Four years ago this Christmas Day I made a huge spiritual milestone in of the darkest periods of my life. Three years ago this November 30th I finished the first draft of my book Resistance. Two years ago this November 15th I discovered that I had found my one true fictional love and I took my first step into the realm that is known as the world of fandoms (if you don't know who I am talking about I guess you should check out my fandoms page). Two years ago on the 22nd I joined Fanfiction.net, which has helped me improve my writing immensely and form some great friendships. And, two years ago this January 3rd was my little sister's major back surgery, which had gotten me worried sick (physically and mentally) throughout the entire holiday season. Last year on Thanksgiving week I started one of my current chapter-length stories. And this year is my first time deer hunting over Thanksgiving and the first time my brother will be home visiting from college.
Of course not all the big stuff has happened during the holidays (that would be weird and kind of creepy!!) but those are all some fairly significant things, at least they are significant to me. So when November and December are happening I take a long trip down memory lane, and not just because of all the memories of growing up with Thanksgiving and Christmas. The holiday commercialism got on my nerves a lot a couple years ago, but I am still able to enjoy this time of year a lot. The holidays, to me, means family time, a hell of a lot of nostalgia, and new ideas. It means refreshment, reflection, and restoration. Busyness too, of course, but nothing is perfect.
I have had a LOT on my mind and on my heart these past couple weeks (which is why I was silent for most of that time), but most of it is good stuff. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday next to Christmas, and it makes me think a lot about being grateful, giving thanks to God, staying positive. One thing I notice when people talk about "giving thanks" is that we are supposed to "count our blessings." What does that mean?
A lot of people say it means counting the good things in our lives. I would encourage that a lot! And yes, I do have a lot of good things to be thankful for...so, so many things. I get to see my brother for almost a whole week and then a whole month. I get to go on a trip in just a couple weeks that would not have happened without wonderful friends who care about our family. I get to deer hunt with my dad and shoot with his beautiful 30.06 bolt action rifle. I have had almost thirteen years with my little sister, the angel of my life and the person who is guaranteed to make me smile every single day. I accomplished my dream of self-publishing my book online. On and on and on. When I start counting all of them I don't know when I would stop.
But, I think "giving thanks" means much more than just making a list of all the good things in our life. "Giving thanks" means being joyful in all the things in our lives. The good and the bad.
Wait, what does that even mean? Does that mean we should thank God for the scheiße that life brings us all of the time? That does not make any sense! Well...
Remember that "darkest period of my life" I mentioned that was four years ago? Had I not experienced what I did, I never would have been able to empathize with other people who had been there too. Because I know what it is like to be there, I feel all the more convicted and compelled to reach out to them. If I did not know how that felt, I would have a much harder time doing it! My sister, Hannah? I still don't quite know why she was given this kind of life; I don't know why she has to suffer when she has done nothing wrong. But I am convinced I would have a harder heart, a more self-centered attitude, and a twisted perspective on life without her, or if she had been, well, normal.
With all of those things, though, there was no way I could have seen a reason to thank God for them when I was in the middle of it. Now that I'm older and can see most of them through hindsight, the blessings are much more visible. In other words, I think it is often hard to see the reasons for the bad things until we are on the other side of it. If any of us have had those experiences, we know they bring all sorts of horrible stuff into our lives. But even that can turn into something good. We can learn from, grow through, and overcome them. It's a long, grueling process, but it is possible.
I think we have to stop categorizing things in our life by whether they are "good" or "bad." Isn't it not what we have been given, but what we do with it? One person can see the blessing of financial wealth as a good thing yet squander it on unhealthy frivolities. Another can have the same blessing but use it to help friends and neighbors in need. One person can lose a loved one to disease and live the rest of their life in bitterness and grief. Another can experience the same loss and use it to support families going through the same thing, or raise funds that will assist those families.
How does the potter shape the clay? By letting it sit there and bask in the sun? By hoping it turns out all right? No, by carefully mending it with his hands and holding it to the fire.
Sometimes in life we are being mended with our maker's hands. Sometimes we are being held to the fire. But both of those times are reforming us and making us better.
That is why, especially around this holiday, we need to remember to "give thanks" for the good and for the bad. Even if it feels super-super awkward to thank God for the bad things we are in the middle of or still cannot make sense of. For a long time I thought I was supposed to pray long enough and hard enough for a miracle to heal my sister, like it was a test of faith...finally it occurred to me. My sister was the miracle I had been praying for.
That's what on my mind this Thanksgiving week. So I'll enjoy deer hunting and hopefully getting my first doe or buck (but please be a buck...a 12-point buck), helping my mom cook Thanksgiving dinner, seeing my brother, going to Catching Fire with the family, and putting up some Christmas decorations. It's all a lot of fun, and of course now it is complete with a couple inches of snow!!
If you don't hear from me again this week, have a great Thanksgiving and thank you for still reading my blog. It means so much more to me than I can put in words.