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Fighting for the Thanks In Thanksgiving

By: Beth Gillem
| November 24, 2020 |

Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful at Thanksgiving.

I am folding laundry and it hits me. Tears come to my eyes. It is my daughter’s t-shirt from vacation bible school in 2019. What a fantastic week with friends at church. It didn’t happen this year. My heart hurts a little. 

Then I grab my son’s Nike golf shirt he wanted for his birthday. He turned 10. I have always tried to make birthday parties super special for my kids. When he turned 9, I built a huge box fort in our living room complete with Christmas lights and insets to place their iPads to watch videos. His friends had a blast. This year was different. We had a cookie cake with one family friend over. We played chase around the house and when we caught him he got tickled. It was fun but different. My heart hurts a little more. 

Later I am putting away dishes and see a teapot in my cabinet that was my grandmother’s. She died a few years ago. I laugh to myself as I imagine what she would say about everything that has happened this past year. She would fuss about the shutdown and that we couldn’t visit. She would be appalled at all the political uprisings that have happened. I miss her. 

It is Thanksgiving and like everything in 2020, things are different. I will admit that sometimes it is hard to be thankful. Sometimes we have to fight for it. 

Ugly Beauty

Ann Voskamp, author of the book “One Thousand Gifts” introduced a new way to look at gratitude for me- “ugly beauty.” Ugly beauty is things that you would not normally be thankful for. It can be something mundane like a sink full of dirty dishes. Dirty dishes mean we have plenty of food to eat and a family around me to eat with. Ugly beauty can be bigger and deeper- like the fact that when I see my grandmother’s teapot I am thankful that her death came quickly for her. Sudden yes but no long-suffering. 

The school was shut down. My kids left on a Friday for Spring Break and did not return. Ugly Beauty… They were sad. We were home a lot together. There was a lot of screen time. There was a lot of cuddling too. 

Church was canceled. We watched it online and met in video chats. Ugly Beauty…I learned to be intentional in reaching out to people. When they checked on me I really felt loved.

As I ponder all of the things that I don’t understand about this pandemic and the destruction it has caused in our world, I will admit it is hard to understand. It is hard to find things to be thankful for in some of it. Even the ugly beauty. 

I am reminded of the story of Corrie Ten Boom. 

Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom was a Christian living during World War II in a town called Haarlem in the Netherlands. Her family owned a small shop and they lived above it. Their home became a safe haven for many Jews fleeing the Nazis. They were often hidden there until another safe house could be found for them. It was the family’s strong faith in Jesus Christ that compelled them to act during such dangerous times. 

Soon the Nazi secret service discovered that they were harboring Jewish people and arrested Corrie, her sister Betsie, and the rest of her family. 10 days after their arrest, her father died in prison. Corrie and her sister were then sent to a concentration camp called Ravensbrück in Germany. The sisters clung to their faith and shared the message of salvation with fellow prisoners. Life was terrible there for them. Imprisoned and malnourished, Corrie and her sister suffered greatly in prison.

Betsie’s faith stayed strong and she constantly encouraged her sister Corrie to remain faithful and shared a vision that somehow, someday, Corrie would be sharing their story. Despite her circumstances, Betsie always found something to be thankful for even while living in the concentration camp. Corrie looked at the flea-infested cell that they lived in and said to herself “How can I ever thank God for the fleas?” 

If you have ever dealt with even a minor case of fleas (or another bothersome pest) you can understand how it is hard to thank God for fleas. I find it amazing that in the surroundings of Corrie Ten Boom’s life that she was able to find much to be thankful for at all.  Sadly, Betsie died while in the camp with Corrie. Amazingly, through a clerical error, Corrie is released. She remembers Betsie’s vision that she would share her story with the world. She did exactly that. 

While recounting the horrors she endured at the concentration camp, she came to a realization about the fleas that she felt such hatred for there. The prison guards, who often entered prisoners’ cells to do even more awful things to them, did not enter the cells that were infested with fleas for fear of getting the fleas themselves. With teary eyes, Corrie realizes that the thing she found hardest to thank God for was perhaps heaven sent to keep her and her sister from experiencing even more unspeakable horrors. 

She was able to thank God for the fleas. 

Thanksgiving Lessons

2020 has been tough and while I am in no way comparing it to the terrible suffering of a Nazi concentration camp, there are valuable lessons we can learn from Corrie Ten Boom. If anyone could see “ugly beauty” in her life it was her. If you are fighting for the thanks in Thanksgiving this year, it’s ok. Keep fighting for the blessings. It may be years before we can see them, but we can’t let our hearts grow hard. 

There is always, always, always something to be thankful for. 

While we may not understand the hand of God in our lives, we must always trust the heart of God in our lives. 

Pray over all things. Things happen when you pray, that don’t happen when you don’t pray!

Always thank God for everything. If you keep saying thanks, you will eventually feel the gratitude. God has a way of changing hearts like that. 

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