"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
November 26, 2009
There's no expiration date on gratitude
by Orson Scott Card

I had my column for this week already written. It wasn't about Thanksgiving. I wanted to be the writer who gave you something else to think about.

Then I went to sacrament meeting the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and I changed my mind.

One of the young men in our ward, Nathaniel Lundrigan, gave a youth talk that would have been extraordinary even if it had been given by an adult. It was intelligent, well thought out, heartfelt and moving as he spoke about gratitude.

Then my daughter's Sunday school teacher, Jill Smith, spoke, recounting how some of the trials in her life had turned into blessings.

For instance, when she and her husband were moving to London, she was taking care of a two-year-old and well into her pregnancy with child number two. So she allowed her husband to go ahead of her to rent their flat in downtown London.

It was going to be wonderful -- walking distance from his work, from everything. They weren't going to have to drive.

The trouble started when she got to the flat for the first time, while her husband was at work.

Eleven steps up to the front door of the building. Then five switchback flights of stairs to their flat.

She sat on the stairs and cried. She was so tired -- it felt like a 60-hour flight, since she did it taking care of a two-year-old. She had had no sleep. She was angry at her husband's thoughtlessness in thinking that such a place was even possible for her.

And yet she couldn't live in the lobby. So, six weeks from delivery, she had to care a two-year-old and their two-baby stroller up all those stairs. Needless to say, each flight took multiple trips.

And it went on and on, several times a day, week after week -- stroller, groceries or other burdens, multiple trips up to the first landing, while cajoling the two-year-old to come at least partway. And then the whole thing repeated up to the next landing.

Then, after a few months, she noticed something. Even though she was now carrying the new baby up those stairs, too, she was handling it rather easily. Thirty pounds of baby weight were dropping off. She was strong. She was in excellent shape.

She hadn't realized how athletic her body could be. She went on to certify as a fitness instructor. She prepared to run with her husband in the London Marathon.

Those stairs, such a burden when she arrived, turned out, after she had shouldered that burden and borne it, to be a blessing in her life. (Though when they moved back to London years later, she and her husband went together to choose their next dwelling place.)

It was a great talk, and I was glad to know that this was the woman who was teaching Sunday school lessons to my fifteen-year-old.

The final speaker was my friend of many years, Rick Fenton. And in the midst of his wonderful talk about gratitude, he offered a plan that felt like such a good idea that my wife and I resolved, then and there, to follow it. Here is his schedule of thankfulness:

"Between today and Thursday, we should devote each day to thinking about how our life has been blessed by others.

"On Sunday, today, think about how Heavenly Father, Christ and the Holy Ghost have blessed your life.

"On Monday, how members of your family have blessed you.

"On Tuesday, consider the impact friends have made in your life.

"On Wednesday, ponder how other church members and leaders have blessed you.

"As you think about each of these, take time to consider things that are not so obvious but have brought you joy."

He then gave several personal examples, and at the end my wife and I were grateful for one of the best sacrament meetings we had ever attended.

We came home and ate lunch with our daughter, and then the three of us sat at the table and carried out Rick's assignment for the first day -- Sunday.

The last hymn had been "For the Beauty of the Earth." I am always blindsided by the third verse: "For the joy of human love, / Brother, sister, parent, child, / Friends on earth, and friends above ..."

As always, my thoughts at once leapt to the two children we no longer have with us, and, as always, I could not finish singing. The grief is not as constant, but it gets no weaker when it does return.

Yet it was not sorrow I shared with my family that afternoon, but gratitude. How glad I was that God had given us our seventeen years with Charlie Ben; how grateful for all God's tender mercies over the years we knew our second son.

Then I mentioned how angry and bitter I have often felt about the fact that our youngest child only lived seven hours; that we never got to know her; that our next-to-youngest, who would have been such a loving and generous big sister, never got to fill that role.

But to my own surprise, I found that today I had remembered also to be grateful for Erin Louisa's life.

My wife took up and magnified that theme. She remembered those two weeks of bed rest in the hospital, trying to keep the pregnancy going until little Erin's body had developed enough to survive. That was the era when 2 Nephi 31:20 became her favorite scripture:

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of god and all men ..." She had felt, there in the hospital, that brightness of hope in the life of the baby she was carrying.

And yet the baby died in her arms seven hours after her birth. Had she been wrong to think that the Spirit had filled her with those feelings of hope?

But today it occurred to us that those two weeks were quite probably the difference between the baby being stillborn, having never drawn breath, not being counted as a child in our family on the records of the Church; and being born alive, however brief that life turned out to be.

Ours now to hold forever in our hearts, and someday in our arms. A perfect brightness of hope after all.

We talked about other gifts from God; talked about the challenges and blessings all three of us have dealt with, and how grateful we are to God for the life we have, and that we have been given the chance to travel some portion of this mortal journey together.

Tomorrow -- Monday -- we will go on with Rick Fenton's plan for Thanksgiving week. But by the time you read this -- the earliest possibility being Thanksgiving day -- it will be too late for you to follow his exact schedule.

Then again, you can just as easily start it now, the day you read this column. A mini family home evening, four days in a row, remembering and being grateful for the influence and gifts of God, family, friends, and Church in our lives.

There's no expiration date on gratitude.


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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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