Donna Weston, Founder, and Executive Director
A few years ago, I rushed to the emergency room, my friend Laura not far behind me. Ryan was on a stretcher in the hallway as they did not yet have a room available for him. He was writhing in excruciating pain with my husband Mike standing over him, waiting for the hospital personnel to provide the pain medication Ryan so desperately needed. It was just minutes, but it has always felt like hours when we have been in that situation.
I was in crisis mode, a familiar place for me throughout Ryan’s on-going medical history. In a crisis, I have to be strong and clear headed so I can advocate for my son when he is not able to advocate for himself. I checked on Ryan’s status and turned back to my friend who was waiting at the entrance not wanting to intrude.
She was weeping the tears that I could not.
When I recall this event, even now, after several years, I can feel the emotions rise. Why is that particular memory so impactful? I was, and still am, soul piercingly thankful. That day, Laura was the physical presence of God in that place – weeping over my son, hugging me tight and praying over me and my family with a Holy Spirit led passion.
Although often used as synonyms, to me there is a distinct difference between gratefulness and thankfulness. I am grateful when a stranger holds the door for me or when my son grabs my suitcase and carries it up two flights of stairs when I return home from a trip. There is relief. I am pleased. I appreciate the other’s kindness to me.
But grateful is too tame of a word to describe the soul-piercing thankfulness that I can feel in the midst of sorrow - the kind of thankfulness that can lead to joy in the midst of hardship or pain.
I am currently working on my doctorate in counseling. (Yes, please feel free to pray for me!). There have been many research studies published in peer review journals discussing the clinical effectiveness of thankfulness in the growth of those seeking counseling. From my perspective, that is a modern verification of the way God has created humans to function. The Bible is full of instruction and encouragement to be thankful, even in the midst of anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). So, both the secular and the faith-based worlds recognize the power of thankfulness.
Gratefulness comes from the mind – a recognition and appreciation for a kindness performed. Thankfulness comes from the heart. Both take practice and an intentional shift in mindset.
This month, when we celebrate Thanksgiving, is a great time to reflect on thankfulness and our own capacity to recognize and exercise it.
The pilgrims, whom tradition indicates celebrated the first Thanksgiving, had much to be thankful for: their physical survival of a grueling new settlement, a harvest sufficient to ensure survival through the winter, an alliance with the natives they met that had taught them the survival skills they needed in this new land. They were soul piercingly thankful to God - and very likely to the natives and to each other for all that had been accomplished - even though they had suffered tremendous losses as well.
Being thankful when life is challenging is a difficult practice, but a potentially life-altering one. If you would like to walk deeper in that direction, read One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp – a book that journeys through grueling tragedy into true thankfulness.
So, what am I soul piercingly thankful for? What are those things that can bring joy to my heart and tearsto my eyes?
What makes you thankful may not be anything like these, but it will be well worth starting your own list. You can start with what you are grateful for - maybe just one thing a day - and as you meditate on these things, you may find the beginnings of soul-piercing thankfulness, as well.
Let the joy of that surprise and fill you.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.