As 2012 draws to a close I find myself sitting on the porch of a beach condo graciously lent to me by a dear friend. The sunlight is dancing between clouds of every shade of grey imaginable, illuminating first one patch of a roiling gulf and then another with the sparkle of a hundred million diamonds. It is thus for as far as I can see. I am letting the scene burn itself into my mind as I reflect on what this last year has brought me.
Let’s see, October delivered me a diagnosis of stage 4 melanoma which my dermatologist found beneath the hair on my scalp. November found me undergoing various tests followed by surgery at MD Anderson to remove the tumor and a number of lymph nodes from my neck. I now have a bald spot above my right ear that looks as if a monk who had imbibed a little too much monastery wine had attempted to give me a tonsure — and missed the mark. In addition, as is true of all of us, there have been the predictable and unpredictable issues and crises, which have pressed hard on our family. There were many disappointments, the listing of which would fill a decent sized binder. OK, so I can sit here and groan about them, but what is the point?
Several years ago I reached a conclusion that will probably be old news for many of you, but was a revelation of sorts to me. I decided to spend most of my time thanking God for everything that was going right! I am not the first to come to this “Aha” moment. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians wrote,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16, 17)
This is the same Paul who was whipped five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned and left for dead once, shipwrecked three times, found himself in constant danger from the elements and from enemies, was often hungry or thirsty or both, was jailed on numerous occasions and who ultimately was beheaded for his faith. Paul didn’t give thanks for his trials and tribulations, but he was able to thank God in the midst of them. Why? Because he knew both who he was (a man with a fine education and great authority who had been drowning in pride and self-importance) and whose he was (a man who had been forgiven by God and adopted into His family, both in this life and in the life to come, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus).
My own journey of thankfulness started simply enough several years ago. I have some arthritis in my thumb, which aches from time to time. When one of “those times” rolled around I resolved to quit focusing on that thumb and thank the Lord for all the parts of my body that were working!
When things went awry in the family, or within my church community, I practiced rejoicing in the midst of the crisis for all the blessings that we were receiving. Of course rejoicing doesn’t mean that I pretend that everything is all right when it is not. Nor does it mean I don’t deal as best I can with whatever is going wrong. What it does mean is that I refuse to be identified by my circumstance.
I am not Mike Hesse, the cancer guy. Instead, I remind myself who I am and whose I am. I am Mike Hesse, a sinner saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I have been adopted as a child of God and am a part of his family — from now until forever. All things considered, life is very good, indeed.
The Rev. Mike Hesse is senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin.