Give thanks in all circumstances.
~1 Thessalonians 5:18
The phone rang in the middle of the night, rousing me from my slumber. The voice on the other end was filled with fear. “I’m on my way,” I said and quickly got dressed in the dark. The drive to the hospital seemed to take an eternity. I did my best to push away the frightening images that began to flash in my mind.
As I turned the last corner into the parking lot, I felt a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Give thanks,” God said above the din of my racing thoughts.
“Now?” I asked, shaking my head. Didn’t God realize this wasn’t the time for thanksgiving, but rather a time for worry and concern?
“Yes. Now,” He answered. I parked the car and walked quickly towards the after-hours entrance. Again, God spoke to me. “Give thanks.”
As I walked the long hallways I began to say thank you for all the good that was unfolding, even in this frightening situation. My legs felt strong beneath me as I focused on gratitude. My breathing slowed and my mind became increasingly calm and clear. By the time I got to the room and walked in, I felt God’s presence shining from me, lighting the way in the dark of the unknown that stretched before us.
Give thanks in all things.
~1 Thessalonians 5:18
Morning arrived on her soft feet, confidently walking into the world. She bathed the yard with a pale light, convincing the night to loosen its grip. I should have been grateful for her appearance, but I was not; my heart too full of fear and worry.
“Why not give thanks for this day?” God whispered in my ear as I spooned my overnight oats into a bowl. “You’re so glum this morning.”
“I know this day is a gift you’ve given me, but I can’t seem to shake off the negativity I’ve been feeling,” I answered honestly. “The things that are seemingly wrong in my life overshadow the good things,” I explained.
God rested His hand on my shoulder. “Things are simply things,” He said softly. You are the one who judges if they are good are bad.”
I ate my breakfast in silence, pondering God’s words. I remembered that there can be no darkness in light. Just as the sun chased away the night, God can turn what I think are negative things into positive outcomes. I thought back to all the myriad of challenges in my life and remembered that things had always worked out. And I had always grown from the experience.
“My worried thoughts kept me from saying thank you, this morning. I didn’t want to face my challenges today. But with your help, I’ll move toward them, embrace them, and learn from them. I’ll allow your light to shine in their dark corners,” I said.
Just then, the sun peeked into the kitchen window, spilling a beam of light across the kitchen floor. I stood in it, lifting my face to its warmth. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you.”
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers…
The sun dipped below the horizon, waving goodbye to the day. The sky looked as if God had broken open a pumpkin with His gentle hands and poured out all of the colors inside. How beautiful it was! I sat on the wooden bench under the pear tree and admired the sunset as the night slowly erased the orange and ochre tones.
“Thank you, God, for my eyes that see your beauty. Thank you, for my heart that feels your love. I am humbly grateful.” I whispered as the dark reached out her cold fingers across the meadow. I buttoned my coat and tied my scarf tighter.
“You’re welcome. Here, let me keep you warm,” God said and put His arm around me. “Shall I walk you back to the cottage?”
“I don’t want to go in just yet,” I said. “I want to stay here with you a little longer.”
“I’ll light your way when you are ready,” He replied and lifted the full moon into the dark sky. Its soft lantern of light cast a glow across the meadow. I sat there for quite some time, enjoying everything about my life. Enjoying everything about God.
When the stars began to shine, I rose and began my way back to the cottage to build a fire to warm my body as I slept, trusting that God would keep heart and soul warm.
Even in your old age, I am God. I will take care of you.
The gate pushed open with a rusty groan. I should oil that, I thought as I walked over to what was left of the garden. A few tomatoes, shriveled and sagging earthward, hung heavy from their branches. I walked to where the squash had grown. The once hardy plants. now unrecognizable, were returning to the soil. Even the still-standing kale looked tattered and forlorn. A rotten apple squished beneath my shoe—its slippery mess now flattened beneath my weight. I scraped off the slime on the grass. A damp wind blew through the trees and I shivered.
“The garden looks rather sad, God,” I said. “But there is a sacred beauty to it.”
“Not everyone can see it,” God said. “To some, it would be depressing.”
“Not to me. I see your handiwork. I have a great respect for the process going on here.”
“All of life is in my care. Even in old age. Even in death,” God said softly.
I nodded. “You are a mystery, God. But I trust you, even with the end of life.”
I looked up and saw a lone bird flying above the fruit trees, its brown body blending in with the dark clouds. A drop of rain fell. Then another. And another. I turned my collar to the wind and made my way back to the cottage, feeling quiet and humble, appreciative of whatever time I have left here on the planet.
A cold wind blows down from the Sierra’s. I pull my scarf up around my head, hoping to ward off the chill. I’m walking in the fold of the day where the morning turns into the fullness of the afternoon. A handful of leaves scatter across the street and then settle. Their small racket stirs within me memories of winters past; nights spent in front of crackling fires with friends. I hold their faces in my heart and I’m warmed. Overhead, the warning of a crow, a shrill crisp note, breaks the quiet. Further down the road, I walk past a woman sitting in a rocker on her front porch. She waves to me as if we are long-lost friends. I smile and return the wave.
Today is a good day. I’ve heard the sounds of nature. I’ve remembered friends and waved to a stranger. These small things that seem so inconsequential are the things that make life worth living. I give thanks for them. I’m glad to be alive on this blustery day.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.
And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
All day it snowed. I anxiously watched from my window as white blanketed the backyard, making the landscape look otherworldly. As the hands of the clock moved closer to the evening hours, my heart filled with disappointment. The big birthday celebration I had planned wasn’t going to happen. I called my friends and told them we’d postpone until the following weekend. I’m sure they could hear the frustration in my voice. I had planned an interesting evening of activities for us to enjoy. I had bought costumes, props, and I’d even written a short story to set the stage for our celebration. We were going to end our evening walking through Aspen handing out small gifts and sweets to strangers. But it wasn’t going to take place on my special day. I would turn forty-four alone, watching the snow fall. Funny, how sixteen years later, as I quickly approach my sixtieth birthday, I can still remember the emotions I felt that day.
Looking back, I see that what I was missing at that time in my life was the ability to be grateful. I didn’t understand that everything in my life was a gift. Even the things I didn’t like. Even the things that hurt. Even the things that frightened me. Now, having grown spiritually, I’m more able to sit with any disappointment and swaddle it in gratitude. It doesn’t take too long before my heart fills once again with peace and joy.
Gratitude is a response we learn how to cultivate through time and practice. Eventually, we learn how to hang out in gratitude far more than we hang out in disappointment. For disappointment is only fear in disguise; we’re afraid that we’ve lost out on something—we didn’t get what we wanted. Gratitude, on the other hand, reminds us that we didn’t lose anything at all—in fact, we’ve gained something instead, even if it’s only a new lesson or insight.