Giving Thanks When There Isn’t Much To Be Thankful For

I, like most, focus my attention on thanksgiving around this time of the year. With the falling of leaves, the pumpkin decor, and the baking of pies, my heart is most tender towards gratitude. I enjoy reading what others are thankful for as well. Our general focus is on family, friends, jobs, health, happy moments, and so on. We call these things our “blessings”, because well, they are good things.

I, like most, feel nostalgic around this time of year. With Christmas around the corner, memories of childhood and family are easy to access. Shopping lists for our current loved ones provoke emotion that is unique to this season. The scent of a Christmas tree or the sound of a carol can flood one’s face with tears in an instant. Nothing like the holidays to buoy up sensibility.

I, like most who have lived enough years, know the pain of loss. Many of my “blessings” have been peeled away. I think of dear friends who are suffering unimaginably in bereavement and grief. So what do we do when our dreams and hopes are stripped naked? People die. Health fails. Happiness dissipates giving way to depression. Families fall apart. What if we don’t have fond memories to look back on? How do we cope with a bleak future and the powerlessness to change it? What can one be thankful for when sadness wins?

Here is my gratitude list. It is quite short, but it packs a punch! It is not based on any good thing on earth. It includes true blessings that are accessible to anyone upon request. These gifts come from God and do not discriminate. They are not based on family history, personal achievements, or present circumstances. They are the truths that will never pass, change, or fade. So here it goes:

  • Forgiveness. Yes, it is marvelous when our loved ones forgive us for our wrongdoings, but there is no greater power in one’s life than the forgiveness that comes from God himself. Regardless of how others feel or respond, we have access to perfect pardon when we ask. God is merciful and never turns away a contrite heart.
  • Presence. Loneliness sucks. God knows that. So He can live in us when we ask him. This sounds a little fantastical and infantile, but ask anyone who has experienced the presence of God, and they will tell you it is real and powerful. The company of the Spirit is not an equal substitution for human relationships. Loneliness will still suck, but God provides comfort, strength, even joy, in the midst of heartache.
  • Perspective. When life gives us lemons we need sugar. Because, who wants sour lemonade? The story of Job (pronounced ‘Jobe’) is one of pain and misery. And God was totally in it. It is a story of perspective. We can have insight and a unique viewpoint if we can see our lives the way God sees them, not the way they look and feel to us in the moment. Finding perspective is not necessarily easy, but it is available. Sometimes all it takes is a quiet moment with God. Other times it takes diligent study of God’s thoughts and writings found in the Bible. Oftentimes the Spirit communicates through people around us, a counselor, a friend. The point is that when in pain, we often lose our outlook or our footing, and God is willing to share his point of view when we ask Him. When we have nothing else to be thankful for, perspective can be the tipping point from despair to hope. Yay for sweet lemonade!

So from my heart to yours, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving full of real blessings and gratitude for the things we can all have at all times in all places.

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The 12 Months of 15K

On the first month of 15K my true love gave to me

My baby’s graduation party

On the second month of 15K my true love gave to me

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

 

On the third month of 15K my true love gave to me

A fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the fourth month of 15K my true love gave to me

A girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the fifth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the sixth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the seventh month of 15K my true love gave to me

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the eighth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

 On the ninth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the tenth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the eleventh month of 15K my true love gave to me

In the skies with Gabriel

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the twelfth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Hugs, smiles, and presents

In the skies with Gabriel

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Perfect Description of the Past Week

This week has been some week. Seriously, a week of extremes, in circumstances, emotional reactions, and spiritual responses; a week of utter failures and amazing victories. Care to know what happened? Here it goes!

THE BAD

How about we call it, a series of unfortunate events, too many to list. Among others:

  • While the family was out enjoying Christmas activities last Sunday evening, the adorable, cuddly Bosco (the pony-sized puppy which has been living in our house the past two weeks) managed to wreak havoc by plentifully peeing on our rug, eating massive amounts of chocolate cake which in turn produced profuse diarrhea, and drinking out of the toilet bowl (I’ll spare you the details). Two days ago, I came home to chewed up carpet, because, what is more fun to a puppy than tearing up the carpet, of course.
  • On Monday, while getting ready to go out and do some last minute grocery shopping before Christmas, and while trying to maintain enough self-control to not kill the adorable, cuddly Bosco, I heard the loud crying of my oldest daughter who had twisted her ankle outside and was now not able to walk from pain, resulting in a trip to the emergency room. (This run-on sentence describes the run-on emotional toil on my already overflowing cup). Oh, and, get this, while preparing to rush Lizette to the hospital, the puppy bolted out of the house, happily galloping at the speed of sound, while all the kids (except the injured one) ran after him like mad people all over the neighborhood, to the amusement of our neighbors. At the hospital we discovered Lizette had injured ligaments and would then begin a period (which has not ended) of immobilization of the leg, as well as the use of crutches. I do not recommend crutches in a split level home….
  • My original plan was to have a peaceful Tuesday: I would take time to prepare and organize my music, as I was leading the choir for our church and we would have our dress rehearsal that evening. I would also begin my preparations for our Christmas Eve dinner, cooking some, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house. But then life happened and my Tuesday looked nothing like I had pictured it. It was rainy and cold, and I was out purchasing pain killers, doing the shopping I had not gotten done the previous day, and dealing with relational and emotional, family issues. So I panicked. Yes, I totally panicked. And what do I do when I panic? I pass it on to the husband and the kids, of course. But more on that on the “UGLY” chapter… (how’s that for a transition?)

THE UGLY

Here’s where it gets really good. You see, ugly is so ugly. As I was saying, panic, and worry, combined with perfectionism and pride, make the ideal recipe to, well, let’s say, kill the Christmas spirit. It began on Tuesday as I started anticipating I would not be ready for Christmas Eve. I transferred this pressure to my family (oh, and did I mention that my lovely, future daughter-in-law has been visiting us and watching me in “action” this whole week?). I wish I could blame my hormonal changes. But even though hormones can (and probably do) accentuate my emotional responses, they are not to blame for the sin that so reigned in my heart, putting my family in great distress. After my initial mini-fit on Tuesday, I told myself I would have a good, peaceful day on Wednesday. I got up that morning with a new resolve to be positive and stable. Ha! My “good” attitude lasted for most of the day, until BOOM, I completely lost it! I’m talking hyperventilation, anger, frustration, and worst of all, blaming and shaming. My family had been nothing but helpful and cooperative all day. But the enemy of my soul knew where to get me. A comment. A look. A tone. An unfinished task. A feeling of being out of control. Fear of failure. Pride. You name it!

And so just as our family was leaving the house to go to church, where I would lead the choir in the entire service of Lessons and Carols, in “joyful” celebration of the birth of our savior, I was acting more like a dog with rabies than a daughter of God. I arrived at church in distress and in tears. I then proceeded to lay guilt on my sweet daughter, who had been so loving towards me all day. The choir assembled in the appropriate room at the previously assigned time, ready for their warm-up. I did not show up on time, but walked in 10 minutes late, still red-eyed, as I barely composed myself to lead them in a short warm-up. My incredible sinful attitude was being displayed for all to see, and I needed to get a grip within the next 12 minutes.

THE GOOD

Praise the Lord, the good outweighs the bad and the ugly! The only reason it outweighs it, is because the good comes, not from me, but from God himself. He is perfectly good, and kind enough to shower his children with goodness, not once or twice, but always.

  • Grace: I am a recipient of it. Everyone who saw me at church on Christmas Eve knew I was not well. But every single one of them smiled, said a helpful word, and encouraged me. There wasn’t a single complaint, even if well deserved, but even as I walked in late, I was greeted by happy, forgiving faces and patient hearts.
  • Forgiveness: Boy, did I have to ask for it! Sitting at the table on Christmas Day I asked my family to forgive me, and was blessed by their immediate willingness to do so, without reservation.
  • Rescue: I don’t know how I led the choir on Christmas Eve. Honestly, my mind was only present half of the time. But the service was not about me. It was about Jesus and the goodness and love He displayed so openly by leaving his rightful place in heaven to become a human being. So God took care of it. He enabled the choir to sing their hearts out, he helped me to not be lost or make mistakes, and in the end, He received the attention and the glory, the way it was meant to be.
  • Love and friendship: Despite the disaster earlier in the day, our Christmas Eve dinner was lovely. Our family was happy to share this time with wonderful friends. The food was amazingly delicious. The caroling around the piano was uplifting and sweet, and the joy of God was evident. He had compassion for me and gave me what my heart so deeply desired, even though I did not deserve it.
  • Prayer: Our need has been greater, so prayer has increased. The ability to pray is a gift from God. Because Jesus was born in a manger and grew up to become the sacrifice for our sins, our Passover Lamb, we now have full access to him! We pray and he listens! It’s quite amazing. Not only has our family prayed more, but I have been specifically touched and encouraged by Lizette’s prayers. You see, she has gone years without praying… or believing in God. But God has begun a great work of inward transformation in her. At every turn this week, Lizette was the first to say, “Let’s pray”. No amount of bad or ugly can outweigh the joy of hearing her words and seeing her heart being poured out to God in faith and trust. Isn’t God good and merciful?

Today has been quiet, happy, and peaceful. Bosco is still alive and, somehow, still here (It’s a Christmas miracle). We are learning to keep him away from food and toilet bowls. This morning Lizette, Geneva, and I prayed and laid hands on him so that God would help him as well ;). We are eating delicious left-overs and Lizette’s pain is not as intense any more.

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

With my 3 daughters on Lizette's birthday, last Friday

With my 3 daughters on Lizette’s birthday, last Friday

Shopping is NOT for Thursday

How and when did this happen? It took me completely by surprise! Did I miss something?

Did Black Friday move to Thursday?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a sale just as much as the next guy. I’ve actually put myself through the madness of Black Friday a few times. But this! What in the world? The ads I’m seeing for Black Friday are advertising opening hours starting on THURSDAY. Did this happen last year or is this a new trend? Since when does Old Navy open their stores on Thursday at 4:00 PM or Macy’s on Thursday at 6:00. Is this a joke? Can we not celebrate Thanksgiving first? Can we (and by we I don’t mean my family because we’re not going anywhere on Thanksgiving, but the nation as a whole, including the employees who work for these retailers) not take a day to give thanks, eat turkey, and celebrate a day of rest with our families? It was bad enough that if we wanted to catch the good sale prices, we had to camp out at midnight in order to be first in the storefront lines. But I guess if you made it a fun night out with friends, it could all be worth it. You would first celebrate a nice, family, God-centered holiday, and hopefully gave thanks for all the blessings in your life, and then, with a full belly and a happy heart, bring coffee, blankets, and card games to the “let’s begin Christmas” sale line at Best Buy. Fine. I get that. But what do we do now? If doors open at 6:00 PM on Thursday, does that mean that thanks-givers will be leaving their thanks-giving tables at, say, 2:00, or at noon, and begin their not-so-thanksgivinish shopping?

It is ridiculous.

President Abraham Lincoln instituted a national day of gratitude back in 1863. In his proclamation, he stated that it was “fit and proper that the [gracious gifts of the Most High] be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the American People.” Thanksgiving Day has been a praise worthy, instituted holiday. Its purpose has been to gather in groups of families and friends, to remember the blessings bestowed on us by God. This holiday does not exist in other countries. When I first moved to the United States I was deeply touched by the idea that the entire nation would stop for a day and count their blessings.

But now retailers are hoping to cut the day in half. Hurry up and eat your turkey, make it a brunch if possible, because you will need the rest of your day to hustle and bustle and save, save, save!

I sincerely hope that the American people will resist this demon and boycott the Black-Friday-on-Thursday business. I desire for stores to be empty on Thanksgiving Day, causing businesses to lose precious income they would have gained had they waited until the next day. Let us remember that giving thanks is more valuable than any Christmas sale. There is a time for everything, and shopping is not for Thursday.