It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m sitting on my bed watching winter storm Cato deposit the last of its snow on the Bishop Hodges Pastoral Center. I’m 700 miles from my home in Illinois, which is a rough place to be around the holidays. I haven’t been home in almost half a year. I miss my favorite record store and the cheddar fries from a hometown fast food joint and the Mississippi River and Madison and my other favorite spots in northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin/northeast Iowa. I miss family gatherings and my friends. I miss driving a mere five minutes to go to church instead of the 30 it takes me here.
Please don’t read this and think that I’m sad or bitter, though. As much as I’d rather be home right now, I’m feeling otherwise content, and I realize that I still have a lot to be thankful for.
For about the past week the entries in my daily devotional book have all emphasized practicing gratitude. I picked up on this trend after the first two or three days of entries and when I realized it, I rolled my eyes a little bit at both the author (running out of material to reflect on, eh?) and God (enough already, I got it, etc., etc.). But as I practiced gratitude myself, I noticed that it takes the sting out of difficulties and makes me realize how small they are compared to all the good things in my life. Gratitude definitely shouldn’t only be practiced this time of year. We ought to express thanksgiving every day. I’ll definitely challenge myself to do it more often. But because it’s Thanksgiving and I feel like being cheesy and cliché, here’s a list of some things I’m grateful for.
- My job. I’ve done some pretty wicked-awesome things since becoming a missionary, including but not limited to: helping teens with service projects, leading middle-schoolers on a camping trip, running a zip-line and climbing tower, emceeing campfires, leading worship with Steve Angrisano, traveling to places I’ve never been for various reasons, and, above all, helping young people better understand their faith and love God. It sure beats the office jobs I was working for a year after I finished college.
- My coworkers, supervisors, and the other people I’ve met since becoming a missionary. They’re some of the kindest, coolest, funniest, smartest, most talented and generous people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting, and they challenge me and believe in me more than anybody I’ve worked with/for since finishing college.
- West Virginia. The state is a lot more rural and isolated than I prefer, and it has its share of problems, but it’s also home to some of the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen. I’m blessed to be living in such a gorgeous place.
- Freedom. Maybe a cliché item on everybody’s gratitude list, but I really am thankful for the freedoms I enjoy as an American. This country isn’t perfect by any means and we’ve still got work to do in some areas, but I am able to do some things—voice my opinion, worship and believe as I like, and lots more—that people in lots of places just can’t without putting themselves in danger.
- Music. Life would be so dull without it, man.
- Family and friends from back home who drop me messages to see how I’m doing. Thanks for reminding me that I’m loved, y’all.
- St. Therese of Lisieux. She’s well-loved by so many Catholics but I really didn’t make it a point to learn more about (and from) her until this year, when I found out that she’s a patron of missions. Her example of simplicity and trust has been super-helpful to me as I’ve re-connected with my faith.
- Coffee. I’m a bit of a late-bloomer when it comes to coffee (I didn’t start drinking it until this past summer). The caffeine doesn’t have much of an effect on me, but morning coffee is comforting and somehow it reminds me to slow down and savor things.
- A God who waits. One who is patient and gentle and forgiving and anxious to welcome back those who have been away for awhile. And one who never ceases to surprise and delight His followers.