• The crunch of leaves under my feet as I walk my dogs.
  • A sip of spicy chai on a crisp fall day.
  • Catching deep conversations with my teenagers.
  • A warm house filled with people I love.
  • A job that I am able to work through these troubled times.

These are all things that I am thankful for in this moment. The big and the little things bring me joy and I am grateful for them all. Author Melody Beattie said that “gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more,” and we all know what the studies say–a thankful heart leads to a happy life. But if I’m being honest, the events of 2020 have taken a toll on my gratitude and sapped some of its joy from my heart.

While I delight in the beauty of autumn, every time I pick up my phone there is more bad news. Wildfires encroaching on people’s homes and communities. Violence in the streets. The angry division of our country over who should lead us forward. And the continual uptick in positive cases as this pandemic invades our community, our jobs, and our homes.

When I talk with friends, it is clear that we are all burnt out on the reality of this time. I’ve seen the endless memes that 2020 is a dumpster fire and laughed at how true it feels. We joke about getting through this year and deleting it from memory. We just want to get past it.

So here we are entering into the season of thanksgiving and I find myself wanting to focus on all that I am grateful for. The truth is I am grateful for so much, but…

That’s what it feels like–thankfulness with an asterisk. 

I’m thankful for the health of my family,* but I know we could get sick at any moment no matter the precautions we take.

I’m thankful for the vibrant colors of the changing trees,* but I know that whole forests are being swallowed up by fires out West.

I’m thankful that I get to teach my students in person,* but it drains the life out of me every time there is another quarantine and my class is cut in half.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
I Thessalonians 5:18

These are words of encouragement Paul sent to the church years ago, and I know them well. I’ve heard more than once that he does not mean that I have to give thanks for all circumstances, but that in all circumstances I can find something to be thankful for. 

And I am thankful.* 

*But these dark times take such a toll.

In the bleakest times, when the news and the numbers become too much, these words come back to me:

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into
the kingdom of the Son he loves…”
Colossians 1:13a

It is true that 2020 has brought us challenges we haven’t had to face in recent generations. There has been so much loss, a lot to mourn, and much to persevere through, but God has not stopped moving. He isn’t waiting until December 31st so that He can cross 2020 out of his book with a big black slash.

No, He is at work even now. People are getting married. Babies are being born. Life is still happening, and God still has good works planned for us. We still have the opportunity to bless the people in our lives and to build His kingdom. God is still moving.

Gratitude is thankfulness without the not-enoughs.

As we enter this season of gratitude, we can choose to be thankful. Period. No asterisk. Just gratitude. 

When the stress and strain of these times try to steal our joy, we can remember that God is at work. He has brought us into the kingdom of His great love and He isn’t done with us, or 2020, yet.

Leah Chandler

Leah Chandler

Leah Chandler is a Chicago girl who came to Muncie to go to Ball State, married her college sweetheart, and then never left. She loves being a mom to four awesome teenagers and two dogs, one of whom is delightfully codependent on her. Leah spends her weeks teaching middle and high school English and weekends running with friends, going on adventures with her family, and feeding her chai addiction. Leah enjoys connecting with the people at Commonway and diving into the rich community.

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