Thanksgiving doesn’t spring naturally from every heart. It has to be coaxed. But with proper encouragement, it will poke out its head from where it hides behind the barriers of our busyness, entitlement, and self-absorbed whininess. I hope you lure it out into the open tomorrow.
I love Thanksgiving holiday, because it calls up to center stage blessings I too easily bypass. It’s a time to celebrate the goodness I take for granted. My dullness toward the manifold grace of God is sharpened a bit as I take my place as one of God’s people returning the thanks due him.
One thing that jolts thanksgiving loose from my tiny, crusty heart is gaining a fresh perspective on life. A brush with death, a tough loss, medical snafu, or seeing someone endure difficulty or suffering – these have a way of generating gratitude.
As I’m typing this I received a text from a friend whose wife is being taken into brain surgery at this moment. I will embrace my wife more gratefully when I get home.
My trip to Ecuador last week is helping me be thankful this week.
Ellie and I visited a tiny home outside Guayaquil on Thursday. Maria is a young mother with 6 children: Angie, Marie, Ariel, Louie, Karina, and baby Natalie. Here she is in her home with some of her kids and the pastor of the church.
“How can we pray for you, Maria?” Maria is living on the edge, hanging by a thread. She has reason to pray. Her boyfriend was away at the ocean, laboring daily by hauling fish from the boats. She worries about him. There are pirates. Her nephew disappeared doing that job. She asked for God to protect them. Someone broke into the shanty next door the day before. She said we could pray for the health of her children. She doesn’t work and they live on about $2 a day.
Her husband has left her, not knowing how he could provide for her and the children. Her boyfriend’s parents live with them, too. That makes 10 in a tiny shack smaller than my garage.
They get water from a neighbor, storing it in the barrel out front. I had to duck so the rusty metal roof didn’t scrape my scalp. I’m a “big man” in Ecuador. There were no chairs, just three beds and a dirt floor, airy bamboo walls the only barrier to a harsh world out the door. Louie smiled for the camera atop the blanket covered crate he calls his bed – which he shares with several others.
The kids were well behaved and took turns taking care of each other while their mom visited with us through a translator.
One little gal attached herself to Ellie. I can’t remember her name. I am grateful God knows her name. And her needs.
We presented a gift of some oil and rice, cookies and a fresh chicken. They didn’t have a refrigerator to put the chicken in, so we took it back to the church with us until she can cook it. I wonder if she will walk to the church to retrieve it today, and if that one bird will go far enough to feed the whole posse who calls that tiny hovel home.
There was laughter and loud banter in that home, the best sounds of home. Natalie slept through it all, oblivious to our presence and carrying on.
I silently prayed that she would somehow be equally impervious to the onslaught of poverty around her, peacefully finding her way through childhood with as few cares as she seemed to have as she slept.
Back at the hotel, a few hours later, I was frustrated that the internet connection was too slow.
Sometimes a fresh perspective on life shakes thanksgiving loose from the stingy branches of our heart. God used Maria to remind me to thank God – but not just for the things I have that Maria doesn’t. God used Maria to remind me to thank God for the things we both have: someone who loves me and someone to love. Precious children and a roof over my head. Hope for tomorrow and life beyond the grave. Those are the things that mean the most to Maria. And to me.
I awoke this morning thinking about Maria and her children. I am grateful for our brief afternoon visit last week. It will help dislodge thanksgiving from my lips tomorrow.
Before we left, our little group of visitors encircled Maria, her children, and the pastor. We prayed. As we walked out the door into the Ecuadorian heat Maria called out to us words that came from a grateful heart, “Thank you!”
May God grant you the gift of perspective fresh and beautiful enough to dislodge thankfulness from a preoccupied and distracted heart. The weather may be sloppy, your body may be achy. The family may be troubling, and the finances tanking. Despite it all, let’s join Maria and “Give thanks in all circumstances.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:18.