I was diagnosed with breast cancer the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 21 years ago. Far from thankful, in spite of my doctor’s assurance that I had less than 5% chance of re-occurrence, fears of all sorts filled my mind that Thursday as we celebrated at my brother’s home.

ThanksLiving with Pam & Deni

A year later I was grateful just to be alive. More connected than ever to the gift of each day, being alive with eyes to see the beauty around me and soak in the love of family and friends was enough.  We gathered a few loved ones for a simple meal to celebrate life on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. A friend designated it a ThanksLiving party. It became a tradition and we’ve been celebrating ever since. A week after our 21st ThanksLiving Sunday event, I’m still soaking in the gratitude that filled our home a week ago.

ThankLiving is a lifestyle of giving thanks for whatever good will come as we seek to be a loving presence in the world. Whatever the circumstances, gratefulness is good medicine for the mind. I didn’t know the power of gratitude in 1992. Since that time, when I get to feeling fearful, anxious, worried or resentful, I come back to gratitude–making a mental or physical list of all I’m grateful for in the moment. It reminds me that just being alive is a gift!

My great uncle Solanus Casey lived a life of gratitude — a ThanksLiving lifestyle. He became known for his practice of thanking God ahead of time for whatever good would come as he trusted God’s providential care for all beings. His love for the poor and suffering endeared him to people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. When in died in 1957 over 20,000 people attended his funeral mass in Detroit. He didn’t do anything remarkable. He just showed up each day to comfort and pray for the troubled and to serve food to the hungry. People said that just being in his humble Christlike presence ministered peace and consolation to their troubled minds and hearts.

Solanus followed the biblical teaching that giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for us. I spent a great deal of energy in my younger years trying to “find” God’s will for me. I thought God’s will was about circumstances: who I married, what job I had, where I lived. But time has taught me that God’s will is about being a loving, Christlike presence in the world. In whatever circumstances I find myself, who I am and how I respond is the key to living the will of God. And gratefulness is the perspective that gives me eyes to see the goodness of life, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Pam, Todd and I celebrating 50 years of combined life post cancer diagnoses!

Last Sunday we hosted our annual ThanksLiving open house. Loved ones came and went all afternoon and evening. As I enjoyed reviewing photos from the day, I noticed how many of our friends are also cancer “survivors.” And all of us are survivors of something. Gratitude helps us move through the difficulties of life. When we can’t see any good to be grateful for in the moment, we can thank God ahead of time for whatever good will come. It reminds me of the following prayer reflection used by Solanus during his life.

Life is to live and life is to give and talents are to use for good if you choose.  Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be strong. Do not pray for tasks equal your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks, then the doing of your work shall be no miracle but you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at the richness of life that has come to you by the grace of God. But everyone needs someone–knowing that somewhere someone is thinking of you. (A reflection used by Solanus Casey, OFM)

Kari & I - grateful for Life!

Pam, Deni, Kari, Todd and I have also survived many other trials. We keep showing up each day, thanking God when we remember and doing our best to be loving Christlike people in the world. Whatever troubles you face this season, may you have eyes to behold the richness of life that has come to you by the grace of God and to thank God ahead of time for whatever good will come when the darkness is so thick you can’t see anything good yet. The miracle isn’t in the circumstances, but in the transformation that will come in your own heart and mind as you open to the grace of God that transforms us degree by degree into more loving Christlike people.