Finding Gratitude in Darkness
Meet Danielle. Danielle and her husband, Dan, currently serve as missionaries in Liberia. They have two beautiful daughters named Forrest and Bravery, and an amazing story beautifully written by God. They partner with Water4, a Christian nonprofit focused on the provision of clean water via manual borehole wells by equipping local project teams with the skills and business acumen needed to build and maintain the wells. In addition, Dan and Danielle actively disciple and train their project teams to share the Gospel in the communities they serve. Before Liberia, they served in Lautaro, Chile for 7 years. There, they played an instrumental role in implementing a rainwater harvesting system for the indigenous Mapuche community.
Life in not about comparison. God works through all of us right where we are, but sometimes after I read a monthly update from Dan and Danielle, I turn to my husband and say, "They helped bring clean water to 5,000 people this month....did we do anything cool?"
God is doing amazing things through this family. I am honored to know them and support them in their ministry. They are truly a gift to our family. I sent Danielle some Raising Prayerful Kids prayer activities to try with her girls, and I asked her to share about how praying creatively with her family has impacted their time in Liberia. Her story is below:
I look out my living room window perched 5 stories above a bustling African capital. I have an air conditioner, piped water (still dirty), 24-hour security and a heavy steel gate topped with razor wire that surrounds our compound. For the past 9 months, I’ve stood here at the window, some days for hours. Life outside is so simple, but the world around me is so complicated. Women walk by selling bananas from baskets on their heads, families ride 4 deep on motorcycles, children use hand pumps to fill water buckets that will be carried home to wash dishes and bathe siblings. Mothers carry babies on their backs while other children run barefooted chasing old tires and drawing lines on the red clay road with sticks. I glance over at my neighbor’s home, where half a dozen families are squatting in a broke down abandoned cinderblock structure with no electricity. A family member is coming to collect their sleeping pad, which lays all day upon their roof to dry from the previous night’s humidity.
You could be fooled into assuming that because I’m a missionary and because I volunteered to come live here, that I don’t struggle to be grateful. Grateful for all the wealth that God has bestowed upon me: education, health, family, financial resources and safety- to name just a few. But if I’m honest, the struggle is real. Here more than ever. I’m surrounded by abject poverty, but can’t shake my selfishness. I look out my window at a group of people sitting on their roof. They’re sitting there because the windowless room in the home they share with half a dozen families is wet and dark, even as the sun shines brightly outside. Meanwhile, I feel shorted that my children don’t have a park to go run around in, that the beaches are covered in human waste and that I can’t get a good pizza delivered anywhere in this country.
Despite all the perceived measures of success that I can boast of in 7 years of full time ministry and two successful moves around the world, I’m still in my infancy of learning to depend on God. Not just to provide the needed resources to continue our work, or depending on Him to keep us all healthy.
I’m talking about total dependence on God to fill the vacant spaces of my soul that our culture teaches me to fill with stuff and activities and busyness. A complete and utter dependence on Him to come through for me and be most present when I’m bankrupt of gratitude and recognition for His presence and provision in my life.
My first 6 months in Liberia were the worst: devoid of joy, a heart full of complaints and a total sense of loss for what I gave up to come to the world’s 4th poorest country. A daily battle to acknowledge and recognize Him in the grit and struggle of a day to day life where nothing is easy.
It was a couple months after I moved here that my good friend Stephanie reached out to me about her passion project, Raising Prayerful Kids.
I savored the opportunity to dig deeper into prayer with my girls, hoping that by doing so, God would work in my own heart. And you know what? He did just that.
We started with The Grateful Game. This exercise is so simple, but it fostered a complicated renovation in the hard to reach corners of my heart. Besides being fun, the game actually works. When we verbally express the things that we are grateful for, our hearts can’t help but fill with gratitude. When we declare the triumph instead of naming the despair, the emptiness we feel is crowded out with the abundance of God and His presence in our life.
We began playing the game sporadically as it would come to mind. In the car on the way to school, at breakfast, lying in bed. The idea of the game is to literally shout praises for the things in our life that we are grateful for. Choosing gratitude increases our joy because this is how God designed us. It is God’s will for us to give thanks and rejoice in Him. My four year old especially loves this game! I’ll start out by shouting, “Jesus, thank you for the ocean.” Then Forrest will call out, “Thank you Jesus for pineapple and colored pencils.” Dad chimes in with, “Thank you Jesus for the sun and the rain and coffee!” It’s magical to hear my children praise the Creator for his loving goodness and provision in our lives. It’s transformative to join them in the effort. It’s restorative to play anywhere at any time.
This game has translated into genuine growth in the life of our oldest. It’s now easier for her to remember to thank God in prayer rather than just ask God for things. She acknowledges God’s love and provision before seeking to identify unmet needs or wants. For me, this is a huge win. Teaching our children that gratitude isn’t dependent on circumstance but instead on God’s goodness is invaluable. It’s also a lesson I’m learning while she does.
I think we often look at our lives and see the barren places. My children know better. Yours do too. I invite you to play this game with them on good days, but especially on the tough ones! You will stand in awe of the beautifully simple ways they choose to give thanks and praise to the One who created them. You might even find that joy becomes less dependent on your circumstances, and more the result of living with gratitude as a mindset.