Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Friend Named Thanksgiving

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” You got to figure Paul must have been a good mood when he wrote that verse. You got to figure Paul’s circumstances must have been good ones. But if we do that, our figuring is wrong. Paul certainly had his share of good times, but for the most part, life was hard for Paul. Most of his adult life spent on the road, often sleeping in the elements. He was beaten like a rug, pelted with stones and left for dead, shipwrecked in the dead of winter, jailed for long periods of time for nothing more than proclaiming the gospel, and stricken with this mysterious “thorn in the flesh” that God wouldn’t not remove. Paul had his good times, but he spent much of life in the worst of circumstances. Yet he was thankful—thankful when times were good, thankful when times were hard, thankful in all circumstances. And not because he was some extra strong Christian, but because giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for His people in Christ Jesus. That’s the same Christ Jesus who endured painful persecution and angry scorn, the same Christ Jesus who was nailed up on a cross—a cross He endured because He knew that death wouldn’t get the last word on Him; life would get the last word. Crucifixion wouldn’t be His swan song; resurrection just a couple of mornings away would be the new song He would sing for eternity. Knowing these things helped Paul and can help us give thanks in all circumstances.

It was like Thanksgiving was a friend to Paul—a friend Paul took along everywhere he went and into every situation he encountered. Years ago, Fred Craddock helped me see that Doxology can be a friend. Well, Thanksgiving can be a friend as well. And I live life on higher plane when I take my friend Thanksgiving along.

And Paul is not the only person who has modeled this for me. Teresa Walters did too. I knew her for many years. And I’ll never forget when I got word that she had died. I was at my son’s basketball game when the call came to meet the Walters family at the hospital. That death was hard to take on many levels. At her death, Teresa was only 25 years old. One of “Jerry’s kids,” she had been stricken with muscular dystrophy from earliest childhood. She had never known what it was like to run through the grass, to catch a ball, to drive a car. All she could drive was her little motorized wheelchair. And she drove it everywhere. It was a nifty little wheelchair: oxygen tank-ready and a bumper sticker on the back that said, "A woman's place is in the mall." And did I tell you it was a two-seater? One for her and one for Thanksgiving.

In spite of her problems, Teresa took Thanksgiving almost everywhere. Now and then God gives us opportunity to know someone whose courage and grace in the midst of adversity just lifts us up. She was one of those persons—an incredible young woman in many ways. But the older she got, the more tightly her terrible disease held her in its grip. And no matter how much she or her parents or the church or the doctors tried to pry its fingers loose, muscular dystrophy would not let go. Teresa got to the point where she had to be on oxygen all the time. She couldn't eat the things you and I could eat. She was literally skin and bones. So weak was Teresa that she had to be belted into her wheelchair or she would slide right out. She was as bad as I had ever seen her. She had bounced back before—this determined little fighter—but this time her disease squeezed her so hard that she died.

Thanksgiving had come along with me to my son's basketball game, and he said he wanted to go with me to the hospital too. "All right," I said (my heart not in it), "you can come along but I want you to sit in the backseat and keep your mouth shut." When we got to the hospital, we both started to get out of the car. "Where do you think you're going?" I said to Thanksgiving.

He replied, "I'm going with you. You may need me in there. Teresa was my friend too."

"Forget it!" I said. "You're the last person anybody wants to see right now. Just wait in the car." Obviously hurt, but equally submissive, Thanksgiving (who will only go where he's invited) climbed back in the car and shut the door.

I went up to the room and found Teresa's parents there. They were surrounded by family and friends in that hospital hallway. The three of us, however, went in alone to the room where Teresa's body lay dead upon the bed. Her flaming red locks spread out across her pillow. We cried and we prayed the 23rd Psalm. It was all very sad. We stood there for the longest time in silence. Then her parents started talking. They told me that late in the afternoon, when Teresa was struggling the most, they prayed and asked God to take her home to heaven. All these 25 years they could never pray that prayer, all the previous times death had knocked at Teresa’s door they couldn’t pray that prayer, but today they found the strength and peace to do it. And now, even though they were sad, they were thanking God for His mercy.

And then they told me about the last picture Teresa had painted. In spite of her problems, Teresa was an accomplished painter. I don't know how she did it, but she did it, and she did it well enough to win awards at art fairs. And, as her parents told the story, the last picture she painted (though hard to see the detail, that's it at the top of this blog) was based on Isaiah 40:31. You remember that verse, don't you? "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." In the painting, Teresa had drawn a skyline of the heavenly city encased in lush trees at the end of a long winding path. Above the city was a soaring eagle. And right there at the end of the path that led to the city, she painted something else—a tiny, empty wheelchair. She titled the painting Freedom Awaits. Teresa knew she was dying. She knew it wouldn't be long. She didn't want to die, but she was ready.

About that time, there was a quiet tap at the door. It was Thanksgiving. He came in and said, "I thought maybe y’all might need me about now." We did. And as strange as it may sound, Thanksgiving comforted us and made that experience a little easier to take.

But that’s what Thanksgiving does for every experience. Thanksgiving helps maximizes the joy of our blessings and helps lessen the heartbreak of our trials. Paul knew that. Teresa knew that. I want to know that too. How about you? So in this Thanksgiving season, let’s ask God to provide the Holy Spirit power we need to live this great thanksgiving verse in this season and all year long: “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

1 comment:

  1. Hello John, i read your blog. that was pretty powerful. thank you for posting. may God bless you and yours this thanksgiving. Patricia Midkiff
    { Weddle}