Gratitude. Thankfulness. Usually, neither of those exist without first experiencing heartache, loss, and hard times. You have to go through one, to embrace the other in a manner worthy of noticing. Sometimes we miss the gratitude and turn bitter like lemons. This is the month of thankfulness. We try and become more aware of the simple things like our eyes opening in the morning and our very breath. Life. A gift. A treasure upon treasures–often spent in loathing, complaining, or wishing it looked different.
There is a thorn in the rose bush for a reason, but I’ll get to that later. There is always going to be hard fallow ground, sharks, buzzards, and yes, thorns, but how do we have gratitude in the midst of suffering, depression, and feeling like an empty shell? We cry out in prayer, and our prayers feel like they hit the ceiling. We wallow in our self-pity and miss out on the joys of life.
One of my favorite books is The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway. In the book, Santiago is a very unfortunate seasoned fisherman who after eighty-four days without a fish inherits the nickname unlucky. Even a young lad who has faith in him is not allowed to go out on his boat anymore due to his parents, along with the locals’ belief that he is under a curse. Ah, haven’t we all felt that way? The job ended, we got the terrible news about our health or child, failed our exam, flunked out of nursing school, was cheated on by who we thought would be our future spouse or can’t seem to even get a date. The ongoing question is, how can we find things to thank the Father of Heaven for in the midst of our storms?
Finally, after three days at sea with a fish so determined to live, it drags his boat farther and farther out to sea. The fish is fighting hard to stay alive, and the old man respects the fish but tells him that he is going to die and finally catches the biggest Marlin ever. In fact, it is so large when he ties it to the side of his boat; it seems more significant than the boat itself. Soon the fish is bleeding in the waters, and a group of sharks begins to circle the boat. He fights them with all he has losing his harpoon and rope on one and stabbing the rest with a makeshift knife and finally a club. They eventually eat his catch that he worked so hard for. He is left with the bones of the marlin.
Life can be just like this. We can fight and claw our way through college or our career, waiting for the big fish that never comes and not even notice the one we were given. Not even taste it. Not even wake-up with excitement that we are NOT working or breathing for men, but for the Father who created the stars. We need thankfulness and expectancy.
If we try and make something happen before Our Abba Father wants it to happen, it will not happen. Fruit picked off the vine too early is sour, bitter and harsh. When we take a cake out of the oven too early, it sinks. When we remove a cast the doctor put on to heal broken bones, we can stop the process, but what about you and I? Where are we at in our own process? Try and think about what you would enjoy doing every day even if you had to do it for free– were never noticed– and no one even tasted the fruit on your tree?
Once the old man in the story comes back from his three-day fishing journey, battered and bleeding with a fish skeleton tied to the side of his boat, many, including his daughter tell him he needs to retire, stop fishing, give up, and that he is laden with a curse of bad luck. Of course, as all good stories go, luck would have it that the young boy in the area has great faith. Childlike faith–the faith that says we can go fishing again. We can catch a bigger fish. We can beat the sharks– outwit the nay Sayers and return with a prize-winning catch!
One creature I want you to picture is the butterfly. Its beginning is not so beautiful and will require four stages before it can fly. If I asked you a personal question right now, could you answer me with all honesty? Do you feel like you are flying or doing what it is you were created to do? Are you thankful for the process?
Do you think Joseph knew he was going through a process to become a great leader over all of Egypt while he was sitting in prison? He went through the cycles. First, he was given the dreams and the picture of what he was to become. He was given the unique coat. He got confirmation from His heavenly Father and his earthly father that he had a calling. Afterward, he was scorned by the ones he loved. This may have already happened to you? His own family members throw him in a pit and proclaim to his father that he is dead. Then he is sold into slavery. He is given a good position as a servant for a prominent man but later is wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit. Just when you think things in his life couldn’t get any worse, he is thrown in prison and chains. This journey is one that took a long time. Thirteen years later he becomes second in command of all Egypt and is reunited with his family. His process was a long time coming. Many of our biblical heroes were.
Psalms says, “He sent a man before them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They afflicted his feet with fetters,
He himself was laid in irons;
Until the time that his word came to pass,
The word of the LORD tested him.” 105:17-19.
All the testing molds us, but can we thank Him for it? Most of the time the things we desire and pray to have are not part of the plan. Often, for Him to give us what we ask for, we have to be humbled enough to carry it out. Going through the hard times with gratefulness knowing that it is changing us from a caterpillar into a butterfly helps.
Before a butterfly can flap its wings, it starts out as something wholly different and transforms itself through four stages. First as an egg, then as a caterpillar, on to a pupa in its chrysalis, and finally, it emerges as a glorious butterfly. . . As I was researching these eggs that the Monarch butterflies lay, I was surprised that out of 500 eggs the size of a pinhead, only about twenty would make it, but what threw me for a loop was where she lays her eggs.
“After the egg is laid, the caterpillar hatches four days later. It’s pretty hungry so it eats its eggshell and then the leaf the egg was on. The first bite of milkweed is a dangerous one because milkweed latex can act like glue. Some caterpillars die from that first meal because their mouths gum up. If it survives, the caterpillar then takes a break to shed (or molt) its skin.”
The first bite is dangerous. The very thing that can kill it needs to survive. Oh, you will get that in a minute. Its mouth can become glued shut from the milkweed latex. But the stronger ones eat what was meant to destroy them and continue to grow and shed their skin. Life is a process, and we are being changed daily by what we allow in our spirits and what we remove. Metamorphism is a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into an entirely different one, by natural or supernatural means.
We all go through this process but what happens if we try and go through it too soon? What happens if we are complaining and ungrateful for the manna that we are being provided within the desert and start murmuring and requesting meat? What happens if you try and skip the stages? If a caterpillar skips some of its 4-week changes and tries to become a butterfly right off the bat, it will never make it. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted and tried by the adversary, and he could no more skip that event any more than he could skip the cross.
A rose bush is beautiful but also has thorns. Is the rose thankful for the thorns? These prickles are actually hooks that aid the rose in hanging over other vegetation while growing over it. Some of the thorns are densely packed and keep animals from browsing or eating of it. Possibly, the thorns trap windblown sand and reduce erosion, protecting the roots. The Apostle Paul was given a thorn. We often look at the thorns life has given us without an ounce of thanks, when in all actuality they are protecting us from something or someone.
I recently finished writing an inspiring devotional that will be ready to purchase in the next few weeks. At the end of the book, I thanked my enemies for the gifts they have given me. I want to share that here, and I pray it causes you to be thankful for many things and many people you never knew were giving you a gift.
Devotional Closing: The Blast of the Shofar.
“In humility, I would like to thank every enemy sent from Abba Father to buffet me. Paul said it best. “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!” (2nd Corinthians 12:7 NASB).
I want to bless (not curse) every person who proclaimed I was a Jezebel or worse because it caused me to search my heart more carefully. I want to thank every adversary that caused me to hide in caves and rocks from fear and trepidation because it was there that I grabbed ahold of The Rock, The Chief Corner Stone. I want to thank the Father for every sickness and disease sent to humble me and cause me to go through a fiery furnace like Job, in which I will come forth as gold tried in the fire if I do not faint. I want to thank every person who was silent at the time of birth, for it was in their silence that I was able to make it all about Him and not me.
I want to bless every person who proclaimed they cringed when I spoke or wrote a devotion and tried to shut my mouth, for if it weren’t for them, I would have never ROARED.
I want to bless my enemies because after all they are what made me who I am today and that is a servant and a Bride who is lovesick for her Beloved. I encourage each of you at this moment to thank the Father for every Judas kiss upon your brow and every Saul who chased you over the hills right into your loving Father’s arms.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28 NASB).