Refugee students receive school supplies; a local teacher heads to Ghana; St. William of York School has multiple sets of twins, and one set of quadruplets enrolled; and more in our Back to School special section.
Thank you, God, for all I never had
Barbara Curtis

This year I’m not thanking God for all my blessings. But please don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m ungrateful. It’s just that after years of thanks for all I have, I’ve decided it’s time to be grateful for all I never had.

I’m grateful for the full refrigerator we never had in my childhood, grateful for the meals we missed the last few days before my mother’s paycheck. I’m grateful my tummy growled like an edgy animal. I hope I never forget it. Though it makes it hard today to listen to my well-fed children complain they’re starving an hour after a meal, it makes it extraordinarily easy to give some down-and-outer behind a cardboard sign enough to buy a meal — no strings or expectations attached.

I’m grateful for the nice house, the perfect family, the right clothes I never had. No matter where I live, how “together” my family appears, or what we wear, there’s almost no one I couldn’t consider a friend. After years of never feeling good enough, I’d never do anything to make someone else feel that way.

I’m grateful for the stability I never had. Divorce, foster homes, frequent moves and family separations were hard on me as a little girl, but blessed me with resiliency and endurance. They also make me appreciate the spiritual roots I have now.

The father I didn’t have gives me the special privilege of having only one Father — “the Father to the fatherless.” With no earthly model to shape my perception of God, the love and warmth I feel from my heavenly Father seem even more of a miracle. I know I could never take Him for granted.

I’m grateful for the productive early adulthood I missed while, like a ricocheting pinball, I hit all the dead ends of the counterculture. As a believer-come-lately, I often wondered why God didn’t help me reach Him sooner. Now I see in God’s economy, no time is wasted. My own “lost” years have made it easy for me to love those still seeking — whether they know it or not — to understand the emptiness that energizes them, to work a little harder at seeking common ground.

I’m grateful for the perfect wedding Tripp and I didn’t have. Finding I was pregnant, we ran away and got married six days later — a miracle that takes my breath away. Neither of us had the wherewithal or character to make a commitment, and yet with the grace of a God we didn’t yet know, somehow we did. Now — 10 children later — Tripp says half-joking, “God pulled a shotgun wedding.”

I’m grateful for our very imperfect marriage. As New Agers — Tripp believing wholeheartedly in his deity, and I believing in mine — living together was impossible, causing us to seek help at a marriage conference where we finally learned who Jesus really was and committed our lives to Him. Twenty years later we found our way from evangelicalism to the holy Roman Catholic Church.

I’m grateful for the “perfect” baby we didn’t have 19 years ago. Anyone who’s met Jonathan (number eight of our 12) can see he is perfect just the way God made him — with an extra chromosome. He has opened parts of our hearts we never knew were there. I couldn’t imagine having lived without him.

But now I couldn’t imagine having lived without any of the parts of my life — even those that seemed unbearable as I was living through them. In fact, I have embraced every part — the good, the bad and the downright ugly. For every part, I give thanks

The point is this: It’s not the adversities in our lives that determine who we are — it’s our response to them. When bad things happen, we can choose to be bitter or better. Like Joseph — whose own brothers sold him into slavery — we can trust that even when harm is intended, God will use it for good to accomplish His purpose in our lives.

Romans 8:28 boldly proclaims, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” What makes the difference is if we choose to see it that way.

After the first Thanksgiving feast, the Pilgrims suffered even more adversity than they had the year before. Their food supplies were so low that each one’s daily ration was just five kernels of corn. They did not give into bitterness, but continued — as always — to trust God.

Now, each Thanksgiving our family follows the tradition of placing five kernels of dried corn by each plate. During the meal, we pass a cup around the table. Each person drops a kernel into the cup while sharing something for which he is grateful.

This year I will drop one kernel in the cup thanking God because He has used what I didn’t have then to make me who I am now.

Curtis, who blogs at mommylife.net, is a mother of 12 and author from Lovettsville.

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