chuckle embarrassingly under my breath when I think of how often I grumble about the smallest inconveniences in life, like having to wait in line at the grocery store because I’ve run out of creamer for my coffee. I can’t imagine going to bed hungry or not having any shoes to wear like so many in our world. Yet, this is how the Israelites acted when they ‘forgot’ how God delivered them from the tyranny of Egypt’s Pharoah. Did they not remember the ten plagues, and how God miraculously pushed back the waters of the Red Sea until all the Israelites escaped to dry land, and then how God instructed Moses to wave his staff, releasing the waters, and swallowing up the Egyptians?

For forty years the Israelites complained about not having ‘enough’…enough water and food, the right menu, the right leader, and so on. Yet, in God’s grace and mercy, He provided for all their needs. In Exodus 16:4-5 the Bible says God provided manna (bread) from heaven daily. Each day they collected enough for that day, but if they collected more, it rotted by the next morning! God wanted to teach His people to trust Him to provide for them. God also provided quail for the people so they would have meat to eat and later he provided water to drink (Exodus17:5-6). What’s amazing to me, is that even when the Israelites grumbled, God still chose to provide for their needs. Such a loving and compassionate Father!

The Israelites’ complaints didn’t originate in their surroundings or their circumstances, but rather, in their hearts. Their ungrateful spirits really were a result of spiritual amnesia. They neglected to recall and remember God’s gracious deliverance from bondage.

During Holy week, leading up to Easter, the celebration of our resurrected Savior, I encourage ‘us’ to take time to thank God for His daily provisions, and most importantly, the provision of His Son, Jesus Christ, who became our ‘substitutionary atonement.’ This refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all men are sinners (Romans 3:23). And that the penalty for our sinfulness is death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If you’ve never accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, I encourage you to NOT wait another day. Please click on the above tab in the header of this blog, Private: Receive Jesus.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth Bio:

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them FreeSeeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband) https://www.reviveourhearts.com/books/you-can-trust-god/. Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.

The Attitude of Gratitude* article, by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth, may be located through the Gratitude Wall Video, and here: https://www.reviveourhearts.com/articles/the-attitude-of-gratitude/

  • Nancy Shares Her Gratitude Wall video and The Attitude of Gratitude article is used by permission.
  • Copyright Revive Our Hearts. by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. Used with permission. www.ReviveOurHearts.com.

Closing Thoughts

Now don’t get me wrong, I realize there are times that the severity of pain and suffering warrant a definite, “Help me God, I can’t do this” or “I don’t understand why!” God understands our human frailty and limitations apart from His mighty hand and outstretched arms. God is desiring this type of response, so that He can prove Himself faithful in our lives, for ‘His love endures forever.’

I’ve included Psalm 136 at the end of the blog, to read, meditate on, and to make it your own, as you offer praise and thanksgiving to our loving Heavenly Father who cares for you.

Let this act of remembering awaken in you joy in God and a deep sense of gratitude that God loves you, knows you, and keeps you.

Psalm 136 (NIV)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
11 and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever.
12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea[a] asunder
His love endures forever.
14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures forever.
15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

17 to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
18 and killed mighty kings—
His love endures forever.
19 Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures forever.
20 and Og king of Bashan—
His love endures forever.
21 and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures forever.
22 an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures forever.

23 He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
24 and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
25 He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

God Was Purposeful in Our Pain

Personal Testimony of Natalie Faith Johnson

natalie-pic-1Growing up, I sang many songs that assured me it was “so sweet to trust in Jesus” and “God can make a way when there seems to be no way.” My favorite movie as a kid was Sister Act 2 (don’t judge!) and I would sing along with Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount as they sang “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” I sounded exactly like them!

The lyrics of all these songs are so beautiful and TRUE…but sometimes they are hard to sing. What if you’re not happy and things don’t feel so sweet? What if you don’t feel free but instead are trapped in a life you never saw for yourself? What if you know God is watching but you don’t feel Him actively working?

Deciding to be a Christian is life changing. However, as you the reader knows, it doesn’t spare you from all the junk that can happen. I love the verse:

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4).

The word rampart means “a protective barrier.” God is faithful and even though life can throw some pretty crazy stuff our way, we are sheltered under His wings and can make it through any storm!

I’m about to tell you a story about becoming a mother that has the best ending. Just you wait! However, I do want to preface the story by saying that for years I thought over and over again that I was in the lowest valley I’d ever walk through…but then it would get lower. I thought circumstances would get better but then they got worse. Has that ever happened to you? I’ve heard ‘bad things come in threes’ but sometimes it seems like bad things come by the dozen!

Martin Luther once said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” His quote was pertaining to temptation and our thought life. There will always be storms that come, dark valleys we walk through, and squawking birds over our heads. We were never promised that this world would be fun or easy. However, we can find shelter within our Refuge (the Lord!), we can walk beside Him through the valley (He promises that!), and we can take every thought captive in Jesus’ name!

When I was younger my parents got divorced. It was painful, messy, and didn’t end well. My dad, who was a pastor and charismatic man lived a double life by having multiple affairs, abusive behavior, and strong mental health issues. My mom wrote a book about her healing process called “Secrets in the Sanctuary*.” Their marriage never recovered, and in fact, my dad went on to have even stronger issues over the years and he sadly passed away when I was 19 years old.

What’s bizarre, is that growing up I knew very little of my dad’s unhealthy behavior. My dad was extremely intentional when he saw my sister and me. He took us on the best vacations, had thought provoking conversations, and challenged us to be strong in our faith. I can look back on my parents’ divorce and grieve over the things that were destroyed and at the same time be thankful for the years I had with my dad and the good seeds he planted in my life. We don’t have to be 100% happy with how things turn out. We can have joy and pain at the same time. Let me repeat that…joy and pain can coexist at the same time. It’s what makes us strong and makes us long for Heaven.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

I really hoped that growing through my dad’s death and the divorce of my parents would be my full testimony. I wish hard times were like lightening striking once, but like we all know, we need God every hour to help us through this life!

natalie in hospitalLike I said earlier, sometimes bad things come by the dozen. My parents’ marriage began to turn toward divorce when I was 4 years old. In the thick of their struggles, I was having some health issues, and through multiple doctors’ visits, led to the unexpected. I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in my pelvis. It was wrapped around my organs and blocked my body from functioning like it should. Thankfully, through two years of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and a great team of doctors, I was healed at 6 years old from cancer!  My mom, sister, and I started a new life with the help of our family, church, and the Lord’s provision.

The doctors warned us that there would be limits of how my body would function as I grew up, but every single limit they gave was surpassed and overcome!

God was faithful over the years and eventually I met and married Adam when I was 20. We started a fun life together and moved to Spring Hill, KS in 2009.

Confident of what the Lord had done in my body, I became pregnant at 24, and I knew this was another victory of His healing touch. Adam and I were so excited to share with everyone about our baby! I was getting ready to graduate dental hygiene school and Adam was established in his job as a Worship and Creative Arts Pastor. We were thrilled to start the next chapter of our lives.

Unfortunately, I miscarried our first baby at 9 weeks and a year later I miscarried another baby at 14 weeks. Both pregnancies started off great but because of the radiation treatment to my pelvis during my childhood cancer, my body would not stretch enough to make room for a growing baby. We would have tried to keep getting pregnant but both miscarriages revealed that my body was unable to clot blood normally and I would be hospitalized for days to stop the bleeding. I was told the next pregnancy would end in a hysterectomy.

I never kept any of our journey to be parents or the grief that I felt a secret. My poor mother, sister, and best friends heard it all! One day, Katie, my closest friend, graciously offered to try surrogacy, since carrying the baby was our main battle. With prayer and research, we decided to go for it!

“If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

The first surrogacy attempt failed, and we had depleted all our money. With encouragement from our friends and family, surrogacy fundraisers were held, giving us another opportunity to try again. By this time everyone in our circle and Katie’s knew about our journey. It failed again.

I started going to counseling. The idea of carrying a child myself was gone, and now the idea of having a biological child was also gone. My heart was not ready for any other option. Grief was a daily friend.

But God can make a way when there seems to be no way. Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful. A family at our church that we didn’t really know heard our story and invited us to a birthday party they were having for one-year-old twins, a brother and sister. The twins had come into their lives through foster care. Our new friends hoped we could be the twins’ future parents.

In one fell swoop, these babies wiped out every stigma I had toward fostering. It was easy to connect with them. God was changing my heart on how I could be a mom.

We decided to get our foster care license and after taking classes the twins became a part of our lives. But then several months later a family member stepped in to be their guardian and they left our home.

I couldn’t take anymore loss. The idea of never mothering, of never feeling this way again was sounding like the best idea…but God had a different idea in mind.

Aren’t you thankful that God is always working behind the scenes and knows the desires of our hearts?

  • In 2013, when I miscarried my first baby, Jaedyn Faith Johnson was born.
  • In 2014, when I miscarried my second baby, Neila Kate Johnson was born.
  • Because of our surrogacy fundraising event, a couple who had attended mentioned our names when a relative of theirs was looking for adoptive parents for Jaedyn and Neila.
  • Katie, our dear friend, and surrogate was the connecting person to that couple and called to ask if we’d be willing to meet the girls.
  • We met our daughters on Adam’s 31st birthday. God was about to show us the most incredible gifts he had ever made.
  • Years before we met the girls, we got our foster care license. We needed this license to be candidates to adopt them.
  • There were 12 couples who wanted to adopt the girls. We were the only ones out of state and yet we were picked as one of the final two couples.
  • When the board (Best Interest Staffing) met and interviewed us and the other couple, the majority of the board was going to vote for the older couple with a child. One woman on the board, however, swayed the whole vote toward us when she said that when we spoke, she could feel God’s presence and assurance that we were supposed to be the girls’ parents.

judge And in December of 2018, we became the overjoyed, emotional, grateful parents of two of the coolest girls we have ever known. Every detail of who they are, from their personalities, their interests, and even their eye color meshes with our family as a beautiful reminder that God was working. God was purposeful in our pain and nothing was wasted. He redeems and restores what we think is beyond his control. God is faithful!

Johnson family
The Johnson Family. Neila, Natalie, Adam, Jaedyn

“He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 113:9).

Natalie and Mom*Book written by Natalie’s mom, Julie E. Davenport, “Secrets in the Sanctuary” – https://julieedavenport.com/

You can make your own choices, but you can’t choose your consequences.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

This is a true story of an unshakable faith in the midst of great sorrow, grief, and suffering.

After returning from a week’s vacation with my husband, Jeff, I wrote the following in my journal.

“I can’t even imagine the grief, sorrow, pain, and hurt they are going through, and yet, their faith in Christ is secure.”

SAM_1280Jeff and I had the opportunity to attend a pastors and wives retreat in Buchanan, Michigan, at a beautiful facility called The Lodge. We spent four nights and five days with three other pastoral couples and our host couple, Ed and Gayle, who facilitated our sharing sessions.

Prior to beginning our sessions, we sensed a spirit of love and grace within the lodge. We are thankful for our prayer team who were praying for us, along with others. I know now that these prayers were not only meant for us, but also for our host couple.

We quickly learned that Ed and Gayle lost their precious adult son six months prior, through a tragic death. I don’t feel led to share any details, for they seem inconsequential in relation to the deep loss this dear couple has experienced. I will say that I’ve never been with anyone who has demonstrated such grace and faith in the midst of severe suffering. I didn’t mention the second part to their faith journey. Ed learned he had a large cancerous tumor in his bladder just a few months following his son’s death.

Ironically, I heard the following statement twice during our vacation/retreat week, “You can make your own choices, but you can’t choose your consequences.” This was spoken first by our retreat host and the second time by my sister-in-law. Both were restating what they had originally spoken to their adult sons.

I think this statement grabbed me to my core, as I thought of how God allows us to freely make our own choices in life and how these choices will either result in pleasing God or the folly of our own flesh. When we choose to go our own way, apart from God’s direction and leading in our lives, we really are saying to God, “I know what’s best for my life and I really don’t need your guidance or authority to rule over me.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it…the first sin in the garden.

Fletcher 2My thoughts quickly race back to our retreat hosts. Although they feel that their son made some wrong choices toward the end of his life, they also know and testify to the unmerited favor of God in their lives. Throughout our week together, they shared how in the midst of heartache over the loss of their son, they are choosing to hold God’s hand as they continue to serve faithfully in the ministry God has called them to. Their unwavering faith and commitment to Christ brings hope, healing, and encouragement to pastors and wives through Life Action Ministries https://lifeaction.org/. For more information about The Lodge, please go to: http://www.retreatatthelodge.org/.

Holding His Hand

In the deepest despairs of life, God is near. His promises are true. If you are overtaken with grief and sorrow over the loss of a loved one, I encourage you to cry out to Jesus. The Psalmist declares: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18).

For those wrestling with decisions, please consider the words of the Apostle Paul.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:7-10).