“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us — and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.” – Thomas Merton
Today is Thanksgiving Day, and it’s also the six month anniversary since I’ve returned to America after traveling to 11 countries in 11 months. What is ironic about this is that all I’ve been able to do since I’ve arrived back in America is give thanks.
On the outside, it might seem like I am living the same life as before. I’ve gone back to serving with my same home church in the heart of Boston. I’m still dreaming with God about how the Christian community can work together and be all that we’re created to be, living in true unity.
Yet, my daily mindset has completely changed. When you live in homes all over the world, you realize all the things you have, and you appreciate the little things that previously you took for granted.
When I step into the bathroom, I thank God that there is toilet paper, a global luxury. When I flush the toilet, I remember the places where toilets are just holes in the ground (there are more cell phones in Asia and Africa than toilets!) I thank God that I live in a part of the world with adequate sanitation.
When I put my head back underneath the warm showerhead and steam fills the room, I remember my African bucket shower, my head sticking out above the sticks arranged together in a circular shape, the moon reflecting into my bucket of cool water and sponge splashing over my skin. When I turn on the sink faucet, I remember the dozens of gallons of clean water we carried on our heads or painstakingly pulled up from the well (the average woman in Africa and Asia must walk 3.7 miles to collect water!) As I place the cold glass to my lips, the water soothing down my throat, I thank God that I have access to clean water, which is something one in nine people in the world do not have.
When I place my clothes in the washing machine, or the dishes in the dishwasher, I think of how my African friends questioned why us Americans need a machine for everything. When I plug in my computer, turn on the light, or push “start” on the microwave, I remember the many countries where electricity was sporadic or rare. I thank God for the privilege of modern technology and machinery to give me more time, but I remember that in Africa, although you get less “done” in the day, somehow it seemed the most productive moments were deep conversations with neighbors or playing with the local children.
When I get woken up in the morning by the trash man’s clanking bottles, my mind takes me back to the piles and piles of raunchy trash that wafted an ever-present stench around the streets of India. I remembered the children who lived in the dump in Cambodia and whose entire livelihood was built upon digging through other people’s waste to find enough cans and bottles so they could buy some rice. Although my instinct is to be upset for getting woken up, I thank God for the privilege of having someone come to collect my waste each week.
When I lay down on my queen-sized pillow-top mattress and stare outside the window at the stars, I remember how the family in Malawi moved out of their home and slept on a woven mat on the dirt so my team could have a place to lay our heads. I remember snuggling in my down sleeping bag in Nepal, in a stone home with no heating. I place my hands on the heater in my room exuding warmth, and I give thanks.
When I bite into our Thanksgiving turkey, I remember the Kenyan family that mentioned how the tender taste of meat is something they dream about all year only to enjoy on Christmas day. When we throw away the extra meatballs and noodles that no one wants, I remember the hundreds of dirt-caked children in India coming up to us, pleading for food, saying, “Canna, Canna.” I give thanks for my daily bread, and pray for those who are hungry today.
When I step foot outside my door, I thank God for the freedom to go wherever I want whenever I want to. I remember the women in the brothels of India and the bars of Thailand who were stuck, enslaved in many regards, doing this work because of decisions others made for them. Honestly, freedom is a luxury that I never really considered before, and my only response is to say, “Thank you.”
When my feet press into the soft carpet in our living room, I remember when my toes scraped against the dirt floor of the homes the size of my American closet. I give thanks for the home that He has given me, but my mind is not far from those who have less.
The awareness of my own privilege goes so much deeper now. It has made me more thankful, more often, and for smaller things. Things have shifted for me – I could never have found that deeper gratitude if I hadn’t lived on less. Truly, in America we are so blessed beyond belief.
How could I be silent when it’s time to praise You?
Now my heart sings out loud, bursting with joy –
A bliss inside that keeps me singing,
“I can never thank You enough!”
(Psalm 30:12 TPT)