Gratitude Day 534
Mon., Nov. 23, 2020
Philippians 4:4-7 – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
It’s Thanksgiving week. And in 2020, I think it is SO. IMPORTANT to celebrate the ENTIRE week of Thanksgiving! Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a little Thanksgiving story of encouragement.
Today’s story, I shared last week on Devos with Dianne. Because I think it’s a story that has helped me really think about how God knows so much more than we do what we want, it’s worth repeating. Again. If you’ve heard this story before, please bear with me. Just read along … because it’s a good one.
In the late 1990’s, I served for a year overseas as a missionary in the country of Kazakstan. Kazakstan was part of the former Soviet Union. It’s south of Russia and the largest land-locked country in the world. (If you are an Amazing Race fan, last week’s episode took place in Kazakstan! In fact, part of the episode took place in Almaty, the city where I lived.)
Missionaries need “real” jobs, and my job was teaching English at a state-run university. Another American teacher, Amy, and I taught at the same university. We also lived in a semi-furnished apartment not far from the university.
We arrived in Almaty towards the end of August. A couple weeks after we arrived, we received our first month’s salary: $150. Yes, for the month. The university also provided us the apartment.
Fast forward to the end of November. We’d been teaching since early September but had not been paid since that first paycheck in early September. We had both brought money with us, but we also did not want to spend all of our resources early in our time in Kazakstan.
On Monday nights, Amy and I held a weekly Bible study and prayer time for just the two of us. It was also a time we planned the upcoming week. Amy only had one prayer request that week: we get paid. As the main contact with the university, she said I needed to talk with our supervisor the very next day and convince her that we needed to be paid.
I did talk to Saida, but the conversation was not very positive. As a state-run university, they were paid when the government decided to pay them. Saida nor the other teachers had not been paid since we had either. No promises were made.
On Tuesday nights, I taught piano lessons to an American girl named CJ. CJ’s parents, Jim and Grace, were from Nebraska. They taught elementary students at an English-speaking school. They had a piano in their apartment and CJ wanted to take lessons. I was more than happy to teach her. In fact, the $10/week I had been receiving the last number of weeks was basically what I was living on.
As I left the university to walk the mile to CJ’s lesson, it was snowing. There were about six inches on the ground. At this time, no one in Almaty shoveled sidewalks. There were no snowplows in the entire city of about one million people. A wet, heavy snow, it was wreaking havoc on traffic. Cars with bald tires spun out in the middle of the streets. Buses from the 1940’s and 1950’s were stalled in ruts of snow. Vehicles were crawling at a snail’s pace. It was much quicker for me to walk.
After the piano lesson, Grace offered to drive me home. Knowing what the streets looked like, I assured her that I could walk faster. But Grace insisted on taking me back to our apartment. She stopped in front of the Russian-style apartment building where we lived, hoped out of the car and opened the rear-end of the Russian-style Jeep they drove. There were two boxes sitting there. Grace and I each hefted a box up the four flights of stairs to our apartment. We said our good-byes, wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving and promised to talk soon.
I waited for Amy to come home before opening the boxes. We were shocked when we opened them and discovered they were full of food. Jars of honey and jam. Rice and canned items. A large can of turkey that came from the U.S., as well as a can of tuna. The prized possession? A jar of American peanut butter, which was impossible to find in Almaty.
We couldn’t believe our eyes. Our cupboards weren’t bare … but their contents were very slim. It’s the least amount of food I’ve ever had in a cupboard. While we didn’t get paid that day, we DID get what we really needed: FOOD.
Thanksgiving will feel quite different this week. We can easily be discouraged, disappointed and disenfranchised. Yet, I pray we discover reasons to rejoice this Thanksgiving.
The apostle Paul helped start a church in Philippi. Later, he wrote them a letter. We have this letter and know it as the book of Philippians in the New Testament. When Paul wrote this letter, historians believe he was sitting in prison. He didn’t know if he would ever get out of prison. I’m guessing the conditions were less than ideal. Yet, read the words of encourage he wrote to his brothers and sisters in Christ, while sitting in jail:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In all things, Paul says, rejoice. I know that I have many a day in which I do not feel rejoicing. Yet Paul says, rejoice anyways! Why? Because God’s peace will guard your heart and your mind.
Therefore, rejoice when you’re having a rotten day.
Rejoice when life is overwhelming.
Rejoice when health is challenged.
Rejoice when someone hurts you.
Rejoice when you are soooo disappointed.
Rejoice when you don’t know what direction to turn.
Why? Because when we turn to God, you just may discover God’s peace which can quiet your heart and mind.
Amy and I didn’t really need paychecks. We just needed God’s peace to quiet our hearts and minds. Amazing, this peace showed up in the most unexpected of ways: a couple boxes of food.
Jim and Grace were unaware that we hadn’t been paid in weeks. They simple had a feeling that they should do something for us. And they did.
If you are feeling like things are more than you can handle right now, I pray God’s peace will come over you. Maybe, even in an unexpected way. Possibly, you might have the opportunity to be a Jim and Grace to someone else this week. Will you latch onto an opportunity that presents itself in your life?
This is Thanksgiving. Even if things feel different right now, I pray we all find reasons to rejoice today. This week. This Thanksgiving week.
For God knowing what I need more than I do, I am grateful.
Dear God – So often, we look only at one possible solution to help steer a situation. But You, O God, are the master of so many possibilities. I pray that I can turn to You for Your peace when things feel beyond my abilities. I pray Your peace shows up in those people’s lives who need it today. Amen.
If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.