Choose to Be Grateful

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

As the earth leans into autumn and the air breathes a bit cooler we approach one of the most wonderful times of the year: Thanksgiving Advent. That’s not a misprint. I have come to believe that one day of Thanksgiving is simply not enough. As we have four Sundays to spiritually prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, I think we need several weeks to reflect on all the ways God blesses us.

The first step in this important spiritual discipline is a simple commitment: choose to be thankful. Let me share with you the story of how I came to this conclusion.

Mother first started showing signs of dementia when I was in Murray, Kentucky. Her condition rapidly declined until I had to move her from her beloved Lexington to an assisted living facility in Murray. Because of the rushed nature of the move, I was not able to obtain a room for Dad in any nursing home in Murray. He would have to stay behind in Lexington for 1-3 months waiting for a place. Leaving him there and taking his wife away was difficult. It is the only time I saw Dad cry.

Several weeks after the move I received a call from a nursing home. They had a space, but it was only a temporary room, small and unadorned. But it was available. I went to see the room, and my heart sank. It was concrete block, institutional monochrome, windowless, dimensions maybe 9’x10’. I agreed to take it because I knew Dad would prefer most anything to being separated from Mom.

He was excited when I spoke to him on the phone. I told him of the Spartan arrangements and that it would be temporary until a regular room for him opened up. They couldn’t promise how long it would take. Nothing muted his enthusiasm.

I made the four hour drive to Lexington, bringing with me the youth director at our church in case I needed any help along the way. We loaded all of Dad’s belongings into the trunk along with his wheelchair and returned to Murray.

I was apprehensive when we arrived at the nursing home. What if he didn’t like it? He would never let on, of course, but I hated the thought of his being disappointed. Life had been particularly hard for him the previous five or so years. He had endured numerous falls, the MS was worse, and the wheel chair had become a permanent part of his life. Surgery to remove a brain tumor had left him weaker. He also endured prostate cancer and glaucoma. I wanted him to at least have a nice place to live.

Wheeling him down the hallway of the nursing home I anxiously explained again that the room was very sparse, but that eventually there would be a larger one available. I brought him to the doorway. Standing behind I looked into the meager room with an unmade metal frame bed with support bar running over it. My heart sank a little more when I thought that I could have at least brought in some pictures or something to warm it up. I said again, “Dad, it’s a small room . . .” He raised his hand, interrupted me and said, “But it’s nice. I’m sure glad to be here.”

Whenever I read a passage of scripture like “be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) I recall Dad’s reaction to that little room. Paul’s words in that verse usually raise objections. “How can anyone be thankful in all circumstances?” I was blessed to have a father who modeled for me the faith that enables that kind of gratitude.

Life can difficult in a thousand different ways and can turn your focus from the evidences of God’s love and grace to every minor irritant, for our normal default setting is complaint. The good news is that you have a choice today and every day. Dad chose to be grateful. He provided a wonderful example. And for that I am grateful.


Dr. Terry Ellis

November 1, 2010