On Thanksgiving Eve

I had the privilege of being asked to share at our Thanksgiving Eve service at church tonight. Gratitude--if you've read my blog much in the past this is no surprise--is something I have been learning more and more about over the past several years. Here's some of what I shared at church tonight:

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.


Single Parenting Gratitude

While the boys' mom has been overseas, I've been watching them for the past 2 1/2 weeks. During that time we've decorated our car for trunk-or-treating at church, gone trick-or-treating, started hockey practice, gone to youth groups at church, taken family photos for the church directory, celebrated Nils' birthday, gone to my Bible study, had a sleep over for Nils' birthday, gone hiking and played outside, been to urgent care three times (twice for me--I apparently have cellulitis in my leg and have another doctor appointment coming up), played with cousins and plenty of other household things. I'm thankful for good kids who make it possible to get through it all on my own.

Today at church, a woman came up to me afterward. I knew who she was, but we've never really talked much. She had read something I wrote in the church newsletter and had observed the boys with me on Sundays. She offered any sort of support she could give whenever I was in need. She also commeted on how well-behaved the boys were at church. It was good to hear.

The past year has had plenty of trials and challenges. We were reminded in church today that Jesus didn't promise us there wouldn't be trials and tribulations. Just the opposite. But He promised He would be there for us. That sounds trite, I know. But I've been learning to find Jesus in the midst of the hard times. He's there. 

I often find Him when I pause to be grateful. Like how in the midst of a long two and a half weeks with little time by myself, I can be thankful for two sons who, despite argumentative moments, are helpful and supportive. I am thankful for the woman from church who most likely stepped out of her comfort zone to give me some encouraging words--it was a gift. I am grateful to have the time with my kids and a schedule that works to be with them.