As a child, one thing that my family never did on Thanksgiving was actually give thanks. Sure, we’d all get together at someone’s house. Early on, I remember going to my uncle’s place. We’d eat, then the football games would come on, and the adults would smoke while the kids went outside to (breathe) goof off or maybe play our own game of tackle football. I always…ALWAYS…got hurt. As I grew older, we began to have the dinner at my folk’s house. Mom didn't want to mess with a turkey, so we always had a ham. We might watch a parade, but football wasn’t really a big deal to my core family. Instead, I’d often end up going to a movie with my niece and nephew.
But, as I grew, I did eventually notice that being thankful on Thanksgiving wasn’t something that we paid a whole lot of attention to. And, that bothered me.
When enough time passed that we began having Thanksgiving dinner at MY house, I decided that we would give thanks to God, and we’d make it a tradition to go around the table and each person would share just one thing they were thankful for. The first time we did that, we were going around…adults and children alike…and everyone shared. When it came around to my great nephew Nathan, who was just in middle school at the time, he said: “I’m thankful for violence.”
I think everyone’s mouth dropped open! I gruffly said, “What? What did you say?”
His dad was upset. There was a real risk of actual violence happening as a result of the answer.
Then, he answered my question. He said, “I’m thankful for violins.” (He had been doing band in school and was enjoying learning to play the instrument.)
Around the table, there was a collective sigh of relief, and we all shared a nervous laugh as we relaxed.
Of course, the whole tone of the dinner changed. We went back to smiles, laughter, and good times. The food was delicious. The turkey was wonderful. The pies…oh, the pies!
More time has gone by since then. The family that’s left has come to expect to share. But, one thing I’ve realized about myself this year is that I am still not thankful enough for my actual family. My mom and dad have passed on. I lost one brother when I was only seven, and my other brother died just a few years ago. I still have nieces, nephews and their kids, and I have my wife and kids, but of my original core family, it is now only my sister and me. And, I nearly lost her last week.
My sister was seventeen when I was born, and she has been through a lot in her seventy years. A couple of years before I was born, she was in a terrible traffic accident and nearly died. Her heart stopped and they had to crack her chest to get it going again. Several years later, she had a perforated ulcer and had to be rushed to the hospital. Just three or four years ago, she had a bowel obstruction that burst. And, all the while, she smoked like a freight train.
Yet, she always…seemingly miraculously…pulled through.
Then, last week her COPD/Emphysema nearly took her. I got to the hospital just as they were about to give her another dose of medicine to try to get her heart rate to drop from 200 bpm. They did, and it went to zero…flat line. And, just before they were about to attempt to shock her, her heart started again. Over the next few hours, she stabilized, and by the next day she was talking up a storm like nobody’s business.
I came back to see her last Friday. I wanted to try to have a spiritual discussion with her. This is something we just have never been able to do. It was just too awkward, and she wasn’t open to listening. However, Friday was different. Frankly, it was the best, most honest talk we may have ever had.
She knows that she has been blessed. She knows that God has saved her life more than once. Neither of us knows why…when so many others don’t get the same blessing…and her life has never shown the first inkling of gratefulness toward Him for doing so. But, there it is. God had pulled her through again.
I said, “You know, with your emphysema and COPD as bad as it is, and your age, there can’t be too many more times when this is going to happen. What do you think about your spiritual life?”
She replied: “I know God has saved my life several times, but I’m the kind of person that if I can’t see something and touch it, then I just have trouble believing in it. I’m ashamed to say it, but despite all the things that He has done for me, I just can’t seem to have faith in Him.”
My heart was hurting for her as I answered, “But, Kay, you do have faith. You’ve been talking about God for the last hour. It may be small and weak, but you do have it. Just turn your heart toward Him and reach out for Him. He’s not far away. He’ll help you.”
“How will I know,” she asked, “If He’s listening?”
“You’ll know,” I said. “You’ll know.”
We couldn’t go much further at that moment. But, it was a start. And, I had asked God on that night just over a week ago, when her heart was racing over 200 only to stop and restart again,…I had asked Him to bring her back, if I could still make a difference in her life. So, that talk was a start, and I’m hopeful that God will bless me with more opportunities in the coming days and weeks to turn that start into a new life for her. If you are reading this, please pray for my sister. Not so much for her health, except that God would grant her the time to finish reaching out for Him. But, more so, pray for her faith. Pray that God will help her find it…and help her to find Him.
And finally, be truly thankful this Holiday season for the family that you have. Those that are easy to love, and those who are not. And, take the time to love them.
From one man he made all nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. -Paul to the Athenians, Acts 17:26-27