Walking down the gravel road, stirring up the dust with each footfall I was sweating. The heat of the Nicaraguan day had me longing for shade. Our group of Americans, equipped with an interpreter, was on a prayer walk through the barrio. Speaking to the people, spending time with them was our joy. They had a spirit of generosity and welcomed us as family. Each house had a different story, but one woman stood out among all the others.
She invited us inside, through the curtain front door. The dirt floor was swept. The walls were mostly made up of sheet metal and cardboard. There was a metal roof held up on three sides, with the fourth open to the humid air. The sun shone through the gaping hole. Chickens were tied to a rickety table leg, flapping and squawking as if they knew they were dinner. There were two chairs and a makeshift cookstove. The room was muggy and smoky, and filled with her family. Her sons and their children and their babies. Four generations in the small shack. The scene was much like the other houses we had visited. The difference was at the end of our visit, when we asked how we could pray for her, she could not think of anything. She said, “I am blessed beyond measure. I have everything I need. How can I pray for you?” The chickens were still and you could have heard a pin drop, as if they were all waiting for us to answer. The impact of her statement was like a gut punch of humility and gentleness, and a spotlight on my lack of understanding of what it means to be grateful. She prayed for us and there was not a dry eye in the room. She was thankfulness personified.
Another day, another continent. An Ethiopian village, worlds away. Another street of houses. Another woman. Newspaper lined the thin walls. A single bulb hung from the ceiling. Dirt floor. Curtain door. A mattress on the floor the only furnishing. Suitcases stacked on top of one another as a dresser. The woman, lying on the mattress, invited us in. She was unable to walk much, but she had just returned from walking to church and back. Her feet are her only transportation. She asked for our host, who was with another group on a different street. She called him the “father to the poor” and thanked God for him. She asked us if she could pray for us before we had the chance to ask her. She prayed, thanking God for all her many blessings, and then she allowed us to pray for her legs. We did so, but with full awareness that she was a giant of thankfulness who stood firmly on her blessings, despite the weakness of her legs.
Romania this time. More curtain doors. More chickens and this time a pig as well. The house too small for us to fit inside, so we were invited into the courtyard where the animals lived. Each of us offered a seat, be it a box, or a log, or a rickety chair from inside. Small faces popped up through the curtains on the window. Dirty faces, hair amiss, smiles bright as the sun. The older boy, stepped out with his father. He was bare foot, without a shirt so you could see his hunger on his body. Unlike the smaller siblings the boy had sadness creasing his face, and the father explained that death had taken his wife. He went on to explain how blessed they are to have the animals, who were making their presence known throughout our visit, and the bike which was leaning against the wall, so he could go to town. So, thankful was this grieving man, that he impacted the heart of every person of our group. When he prayed for us, we were broken.
I could go on. There are so many stories and each one ends the same…with humility, gentleness, and genuine thankfulness.
If you are dismayed this Thanksgiving, let me encourage you to sit among the poor. Find out what gratefulness looks like. Focus not on what you don’t have, but on what you do. Step out of our cultural mess and look around. The antidote for discouragement is thankfulness. The opposite of despair is to be full of thanks. The world is not ending. God has not abandoned us. He is fully on his throne and aware of every detail of our world. He knows every detail of our lives. For that I am truly thankful. He knows. He sees. He never turns his head away. He is thankful for me. And for you. And for every one of his children who walk the earth. Does that surprise you? The God of the universe is thankful for you and your place in his world. Let it sink in. Whatever you do for Thanksgiving…food…family…quiet…noise…big…small…remember to be grateful for every breath of God that flows through your lungs. Be still in the simplicity of thankfulness.
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” Psalm 28:7
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.” Psalm 23:5