When I was younger I didn’t realize what Thanksgiving really meant. I was taught as a young boy the importance of saying “thank you” when someone did something nice for me. Proper manners never escaped me growing up with my father. He made sure I realized the importance of showing proper respect and courtesy, especially to my elders.
The holiday of Thanksgiving was a time when family got together. Thanksgiving was simply a precursor to Christmas as far as I was concerned, besides being a celebration that had something to do with Pilgrims nearly 400 years prior. If I’m honest I loved the fact that it was a 4 day weekend more than anything. Thanksgiving was day one of the long weekend, so after the “family day” I still had three more non-school days to run a muck. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy… and then some weird stuff like cranberries, pumpkin pie and green bean casserole (I still think this stuff is weird haha). Food, football and family summed up Thanksgiving Day. Occasionally we flew kites or played basketball (weather permitting in Northern Indiana). I grew up with multiple families resulting from divorce and remarriages, so bouncing around from house to house was also part of the routine. Overall, I realized it was a time to “be thankful,” yet I don’t think I experienced enough life at that point to truly know what gratitude was.
I’m reflecting on true gratitude as Thanksgiving draws near. I suppose life experience has me thinking about the word GRATITUDE in a different context. Gratitude is a mindset. Gratitude is a prayer. Gratitude is a lifestyle. Gratitude is a key to joy.
The nostalgia of the holidays is probably my favorite part of the season. The nostalgia comes from a place of “the good old days;” reflective of living life from a child-like perspective. I didn’t know what it meant to be stressed beyond a circumstance as a kid. I didn’t know what adults dealt with because I had no perspective beyond the limited experiences my brain had processed to that point. I certainly didn’t realize that every day was a gift back then. I didn’t fully grasp that I’d grow older and weary over time. I didn’t know I would experience tremendous pain, heartache and go through bouts with anxiety that I wasn’t sure I’d ever escape. I didn’t understand saying thank you was more than words spoken, yet could be a perspective lived from. I didn’t realize gratitude is a major key to living a life of Joy.
I was reflecting on one of my final adolescent Thanksgiving Days last night. I was probably 17 years-old. I decided to drive separate in my 1996 green Saturn (so cool back then). Blink 182 was a band of choice then, and like most teenagers I liked to blare music to the point where eardrums were in serious danger of erupting. We were making our initial jaunt across town to my Aunt’s home (my dad’s sister). The plan was to visit my step-mother’s family after. I’m not positive, but we may have been planning to visit my great-grandmother later that evening as well. Everyone lived on the north side of town and we were on the south side. I believe I drove separate so I could leave the family functions early; knowing me to hang out with friends that evening (such a teenager). The words blessed, lucky, fortunate, or Guardian Angel could all be used to describe what happened on that journey to my Aunt’s house…
Blink 182 blaring in the car of a fearless teenage boy. Just a kid, having some fun, not being fully present or aware of my overall surroundings. My father, step-mother and brothers were on the same road in our household minivan. I remember the light was green, yet I was suddenly passing my dad in the next lane. In fact, I was passing everyone. I soon realized every car had stopped despite the green light at a major intersection in our hometown. I never heard the sirens. I couldn’t have with the music volume where it was. All I know is that I looked to my right out the passenger side window and saw the front grill of a fire truck barreling toward me. I don’t know what happened exactly, but it missed me. I crossed in front of that fire truck in a similar fashion to what you’d see in the movies when a car is trying to beat a train across the tracks, yet my situation was simply by accident. I don’t know if it was a few feet, or a few inches. All I know is the shaken up feeling that I’d just escaped a tragedy. My heart was pounding, my body shaking and my mind was in disbelief. I can tell you that I probably didn’t fully grasp the narrow escape of moment until I saw the look on my father’s face when we arrived at my aunt’s house. He was so scared he couldn’t be mad. His face was one of sheer gratitude after being scared beyond belief that he nearly watched his son get hit by a fire truck going 50mph. From memory, he simply said “that was close.” A simple mistake, a naive oversight, too close to call, and a reason to be truly grateful on that Thanksgiving Day.
I’ve sadly heard a few stories lately of people losing loved ones at ages that we’d all consider too young. My heart aches for families, loved ones and friends that are enduring the holidays without their special people. I’m grateful for the health and safety of my loved ones. I’m grateful for my own breath. I’m grateful for each step. I’m grateful for each embrace. I’m grateful for the good times. I’m grateful for the peaceful times. I’m even grateful for life’s lessons that aren’t so easy. I’m grateful for this moment right now, as I think I’ve taken too many for granted throughout life. I’m honestly grateful just to be here, as life is never promised.
I used to spend so much time fearing the future that I seldom truly experienced the present. The present is a gift, period. I’ve learned through bouts of fear based anxiety, worry and O.C.D. that a mind stuck in the future is a mind held captive. I think a real secret to life is living for today. I think embracing TODAY is a must. I also think BEING GRATEFUL for today is a major secret to life. We can view from a lens of gratitude even in negative circumstances. I realize this is easier said than done, but true if you think about it, especially if you have a relationship with Christ our Savior.
Perhaps you’re reading this thinking I’m naive. I disagree, as I’m still sucked into the world of feeling sorry for myself or looking at the negative of some situations more than I care to admit. What I can say is little by little I’m making strides in the space of gratitude. I’m realizing that my “hard-wiring” isn’t my own (see last post: Mind Held Hostage). I realize that I have the ability to take each thought captive. I’m realizing that one major precursor to JOY is actually being GRATEFUL for all we already have! How in the world would every breath we and our loved ones take not be A HUGE THING TO BE GRATEFUL FOR? That’s a head scratcher! We spend so much time thinking about what others think, our problems, our circumstances and negativity instead of simply being GRATEFUL for the major things we’ve been blessed with today: health, family, friends, safety, love, each moment, etc.!
We are all blessed to be here. We aren’t entitled to breath. We aren’t entitled to living beyond any moment besides the current one. We aren’t entitled to someone else loving us. We aren’t entitled to things going our way. We aren’t entitled to anything. We have Grace. That’s the one thing we have, and we’re not even deserving of that. Grace is technically all we need. Everything else is beyond a blessing. Maybe if we begin looking through a lens that starts simply with being grateful for Grace, we can start to see that everything else is beyond special and should be viewed as such.
That teenage Thanksgiving day could’ve been a lot different. That truck could’ve been to that intersection a second earlier. Who knows what obstruction held the driver up to avoid my demise, but I’m certainly grateful for the outcome. I’ve had another close call, perhaps more than one. I’m sure I’ve had close calls that I’m not even aware of. As I reflect on that day I’m very grateful for life today, as I realize I’m blessed just to be here. I’m looking at Thanksgiving beyond the turkey, the football and the symbolic representation of the original Harvest Festival. I’m looking at Thanksgiving through the lens of gratitude for every breath, every step, every loved one, every healthy day and every blessing God has blessed upon me. I’m blessed to be alive. I’m blessed to be loved. I’m blessed for Grace. Perhaps if we start seeing our lives as blessings first, then our troubles, stresses, fears and longings will certainly stop dominating our thought patterns.
I’m loved. I’m blessed. I’m healthy. I’m GRATEFUL.
Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless!
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