Note: This post has nothing to do with writing, books, or professional updates. It’s one of my rare, totally personal posts, so feel free to skip if you’re browsing for book news. Note 2: I talk a little about my faith in this post, so also skip if religion is a trigger topic for you.
If you live in the US like I do, then Thursday is Thanksgiving for you, too. I love this holiday for many reasons, one of them being guilt-free gluttony because you’re supposed to indulge your appetite and then worry about what the scale says later :). So, tomorrow I will be grateful for spending time with my family, for good food that I didn’t have to cook (my favorite kind!) and for having the day off from work so that I can more fully enjoy reasons 1 and 2.
November has also become a time of reflection for me. In November 2011, as I blogged about once before, I went to the Emergency room with shortness of breath and severe chest pain. I thought I was having a heart attack because it hit me out of the blue and I couldn’t think of any other cause for my symptoms. To say that I was terrified is to put it mildly. I know that I’m going to die one day, but I’d always shelved that under the “much later” category in my mind. That afternoon in November, “much later” suddenly felt like “right now” and the realization exposed truths and weaknesses in my life that I’d been blind to.
The most significant of those was what I actually had control over, and the shocking answer was – where it really counted – nothing. That had never occurred to me before, probably because I had a good job, a loving husband, a great-if-sometimes-dysfunctional family, and good health. All of those things are wonderful and I cherish them, yet if I were being honest, they also made me emotionally and spiritually cocky. You see, I was starting to believe that I was owed those things instead of recognizing them for what they were – priceless gifts, and gifts are never owed or earned. They’re given, and all the receiver can take credit for is accepting them.
While I was being wheeled via stretcher into an MRI machine to see if my severe chest pains could be a life-threatening pulmonary embolism since a heart attack had been ruled out, I realized that I was owed nothing, I owned nothing and I had control over nothing. I couldn’t even keep breathing, if my medical condition turned out to be as serious as feared. With everything else abruptly stripped away, all I had left was the one thing I’d begun to take for granted the most: my faith.
I became a believer in Christianity when I was nineteen. It wasn’t because I was raised in a religious environment; my father was an atheist and my mother considered church as nothing more than a rare social event. Throughout my childhood, I thought of God and Santa Claus in much the same way: as invisible figures that might reward you if you were good, but were waiting to punish you if you were naughty. Around ten or eleven, I outgrew my already-tenuous belief in both, relegating them to common childhood mythologies and almost pitying anyone who believed otherwise.
I won’t go into detail about what changed when I was nineteen. That would take another post entirely. Suffice it to say, I ended up believing that Jesus was who He said he was and the once-scornful agnostic now had to endure some scorn and ribbing over my newfound faith (justified paybacks, one could argue.) Fast-forward almost twenty years. I still believed, but my church attendance was sporadic and my faith had been back-burnered. Professionally and personally, things were going really well and I thanked God for that, but I also gave myself a lot of credit, too.
I’ve often told my editors and my critique partners that subtlety goes right over my head, so if they wanted me to take a critique suggestion seriously, then they had to be blunt. Well, thinking I might die was blunt enough for me to take a serious look at my faith. The most amazing thing to me then, and still is now, is that though it was tattered and even had holes in places, when it was the only thing I had left to fall on, it still held me up. I can’t take credit for that any more than I can take credit for the other priceless, undeserved gifts I’ve been given. They came from above, and all I’ve ever done is hold out empty, stained hands while saying “please, I can’t do this.” I thank God that this has always been enough for Him, and His mercy has met me wherever I am because it isn’t dependent on my worthiness. It’s dependent on His love, which is unending for me and everyone else.
In case you’re wondering, it turned out that I’d had an acute case of costochondritis, though it was originally mis-diagnosed as pleurisy. Costochondritis caused me to have regular, though less severe, chest pains for over a year, but considering what it could have been, I was then and still am beyond relieved. So, to wrap up a really long post, mercy is what I’m most grateful for this Thanksgiving season. I hope that as I grow in gratitude for this and other blessings, I’m able to show more mercy and kindness to others. I can’t think of a better way to express my gratitude than that.
That’s it for the personal revelations. They’re rather long-winded, so now you can understand why I don’t do them very often :). If you live in the US, I hope that you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you live elsewhere in the world, then I hope that you and yours have a wonderful remainder of November.