Titus Benton

It’s here — the holiday season. Is it just me, or was the Fourth of July seemingly only a couple weeks ago? Did we skip fall and go straight to winter? I remember sweating with my dad in late September down at lunch at Echo Bluff, and I remember turning my heat on in Texas four weeks later (just for a couple days).

Yes, my Christmas lights have already been hung.

No, I haven’t turned them on yet.

But Thanksgiving is here and Christmas is in about a month and it may be cold but at least it’s not early February. Then it is just freezing with no warm holiday anticipation to distract us.

Distracting me presently is the gratitude I feel during this time of year. I try to remain grateful at all times, but you know how it is. Life happens. You feel grouchy and complain-y and you lose sight of the things you have to be thankful for. This is a time of year to remind one’s self. So here’s what I’m thinking about:

I am so grateful that I have so many “homes.” I love where I live, but I also love where I’m from. I’m grateful for the encouragement and training and friendship I got being raised in Salem. It’s why I sit down a couple times a month and pound out columns for the paper. I just love staying connected to people I am so indebted to and love so much.

I am so grateful that this year I have discovered some new spiritual teachers. I have such fondness for growing up at First Christian Church in Salem. Rod and Jan Farthing were and remain spiritual heroes. And now, as I grow and learn and experience life at depths I haven’t had to encounter before, I’m getting the same kind of teaching and companionship from new friends and mentors. It’s a blessing.

I am so grateful for my family. My wife and kids light me up, but not in the shallow, Valentine’s card kind of way. Instead, it’s the gritty, ordinary, day-by-day routines and rhythms that keep us going. We love each other. We (usually) like each other. So grateful for them.

I am so grateful for my family. Not the people I live with now, but the family that I no longer live with. Chiefly, as always, I’m grateful that I am Jim and Cathy’s boy. As many of you know, we lost my mom this year. Her body succumbed to cancer in May. It was a devastating loss, and one that will cast a shadow over this holiday season. Mom’s peanut butter cookies and tacky Christmas decorations and general presence only added to the festivities. We won’t have that this time, for the first time. Last year when we left our family celebration I told my wife I thought that was our last Christmas together. I couldn’t be more disappointed that my hunch was correct. Still, I’m grateful. To experience the bottomless low of losing someone is vivid proof that you had them. It was a gift to have my mom. Even though we mourn losing her, we can rightly reflect on the blessing of having her in our lives.

I don’t know what kind of year you’ve had. Perhaps it was a beautiful year, full of grace and every good thing. Perhaps it was a tragic year, a boring year, or a confusing year. I hope you can take the time to reflect and be grateful either way. For it is in the suffering and celebrations of life that we are fully alive — learning, living, and lurching forward into the next season.

Not every moment seems like a gift, but every moment is worth of our gratitude. For it is in the highs and lows that we experience God, one another, and ourselves in the truest, most genuine way.

Happy Thanksgiving.