"My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." Japanese poet Masahide
I don't know how your life has been, but this past year's circumstances have reminded me that thankfulness doesn't always come easily. Sometimes it does bubble up naturally from a place of happiness - when the sun is shining in a cloudless northern Michigan sky over blossoming cherry trees, it's easy to love life. However, being thankful is often a commitment to finding that which is good even when the things we love burn to the ground.
As I look back over my life this Thanksgiving, I can see a number of gaps where barns once stood. I don't want to forget that when the smoke clears, the moon (or perhaps the Son) faithfully brings light to even the charred corners of the world. So, here's my attempt to see the beauty in the ashes.
- 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 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.
- I’m thankful that, 23 years ago, a shy 18-year-old name Sheila and a blustering 20-year-old named Anthony were naive and bold enough to make a covenant.
- 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 that our times of deepest conflict are also our times of deepest 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 when Dad died, he was present with the Lord.
- I’m thankful that grief makes hope that much sweeter.
- I’m thankful that overwhelming grief is temporary.
- I’m thankful that lingering, bittersweet memories remain, because it reminds me how much I loved him.
“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
- I’m thankful that my boys’ completely opposite personalities keep me on my toes.
- I’m thankful that my small house has shown me that my oldest son, AJ, is the kind of young man who is 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 to call 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 my heart attack has reminded me of the value of being alive.
- I'm thankful for emotional and physical scars, because only the living form them.
- I am thankful that this 'new normal' has reminded me what a blessing my wife is, and what a gift my children are, 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 I live in Grawn, because now I know how to shoot squirrels from my roof.
- 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 that elections remind me that God’s Kingdom is not of this world.
- I’m thankful that the budget at our house and the church reminds me that money is not the answer.
- I'm thankful we don't have to climb life's dunes alone.
- I'm thankful that my many sins have driven me to the grace of God.
- 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.
** "Stuttering is my strength and my weakness – my builder and my destroyer. It pushes me into the fire and, in the process, refines me. It is my worst enemy, but my best friend. It is the monster that hunts me and the warrior that shields me. Stuttering is the ultimate paradox, an oxymoron, an anomaly. It is yin and yang. It might as well be the father tucking you in and the monster under your bed. The sad part is that most people only see it as the destroyer, the monster, the enemy, and they fight against it tooth and nail. But the people that see it as their builder, strength, and guardian often forget to confront the emotions buried deep inside of them. That is why stuttering is everything I’ve ever wanted and everything I’ve ever hated. That is who I am." - my son, Braden