The best thing about Thanksgiving, besides the turkey and stuffing and ham and mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy and macaroni and cheese and butternut squash and collard greens and cakes and cookies and cornbread — my, my, the cornbread — is that, for one day out of the year, the focus is on being thankful.
No stacks of gifts, no baskets of dyed eggs, no elaborate decorations to distract us. It’s just a day dedicated to taking stock of our blessings and being grateful for what we have and who we are, and that despite the obstacles that have tumbled across our path like big ol’ redwood trees, we’re still on the move toward becoming who God has called us to be.
Of course, every day is supposed to be full of appreciation and gratitude just because we wake up and are allowed to see it. But sometimes, that sentiment can sound like an adage, a saying folks have been saying just to be saying it for as long as we can remember, and it can be hard to feel it in your spirit when you’re going through troubled times. Your body might be racked with pain from an ailment or a disease, and even trying to raise your hands to say thank you is a journey in discomfort. You could be reeling from the death of a loved one and knowing that, when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, that person will not be at the table. You may be struggling to have enough food on a normal day, much less Thanksgiving, and the upcoming holiday season has you feeling more depressed than festive.
There’s no discounting the realness of personal storms. They will suck even the most faithful, gracious person into a funk of skepticism and doubt about God’s hand on your life. And there’s nothing wrong with temporarily feeling that, so long as you don’t allow yourself to become permanently bitter and hardhearted. Take the time you need to work it out. But while you’re doing that, think back to other experiences that you’ve survived. Maybe a little wounded, maybe a little in debt, maybe a little less trusting, but you made it. And that is a reason to give thanks. Hell, the storms we’re enduring now are reason too, because without them, we wouldn’t have as much understanding of ourselves or as much compassion for other folks.
The other day, I was whisking through the train station, getting ready to hop on the subway to pick up my daughter, when this guy stopped and asked me for a quarter. In D.C., you need fare to get off the Metro and if you don’t have enough, you can’t get out of the station. So he was standing there, change in hand, trying to wrangle together enough money to get to work.
“How much do you need?” I asked him.
I could tell his pride was wounded by even having the conversation. He shifted from leg to leg, embarrassed, then looked down at his pile of coins. “Well, if you have a quarter, I’d appreciate it. But I need $2.43.” I pulled out my wallet and gave him three dollar bills. He looked like he wanted to cry. I didn’t belabor the exchange because I knew how he was feeling. But as soon as I found a seat on the train, I prayed for him first. Then I thanked God because I have been there before. This Thanksgiving, I thank God that my life is far from perfect but still it’s progressing. And I encourage you to find a reason to be thankful too, even if it really is just one thing. Philippians 4:12-13 is one of my favorite scriptures, and it says, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Be thankful for your friends and family, even if they’re crazy, even if they pluck your nerves, even if you don’t see them often because they helped make you you, even if that was because you were determined not to be anything like them. Be thankful for life, because every day that you wake up in your right mind and able to move means that God still has plans for you. And especially, be thankful for your storms, your circumstances and your experiences, because they’re making you stronger, better, and greater. I don’t even know you personally and I know you’re blessed. Just because you’re here.