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The Paradox of Thanksgiving

by Stephen W. Smith

Thanksgiving and actually every holiday, stirs the soul and brings up the dark as well as the light.

I asked Gwen what single word would sum up the year 2011, without any hesitation, she said, “Pain!” In that single word few companions or acquaintances could ever realize the hidden pain she has carried. Her back pain. The surgery. The tumor. The 4 month long recuperation that will morph to 12 months before she’s done and actually “better.”

Do you have one word that might describe 2011? Think of one and don’t be too shallow, smaltzy or simple! Find a word that you might offer as a word to give insight to your very soul.

Here’s what true for me in this past year that I need to keep in mind as I look for my word:

In 2011:

I had to re-write my entire book that I spent two years writing.
I had to do this in three months.
I had to cancel plans for a summer of fun for a long, hard journey into my heart to try–again to understand what the abundant life was really about.
I have to realize that in the empty nest, we find ourselves alone more than we really want to be and deeply miss our kids.
I have to realize that the realization of a dream long fought for and hard-pressed to realize has ushered me into a new feeling that goes something like this: “Now, what?”
I am coming to realize that my closest friends are really never going to live in one place and for any extended period of time.
That the finishing of the Inn–the big red barn is really only the sobering beginning of ministry using it.

Life is expensive. We gain in life–but the truth is really this–we also lose in life. Abundance in life is not about amassing everything that is good. But abundance is coming to the understanding that we are merely clay and life is not up to us and never was.

So, while packing our car to drive up to the retreat to enjoy the thanksgiving feast with a few friends who have become for us family, we are sobered by the paradox of thanksgiving. To celebrate thanksgiving is to relinquish the feeling of simply being happy to being profoundly aware that without Jesus Christ, life would not be worth it.

In every paradox is the lens through with to see truth as it really is and that this truth is really the only thing that will set us free in the end.

Here’s to all who have lost their love in death this past year who will need to be thankful for a life now alone.
Here’s to all who have lost their job and have no future for a new one who will need to be thankful at the prospect of a meager year ahead.
Here’s to all who have received bad news from the doctor and will need to be thankful.
Here’s to politicians that continue to over promise and under deliver in this great nation of ours that seems so broken this year!
Here’s to all have been betrayed by a friend, stabbed in the back by someone you never felt could or would do it and be thankful.
Here’s to all who have lost so much only to find that they have everything in Jesus Christ.
Here’s to all who will walk with a limp but who will still walk.
Here’s to all who have sought refuge in the church only to feel even more alone.
Here’s to all who have tried to live more simply but only to discover the complexities of the soul’s longings.
Here’s to all who seek the serenity of the Quiet One only to discover the shouting within and around us.

Paradox is sometimes the very best word one can use to discuss our life which goes sometimes like this: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times….we had everything before us. We had nothing before us. It was the spring of our hope. It is the winter of our discontent. Yes, we live here in the middle of these realities and to deny that we do is a symptom of our shallow lives and empty hearts. If the Psalmist could express both love and fear; worship and defeat; victory with lament in his poems, why then, can’t we?

I”m mindful of you this Thanksgiving. I’m so very thankful for your honest questions. Your determination to not give up or give in. I’m grateful to soldiers who will eat alone so that we may feast together.

I am most thankful for David, Rebekah who are my team in life and work now. I am thankful for Paul, Chad and Tiffiny who make our life, retreat and work better than what it would be if I were alone.

I am profoundly thankful for my true companion in life who seeks what I want; who longs for what I long for; who will not settle for anything less of what the paradox of thanksgiving stirs.

My word for 2011 is paradox. Some good, some bad. Some hard. Some easy. Some wonderful. Some awful. Some brutal. Some beautiful.

Yes, paradox.

Blessings at Thanksgiving!

OK. Now in the “reply” box, type in your one word–perhaps with some elaboration and let us compare notes on the journey towards having grateful hearts!


8 Responses

  1. My word for 2011 is grief. He knows his plans. He is God. He is the potter, I am the clay. I am His Beloved.

    • Renee, you and David have been through so much! It’s time for the new to replace the old. No season of grief last forever! We send our love to all of you! Blessings in Thanksgiving!

  2. My word for this year would be “tears.” Seems like I’ve shed a lot with a situation I had to deal with. But I believe God is going to redeem those tears. After receiving my resignation letter, the board where I worked asked to meet with me. I was given the opportunity to share some of those tears and the reasons behind them. I’m hoping to hear of some changes happening.

    Now as I prepare to leave this “land of smiles” in 2 days, the tears are there as I say my good-byes. On a very emotional day, I asked the Lord what was going on with me and I felt like He said that I was in the midst of child birth. He reminded me of Is. 43 -“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Message Bible)

    He also reminded me of a picture I had during a healing prayer one time of Jesus standing in the delivery room with His arms held out waiting for my arrival. So, I know He is right there waiting for this brand-new thing to be birthed in my life, despite the pain of saying good-bye As in the birth of a child, once the new arrival is here, the pain is replaced by joy! That is what I’m expecting, too! Just 2 more days before I make my way back to my home country, so birthing that baby may be soon!

  3. Steadfast……….

    The journey is long, results not guaranteed, potholes enough to swallow a Volkswagen, but “keepin on keepin on” is very difficult at times. I’d like to think that all is well each day but the truth is that it is very scary and trying. We’re not about to give up as we have come sooooo far.

    Good health is returning; strong back and mind. Very thankful for the road we are on now…. the paving looks fresher and much smoother. Mindful of those who have had similar journeys and kept the faith.

    Thankful for family; especially our precious grandchildren.

    Thankful for my spouse; a true hero and inspiration to me each day. And that is only the short list……..

    Thankful for those who serve our country; our family members in the military, two colleagues who quit their jobs to help rebuild Joplin, MO homes and lives for the next 12 months, and the Salvation Army who took in a lost family member and led them out of the depths of darkness.

    Thankful for miracles and miracle workers that are all around us.

  4. Rescued . . .

    into his rhythm of grace and gratitude
    into intimacy

    not because things were easy or smooth or clear or without pain

    But simply because at long last my trust has let me rest.

    And I give deep thanks.

  5. Dis-oriented–
    To be oriented you must be able to find your bearings. My bearings were blurred when I walked into the new year grieving for a friend’s decisions that changed life for countless people and left us feeling confused, betrayed and uncertain. My bearings were knocked out from under me on a day late in March when every single thing that made my life my life changed. In a single conversation all that I knew to be true was altered. People I trusted and respected wielded power in a convoluted way, people I loved stood by shocked, hurt but unwilling to move into the chaos with me. This will be a year for re-orientation as my heart heals enough to see, to listen, to move toward the Object of my true orientation.

    Come Lord Jesus!

  6. My word would be “wandering.” It is said that all who wander are not lost. I was fairly lost wondering what God would have me to do. The fog is beginning to clear, but it has been a very long journey.

  7. my goodness Steve, this is a beautiful post you’ve written…..I’m continually blessed by your open and tender heart.

    I think my word for this year, thus far, would be “buffeted” (sp??). Buffeted by bad news, bad advice, some bad business deals……all like brief little wind storms that sort of make me lose my footing. Then, steady-now, back to centering and facing the direction of the wind.

    The “centering”? It’s a lot of remembering……who Papa is; those who love me; who I belong to; the what and who that really matters in the journey……that sort of thing.


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