Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of year. Falling leaves, delicious food, family and a time to reflect on God’s amazing gifts in my life surround me like a warm blanket. Turkey crafts from my kids interspersed with overflowing bowls of vegetables and cranberry sauce adorn the table.
Every Thanksgiving and every day of life is not like this. I can clearly remember my first Thanksgiving outside of America when I lived in Germany as a twenty-one year old exchange student. An American friend and I somehow prepared a Thanksgiving meal with chicken and potato stuffing, and we bowed our heads and thanked God. I felt alone in a country so different from my own, and yet my Father was with me. I was thankful.
I’ve traveled many wide, scenic paths and steep, mountain passes since that Thanksgiving. Waves of peace and pain have washed over me, bringing me to my knees. I understand deeply it’s not where I am, who is sitting at the table with me or if I feel healthy and strong that produces the gratitude in my soul. The overflowing of thanksgiving to God is not even rooted in a particular day.
Thanksgiving is about living in thankfulness to my Lord and Savior. It’s not always easy, but it changes everything about how I experience my life. Telling God how grateful I am for saving me, thanking Him when I drop a dish on the kitchen floor or saying “thank you” every time I eat turns my eyes to Him.
Celebrating Thanksgiving every day is a journey I’m traveling. Markers along the way give me wisdom and hope.
Thanksgiving is grounded in who God is, not my circumstances
The Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. His character never changes even though what He allows and engineers in my life does. There are three truths I always recall when walking through deep valleys of struggle: 1) God is good 2) God is love, and He loves me completely 3) God is all-powerful; nothing is too difficult for Him
Thanking God every day is impossible if I do it only on beautiful days, when I’m healthy, if my kids respect and obey me immediately, and when the Lord answers my prayers in the ways I desire. God has told me to thank Him in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). This doesn’t mean thanking God for everything, but telling Him “thank you” in the very center of the situation.
Faced with a surprise this summer, my family prayed for God to intervene, and He chose to answer differently than we desired. Sitting in our family room afterwards we thanked the Lord that He is good, and He has a better plan for our lives. Thanking Him did not change the circumstance, and yet it changed our perspective. Only a few days later, we saw clearly how God gave us His very best in our lives.
Thanksgiving is a choice, not a feeling
Feelings of gratitude rarely surface in the middle of struggles. Feelings of disappointment, anger or confusion fill my heart when walking on difficult paths. During these times I must make a choice to thank the Lord rather than give expression to my feelings. Going back to the truth is my only path rather than following my feelings into a deep crevice. I will be swept away by my emotions if I don’t stand on the Rock. He is trustworthy, even if I don’t feel it.
Anna was old and wrinkled when I met her in Russia. She had lived under the Communists and experienced unimaginable hardships and pain. Every Sunday she stood bent over on the front row of the church. She sang hymns with tears streaming down her face. She prayed out loud with thanks to God for all He had given her. Intrigued by her life I asked if she would tell me her story, and her words changed my life. She chose to thank the Lord for His greatness rather than gather pain and anger. She chose to live by faith, not feelings.
To read her whole story, go to the travel tab of my blog and read “Anna’s Faith” or click here.
Thanksgiving is a discipline requiring practice and patience
Saying thank you to God every day and in every situation doesn’t come naturally. Words of gratitude to my Lord don’t casually slip off my lips when God answers no or I feel hurt and sad. It comes from a life etched with paths of gratitude.
When I was in high school I volunteered at a nursing home once a week. I wore a pink striped smock and visited with the beautiful older residents. While most sat in chairs against the walls, one vivacious lady played the piano in the sunlit common room every time I came. She was blind, but her hands melted the keys on the old, scratched piano. She taught me how to improvise and helped produce passion in my own playing. She was blind and no one ever came to visit her, and yet she never expressed anger or sadness. When I asked her about it, she simply smiled. “You know, I learned how to thank God through my whole life. I guess now I just think about what I have rather than what I don’t have.”
Thanksgiving reminds me where blessings originate
It’s easy to think my hard work or creativity produces some, if not most, of the good things in my life. God is very clear in the Bible that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” (James 1:17) Whatever blessings I have in my life, come from Him. Seeing His hand in every facet of my life brings me to a place of humility. He is the Giver and I am the receiver. Even what I offer to God He gave to me.
When I was in high school my parents bought a new car. I was too embarrassed to drive the older car, and I asked to drive the new navy blue car with sunroof to school. Now that I’m a parent I’m amazed by their generosity and willingness to give me this gift. As a teenager I just thought I was pretty cool driving such a nice car for all my friends to see. One day my parents wanted to drive the car, and I became upset and belligerent. My dad calmly stood in the kitchen. “You did not buy the car. We allow to use it when we want, but it is not your car.”
When I learn that blessings in my life are gifts and not what I deserve, then God can choose to allow me to use them or take them away. He is the Giver and I am the receiver.
Thanksgiving develops gratitude towards others
It’s amazing how thanking my Father in heaven leads me to view what others do for me differently. When I find humility with Him, then it changes my relationships and expectations with other people. Instead of demanding what others should do for me, I can be thankful they chose to give to me at all.
It was right before Christmas when I was six years old. I wanted so badly to give my older sister, who I adored, a special present. I didn’t have any money or even a toy I thought she would like. Taking a piece of paper I wrote, “I love you very very very much. Love, Jane.” I carefully folded the paper and placed it in a tie box I found in my parent’s room. I wrapped it the best I could, but it was crinkled and I used too much tape. I hid the small package under the Christmas tree, and waited impatiently for Christmas. I can’t remember anything I received that year, but I still remember my sister opening my gift. She slowly opened the folded paper, and read the message aloud. She has said it is her favorite present. She accepted my gift as it was given, with deep love.
I will celebrate Thanksgiving today no matter what comes. There are reasons to be grateful to God because He is good, He is love, and nothing is too difficult for Him. I will thank Him.
Copyright © words and photographs by Jane Carole Stein