Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When the Leaves Drop

On Thursday, we will gather around the same table we gave thanks at last year. We will join hands with Josh's parents in their beautiful home surrounded by valleys of pine and oak and gypsy deer and hummingbird illusionists and resourceful squirrels burying food for hard times, and we will say, "Thank you, Lord."

As we did last year.

As we have every other year of our lives together, whether we were at this table or ours or others'.

But Thanksgiving will require something different of us this year.

Because this year, the blessings have been less shiny. This year, the easy, obvious objects of our gratitude--cozy home and mountain grandeur and precious community and family near--have been loosed from our grateful grip. This year, we find ourselves in circumstances that have been the antithesis of what we had asked and hoped and prayed: a forced relocation thanks to a layoff, living in an aparment in suburban Texas while we pay the mortgage on a house that hasn't sold, all the while coming to grips with the reality that the dream job is less than dreamy.

Our gratitude in years past didn't cost us anything. It was the gratitude of abundance. Of stability. Of clarity. We recognized the blessing and we appreciated the goodness and we were truly, sincerely grateful for every gift. The thanks poured out of us, out of our cup running over.

But this year, as we grieve what we've left, as we long for answers to what's around the corner of time, we are asked to find the gratitude of want. Of uncertainty. Of confusion. Of disappointment.

We will gather around the table, remembering how this year we've wiped tears from our cheeks and heaved prayers like sobs and asked why and said, "Please, Lord, please..."

This year, though we wish we could return to the life we led last year, we learn to say, "Not my will but yours."

Like children, we are learning patience, faith, obedience. We are inhaling grace so that we do not tantrum like petulant children who didn't get their way.

This year, we discipline ourselves to say thank you for the heartsickness of missing family and friends and infant nephew milestones, for the months of stress and wondering and frustration and sadness, for the sheer exhaustion of whittling a new life out of question marks.

This year, we raise our hands to our Maker in praise, like the near-empty branches of the tree outside my window, whose leaves--once their splendor and beauty and life--fall one-by-one to the ground. Though we perceive lack, we know, deep down, that we are stripped only for a season. There is beauty in the process, in the surrender.

In the golden remnant of fall, we give thanks that the Lord is good. We give thanks that His love endures forever. And that truth is sufficient. More than enough, really, to sustain us in any circumstance.

Because miracles are found in the messy, grief-stricken disappointments of this world: in a manger, on a cross, in a winter that turns into spring. So surely they can appear in Texas. And as we look for the incarnation, we remember that our true home is each other's arms. We are awoken from our default routines and invited to a life full of infinite choices, possibilities, adventures. We purpose not to ride out the rest of our lives as idle passengers of complacency.

This year, we remember that thanks is something we give, not something we receive. One leaf at a time.

An offering that leaves us with the illusion of emptiness.

Until we find that our emptiness becomes a cornucopia...of faith and hope and love.

We believe. Lord, help our unbelief.

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