Like many, I've lately been inundated with constant reminders to frame my mind for the holiday of thanks, to dwell on the good things in my life. At the secular, liberal university I work for that will not even acknowledge the name of the holiday for its christian/pilgrim heritage, but calls our annual dinner an "Appreciation Luncheon", we were even encouraged to engage in a moment of silence to "reflect" both before and after the meal in zen-like fashion. But like most I've witnessed, I've been far too caught up in the day-to-day living of my life to actually set aside serious time to ponder the innumerable blessings that have crossed my path beyond normal prayer time or personal devotional time.
Juxtapositioned against this nagging cry for remembrance is an onslaught of commercials, mailed fliers, and media ads all designed to pull me from my bed at obscene hours of the night to stand in lines with hundreds of others in the hopeful attempt of acquiring that gift or prize that will stretch our holiday dollar significantly further and bestow desired electronics, toys, and even educational materials upon my home and extended family. With the reminder that I have plenty comes an urgency to obtain more.
We, in America, are birthed into blessing, raised through blessing, daily partake of blessing in quantity and fashion that far surpasses every nation around this sphere. It is often difficult for us to adjust the lens to refocus either in the micro or the macroscopic to peer outside of our routine to truly analyze just how truly blessed we are. Often it takes face-to-face confrontation with catastrophe, sickness, or even death to realign our sights to this truth. But this heightened perception is often fleeting lasting months, maybe years if we are lucky. Further, this "truth" is actually only a partial truth because it is based on material gain, a warm home, and a full stomach. Rarely do we push past the physical to the eternal.
I finally succumbed and began to allow my mind to recount the blessings of my thanksgiving and they were, no doubt, many. But continually, the trials and storms of this past year crept into my mental list and like flies over a summer picnic plate, I kept trying to shoo them away. Why would I be thankful for some of the darkest hours of my life that occurred nearly a year ago? Why would thanksgiving ever be offered for the rugged nature of the terrain I felt I had climbed over through the course of the past year? Betrayals, sicknesses, a very real devil trying to bring a very real hell into my home. The myriad challenges of adoption and foster-care. Trials at work, family relationship trials. Frustrated, I was ready to give up this mental exercise and find a spray can of OFF or Bug-b-gone.
It was then that the Lord recalled this very brief verse to my remembrance:
"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18
How many of us are thankful for the valleys? I mean truly appreciative for the journey through those darkened paths? Faith was tested, character challenged, our very core was exposed and the metal of which we are made was made known to us where previously we might easily have deceived even ourselves. How many dark journeys have you made this past year? What storms have you navigated? What growth occurred as a result? Is it praiseworthy? Would you be the person you are today without the path traveled? How did God shape you in that crucible?
Often I've felt the pangs of regret, of mis-steps and despair through those vales, but I have been brought to the truth that I am grateful for the journey as they have forged new strengths within. Even now I can name potential darkenings on the horizon. Will I shy from living, cringe from risk? Or will I surrender all and allow the one who has numbered my follicles to possibly lead me into those trials.
I am certainly thankful for my bride and beautiful children, as always. However, this year, what I am not thankful for is the "stuff" of my American life, my car, my four walls, my indoor plumbing, my large meals. I've now visited extraordinary people in other nations who have none of these things and are phenomenally more in tune with God's joy than I. No, what I am thankful for is the valley and the darkened wood, the trial and the storm. Though these are not the only means, I am thankful that these will continue to shape and to mold me, continually perfecting me into the desired express image of my Lord. "In everything..."