It was Thanksgiving Day, 2009. I sat at the overflowing dinner table with my family: parents, sisters and their spouses, young nephews, and 1-year-old niece. Before digging into turkey and mashed potatoes, we sang the Doxology together: Praise God from whom all blessings flow ….
Singing at the table was not a tradition for us. That year, it was a special request from my mother, whose cancer had returned in the summer and further metastasized in early November. After we sang, the room was silent, filled with emotion. I blinked away tears as we began our meal.
That was the last Thanksgiving we had with Mom. She died less than three months later.
I remember other things about that Thanksgiving, too. I baked an apple pie like I always do — my favorite Thanksgiving tradition. I helped my mom with the food and table setting, enjoying time with her in the kitchen. I carried my nephews around the house on my shoulders. One of my best friends traveled in to spend the holiday with us, and we had a great time.
Some of those memories may seem insignificant or ordinary, but I remember them because I was thankful for them then, as I am now. Knowing that any month could be my mother’s last, the best way to display my gratitude for her life was to enjoy and savor every moment with her. If I had mourned for her prematurely, allowing fear and anxiety to reign in my heart, I would have missed the gift of our last Thanksgiving together.
No matter what season it is or the challenges we are facing, each day is a gift of God. His mercies are new every morning, and He wants us to seek, receive, and enjoy those mercies daily. In the years since my mother’s death, I’ve become very aware that time is fleeting and every moment is precious. None of our moments can be repeated, giving us a second chance to change our choices or their outcomes. Being thankful for every good gift of God — even the seemingly insignificant ones — is one of the great keys that unlocks the potential to experience our moments to the fullest. Specifically, thanksgiving is a key to experiencing:
- The abundant life. Jesus said He came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). My friends Farrar Moor and Sheryl Cook put it this way when teaching the HOPE Workshop: The abundant life of Christ can only be experienced in the present moment, not in the past or the future. Thanksgiving helps us live in the present moment, able to receive and enjoy the gift right in front of us.
- Redeeming the time. One of the great responsibilities of believers is to make the most of every opportunity, or to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16). It’s hard to make the most of every opportunity with a disgruntled or unthankful heart. Being thankful focuses our attention on God, helping us stay in tune with His voice and follow His direction. As I spend time thanking Him, I become more aware that in His sovereignty, God has allowed my circumstances to be what they are so He can fulfill His purpose in me through them. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to serve, glorify, or surrender to Him in my circumstances.
- The joy of the Lord. Over and over, the Bible tells us to rejoice in the Lord. We’re even told to count it all joy when we go through trials (James 1:2-3). How is that possible? James seems to indicate that the key is relationship with God — letting Him work patience and endurance into us, asking Him for wisdom. Thanksgiving, Psalm 100 tells us, is the way to approach God. As we begin to thank Him for His faithfulness, His character, and His provision in our circumstances, we invite His presence to surround us. It is His presence that brings us the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
I am thankful for the opportunity to stop and contemplate these blessings of thanksgiving, for I need the reminder to be thankful in all circumstances, which is the will of God (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Yes, there are times when my heart is grieving or my spirit is stressed.
There are times when we are frustrated or disappointed. Stopping to thank God for who He is and how He works in our lives redirects us to the abundance, joy, and ability to turn every moment into something fruitful for Him.