Gratitude: A New Perspective

November 20, 2011

(a personal narrative)



“There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.”  -Ann Voskamp

I gave the wood a good strong knock to show the rot on my shed is only at the very bottom. Bent over, I couldn’t see the baseball sized hornets’ nest that had been built sometime in the spring. The angry mob dropped out of their cocoon like heat seeking missiles and swarmed about my head. I swiftly and calmly backed away allowing them to disperse around me, but one found his way between my glasses and the bridge of my nose. Stung: Right between the eyes!

“What a perfect end to a shitty day!” I half-joked to my dad.

He laughed, but immediately, I felt the Holy Spirit respond in my heart, “Was it, Pete? Was this day so bad? You should consider changing your perspective.”

It was Sunday, the Lord’s Day, a day of rest and fellowship. I spent the morning in worship at a church I was visiting, and I planned to spend the afternoon in food and fellowship with friends, but after a quick stop at home, I turned the key in my Jeep and she groaned deeply and died. I tried again. Same thing. I had a pretty good idea it was the starter, but I’m no mechanic, so I did what I always do in these matters and called my dad for help.

“Yeah, sounds like the starter to me,” he says, “but I can’t be sure unless I check it out, and I’m at least two hours away antique shopping with your mom. Try your brother.”

I give him my thanks and call my brother, who somehow managed to inherit all my dad’s skill and knowledge of home and car repair. “Sounds like the starter to me also, but I’m at work until 3pm. I can stop by after that.”

Nothing bothers me like waiting when I’ve got a task ahead of me. I want to reach into the engine and start tearing things apart, but I know it is wiser to wait for someone more knowledgeable than me to look at the Jeep. Still, I spend the next few hours looking up Jeep manuals on the internet and “how to fix ur starter” videos on Youtube. By the time my brother shows up, I am certain it really is the starter.

He brings his son who is excited about the prospect of playing his older cousin’s PS3 games. While his dad picks out a game he is okay with, I begin removing the starter. Of course, it is in an impossible place that only a contortionist with tiny hands and super-strength can get to, but eventually it’s off, and we are off to the auto parts store. I take the old starter with me because I’ll get a discount with it, and the manager insists on checking it on his bran spanking new “check all parts electrical” machine. It turns out the starter is good. Great. Something else must be wrong with the Jeep. Defeated, dirty and tired, we head back to my place brainstorming what else could be wrong, all of which would be beyond our ability to fix and would dig deep into my wallet, and probably beyond my ability to afford.

While the starter’s still off, we check the flywheel, which looks good, so I set about reinstalling the starter while he calls his wife to tell her he’s going to be much later than expected and to hold off on dinner for now. Just as I’m tightening the last bolt, she shows up with my niece and my parents. They have bags of food with them and they tell me to take a break for dinner. Before I do so, I decide to turn the key over so my dad can hear the dying groan the Jeep makes and get his take on the problem. However, instead of a pitiful moan, she roars like a lion as the engine fires up!! Surprised, I turn her off, and try again in unbelief, but she fires right up again!

“Let me try,” my dad says as he takes the key and pushes me out of the way. He turns the key over three times, and three times the Jeep starts with no problems. I have not had a problem since. I shower as my family prepares dinner, and we eat and fellowship in joy like it was a holiday. After dinner, I show my dad and brother areas in the house that need attention and work and get their opinion and advice on repairs when I get the hornet sting between the eyes.

God is teaching me this: Thanksgiving is all about perspective. It is a choice, an attitude, and a way of life. Unfortunately, I am only at the beginning of my journey on that way, but I am determined to walk it out and I am walking forward day by day. The day before my Jeep died, I went on a beach-trip with my good friend. The Jeep could have cut out when I was two hours away from home; it could have died at the church I was visiting; it could have died at my ex-wife’s house when I was dropping off my kids; it could have died at the gas station I stopped at just before going home, but it conveniently died in my own driveway. I spent my afternoon on my back and elbow high in grease, but I have more knowledge and skill than I did before. The repair could have cost me hundreds of dollars, but somehow it ended up only costing me time. I missed spending time with friends, but the time my family gave to me was more precious than any good time with buddies. Once again, they have confirmed they really do have my back.

The hornet sting put it all in focus. Without it, I might have missed the lesson; I don’t think I would have reflected on the day otherwise.  Life is full of circumstances we cannot control, but we have a faithful Father in heaven who is in control of the big picture. Our task is to learn to trust him in the small tragedies of life, so when the big ones hit hard we are prepared to run to him for comfort, wisdom and guidance. I can choose to look at that day and count up everything that I lost and continue to complain, or I can choose to focus on all that was preserved for me and all that was gained through the experience. It is all a matter of perspective. Is my Jeep fixed? Did God hear my prayers and make a little miracle happen in the insignificant details of my life? Was it just some connection that was loose or dirty and just need to be tightened or cleaned? Or is there a bigger problem lurking that will pop up some place down the road? I don’t know. I’m choosing to be hopeful; after all there is no check engine light, and she runs well at the moment, but if the Jeep breaks down again, one thing I know is that God is good. I can trust him to take care of me the next time anything unexpected happens.

Peter L Richardson