|A Crazy Owsley Thanksgiving|
I daily face a sad truth about my character...I far prefer to be grateful when I’m actually feeling grateful. And I only really feel grateful when a blessing is presented in a lovely gift wrapped package...with sunshine, rainbows and puppies. Oh, and a choir of angels never hurts either. Don’t laugh...I’m just trying to keep it real. A $20 bill I found in my coat pocket...BAM...gratefulness. Big strong men offering to do stuff around our house...BAM...gratefulness. An unexpected hand written letter in the mail...BAM...thank you, Father. And when I’m sitting around a Thanksgiving Day feast with friends and family...it’s easy to eat, laugh, hug, and tease my way into a deep wellspring of appreciation for the community the Father has given me. I’ve had lots of HUGE opportunities to feel grateful. And in these moments, the eyes of my heart are drawn to the heavens, and with a song of thanksgiving...I rejoice. Oh yeah, I rejoice...until the sunshine and puppies disappear and my gratitude dissolves back into the hardships of daily living.
So, here’s my confession...I’m totally guilty of circumstantial gratitude. I begin to suspect there’s something horribly wrong with my memory...because even having experienced life-altering blessings and Divine intervention beyond imagination, my spirit of gratitude is easily abandoned. And I wonder...how does a girl go from only feeling grateful to truly being grateful? I’m no longer content to be a fair-weather-feeler...no, I want gratitude to flow through the very marrow of my bones.That’s why contemplating the question, “To turn my heart toward gratitude...what must I turn my heart from?” has become an eternal question. And that’s why I truly believe that a Merciful Father is using my current illness to teach me a thing or two about bone-marrow gratitude.
In normal life...pre-chronic illness, my daily emotional regime would usually consist of sporadic moments of joy, bouts of anger, endless curiosity, occasional conviction, an unhealthy dose of self-righteousness, a smidge of condescension, plenty of self-doubt and a passel full of good-natured sarcasm. I considered it a pretty good day when I managed to hide the condescension and doubt behind a merry cloud of good humor. And I knew it was a bad day when the anger found its way to my face...and out of my mouth.But now my range of emotions has been somewhat stunted. I usually just bounce back and forth between misery and anxiety...with an occasional dusting of despondent expletives. It took me a really, really long time to see the mercy in this new short list of emotions. And it took me even longer to be grateful for them. But as I begin my slow journey back to the land of the living, I bring with me an invaluable “knowing.”
In the last few months, many of you have shared really lovely Scriptures with me. Scriptures about comfort and peace. About rejoicing, healing, and victory. I have considered each one of those as a good, good gift from the Father...for the Words themselves and because you cared enough to send them. But the Scripture that has been clinging to me for weeks is Philippians 4:4-6. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice! ...Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with THANKSGIVING, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Several weeks ago, I was in the middle of a full-fledged panic attack...brought on by what we’ve affectionately dubbed “a level 10” round of nausea. I was sitting on my parent’s old green leather couch...my head dangling over an empty WalMart bag. And because of the panic, the left side of my body had started to go numb. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. The heaving was so hard...that it felt like my ribs were cracking. And all of this misery was peppered with random bouts of sobbing and a deep conviction that this must be what it feels like to die. During this particular episode (as my mom sat next to me rubbing my back), I was trying to pray. In response, the Spirit said...”Alissa...Rejoice.” You’re kidding me, right? Talk about bad timing. Can’t you see how miserable I am? Can’t you see the anxiety is eating my last shred of rationality? “Alissa...I will say it again, Rejoice. Don’t be anxious about anything. Be thankful.” I think if I’d had the emotional energy in that moment, the Spirit and I may have gotten into a fist fight. Are you kidding me? Before I get to even present my request to God, I have to rejoice and be thankful? Clearly the God of the Universe doesn’t understand anxiety attacks. My heart is beating out of my chest...and I’m at a level 10 of suffering. The Spirit’s request felt cruel...and backwards. This is an emergency, Father...give me the peace first...and then I’ll be in the “place” to be grateful. But in that moment, I was desperate. So, with a weary, childlike effort ...I rejoiced. I thanked Him for giving me a mom to rub my back. I thanked Him for placing me in the comfort of my parent’s house while I endured the attack. Then...I thanked Him for making really, really good drugs. Soon thereafter, I began to feel my arms and legs again...and the dry heaving stopped.
Since that day, the Spirit and I have and many similar encounters...especially as I’ve battled through many bouts of anxiety. Just so you know, it’s quite an emotional blow to a control freak when she discovers that very, very little is actually under her control. Sure, there are drugs that help take the edge off of the anxiety (and without shame, I sometimes take those drugs)...but, I’ve found that the sometimes Herculean effort of turning my heart from fear...toward gratitude has taught my heart to not trust circumstance, but instead...trust the Rock of Ages. The Ancient of Days.Because...get this...I’ve figured out the magical, delicious truth that God revealed to us in Philippians 4:4-6. He gave us the formula for bone marrow gratitude! He says if you want to stop just feeling grateful and start being grateful...then Rejoice when you LEAST feel like it. See, the Father knows that our emotions of anxiety, despair, confusion, frustration, and anger are all rooted entirely on “self.” And that intentionally being grateful in the hardest moments of life is the anti-venom to the serpent’s lies. The Father is asking us to detach ourselves from what we feel...and proclaim what we know. And the “knowing” will settle His peace in our bones...in ways that we can’t comprehend.
Don’t get me wrong. This is hard work. Like...really, really hard work. I wish I could tell you that one time does the trick. Yeah... not so much. I’ve had many, many bouts of nausea and anxiety since my first rumble with the Spirit. Which means I’ve had many, many opportunities to exercise my gratitude. I’ll be honest, it hasn’t necessarily gotten easier...and I’m not sure I even do it that well. But, as the weeks go by, I find that a byproduct of exercise is being genuinely grateful...even when I feel miserable. Funny that, eh? During some of the worst days of my life...in a place where almost nothing is under my control...I’m finally more grateful then I’ve ever been.In fact, so many of you are on my bone-deep gratitude list, that I can’t help but let some of it spill over a little onto this blog post. I hope you’ll indulge me as I share pieces of the thanksgiving that has been bubbling in my heart in the last few weeks. Which means (drum roll please)...another list! Man, I love me some lists...
1. I am overwhelmingly, ridiculously, and profoundly grateful for my mom. Some of you know the craziness of this particular gratitude. Because, truth be told, prior to 2008...my mother was my number one source of anger and resentment. But in the last few years, with a lot of hard work and several risky conversations, we have been experiencing radical reconciliation. The idea that she is now one of my greatest sources of rest and comfort...well, that means we both serve a God who is in the business of restoration (there’s a great story here...one that I may tell someday). And as I battle with a broken body...she has been by my side every...single...day. I don’t even have to ask. She’s just always there. Talking through my anxiety. Feeding me. Doing my laundry. Driving me all over yonder. Or just sitting next to me all day because she knows I don’t want to be alone. And when I try to express my gratitude for being “my hero”...she says, “I’m not your hero...I just get to be your mom. This is what good mom’s do.” So, that’s what I’m grateful for....a really, really good mom.
2. I’m thankful for a praying Bride. I’ve said it in previous blogs...but I can’t help but mention it again. I hear stories of people and congregations who don’t even KNOW me...who are constantly praying for me. What? I’ve gotten cards and handwritten notes from friends, family, and strangers. Random texts from people I haven’t heard from in months...letting me know they’re praying. And my friends...oh Father...my friends. They are the lifters of my head, the physical manifestation of the Great Comforter. I’m more grateful to them than words can express...and I know a lot of words. I want you to know that I pray for you too. You are constantly in my thoughts...and someday soon we will DANCE!
3. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t audibly express my gratitude for my job. Yes, I’m grateful for good insurance and the ability to take medical leave (believe-you-me, I’m grateful)...but that pales in comparison to the magnitude of what I feel for the PEOPLE that I work with. I have no doubt that God knew exactly what I would need during this Season in my life...and He planned it right down to the last detail. In this crazy job market, He gave me a boss who is kind and compassionate....and who genuinely cares for those she leads. She has offered me untold grace and patience during one of our busiest times of year. The Father also gave me a “big” boss who has battled his own chronic illness for years...so, he has a great storehouse of empathy and concern. Not a week goes by without him sending me an encouraging text. Abba also gave me godly co-workers who lift me up in prayer, drive me home at a moment’s notice...and cover my butt when I’m not there to oversee a project. They have treated my tears with kindness (and hugs). And reassured me time and time again that I’m still a valuable. These people are more than co-workers...they are friends. It’s an honor to know them. (you too, Dave)
4. This may sound a little backwards, but I often find myself thanking Abba for allowing me to be single and childless during this season. I can barely take care of myself...trying to imagine having the responsibility of taking care of others is a little overwhelming. Instead, He has gifted me with a 24/7 on-call family. A dad who will sit with me and watch a TLC show about Princes...just to keep me company (sorry, Dad...I had to). He drives me to doctor’s appointments. Takes care of my dog. Prints off all my medical forms and gives me acupressure when I’ve got a horrible headache. Abba also gave me a sister who makes homemade chicken noodle soup and talks me through panic attacks. She leaves her kids at home (thank you, Steve), so she can come watch HGTV with me. And, when I’m going through niece & nephew withdrawals, she’ll bring her babies over to give me hugs and kisses. And even though they’re long-distance, I was also blessed with two brothers and a sister-in-law who send me random texts or emails telling me they’re praying and they love me. Every year around the Thanksgiving Day table, I’ve expressed that my family is one my greatest sources of gratitude. This year...those sentiments will be coming from my bones.
5. It’s amazing how the “little things” in life have now become an endless source for thanksgiving.
- A co-dependent dog – who never leaves my side.
- A giant fuzzy robe.
- Animal crackers
- Quick doctor’s appointments
- Cold weather
- My bed
- Protein shakes that don’t make me hurl
- Good music
- Wireless internet
- Really good drugs
- Yoga pants
Most of all, I hope you see-hear-feel my deep gratitude for a Father who loves me beyond reason. He loves me enough to mercifully push me to do hard things. He loves me enough to provide for me in ways that I’ll never understand. It’s not enough for me just to get better...no, He wants to use every tear, every misery, and every lament to forge me in the depths and strength of the “knowing.” So that when the world looks at me...they won't see the Alissa I want them to see (which, for the record, is a keen fashion sense and an epic sense of humor)...no, they'll see the Alissa He created me to be. And through her heart...they will see Him.
So, for this Thanksgiving season...I’d like to challenge you all to stop feeling grateful and start being grateful. It’s easy, really...next time you’re angry, resentful, lonely, miserable, or heart-broken...REJOICE. Be mindful of what your heart is turning from...and with prayer and petition...turn it toward Thanksgiving. I know, right? Piece of cake.Ooooooo...cake. Someday I'm going to eat cake again. And when I do, I’m adding it to the list right under “yoga pants.”