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Reasons to Hope: Getting Good at Giving Thanks

I want to get better at Thanksgiving. I want it to be habit forming, because the truth is, outside of one day a year, I stink at it.  

I was thinking about this the other day and it reminded me of an evening on vacation a few years ago with my family. We had gone to the local creamery to get some ice cream. I had my Sunset Peach in a waffle cone and was enjoying every bit of it as I sat in a rocking chair outside. Suddenly this brown haired seven-year-old boy wearing a backpack flew past me, followed by a flock of other children. They sat in the rockers next me and squawked like baby birds waiting to be fed. A moment later their moms had emerged from the creamery, and all their chins were dripping with ice cream. Except for the boy with the backpack. He sat calmly and waited. Finally his mom came out with two bowls of ice cream just for him. She set the bowls down on the railing and said, “Enjoy!” 

He ran over to one of the heaping bowls and leaned in. He closed his eyes, and with his nose hovering less than an inch above the cherry he… smelled it. Then he smelled the whipped cream and then ice cream. He breathed deep, savoring every whiff of sweetness, and then took off running to join the rest of the kids. 

The grandfather of the backpack boy noticed me watching all of this with what I am sure was a dumbfounded expression hanging on my face. I had never seen a kid just smell his ice-cream and run away.

“It’s heartbreaking isn’t it?” he said.

 I just looked at him even more confused. 

“The poor kid has been in the hospital for most of his life. He has a digestive problem. Can’t eat anything. He’s fed through these tubes that are hidden in his backpack that go directly to his stomach. But for the rest of his life he can never actually eat food. But he sure does love to smell it.”  

Just then the kid came rushing past me again and said, “Mom can I have some more ice cream?”

She asked him which kind he wanted.

“Brownie Batter!” he yelled 

She held out his bowl, and he stood there for thirty seconds slowly sniffing every note of chocolatey goodness. I caught myself licking in front of him, and my Sunset Peach turned to ashes in my mouth. He turned and ran off again.

“He takes everything in stride.” His grandfather said.

“Every night the family eats dinner together, and he sits at the table next to his brother and sister, and smells his food, while everyone else eats. He will smell his chicken for a minute or so, and then his mashed potatoes and gravy, and then his corn on the cob, even his root beer. It’s painful to watch, but he never complains. He always says how thankful he is that he can enjoy the smell of food.” 

The boy ran past again, and his mom stopped him, and introduced us. 

“Hi, wanna see my tubes?” He asked me.

Before I could respond his shirt was up and he was proudly showing me where all the nutrients he needs to live were being pumped into his body. 

“Those are cool, man.” I said, because I didn’t know what to say.

“Welp, nice to meet-cha.” He leaned over, took a quick whiff of ice-cream and took off.

I was quiet the whole way back to the beach house. All I could think about was how this kid who has spent most of his life in the hospital, and is fed through tubes, and sits every night at the dinner table watching people eat while he sniffs his food, seemed infinitely more grateful than I have ever been. That night I snacked on some trail mix, and when no one was watching I buried my nose in it, and smelled it, then relished every bite.

That grateful little boy sniffing ice cream has stayed with me. He’s been a constant reminder to stop taking things for granted. Not just the gift of taste, but the gift of touch, smell, sight, sound, love and life. 

It’s just so easy to miss what we have and only focus on what we don’t. Typically, it’s only after we’ve lost something that we realize what we had. It’s after we’ve lost a range of motion, or lost a relationship, or lost a job that we realize what it meant to us. It’s so easy to miss out on the blessings we have while we have them. And how blessed we are! How blessed is anyone just to be able to roll out of bed in the morning with air in their lungs, a heart that knows what to do with itself, and a mind that hasn’t called it quits yet? 

How blessed is anyone who has been lucky enough to find freedom, forgiveness, and the kingdom of God hidden like buried treasure in this dark world? And how utterly tragic it is to be so blessed and not know it.

Author GK Chesterton, once said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels grateful and has no one to thank.” I wonder if the opposite is also true. Maybe the worst moment for a Christian is when they have someone to thank, but they don’t feel grateful. 

I want grateful moments that lead to a grateful life. I want to breathe deep like that little boy and savor what I have been given. I want to get good at giving thanks to the One who gave it all.

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