Why Should I Be Thankful?

Photo courtesy of Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash.

At a time when people are questioning the history and origins of this holiday and when life is heavy and hard for so many, the question is legitimate.

Why should I be thankful? And for what?

Gone are the days when kids dressed up as Pilgrims and Native Americans, sharing a meal together. The first Thanksgiving has become a symbol of pain and loss for many Native Americans.

When President Abraham Lincoln declared a day of national Thanksgiving on November 26, 1863, it was in gratitude for a victory at Gettysburg on October 3, 1863, a pivotal win for the Union in the Civil War.

The south lost that battle. Gettysburg tallied more than 23,000 deaths.

When President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, that established the federal Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday in November, it was barely three weeks after America entered World War II because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. deaths in that war totaled more than 291,000.

All this reflects pain and loss. Why should we be thankful?

We act as if thankfulness is found only in times of joy and prosperity when life feels right and circumstances are going in our favor.

This year, with COVID keeping many families and friends apart, it feels more like a season of sadness rather than gratitude. There will be many missing from some tables because of the virus; many more who are too ill to participate.

What’s so great about gratitude when life is filled with loss, loneliness, and despair?

Being thankful is a choice, a lifestyle of seeing past problems to the confidence that God has given us something greater. Gratitude doesn’t come easily; it’s choosing to focus on hope, the anticipation of what could be, and the recognition of the blessings that are.

We settle so quickly for discontentment. It seems to be our default when life doesn’t go our way or when someone or something stands between us and our desires. We too easily blame others for our misery.

That makes us self-serving and self-focused. Which will never be a cause for gratitude because we will never have all we want or strive for. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was imprisoned and then executed by Hitler during World War II, had an attitude about gracious thanksgiving that belied his circumstances. Even while in prison, he understood the gift of gratitude. He said, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

God encourages us to be thankful in all things. It’s easy to be gracious when we get what we want. But in the hard spaces of life, where everything feels unfair, when we are unjustly wronged or accused, God encourages us to thank Him for those things. It’s an acknowledgment that He is greater than our circumstances. 

Life is a gift that we haven’t earned. Our stories may not always be how we’d like them written, but we have the choice of how to approach the life we have.

Complaint or gratitude?

Life is enriched with a grateful heart.

Gratitude brings hope.

That’s God’s promise.

 

 

 

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

Photo courtesy of Agustin Gunawan on Unsplash

My neighbor Ed came by the house the other day, urging me to come outside to see something.

I was getting ready to go somewhere. My time was limited, but he was graciously insistent. So I followed him outside.

I was so glad I did.

The sky was looped in a remarkable double rainbow that was far more brilliant than any I’d seen in a long time. It had been drizzly all day, one of those murky days, and the sun had come out only intermittently. 

My hurry vanished; the pause was a moment to enjoy and appreciate what evaporated soon after that. Color splashed across the sky with the bold strokes of the Master Painter.

Gratitude. Some things must be seen at the moment.

Wait and watch. Be filled with wonder.

I’m not very good at that. Especially lately. I carry around anxiety like it’s my backpack of choice. Not that I’m a nervous or fearful person. But every day brings new concerns, a new awareness of how this year isn’t turning out the way any of us expected. I’m limited with what I can do in light of all that is happening.

Life around us happens no matter our concerns or fears. The sun still rises, even if I can’t see it. The miracle of life continues with flowers blooming, beautiful leaves falling, and winter coming. 

With this being Thanksgiving week, I’ve wanted to turn my attention to gratitude. To observe what I can be thankful for and choose not to be anxious about the things over which I have no control.

COVID. Politics. The economy. 

I can’t affect change in any of these things. I can be aware and helpful, do my part responsibly with a heart to help others. 

I can be grateful for what I do have. 

Jesus reminded us that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own. We can plan, prepare, and be aware, but worrying isn’t something we need to waste our time with. 

How can I say this with COVID numbers increasing daily? With more people around the world affected by this virus? With the economy of every country affected by this global crisis?

God.

It takes courage and boldness to believe what He tells us. But those who believe in God have experienced Him and know that what He talks about is true. My life has been changed by who He is and what He has done for me. No crutch, no rationalization, no pie in the sky.

My life has been changed by His presence with me.

Does that mean I live consistently with that in mind?

No.

I forget. I get caught up in the moment. In the anxiety of what is. In the fear of what might be.

Jesus knows my limitations and weaknesses. He said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33. 

Rainbows have always been the reminder that there’s hope at the end of the storm. 

We need to grab onto that because storms happen. Always.

Under His rainbow is real hope.

 

The Beet Went On

My friend Kourtney is a busy woman. With a husband and three sons and a job she enjoys, she manages to fill her days moving at near the speed of light.

Until she couldn’t.

Dashing through the grocery store to pick up food for her family, she rounded the produce aisle of a national store that sells everything, trying to be efficient and effective in getting the job done.

A wayward beet was on the floor. Not something anyone notices when their eyes are scanning shelves and bins for sought-after items.

She hit that beet straight on, and being the slippery little stinker that it was, she slid and landed in an awkward manner on her knee, torquing it in the process.

You never know the pain of an injury until you are injured. Two of my daughters have had five knee surgeries between the two of them, and they understand the pain. 

They’ve commiserated with Kourtney. The commonality of suffering is always comforting.

Nobody would expect something as small as a beet to be able to do so much damage. But one MRI later, Kourtney’s dealing with discomfort she hadn’t planned on. 

A lady shopping nearby came to her rescue. Store employees engaged in helping her deal with the issue. Someone loaned her a cell phone when she couldn’t find hers.

Help is hope in the midst of mayhem.

We don’t plan for the chaos that waits around the corners of our lives. We assume life will treat us as we expect.

What happens when hard times happen? We know they will; it’s our human experience. No one walks through life unscathed. We may become jealous of those whose lives appear to be easy, but even the ones whose lives are filled with the biggest and the best have sadness and loss they deal with.

Jesus told us there would be trouble in this world, hard times we couldn’t handle. Difficulties that would take us to the end of ourselves and still leave us wanting.

We’re seeing stress multiply, anxiety increase, fear and frustration escalate, COVID statistics becoming more problematic. 

When Jesus warned us of the hard stuff of life, He added this addendum: “Take courage, I have overcome the world.”

Jesus hasn’t forced anyone to believe. He’s offered an answer to our pain and suffering that gives us an eternal hope that this world can’t offer. He offers forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love in a world full of criticism, hidden fears, shame, blame, and guilt. 

He chooses to love us. Period. All that’s required is believing He is who He says He is.

There are those who might call this simplistic. How can love come so easily? How can forgiveness be so thorough?

Love costs. Jesus paid a horrible price on the cross for the mess we’ve gotten ourselves in. While hanging on the cross, He overlooked the behavior and saw the hearts of those who’d killed them. “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34.

We can’t plan for the chaos of life, but we can prepare for the pain of dealing with chaos with the help of a relationship with Jesus.

He’s bigger than every slippery beet in our lives.

 

 

 

 

Simple Things Aren’t Always Intuitive

Why does it surprise me when simple things become the best options?

The grands have each become adept at technology. From two to eighteen, all have a wealth of knowledge on how to use smartphones, remotes, and helping Nana navigate changing systems or screens or whatever Nana is struggling with at the moment.

It’s humbling.

But too much technology isn’t the best for young minds or older ones. Focused attention on a screen causes disrupted sleep, addictive behaviors which can lead to withdrawal symptoms if those perceived needs aren’t met, a lack of creativity, health issues such as weight gain from lack of exercise, and a hindrance of the development of the frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control.

A lot of words that indicate it isn’t particularly good for us.

What astounded me was the fun the grands had the other night as dads and uncles introduced them to paper airplanes.

Screens were shut off, and attention was grabbed with the folding of paper. Watching the plane sail through the room brought so much joy to these kids. Learning how to hold it, throw it overhand instead of side-arming it, having contests to see who could throw it the furthest and fastest was attention-grabbing fun. We were all laughing as we dodged paper projectiles.

Why do we–the royal “we” of corporate humanity–believe that more is better? 

We’ve lost the value of simplicity; society has increasingly pushed us to do more, have more, ask for more, demand more.

Gratitude for what we have has disappeared. 

Addictions are increasing; not just the ones people automatically think about, but binge-watching television, video games, and anything else that occupies an unhealthy amount of time and focus. Our current situation has led to increased anxiety and fear, which has led to a whole new level of addictive and obsessive behavior. 

We are trying to cope with a messy life with more mess.

God has given us a perspective to consider as we go about life. Values He has set forth as necessary.

“But He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously–take God seriously.” Micah 6:8

To thrive in life no matter what our circumstances needs a focus on loving others well and loving God well. It’s a simple plan and one that is countercultural today.

We strive for more, we want what we want to be what everyone should want, and we push for an agenda that satisfies what we think is right and necessary.

How often do we consider what ALL our neighbors need? Not just the ones that look like us, act like us or believe like us, but those whose perspectives differ from ours?

Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Walking with God gives us the courage and capacity to love others and be merciful.

It’s amazing how simple truth can be when we stop to focus on it.

 

 

 

 

Heroes Count The Cost

Veterans Day was yesterday.

A day of special recognition for us growing up, we always got the day off school. Many of our parents had chosen to fight in wars because patriotism was a high value, taught to and caught by us kids.

Freedom was a topic of great pride and appreciation in our family. Not just the military, but all who stood on the front lines to protect what we’ve been gifted with and enable us to move forward as a country of hope.

These were people who saw their responsibility to stand in the gap for those of us who didn’t, couldn’t fight, and provide better opportunities for those left behind.

Freedom costs. Loss isn’t limited to an individual in a grave. It spreads to family and friends and those who loved them. Grief is the response of gratitude for a life well-lived.

Reality–human life is the currency of war.

War happens around us every day.

It’s not merely the big battles fought overseas. Soldiers aren’t always dressed in battle array and camouflage.

People aren’t the enemy.

The Bible is clear that the unseen forces of darkness are what we battle against daily. Forces of evil that long to undermine anything and everything good that God has given us. Lies and deceit that keep us from seeing truth and hope.

We get to choose what side we’re on. The beauty of free will.

Evil is something that has existed since man decided to go his own way in the Garden of Eden, to turn his back on a perfect relationship to see what he could accomplish on his own. Apart from God. After that, murder, lies, hatred, divisiveness all became options for us because we were introduced to life on our terms without a relationship with God.

We see it today where people are wanting to do whatever is right in their own minds and not care about anyone else. Our personal preferences become more important than the value of others’ lives and wellbeing. It’s a battle for the hearts of people everywhere–will we choose to put the needs and desires of others first, or will we be our own little gods, tending only to our needs and desires?

War isn’t just about guns and big battles. It’s about one person viewing another and choosing not to believe they have the same value and worth.

God sent Jesus to bring reconciliation into the world, with God first and then with one another. We exist on a common ground where none of us are as much as we think we are. We need a Mediator to deal with our differences.

Jesus.

In Him, we fight from victory focused on eternal hope.

Veterans Day is a reminder that life has a price of more than a mere inconvenience. Many have counted the cost and chosen to serve our country to provide us with amazing opportunities and privileges not experienced in much of the world.

There is a greater war out there, one for the souls of men and women everywhere, and we have the opportunity to choose sides.

With God’s help, we don’t have to side with the enemy.