being-thankful

What a difference one year can make. The economy is in a mess. I’m getting scared to look at my retirement portfolio. Financial markets are in dismay. Jobs are being slashed and burned all around us. On the surface, it seems very difficult to find anything for which we can be thankful. Nevertheless, I learned a long time ago that – even in the face of looming troubles and hardships – there is always something to be thankful for. In fact, I dare you to itemize the blessings in your life and see if you don’t fall asleep doing it.

For me, the blessings are infinite. They are so limitless that a single blog post wouldn’t adequately describe them. Not with a thousand tongues blogs could I profess how amazing God has been in my life. But in the spirit of Thanksgiving Day, I thought I’d share a few things for which I’m thankful.

My family

Being thankful for one’s family is admittedly somewhat of a cliché. But in my case, it’s a spot-on testimony to my life.

I’m extremely blessed to come from such a large family. For starters, I can’t say enough about my parents. Though they’ve driven me up my fair share of walls both individually and collectively when they were married, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. My mother, for instance, has a deep concern for me that I don’t see much of these days. If I miss a couple of phone calls or don’t show my face for a few days, rest assured Momma’s definitely gonna check in. While most of the time I see it as her needlessly coddling me; forgetting that I’m a grown man, it makes me a little more at ease knowing that somebody out there is truly concerned about my welfare. My dad’s the same way. He’s always boastfully been the family provider; and for a while that was the only label we attached to him. For a long time, I would argue that was the only label he actually wanted. But as his children have grown to be become independent and he has started to experience the self-actualization that comes with getting older, his role has change. I think he’s made the best of it. Once grumpy, mean, and inpenatrable, my dad is now much more open, expressive, and friendly. Say what you want about my being a softy, but that embrace makes me feel good.

Then, there are my siblings. I can’t say enough about them. What makes them all particularly noteworthy is that each of them carry a series of characteristics and attributes from which I can draw strength and inspiration. My brother has a deep commitment to caring for his son; and will do anything has done everything for him. He’s being a real man; when it’s increasingly easy to slack on one’s responsibilities. Instead of using the crippling economy as an excuse, he is out there doing his thing to take care of his home. That – to me – is heroic. My sisters are of the same vein. Though by comparison, they are far more successful than my brother and me, each of them have their own unique problems to deal with. Most of the time, they emerged unscathed. One of my sisters was gobbled up by the economy and lost her job. But she continued to claw away; hitting job fairs left and right, making connections, and taking on interviews by the day. Now she has a job even better than the one she lost. Another sister has been a fighter all her life. As a student athlete, a corporate executive, and now a Division I basketball coach, she’s no stranger to missing sleep. She’s been all over the country; sometimes in different parts of the country on the same day; doing her job. Balancing that with the problems associated with coaching, staying connected to the family, and handling personal affairs has shaped her ability to stay focused. Her efforts were not for naught. She was able to secure the second highest rate recruitment class in the nation. Of course, her name doesn’t show up in the marquee as the one who did all the grunt work, but what I can appreciate about her is that none of that matters to her. That too is heroic. Finally, my other sister abandoned her once fast paced lifestyle in favor of the more conservative and slower paced life that came with marriage and playing the role of stepmother. Now, I should never go on record saying I hate anybody or anything, but I hated her stepkids. They were spoiled, obnoxious brats who seemingly dared me to powerbomb them through tables lit on fire each time I saw them. I can only imagine how much of a nightmare it was to come home to them. Yet, my sister did it time and time again; a feat I could never duplicate. But when the marriage ran its course, she was smart enough to eventually walk away. She has since took on the challenge of rebuilding her life socially, financially, and spiritually.

I don’t tell them this often, but each of my family members have touched my life in one way or another.

What I’m about to say next is somewhat of a confessional; a supressed secret, if you will. The past two years made up one of the most difficult and lonely times in my life. A large part of my misery stemmed from my time in graduate school. Quite frankly, the whole experience was a nightmare. Though I did extremely well, I struggled immensely. I struggled with staying focused. I struggled sleeping. I struggled in balancing a full-time work schedule with hours on top of hours of classwork. I struggled in building/maintaining connections with people. It was rough. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t depressed or anything drastic to that effect. Just alone.

What made matters worse for me was that I literally had no one to cling to during most of the difficult times. I had classmates in my grad school cohort, but that connection was generally limited to coursework. I developed some level of friendship with my officemates and colleagues at the University. But at the of the day, it was hard to make anything more out of that. The people I once considered my closest friends – a cadre of people for whom I’d go through the fire – sought to preserve their own interests (or whatever their motivations were at the time) by decidedly blotting me out of their lives (imagine being one of the original founders of a band; only to find out that the rest of the crew has been touring and cutting albums without you. That was my life). Seemingly, the only non-family members genuinely concern about my social well-being were friends who just so happened to live in other parts of the country and were dealing with their own unique issues. Today, we speak every so often. We even have the occasional visit from time to time. But for the most part, distance and life keeps us all pretty disconnected. So if I ever needed a second to socially “get away” from some of the complexities of my life, I would most likely book a flight.

Then, there’s my extended family. Even though I have a massive extended family on both sides, most of them don’t relate well to my experiences. In fact, out of all of my extended family, I’d say one of my aunts and her son (my cousin) are the only ones upon whom I can truly rely. They’ve been a source of strength and encouragement during some of my weaker moments. For that, I’m eternally grateful. While I think I can say with confidence that the rest of the fam has an interest in seeing me succeed and do well, there isn’t much (at least right now) they can do to guide me along. So the only real currency I had came from my parents, my siblings, and my aunt and my cousin. They failed to disappoint. In fact, I can say this with absolutely certainty: I would’ve been completely alone had it not been for their intervention (albeit, an unconscious intervention) from my siblings. Even though each of us are separated by miles or lifestyles, we all share an appreciation and understanding of one another that I’d argue is as strong as any group of family members to be found. We don’t talk very often. In fact, the little communication that we do is usually limited to text messaging and the occasional email. But the bond I have with them is solid as oak. That same bond kept me lifted and encouraged when nothing else – or nobody else – could. For that, I’m thankful.

My job

I don’t know if talking about my job in the face of disasterous economy is the best thing to do right now, but I am incredibly thankful for it. Admittedly, the pay sucks and it’s not exactly a job you would choose if you had any plans on retiring as a millionaire. But even above the crappy pay, the quality of life at my job is unmatched. The palpable benefits are amazing. But even the intrinsic value that comes from my job is exceptional. I’m around brilliant, interesting, and unique people whom I deeply respect and who deeply respect me. I have a great degree of flexibility in my work. I have the opportunity to work with skilled professionals, and talented students. And on top of it all, I get a cool office. 🙂 

Things aren’t perfect at work, I admit. I still succumb to the same frustrations that would cause most people to grab a rifle and climb a clock tower. Further, I realize the reasons why I love my job may not appear in my paycheck each month (yep, I’m paid monthly. Ugh…). And yes, dealing with certain people and certain situations leaves much to be desired. But I can say without hesitation that I’m blessed with my employment situation (continued employment: knock on wood).

My blog

As corny as it sounds, I love my blog. This site has been a hundred different things to me; each of them vital. This blog has been my outlet for reflection, my forum to report the world as I see, my intimate space (viewed all over the web, of course. :)) to vent and release frustrations, and a vehicle through which  relationships (cybernetic, mostly) were built. This blog has filled some of my holes similarly to how other people’s voids are filled through MySpace and Facebook.

Perhaps what I love most about blogging are the inhabitants of the blogosphere. To me, this is a fantasy world played out by real people sharing real experiences. I’ve been entertained and enlighted; informed and convicted. Everything I could’ve expected to get from you all, I receive here. In some rare cases, I even know some of you outside of this blog. But I’d argue that even we have a different relationship through cyberspace than face-to-face. That’s a testament – I think – to the power of this thing.

My health

I make no bones about it: I’m overweight. Even when I’ve taken positive steps toward losing weight (at one point, I lost close to 40 lbs), I also fall off the wagon more than I’d like (I’ve gain about 15 of those pounds back). All the same, I am very thankful for my health. In a close to thirty year period, the only times I’ve been admitted into a hospital were for pneumonia, an ankle sprain, and a concussion. When people both older and younger are dealing with far worse, I’m excellent by comparison. Still, healthiness provides no guarantees. For instance, one of my brother’s friends sadly died from heart complications. He was in his early twenties and – as far as I know – was in excellent shape himself. While on topic, please keep my brother and his friend’s family in your prayers. It’s rough for them all right now.

Even in the event that I get sick, I’m also thankful that I’m the recepient of pretty good health coverage. It is an absolutely travesty that millions of people in this country cannot be provided with health care as needed. Similarly, it is an outrage that middle and lower class people are being forced to chose their health over food, warmth, and security. I pray that the fight for them continues. But in the meantime, I’m extremely thankful for what I have. I mean, I don’t even want to imagine the costs I would’ve had to pay for some of my inflictions had my visits been out-of-pocket.

My country

I talk a bunch of smack about America. But there isn’t another place on the planet where I’d rather live. it has its flawed systems; man-made and controlled I should point out. But compared to many far more volitale nations around the world, the United States is considerably more tame.

As I was watching footage of President Bush and President-Elect Obama meeting together in the White House, I thought about how great it is to live in this country. Here we are: witnessing a tranfer of power without a single shot fired or a single bomb exloding. This represents the idea that the average citizen has at least some ability to decide the direction in which our country takes. Even if our role is minimal, it exists nonetheless.

Life, and life abundantly

Again, this may sound cliché, but I’m thankful for life. I’m grateful that the one life I have to live is being lived out; even if it’s not to the fullest. I think about all the innocent victims of violence; the mass murders in Africa, the killings in Middle Eastern conflicts, yesterday’s killings in India, natural disasters that claim the lives by the thousands, random violence on the streets, and school shootings. It makes me realize how easy it is for a life – or multiple lives – to be taken in a flash. I am especially thankful given how these unfortunate incidents could involve any one of us the next time. My school could easily become the next Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, or Louisiana Tech. The next store I go to could be the last place I visit. Not even places as sacred as church are safe these days.

*As a side note: from this perspective, I see the logic in the anti-abortion argument. I was close to being aborted myself, which would have led to you reading somebody else’s blog right now…*

Back to the point, I’m thankful for life; my life. It’s nowhere near the model I drew up for myself at a younger age, but I’m happy with it. Also, I learned a long time ago not to compare my life with other people’s lives. Even if some aspects of my life mirror somebody else’s, we are not the same person. Each of us have different experiences which lead us along different paths. What God has for me, it is for me. I find comfort in knowing that.

Where the idea of having an abundant life is derived comes from the fact that – by virtue of all things just and fair – I should be sitting in prison cell right now, not in front of a computer writing this. As another deep secret of mine; one I swore I would never tell anybody, I found myself in a ton of trouble roughly ten years ago. *In many respects, it seems like it happened just moments ago.* When I was 19 and sophomore in college, I was working at a major department store. I did a great job there. I was pleasant to our customers, friendly with my co-workers, and respectful to my bosses. I was the model employee. But while I was smiling and shaking hands in people’s face, I was also stealing from them behind their backs. I was giving friends and family illegal discounts. I was changing price tags on merchandise. I developed an elaborate scheme (at least elaborate enough for a teenager) to use another person’s receipt to “return” items in exchange for cash. I even figured out some of my co-workers pin numbers to engage in these activity. I was a nasty little cuss.

Then, I got caught.

I remember the day I was called up to Human Resources. It feels like I remember ever single detail of that day; from the clothes I wore (which I haven’t worn since), to the long march into the office, to the tears that flowed from one of the Assets Protection personnel who considered me a son to her. I remember my heart pounding through my chest. I remember the silence in the room as I signed the confession. I distinctly remember the words “You are now officially terminated” reverberating in my head. I remember thinking how my life was over; how I would have to leave college, endanger my job prospects, and have a criminal record that followed me for the rest of my life. Getting caught red-handed almost guaranteed a conviction.

But what is most remarkable about this story is that I wasn’t convicted. I wasn’t even arrested. No handcuffs. No squad cars. No processing. No fingerprinting. No mugshots. No holding cell. No arraignments. No trial. No prison cell. No criminal record. Nothing. What I did have to do is pay a hefty restitution (a restitution with which my father was extremely helpful), write a formal letter of apology, and be subjected to a two-year ban from the story. Admittedly things were rough from that point out; trying to find new employment, having to face some of the co-workers I betrayed, and trying to start over again. But things slowly developed for me. I finished school, found a career path with the University, paid off my restitution, restored some former friendships. Had it not been for the merciful grace of God, the love and support from my family, and the kindness of a few people at the store (to whom I still haven’t been able to say “Thank you”), all of the things I’ve accomplished to this point would have been negated by the time I would’ve should’ve spent behind bars. I was given a second chance, when many people aren’t given a first. As my boy Avery so aptly put it, it could’ve been me. Yet, my being here today is a shining example of unmeritous favor.

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Lots of reading, huh? But this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. See what I mean about the thousand blogs?  I really feel like I could go on and on with this, but I’m hoping I made my point. In a nutshell: I AM BLESSED. I AM THANKFUL FOR THOSE BLESSINGS. There’s brevity for you…

This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on all the things for which we are thankful, I encourage you to use those things as motivation to bless other people. Being thankful for blessings become somewhat of a moot point if you simply sit on your blessings. I’m reminded of the story of Jesus as He healed ten men each with leprosy (Luke 17:11-19).  After an encounter with Jesus, men who were once considered social outcasts because of their sickness were now the recepients of total healing and restoration.  Yet none of the Israelites in group (kin to Jesus) took the time to offer thanks.  Only one man in the group – a Samaritan heretic – actually did.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to be found in the number of ungrateful people. I’ve been blessed beyond words and beyond repayment. So – at the very least – I owe a lifetime of gratitude; a lifetime of giving thanks.

Have a happy, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving! (Go Cowboys!)

– ACL

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