"Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1Thessalonians 5:16-18
It would be easy to read those words and think that's a nice thing to do. Or, that was good for Paul but you don't know my life. You don't know the road I'm walking. That's just not realistic. Or even to just think that those three verses are a little fluffy in the midst of the rest of God's word.
But the truth is Paul's journey to the church of Thessalonica had been paved with hardship. The road Paul walked had been paved with beatings, floggings, imprisonment and then being kicked out of Thessalonica- the very place he was writing that letter to. So, in the midst of this road, Paul writes to these brand new Jesus followers to be joyful always, to pray continually and to give thanks in ALL circumstances.
Though the sentences are short the sentiment is rich. Because it's not natural. It's not the normal response. It's not what just comes out of us. It's a work of God through us.
I visited my grandma yesterday. She is dying. She is in good spirits and has no pain.
One of the hardest parts of this road is that she is so darn grateful. It makes it even harder to know she will only be with us for a short time because she is such a joy to be around. Joy and gratitude just pour out of her. She was sitting in her chair in her hospital room yesterday when her doctor came in to see her. Dr. Seetharaman has been an incredible gift to our family. He walked up to my grandma and held her hand and rubbed her shoulder. He kissed the top of her head and she leaned into him. She told him she loved him and that he was a gift sent from God. She thanked him for the care he had taken of her.
The nurse came to help her to the bathroom and my grandma looked in her eyes and talked to her. She joked and made the nurse laugh and when the nurse helped her back in her chair she held her hand a moment longer and thanked her and told her she loved her.
Then her sock was dirty and she was going to try to get the spot off with the hand sanitizer on her little table. I told her we could get her a new pair. When this sweet girl, Lyssa, the patient care technician, came in with her new socks you would have thought my gram was given a brand new piece of expensive jewelry. She just beamed that she had fresh, new socks to wear.
And if you based your hospital food reviews off of what she says the hospital cafeteria is rivaling any 5 star restaurant. She is grateful for a hot meal and she gobbles it up. When you ask her how it was she throws her head back, slumps her shoulders down and opens her mouth with a wide grin. "Oh, Danielle, it was SO GOOD! And there were cinnamon apple slices for dessert! The coffee is so good here."
And what made me sob yesterday was when she said how grateful she was to God for letting her be sick before dying. She used to ask God to just let her fall asleep and die. "God did it for my sister. He can do it for me." Oh, Gram. But yesterday she told me how grateful she is to be sick because now she gets to spend her days saying goodbyes. Friends and family are visiting and she is loving every minute. Me, too. Me, too.
It was the same with each person who entered her room yesterday. Love and gratitude poured from her lips. "God is good," was spoken at least a dozen times. And when the social worker came in to tell her that she would get to go to a comfort care home on Christmas Eve (something they said would NEVER happen) she cried tears of joy. The social worker sat beside her and hugged her. They cried together and my grandmother, again, spoke words of gratitude and love.
Faith changes everything. In the midst of dying, it's a faith in Jesus that frees the heart to sing. Frees the heart to be joyful and give thanks in ALL circumstances. This road is not easy. But she continues to have joy and gratitude and that points me to Jesus every. single. time.
I don't know what road you are walking right now. If it's an easier road or if it is a road that looks a bit more like the road my family is walking. Maybe it's littered with loss and pain and lots of unknowns. Or maybe right now it's filled with easy news, loved ones beside you and things just falling into place. Whatever your road, may you, today, be joyful and give thanks.
Giving thanks is a perspective shifter. It doesn't change the road it just changes the way you are looking at the road. It doesn't fix the hardship it just puts it in perspective.
Today I am grateful that God loved us enough to send His One and Only Son. I'm grateful for Jesus- God with us. I'm grateful for another day with my sweet Gram. I'm grateful for in-laws that love me as their own and for my family in Rochester who graciously have given me the freedom to be completely non-committal with Christmas plans. I'm grateful that Christmas is more than presents and stockings hung (mainly because if that was all it was about I'd be completely failing. No gift is wrapped and our stockings are not hung yet). And today I am grateful for you. You read these updates and I know that you are praying for me and for my family. You are choosing to, in a way, walk this road with me. That's not an easy thing. Thank you.
"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word... May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance." 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, 3:5
Merry Christmas, sweet ones.