Seizing Every Second
Nov, 2019: November has never been my favorite month, and all of this premature snow and cold definitely is not changing my feelings about this long, dark springboard to winter. However, at the end of this month we celebrate my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Compared to all of the other holidays, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite because of the emphasis on family, food, and reflections on all of the things for which we are thankful. There’s no crass materialism, no odd heathen traditions, and no obligations and impossible expectations to fulfill. Instead, it feels like a holiday oasis of sorts, where you can just be as you are, and reflect on all that you have. To be authentically grateful for all that you have is truly the key to contentment no matter your status in life.
Natalie Nichols is a southern gal from Texas who lived a pretty normal life. That is until she contracted Lyme’s disease, and spent three years suffering from excruciating symptoms that limited her to a wheelchair and the darkness of her bedroom. She searched for help from doctors all over the country and all over the world but was unable to find a treatment to alleviate her pain. Halfway through this time, she realized that she had to lay this seemingly incurable burden down at the feet of Jesus Christ, to relinquish the “cure” to God, since clearly human doctors had nothing to offer.
In this midst of the worst suffering of her life, she began to notice a change not in her symptoms, but in her attitude. She says, “In the years of excruciating suffering, I learned where true joy resides. God taught me that I had something valuable to be thankful for. In fact, it was the most invaluable gift a person could ever receive. And I had it not in spite of my suffering, but because of it.” What was this gift? Ms. Nichols learned that her identity was not in her career, family, accomplishments, or anything else in life. Rather, her identity was in Christ, and this could never be taken away, no matter the circumstances. And once she recognized her true identity, she could let go, and be truly content and thankful for what she already had.
Sometimes chasing what seem to be the important priorities like achieving life goals and obtaining material possessions cloud our view of what actually brings us joy. Instead of lightening our load, these daunting tasks weigh us down with heavy burdens. People who return from Haiti or Africa on mission trips frequently state that the experience changed their life perspective after seeing firsthand the pure, unadulterated joy on the children’s faces who have nothing compared to our American standard of living. To see such happiness in a culture with so little is certainly jolting to our insatiable American appetite for all things luxurious. Sometimes it takes losing everything to realize how little we actually need. To fall on our knees and converse face-to-face with our Savior, recognizing that the hope and joy that He provides makes our life complete. Anything we add only takes away, versus adding value to this eternal proposition.
Eighteen months ago I had my own unexpected and life-altering experience when I first read about the serious complication I had acquired after a heart ablation. My eyes filled with tears and my heart ached for my children as I read my possible fate in mortality numbers so black and white. But once the shock of the reality of my new situation waned, I became calm and relieved to have advance knowledge of what my family might be facing. I focused my energy on intentionally making the most of whatever time I had left with my family, whether months, years, or decades. Who really knows anyway, other than God?
Still today I appreciate how fortunate I am to know in advance that my days are numbered (as all of our days are, really). While I may not have the luxury of decades of time, I will have the opportunity to make every day meaningful and memorable in the lives of my children. It is truly a gift that renders every other detail of life insignificant in comparison. I have the opportunity to reflect and act on how I want my children to remember me. A chance to teach them Godly values about what is important in life versus what is just a temporary setback or extraneous details. I can demonstrate to them how to prioritize what is truly most important in life by choosing to spend time strengthening loving relationships and making wonderful memories. I can show my kids how to advocate for themselves, and how to fight hard to access the best medical care and technological advances to help me live as many years as possible with the family I love.
So this year when I reflect on all that I am thankful for, I have been given the gift of perspective, allowing a deeper gratitude, joy, and contentment than ever before. Is there a way to learn this perspective without the travails of suffering? While debatable I’m sure, my guess is not. The scanty evidence I can offer is the book of Phillipians, known as the most uplifting and encouraging books of all 66 books in the Bible. This book was written by the Apostle Paul. When he was imprisoned, facing near certain death. Verse after verse is filled with gratitude, joy, contentment, hope, and rejoicing as Paul takes inventory of all that he still possesses, even though he is sitting in a filthy jail with no earthly comforts. It was there he wrote my favorite childhood verses, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ,” Phillipians 4:4, 6-7.
With so much to appreciate, it seems crazy to only take one day a year reflecting on what we have and who we are in Christ. This Thanksgiving, and every day of the year, our family wishes you joy and contentment with a heart of gratitude that lasts all year long. The beauty of it all is that it costs us nothing, even though it cost Jesus Christ His life. What a love, what unfathomable grace, and what hope He grants us, no matter where we find ourselves at this very moment!