Gratitude. Thankfulness. Usually, neither of these exist without first experiencing heartache, loss, and trying 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 simple things– like our eyes opening in the morning and our 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. There will always be hard fallow ground, sharks, vultures, and yes, thorns, but how do we have gratitude amid 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 Hemingway. 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’ because they believe he is under a curse.
Ah, haven’t we all felt that way?
The job ended, we got the terrible news about our health, we lost a child, or the one we wanted to grow old with left us for a younger model. The ongoing question is, how can we find things to thank the Father of Heaven for during 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 he tells him that he is going to die and finally catches the most huge 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 we are ready or mature enough to handle it, bad things 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 me? Where are we at in our 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 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 would become. He was given a 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 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 the caterpillar, he 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 changes 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 them. 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.
Flying Beyond the Hardship
November 14, 2016
By: Tekoa Manning
Photo Cred: Dan Darell
Tekoa Manning is the author of two fiction works, Polishing Jade & Walter the Homeless Man. After a neurological illness left her disabled and eventually homeless, Tekoa began to channel her creativity into writing and devouring the Word of Yahweh. She is the wife of a retired police chief and the mother of three sons. Tekoa and her husband reside in a small town in KY. The pen name Tekoa means Trumpet, the instrument that unites people at a sudden impulse.
You can find out more about Tekoa and her writing endeavors at tekoamanning.com