True Thanksgiving

The last few days I’ve been pondering and praying about a few thoughts I’ve had for a new blog. Many ideas, but didn’t feel confident any of them were what God wanted shared at the time. Just yesterday I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to wait as I had settled on a topic to write about. Today I understand why. My lovely wife, Bekah, without knowing any of what I just shared with you, sent me a preview of a blog she was asked to write for another ministry area. I share that with you all today…

“November first.  How is that even possible.  Wasn’t it just last week that I was taking the kids to the beach? Seems like just yesterday that I was planning the start of our school year.  Or maybe, for you, you’re thinking…”that’s it? It’s only November 1? This school year is never. going. to end!”  Either way, time is slipping by, and we are heading into the holiday season, which seems to kick off with Thanksgiving this month.  As I’ve been thinking about this post, it seemed obvious that a November post should be on gratitude and giving thanks.

The first things that seem to come to mind when I think about thanksgiving are the obvious ones. You know, the top five things that all kids list when you ask them what they are most thankful for: food, shelter, clothes, family, toys, etc.  But what came to my mind the more I thought about it was all the things we don’t tend to list – the hard things.  Most of you know that this year, specifically the last 6 months, our family has had several hard things. Without going into too much detail, my healthy, gym-rat, 43 year old husband had a heart attack in April. In May, he was pitching to the boys and was hit directly in the mouth with a line drive from my 15 year old man child. Lots of broken bones and teeth, messed up sinuses and 50 stitches to put his lip back together. We will be dealing with that for at least six more months. In July I had surgery to remove a baseball sized cyst along with my right ovary.  September 1, my mother in law passed away somewhat suddenly. Later that month, Sarah was in the ER twice for separate knee injuries, one of which required PT. I’ve joked that we were tired of boring Christmas letters, so we wanted to make sure our letter was interesting for 2016.

I’m sure you each could make your own list of hard things that have been part of life this past year. Why in the world should we be thankful for hard things?? The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to ‘rejoice always’ and ‘in everything give thanks.’ Seriously God? Do you really expect us to be thankful in the midst of heart attacks and devastating injuries? What about losing family members? Surely, you can’t expect us to be thankful then! As I look back over the events of the last several months, peel back the layer of pain and frustration, I see an ultrasound tech that spent two hours in a room with Zack and poured her heart out to him. He was able to pray with her and lead her to salvation in Christ. (That was just one of many opportunities to plant gospel seeds.) I see the ways our marriage was strengthened and built up as I had to set life aside to take care of my husband and encourage him and drive him to appointments and monitor pain medications. We got to experience an outpouring of love from our church family and friends here in CT. It drew us so much closer to them and them to us. People literally around the world committed themselves to praying for us, and we saw and felt God move as a result.  Our church saw Zack filled with strength from God to continue ministering, and their faith was strengthened. The Holy Spirit seemed to breathe fresh life and energy into our church and ministry through these things. I was forced, through surgery, to take a week to rest before the beginning of school and a busy fall season. Losing Zack’s mom, while sudden and painful for us, saved her from what could’ve been a slow and debilitating season of pain and poor health. She loved Jesus more than I can tell you and is with Him now. She would NOT choose to come back. My Sarah has learned to be a little tougher, to persevere through pain and to be more compassionate when someone else is hurting.

I could keep going, but you all have things to do, places to go and children to teach. When we read Scripture, it’s important to notice each word. They all matter. My husband likes to say “there’s nothing in Scripture that’s just page filler.” Please notice that it says ‘IN everything give thanks,’ not FOR everything. I have never prayed “thank you God for Zack’s heart attack” or “thank you for taking my husband’s mom away.” While we wouldn’t choose the hard things, and we often don’t understand them or see what God is doing, we can REST and TRUST Him and His plan during the hard times because we are confident that He is doing a work (Phil 1:6). And that’s how we get through the hard things (even teaching fractions) without falling apart. We keep our eyes focused on Him (Col 3:2). We remain confident that His ways, while not always easy or comfortable, are GOOD because He is a good, good Father (Psalm 107:1). Usually it’s when we reach the other side of a trial that we can look back and see the ways He has worked and list the reasons we can be thankful for that hard time. When we trust Him through the hard times (Prov 3:5-6);  rest in His goodness (Psalm 145:9); feed on His faithfulness (Psalm 37:17); stand on His promises (Heb 6:9-20); THEN we are thankful for all those things IN the hard times. Giving thanks, especially in hard times, does not come naturally. It is a choice we have to make.

So if you’re going through a hard season right now, keep your eyes on Christ. Be confident that He knows what He is doing and that He has promised you He will work all these things together for your good as you love Him through it (Rom 8:28). Even Jesus was able to endure the cross because He was looking beyond the “trial” to the joy of completing His Father’s will (Heb 12:1-2). I heard someone say recently, “His why was bigger than His pain.” He is a God with a plan, and His plans for you are good (Jer 29:11). Thank Him during your trial for all the things He is and what He is doing. Then when you’re on the other side (and there IS another side…just hold on) you’ll be able to look back and thank Him specifically for all the good He brought out of that hard place.

“God, You are a good, good Father. We know that to be true. Help us to believe that even when it doesn’t feel true. Thank you for Your faithfulness and Your goodness. We choose to trust in You and in Your plan today. Your ways are higher than ours, and we often have no idea what you are doing. But we do KNOW that You are doing something. Keep our eyes focused on your face today, especially during the hard things. We choose to thank you in everything today because we know that even the hard things are filtered through Your love for us. Thank you for your goodness. Amen.’”