Child #1: I’m thankful for my country.
Child #2: I’m thankful for my family.
Child #3: I’m thankful for my dog, Briar.
Child #4: I’m thankful for my mom and dad.
Child #5: I’m thankful for everything that God made.
Child #6: I’m thankful for my school.
Child #7: I’m thankful for all the animals in the world.
Child #8: I’m t I’m thankful for the people who help us through the hard days in our lives.
Child #9: I’m thankful for my friends.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, quite a list of thankfulness there, isn’t it and a wonderful way to begin this week with those children expressing from the heart some things they’re grateful for. This is “Focus on the Family” with Focus president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and today we’ll be helping you encourage an attitude of gratitude in your children.
Jim Daly: John, you know, I think our children pick up from us what we’re thankful for. They hear it in our tone. If you’re not thankful for the garbage man that knocked over your garbage, you probably are expressing that or the real thankfulness that they’ll hear if somebody who’s done something for you and you really are grateful.
Learning to be grateful for the big and small things applies to everyone, no matter you rage. And today I want to acknowledge that we have someone, a team member here with us, Lisa Anderson, who heads up our Boundless effort for singles. And I want to say, welcome to you, Lisa.
Lisa Anderson: Hey, thanks, Jim. It’s always great to be here and I absolutely love Thanksgiving, though I’m not always the best at being thankful. Um …
Jim: So, what are you so thankful for right now?
Lisa: I am thankful for a number of things. I’m thankful for I’ll say my friendships right now, because living away from my family, I actually have the privilege of having my mom visit, but that’s kind of few and far between, those visits. So, to have friendships here that I get to cultivate and have people in my life is something—
Jim: Do you get to—
Lisa: –that’s important to me.
Jim: –go to someone’s home or spend time at Thanksgiving with people you care about?
Lisa: Yeah, I usually mix it up. Sometimes I go to friends’ homes or their family members’ homes. And sometimes I host Thanksgiving. I think I’ve only made one attempt at a full turkey yet though, so, I’m not thrilled.
Jim: Well, you should never—
Lisa: I excel in side dishes (Laughter)
Jim: –you should never eat a full turkey.
Lisa: Well, I know.
Jim: I tried once; it didn’t work. I’m kidding (Laughter).
Lisa: That is not good. No, I excel in side dishes and desserts.
Jim: Those are good actually. Do you do yams and all that?
Lisa: I do actually. I do like this sweet potato and apple casserole.
Jim: Ah, well, to get to it, our discussion today is going to encourage all of us to look for the many, many blessings in everyday life. And sometimes we just miss ’em and it’s not just busyness that keeps us from being thankful. It can also be hard during a time of difficult, loneliness. Some people right now as we head into the holiday season, they will be exceptionally lonely, because they don’t have people to spent the time with and that can really get you down.
But you know what can lift you up is the Scripture and especially there in Ephesians 5:20, where we are encouraged to give thanks for everything—the difficult stuff and the fun stuff, the easy stuff. In all things give thanks.
And to help us do that, our guest today is well-known author and speaker, Susie Larson. She knows about going through hard times. You’re gonna hear that today and it was during those difficult days in which she learned to give thanks even when she didn’t feel like it. Susie has her own radio show up in your own neck of the woods, Lisa, up in Minnesota.
Lisa: I was born there, Northern Minnesota.
Jim: I’ve got two “Minnesotians,” but Susie, welcome to the program.
Susie Larson: Great to be with you, so glad to just join you guys
both today. And I’ve been on the other side of the mic, so this is sorta fun. (Laughter) I’ll try not to, you know, turn it around and ask you questions.
Jim: Well, you know, it’s all fair game, but let me ask you right off the bat, you grew up in a rather difficult situation. You didn’t have a lot and when you got married, you didn’t have a lot. How did you begin to instill in your kids that attitude of gratefulness, when maybe from a materialistic perspective, you didn’t have much?
Susie: Well, just to clarify, I grew up in a very loving family, a big family and we basically would be considered middle class. But some things happened outside my home at the hands of teenage boys that forever changed my identity and marked my life with such fear.
So, coming into marriage, even though I was loved by my family, when certain things happen that kind of assault your senses so to speak, you lose sight and you lose footing of who you really are. So, coming into marriage, I was a real passionate follower of Christ, but I still had my own fears, insecurities and hang-ups. And it is amazing how parenting will bring your stuff to the surface.
And so, on one hand I had a passion to raise kids to be Christ followers, but I had my own fears and insecurities and God in His wisdom, allowed us to walk through a number of years of health crises. And so, right away going into marriage, I saw my friends who were several years down the road, they had their health. They had a decent bank account. Their kids word name-brand clothes. I thought that was gonna be my story, too and nothing could have been further from the truth. Because of medical debt, we had no money and that’s when the financial hardship was really significant.
Jim: Susie, you’re relating to so many people. I mean, we’ve come through very difficult economic times. We’ve had, you know, a lot of people here at Focus who have written us that have struggled. Some still struggling, many still struggling. So, you can identify with those struggles in such a powerful way.
Jim: But how did you keep hope alive? What did you do?
Susie: It was just an invitation from the Lord I will tell you, because I was the poster child for fear and worry and insecurity and the “what if?” You know, if these things happen to me, what worse thing will happen. That was just a truth and so, especially in the contrast of friends who are doing well financially and having a struggle, it only brought my fears to the surface in a bigger way.
And I remember one morning and I write about this in Grateful Kids, where you know, I was also battling a disease, so I had Lyme disease as a 20-something with three little kids and massive medical debt. I couldn’t …
Jim: What are those symptoms in Lyme’s disease? Just help us understand what you were facing.
Susie: Well, initially they thought it was MS or a brain tumor, so it’s horrifying neurological symptoms. Absolute fatigue, joint and bone and body pain, had memory loss, short-term memory loss. And so, I really mean it when I say the contrast of my life from my friends was significant.
And so, I couldn’t see a way out financially, physically, even emotionally, because this disease, before we knew what it was, was taking over my body. It was like something was in my body, killing me without my permission. How am I supposed to not worry? I had three little babies to take care of.
Jim: How old were your sons at that time?
Susie: Well, I was bit during my third pregnancy and I didn’t know. My face started to go numb during the pregnancy, so I had a baby, a 22-month-old and a 4-year-old. And we had bill collectors calling, ’cause we had more medical debt than income.
And so, it was horrifying, Jim. It just was. I can’t paint a pretty picture of it. And so, my fear was so in my face every day and trying to crawl through my days. I literally did lay on the floor, so it was too much energy to stand up. I’d lay on the floor while my kids played. And I’d just pray that God would get me through the day. It was a dry and weary land.
But I remember one morning getting up, feeling the same heaviness, like how can I find joy today? I know we don’t have any food in the cupboard. And friends have helped, but I can’t ask for help again. And suddenly, it really was the Holy Spirit in me, a flutter of opportunity, because God just spoke to my heart and said, “You do have some pancake mix.” And I went, “That I do.”
And so, I had this idea. I just really believe it was straight from God. I made one big pancake, ’cause I didn’t have enough to make multiple pancakes for three little mouths. And I put a candle in the middle. I remember my boys sittin’ around the table and we were just dyin’ on the vine. My hubby was working two and three jobs. But I walk out with one plate and four forks with a candle in the middle and they’re all like, “Who’s birthday?” you know, they were so excited. And I said, “We’re gonna celebrate, because God is good. We’re all together. Daddy is workin’ hard for us and we have this pancake. Some people don’t have any food.” And so, they thought it was the best day ever. We ate the pancake, went out into the sandbox to play.
And I learned such a lesson in that moment, that Scripture does talk about, “In all things give thanks.” And I think when you’re not thankful, when you actually go farther and you embrace ingratitude, I believe you go spiritually blind, ’cause you don’t see what you have. But when you start to find reasons for thankfulness, where you almost go on a treasure hunt in your day, your eyes do open up, because you have more than you think.
Susie: And I learned something from that point, so I’m saying that to be honest with you. I wasn’t born grateful. I was born afraid. I had a lot of fear and anxiety, but something happens when you give thanks.
Jim: Well, and I would think that none of us as sinners are born grateful. There’s gotta—
Susie: Probably true.
Jim: –be something in our heart that changes even for a person who hasn’t made a commitment to Christ, there’s gotta be a seed in there that says, there’s something out there. I believe in God; I may not understand Him and for that I’m thankful in these areas.
But we’re going really fast. I want to go back a little bit. I know your book, Growing Grateful Kids is about how to instill these values in your children and we will get there. But I’m really intrigued by your quick comment there about what you experienced before you got married, abuse it sounds like. And if you’re willing, can I open that door a bit so people again, can understand how you came into marriage, what had happened to you, because I think it’s important. People that are struggling and we all struggle, to get a perspective of how you could go from such difficulties, such pain and then get married, have expectations and once again, meet with pain, but still have hope. That’s an important message for people to hear. So, let’s go back a little bit if we can.
Jim: What was happening in your life before marriage? What went on?
Susie: So, as I said, I grew up in a wonderful big family. My dad was the mayor of our city for 27 years and loving parents. I remember our backyard backed up to a backyard of a foster home. And my dad told me, he said, “Kids are gonna come through this foster home who have had rough lives. And I want you to be kind. I want you to play with them. Don’t always do what they do. Just know that they may make different choices than you.” And so, I said, “Okay.”
And so, I had different friends every summer it seemed, ’cause kids came and went from the foster home. And we lived in this kinda two-story house that was grand central station with seven kids. And so, kids came and went; friends came and went.
But when I saw those brothers’ friends bikes out front, I just wasn’t in the mood to be teased or bantered with or whatever. And also, some of those brothers’ friends were getting into things that I … made me nervous and I was 9-years-old.
And so, I remember just thinking, I’m gonna go down into the laundry room, get a change of clothes and go up in my room and read a book till my mom gets home from work. And so, I went to the laundry room and I’m diggin’ in the dryer and the door shut behind me. And I turned around it was a handful of my brothers’ friends—no brother. And like I said, we had a two-story house. Kids were everywhere.
But they were staring at me and in a matter of moments, they had me pinned on the floor. And so, that’s as much as I want to say, but I came out of that place so confused about my identity, because in my mind’s eye, even though my dad really didn’t say it, I thought there was two kinds of girls and you were born that way. It was in your DNA, like you couldn’t help it. And I just thought the foster care friends were this way and I was this way. I was born that way.
But when that happened, I was so confused about my value and my safety. I didn’t really understand even at 9-years-old that it was something that happened to me. And so, to be honest, I walked into that situation a couple more times with those brothers’ friends.
And then I was 10-years-old and walking home from school and I saw those bikes out in front again and I thought, I don’t care if God made me this way, those boys will never touch me again. And I was just so confused. I had an awareness that God was real, but I didn’t have a personal knowledge of Him.
Jim: That’s a lot to carry as a–
Susie: It was.
Jim: –9-, 10-year-old girl.
Susie: I remember every night pulling my sheet up to my chin and saying, can this be my shield of protection so nobody can touch me? I just remember that every night. But at 10-years-old, this is probably hard to believe, but it happened. I saw those bikes out there and so I thought, like as I said, I don’t care if God made me this way, no one’s ever touching me again.
And I walked around the baseball diamond and a different group of boys were in the dugout and all I heard was, “Get her.” And I’m sure they were high on something, because they ran me down. I had never seen them before and knocked me down and beat me terribly. They pulled my hair, kicked me in the stomach, punched me in the face. And I was 4′ tall. I was 10-years-old and I’m curled in a ball and they’re laughing wildly and jerking my hair and punching my face.
And if you’ve never had a fist to the face, you don’t know what it is. I mean, we see these scenes acted out on TV and we’re so desensitized to it. I don’t care who you are. It is traumatizing to be punched in the face.
And so, those two incidents in my life changed my sense of self, safety, ’cause I had loving parents. I had a great home, but if you can get beat up across the street and pinned down under your own roof, nobody could tell me I was safe anywhere.
Susie: And so, jump ahead, that’s where the fear came from.
Lisa: So, I mean, this is amazing to me, because I never had a story like that, Susie, but how you get to a place of gratefulness out of that. I mean, I think it’s so easy for us, especially in first world countries, to play the comparison game.
Lisa: And I know for me growing up, it was very much, God is going to reward my good behavior or life is gonna be easy for me if I’m honoring God and the people that have the stuff have the easy life, have the great, you know, amazing relationships and whatever, they’re the ones that God has put favor on because they’ve earned it. And so, to come out of a place of, oh, my word! You know, did I deserve this? What does this look like? Who now is my identity? How do you turn that around? How do you even move out of that?
Susie: Well, that’s a great question, because if you live out a lie, it doesn’t make the lie that’s underneath it a truth. And let me explain what I mean. But once I got into junior high, I had an athletic ability, so I became a gymnast. I could sing, so I joined a choir and I got accepted on the Twelve Tones group. And I became the teacher’s pet in the school office. I did everything I could not only to prove my worth, but to stay busy till my parents got home. I became a striver and I really got accolades for that, but it didn’t help that underlying lie that I believed.
Jim: What were you trying to achieve by being a striver? I think this is important.
Susie: I was trying to make up for the lost cause that I believed myself to be. And my parents didn’t know what happened in the laundry room. They knew that I’d been beaten, ’cause I came home beaten and they wrapped me in their arms and you know. But the two-fold incidents really are what devastated me so much.
And so, I thought I had this big debt column and I thought if I could achieve enough, if anybody could ever find out who I really was, there’d be enough in the asset column to offset the debt column.
Jim: Does it make sense when I say this, because in other situations with friends of mine, they’ve described it this way, that you were trying to make yourself clean.
Susie: Yeah, I think I was trying to make myself worth something.
Jim: Find worthiness.
Susie: Yeah, uh-hm. And so, I became a Christian in 8th grade and started to read the Bible and fall in love with Jesus. I understood why I needed a Savior, ’cause I felt like the worst sinner, but I didn’t understand His love. And so, you translate that into early marriage and I was an active Christian. I believed like you did, Lisa, that I transferred my striving into being a super Christian. I served in every way possible. I was a super Christian.
And so, I really see now it was God’s grace that allowed, so two of my three pregnancies, I was on bed rest—three months and six months on bed rest. During the six months on bed rest, I’d literally gotten up for one day and that was the day I was bit by the deer tick. So, after six months on bed rest, I delivered our third son and went down with Lyme disease.
And in that place where we didn’t know I had Lyme’s yet and my husband, you’ve gotta keep in mind now. We were in our 20s and that man had to come home from work repeatedly because I’m trying to stop labor. So, high-risk pregnancy. We delivered the baby. All the friends have been giving us meals, caring for our kids, had gone away and I didn’t blame ’em. I’m like, go find a new friend (Laughing). I was such a debt and imagine now, with the lie that I believed, I couldn’t contribute anything and I was costing everything. So, the worst parts of my fear and insecurity were being exposed, because I was in no position to help and I needed so much help.
And so, once we delivered our third son, most of our friends sort of like … and I don’t blame them. I mean, they … like I gotta go. And so, that’s why I was crawling through life as a mom, because I almost couldn’t bear to ask anybody for help.
When this thing flared up before we knew what was wrong, my hubby scooped me up in his arms. Came home from work, ’cause I was having a spell. Brought me into ER. They said, “Well, we think it’s MS or a brain tumor. Take her home and schedule your tests.”
Now you have to know, driving home on this grey winter Minnesota day, it was just the darkest, darkest hour of my life, because I felt like I could not outrun my fears and insecurities. Satan was having his way in my life and God had lost my address. And I didn’t know what I had done to chase Him away. But it really confirmed the lies I believed about myself.
And my husband carried me into our bedroom and tucked me into bed and he was ready to walk away and I grabbed his arm and I pulled him close and you will probably not appreciate this, but I said this. I said, “You have to divorce me. I want you to leave me. I’m gonna go live with my parents and I want you to marry someone who loves Jesus and will play with our kids and be funny and be full of life and full of health. But you have given so much, I can’t bear the fatigue that I see on your face. It’s confronting everything I hate about myself and I can’t bear to have my kids see me live on the sidelines.”
And I’m ranting and he stopped me, this 20-something husband and he put his finger up to my lips and he said, “You listen to me. You are my bride and you always will be. And if I have to kneel down to kiss you because you’re in a wheelchair, then that’s what I’m gonna do, so enough with this talk.”
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Susie: And that was a game-changing moment for me, because I didn’t know God’s love like that either and it was like Jesus was behind the face of my husband and it changed how I viewed marriage, but it also changed how I viewed God’s love, because it was like God allowed my house of cards to come falling down–all my striving and straining and performing and I was pretty good at it– and showed that massive crack in my foundation. And it was just like the Lord Himself said, “This walk is in response to My love. It is not an ‘ought to.’ It is not a ‘should do.’ It is a ‘get to.’ And anytime it becomes obligation and striving and straining, you will resent it. You’ll resent Me and you won’t be grateful.”
Jim: Susie, I mean, I’m seein’ it in your eyes, your tears about that moment. That had to be a bedrock moment in your marriage. Yet so many people are living right where you used to be, a lot of women particularly, they don’t feel worthy. They feel like they’re letting their families down. They’re not the people they want to be. They’re not the Christians they want to be, for all kinds of reasons that the enemy speaks into their heart.
How did you go from that reality of feeling worthless, that you’re not contributing? You had your husband’s assurance that he was there, just like the Lord would be there for you, but what happened the next day? What was that practical next thing that made you feel like you could climb out of this hole—a hole that probably felt so deep that you could never climb out of it. What gave you hope?
Susie: It was wrestling this thing to the ground. That’s why this message is so important to me, ’cause I actually got sicker. I got worse before I got better. And I had so many days where symptoms were havin’ their way with me. And the fear was huge and but each of those times I sensed the invitation to give thanks. And I didn’t do it pretty. I didn’t. I threw the pillow across the room sometimes. Where are You? Where are You God? How long till You rescue us, as David says in the Psalms, you know. I want to make sure people know, this was not pretty for me. For every day I had 10 episodes of worry, I might have two episodes of thanks. But then the next day I might have been on the top of the mountain again, saying, no, You will come through for us.
But there was making a choice to believe the truth about my adoption in Christ. Do you know what I’m saying, where I had to accept acceptance, because when we go through hard times, it’s so easy to default and believe the lie about ourselves, about God, about our circumstances; I think Ron Deal often says this, that if we do good, we get good. So, if you’re getting bad, you must have done bad.
And I gotta tell you something. I have learned about suffering. You want to hear from people who are suffering, ’cause they have something to say. And it is wrong theology to look at somebody who has a blessed life and assume they’ve done it all right and look at someone who’s walkin’ through the valley and assume they’ve done it wrong. And so, it was one faith step in front of the other to find reasons to give thanks, put my flag in the ground to say, these truths I’m reading, they don’t feel true to me, but You say they are true, so I’m gonna believe they are true.
Jim: Hm. Susie, you know, at that point though, you have young children. You have all this that you’re battling and I just need to know according to your book,Growing Grateful Kids, I mean, you’re coming from a place where you had to learn it as a 20-something. How do you begin to teach that to your kids? ‘Cause so often, we want to protect and to keep our kids safe. So, how do you allow them to struggle, to learn gratefulness? ‘Cause I think a spoiled heart has a hard time being grateful.
Jim: And we see that in our children.
Jim: I would think with the mother heart that you have and the experiences that you had to go through, that you would want to keep your kids locked up in a healthy way to say, don’t go outside. There’s bad things out there. How did you actually learn to release your children to the Lord?
Susie: Well, I was having a pity party one day, cause again, when I looked to the left and right and see how my friends and they’re good friends and they had their own struggles I know, but the contrast of their lives to mine was so significant that I was feeling sorry for myself one day, because my picture of meals, I’d hear my friends say, “Oh, we had this wonderful family outing and we had all these courses and our kids enjoyed it.” And my family meal times were my kids coming around the bed. I’m hooked up to the IV and each of ’em carrying a portion of the meal and sitting around me as we eat. And my hubby and the kids making the meal. I felt so worthless.
And one of my friends said, “Listen. In a day where men and boys don’t know how to treat girls or husbands their wives, your boys are getting a front-row seat in what it looks like to serve their mom and watch their dad. Wrap your arms around this thing and find goodness in it.”
And that was just a great word for me and I just truly pray I don’t sound like a broken record, but going on a treasure hunt in that place going, “We’re together. We’re on this bed, enjoying a meal. Thank You, God.” When we go to the grocery store, I did this all the time, because we had no money. I mean, we would live on tomato soup for weeks at a time. When we finally could get several choices about what to eat, I would buckle my kids in the car and I’d say, “Guys, we have choices this week. Some people have never have choices. You know what it’s like. We haven’t always had choices, but we have choices this week. Let’s thank the Lord.”
Well, I’ll tell you, my youngest son, up until before he left the home, when it was his turn to pray for dinner, several houses later where we had plenty of choices in our cupboard, would pray, “Thank You that we have choices about what to eat.” I just think in our hardship, there is a treasure there and I think that’s a way to not protect them. Don’t pretend it’s not happening. Wrap your arms around it and say, “Even here, this is hard, but God will come through for us. And He’s good and His goodness is not up for grabs.”
Lisa: Susie, it seems that, you know, parents naturally trend toward, I want to protect my kids and I want to give them everything I possibly can. And the standard of living we have is what we’re gonna provide for our kids. But it almost seems in your story, what you’re saying, that your boys learned so much through that hardship. It’s almost like we need hardship, especially in an affluent culture to cultivate that. How do you reconcile the balance between the two, of wanting to protect and provide and shelter your kids with knowing that actually God uses some of the hardest circumstances to really grow gratefulness and grow an understanding of, you know, love and care for other people?
Susie: This might be a different answer than you’re thinking, but I always challenge parents, look at your motive for what you’re doing, because we need to be driven by faith. And if we’re driven by fear, if we’re driven by appearance, we’re driven by performance, anything to inoculate our kids from the struggles of this world, that won’t bear good fruit.
And in fact, in the book I tell a story about when I was in the middle of writing this book, I sat in an airport gate going off for a speaking event. And this teacher who’d been teaching for 30 years, retired early because she couldn’t bear it anymore. And I said, “What couldn’t you bear?” And she said, “Season after season, I would have students [who] had more potential in their pinky than most other kids and they would get into trouble. And I would think, here’s an opportunity to extract that thing from their character to preserve the truest parts of who they are, so they could go on and do and be everything they were meant to be. I’d call on their parents. Their parents would make excuses for them.”
And she said, “I have tracked the kids who come through my classes over 30 years,” and she said, “let me tell you this. The entitled spoiled kids whose parents threw them a soft ball, who’d throw them a mat to soften their fall,” she said, “they ended up with the same attributes are the drug addict kids we worked with.” She said, “Both of ’em were weak in relationship, always thought they were the exception to the rule, the world revolved around them and instead of contributing to their circumstances, always drained it of its resources.” She said, “The kids who actually did the best, not that I’m advocating for it, were the neglected kids, ’cause they didn’t always assume that everything revolved around them. And when they got something, they were usually thankful for it.” She said, “I’m only saying we do not do our kids any kind of favor by overindulging them.”
And so, in my words, we have to interrupt their plans to be selfish, but we also have to interrupt our plans to look at our kids as a source. You’re here to make me look good, you know what I mean? Or you’re here …
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Jim: I know exactly what you mean. You’re listening to “Focus on the Family.” Susie, we have run out of time just setting up the need to teach our children to be grateful and we’ve begun to touch on it right at the end here. Let’s keep rollin’, come back next time and talk practically about how to do this. Maybe your kids don’t have to go through severe circumstances for you to do a good parenting job in teaching your children how to be grateful. Cn you stick with us?
Susie: I would love that.