This time last year, I issued a radical challenge to us all. I suggested that we treat our Christmas celebration like the birthday party it is intended to be and actually give Jesus a birthday present. Weird, right? (If you’d like to read it, you can find that post here.)
For my gift, I decided I would start a gratitude journal. 2015 was going to be a big year for me and God, and I couldn’t wait to record in my pretty new journal all of our wonderful adventures together. I had just launched my new blog and was looking forward to a year of intense spiritual study and revelation. I was ready for the best year of my life.
Instead, 2015 was, without question, the worst year of my life.
The landmines in my personal life started exploding right from the start in January, and continued to detonate throughout the year. I had no visible wounds, but internally I was blown to bits. I was tormented by terror and grief day and night. I wanted to run away. I wanted to hide under a bed. Every minute of every day, I had to make a concerted effort not to break into a million pieces. Some days I barely succeeded.
And now, as we enter into the Thanksgiving season and I reflect on the events of this year, I’m left to wonder… Where do you find gratitude when your world is falling apart?
In search of an answer, I pulled out my pitiful little journal to see what I had written. There were far fewer entries than I had anticipated at the beginning of the year, and the content wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be.
Some of the things I’d forgotten about. “Thank you for the new free dining room set!”
Some of them made me laugh. “Thank you for comfort while I was trapped in the elevator for an hour.”
Some of them broke my heart. “Thank you for getting me through this day.”
Some of them were pretty incredible. “Thank you for our free trip to Kauai!!!!”
My parents had given us this amazing gift. They paid for our plane tickets and a week’s stay at a luxurious beachfront resort. It was the trip of a lifetime. We hiked through a rain forest. We saw a mother humpback whale holding her newborn calf at the surface on her nose. We rode a helicopter into a volcano with a rainbow in it. We stood on top of a mountain inside a cloud. What an incredible week.
As I reminisced about the events of the year, I noted that there were many other wonderful things that happened in the midst of this tragic season in my life.
There had been terrible medical diagnoses given this year, but I had also recorded numerous expressions of gratitude for the healing that followed.
There were devastating financial setbacks, but it was also a year of unprecedented financial blessing.
There was sorrow, and there was laughter.
There were heartaches, and there were celebrations.
There were failures, and there were victories.
There were times of agonizing loneliness, and cherished demonstrations of love and support.
There was mourning that dissolved into healing, fear that conceded to trust, weakness that grew into courage, and despair that gave way to hope.
It was a very big year with God after all.
If I hadn’t recorded it all, I might have missed it. I might have been tempted to focus on all the bad things that were happening and allowed myself to become jaded and bitter.
God knows this is our nature, and that’s why He insists we make it a point to remember all the good He has done for us. The ancient Israelites piled up stacks of stones as memorial reminders to themselves and their descendants. Modern Jews still celebrate the Feast of Purim in remembrance of their rescue from genocide as recorded in the book of Esther. Every time we take communion in church, we’re obeying Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
2015 was undeniably an awful, terrible year for me, but God was with me every step of the way–guiding, providing, comforting, blessing, healing, restoring and carrying me through. My journal helped me to see that. Just as I predicted in my Christmas challenge last year, He took the gift I gave Him and reflected it back on me as a blessing.
He is good. He loves me. He loves my family. He is busily at work in our circumstances, exchanging beauty for ashes and joy for mourning. He’ll never leave us nor forsake us.
For that, and for so much more, I am very… very… grateful.