Do you remember Thanksgiving as a child? I remember every year waking up to my dad preparing the turkey, lathering that little sucker up and putting it in a bag before sticking it in the oven for it’s long sauna treatment. My parents would be busy making all the fixings as our family would begin to arrive. There was such a sweet feeling on Thanksgiving knowing we’d be spending it with our family, eating til our tummy’s were going to burst and then breaking out the pumpkin pie. I also remember the one year my mom decided she was going to make the turkey instead of my dad. She had never made a turkey before, but she had watched my dad do it year after year and was determined to own it this year. About ¾ or so into that bird’s sauna treatment, my dad and grandma ask about the stuffing. My mom insisted she had it taken care of and said she knows it’s taken care of because it came with the turkey…yes, she left the giblets in the turkey thinking it was stuffing! That was definitely a Thanksgiving to remember!
These types of stories are probably similar to most American families’ Thanksgiving days, but do you ever stop to think how eating a lot of yummy food and hanging out with family celebrates being thankful? I know we have this holiday based on the early settlers here and their thankfulness that Lord provided by means of the natives’ help. But when we celebrate it, are we thankful? How often do you wake up early to get things set and ready for the Thanksgiving meal, or at the very least getting ourselves ready to sit in traffic for hours so we can spend it at someone else’s home? The stress runs as thick as gravy and tensions can feel tighter than that turkey’s twined wings. We all want our Thanksgiving meal and day to be perfect but do we lose sight of the spirit of thankfulness in the process? Sometimes as after we’ve eaten our Thanksgiving meal and the evening rolls around, our minds may wander to what the latest and greatest will be available in Black Friday deals. We post on social media perfectly set tables and selfies of us with family accompanied by sentiments and hashtags of thankfulness, but are we truly thankful?
I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and fixins or take advantage of Black Friday deals, but what I am saying is all that should take a back seat to aligning our hearts to be truly thankful. It may seem cliché even to say, “Think about the people around the world who don’t even have food and here we are gluttonizing as a nation” or “We claim to be thankful and then push each other outside the big box retails stores as they open on Black Friday for things we ‘have to have’”, but really isn’t there truth to that? If we really stopped and took a look at our lives through a different lens, what would we see and what would we be thankful for? Do we really even know what we’re thankful for other than the big things in our lives?
When Jesus told his disciples to follow Him, He didn’t promise them lavish lives or wealth. In fact, He didn’t even promise them a roof over their head, He flat out said the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to lay His head. But He also told us not to worry about what we will eat or drink or what we’ll wear but to seek first His kingdom and those things would be added to us. I know this post probably isn’t what you anticipated when you saw that it was about Thanksgiving, you may have even been expecting the happy go lucky type post, but I promise I’m not trying to be a downer, I truly have been thinking about this in my own life and want to be thankful in my heart and from a right perspective.
Back when I was in my early 20s, my husband and I were financially well off. We were thankful for a home, car, big TV, my husband’s good job, and things like health and happiness, but we were completely blind to being thankful for the most important things, like salvation, the ability to have a close and intimate relationship with the God of the universe, the fact that God would even consider to use us for His purpose and glory, for the ability to walk, talk, eat, shower, and do all the things most consider just normal function in life. We had our first daughter and matured as the years went on. We even started going to Mexico once a month to assist at an orphanage for children with special needs, which is even now some of the most fondest memories I have in missions and those children still hold a very special place in my heart. During those years our perspective was changing. There was a week that we spent at that orphanage and we lived off very little as we were there just to serve and we absolutely loved it. We actually prayed about moving there for a season but God closed that door and ultimately ended our season of missions there.
Yet even after a year and half of our monthly trips to that orphanage, unbeknownst to me at the time, I still wasn’t really thankful the way I should be or wanted to be. I don’t know if just being raised in America had put a filter on my outlook of thankfulness or what, but I know that I didn’t think I was unthankful I just didn’t realize I was.
It wasn’t until that scary period of uncertainty when I wasn’t sure if I was dying and if not, if I would ever regain function to use the right side of my body and be able to speak again that I really began to understand thankfulness. When you’re faced with something you don’t like, it’s easy to focus on the bad and the what ifs, but if you can fight that (which honestly can only be done by the grace of God as you put your mind focused on Him), you will see just how much you really have to be thankful for. From the bad perspective, I couldn’t walk, talk, hug my husband or kids, pick up my kids, sing, play guitar, man the list went on and on of the things I had lost and may never regain. And don’t get me wrong, my mind totally went there sometimes, but when I could push past it and when I was keeping my mind stayed on my God, His perfect peace surrounded me like a great big hug from Jesus. I then could see more clearly that yes, I can’t walk but I can sit up and lay down on my own; I can’t talk but God hears me without words; I can’t give my husband and kids great big hugs like I wanted but I could use my left hand to give a side hug or rub a back; I can’t pick up my kids but I can sit next to them on the couch; I can’t sing out or play my guitar but I can sing in my heart with or without music which is just as worshipful and sweet to my God; I may have trouble brushing my teeth, but I can still brush them; I can’t cut my food, but I can eat; at least I could still hear the sound of my husband’s and children’s voices, the sound of those around me, the sound of the pastor teaching and worship team playing, at least I could still see and could read the bible; at least I was still alive and most importantly born again through the saving blood of my Jesus.
As time went on, I was regaining function and was slowly able to do things like walk, raise my right arm, talk and while this was happening I kid you not, I was having like super excited moments because I could wash my hair, get dressed, put on shoes, and all sorts of little things I had taken for granted, all by myself again. I told myself I would never forget this feeling of thankfulness or take all the little things I can do for granted again. Well years later, I can say that it hasn’t always been the case. I do get irritated with myself sometimes when it comes to my attention that I’m wandering from that mindset of thankfulness. You know, it really makes me have more grace for the Israelites, who witnessed things like, oh I don’t know…the parting of the Red Sea or things like it, when I read that they just turned around not long after with their grumbling, complaining, and doubt, seemingly complete ingrates for all that God had done for them. Of course I don’t think I’m nearly as bad as those Israelites (yeah, I probably am and can totally picture God looking like a parent going, “You? Noooo…” haha!) but there have been times that I get back on the complain train and grumble that I can’t do this or can’t do that, all too easily forgetting that I am waaay more capable now than I was when this all started. I am thankful though that Spirit quickly convicts me so I can take that option to refocus and adjust my heart’s perspective.
Do you have the same problem I do? If not, dude totally email me and tell me your secret! If you do, know that you’re not the worst person in the world for it, you’re human. Don’t wallow in it, don’t let your heart stay in that place. Go before our great, merciful, gracious, and loving God and confess that your heart isn’t where it should be, asking for help to realign your focus and have a heart of true thankfulness. Don’t stop there though, make a list of the things you have to be grateful for, no matter how big or small. When you catch yourself going back and hitching a ride on that complain train, pull out the list, pray and read it again. We are like sheep remember, we are all too easily duped into following the wrong way. Don’t condemn yourself, just keep running back to the Rock of Ages and renewing your mind in Him. Trust me, you’ll be thankful you do!