Yesterday morning gratitude hit me right in the eyes, literally. My contacts weren’t working right. My left eye was either blurry or clear, depending on whether I had my glasses on or off, while my right eye did the same thing, but opposite of the other. I was frustrated as I scrambled and then aborted plans to ride my bike to work, aware that my bike riding days are numbered as the morning temps go down and the promise of winter rain increases. I was also slightly preoccupied with my vanity. This was the first time I would have not only worn glasses to work, but in front of anyone who hadn’t spent the night with me (outside of my kids), which I can count on one or two fingers how many times that has happened in the last 10 years. However, I was reminded that at least I had newish glasses that with the help of modern technology aren’t quite as thick as they once were.
I drove to work switching my eyes shut and open, shut and open, using traffic like a vision board in my doctor’s office. I began to self diagnose my eye problem. Do I have a cataract? Do I have to go into the doctor (another annoying disruption of my perfectly planned day), is this the end of my vision as I know it? I began thanking God for my bad eyes. These bad eyes are great eyes! Cataracts would be bad eyes.
I had a surgery on my eyes before I was five. I remember wearing patches and playing with fuzzy puzzles right after the surgery. I wore glasses until I graduated from high school, when I was in charge of my own life and could purchase contacts. When I read stories from the olden days I’ve wondered if I would have been thrown aside as an inferior product. I wore a back brace when I was a junior in high school due to scoliosis and my eyes are wonky. “Throw her out!” they (who, they is I’m not sure) might have instructed. Given the chance I would have pleaded, “But look, my teeth are good! And if you give me a chance you might find my cooking okay, my home decor talents decent, and if you wait long enough, I’ll make you something with the new Silhouette Cameo 3 I’m going to purchase!” I am a genuinely grateful person for so many things, among them, for being born in 1960 and not 1801 (the truly olden days).
As I listen to the California fire stories and devastation, I am grateful not only for my house, but for the benefits of a healthy and capable body and the privilege to work. Things like the California fires heightens my awareness in times of frustration. Last week I was forced to pull $1300 from my savings for a new water heater. The week before it was $650 for new tires. The list goes on. For a fraction of a second, like when my eyes weren’t working or I was writing checks, I recognize the potential of freaking out, because I have done it before, justified or not. I admit this, knowing I can’t be alone in my reaction to financial fragility. But instead of freaking out, my gratitude is increasing, and I have to believe it comes from the practice I’ve learned: to give God the glory and gratitude for my life.
Over the last 10 years I have had to seek out things for which I’m grateful. It has been a conscious endeavor as the things that I’ve lost cause me still to tear up. The effects are felt every day. But my endeavor to seek out what God has given me has been the difference between joy and depression. I cannot claim the same things many others claim for which they are grateful. Especially during the holidays when the absence of family is pronounced. I cannot take a gratitude pill and make the hurt go away, any more than a person with an amputated leg can bring it back with positive thinking.
But I have learned that I have no right to anything. I have no more right to a home than those in California or in Haiti. I have no more right to happiness than the student at my school who dreads the long weekend because home is not a respite. While Paul was imprisoned he said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13
Paul doesn’t say that when we give thanks we are instantly healed and we won’t feel our losses. But he says, “I have learned the secret…” I believe it was a process for Paul, and it’s been a process for me. As I seek God and it is revealed to me the things for which I can be grateful, I rejoice in the God to whom I owe everything, even when I am sad for what I miss. My heart fills up with celebration of a God that loves me so much that joy overflows in my sadness. It is a peace that surpasses all understanding that God promises us in Philippians 4. It is unexplainable and attainable.
Our creator knows us. While a grateful heart brings us peace and joy, God understands that we have desires. If that were not so, he wouldn’t have instructed us to also make requests: Philippians 4:6 and 7: “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” He didn’t ask us to replace requests with thanksgiving. He knows there are missing pieces in our lives. He doesn’t ask us to ignore them, but encourages us to acknowledge what we have, so we are not overwhelmed with what we don’t, and ultimately so we can recognize that it is from him that we receive all things.
So, on this Thanksgiving holiday, I am grateful for my gratitude.
And by the way, I don’t have cataracts. I just had two contacts in one eye. How ironic. My surgery when I was young was for double vision!
Love to my friends and family. I am so grateful for you,