Gratitude: His Light In Our Darkness
by Brett Barry
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2
We just spent a week with my parents around the Thanksgiving holidays. It was a real treat, as they are indeed the best of friends and it’s been a coupe years since we were able to see them in person.
I love our visits. They’re always a wonderful time of fellowship filled with laughter, life stories, childhood stories, long and meaningful talks about God, faith and things that count (both for now and eternity), and food…lots of food.
For as long as I can remember my mom has been an incredible cook (a true culinary artist) and, even at 77 years young, she hasn’t lost her hutzpah in the kitchen. (I don’t know too many people who enjoy food so much that they find great delight in talking about what they’re cooking for the next meal while they’re eating the one they’ve just prepared; but that’s Mom!) She definitely loves to cook, but mostly, she loves people and finds genuine fulfillment in seeing them blessed and cared for through her giving.
And Dad, well, every time I’m around him for any length of time I’m impressed with just how deeply grateful he is to God for everything: his life, health, wife of nearly 60 years, family, God’s provision through each opportunity to work hard, and His protection of which he has seen so much, even for his faith - so grateful to God for calling him to Himself while in his youth.
Like Mom, he is also extremely generous - I’ve seen him literally give the jacket off his back to a stranger in need. But even this stems from his gratefulness to God. I’ve observed this in him often throughout my life. But during this trip it was especially evident, when one evening the whole family gathered around to hear stories from his childhood.
On the lighter side, he told about how his parents, not knowing God, would throw wild parties with such an abundance of cigarettes and alcohol that the stockpile he and his older sister would take to their room "for their own party” were never missed; there they would smoke and drink themselves sick. (He now shares how he used to smoke and drink, but, by God’s grace, he gave it up…when he was nine!)
He told of the time he and a buddy, also about 10 yrs old, “borrowed” a very nice Model T from a remote neighbor one afternoon and ended up running it off the road and flipping it over, throwing Dad through a barbed wire fence that rendered scars he still carries today. An old-timer came along with a tractor and helped turn it up-right, wherein they promptly “returned” it to the exact spot they found it—minus all the windows, a few fenders, paint and other significant items, and including a great many dents.
There are way too many adventure stories to tell here, but let’s just say my dad also had the kind of childhood that, but for God, could have easily left him bitter and vengeful.
His dad left when he was a couple years old, and his mom lived a hard life, remarrying four times by his 13th birthday. At 14, his mom’s fifth boyfriend threatened his life because Dad stepped in and begged for mercy on behalf of a man his stepdad-to-be was beating unconscious in the back alley of a bar they would frequent as a family. Dad ran; ran for his life and didn’t look back. He ran home, grabbed his jacket, and hitch-hiked the nearly 1,000 miles from California to his grandparents in Oregon. In essence, he was now on his own.
And so went his youth. He wouldn’t wish his childhood on anyone, yet, he recognizes God's hand in it all. For it was on that very trip that He would commit himself to the Lord, and his life would be changed, forever.
During that journey, he recalls looking in the windows of homes at night and seeing families gathered around the table or fire, enjoying one another in the comfort of a loving environment, and how his heart longed for a family of his own. Sleeping under some tree roots one night, he told God about his desire for a family, and vowed that, if He would protect him, he would serve Him with his whole heart for the rest of his days.
God did. And Dad has.
He recalls how throughout the rest of that trip the Lord provided many abandoned cars for him to sleep in at night, and how he even sent a long-haul trucker/angel that took him aboard and gave him food, a motel bed to sleep in and $2 to help with his trip when he dropped him off (about $20 today).
Yep, so many stories. And, while they’re deeply engaging, and many hard to believe they’re actually about my dad (he’s such a transformed man), what comes through as he tells them, often through tears of wonder over God’s love, is his gratitude; his deep, reflection-inspiring thankfulness for God’s faithfulness to keep His promises to protect and transform his life over the years.
Ultimately, he’s grateful for God’s mercy, forgiveness and sacrificial love, even for someone he knows is still a work in progress—grateful to the point of trusting God with everything. Not just what he has, but even all he hopes for.
Have you ever experienced such profound gratitude toward God that it renders you overwhelmed with humility and respect for His unfathomable goodness?
O Lord, may it be so in my life. I want to know You and give to You like that—with thankful, selfless desire.
So. That’s my dad. Like the rest of us, he’s certainly in need of ongoing transformation. But, he is actively engaged with the Lord, and his thankfulness shines God's love ever so brightly.
In God's beautiful, redemptive way, Dad's humble gratitude in Christ allowed God’s forgiveness and long-suffering love to be produced in him toward his parents; the Light God would use to minister deeply to both of them over the years. In time, they both committed their lives fully to Jesus.
In this season of Advent, we reflect upon the anticipated entry of Messiah into the realm of a corrupt and fallen world; a Light invading the darkness - our darkness. And as we are blessed to know the transforming power of His sacrifice, may we also celebrate victoriously as those now living in His kingdom of light—embracing His eternal perspective, hope and power to live and give selflessly through deep gratitude.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for loving God and living lives that testify of His goodness.
Thank you, God, for parents that love and serve You.
And thank you, church family, for your faithfulness to journey onward in the Holy Spirit. May He strengthen you and protect your hunger for knowing and serving Him through selfless gratitude.
P.S. The beauty and power of selfless gratitude: