Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Giving Thanks

It's that time of year again. The leaves are falling and this weekend we will celebrate Thanksgiving. We celebrate it a little earlier here in Canada than in the land to the south, because our harvest is earlier. Thanksgiving is a very old tradition in our North American culture, a tradition begun by a group of men who had a lot to be thankful for. They had made an arduous journey across the Atlantic, leaving their homeland in hopes of finding a passage to a new country. There were probably many days when they despaired of ever finding it. Imagine the excitement they must have felt when suddenly land was sighted. Imagine their relief. Imagine their thankfulness to God. 

Perhaps you’ve been thinking of the Pilgrims of Plymouth Massachusetts, but I’m speaking of the men who accompanied an explorer named Martin Frobisher who was looking for the northwest passage to India. That crew of men, aboard a ship called The Gabriel, beached on the shores of Newfoundland in July, 1578. So it was that 53 years before the Pilgrims landed on the shores of the United States, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in North America.

But that wasn’t the first thanksgiving to be celebrated. The tradition goes back much further than that, all the way back to 1450 BC. It’s recorded in Exodus 23:16, where God tells the Hebrew people -

“Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.”

Many of us will sit down to a feast of turkey and all the trimmings in the next few days. And we will all be thankful for what we’ve been given. Warm houses, the money to purchase the ingredients in our dinners, family to celebrate with. It’s easy to be thankful in the midst of such bounty, isn’t it?

But what about when things aren’t going so well? Are we able to be thankful then? Are we able to be thankful in the midst of struggles and hard times? The scriptures tell us that’s what we are to do. Philippians 4:6 says – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” 

On April 1st 2011, I was given the opportunity to find out if I was really capable of doing that. I was at a trade fair in Calgary when my cell phone rang. It was my family doctor, calling to give me the results of a biopsy. And I heard those  terrifying, mind-numbing words: “You have cancer.” This wasn’t an April fool’s day joke. Those were words that meant the beginning of months of having to face a new reality and a new routine – days full of chemo and radiation treatments, days of weakness when I rejoiced if I was able to put my clothes on without panting, days of such bone-deep weariness that I just wanted to close my eyes and wake up in heaven, days of wondering if I would indeed survive. Those were days that were filled with anxiety that could only be relieved by prayer.

But I discovered I was able to be thankful, even though I had cancer, thankful for what God was teaching me. I wasn’t able to write much during that time, but I did manage to post a few things to a blog for people dealing with cancer. This is one, about a moment when I learned to be thankful because I realized that what I was going through had purpose. 

It’s called Comfort Overflowing.
          Two doses of chemo over and I'm feeling like it's letting go of me again. Such a blessing to be able to eat normally and not have indigestion that makes it feel like a small block of wood is forcing its way through my intestines. Slept through the night last night too, another blessing I don't think I'll ever take for granted again. I even went shopping with my daughter today, though I sat through it while she searched the racks. :)
          Sitting in the mall it was interesting to watch all the "normal, healthy" people. Some avoided my turbaned head, some smiled a wee bit, some just stared then looked away. Then I noticed a woman walk by whose neck was a bit crooked. Another had a slight limp, another dragged an oxygen tank behind him. Not so "normal and healthy." And I thought, how many times did I breeze by them all in a mall like this, uncaring, oblivious to all the hardships and pain around me. In the glitz and glimmer of a shopping mall it's easy to think the world is all as it should be as we spin along on our quest for consumer items, avoiding the pain, the sadness, refusing to look it in the face, refusing to do anything to alleviate it.
          But the reality is, the world underneath all that shine and polish is rather sad and broken. A friend posted a quote from CS. Lewis on Facebook recently - "Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him Happy." So very true.
          Yet there is hope, there is purpose.
          The author of the second book of Corinthians said it this way - "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows (2Corinthians 1:3-5).
          As we see the pain and suffering around us and attempt to minister to it, we enter into the ministry of Christ through His suffering. We enter into the humanity of our race, joining ourselves together with bonds that hold us all up as we stand at the cross. And in so doing we are made more human, moulded more and more into the image of God, which is our true identity.
          And some of the brokenness is healed, the sadness turned to joy, the reality of God's love made known. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

When you are very ill your world shrinks a great deal. You aren’t able to get out much. But you learn to be thankful for small, ordinary things. This is another post I wrote.

It’s called Thankful for Trees
          The two Poplar trees stand side by side in the park across from my living room window. I've been watching them slowly turn golden for the past few weeks and a few days ago the fall winds came and began to strip them bare. A few stragglers are still hanging on, but soon the trees will be only trunk and branches. The inner sap has probably almost completely stopped flowing.
          They mimic how I'm feeling these days as I continue through chemotherapy. Bare. Sparse. Dried out. Enthusiasm is a word that seems foreign. I've forgotten what it's like to have hair. There are days when I want to rail against what's happening to me, days when I'm just angry. But then I look at those trees and I think of the scripture that has so often come to mind as I've watched them fade into dormancy.
          "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. ... You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed." (Psalm 55: 8-13)
          So I'm thankful for those trees that are standing guard so close by. I can see they're still standing, still swaying in the fall winds, waiting. I know the biology of tress; and though I know winter is coming I know their sap hasn't disappeared, it has just stopped running for a while and will run again in a few months. When it does they will sprout tiny green leaves that shout the word 'Revival' and will grow and clap loudly in the spring winds as their sweet scent permeates the air. And their creator will be glorified.
          God is in the business of revival on all levels. But there is purpose in the dormancy. A friend sent me a link to a wonderful song, Blessings, by Laura Story. The lyrics rang so true -
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?
          "His mercies in disguise" - things like trees that have been stripped bare but still stand in the wind.

There were, of course, those days, as I went through the cancer treatments when I didn’t have the energy to be thankful. I didn’t have the energy for much at all. I remember one particular long grey day in a long grey week. The new chemotherapy drug they had said would be easier wasn't. It knocked me to the ground then stomped on me until every bone ached. I was seriously thinking about cancelling the next dose. I just didn't think I could do it.

I was lying on the couch in our living room late one afternoon, moaning and barely able to lift my head. But then I opened my eyes and saw that a thin beam of light had pushed through the clouds, through my living room window, and along a slim tendril growing out of my small Spider plant. The tendril had looked so fragile as it reached out, pale and oh so thin. But when that beam of light touched it, it began to glow. Then the light illuminated the tiny white flowers that had just bloomed. The flowers glowed in that ethereal light. It took my breath away. And hope blossomed. I managed to get up off the couch and find my camera. It took a few tries to get a picture that wasn't blurry. But I managed to steady my hands and do it.  

Hope. At that moment it was a living dimension - a shaft of real light that slipped into my living room along that tendril of plant at just at the right moment. At just the right moment God reminded me that he was there, watching, waiting with me and smiling as he made that tiny flower glow. And I was more thankful at that moment than I had ever been in my life.

John 8:12 says - "When Jesus spoke to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
The light of life, the light of hope. It's Him. Jesus Himself. Right here. Right now. No matter what the circumstances. That’s something to be thankful for.

There were many things God taught me to be thankful for through those months of treatments and long days of recovery. Those days were hard but I learned that you can make the choice to be thankful, even when you are in pain, even when it seems there is no joy left in life. And when you make that choice an amazing thing happens. Jesus becomes more real, life becomes more rich and the joy you find is deeper than you ever could have imagined. 
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. Marcia's second novel, A Tumbled Stone was recently short listed in the contemporary fiction category of The Word Awards. Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded here. Visit Marcia's website


  1. Beautifully raw post, Marcia. Thank you for expressing your vulnerability.

    Blessings by Laura Story is a fabulous tune.

  2. Thank you so much, Marcia. My heart aches for a friend who has undergone treatments such as yours. I pray that when the time comes for me to "go home" I'll grasp all those promises from God's Word and hold them close.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Ian and Rita. I so appreciate them. :)

  4. Marcia, you inspire me every single day.