My first memory of an encounter with a police officer isn’t very pleasant. No, it wasn’t at a school presentation or during a community fair. It was on a bright Sunday afternoon when my father—a Black minister—was pulled over and slammed up against our van at gunpoint.
I remember raising my hands as an officer stuck his head into the driver door, weapon drawn.
“Don’t shoot,” I said, as my mother and sisters looked on in horror.
I was about seven years old.
2020 seems to be filled with such stories. Stories of chaos, riots, disease and many other things that—if we’re not careful—can rob us of the very meaning of Thanksgiving.
Many have lost loved ones. Many are sick themselves. But one thing hasn’t changed. And that is our ability to choose to be thankful for what we have, instead of what has been taken from us, or what we wish we had.
Throughout the years, I’ve often thought about that unfortunate encounter and tried to understand it from the officers’ point of view. To them—for whatever reason—they wrongfully assumed us to be suspects in a crime. Yes, I could blame racial prejudice. But I have realized that gratitude is much more profitable a reaction than bitterness.
You see, to focus on their wrong would lead to bitterness and intolerance on my part. But to be thankful that no one was hurt, that we all came through a situation that could have ended tragically, without harm, is what truly matters. The headlines that have dominated the news this year have made me more grateful than ever before.
We can learn much from the pilgrim fathers who suffered and endured intense emotional hardship that, no doubt, stayed with them all year round. Still, they gave thanks.
Thanksgiving is not about feasting nor even about the pilgrim’s first harvest. It is about finding the good in difficult situations. About being grateful to God for His goodness despite what we see around us.
I believe that same choice confronts all of us this year in one way or another. Perhaps the candidate we supported in the election lost. Perhaps he won. Perhaps the loved ones you prayed for have made it through this pandemic or perhaps you are mourning their loss. Regardless of the situation, look for the reason to be thankful.
As I look outside and see trees painted with streaks of gold and orange, it is easy to forget that the trees themselves are dying. The beauty of the moment hides that harsh reality.
But what if the trees could talk? What if they could express their opinion of what’s really happening? Would they be devastated by the circumstances? Or would they lift their naked branches up to their Creator with thanksgiving that, through this process, they can live to bud again next spring?
I’m tempted to think the latter.
Finding thanksgiving in 2020 depends on our choice. Let’s look for the good in everything, and we’ll see that every day holds a reason to give thanks.
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