We are blessed here in America in tremendous ways. If I forget to be thankful here in beautiful Northern Michigan, it’s because I get distracted by and used to good things I shouldn’t take for granted. In other places and in other times, this easy thankfulness is challenged because there are circumstances that make the good in things hard to find.
Recent events remind us that this world is in need of repair (California fires, the war in Yemen, the shootings, the Caravan). We don't have to watch TV to know this is true. Our own communities, our own homes, our own souls remind us this is true. As I say this, my cousin’s husband is recovering from a horrifying farm accident. The unfolding of human history, while full of beauty, has also been pretty grim. Bankruptcy. Divorce. Death. Illness. Depression. Loneliness. Pain. Suffering. Persecution.
Paul once wrote to the persecuted church in Thessalonica to give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. When we talk about thanksgiving, or giving thanks, we are not just talking about an emotion or feeling (though it can be that). I wonder if more often than not thanksgiving is a decision, a perspective, a commitment to finding God in our story, a search for God in every memory. It’s being thankful for what God has done in us in the midst of all these things.
A very short poem caught my eye a while ago. After his barn burned down, Japanese poet Masahide wrote, "My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." That's brilliant. I’ve read other similar perspectives along the same lines.
“I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.” - Matthew Henry, on the night he was robbed.
“Oh, what a happy soul am I although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world contented I shall be. How many blessings I enjoy that other people don't. To weep and sigh, because I'm blind? I cannot and I won't.”- blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby
On Thanksgiving at least, I want to take Paul seriously. I want to find God in the story of my life, to revisit the places where some kind of barn burned down. I wanted to know if, after the smoke cleared, the moon (or perhaps the Son) would bring even a little light to that dark corner of the world. I want to be a more disciplined kind of thankful this year, the kind of person that commits to finding God at work even in the chapters of my life that I don't want to re-read.
I am trying to make this a kind of spiritual discipline in my life. David says in one of the Psalms, after writing this list of painful things in his life, “Yet will I praise Him.” I am discovering for myself it has to be a purposeful discipline, a decision to find the good gifts of God in a world that can be hard.
So I’ve been working on a list over the years, a list of things in life that were hard yet still offered a reason to offer thanks to God.
• I’m thankful that, as a five-year-old, my loyal dog killed a rabid rat chasing me across our dry, Alabama lawn.
• I’m thankful that when that dog got rabies, my dad put her down, because not every child has a dad who is there to protect them.
• I’m thankful that God used the time I was ridiculed for being fat to create empathy for the ridiculed and overlooked.
• I am thankful that moving 8 times in 3 states by the time I was 15 taught me to be kind to strangers in strange lands.
• I’m thankful my parents raised chickens, because that was one thing to cross off my bucket list early on.
• I’m thankful that, when I cut off my toes in a lawn mower, I did not have to learn how to find my balance all over again.
• I’m thankful that, when Sheila and I disagree about my schedule, it means she loves me enough to covet my time.
• I’m thankful, when my boys need my money, that I have boys to whom to give money, and that I have money to give my boys.
• I’m thankful that, when Ohio State loses to Michigan next weekend, all of those who rub it in are my friends.
• I’m thankful that when Sheila and I have times of deep conflict they turn into times of deep honesty.
• I’m thankful that those hard times have helped us to understand, grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope, sacrifice, and love more deeply than we imagined we would.
• I’m thankful that lingering, bittersweet memories remain, because it reminds me how much we love those whom we have lost.
• I’m thankful that my boys have completely opposite personalities that keep me on my toes, because it means I have boys to keep me on my toes, and it means I still have toes.
• I’m thankful that my small house showed that my oldest son, AJ, was the kind of young man who was content to call a closet with a curtain a bedroom.
• I’m thankful that, in the midst of struggling with speech, Braden loves the power of words enough the he once called it "the gift of stuttering."
• I’m thankful that the part of Vincent’s personality that once turned my hair gray is the same part that makes me marvel at the limitless wonder and creativity of a child.
• I’m thankful that my knee, foot and shoulder surgeries forced me to find an identity apart from sports, and remind me daily that one day the corruptible will put on the incorruptible.
• I’m thankful that my ADD gives me days of brilliance to offset weeks of confusion.
• I am thankful that this post-heart attack 'new normal' has reminded me what a blessing my wife is, and what a gift my children are, and how amazing my church community is, and that life is beautiful even though it's confusing and hard.
• I am thankful that in the midst of two major health crises in the past eight years and a multitude of other ways in which my failures as a person and a pastor have been obvious, I am in a church family that patiently loves me.
• I’m thankful that the conflict within church community remind me that we are still in community, and we are the kind of people willing to walk through it rather than run from it.
• I’m thankful that I live in Grawn, because I never knew before I lived there how to put a stand on my roof so I can shoot squirrels.
• I’m thankful that deer are graceful and beautiful, because at least they inspire awe when I can't avoid hitting them with my van.
• I’m thankful when my cat steps on my face in the middle of the night, because….I’ve got nothing here. Honestly.
• I’m thankful that elections remind me that God’s Kingdom is not of this world,and that my Savior does not reside in a governmental building.
• I’m thankful that the airline got my bags to me a day late when we got to Costa Rica, because Delynn lent me some clothes, and I got to keep them, and they are cooler than mine.
• I’m thankful that the budget at our house and the church reminds me that money is not the answer.
• I miss my dad, but I’m thankful that I have a stepdad, and that my mom has found another man who loves her, and that she is safe.
• I'm thankful that my many sins have driven me to the grace of God.
• I’m thankful that even death cannot stop the life that Jesus offers to us.
• I’m thankful that the dust of life's trials and the smoke of sin's ruin have not obscured the light of the Son.
Now it’s your turn: "I’m thankful that…."