A rather odd thought popped into my head last Thanksgiving Eve, out of the blue: “I am thanksgiving.” I think the Thanksgiving holiday is great! What’s not to love about a day centered on a bright spot in history, gratefulness, family, and good food? Then again, I also love Christmas, for mostly the same reasons, but I would never say “I am Christmas.”
I went for a run on Thanksgiving morning and, amid the gold and red autumn leaves that adorned the trees along my way, reviewed the year to that point. It would come to a close soon, and although it hadn’t been all smooth sailing, I had thoroughly enjoyed it, even the challenging bits. Most of the things I had been concerned about had either already been resolved or solutions were in the works. The answer to one rather substantial personal dilemma that I had been struggling with for some time had come to me in a flash just a couple of days earlier. I was surprised I hadn’t seen it sooner. It was so simple and beautiful! I was happy and grateful and already telling my family and friends about it.
Kika was six years old, with beautiful blue eyes and a smile that could melt the iciest heart. Kika liked stuffed kittens and ice cream and blowing bubbles. She was learning her alphabet and how to count backwards from ten. But Kika had never taken a step in her life.
She was paralyzed from the waist down, having been born with a condition called spina bifida. She had a tiny wheelchair in which she raced around the house, and there was a larger one parked under the staircase for her to grow into.
Does our attitude toward life determine our level of happiness? I became convinced that it does while volunteering with survivors of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated parts of Chile in February 2010. Our team met many courageous and remarkably optimistic people who were finding ways to make the best of their horrible situations.
On our first trip to the area, we met a woman who had owned a hair salon. The tidal waves had swept through her shop, leaving total devastation in their wake. When she had dug through the mud where her business had been, she found only one pair of scissors, one buzzer, and one cape. Miraculously, the wave had also spared her large mirror. Thankful that she still had one of each of the items she needed, she cleaned them and reopened for business.
Regardless of whatever else we may be looking for in life, we all have one aspiration in common: we all want to be happy.
Happiness is different things to different people, of course, but some seem to think that it is as simple as having a good time. As children, we all do that. We think that happiness means doing as we please, having lots of fun and not much work. Eventually, after getting into plenty of mischief and suffering many stomachaches, most of us learn that happiness does not come from grabbing everything we want—that happiness is not the product of idleness and chocolate creams.
My back ached from sitting so long in the small metal seat of the bus, and my face flushed from the blazing sun that beat on me through the open window. The bus jostled as it followed the dusty road through a half-deserted section of town, where drab, dilapidated houses and fields overgrown with weeds seemed to be a reflection of my life. The last few weeks had been especially stressful as some friends and I struggled to make progress on a new community volunteer project. We had been having more setbacks than successes, and that, coupled with personal problems, had brought a heavy cloud of discouragement over me.
If you think you have troubles, consider My apostle Paul: He was whipped on five occasions and beaten with rods on another. He was stoned and left for dead. He was shipwrecked three times, and spent a night and a day in the deep. He went through perils at sea, perils in the wilderness, and perils in cities. He suffered at the hands of robbers, his own countrymen, strangers, and even those who wrongly thought they were acting for Me. He was imprisoned and deprived of basic needs many times.1
For the sorrowing every day is evil, for the joyous heart it is festival always.
—Proverbs 15:15 TJB
If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.
—John Heywood (1497–1580), English playwright and poet
I asked myself recently what keeps me steady in times of crisis. What keeps me from giving up and saying, “I don't want to keep trying,” “I don’t want to give so much,” “I don’t want to care anymore,” “I don’t want my heart broken anymore,” “This burden is too heavy for me to keep carrying.”
What keeps me from doubting God’s promises when all of my faults and failures hang over me like a black cloud and my feelings threaten to overwhelm me? When I don’t know if I can cope, what keeps me from giving in to that feeling?
Ben is a white-haired man whose house I pass on my errands route. He always calls out a friendly greeting, and over time we’ve become good friends. His cheerful demeanor and lively personality make him a joy for me to be around, despite our age difference.
Last spring, Ben slipped on a wet bathroom floor, fell backwards, and hit his head hard. The impact brought on a stroke that resulted in recurring dizzy spells and headaches, blurred vision, permanent damage to his left eye, and loss of stamina.
I wish you could meet three people who each made a big impression on me. If you could, you’d understand immediately what this issue of Activated is about.
The first was a busboy who cleared my table from his wheelchair with such outgoing charm that I wasn’t a bit surprised when the manager told me on my way out that he considered that busboy his most valuable employee. “More people come back for him than for the food,” the manager confided.