Giving Thanks for What I Never Had

This year I won't just be thanking God for all my blessings, but for all the things I haven't had:

I'm grateful for the full refrigerator we never had in my childhood, grateful for the meals we missed the last few days before my mother's paycheck. These memories make it easy to be generous with what I have now.

I'm grateful for the nice house, the perfect family, the right clothes I never had. No matter where I live or what I wear now, there's almost no one I couldn't consider a friend.

I'm grateful for the stability I never had. Divorce, foster homes, frequent moves and family separations were hard on me as a little girl, but blessed me with resiliency and endurance. They also make me appreciate the family Tripp and I have built and the roots we've put down now.

The father I didn't have gives me the special privilege of having only one Father – the one scripture calls "the father to the fatherless." With no earthly model to shape my perception of God, the providential love and generosity I've experienced since I became a believer seem even more of a miracle. I will never take God for granted.

But isn't that the real point of Thanksgiving? The settlers at Plymouth Rock were men and women whose faith was so compelling it carried them first to Holland seeking religious freedom and finally to an unknown wilderness. Though all survived the ocean voyage, the first year in the New Land saw half their number die.

Isn't it extraordinary that even after losing husbands, wives, sons and daughters, the Pilgrims would turn their hearts to thanking God? Not when you consider they were just being true to the scripture that reminds believers; "Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances."

I'm grateful for the "perfect" baby we didn't have 13 years ago. Anyone who's met Jonny (number eight of our 12) can see he is perfect just the way God made him – with an extra chromosome. He has opened parts of our hearts we never knew were there. I couldn't imagine having lived without him.

But now I couldn't imagine having lived without any of the parts of my life – even those that seemed unbearable as I was living through them. In fact, I've embraced every part – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. For every part, I give thanks

The point is this: It's not the adversities in our lives that determine who we are – it's our response to them. When bad things happen, we can choose to be bitter or better. Martin Luther puts it this way: "For whoever believes, everything is beneficial and nothing is harmful. For those who do not believe, everything is harmful and nothing beneficial."

I agree, but only because today I can see that who I am is not defined as much by what I have, but by the faith that defined my response to what I didn't have – and the miracle that an ordinary person like me could understand the extraordinary: Pilgrims giving thanks for it all, after all.

Barbara Curtis, award-winning author of seven books and 700 articles and columns, lives with husband Tripp and six still-at-home children in Waterford, VA.

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