It was Christmas time.
She sat in a chair by herself, close to the fireplace where she could be warm. She couldn’t get around very well on her own anymore. With one ailing leg propped in front of her, everyone milled around her, but she did not seem to mind. She seemed peaceful and content.
I had heard all the stories about her but never met her.
Everyone called her Big Mama; she was Granddaddy’s mama. They had told me about her—how she loved Jesus and her family and how she was known all over town. She was a modern day Dorcas. She was the woman who, no matter what side of the tracks you lived on or the color of your skin, if you were sick, she was knocking on your door.
And there she sat, widowed now for over five years, declining health slowly beginning to take its toll.
I eyed her from across the room. I wanted to talk to her, but I was afraid she would see right through me, all the way down to my sinful heart. I did not know then that truly godly people are never surprised by sin because they have seen the depth of their own depravity. They are like the humble tax collector too busy asking for mercy for their own sin to be surprised by what they see in others.
I walked over cautiously. She looked up with a smile and welcomed me to sit. She knew who I was. She had already been praying for her “great-grandson and his new wife” every day at 7 a.m., I learned later in a sweet note she sent to us.
We talked unhurriedly for a long time, mostly about Christmases gone by. As I listened, I hungrily took in her words. I loved hearing from older women in the faith who had run the race so well. As she recalled memories of family dinners and endless games of Rook on Christmas Eve, I could almost hear the echoes of laughter from long ago. But in those moments, I wondered if the memories were painful or sad for her, with her husband having passed away and her inability to get around. But there was no hint of either in her demeanor. It was as if she, with all her years of wisdom, sensed my quiet awe.
She paused thoughtfully and leaned toward me as though she were about to tell me her secret. And then she said these unforgettable words. (She and Granddaddy seem to have a knack for saying things that need to be kept close to your heart.):
“I thank God for all the years I have had. He has blessed me with so much . . . I have had enough joy and blessing already to last me the rest of my life.” Her gentle, humble voice made it clear that she knew she did not deserve any of it. It was grace, all grace.
It took me the rest of the evening to take in the weight and meaning of those words. I don’t think I fully comprehended it until a few years ago when I sat around the Christmas tree with my own husband and children. Overcome with joy and thankfulness, I remembered that moment beside the fire with Big Mama and quietly said those same words to myself: “I am so blessed. I have had enough joy to last the rest of my life.” As the images of my husband and children playing together blurred with tears, I realized at the same time how I had done nothing to deserve it. It was all grace, pure grace.
For me, these words have come to define true thankfulness. Not just thankfulness as the world sees it, but contented, satisfied thankfulness. As Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Thanksgiving brings contentment.”
Sometimes I forget though. Sometimes I am more like the ungrateful child who, after handing her a piece of candy, barely has the words “thank you” out of her mouth before asking for another piece. In those times, it is clear that I am not satisfied with what the Lord has given me, even while I am mouthing words of gratitude.
I forget that authentic thankfulness brings satisfaction and contentment while an empty thank you is just a symptom of my real discontent which, Elisabeth Elliot writes, “dries up the soul.”
This Thanksgiving season, I want to look around me not with a discontent, dried up soul but with fresh eyes of true thankfulness and say, full and satisfied, “Lord, thank you for these blessings. I have already been given so much more than I deserve. Even if I never receive another blessing from your hand, it is enough. I am satisfied.”
While we are focusing on thankful hearts this season, may the Lord bring forth much contentment as we offer thanks and find ourselves satisfied in all that he is and all that he has so graciously given us.
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