One year, just after Christmas, our house caught on fire. Our then preschool-aged son turned on the stove that we thought was broken and had tucked away in the basement. As its burners heated up, so did the box of photos I had set atop them months before. It was this box—all of our family's memories—that ignited the entire basement. My sons, then 3, 4, and 7, and I fled across the street to the safety of our neighbor's home. From her living room we watched as smoke billowed from the windows while firefighters worked to douse the flames. Life as we knew it ended that day.
With virtually all of our material possessions destroyed and damaged (my neighbor literally gave me the coat off her back), we checked into a hotel. At dinner that first night, my husband looked at each one of us. With a catch in his voice, he said, "Everything I ever needed, I still have around this table."
In that moment, I understood what it means to be thankful in all circumstances.
Two weeks later, we moved into a fully-furnished apartment with a short-term lease. All we brought with us—our family of five—was a laundry basket of clothes.
The boys promptly kicked off their shoes and proceeded to run through the apartment, exploring every new nook and cranny. In their bedroom, they discovered three beds lined up in a row. On each one, sat a brand new stuffed animal. The owners of the building knew our boys had lost every toy—even all of the new ones they had just received for Christmas.
"This is the best gift I ever got!" Danny exclaimed, as he hugged the soft bear. Gratitude gushed out of him. This was a boy who now knew the difference between having much and having little, and either way he was thankful.
Our house fire was traumatic and life-changing. I would never wish such an experience on anyone. But I will be eternally grateful that God allowed it to happen to us. In burning away so many of our material possessions, it also destroyed the parts of us that were chaff. I learned to appreciate living simply. I learned that stuff is just stuff. I am not bound anymore by a desire to accumulate and hold tightly to the things of this world. I could recount a hundred more gifts we received from the fire. What initially appeared to be a devastating loss has been for our gain.
In many ways, choosing to be grateful in every circumstance is an expression of trust. It means saying thank you before we even know the outcome because we trust that God knows how to give good gifts. And he promises to redeem even the most difficult situations for our good. Being grateful in all circumstances means thanking God for gifts we wouldn't choose. We say thank you because we trust and love the Giver more than the gifts.
What are you thankful for today?