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Learning to be a thanks-giver

Written on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 by

Young Man Praying

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, one of our most important American holidays, and a writer would be remiss to not write about this important day.  Several hundred years ago, our forbears landed on the Atlantic coast and settled in for a long stay.  These early colonizers met their challenges with fear, trepidation, and thanks.  How could they be thankful for a cold, harsh, dangerous and imperfect new land where life was precarious and so many of them would die?  Freedom.  Not just any kind of freedom, but the freedom to worship God in the way that they believed the Bible taught was correct.

We have so many reasons to be thankful in America today, but perhaps the most important reason is our freedom to worship (or not worship) freely.  No American is forced into an “underground” church, our religious leaders are not told to keep from preaching about certain topics, and our citizens are allowed to give freely of their income to their religious institutions.  Perhaps there is a day coming when some of these things are not so, but for today we are a “free” people.

At my family’s Thanksgiving gathering this year we will no doubt gather around the table, holding hands and each of us recite one thing that we are thankful for this year.  Someone will mention our soldiers overseas, someone else will mention having work, another their health, and invariably someone will mention family.  We are so blessed to have our family, as crazy and imperfect as some of them may be.  Isn’t that the crux of our society’s current ills?  The failure as a culture to remember just how important our families are? Fatherlessness, single mothers, broken marriages, abuse, addiction, abortion… aren’t all of these just symptoms of a basic misunderstanding of what the family is supposed to be?  The family is supposed to be a brilliant reflection of God’s desired relationship with us, a community of love, mercy, discipline and most importantly grace. 

I want to give thanks today for my family.  I am so thankful for my beautiful and brilliant (in so many ways) wife, Leah.  I am so thankful for my three wonderfully unique, hilarious, and energetic children who brighten my life to no end.  I am so thankful for our fourth child who is on her way, due in January, Elizabeth Grace because she has taught me so much already.

It was through Elizabeth that I learned about something called anencephaly.  Anencephaly is a condition where the top of the baby’s skull does not grow into place, and so the brain is left unguarded from the amniotic fluid that the baby lives in for their first 40 weeks (or so) of growth.  Without this protection the brain’s higher function cannot develop and so the baby will grow and mature with only his/her lower level brain functions.  The short version of the story is that while the baby will generally, grow and develop normally, after she is born and removed from her mothers’ body she will not be able to live on her own.  The condition was described by our doctors as … fatal.  She may live outside of the womb for a few minutes, a few hours, or maybe a few days – but she will leave us, far sooner than we ever imagined.

I cannot adequately describe the absolute shock I felt when we were told, or explain the excruciating pain that comes not from a physical blow but from what feels like an emotional bludgeoning of finding out you will lose your child, and soon.  The sharpness of the early pain has dulled, but the throbbing ache of loss is still constant.  There are days when I feel as if I have had no sleep because of the fitfulness of my dreams, and the understanding that my night was filled with thoughts of my baby girl.  Mornings are the worst, as I ready myself for my day and my mind settles on thoughts of my beautiful and precious Elizabeth.  I think about all that she could have been, and all that I will miss – and how it all seems so unfair.  My perfectly imperfect baby girl, who is so beautiful and precious to me, will be gone so soon.

Why?  That was my first question, isn’t it everyone’s?  Why is this happening?  What have I done to deserve this?  It took months before I could say in a clear-headed way, the answer is sin.  We live in a world that God once said was good, but since the entrance of sin into our world and the fall of man, we and our planet are far from good.  We sin against an Almighty God and there are consequences.  Our perfect little world, and our chance to be perfect here – it’s gone.  It seems like a sad story, that only gets sadder with the news of my perfectly imperfect baby girl, but Elizabeth’s story is not one of sadness but one of mercy and grace.  Thinking about Elizabeth has made me realize the beautiful picture that God is painting.

You see, the story doesn’t end with the fall and our imperfections.  No, as soon as man sinned God’s plan went into action, and one day His Son, Jesus Christ was born to this Earth.  The Perfect, sinless Christ lived, died, and rose again to defeat our sin, and our imperfection for us because we couldn’t do it on our own.  Why doesElizabeth and anencephaly remind me of this?  It’s why I am so thankful this Thanksgiving, for my freedom and for my family.

The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ assure me freedom, and it can do the same for you – if you will accept it.  His gift promises us freedom from sin and from the penalty of sin, which is eternal separation from God after death.  In fact His gift offers us the very real promise that we can one day be made perfect again!  Just like it was supposed to be way back when, before it all fell apart…and that’s where I am so thankful on behalf of my family because, I know that one day I will get to see my beautiful precious baby girl again, and she will be perfect.

This Thanksgiving, I am so thankful for my freedom and for my family.  I am so blessed.

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  • Brandon

    Truly inspirational. And a great read to start Thanksgiving.

  • Villa Merkle

    Canada Free

    The Simple Faith of Humble Men
    – William Kevin Stoos Thursday, November 24, 2011

    (Originally appearing in the Manchester Union Leader)

    “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand. And as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone to many. Let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.” (William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth County, 1621)

    Thankful they assembled there,
    A humble Pilgrim band,
    To praise their God in silent prayer
    That He should bless their land.

    Through winter unforgiving,
    Through pestilence and war,
    Those grateful few yet living knew
    What they were thankful for.

    As they feasted on their succotash,
    Maize and wild game,
    Doubtless they did pause to think
    On why it was they came.

    Enduring death and hardship,
    On this lonely, hostile shore,
    To escape the persecutor’s rod
    And live free evermore.

    Yet well they braved the suffering
    That they had come to find
    And passing silent longings for
    The land they left behind.

    For the liberty to worship free
    Was worth their pain and fear,
    As gratefully they thanked Him:
    “Lord, how good we have it here.”

    Unceasing hath He blessed us since
    That first Thanksgiving Day,
    Throughout this nation’s lofty rise
    His grace hath shone the way.

    For this blessed land America’s
    The living legacy
    Of the simple faith of humble men
    So thankful they were free.

    And if this suff’ring Pilgrim band
    Could yet see fit to give
    Their grateful thanks to Him whose grace
    Had simply let them live,

    Then yet a thousand times more thankful
    Should our people be
    For this nation’s bounteous wealth,
    Her strength and liberty.

    So it is only fitting that
    We thank Him on this day,
    Reflecting on our blessings as
    We bow our heads to pray….

    That God will bless America
    Both now and evermore,
    As never hath a land so much
    To be so thankful for.

  • Carol McSwain

    Sounds good! Just think, if all the companies banded together Obama just might be history in 2012….that is if we last that long!

  • Jason Martin

    Onan, thanks so much for the courage to share your story with others. To be willing to praise God in the midst of suffering is a rare quality. You and Leah have inspired me over the past few months.