"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
November 27, 2013
Being Grateful
by Marian Stoddard

Our bishop is not your ordinary person serving in that calling. This is his third stint; he was bishop to a young single adults ward way back when, and then he served as bishop in the ward next to ours in the mid-90’s.

That wasn’t our ward then because of an earlier ward division, and he’s in our ward now because of later boundary changes — he never moved. So some of the people in the ward have had him as bishop before, even though most haven’t. But he’s been known to pretty much everyone for years.

That’s because of who he is. He’s the one who always led the fifty-milers, even when he wasn’t serving in the scouts. If someone starts a story with, “I was on a Luther hike…,” smiles will start all around and heads will nod.

He has retired twice, once as a sergeant major after twenty years in the army (Special Forces) and then again from teaching second grade at Fort Lewis. Now he works for his brother-in-law at a construction and demolition company — no, I don’t think he blows things up, but he gets to drive bulldozers and smash things down on occasion.

He’s an old military man who gets a kick out of kids. He’s always direct, even blunt, but he never loses his sense of humor — or appreciation. His compassion is genuine, and he relies on the Lord. He’s a good bishop.

As you might imagine, he’s big on being prepared for all circumstances. Our stake is prominent locally in the CERT program (Community Emergency Response Training) in partnership with the Red Cross and other organizations, and we have regular programs on various types of preparedness. “You fight as you train” is a truism from his military life; you have to practice in order to truly be ready.

He’s made a standing ‘chart’ out of a bedsheet which he can hang over a rolling whiteboard on our annual go-through of checklists and demonstrations. It includes the usual items of tools, knowing how to shut off water or natural gas, food storage, an evacuation plan, and a 72-hour emergency kit. It includes one item that surprises people in that context: cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

That, he emphasizes, is something to practice in advance. It can make all the difference in coping with trauma or disaster. Emergency situations are stressful. Disasters, by definition, are frightening. They’re difficult. They’re overwhelming.

The people who can see and emotionally grab onto what they have, rather than wail about how awful and how unfair this is, are more likely to cope well. They are more likely to help make it easier on others, and more likely to recognize the directions of the Holy Ghost showing them what to do.

Our Thanksgiving holiday arises out of the Pilgrims’ gathering with the native Indians, sharing a peaceable feast together, grateful for help and survival and a successful harvest. It was remembered and honored in various states on various days, but it was President Lincoln who answered the call to formalize a national holiday.

He did so as the Civil War still raged, in 1863. His proclamation acknowledges the sober burdens of the moment and the hand of Almighty God that the nation is standing, that the efforts of man have been fruitful in the endeavors necessary to sustain life, through agriculture and industry. He asks all to join him in a plea for the welfare of those who have been made widows, orphans, or been wounded in the conflict, and prays for God to heal the nation and bring peace.

In all the frenzy in our culture about stuff, getting stuff, getting better and fancier stuff, we have too few calls to seek and deepen our personal peace. Thanksgiving is one such call that endures.

Yes, for some it’s all about the food or the football or the Macy’s parade, but for very few of us is it only about those things. It’s a day that we share with those who are dear to us, remembering that our lives are blessed in ways that matter very much.

Even in a state of war and division. Even in hard times. You know the song: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” (hymn 241)

Gratitude should not only be an attitude in our lives; it should be a pattern. We tend to see what we look for. We tend to hang tight to what we have valued in practice, rather than theory. If we look for the hand of the Lord in our lives, we will see it and trust it. If we look for gain, advantage, or precedence over others, we will end up missing the help that’s offered to us.

Count your many blessings, angels will attend, help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.” Paul told the Phillipians: “…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phil.4:11-13)

He had come to the point where he knew he was sustained by the hand of God, whether life was easy at the moment or hard, whether he sat down to a feast or a crust. He had come to wisdom by experience and practice.

Thanksgiving is a time to set aside the material concerns and recognize the intangibles. We have not lost that, at least. It touches a spiritual chord in everyone, that there are still marvelous and important gifts in our lives. We gather round our tables and offer our thanks for all that’s been given to us.

Where some might see crises and shortfalls, I know blessings. I am grateful for a place in the Kingdom of God, for an enduring marriage, for family, for people to love and people who love me, for more physical ability and less pain than I have had. This has been a year of major changes, and we have been helped through it all. I give thanks.

I hope everyone will cherish the good things in their lives, the things that will eternally matter. May the meaning of the day run deep in our hearts, as we bow our heads around the table.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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