Christmas did not go as we planned this year. A quarter of the way into our 800 mile drive to visit family, our van broke down as we exited the interstate. As my husband sat and waited for the tow truck, I took off on a walking adventure with my three children. The breakdown occurred near a large shopping center, so we had something to entertain us while we waited.
Several hours passed as we walked, snacked, visited stores, and answered a dozen questions about when we would be able to continue our trip. It was then dinner time.
As we sat in Chick-fil-A eating dinner, I began to list all the ways it could have been worse. It could have been cold or raining (It was actually a beautiful day), we could have broken down in the middle of nowhere (with no food, stores, or bathrooms), it could have happened at night when everything was closed (instead of 2:00 on a Wednesday afternoon), etc.
The children began listing other ways the situation could have been worse. (“We could have been attacked by aliens,” was my son’s contribution.)
“It’s an exercise in gratitude,” my oldest daughter commented.
When you exercise a muscle, it makes it stronger. Our ability to be grateful also grows stronger as we exercise it.
However, exercises are not always fun. In the days that followed, I found myself repeating the phrase “An exercise in gratitude” over and over in my head to remind myself what I needed to strengthen.
The first shop we took the van to could not fix it. We had it towed to a second shop. It was late. We got a rental car and a hotel room for the night. It took two trips in the rental car to transfer all of our belongings.
We reserved a larger vehicle for the next week so that we could continue our journey to Ohio. Then we had some family Bible time, prayed about the situation, remembered all we had to be thankful for, and went to bed.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; Colossians 4:2
The next morning did not bring good news. No one slept well. My husband had pulled a muscle in his back while loading and unloading all the luggage. Also, it turned out that we did not have a large vehicle reserved after all. We instead got a full size sedan. My gratitude muscles were beginning to grow weak from being overworked at this point. We prayed about it. Immediately we decided that if we went through our luggage and took out just what we needed for three days, we could leave the rest in our van in the shop and still make the trip. We would pick up our (hopefully) fixed van on the way back through.
The kids were troopers through this all. They left behind some of their favorite things for the hope of getting to Ohio to see family. (A week later, those possessions are still sitting in that van 200 miles away.)
We loaded up, ready for adventure.
Then we talked to the shop that had our van. They could probably fix the van, but it wouldn’t be until the middle of the next week at the earliest. My husband and oldest daughter had to be at a youth camp the middle of the next week. It was too much. Have you ever worked muscles so hard that they finally give out?
We sat in the car and just cried.
It just felt like this trip was not meant to be.
We were tired and disappointed, and decided the safest approach was just to go home until we could figure everything out. We drove in silence, with the three kids crammed into the back seat crying.
Gratitude does not come easily in times like that. However, that’s when muscles grow the most.
We made the best of our Christmas at home, trying to find the good. And the trying is what makes us stronger. It’s the choice to not give up that makes it easier the next time. Although our gratitude muscles were pushed to the point of exhaustion, they will be stronger in the long run. By choosing gratitude, we become closer to who God wants us to be.
An exercise in gratitude.
It’s not what I was asking for this Christmas. However, it may have been just what I needed.
In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18