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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I Think I’m Coming Out of this Fog

I haven’t blogged in weeks. Months, I think. I have been sort of drowning in emotional spaghetti, not knowing how to sort what I feel from what is real and good and right. Not that my life has been awful. Not at all. I enjoy so many good things, I consider myself fortunate! But there are times life is harder than others, as far as emotions go. For me, transitioning from raising kids to empty nesting has been particularly taxing. I have found myself having existential crises, bouts of tears, fabulous pity parties, and a marked inability to sort out and understand myself.

But the last few days have been helpful. I took my dear Gabriel on a short trip to Miami to visit friends and family. Now that I’m back, my non-working hours have been filled with news from France, discussions of Syrian refugees, and passionate exchanges of ideas (freedom of speech rocks). Work is always a safe haven, and lately, I have been studying and preparing for my upcoming show. So I found myself thinking outside of myself today. Yay!! I can sit and write with semi-intelligent verbiage, I am not crying nor am I feeling sorry for myself, and I finally realized that Thanksgiving is coming up in one week!

God is kind to me, always. Today I thank him for the many good gifts he has lavished on me: My incredible family, amazing friends, a fantastic job, His sustaining Word, and the joys of rest, fun, and travel.

I have no idea how I will be ready for Thanksgiving, but I am deciding not to stress about it. I have so many things to be thankful for, and by golly, I will celebrate next Thursday with my loved ones, whether I get to cook or not, and whether my house is impeccably clean or barely tolerable.

For my friends who have recently lost loved ones…

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray for those (especially my friends) who have lost loved ones this year. For those sitting at the table without their father or spouse, for the first time. For those unable to bear the pain of not having their son with them any longer, I lift up my eyes to the Lord. He is good, and his strength is powerful enough to sustain the hurting, even when it feels impossible. Death is part of this broken world of ours, but just because it is normal, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when we seem to think it happens prematurely. But the truth is that there is no premature timing in God’s eyes. He holds all our days in his hands. He is bigger than our bad choices. He is bigger than fate or destiny. In his miraculous foreknowledge and his compassionate sovereignty, He uses the bad for good and redeems all circumstances.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray that the hurting children of God will be able to thank him even in their pain. Jesus knows pain. Jesus understands death. He went through both in order to give us life. May He overwhelm my friends with life and hope, even as they sit together and dine with a missing loved one. His mercies are new every morning.

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.