This week, I sat around a fire eating s’mores with some of my closest friends. We laughed as we retold embarrassing stories that over the years have become more legend than fact. We smiled as we referenced inside jokes, the hidden language of friendship. And we even shed a few tears as we recalled memories from seasons past.
And in the middle of it all, I simply looked around, took a mental picture, and whispered to God, “For this, I am thankful.”
Yesterday, I sat across a small round table outside a coffee shop from my pastor who has known and loved me for 14 years of my life. Some conversations are more than a catch up; some are a true heart-to-heart, and this was one of those conversations. As we filled the small space between us with words of honesty and love, truth and grace, she reached out her hand to grab mine. It was a touch that said what words could not: “Everything’s going to be okay, and I’ve got your back.”
I held onto her hand, looked this remarkable woman in the eyes, and whispered to God, “For this, I am thankful.”
Last night, I sat around a large kitchen table amongst new friends and old. We feasted, we laughed, we discovered common interests, and we cheered one another on all in the name of Friendsgiving.
I leaned back in my chair, scanned the room, and gave birth to an unashamedly cheesy grin, as I whispered to God, “For this I am thankful.”
To be honest, I’ve had more of these spontaneous internal outbursts of gratitude this year than perhaps ever before. There are so many that at this point, it is impossible to keep track of. But with a little help from memory lane, I have been able to reexamine a good chunk of these moments from the past 11 months of 2015, and I have discovered a pattern in my research. There has been a direct correlation to my level of gratitude and people. People invoke thankfulness. People. Sure, I am thankful for exciting new opportunities and personal accomplishments and financial provision and physical health and spiritual revelations… but what gives each of those blessings true meaning is sharing them with the people dearest to me.
It’s people that I am most thankful for… My family who knows me best and loves me most. Friends who text a funny meme at just the right moments. Pastors who continue to invest in me and believe in me. The new family I met in the church lobby that has just moved from out of state. The young leaders full of potential that I grab coffee with who have a million questions and an equal amount of passion. The woman with tears in her eyes at the end of a conference session because of how much the Holy Spirit spoke to her during the sermon I just preached. The Uber driver on the way to LAX intrigued by my faith and interested in knowing more about Jesus. Every person who decides to follow Jesus at the end of a church service or event or simple conversation.
People. For this, I am thankful.
I suppose at the end of my life, I won’t care so much about how much money is in my bank accounts or the titles I’ve held or the amount of social media followers I have gained or how big my house is or how many items on my bucket list I checked off or how many people know my name or what conferences I got invited to or how many people bought my books. I leave room to be surprised, but something tells me that won’t be how I will measure success at the end of my life.
No, I’ll be thinking about Jesus and people. I’ll be hoping I told as many people about Jesus as I possibly could and that I not only told them but even more, that I loved them. I’ll be giving an account on how I treated people, how I served people, how I inconvenienced myself for people, and how I did something for the hurting and marginalized of this world. I’ll be thanking Jesus for the beautiful, wonderful and complex human beings He so graciously and divinely surrounded me with. I’ll be thankful for the decades of walking hand in hand with my husband, and for the one of a kind story Heaven had written with our lives. I’ll be dreaming about the future, about my kids and my grandkids, my nieces and nephews, and on a larger scale, an entire generation of the Church coming up after me. I’ll be envisioning the great exploits they will do by the power of God; how they will through love, sacrifice, prayer, and courage advance God’s Kingdom and shine brightly and boldly, overpowering darkness.
People will be on my mind, because they have forever been on my heart.
We live in an interesting time… A time where thousands upon thousands of desperate refugees risk everything to cross oceans and borders for a place to call home. A time where evil threatens the safety of innocent lives in the name of terrorism and bomb threats and public shootings. A time where corporations and politicians and even religious leaders are caught in scandals that leave scars of skepticism, heartbreak and confusion on the hearts of the masses. A time where discussions surrounding sexuality and gender leave people with more questions than answers and more pain than healing. A time where racism still bleeds into neighborhoods and college campuses and church buildings and courtrooms and family dinners.
We live in a dark time, a time where it would almost seem easier and safer to shrink back from humanity, to allow our hearts to grow cold towards one another, to look out only for ourselves because we can really never really trust those around us.
And yet, Jesus said the world would know we are truly His disciples by our love. Not our answers or our opinions or material possessions or external accomplishments or even our ability to remain unharmed by a harmful world. No, by our love. The solution to darkness and despair is our love. Our love for people will transform these dark times into extraordinary times.
For this, I am thankful.
My prayer for you, reader and friend, is that you would look around with fresh eyes and an open heart and really see the people God has placed in your life. I pray that you would see them not as threats or problems or inconveniences or regrets. I pray you see them not just as they are today, but also as they could be. I pray you see their flaws because despite what we’ve been told, love is, in fact, not blind. I pray you see the flaws, but that you never fixate on them. I pray you see the ones that have hurt you as ones Christ gave His life to forgive. I pray you see the ones that have been with you for quite some time as a continual reminder of God’s faithfulness over the years. I pray you see the newer faces as a great unknown, not to be feared, but to be explored. I pray you see people and before even wondering what they could do for you, you find yourself dreaming up ways to serve them.
And above all, I pray you see people this Thanksgiving week, and find yourself whispering to God, “For this, I am thankful.”