On a November day many years ago, I had each child in my fourth grade classroom take turns sharing what they were thankful for. The usual responses – my family, my friends, God – presented no surprises.
But then there was Wesley. What was he thankful for? Without hesitation, he replied, "Cement." Silence, and then giggles erupted. Stifling a smile, I asked him, "Wesley, why are you thankful for cement?" He broke into a grin and said, "Because without cement, I couldn't skateboard, or ride my bike, or other cool stuff."
We take so much for granted that we can't even imagine a world without cement, or running water, or electricity – the list goes on and on. Until something doesn't work, or fails to succeed in the way we think it should. What would happen if we turned on the faucet and nothing came out? Turned on the light switch and the room stayed dark? Picked up the telephone to find the line (or signal) was dead? Would we be thankful then?
A new buzz phrase that you hear often this time of year is that we should have an "attitude of gratitude." Sounds like something the marketing department came up with. Snappy catch-phrase, but what does it mean? To me, it means being thankful for everything, every day, not just on Thanksgiving. And yes, that includes all the frustrating things that happen on a daily basis, when you're not feeling well, when you've suffered a loss. Why would someone be thankful for the bad things as well as the good?
I guess it depends on your definition of "bad." Just because something happens differently than you had planned or hoped for, doesn't necessarily mean it's a "bad" thing. Often we are short-sighted; we can't see the big picture. Have you ever gotten what you wanted, only to find out it wasn't such a good thing after all? Let me see if I can make things clearer by sharing with you my list of things I'm thankful for, items you wouldn't usually find on anyone's list.
I am thankful for the many rejections I've received over the years from publishers, editors, and agents, because they have made me a better writer/composer and have taught me to be patient for the "right place at the right time" moment.
I am thankful for all the errands I have to run for my aging mother, because it provides me the quality time I so enjoy. She would never be living here close to me if she hadn’t taken a fall five years ago and decided to move into assisted living. I'm thankful that I have the time to spend with her.
I am thankful for the 20+ years I have spent volunteering for the children's theatre. I have grown as a person, and my experiences with the youth have been more rewarding than anything I've done for them. It has provided me opportunities to create music and even my only published work (so far), as well as numerous awards that I never expected to receive.
I am thankful for the "year of the lost voice" – when vocal nodules prevented me from singing for a full year. The experience taught me humility and to use my talent, not for personal accolades, but to acknowledge God through my music. It also led to my decision to change from teaching music (which was real wear and tear on the cords) to the regular classroom. I'm thankful for that first horrible year in the classroom where it seemed that everything I did was wrong. Instead, it forced me to teach in a different way, which led to writing original musicals, which led to the children's theatre, which led to . . . well, read the above paragraph.
I am thankful that my car had a dead battery in the garage, rather than the next day when I was driving three author friends to the mountains for a retreat. I am thankful for the stormy days that make me feel blue, because when the sun comes out, the sky is so clear and bright, and so is my mood. I am thankful for the occasional pity party I allow myself, because it forces me to take the focus off me and reach out to help someone else. Which in the long run, makes me feel much more fulfilled than whatever I was feeling sorry for myself over.
What if we could all have a George Bailey experience? What would the world look like if we had never been born? We never know the influence we have on others. What we moan and complain about may be exactly what we need to grow, to change, to make things better for others. Maybe the guy that cut you off in traffic is on his way to see a dying relative. Maybe the red lights that you always seem to be stuck at when you're in a hurry are keeping you from being involved in that accident a mile ahead. We don't know why bad or frustrating things happen. Be thankful anyway. When doors are closed, look for that opening that exists in a place you would never consider. When someone says something cruel or inappropriate, smile and know that nothing can keep you from being what you are meant to be.
So be thankful. Not just on Thanksgiving day, but EVERY day. Not just when things are going right, but especially when things are going wrong. Be thankful for your family, your friends, God – and yes, even cement.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!