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23 November 2021
I am going to share a rather personal story today. And I want to be clear that when I share this story, it is not to earn sympathy or gain outpourings of support. It’s simply to illustrate a point and to share something that I have been learning over the last few years.
About four or five times throughout my marriage I have had what I think are chemical pregnancies…very early miscarriages. I can’t prove it because I have never had a positive pregnancy test. But I know my body and my cycle pretty well and during these situations, things feel…extremely different. I won’t go into gory details for the faint of heart. But I feel pregnant, and then things progress as disappointingly normal, except for the heavy bleeding, the nausea off and on that continues for a week or a month after, the storm of hormonal emotions—you get the idea.
Last week, I faced it again. Late period, lots of odd symptoms. I allowed myself to hope. I was indulging in a bit of happy daydreaming about life with a baby, as a mom, when I felt the bleeding begin.
The day passed in a hazy blur. I cried a lot. I took ibuprofen for pain and got on with my crocheting on the couch. At one point, after I had dried my tears for the umpteenth time, I just laid on the couch quietly. The sun was shining in through the window and onto me, warming me. Such an odd feeling—the comfort of the sun while the hope of new life, perhaps even a life, drained out of me. And I whispered, “Thank you for the sun.”
It’s a habit—cultivated over a lifetime—thanking God for “small” things. It’s almost reflexive at this point. And I don’t do it to take away the pain or change my reality. I do it because the things I thank Him for are as real as the pain and my reality.
There is a school of thought out there that insists that tangible, earthly things are less important than spiritual, heavenly things. A thanksgiving list composed of things like puppies, kittens, sunshine, flowers, good food, and family is inferior to a list of salvation, grace, and sanctification. But I disagree. Because God has our souls in bodies that feel, smell, see and hear.
We experience God and His character through our spirits, yes, but also in our bodies. One is not more important than the other. And yes, God sends His common, ordinary rain on the just and the unjust alike, and the spiritual promises and blessings are only for those who believe. But that just means that those who believe ought to be more exquisitely aware of who sends the rain falling gently on our faces in the blistering heat of summer. We should notice the hundreds of insignificant material things that happen every day to sustain our insignificant material bodies…and thank Him for it.
Giving thanks is humility. It is the acknowledgement that I am helpless and dependent, and He is all powerful and the sustainer. I can’t get things for myself. I’m dependent on Him for all of them. Every good thing I experience, from the food on my plate to the sound of the whippoorwill at night, comes from God and no one else. I am not entitled to the sunshine. He gives it anyway, every day. All these things are gifts of His love to me, and He ought to be thanked for every last one of them. Even when my heart is breaking. Especially when my heart is breaking.
Because giving thanks is also defiance.
It has been a hard year, for the world and personally. My little Cora bird, my feathered friend of ten years, died without warning while my dad struggled to recover from heart surgery. In July, Dad’s struggle ended abruptly. And though he is not lost to me, because I know exactly where he is, I can’t pick up the phone and hear his voice or go visit him at Christmas time.
There have been many concerns as I watch the Covid saga continue and see many of my friends and family’s livelihoods threatened by the specter of the Covid vaccine. I see my quietly cherished dream of visiting Italy and Ireland and lots of other places closed to me, perhaps forever. Because I won’t get that vaccine. I hear talking heads and officials pontificate on how life needs to be made difficult for those unwashed vaccinated so they’ll stop being silly and comply.
But I go on, and many people with me, noticing all the good things they haven’t. I have eyes to see the beauty of the world. I have the love of my husband. I have scruffy Bob, curled up in his little bed on the floor, snoring. I have Argos with his big brown eyes coming to rest his head on my knee. I have a roof over my head and the scent of clean towels. I have a warm bed and I can travel to any place on this planet through the pages of a book. I have life, itself, which I enjoy immensely, even though it hurts an awful lot sometimes.
And I have to say—these foolish people make me chuckle. Because even if they could take all of those things away from me, it still wouldn’t work. They don’t know what it’s like to have their best things safely out of reach, kept in the hands of God. They don’t know that fear of missing out can’t move me, because my whole life has been training me to recognize that I will miss out on nothing, not really.
I want to be a mom. I want to see Jonathon be a dad. But if we don’t get to be parents, we’ll still have a heaven full of children to go to when we’re old and grey. I would love to travel and see the world. But if I can’t, I will have all of Heaven and the new earth to explore for eternity. I would love to hear a live symphony again. I’d love to play in an orchestra again. But if I can’t, Heaven will be ringing with musical perfection—the kind of music not even Beethoven or Brahms could conceive of. I’ll be singing with the best choir in the universe.
I read the end of the book, and I know who wins. Evil and the effects of evil will fail. God will triumph. I won’t give Satan the satisfaction of my bitterness or the control freak politicians and bureaucrats the satisfaction of my misery. I will raise my thanksgiving in defiance.
Well, this has been quite a ramble. In short, don’t despise small things. Small things are the stuff of life, and come from a good God who loves you. And you should fill your gratitude list full of them. One can never be too thankful. Don’t turn your back on them when your very real pain screams louder. Follow them back up to the God who sent them and remember who He is and where you are going.
Within the last few years of my dad’s life, he wrote Thanksgiving Prayer. I think I sing it or hear it in my mind at least once a day since he died. The first stanza are words written by a famed poet whom I’m sure you’ll recognize. The last stanza was written by my dad in the middle of his own life struggle. Whenever I sing it, an instant calm comes over me. It’s grounding. First things get put first, and the rest sloughs off like the immaterial nonsense it is. This is my gift to you and Dad’s gift from beyond the grave this Thanksgiving season. Happy Thanksgiving!