Messy, beautiful, and thankful

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It’s been a messy few weeks. Among our household of 6, we’ve had ingrown toenail surgery (twice), a fever, a strep test, tension headaches, a twisted ankle, chest pains, a touch of pneumonia, and a couple of non-emergency/preventative trips to the ER. There are a dozen more appointments scheduled before the end of the year. Never mind the final exams, the missing glasses, the parking ticket, vehicle repairs, and the broken vacuum that had to be replaced after many years of faithful service (RIP, trusty old pal). I couldn’t have possibly chosen a better month than December for extra expenses. Like I said, messy.

It’s kind of been an entire year like that. Several times I’ve thought to myself that there are pieces of the year I desperately hope I never remember – like my multiple speeding tickets, or the times I lost my temper, or the tragic sobs of my children as I explained to them as best I could that their brand new dog had unfortunately drowned. And I pray I remember little about the sporadic days of 2015 when I struggled against the familiar foe of darkness; those slight brushes of depression that never hold me tightly, but certainly fog my outlook with unwanted fear. Truth be told, I’m looking forward to 2016…

It’s been a beautiful few weeks. Among our busy household of 6, we’ve discovered many moments when all of us are together in the same room, laughing, talking, and sharing. We’ve enjoyed overall good health, delicious and plentiful food, and needs have always been met. God blessed us with reasonably priced plane tickets, giving us the intoxicating opportunity to hop on a red eye, fly across the country, and surprise our family for Thanksgiving. And after a few chats with our leasing agent and renters, we finally have hope that the house we own in Virginia will be purchased by our renters this spring.

It’s been an entire year like that. After scanning Craig’s List for only a few months, we finally found the perfect dog. My oldest graduated from high school, snagged a great job, and passed her first semester of college with a solid B average. My husband landed an interview with Google, had wisdom enough to turn down the second interview, and began a journey toward learning how not to work himself to death. My son made his first home run as we watched and held our breath, my junior higher guest cheered – all smiles – at the high school football game, and my youngest found creative happiness in lumps of clay at a local pottery class. Above all else, my children love Jesus and aren’t afraid to show it in their own individual style. And even in my fog, I enjoyed sunrises and sunsets, friends, family, and pivotal moments with Jesus; moments that filled me with breath, and peace, and clarity. Like I said, beautiful. And I’m looking forward to a beautiful new year.

Life is beautiful, but it ain’t always pretty. You can face the unpretty days with the same grit and grace as the beautiful days. The key is thankfulness.

Scientific research confirms that journaling gratitudes on a daily basis enhances life satisfaction within weeks, not to mention the other emotional and interpersonal benefits of a grateful focus. Various authors of the Bible said the same thing thousands of years ago, minus the statistics and fancy words like ‘research’ or ‘psychological’. They simply closed their letters with concise commands like, “Give thanks” and “Be thankful”, to remind us to live a continual lifestyle of thankfulness.

But let’s be clear. A lifestyle of thankfulness doesn’t mean journaling things you’re not truly thankful for in the spirit of trying to be positive. It doesn’t suggest masking problems so that no one else sees you unsettled. It doesn’t require clever tricks for pretending that there are never days that just plain stink. A thankful heart isn’t ignorant or dismissive.

A thankful heart is honest and pure. Thankfulness is a step toward God’s wisdom, even on the days that don’t make sense. Especially on those days. When darkness is thick and heavy, thankfulness means looking for where His light is breaking through. Thankfulness is finding yourself in a giant mess of loss, or confusion, or uncertainty and still having faith enough to shout, “Even in this mess, Jesus, I still have You!”

Emmanuel. ‘God with us’.

In times of upset, the Prince of Peace is with us.

On overwhelming days, the Wonderful Counselor is with us.

When we couldn’t be more powerless, the Mighty God is with us.

The Creator of everything, the Savior of the world is with us, and He is with us because He loves us. That’s beautiful. That’s a reason to be thankful.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


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