For the last almost year, I have been following a blog written by the wife of a friend we knew at Bible College (MBBC) back in the early ’80’s. Ramsy was diagnosed with brain cancer less than a year ago. His wife Shannon wrote of their year walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Two weeks ago Ramsy lost his battle to cancer and passed away with his wife and 3 teenaged children by his side, telling him he was free to go.
Ramsy was a crazy and fun guy when we knew him at MBBC, full of bizarre humor. My friend Cal remembers him once jumping into the bushes on a lark. I remember a bizarre conversation I once had with him when the choir was on the bus coming back from touring. On the bus, he and I spent over an hour talking about all the philosophical implications of being an orange (yes, the fruit). When you’re young and leaving home for the first time, the world is open wide isn’t it? Ramsy played the trumpet for us at our wedding back in ’84, but we’d lost touch since then.
Lost touch that is, until I got to know him again thanks to his wife Shannon’s words in his blog. Ramsy had gone on to bring his unique style to the world as a minister. He was known for his commitment to the community and to his church, to bringing faith and encouragement to people through his sermons and his music, and for his gentle and kind ways. I witnessed the progression of his illness and saw the heart-breaking acceptance as his family realized that he wouldn’t get better. Yet, Shannon’s blog posts were always a witness to me of a God who doesn’t abandon us during hard times, but surrounds and sustains us.
This last weekend, after the funeral, Shannon wrote a blog post about all the things she’d been able to be thankful for, such as how Ramsy had been himself all the way to the end, how he’d had relatively little pain, and how the losses had happened gradually and they’d all been given the grace of time with him to let go gradually. The biggest witness to me was the last one, saying she was thankful especially how “God is trustworthy even when we do not understand how he works or doesn’t work.”
Shannon’s Thanksgiving blog in the midst of her circumstances got me thinking of what my own list would be. Shannon wrote that no matter where we are in life, in easy or difficult times, we can all wish each other a “Happy Thanksgiving”. There’s always a way we can see God in each circumstance, leading us to “light a candle of faith instead of cursing the darkness”, as the old saying goes.
My circumstances are obviously not as dire as Shannon and Ramsy’s, but I found that it was a helpful exercise to ponder through the week. At our last Sunday worship service, Cal preached a Thanksgiving sermon which confirmed this line of thought (another one of those “coincidences”). Cal began the sermon with the “bad news”. We are all tempted to let the seeds of our “lesser selves” take roots: jealousy, taking work too seriously, pride, the easy way out, gossip, hanging on to resentments instead of forgiving others. The list goes on and on in our humanness. But Cal reminded us of the good news, and of all the ways that God nudges us during the week. It might be through the words of a friend who truly desires the best for us, through a dream, someone else’s blog post, a song, an encounter with nature. The ways of God are truly endless. As the old hymn says, “Great is thy faithfulness”.
It is true that we don’t always understand God’s ways, but when we trust the universe where God is so faithful, we find that God is completely trustworthy. I believe that every time we say thank-you, we are saying good-bye to a view of the universe which says that God is not here. I could easily be a complainer, cynical of myself or those around me or angry (and often am). But another way has been planted in me, and this lifetime is training me in God’s ways.
So here is my list.
- This year I have had to give up running, for now, maybe for good, because of a neck situation. So far it’s been more than three months. I can get down about it all, miss it and the chronic pain can get me cranky. This situation has constantly asked of me that I trust in God’s provision. In my limited vision, I don’t always understand God’s ways, but I am constantly encouraged to lean into trust that as scripture says, “all things work together for good”. I am thankful, when my head is on straight, that I can still exercise in other ways, but more than this, I am thankful to remember that I am still God’s child in all circumstances. Paul Patterson has often reminded me that suffering is part of our life but there is a hell of a lot better stuff going on than just aches and pains.
- I am thankful for the many reminders in my faith community of God’s ways. Through sermons, singing together, conversations with “soul friends”, reading and studying together, we are all stitched back together constantly. I know I often write about this, but I truly don’t know where I’d be without it.
- At my work, I have been grateful for my co-workers. This week my friend Eva (who is the resource teacher) sat down with me after work and listened to my thoughts on how to work through the math testing we have to do right now. It wasn’t so much what she said (though that helped too), but her patient attention and friendship that encouraged me.
- I am grateful for the gift of prayer, which I have written about before. Though my prayers often feel like child’s babblings, I am grateful for a place I can always go to, asking for help and guidance. We are truly never alone.
- Lately I’ve been very grateful for nature. In particular, I’ve still been going out on our balcony in the early morning, coffee and scripture in hand. Ok, so I’m out there with the heating pad keeping me warm (I know, I’m nuts), but I have loved hearing the birds wake up and come to
the feeder. It’s been a reminder of transcendence, and a quiet place that has stilled me. Soon enough I’ll be inside again, but this gift is never far.
- Last weekend I went to see my parents for Thanksgiving, and whenever I leave, there are usually several hugs. I felt especially grateful for my dad’s hugs and him telling me he loved me. Even now, I still get teared up remembering it. I guess that relationship is an echo of how God sees us – as dearly loved children.
- I am grateful for Lyle (hubby) who prays with me and doesn’t take my faults too seriously, and gives me signs of love through thick and thin. It isn’t a perfect relationship, but more than less, we are both finding unity together in Christ. No small gift after 27 years!
- I am grateful for our son Joel who I see being guided by love in community and in God, and who is enthusiastic in his life’s endeavors. I’ve always prayed that God would find him, and I see the answer to this prayer unfolding often.
- I’m also thankful for this blog and all the people who encourage me in my writing and read my blog. I know that at the end of the year, this place will be one of my top “bests of the year”, a place that keeps my eyes in the right direction.
I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving and a list of your own, no matter what circumstance life finds you in. May we all be rooted in gratitude.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. Colossians 3:16 (NRSV)