No one wants to spend Thanksgiving Day in the ICU. Especially not a girl who has long claimed it's her favorite holiday. But last year I did exactly that.
After a difficult, daylong surgery to remove two thirds of my tongue and the cancer lurking inside, doctors sent me to the intensive care unit to guard against further complications. I appreciated their attention to detail, valued their concern. But spending Thanksgiving in the hospital wasn't my idea of a festive holiday celebration.
While the rest of America carved up turkeys and served up thick slices of pie, I lay in a hospital room enjoying a delicious IV drip. I wasn't allowed to eat or drink, not even ice chips. Instead, I listened to the sounds of nurses celebrating the holiday from their station. I smelled hints of a holiday meal being whipped up in the hospital cafeteria. Even with my door closed, I couldn't escape the constant reminders of all I was missing.
It's hard for a girl not to feel sorry for herself when faced with such a day. I remember looking out my window at the quiet Denver streets, imagining the memories being made inside so many cozy homes. With each beep of my many life-saving devices, with each twinge of hunger in my stomach, I felt farther and farther away from the holiday.
Thanksgiving is about gratitude for God's blessings, for good food, sweet relationships, and laughter. Alone in a hospital room, I enjoyed none of the above.
Captive to my circumstances, I wrestled with questions I couldn't resolve. What if I'd never gotten sick? What if the doctors had followed a different plan? What if... What if... What if? Those were the questions on which I feasted that Thanksgiving day. And with each question, I felt more and more sick. Like bars of a cell, the what-ifs penned me in, interfering with my ability to practice gratitude.
At times I wonder how Paul – once named Saul – managed to live without the what-ifs. In all of his New Testament writings, I don't hear him pining away about what might've been. I don't read any self-loathing for his years of misdirected zeal. I don't see him griping about his hardships or whining about his pain. I'm sure he had his hard moments. He was human, after all, and had plenty of reasons to play the victim. Still, he didn't look at his life as a series of unfortunate events.
"I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him" (Phil. 3:8-9 NASB).
You see, blessedness is more a matter of perspective than a change of circumstance. Paul understood this, after enduring far more pain and persecution than one person should have to endure. This makes his words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 both hard-earned and profound: "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Paul didn't catalog his losses, he counted his gains. And his greatest reason for thanksgiving – among many others – was the fact that Jesus had found him, a proud, sinful, self-righteous man. And in spite of his ugly history, God granted him a future glory.
It took me a couple of days to pull myself out of my hospital-induced self-pity. It's not my favorite Thanksgiving memory, but it's by far the most powerful one. It was a day when my earthly treasure was taken away. In its place I held nothing but Jesus. I Thanksgiving-worthy gift, indeed.
I still have days when I struggle to celebrate Thanksgiving. It's not always easy to fix my eyes on what I cannot see. But if the ugliness in my story leads me to the feet of Christ, then my legacy is a beautiful and blessed thing indeed. The story I want to change is the same story that brought me to an enduring knowledge of the God who rescued me. In releasing the vision of what could have been, I'm finally able to see what God has done. And continues to do.
In the letting go of losses, you and I finally see what we've gained. We may lose the world, but we've gained the maker of it.
Michele Cushatt appears this Monday on LIFE TODAY. Taken from I Am: A 60 Day-Journey To Knowing Who You Are Because Of Who He Is by Michele Cushatt. Copyright ©2017 by Michele Cushatt. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. All rights reserved.