Looking over the past year, and especially the past few months, the needs seem so great in the wake of weather events that have surpassed expectations. An early autumn blizzard in the Plains, a typhoon of immeasurable proportions in the Philippines, scores of tornadoes unleashed unseasonably in the Midwest — each event bringing its own form of devastation to a location, a people, a community.
And yet, folks in the midst of ruin are thankful. Reading the accounts or speaking with those affected personally, one common thread emerges… People who have survived a devastating event often have a more thankful heart than those of us going about our daily lives without having to face such immediate danger and loss.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days, we talk about what we are thankful for. We look around at family, friends, home, hearth, sustenance, and the Lord’s blessings in our lives.
But do we have a thankful heart? Are we full of gratitude? While giving thanks is an action we are reminded to engage in, a thankful heart, on the other hand, is a state of mind.
One example for me is the rancher in South Dakota who — when selected to receive heifers from the Heifers for South Dakota project — instead said no, let me give four of my best to someone who needs that spark of hope. In that case, the rancher had lost nearly half his herd in Storm Atlas October 4-5, but he said he would pull through. With a thankful heart, he gave four heifers to the project so that someone else in a similar situation could benefit.
After the tornadoes last weekend, farmers in some areas of the Midwest lost buildings, communities lost schools and homes. Within hours, neighboring communities and farm groups had mobilized cleanup efforts to help with the first step and most difficult step in rebuilding — grasping the devastation and sifting, sorting, cleaning up to regroup and move forward.
An ocean away in the Philippines, an even darker picture emerges, with a staggering death toll and untold survivors without food, water, shelter. As organized aid finally is able to flow to that region, stories of thankfulness follow.
We live in a world today with all the bells and whistles. We have so many distractions from the things that are most important. Each of us can be one moment away from a change or loss unexpected, which is all the more reason to not just give thanks for what we have but to embrace an attitude of thanksgiving, to have a thankful heart.
The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was such an occasion. The celebration was of the first successful harvest, preceded by a winter of loss, disease, hunger, and fear and a spring and summer of drought but trusted still to be blessed with a harvest.
I am reminded of the Rose Kennedy quote: “Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?”
A thankful heart then paves the way for optimism, faith, hope. A thankful heart allows us to see the new sunshine and sing instead of remaining quietly in the dark of the storm.