I Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
I know this is the time of year we start thinking more about being thankful, and I think it's a really good idea to have an official time to focus more on all the blessings we have. It's not just a silly platitude when people say that making a list of all you have to be thankful for really changes your whole perspective on life.
One year, I made a little "Thanksgiving Tree." I just got a branch, decorated it, and tied some yarn all over it. Then, I got little pieces of paper and punched holes in them. Everyone was supposed to write down something they were thankful for and tie it to the tree. There was a catch, though. Instead of writing good things they were thankful for, they had to write about things that seemed negative at the time but turned out good in the long run. I thought it turned out really neat to read all about the hard things we had all gone through, knowing we could recognize the good in them.
That's what the verse in I Thessalonians says. It doesn't just say to give thanks; it says to give thanks in all circumstances. That is what can be really hard sometimes. It is easy to thank God for the good things, but do we thank him for the hard times also? It is in the hard times that we are strengthened and caused to grow (James 1:2-4).
In light of these things, I thought I would make a list of what I am thankful for this year, but instead of all the nice things (and there have been boat-loads of those), I thought I would write why I'm thankful for all the tough things we have been through.
1.) I am thankful for...a decrease in income due to Van's losing a part-time position...because it has freed up our schedule a little more and allowed us to be more creative in how we spend our money.
2.) I am thankful for...having ten people choose to place their fellowship with a different church after years of working together and building relationships...because it has caused us to be really introspective about who we are and why we are in the ministry; it has challenged us to be faithful; it has shown us ways that we need to improve; and it has caused us to see the potential in people we were overlooking because we were so focused on the ones we thought would stay and be the pillars.
3.) I am thankful for...being diagnosed with cancer...because it made me think about death and the legacy I wanted to leave behind; it showed me the sweetness and support of my family, church, and friends; it gave me a new perspective on what it's like to have cancer and not know what the outcome will be; and it made me appreciate what I've got even if it's not always what I want.
4.) I am thankful for...having to make some tough decisions about our daughter's emotional health...because it has helped us not to be so judgmental of other parents because we may not know everything that's going on behind the scenes; it has opened the doors to discuss some very deep truths with our daughter that most parents will not get to discuss with their children until they're much older; it has made us have to confront some of the unhealthy and untrue things that we were telling ourselves while we thought we were being perfectly rational.
5.) I am thankful for...the difficult navigation of the adoption process and that we are still waiting for that match...because there is a special child out there somewhere waiting for the love our family can give, and all the time it is taking to bring us together is just preparing our hearts for the perfect moment when the child we've been praying for becomes a part of our family.
So, whether you write a list of all the good things you're thankful for or all the not-so-good things you're thankful for, take the time to notice what God is doing in you're life. He is accomplishing great things in you, even when you may not feel so great about it.