“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” (Psalm 92:1–2)
Some people might venture through their entire life without encountering someone they believed to be absolutely extraordinary. I am not one of those people. I want to tell you about a young man who falls smack dab into this distinguished category, who made a profound impact on the life of everyone in the brief time we were allowed to know him.
Our son James was born with a broken heart, but he was graced with an indomitable spirit nothing could shatter. Congenital heart disease plagued his existence from the moment he took his first breath in the birthing suite of Bethesda Hospital until he surrendered his last one in a drab corner of Boca Regional eleven years ago. James came built with the capacity to endure multiple open-heart surgeries, pacemakers, biopsies, and a heart transplant all before he blew out the candles at his five-year-old birthday bash. By then, twenty or more scars riddled his chest in a haphazard formation of incisions. But somehow none of them caused him to ever throw himself a pity party. He never hosted one of those.
James understood that life itself was an extraordinary gift and he could not waste one moment on anything less than celebration. He laughed out loud every chance he got and smiled with a brightness that no hardship could dim. He cheered for others at the top of his lungs, made each of his twenty cousins believe they were his favorite, and relished mealtimes as if they were actually occasions to enjoy with great intensity.
James whistled in the shower, tucked dollar bills inside our napkins as a surprise to us at dinner, and strutted back down the basketball court after making a shot as if he had just conquered the world. James had every reason to be grouchy, miserable, and self-centered. Routine invasive biopsies were painful, fistfuls of anti-rejection medications were a nuisance, doctors were always probing and questioning and examining. But for James, life was an exhilarating adventure worth living, worthy of celebration, worthy of gratitude.
He got it! James understood long before most that life was supposed to be celebrated, no matter what. He could have been mean-spirited, but he had no time for that sort of nonsense. He lived the way I long to live – grateful, thankful, joyful.
So how about it! What’s your excuse for forgetting to be grateful, for failing to notice all the gifts sprinkled throughout life like colorful confetti? Sure, we can choose to be miserable. Of course, life hands us a raw deal at times. Naturally, we all have reasons to be self-absorbed and detached because disappointments happen and imperfections abound.
But realize, we can either become a griper or be grateful. We get to choose. We either get to be a source of joy in others’ lives or a sort of pain. I believe James would highly recommend the joy option every time.
Two weeks ago I returned to Gainesville with our daughter Anna who was in a debate competition hosted by the University of Florida. I took time to drive down Archer Road, navigate the parking garage at Shands Hospital, and make my way up to the sixth floor cardiac unit. I saw the elevator where nineteen years earlier the procurement surgical team carried out an igloo cooler containing the organ they would transplant into James’ chest. I walked down the corridors where I had been traumatized waiting for him to be released from surgery. I looked way up to the rooftop where we had landed in our medevac helicopter all those years before.
This time James was no longer a patient. This time I had come to reflect, remember, and be thankful for all the answers to prayer God had provided in this building. It was a sacred time for me, a meaningful time, a time for gratefulness.
I challenge you in this season of Thanksgiving to strive to become grateful men and women, to find opportunities to express gratitude to others, to consider how many things you have to be thankful for. Practice gratefulness until it becomes one of the distinguishing hallmarks of your life. One day perhaps, many years from now, someone will recall just how wonderfully you celebrated it all, and they will be eternally grateful they ever got to know you in the first place.
Elizabeth A. Mitchell