Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the smells, the colors, the feel of the cool, crisp air. I love the turkey and dressing; the potatoes and pumpkin pie; the corn casserole and cranberry sauce; the football games and card games. Most of all, I love that it’s the holiday least commercialized in a culture that commercializes everything. There is a sliver of simplicity that remains in Thanksgiving, unstained by the retail and greeting card industries. In an increasingly cynical climate, there is this one day when we all pause, take a deep breath, reflect, and identify a thing or two that we don’t hate about our lives and the world around us. We need this. I need this. Grumbling is so natural. Gratitude is unnatural. Complaining comes so easy. Contentment is so elusive.
My last couple of weeks have been very challenging. There are a lot of reasons to be drained and disappointed. I had an old friend call yesterday and ask me how things are going. The most accessible answer was “not great”, and once the floodgates of my heart’s frustration opens up, it’s not easy to stop the flow. I descended into a torrent of complaints, a toddler-esque temper tantrum thinly cloaked in it’s more acceptable form of an adult gripe session or pity party. And when I throw a pity party they can last a long time and get a little out of hand.
Once I finished my case that no one’s suffering is like my suffering, my friend said to me, “tell me something about your life that you’re excited about or thankful for right now.” My first thought was that I need some new friends.
I had shared my same sob story with a number of people, enlisting mourners to mourn my misery with me. I have this great pity party going for days, and this friend crashes the party like an angry and surprised parent returning home early from a trip. And like that, the party was over. In an instant, I became embarrassingly aware of just how whiny I had been in the last several days. At the time, I responded with something like “Nobody-has-died-I-guess-I-gotta-go-help-the-kids-with-something-I’ll-call-you-back-later,” which could be translated, “shut up.”
Anyway, I’ve been annoyed by the question ever since, inclined to go Thanksgiving Scrooge on the whole day. I’m typing this up as an answer to the inconvenient, but altogether appropriate question I got yesterday. Here is my pre-Thanksgiving effort to give thanks in order to enlarge my shriveling heart and reclaim my favorite holiday.
I am thankful for hoodie’s and the weather that makes them necessary. I’ve put on a few pounds this year and things don’t fit like they used to, so I’m thankful for the clothes that do. I’m thankful for the smell of coffee, the warmth of coffee, the taste of coffee and the conversations enjoyed while having a cup of coffee. Not everybody has near the access to much or the availability of so much. We do. I’m thankful for options.
I’m thankful for education. Whether it’s home school, private school, or public school (and I personally participated in all three at different points), how we make our way in the world is significantly impacted by education. My parents were educated. They made sure I was educated. My kids are now getting an education. And a lot of people complain about quality of education. But I’m thankful for teachers, administrators and counselors at every level of education. I owe a debt of gratitude to many personally, parentally and even pastorally.
I’m thankful for football. I know that sounds stupid to non-sports fans, but seriously, whether it’s throwing the football with my kids, playing fantasy football with my friends, talking about football with neighbors, or watching football with family, I actually bond in different ways with a lot of people over football.
I’m thankful for books and those who write them. My life has been greatly enriched by what I’ve read and profoundly influenced by a great many authors, mostly by those who have taken the time to record wisdom and insight gained from following Jesus, serving Jesus and loving Jesus, which has helped me better follow, serve and love Jesus.
I’m thankful for the Bible more than any other book. The Bible says of itself that it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword;” that it is “profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting and training in righteousness;” that it is “a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path;” that it is a source of life and wisdom; that it is a primary means by which God speaks to us and reveals Jesus in whom grace and truth are found. I have found all of this to be utterly true, and it barely scratches the surface.
I’m thankful for Betsy’s cookies and pound cake. There is a kind of comfort she gives, a kind of comfort Jesus gives and a kind of comfort those treats give. I probably don’t need all three, but I appreciate that I get all three.
I’m thankful for the Church in general, and for Generations in particular. The Church is stunning to me. That I can travel from city to city, from state to state, from country to country - spanning the time and space - and find brothers and sisters who are one in Jesus, who are bound to one another by one Spirit, who have been captured by the the same grace,mercy and love, and who are commissioned for the same mission and glorious purposes, astounds me. For Generations, you are the people whom God has mercifully chosen to place me among. You are the body of believers in Jesus who God has allowed me to serve, love, and share life with, and whom he has powerfully used to demonstrate His love and grace and patience toward me. It’s my joy to labor for your joy, and my great privilege to walk with you, serve you and belong to this community whom Christ has purchased with own blood.
I’m thankful especially for men in my life which God uses to shape me. Iron sharpening iron is often considered with sentimental reflection, but the truth is, iron sharpening iron is loud, disorienting and violent. It causes sparks to fly out, clanging to ring out, and muscles to wear out. I have men in my life committed to me and that process and they have and do sharpen me. A lot of men can’t find that in other men. I have and I’m a better man, better husband, better father and better pastor for it.
I’m thankful for stories. I love movies and books that tell moving stories, that connect to our humanity. I love hearing the personal narratives of people’s lives, and discovering the ways which I can be a meaningful and helpful part of their story. I love stories of redemption, stories of grace, stories of hope. I love the story of the gospel, the story that reverberates in all our hearts whether we’re hearing it clearly or not.
I’m thankful for the sense of purpose and meaning. I wake up every day absolutely persuaded that my life matters, that my interactions count. I experience frustration, disappointment and disillusionment like everybody else, and many days I yield to them, but I can’t remember waking up on any day and feeling purposelessness. That’s a gift for which I’m grateful.
I’m thankful for pain. God has used it to reveal my sin and pride, to refine my character and to rescue me from a small life with too small view of him and too large a view of earthly and temporary things. Pain is… well… painful. I don’t enjoy it. I don't look for it. I’d rather not have it. But I would be a comfortable train wreck without the Sovereign, wise, precise and divine scalpel which God has kindly used to heal my deformed and dysfunctional heart. My life is far more fulfilling for the afflictions God has designed for me. And not for the afflictions themselves, lest you think I’m glutton for the pain or God inflicts pain for pains sake. It is the discovery of Jesus, the intimacy with Jesus and the union with Jesus experienced in those places of vulnerability that have sweetened what would otherwise be bitter. Affliction and suffering, however great or small, have given the very flavor and texture that make feasting on the real Jesus so satisfying. Without pain and difficulty, my life and journey with Christ would be far more bland, and far less rich.
I’m thankful for 6 beautiful and healthy children. I didn’t ask for them or anticipate them, but my life has been gloriously transformed by them. The easiest way to sum is that they bring out the best and worst in me, for the glory of God. They are a constant source of joy for what Christ has given to us, and yet a source of desperate dependency upon Christ, for the ability the stewarded well that which he has given so generously. The hardest parts of parenting are not the personal sin or challenges that each child presents, it’s the relentless confrontations with my own failures. They force me to look at me. The real, unedited, unrehabilitated me. It’s a constant exercise of grace - needing grace, receiving grace and extending grace. I’m not very good at grace. But by it’s very nature, I’m thankful that grace includes the element of time.
Speaking of grace, I’m thankful for Betsy. She is grace. God’s grace to me… a precious gift that is ill-deserved, a love for me that has nothing to do with me. She is, and has been since she entered my life, the single greatest earthly evidence that the grace of the gospel and the person of Jesus is not imaginary, but real. She has embodied Jesus to me, spoken the truth of Jesus over me, awakened the hope of Jesus in me, kept the purposes of Jesus before me, called out the life of Jesus from within me, demonstrated the presence of Jesus with me, and expressed the unconditional and sacrificial love of Jesus toward me. She is a woman after God’s own heart and a woman who pours herself out for the joy of her husband, children, friends and family to the glory of God.
I’m thankful for 12 years behind us and a lifetime ahead saturated with sharing laughs, sharing conversation, sharing frustrations, sharing holidays, sharing vacations, sharing meals, sharing a bed, sharing ministry, sharing life… I love everything God has called us to together, but I love it because we share it. I can’t imagine my life without her and I don’t want to. I just want to keep sharing this journey together. Anything else I enjoy along the way, is because God gave me a great friend to navigate these waters with me. Betsy is the one element that keeps this ship from sinking at any point, and she’s also my favorite part of the journey.
I’m thankful for the journey. I’m thankful for the adventure. I’m thankful for the uncertainty and unpredictability. I’m thankful for the One who commands the voyage; the One who both makes the waves and calms them; the One who both steadies the ship and who tosses us about; the One who supplies for our needs and sustains us amidst the shortages; the One who is steering the ship and who assures us of safe harbor and a home he is preparing. I’m thankful that I belong to him, and as the hymn says, He “commands my destiny.”