Saturday, November 27, 2010

Understanding Thanks

A year ago during this same holiday season, nestled between two incredible mountains, snow falling and settling in blankets all around and sitting in front of a roaring fireplace, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Vancouver, Canada. Despite the nostalgia that reminds me of what an incredible Thanksgiving that was, I am even more still in awe of what a year has brought to my life; of the things that God has done and the changes that have resulted in my heart and life. And while most days I am completely baffled and if I was being quite honest, terrified, I am really, really thankful. 

I am thankful that my identity doesn't reside in my past but only in the incredible name of Jesus Christ. My identity isn't defined by the difficult childhood that I lived through or the adult life that I almost tragically destroyed time and time again with my infinitely disastrous decisions. I am thankful that I have never had the resolve to give up or quit; by the grace of God it just absolutely never occurs to me. I am thankful to beat every statistic and every odd the world has stacked against a girl who comes from circumstances as I did, and do it with a laugh and a smile, instead of a bitterness and a cynicism that plagues so many with troubled backgrounds. 

I am thankful that I choose to make seemingly foolish, spur-of-the-moment decisions like saving up funds and resigning from my then job to travel through Europe for a month. I muse at the memory of sitting in a cafe in Paris, strolling through the streets, gazing up at the Notre Dame Cathedral or the breathtaking view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I laugh at the expression on my face staring at the Mona Lisa and thinking how much bigger I thought she would be for one. And for two, feeling silly for thinking of how ironic it was for a girl like me to even be standing in front of the Mona Lisa at all. I remember the feel of air brushing my face, the smell of the water, as I traveled by trocadero or Italian taxi (boat) in Venice and having dinner on the canals of a truly beautiful city in Italy. I remember the rain falling in Rome and the bad timing of a terrible cold I caught, not stopping me from seeing this historic ancient city. I remember the long train rides between destinations and the strangers who sat beside me. I am thankful for the energy to climb the steps to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany and the realization that I was standing in a room where Kings once laid. The adventure of Amsterdam and the culture of Prague in the Czech Republic still reside in the forefront of my mind as if it was yesterday, when the reality is that it was eleven years ago. I am thankful to have surfed the waves of Hawaii, hiked Diamondhead and taken in the view of the island of Oahu by helicopter. I love that I have combed the beaches of Mexico and skiied the slopes of Whistler, Canada just days before the winter Olympics. There is something majestic and almost child-like that happens in the midst of mountains and snowfall, I am convinced..

Despite having three universities on my transcript- one on the west coast, one on the east and one in the south (hey, they are all part of the adventure and play a significant part in who I am today), I am thankful that I choose to resume my college education at a later time in life, when again, no one would have doubted as to why I wouldn't. I am thankful to have the memory of walking across that stage and receiving my diploma at the ripe age of 29, realizing I was the first in my immediate family to have done so. I wish words could describe the emotions that welled up inside me on that day, the overwhelming joy and sense of accomplishment I felt at knowing I did it, I really did it. I figured out how to pay for it (well technically I am STILL paying for it), how to manage it, how to do it working full time and studying full time all while fighting the daily, and sometimes more frequent mind games of "you can't do this, just give up." I am thankful for the blessings in my career path that unfolded so effortlessly and the timing that seemed to know exactly when to present itself. I am thankful for the abrupt shift from corporate America to full-time ministry, despite my fleshly attempts at avoiding it each time I heard God whispering in my ear, "this way." I am thankful that God has designed me so that when I say I am going to do it, I absolutely know I am going to do it- come hell or high water, and quite often it's a combination of both. 

But what I am most thankful for, above all, above overcoming my past, seeing the world (which I must admit vehemently, changes the way you see everything) graduating from college, all of it, is the faith that I have been blessed with. It's a gift; I know it with every beat of my heart. My faith in God, in Christ, in the future, even though it is spectacularly difficult to trust sometimes, is a gift and not at all from within me, but all from my Father. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I couldn't muster an ounce of strength without the power of God. I am painfully aware of my weaknesses, and my inability to breathe, much less move without God calling it to be. And I am thankful for something that many are unable yet to give thanks for, and that is my story, my testimony. Every painful memory, every difficult trial, every last breath that has brought me to where I stand today and I wouldn't change a second of it, because I have come to realize that the view from the top of the mountain is much sweeter with the recognition of the sweat, the blood and the struggle it took to climb it. There isn't a climber in the world, a marathon runner, an Olympic athlete, who crosses the finish line or reaches the top of the soaring peak, and says, "it wasn't worth the fight." It's always worth the fight, everything worth having always is! Even more so is the realization that your story is for a purpose much greater than yourself or mastering the temporary things of this world such as success or material possessions. It wasn't until I set foot on Cambodian soil to serve orphans that I finally realized the reasons God had for allowing so many things to occur in my life. To hear girls say "you are like me sister" and to understand what they meant and how that encouraged them, literally changed my life. Since then, I have been able to use my story to encourage the orphaned in Zambia, South Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda and I know what God is calling me to do in the near future; it's only the beginning. It is scary, but absolutely exhilarating all in the same. 

You know, I used to wonder how Joseph did it. How he endured the unfair life that he was catapulted in by his brothers. How he lived through the loneliness of being abandoned by his own family, slavery, false imprisonment and just what that must have made him feel deep within. Even though I knew he ended up being in charge of the largest kingdom there was, I knew how his story ended, I still felt sorry for him because, well if I am being honest, I still felt sorry for me. Then one day, reading his story again, it all fell into place; it all made sense. He too had to go through the blood, the sweat and the struggle to see the view from the mountaintop. I no longer felt sorry for Joseph, or myself, I felt thanksgiving toward God for the stories He allows to be a part of and sorrowful for my finite mind and its painful inability to see the big picture. Now instead, I look up to Joseph for the way he humbly and gracefully handled every lot he was given in life, and second to Christ, aspire to be like him. Now I just look up at the top of the mountain and simply say, "i'm coming up." If my God is with me, then who or what can be against me. If my God is with me, there is nothing we, together, cannot do.  

Yep, my cup runneth over, and I am just plain thankful. 

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