Dinner time–almost, and already the crisp darkness makes our window panes cold beneath my fingers. I switch on lamps to fill the room with light, light I hope will glow well beyond the house, slipping out around the edges of the panels of the curtains, beaming boldly through the glass. And with the light, I pray for warmth that travels into huddled and lonely spaces. Just in the moment, I count four gifts without even hunting: dinner, light, warmth, windows. And another, still–-awareness. Nights like these move me to reach past these walls.
I place a paper leaf at every place around our table–something I printed from Ann Voskamp’s website, each russet or golden thing curling at the edges, with a verse on one side for giving thanks:
- …Giving thanks always and for everything.
- And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me…
- O, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good…
- Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name…
- Now when Daniel heard that the decree had been published, He went home…He got down on His knees and prayed…just as he always had, giving thanks.
I finger the leaves lightly, each one a prayer for gratefulness like a light that warms, like a healing touch. It occurs to me that one of the verses recalls a hurting, murderous time—bleak, cold, death-dark; and another looks teary-eyed into a friend’s grave, into the grief-shot eyes of people wondering where He was, how He could possibly have failed to arrive on time to save a life. Some of us know those aches like a bruise; others like a fatal blow. I move back into the kitchen to stir the soup, and as I lift the lid, more of that wonderful smell escapes with the steam, rushing. The air in the room is rich and delicious. My mouth waters, anticipating the flavors—buttery onions, broccoli, creamy cheese. Quite a different aroma—I can’t help but think—than the one Jesus stood breathing in the rough hollow of Lazarus’ tomb, when he paused to give thanks that God hears and then called his friend forth from the darkness. Oh, to trust the resurrection enough to have time for Thanksgiving, even standing in the ugly, rotten gash of loss. Or, like Daniel, blind to any possibility of escape, to see his own death coming and never stop praying thanksgiving. Because gratefulness is not merely a celebration but an offering, a sacrifice given.
Many times this week, I’ve thought–hands hard-pressed across gaping lips, fingers teeth-bitten and stinging with horror–how awful the pain, how dark the place, how torn and reeling and ugly the wound of evil—and standing even this far away from Paris and other places where sudden death has become a very real possibility, that He hears seems to be the only thanks to find. And now, I wind around my children and lay open hands upon their backs, careful not to grab desperately, giving thanks for moments worth savoring and gathering up, for Love that cannot be ripped away, for the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even when we cannot see it up ahead.
I light candles. The tiny flames flicker wildly through amber glass, cracked and glistening. Tonight, we’ll gather around our table and hold hands, weaving our fingers together, and we’ll pray for all who deeply suffer—for healing, for comfort, for ways to reach beyond our comfortable walls. And then, while we eat, we’ll flip over the leaves on our table and scribble grateful prayers, noting gifts still glimmering, warmth carefully kindled against the cold. We’ll taste Grace and Love and Hope, those rich, eternal flavors, until they dribble down our chins, until the Light glows in our eyes and lingers rosy on our cheeks. And we’ll pray to have the courage to continue, even when life hurts, because giving thanks is not so much about listing happiness as it is about healing our rended thoughts, about helping us remember a Truth bigger than how things feel or what our eyes can see, a Truth that slips around the edges of every pain—a Light in the darkness.