Week 6 | JOY in Thanksgiving

On Wednesday I went up to my grandparent’s house in Boaz, AL. The ride up to the farm as filled with many laughs and singing jolly Christmas music with my brother, sister, and Gavin. A chilly wind whispered through the air, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. I huddled deeper into my scarf as I walked briskly into the house where warmth greeted me as I walked through the door, being greeted by heat and by my grandparents and cousin, Riley. My grandparent’s house is always so warm and inviting; it is my favorite escape from everyday life. It also a place where deep talks and heavy laughs are shared by family, immediate and extended.

The cold air didn’t stop the warmth from an afternoon filled with food and fellowship, feeding the farm animals, nervously watching Gavin climb dangerously high in the magnolia tree, watching old wedding videos, and making the infamous apple and apricot pies. I like days filled with talks that make you laugh, make you cry, and make you remember those precious past memories.

 1252. Heartfelt talks about old memories
1253. Warm scarves
1254. My grandparent’s warm voices

 I can’t even remember why we started watching old wedding videos, but we did. And hearing everyone laugh at how funny me and my cousin were as the ring bearer and flower girl made my heart smile. (Riley lost the (fake) ring; I found it, and of course, the most logical thing I could do was put it on my finger and hold it up in the air for everyone to see…how cute.) Anyways, everyone was laughing, some were crying. I gave Riley a high-five for being the show of the wedding, and I looked over to see Gavin giving me a sly look because he finally got to see an embarrassing home video of me after I got to see every home video of him ever. Everyone was in one room. Everyone was in one conversation. Everyone was feeling the same warmth, the same love. The warmth and love that these family get-togethers bring about. And for this, I am forever thankful.

1255. The smell of a freshly-made apple pie
1256. Late-night laughter

Thanksgiving. This time of year that we associate with getting together with the whole family and eating turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, and pie. But oh, it is so much more.

This is easily my favorite thing to talk about. Thanksgiving. It is something that I always struggled with, and still sometimes do to. I would give thanks, but I would only give thanks for the big things, I would only give thanks during the times when everyone else would, I would only give thanks during those times where I felt all warm and fuzzy on the inside. But what about those times when it isn’t warm and fuzzy? What about those times when all you can seem to think about is the negative? Those times where you think it can’t get any worse, or those times that you are too stubborn to choose to see the good because you just want to feel bad? Those times that seem dark and cold…

Last year, my mom’s best friend gave me the book 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and it rocked my world. It introduced me to the word eucharisteo, which is now the word I live by, the word I cling to and repeat whenever I feel my heart growing hard, or I feel myself slipping away from God. Eucharisteo – thanksgiving. Charis – grace. Chara – joy.

1257. Presents that teach
1258. The sound of my camera shutter
1259. The entire family being in one room

 Voskamp explains that thanksgiving always precedes the miracle, and we find joy when we give thanks. Isn’t that funny to think that way? That we really can’t have a miracle, and we really can’t find joy until we give thanks for what we already have. We live in a world where we have to receive a certain thing before we give thanks, and we have to reach a certain level of receiving, of getting, before we find joy in it. But God has already blessed us with so much. Even if we don’t receive what we think we want, even if something bad happens, there are still little signs of God all around us. We are literally consumed in what he has already given us.

Now to explain the random list throughout my post… Last year, when I first read the book, it also talks about making a list, and I was challenged to make that list of 1000 of God’s gift. Pretty big list, right? But it taught me to see God’s presence everywhere. It taught me to see it even when I didn’t think I could. I finished my first list of 1000 around this time last year. I find myself continually making the list in my mind, but I only recently started writing it down again.The list is in my phone, in my journal, on random scraps of paper. I go to this list when I begin to feel frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed. 

1260. Chilly, refreshing winds.
1261. The funny noise a donkey makes.
1262. Little kids playing the piano, making their own music.
1263. Steam rising off a hot cup of coffee.

We say turn to God during this type of time, and we should, but that can be hard when we don’t know what to say or we are too distracted to be able to listen or we are to angry to even want to listen. It’s hard to remember how big and powerful God is when things in our lives start to go wrong. We are pessimistic beings. Even when we are generally optimistic, being brought to our lowest point can bring out that pessimism. We begin to only focus on what is wrong, what can go wrong, what we don’t have, instead of focusing on what we have already been given.

This is where the list helps. When we start to focus on the gifts surrounding us in the here and now, we cannot help but feel joy, despite our situation or previous mindset. We can feel full. We can feel fearless because we begin to count everything that has worked out, everything beautiful that God has made, not the things that haven't. It seems silly, but it works. It’s how I remain full even when I know I could be running on empty. It’s because when I start writing in my list I slowly start seeing all that I have to be grateful for, all that God has surrounded me with, all that God has given me. Starting with the ultimate sacrifice he made that allows me to even experience life and not be a slave to sin. Starting with God’s merciful grace, the grace that allows me to even be able to make the list. Charis. Grace.

Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— 1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18

And things may not always seem to add up. Those little glimpses of God’s love and beauty seen in the everyday ordinary may not seem to bring “hope” in hard times, but as Voskamp says, it isn’t if the hopes add up that brings joy, it’s if the blessings do. And we are forever blessed, even if we have seemingly nothing. We have God's grace. We have freedom is Christ. We have sunshine and air to breathe. We have changing seasons, in weather and in life. We have chances to start over. It’s easy to focus on the negative because it just seems so prevalent, but when you stop and really look, it is so much easier and much less tiring to focus on the good, to focus on the blessings, to focus on all of God’s gifts that he has already given. And to find those gifts, to find those things that bring joy? Eucharisteo. Give thanks.

1264. God’s unfailing, always forgiving grace
1265. Joy found in giving thanks for God’s gifts