Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Story

The stories we hold dearest are those that have both plummeted us to the depths of anxiety and despair as we suffered through the characters' difficulties and disappointments, sorrows and setbacks. Our hearts fill with compassion as we enter into both woes and triumphs with them, feel their excruciating pain of loss  and/or deprivation, their struggles to persevere and overcome impossible circumstances and emerge triumphant. The overcoming and resolution give us a satisfying sense of peace and "all's right in the end." These are the books we close and proclaim "good" and are so thankful to have read.

Today we celebrate one of these events so crucial in our national history. The Pilgrims' story had all the elements: the desire for something better in their life, the high price paid to attain it, the suffering through to share a new life and celebrate with a special feast. Their toil and tragedy opened the path for we who have followed after to live in freedom and unprecedented prosperity.

So their story is part of our story, the story of our life. And their story is a small chapter in the grand story that God has written, which we call history, and his story has all the ingredients of tragedy and triumph in it too. And it is not finished yet, though we know the ending.

Thanksgiving is truly the only act we can perform to give anything to God, who is author, creator, sustainer, and finisher of all. The Psalmist says, "O Lord, apart from you I have no good thing." In giving thanks we realize this overwhelming truth: we can do nothing unless He allows it, which is why living a life of returning thanks is all we can do in response.

As characters in his story, we play our part every day, knowing there is a happy ending, but sometimes being part of the inexplicable plot, we experience the adversities and unbearable losses. His story is more than a good one, however, it is a perfect one. The intricate development of His tale is part of an indescribably beautiful story
being written on our hearts by the Author of Life.

Like many of you, I have shared in the rough bits of the story this year. I have lost a mother-in-law and a dear friend with eight children to death. That same family lost a 15 year-old daughter by death last month. Other friends are battling for their lives against hideous diseases, have also lost children, have been deserted by husbands, and are otherwise daily trudging up insurmountable mountains with enormous burdens of care. It is a temptation to ask how to give thanks for these things, but it is an unshakable truth that a good God is masterfully weaving all of this into his superb story. We can give thanks for that; we can give thanks that we can participate with Him through prayer and showing love to those in such desperate need of it.

Still, with our shortsightedness, these burdens weigh us down. In the unfolding of worship each Lord's Day in our church, there comes a point in the liturgy where our pastor commands, "Lift up your hearts," and we respond, "We lift them up to the Lord," followed by, "Give thanks to the Lord," and our agreement, "It is good and right so to do." It is good and right because God is good and right, and the deliberate act of lifting our hearts is an act of acknowledgment that He alone is good, and everything we have, whether good or evil in our eyes, is good and comes from Him.

In giving thanks for each little gift throughout our days we are continually lifting our hearts to the One to whom we belong. Charlotte Mason taught on this "habit" of thanksgiving:
The Soul that surveys these and a thousand other good things of our common life is indeed a 'rising soul,' rising to the Father,––who knoweth that we have need of all these things,––with the gratitude and thanksgiving that are forced out of a heart overflowing with love. Even an  occasional act of thanksgiving of this kind sweetens the rest of life for us; unconsidered thanks rise from us day by day and hour by hour. We say grace for a kind look, or a beautiful poem, or a delightful book, quite as truly as for a good dinner––more so, indeed; for it is true of us also that man doth not live by bread alone.
We honour God by thanking Him.––But we think so little of ourselves that it does not seem to us to matter much whether or no we thank God for all His surprising sweet benefits and mercies towards us. Indeed, we should not have known that it does matter, if, with the condescending grace that few earthly parents show, He had not told us that He is honoured by our thanks! How impossible it seems that we should add anything to God, much less that we should add to His honour! Here is our great opportunity: let us give thanks.
Perhaps most of us fall on our knees and give thanks for special mercies that we have begged of our Father's providing care––the restored health of one beloved, the removal of some cause of anxiety, the opening up of some opportunity that we have longed for. For such graces as these we give ungrudging thanks, and we do well; but the continual habit of thanksgiving is more;––
"Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be,
Thy praise."
(from Ourselves, Part III: The Soul, pp. 192-93) 

I close with thanksgiving that has continued throughout my ordinary days for ordinary things: for unexpected sunshine, for sheets on the bed, for interruptions, for grandchildren's drool on my shirt..for a thousand benefits a day. A survey of my life so far reveals a wondrous story, and incredible humbleness that while ungrateful or ignorant of the design while walking it out, I have been tremendously blessed, even with losses and lamentations along the way. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name, and forget not all his benefits to us..." (Ps. 103:1-2)

I end at last with one special chapter of my story, which is intricately entwined with the stories of others. My husband and I longed for a child, and it seemed that desire would not be answered, but one glorious day it was realized and Emily, whom you all know in part from her work in this library, came into the world. She grew in "wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" as we falteringly attempted to bring her up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Children are a blessing from the Lord, and her life has blessed ours every day. One of her dearest wishes has been to return thanks by honoring her parents, living at home, and not pursuing a husband for herself. It is not easy to wait. Still, she has been fruitful in this home, building this library ministry, and with an eye and heart to bring beauty to others wherever she goes.

In the Great Story, all of ours, the opening setting is a garden of beauty. The climax of the story was another garden where the Son triumphed over death itself and left a tomb empty, and in the end we will be in a Paradise garden. Emily has been playing her part in this story, and two weeks ago, a young man came to our library with her father's permission, to ask for her hand in marriage. They have worked together in a huge garden this past year as our family helped his on their farm. Now, a new family will be born. Only the Lord of all could bring this blessing. Today we give thanks for his abundant and extravagant favor, the favor he lavishes on all of us who have a part in his Master story.

For the joy of reading,



  1. yay, liz! here i am, SUPER thankful for this post. it was exactly the encouragement the Lord had for me to read today! thank you for writing it :)

    it's so fitting, i'm going to send it to read again and again on my kindle. :)

    1. Amy, I'm glad this helped you when you needed it, as you so often have encouraged me as well. When Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always," He was going to show us through one another. We all say, "thank you" for this tremendous blessing. Liz