For These Things I’m Grateful

Here’s a smattering of loosely connected thoughts on Thanksgiving Week.

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I was telling someone the story of how in the first year of our marriage, Jennifer and I moved to Denver so I could attend graduate school. If we were making the same decision today, we’d never do it, because looking back it was completely irresponsible. There was simply no way that we had the finances to do it. But, young, naive, in love and a strong sense of Calvinistic Providence led us to move a thousand miles from home.

The first couple of months, I don’t even know how we managed to buy food. It was so very tight. And I remember how Jennifer’s grandma – who just passed away early this fall – not only paid our rent the first couple of months, but sent us a little money so we could go out on a date. All we could afford was to go to the double feature at a drive-in close to our apartment. I made carrot cake, popcorn and a portable thermos full of lemonade (we couldn’t even afford a couple beers!). Sigh.

But we were so grateful and so happy. Life was so very simple.

Obviously things have changed for us. On Friday night, we were sitting at a local wood-fired pizza place in Junction City (even given all my foodie tendencies, Jennifer and I will still always choose pizza (miss you, Mitchells!)) and we were talking about how, although we still have to mind our budget, life has changed and we have enough margin that we can go out on a Friday night.  But we aren’t any more or less grateful. Life isn’t simple anymore, but we still like each other a lot, and sitting at Brienzo’s for close to two hours talking, enjoying each other, we’re still young(ish), very in love, we don’t really believe in Providence in the same way, but we’re just very grateful for the life we have with each other.

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Two weeks ago, I had a good friend call me to tell me she was pissed at me. Frankly, I deserved her ire. Instead of being brave and wholehearted, I had played chickenshit and let my inner voices win the day, and in the process I hurt her feelings because of my actions. But she didn’t lead with “I’m pissed at you.”

She started with, “Help me understand why you made the decision you did.” And for about 45 minutes she listened and empathized and demonstrated to me in a powerful way that she loved me and valued our relationship and she was doing everything in her power to see the world through my eyes.

Then, she told me why she was pissed.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been so lovingly confronted by a friend. I called her the next day and told her how loved I felt.

I have a job where, in the course of events, people get pissed at me. Sometimes I deserve it. Sometimes my job is like walking through an emotional/relational minefield. Some days it feel like I’m skipping through, others it feel like I hit every mine on the field. And sometimes I’m just the “authority figure” who someone needs to rage against. And I’ve learned – mostly – to let those go.

And, in my job, I have plenty of people who are ready and willing to tell me what I “should” do in any given situation.

So, “confrontation” isn’t really all that unusual in my life. Emotional/relational messes are just the milieu of church work.

But, a “confrontation” that leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy and loved?

That’s a gift. That’s the kind of interaction where I said to Jennifer afterwards, “I feel so loved because I talked to our friend and she told me off.”

Who ever gets to say those words?

I’m grateful for friends like her and others, who have lovingly walked beside me in my rumbling with stuff. And despite my prickliness at times, keep coming back.

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Jennifer pointed out to me the other day that in Matthew 25, where Jesus famously says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Jesus is identifying himself as “one of the least of these.”

We talk a lot about “being Jesus’ hands and feet,” and how that means we ought to do good for other people. And that’s true too.

But, it’s also true that one of the hardest things for me to do is to receive someone else’s kindness and generosity. I am hell bent on keeping things “even-steven” in the scorecard of my mind. Actually, I’m hell bent on staying “one-up” whenever I can. It makes me feel strong, powerful and in control.

But the cross-shaped ministry of Jesus was about emptying, about choosing “one-down,” even to death on a cross.

I’m learning to be like Jesus in receiving things from others. I’m thankful for how – this year in particular – I’ve had to learn some hard things.

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And speaking of giving and receiving…Our culture is so uber-focused on material things. Verizon has a new ad campaign that is driving me batty right now. They’re calling it “Thanksgetting” and the tagline is “get into the spirit of getting.”

“Barf. O. Rama.” (To quote a friend of mine). As if Americans need any encouragement to “get into the spirit of getting.”

I think – especially as Americans – when we think gratitude, we think of the material things we’ve gotten. But, the most important things to me – the things that make me cry – aren’t material. They’re relational. It’s the ways people have given of themselves to me.

I have a long list of names that I’d love to put here, but I’m sure I’d leave somebody out and then I’d feel badly. But I’m very grateful this Thanksgiving for the people who have given of themselves to me, who have poured out their souls and who have sat with me and held my hand in one of the uglier years of my life.

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One final thought.

I think we over-assume that the people in our lives know how much we mean to them.

And, at the same time, I think we underestimate how much we mean to the people in our lives.

Don’t let Thanksgiving go by without saying some specific, heartfelt thank yous, like this one:

Peggy – thank you for editing pretty much everything I write on this blog and making me appear to be a stronger, more conscientious, more grammatically correcter version of myself. LOL! And thank you for the joy that you seem to take in doing so. I don’t understand how you love it so much, but I know you do. I thank you and everyone who reads this does too – even if they don’t know you!

 

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