You certainly aren’t unaware that Thanksgiving is showing up with scents of pumpkin and cranberries this week. I’ve joked that it’s probably a mighty interesting concept to explain to those that don’t celebrate our American fourth-Thursday-of-November. “So, you just eat? And you get a day off of work to eat?” Is what I imagine runs through the mouths of anyone unfamiliar.
Well, sort of.
I asked Stan, the branch manager of my local post office, how many Thanksgiving cards are mailed out compared to Christmas cards. He laughed. We both agreed that the pendulum should swing mightily in the other direction.
Christmas is absolutely astounding when celebrated for the true reason – in a heart of astonishment and awe – but it can tend to be a “Look at me and my cute kids in matching expensive outfits!” stuffed in the mailbox and “Guess what fancy shiny thing I got!” stacked under the tree.
Thanksgiving though… a time to pause and name out loud what we’re grateful for, to share our gratitude, to meditate on our thankfulness. Well, that’s not unlike the act of building altars in the Old Testament – placing physical reminders of what God had done and where.
Last year I wrote down every.single.moment. that had mattered in a memorable way in the 365 days since the Thanksgiving before that one. At 3am I sent that list of little altars to the 56 friends who’d been a part of something sweet or good God had done. Only five responded. But was my remembrance and emphasis on gratitude for them? Or for me? Or neither?
This year, and every year, the holidays can be glittery and they can also be gut-wrenching. I can name friends who’ll be celebrating without their spouse, kids, or parent that’ve passed away in the last 12 months. There are friends unable to sit around a table or eat turkey because they’re in the hospital or far away from family. We all acknowledge that “this time of year can be hard for some”, but are we also offering grace to ourselves if it’s indeed hard for us?
Maybe it’s not. Maybe this year you have the arms of a tall spruce gently stretching up to the rafters of your new home. Maybe your new engagement ring keeps catching the glow of twinkle lights. Maybe nothing “new” has happened – but your heart is closer to God’s and you’re just overwhelmed with contentedness – WELL AMEN! That’s beautiful and wonderful!
Or maybe it’s both.
There’s a new niece or nephew in your arms, but your womb is barren. There’s a smile on your mama’s face that you haven’t seen in years because she met a godly man that’s showering her with romance, but you miss your daddy so much your sternum hurts.
Hey … it’s okay.
There’s too much pressure on these next few weeks to look like a Pottery Barn catalogue dipped in a Hallmark movie.
So let’s help preach to our own hearts – how to honor God, and find the good, acknowledge the grief, and get through this tunnel of Winter Wonderland together, ok?
This week your Hopers are going to share our personal accounts of gratitude from the widest spectrum down to the teensiest – and here’s why:
We certainly all have something to be thankful for, but maybe it’s not the same as your neighbor or even your spouse or kiddos. Maybe you’re having a hard time figuring out what exactly there is that’s good when this season of life just seems anything but. We are hoping that by taking a peek into the places where we are building little altars – it will give you an “A-ha” moment of what for and where you can go get alone with God and thank Him.
Oh man ya’ll am I thankful for heaven, and I haven’t even been there yet.
This morning I clutched the covers and pulled them over my head with tears pouring down my cheeks. I almost lost both contact lenses from crying so hard. Eyeballs too blurry to read tiny Bible print, I clicked play on a song + scripture + prayer session read by British Jesuits that I keep on my phone. With their chimes and long pauses, recitation of God’s word and gentle leading questions, a powerful peace started to settle on my torso until it covered over my whole body.
The woman narrating read the story of God healing a blind man three times. And with each, I noticed something new. The people told the man to be quiet. He was a street beggar screaming at a crowd that passed by once he’d realized Jesus was in the pack. He didn’t stop hollering till Christ took notice of Him. The Messiah, surely knowing what the man longed for, asked anyway and the man didn’t mince words. He wanted his sight back. And Jesus miraculously gave him his vision.
This soft-spoken British lady asked when the last time was that I was vulnerable with the Lord about what I ached for. “Ummm, every five seconds.” I thought. But that internal response tripped me into a deeper and harder sobfest as I pulled the blanket tighter around my chest and told the ceiling … “I don’t know how to keep asking, or ask in a different way, because I have asked. Screamed. Pleaded. Begged. Sung. Praised. Whispered. And You haven’t answered. And because I’m told in the Bible that if I ask, You’ll answer… well… since You have stayed silent for so many years with so many thousands of prayers, I don’t know how to believe that the rest is true if that promise isn’t true. Jesus I NEED YOU TO BE TO ME who you were to your people when you were physically on earth. I NEED YOU DESPERATELY.” I cried out from the tiny twin bed next to the desk in my office.
And once again, for probably the gajillionth time in my twenty plus years as Christian I thanked God that THIS ISN’T IT. As hard, flat-out HARD as this life is, as confusing, devastating, and tragic – THIS ISN’T IT! How horrible it would be to lay my head on the pillow at night thinking that after this long battle all there was ahead was a black nothingness.
But, my friends, if this earth currently doesn’t seem to hold a long list of things-you’re-thankful-for, may I encourage your heart as I’m encouraging my own? THIS ISN’T IT!
“…He will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:8-12
By choosing Him now, I get Him forever! His very tangible presence! His hand on my now-wet but then-dry cheeks. Though the thought of fifty more years as difficult as these last few is overwhelming, in the eyes of an eternal God – fifty years is but a minute! And soon (very soon in light of eternity) there will be no search for gratitude – there will only be a surrounding of rejoicing and gladness.
And if for nothing else today, may we both be thankful for THAT day.
Friend, if when you put your head on the pillow tonight there is no assurance in your bones of where you’ll spend the forever that’s on the other side of this earth – please reach out. Ask questions. Don’t put off the choice to give your life to the One who created it. He is very very real, and “a very present help in time of trouble.”