Every year since birth I have celebrated Thanksgiving with my family… whether we were in my parent's dining room, at card tables in my Grammie and Pop Pop's living room, with my mom's family in Ohio, or around Phil's mom's table in the kitchen, we were always together. Maybe not our entire family, because of work and other obligations, but with our family none the less.
I can't even begin to describe how strange it is, this first Thanksgiving away from my family. I imagine that my sister experienced this same weird reality years ago when she spent her first Thanksgiving in Bosnia, away from all of us! It has always been difficult celebrating without her, or with other family members who couldn't come for the festivities…
But this time…
It is ME that isn't there.
My heart is sad to miss the opportunity for turkey, stuffing, cranberry, and apple pie, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, the time spent with family on this special day. I feel disconnected from everyone's Facebook posts as they share about sitting by a warm fire, last night's Thanksgiving Eve services, finishing up final preparations for family and friends to arrive at their homes…
If I were to dwell on myself for too long, I would end up in bed the rest of the day!
So instead, I am pouring over everyone's posts and thanking God for all of the blessings not only within my own life (OH there are too many to comprehend!) but all of those in YOUR lives as well!
What a wonderful time of year it is… that we can be intentionally thinking on how GREAT God is, how much He has abundantly blessed us, how overwhelmingly thankful we are!
With all of that being said, sometimes I think we can get TOO caught up in being thankful for only the seemingly good things in our lives, without seeing the blessings that are ours in the difficult things.
Being away from our home in the states, and separated from my family, has changed my perspective this Thanksgiving. Not only this, but in my devotional and Bible study reading God has opened my eyes to a new outlook as we approach even more holidays away from "the norm"…
Many of you are familiar with Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. The missionary women here on the OMS Haiti field have started a Bible study using Ann's book (Thanks Elida!!!). In this book, Ann shares some really powerful truths from Scripture…
In the original Greek, the word that is used to describe giving thanks is "Eucharisteo", and placed within that word are two other words- "Charis" (meaning grace) and "Chara" (meaning joy).
Ann says this, "Grace, thanksgiving, joy. Eucharisteo. A Greek word… that might make meaning of everything"
She then shares these words...
"On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then He broke it in pieces…" (1 Corinthians 11:23-24)… Facing the abandonment of God Himself (does it get any worse than this?), Jesus offers thanksgiving for even that which will break Him and crush Him and wound Him…"
Those words cut deep, don't they?
What the church calls "The Eucharist" is the sacrament of Communion. Ann goes on to say this about the communion experience…
"…in a very tangible, physical act, aren't I enacting my thanksgiving for His pain? In a very real way… I'm celebrating greater gain through greater loss…. The Eucharist invites us to give thanks for dying. To participate in His death with our own daily dying and give thanks for it…. is there some easier way to the fulfilling life?" (emphasis added)
To see how intimately connected salvation and thanksgiving are stops me in my tracks…
As I keep reading, Ann continues to digest these truths some more…
"Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves. We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace. Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life."
What stands out to me most in those words is this: "Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives."
In our weekly prayer meetings we have been diving into the Psalms. The last few weeks we have been studying, very closely, Psalm 42 and 43. In these Psalms, the author is crying out to God. His soul is downcast. He is in despair. His enemies have surrounded him and knocked him down time and time again. He is unable to be in the temple to worship. He is in mourning because of the oppression he is facing. The people around him are asking him, "Where is your God?". He feels rejected, forgotten, defeated…
in verse 4 of chapter 43 the author calls God "his exceeding joy"! His hope is in God, He is his salvation, his rock, his refuge.
These last few days God has been quietly reminding me that MY joy and MY thanksgiving are not contigent upon MY circumstances… and He has been reminding me of that truth in SO many ways!
Jesus was able to give thanks only hours before He KNEW He would be led to the cross. The Psalmist expressed hope and joy and praise amidst his difficulty.
Saint John of Avila said these words, "One act of thanksgiving, when things go wrong with us, is worth a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclinations."
How much more do we appreciate the good things in our lives when we experience hardship? How much more can we see God at work when He brings us through dark times and into His light?
I am learning, more and more each day, to be thankful for everything in my life- seemingly Good or Bad. To be aware of God's desire to use my struggles, my weakness, my difficulties to bring glory to Himself, to bring others into His Kingdom, to shape and mold me into a vessel that He can use.
Paul shares this same idea with the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 4 he says this,
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay (earthen vessels), to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies… For it is for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase in thanksgiving, to the glory of God."
Paul recognized that through our struggle we can bring God glory. That through difficulty, grace extends and thanksgiving CAN abound!
So this Thanksgiving, I want to challenge you (and I am challenging myself in the same way) to thank God for the hard times, thank Him for the struggles you are experiencing, thank Him, not just for what is seemingly good right now, but thank Him in
"In everything, give thanks…" 1 Thessalonians 5:18
"giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father…" Ephesians 5:20
Love and miss you all dearly! May your Thanksgiving be filled with praise and thanks!
P.S. Even though we are unable to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families this year, we have been blessed to have our missionary family here in Haiti. On November 18th, on a Haitian holiday, we celebrated our American Thanksgiving. What an amazing time of fellowship and thankfulness we shared. After singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and reading beautiful quotes and Scripture passages on thankfulness, we prayed and sat down to a delicious, authentic, Thanksgiving meal.
Feeling beyond blessed for those that God has surrounded us with this season!
Here are a few pictures from our special day (SO thankful that our dear friends Eric and Martie could join us in our celebration- all the way from South Jersey!!!!):