In All Things (Give Thanks)
Posted on November 26, 2013
Kelly did not dance at her high school prom. She never got the experience of playing an organized sport, training for a marathon or joining in a game of tag.
She didn’t walk down the aisle on her wedding day.
Instead, Kelly has spent the last three decades battling a chronic illness. Yet, if you have the pleasure of meeting her, you would never catch wind of the many days she’s spent in hospitals being prodded by doctors. You would never know that since the age of two she has–with the help of her family–had to become nimble, constantly adjusting her life to a diagnosis that would become apart of who she is. Kelly Mack. Rheumatoid Arthritis.
What you would find–in an encounter with Kelly–is joy, contentment and peace. You would find that despite her being confined to a wheelchair, she has discovered one of the secrets to living a fulfilled life. It is a secret buried in the pages of 1 Thessalonians, a secret which she unknowingly reminded me of.
After spending an afternoon attending a luncheon, Kelly and I made our way back to the office on the Metro. I walked at her side chatting casually as she navigated her wheel chair. I noted how she carefully crossed the street at certain intersections and how she memorized the exact locations of the Metro elevators. I was humbled by her inability to do things we so often take for granted like riding an escalator. Then, I found myself debating whether or not it would be appropriate to ask Kelly about her condition. She is, after all, my colleague. It seemed rude to pry. But, we spent the last two years working together. We were well past talking about the weather and weekend plans so it seemed even more rude to ignore the obvious.
“Kelly, can I ask you a question?” I said.
“Oh sure!” She responded, baiting me with her warm personality and sunny disposition.
“How have you been able to cope with your condition and managing your life? Does it affect you?” I asked, carefully choosing each word.
“Well…” she started with a pregnant pause as if she wanted her point to sink into the deepest places of my heart. “…my life certainly has changed, but it could be a lot worse. I’m grateful for what I do have.”
There was no need for me to respond. She had said it all. I stood over Kelly imagining myself in her wheelchair. I imagined not being able to run, to cross the street at will, to dance at my wedding, or to chase after my children. And then I asked myself a difficult question–could I still be grateful? Could I, in the same situation, believe that things could be worse and find joy in my circumstance?
I don’t know that I could. What I do know is Kelly is a living example of what the Apostle Paul brings our attention to in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”
In all things?
That pesky little word “all” packs a powerful punch. It encompasses any and everything; charging us to find gratitude in the most trivial circumstances like battling a chronic illness. It reminds us that “all” will not only be the good things, but we are to also express gratitude for the short comings in our lives.
Last night I listened to a sermon as part of Pastor Steven Furtick’s “52 Days of Praise”. Pastor Furtick implored his congregation to rejoice over their ruins. Similarly expressed, Elizabeth Gilbert shares in her New York Time‘s bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, that “ruin is a gift”. There is something powerful about having a grateful heart even when the odds aren’t in your favor.
Now, it would be naive of me to believe that Kelly spends each waking day delighted by her circumstance. I know her personally. I know her battle, from diagnosis to today, has been uphill and she still has her setbacks. As such it would be foolish of me to tell you to look at the “all” in your life: all the mistakes, all the heartbreaks and all the disappointments and still be grateful. It’s not that easy.
But perhaps, it starts with a perspective shift. Perhaps, the Apostle Paul wants us to start with being grateful for all we do have. Perhaps it’s not just seeing our blessings as monetary or materialistic. What if “all” includes being grateful for warmth on a wintery day, or the note from an old friend? What if “all” includes the joy of knowing you are loved by God?
Maybe starting there gives us just enough perspective to shift to stop seeing the other “all” as what we believed were death sentences. The diagnosis of a chronic illness no longer becomes a debilitating condition, rather a platform to help others. The heartbreak no longer feels like a pathway to loneliness but an open door to the purest love, in the arms of Jesus. The loss is no longer emptiness but room to pour into others.
“All” no longer becomes a list of have’s and have not’s, but an invitation to let God touch every area of your life and being so grateful He’s been given access.
I’m extremely thankful for Kelly’s story. I’m appreciative that even from her perspective life is still good, because this–a life fulfilled despite our circumstances–is the will of God.
Now it’s your turn: As we approach the holiday season, I want to know what you are thankful for.
Tell me in the comments section below.