Last year was my first Thanksgiving Eve service at Salem Covenant Church since started attending last fall. It was also my first holiday without my children as I had gone through a divorce just a few weeks earlier. It was not an easy time, but yet I found myself being able to sit by myself and find gratitude. And gratitude in the tough times has made all the difference.
My journey with gratitude--like for most of us--began when I was young saying prayers around the table and at bedtime. That's where it has started for my children too--we end each day praying over the things we've said we're thankful for. I started discovering its fullness when I was in high school and college working at the Covenant Bible Camp in Iowa. The camp director had a saying that he often shared with the staff: "Gratitude evaporates frustration." I've found it to be true. But I've also been discovering that gratitude does do much more.
A few years ago when I was going through a challenging time while working through tough issues in my life, a friend gave me the book "One Thousand Gifts." In it author Ann Voskamp explores lamenting loss, turning pain into poetry, and embracing a lifestyle of radical gratitude. Since then I started keeping a journal of gratitude, and I've found that even in some of the lowest points in life that gratitude can be found. And that finding gratitude changes everything for me.
The night before He was crucified Jesus took the bread and the cup and gave thanks. In Greek communion is called the Eucharist which means thanksgiving. It is related to the word charis which means grace and the word chara which is joy. Something that commemorates Jesus' death is filled with thanksgiving, grace, and joy. That still is an amazing thought for me--I don't fully grasp it yet I know it is true.
Gratitude does not negate the sorrow or grief of a moment, but it can transform my attitude from one of inward moroseness to one of looking up toward hope. When I'm jealous, gratitude reminds me of all I have. When I'm turned in on myself, gratitude gets me out. When things go from bad to worse, gratitude reminds me that this too shall pass. A few weeks ago Pastor Jonna spoke on finding light in the darkness in the midst of tragedy. Gratitude helps me find light. It's not always easy, but it's good.
So in the midst of loneliness and desertion, I am thankful for new friendships and God's faithful presence. Amidst tears and bouts of depression, I have thankfulness for words of comfort and assurance, for places to walk and be surrounded by nature, and for those lucid moments where I choose exercise over my couch. In the midst of sorrow, I am thankful for the love of my two sons. In the midst of financial worries, I am thankful for all God has provided. In the midst of health issues I am thankful for medical care being available. Amidst heartache I am thankful for the joy my boys bring me. Amidst jealousy and regret of not being able to provide everything I want to provide, I am grateful for all God does give me. In the midst of fears and anxiety of the future, I am thankful that God is in control. And I'm also thankful for the little things, like Unexpected Cheddar from Trader Joe's, cheaper gas prices, and getting to see my nieces and nephews in Iowa tomorrow.