This year, we spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family in the Midwest.
It was a wonderful celebration of generations and those who couldn’t attend were certainly missed. It was a time of joy as we celebrated the next generation of kids beginning their journeys into new homes, careers, marriages and the birth of the first great-grandchild.
Thanksgiving overflowed from the table and our hearts.
But it wasn’t just the stories of triumph that was shared; the tough times evoked even more gratitude. Miraculous recoveries from illnesses and loss drew gratitude from the depths of weary hearts. The everyday blessings of life become even more apparent when they are lived alongside our trials.
I belong to a non-denominational women’s Bible study that is hosted on Facebook. The larger group is international, but this closed group is composed of local women, many of whom I have never met in person. As we share our reflections on the scriptures, we share our lives- the blessings and the difficulties- so as to lift one another up in prayer.
As I read the scripture for reflection on Thanksgiving morning, the words leapt off the page and played in my mind like the words of an old familiar song.
“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15
I immediately recalled the first time I reflected on this scripture over twenty years ago. The words jumped off the page to me then too, as I was desperately seeking God for wisdom.
I was sitting in a darkened hospital room asking the Lord to help me understand the trial that was set before us- as I gently caressed the cheek of my infant daughter cheek who lay in the hospital bed beside me.
I asked God to give me a scripture that would guide my understanding and give me a spiritual compass or a lens through which I could view the present trial. I opened my Bible at random to 2 Corinthians 4.
Verse 15 is the beginning of the end of the chapter. It needs to be taken in the context of the entire chapter, especially the preceding verses. Those verses recount the enormous struggles the Apostle Paul endures — including being hard-pressed on every side, crushed, perplexed and abandoned — just to name a few.
Paul says that bearing these trials is part of the life of a Christian as we are “always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (v. 11).
Opening to this scripture as I waited for more news on the impending brain surgery for my three three-month-old, was not the encouraging word I had hoped to read at that moment. But still, I knew it was the word I needed to hear from God and He was indeed answering my prayer. I asked for wisdom to understand the struggle, an echo of the question “why” that plagues many of us in the midst of trials.
This scripture which I affectionately named, our “Johanna’s scripture” is much more than a treasured memory of consolation in the midst of a dark night. It has served as that compass to guide me and the lens through which I view trials and blessings of our life. The words are as alive to me now as they were over twenty years ago. Reading verse 15 on this Thanksgiving morning was just another unveiling of deeper truths about how gratitude overflows out of the trials we endure.
I was reminded of this on our plane flight to Chicago last week. It was a full flight the week before Thanksgiving. My daughter and I were traveling early so she could be evaluated at a clinic that specializes in the rare disease which causes the neurological issues she battles every day.
When my daughter and I fly, we always pre-board and sit in the bulkhead seating. It makes it easier to get off and on the plane and it gives room for my daughter and her certified service dog to sit at her feet. Before we boarded, I noticed a well-dressed man standing by the entrance to the gate, ready to pre-board the plane with us. He ended up sitting next to us.
I can’t recall how our conversation started or how I finally figured out that he was blind because it wasn’t important. Our plane was delayed, but the two of us barely noticed as we were delightfully engaged in a conversation that remains distinct in my memory.
The blindness did not define him at all. He spoke with the confidence of a self-assured man who had a sense of purpose. He asked some questions about our service dog and as I described her, his smile lit his face as he imagined the dog. When he addressed Johanna and asked her some questions, he communicated slowly and clearly and with great patience, waited for her slow responses.
Most sighted people fill in the words for my daughter in conversations, I guess because they think it’s compassionate or in some cases, it’s simply impatience. Either way, it makes for one-sided conversations that typically elicit the answers the other person thinks she should be giving.
But this man was patient and fully engaged. He made eye contact to the best of his ability and his expressive face filled in any gaps in the communication. He told me he frequently traveled between Chicago and New York for business.
He was quite comfortable in navigating his environment; even in an airport as a frequent flyer, he didn’t use a cane or a service dog. But when we allowed our dog to place her big head on his knee for a visit, this man was quickly considering the benefits of a canine companion to
accompany him on his journeys.
I was amazed as I listened to this man’s personal and professional accomplishments – despite the blindness. I shared my admiration with the man and he began to recount some of the blessings he experienced in being blind.
He told me that he isn’t concerned about asking for help from others and it has led to interesting conversations like our own. He also shared with me how acute his sense of touch, hearing, and smell are and how those senses help to compensate for his lack of sight as well as paint a picture of the environment in his mind.
The blind man said he was grateful that he doesn’t have to witness the sad sight of a homeless person huddled on the street or the pained expression of loss on a grieving person’s face. All these are experiences that sighted people tend to ignore.
Because of his blindness, this man is able to see the world with new eyes and perspective that many of us lack. The sharing of his struggles and the blessings, caused me to be more grateful for weaknesses in my life which have led to greater strengths.
This Thanksgiving morning, I remembered the beautiful blind man I met on the plane, as I reflected on 2 Corinthians 4:15: “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”
A blind man’s ability to see life with greater purpose caused the grace of gratitude to overflow into my life this Thanksgiving. When I get overwhelmed by my own struggles, I will remember to be grateful for both the good times and the bad until thanksgiving overflows.