For the Gift

Today is Turkey Day, the day that tradition and marketing say I must be thankful. If I am a good little Mainstreamer, I show my gratitude by wishing everyone a merry Thanksgiving and by purchasing orange and gold paraphernalia to fancy up my truck.

Since I am out trucking a long ways from home, I can benefit from the holiday by stopping at Petro or TA somewhere on the Ten to inhale a turkey dinner. They say it’s like homemade. I suspect it’s true if you are hungry enough. If you’re a trucker, you can use your fuel points to get a free meal.

I am thankful for Thanksgiving because it reminds us to be thankful. Reminders are good.

What does it mean to be thankful? I mean really, truly thankful? I’m talking about that deep down gratitude that fills the soul with something besides the succulent bird accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes dripping with butter and brown gravy.

I am reminded of an experience I had in Denver several years ago when I was blind to the hand of God in my life.  I think it was perhaps my lowest point ever.  I was feeling the weight of the world because I felt shunned and unloved. I was in sackcloth and ashes, desperately searching for myself.

Though I was swallowed up by emotion, the only thing I could do was cling to the rock solid foundation of principle. The biggest and strongest principle that forty eight years of life had taught me was to trust in God no matter the circumstance.

My trials had greatly compounded that day. I had just learned of heartbreaking situations concerning people I loved. Some were upset and angry, doing strange, hateful things, turning against their friends and family and behaving in ways that had resulted in much sorrow to all involved. Our people were scattered. Some were in prison. Misunderstanding and misrepresentation was rampant. Rumors were ugly. So much hate everywhere. My heart was terribly broken.

My personal sorrow had turned into fear. Fear did what it always does. It turned to self-pity. The result? I hit the bottom of the bottom. The bottom was a lake. I couldn’t stop crying, and the lake got deeper. I couldn’t seem to swim out or up. I was drowning in the bottomless depths of sorrow. I was unable to eat. I could only shut down at night by exhausting myself in tears until sleep overcame me.

After several days of living, or was it dying, in this agonizing state of mind, I drove to Walmart to get a few groceries. I knew I had to somehow get a grip and scrape myself out of the gutter. I had to eat something and carry on with life.

I wandered around the store as I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Oblivious to my surroundings, I kept my heart’s eye on the heavens. I felt I could only continue to exist one moment at a time by pleading with God to forgive me and to forgive others. I petitioned Him to preserve my life and the lives of those I loved.

Life was way too big for me. The only way to cope was to hand over my burden to Someone stronger than I. Though I felt down on myself, unworthy, cast-off, and despised, I held tight to the lifeline that literally extended from the heavens to me. I had thrown the line as a last desperate attempt, and it had snagged on a cloud.

I stood in the checkout line at Walmart pretending to be normal. I shut out everything around me and focused on the constant pleadings in my heart between me and my Creator, my Father, my God, and my Best Friend. My introverted focus didn’t stop me from noticing the cashier was staring at me.

She was an elderly lady, maybe in her 60’s. She made no attempt to conceal her intense drop-mouth gaze. The last thing in the world I wanted just then was to be stared at and questioned. Since I was a prairie dress woman, I was a beacon and a billboard. Stares and questions were the everyday thing.

I was typically a congenial and friendly person. Usually, I didn’t care who stared and it didn’t bother me. Usually, I felt compassion for other humans, though it felt like we came from different worlds. I knew how it felt to be treated with indifference, and I tried to never treat others that way. I was a stranger in a strange land. It was a dark place of uncaring creatures. I felt lost in a hateful world not of my choosing.

In spite of my broken condition, personal pride prevented me from slumping my shoulders or keeping my eyes on the ground. I squared my shoulders, lifted my chin, and met the woman’s gaze. I braced myself for the inevitable comments and questions.

The salesclerk began to speak, and then it was my turn to stare.

“Don’t mind me saying this, Dear,” she said in a hushed and reverent tone. “Do you realize you have an aura of light shining all around you?”

I was so surprised I nearly fell over. Truth is, I felt like hell.

Mrs. Salesclerk went on, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but you are literally shining. You look like an angel.”

I had been fasting for days and was very weak. I stared at the woman, uncertain what to say.

“I am no angel,” I replied softly, “but I would like to become one.”

She continued to peer at me inquisitively as she said, “I really mean it.  You look remarkable.  How do you do that? Can you explain it?”

I was so surprised and so helpless in my vulnerable state that I said nothing, but simply pointed at the sky.

“You mean you pray?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “I pray.”

“But I pray too,” she insisted.  “I never get results like this.”

“Well,” I said shrugging, “you have to pray millions of prayers.”

“Really?” she asked, “you mean you never give up praying, right?”

“Right,” I replied in a whisper. “But you can’t say just any old prayer.  You have to say, ‘Thank you’.”

The woman’s eyes grew bigger. “But what if everything is going wrong?” she asked.

“That is especially when you thank God.”

“If all you have is rotten luck, what is there to thank Him for?”

“Thank Him for your rotten luck,” I replied with a weak smile. “It’s better than no luck. You say, ‘Lord, thank you for this rotten luck. Thank you for the breath of life, for the beautiful sky, for the warmth of the sun, for the birds that sing. Thank you, Lord, for this bowl of beans. Thank you for this hard experience.’”

The woman stared at me in silence and then murmured, “That is remarkable.  You are truly beautiful.”

I thanked the elderly lady for her kindness. By now I felt that she and I were kindred spirits, as though she was my mother. My mother had left the earth a few years previous, and I missed her deeply. I couldn’t help the love and care I felt for the stranger at Walmart.

I said goodbye and walked out with my purchase. At the exit, I turned to look back, and found the woman was still staring at me.

I walked to my car and looked in the mirror. Sure enough. I looked like hell. Nothing like an angel. I saw no light. Nothing looked remarkable. My eyes were red and swollen, my face pale and gaunt from days without food. To myself, I was the literal image of gloom, the deepest sorrow I had ever known, a weight I cannot describe.

As I studied my lack of light and beauty in the mirror that day, there was nothing to be done except be encouraged. A great awareness dawned upon me. It was like the rising of the sun which spread its warmth and light into all the dark places of my heart. The bottomless lake dried up, and I emerged upon the shore, safe and alive.

As I had traveled through the darkness of mortal tests, I hadn’t been able to see the Lord’s hand or His influence upon me. I had nothing to go on except faith. I had walked as seeing Him who is invisible, believing, but not knowing, that He was walking beside me.

Principle had taught me to be thankful no matter what. That day at Walmart, my loving Father showed me His presence through the eyes of a kind old woman who prayed without seeing results, just as I thought I had. I couldn’t see His protecting Light around me, but she saw it. It wasn’t that I was beautiful or covered with light. It was that His presence in me was Light, and it was beautiful. My lifeline was connected to Him through gratitude.

It was indeed a remarkable experience and served to lift me out of black despair. A spark of hope ignited which gave me the courage to just keep on keeping on.

I can never be thankful enough to my Heavenly Father for His sustaining hand through every experience of life. I can never be grateful enough for the gift of a soft heart, a thankful heart.

For the Gift, I praise the Giver.

How beautiful life becomes when we say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Today is Thanksgiving Day. How truly thankful are we? People speak of peace and love and gratitude. The world is starving for it, and no amount of pumpkin pie will feed it. Millions are drowning in that bottomless lake of grief. There is a way out, a way up.

Unconditional love begins with unconditional gratitude.

Gratitude begets peace and peace begets love. Love begets more gratitude, and more gratitude begets more peace. More peace begets more love, and it goes on and on. This ability of godliness can be found in all of us, dormant though it might be.

Discover your circle, the eternal round of love. Circles are perpetual, self-generating, and never ending. Circles of Light begin with gratitude. Genuine gratitude produces humility. Humility attracts the mercy of God and attracts godliness to us and in us.

We can’t prevent life from happening. We can’t always control events, but we CAN choose our feelings. We may not understand everything that happens in life, but we CAN understand the wonderful peace that thankfulness brings.

I believe that someday we will look back and weep to see how tenderly our Father carried us through our life on His earth that He built for us. Most of us cannot see Him, but He can always see us. Someday we will understand.

Not now but in the coming years, it may be in the better land,
We’ll read the meaning of our tears, and there, sometime, we’ll understand.
Then trust in God through all thy days; fear not, for He doth hold thy hand;
Though dark thy way, still sing and praise, sometime, sometime we’ll understand.
We’ll catch the broken threads again and finish what we here began;
Heaven will the mysteries explain, and then, ah then, we’ll understand.
We’ll know why clouds instead of sun were over many a cherished plan,
Why song has ceased when scarce begun; tis there sometime we’ll understand.
Sometime, Sometime, we’ll understand…
Why what we long for most of all eludes so oft our eager hand,
Why hopes are crushed and castles fall, yes, then sometime we’ll understand.
God knows the way; He holds the key; He guides us with unerring hand;
Sometime with tearless eyes we’ll see; yes, then, we’ll surely understand.
Then trust in God through all thy days; have faith, for He doth hold thy hand;
When clouds are dark, still sing and smile and praise;
Our God is love; He understands