Last year, the week after Thanksgiving, I wrote these words in my journal:
Seriously, if I’m not counting my blessings right about now, there’s something wrong with me. We just had a lovely Thanksgiving meal with three generations of family ‘round the table, enlivened by little people in high chairs, babies in arms and enough food to feed a small emerging nation. (And all this in the midst of a global pandemic!)
I stood at the head of the table right before my husband Jim (Papa) said the blessing and I said, as my mother-in-law used to, “Oh, to have you all at my table!” It was a delightful, relaxing day, filled with small moments of wonder and lots of joy and laughter, hugs and games, second and third helpings. There was a family walk in the cool of the evening, and then back to our house for round two of eating which included, at last count, five different desserts. So, if I’m not feeling grateful, there’s indeed something wrong with me.
There is something wrong with me.
Because as wonderful as Thanksgiving was—and as lovely as Christmas looks on the horizon—I’m unable to wrap myself in that memory and sit quietly. Instead, I’m way too easily distracted by the mundane, the everyday, and I seem unable to hold onto that attitude of gratitude. Life rushes in and with it, the weightiness of pain of others, seemingly insurmountable life challenges, the direst of medical diagnoses, the latest Covid news . . . the list goes on. And it doesn’t feel like a “blessings” list. It feels hard and hopeless and I feel helpless and inept and unable to fix or solve or even love well.
That was last year, right around this time.
We all know what the last year and a half has meant. I wonder if, years in the future, we will say, “Tell me your Covid story,” in the same way we say, “Do you remember when President Kennedy was assassinated? Or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or when the Challenger exploded? Or 9/11 happened?”
There is trauma both individual and corporate, isn’t there? There are events like a global pandemic which, layered over the always-present trials, temptations, crises and challenges, can paralyze and derail us, rendering us mute.
One of Fullerton Free’s former pastors, Chuck Swindoll, says it this way:
“Sometimes when you don’t feel like praying, or you’re consumed with needing to speak to the Lord but can’t gather the words, try that old standby—count your many blessings, count them one by one. It’s amazing how you can get carried away from worries and woes and self-concern when you start naming out loud what you’re thankful for. Right away your focus shifts from your needs to the Father’s graciousness and love.”
So, last year, the week after Thanksgiving, I went back to the beginning and focused anew: God. His Son. The completed work of the Cross. Being filled with the Holy Spirit. The hope of Heaven. And like lapping waters at the edge of the ocean, the thankfulness returned. And just kept coming. A moment, a breath, a lifting of my head. Fixing my eyes anew on Jesus.
I’m in such a different place this Thanksgiving season, and I’ve got the sweatshirt to prove it. Against a white field (and a cozy flannel interior, perfect for fall’s cooling days) are the large, black words, “WILDLY GRATEFUL.”
I’m wearing it at the slightest provocation; wearing it several days in a row, washing and wearing again. And here’s what it has become: both a description of where my spirit is right now as well as a prescription of who I want to be and to be known as.
And talk about a conversation starter! I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked—at a community prayer event, at Starbucks, on a morning walk, by a sounding-out-letters-grandchild—some form of “Is that true, that you’re wildly grateful?” or “What are you wildly grateful for?”
And so I begin again. I’m wildly grateful that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. I’m wildly grateful that Jesus died for me, and calls me His own. I’m wildly grateful that I know the One who holds the future. I’m wildly grateful that I live in a country where I can practice my faith freely. I’m wildly grateful for my husband, my children, the ones they married, the grandchildren they produced, who are the delight of my days. I’m wildly grateful for my church and my faith community, many of whom have done life together since we were newlyweds.
Philippians 4:4 puts it this way: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Pretty simple: return thanks to God, and then do it again. Actually, Paul is insistently redundant in this verse. “Re” is a prefix meaning, “to do again,” (as in rerun or review or re-anything) so he’s saying “take joy—again.” “Choose joy—again.” And then there is “again I will say...” as he says it again.
Okay, we get it, Paul. Be joyful, be grateful, give thanks, and do it again and again and again.
And here’s the best thing that happens along the way of giving thanks, dwelling on God’s truths and returning praise even for all the hardest stuff—the, “But God...” of it all becomes one more, and the biggest of, the blessings. There is no other response than to be “wildly grateful.”
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