Twenty women in various stages of breast cancer squeezed around the table in Bren Miller’s dining room. It was the day of the Pink Posse cancer support group meeting. I joined as a spectator, allowed in because of the press badge clipped to my jacket.
“Would anyone like to share something encouraging that happened to them this month?” Bren asked.
A woman raised her hand. She stroked her hairline, aware that her blond wig didn’t fit quite right. Then a smile creased her face, making her puffy cheeks even puffier.
“I turned 50 this week.”
I expected the usual groans that accompany an announcement like this, but instead the table erupted with wild clapping and cheers. In an instant, I knew why. This woman had probably wondered if she would live to see her 50th birthday.
Humbled by the thought of how many birthdays I’d either taken for granted or grumbled about, I vowed never to disparage another one. Instead, I would receive each one as a gift—a good gift. A perfect gift, as James 1:17 describes, “coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Since that meeting years ago, I’ve learned to recognize other “good and perfect gifts” from God, sometimes brought to my awareness through surprising circumstances.
If you sometimes struggle to recognize God’s gifts and give thanks, here are six unexpected ways he reveals them to us.
Revealed in Need
All my life I’d taken plumbing for granted. Until I went to Mexico. There on a family mission trip, I endured a cold shower every day for nine days—in the middle of February. I learned to brush my teeth with bottled water and flush only soiled toilet paper. “I’ll never take plumbing for granted again,” I vowed, and I haven’t. Need taught me to recognize a good gift from God I’d enjoyed, but never acknowledged.
Revealed in Grief
My Portuguese grandmother was part of my life for 42 years. She’d cared for me, fed me, and taught me to knit, cook, and sew. I teased her about her soap operas, and she laughed at my fondness for television sit coms. Whenever I needed a place to escape or a listening ear, she was there. Until she wasn’t.
Dementia siphoned away her personality, a bad knee stole her ability to walk, and death finally took her from me completely. It wasn’t until I held, for one last time, the hands that had demonstrated love in so many ways that I realized what a good and perfect gift my granny had been to me. Her death taught me to treasure every moment with my loved ones.
Revealed in Ministry
On a subsequent mission trip to Mexico, we met Marta, a single mother of five. One day we arranged to take her children to a play place and buy them a McDonald’s Happy Meal. When we arrived at their one-room corrugated cardboard home, we were surprised to see her children lined up out front waiting for us.
Dressed in their Sunday best, they each held a piece of carefully-washed fruit wrapped in a napkin, which they offered to us with shy smiles. Suspecting that the fruit was probably their breakfast, we hesitated. “Please, take it,” our missionary friend said. “They love to share what they have.” No fruit before or since has ever tasted so delicious.
Every bite reminded me that I have much to be grateful for and much to share.
Ministering to those less fortunate taught me about the humbling, gratitude-inspiring effect of ministry.
Revealed in Gut-wrenching Circumstances
“Everything out of your mouth is Jesus this and Jesus that,” my daughter spewed one day in a counseling session. “I don’t ever want to be like you!” I’d never dreamed of becoming the parent of a prodigal, but there I was.
I was crushed, not only by her cruel words, but by what they revealed about her heart. My little girl, the one who had memorized dozens of verses and slept with her Bible under her pillow, had become a rebellious, God-hating teenager.
The following morning, sitting before the Lord, I wept. “Father,” I prayed, “I feel as though everything precious has been taken away from me, and all I have left is you.” In the quiet of that moment, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart: “And I am enough.”
Much has changed since that dark day. My daughter, now a wife and mother of three, loves God and is rearing her children to love him too. My life is filled with much more thanjust talking aboutthe Lord, and the lesson that gut-wrenching day taught me remains. No matter what I lose in this life, I will always have God, and he is enough.
Revealed in Spiritual Poverty
Mary knew she didn’t deserve to be at the banquet. She hadn’t been invited. If the custom of the day hadn’t allowed for the ebb and flow of visitors, she wouldn’t have been permitted to enter. But unlike many in attendance who took Jesus’ presence for granted, she knew Jesus was someone extraordinary. She didn’t plan to make a spectacle of herself, but somehow, when she saw the one who had freed her from her sins and welcomed her into his kingdom, she couldn’t help it.
Jesus explained Mary’s effusive act of worship to the scandalized onlookers. “Her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).
When we understand the depth of our lostness apart from Christ and accept his gracious, undeserved, unearned, limitless gift of forgiveness, we realize, as Mary did, what a tremendous debt of gratitude we owe. Recognizing and owning our spiritual poverty teaches us to live lives that demonstrate to the world, as the slave trader John Newton once said, that “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.”
Revealed in Intentional Thanksgiving
Several years ago I began a list of things I was thankful for. Every day I’d add to the list. After I’d written the obvious—faith, family, friends, food—I found myself thanking God for unusual blessings. Things that, at first glance, didn’t seem like blessings at all. “Thank you, Lord, for our financial needs, for they teach me to trust you. Thank you for my weakness, because it reminds me to seek your strength. Thank you for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, for it proves to me that I am your child.” I’ve even thanked him for the trials I had experienced, because they caused me to dig into God’s Word for answers. “It was good for me to be afflicted,” David observed, “so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71). Keeping a running list of God’s blessings taught me how much I have to be thankful for and how good God is.
Opening Our Eyes
James 1:17 tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” As the recipient of God’s gifts, it’s only right that we thank him. But before we can thank him, we must first see the gifts for what they are—bountiful blessings from his generous hand. Need, grief, ministry, gut-wrenching circumstances, spiritual poverty, and intentional thanksgiving help us acknowledge that everything God allows into our lives, even the hard things, are truly good and perfect gifts from the perfect gift-Giver.
Lori Hatcher is the author of Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time, 5-Minute Devotions for Busy Women.Connect with her at www.LoriHatcher.com or on Facebook (Hungry for God) and Twitter (@LoriHatcher2).