I think most of us can agree that taking time to reflect and be thankful for the good things in our lives is a worthwhile exercise. The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is a not so subtle reminder of that.
However, most of our lives are filled with an endless parade of distractions that can make it difficult to separate the noise from what is truly meaningful and important.
I, for one, am guilty of pushing my gratitude aside and leaving it for “a better time”, which undoubtedly never comes.
So, instead of pushing it aside again, right now I’d like to take some time to thank a few people in detail, with specific stories of how they’ve made a lasting difference in my life.
My hope is that these stories from my life will inspire you to take a little time and reflect on the people that have made a difference in your life.
You never know who God will send your way
Almost 22 years ago God sent two blessings to our family. They were angels in human form waiting for us on the other side of a new beginning. My siblings and I soon came to call them our grandparents, and my parents their dear friends.
Two months after arriving in America in December of 1998, my family was still struggling to adapt to life in a completely foreign country. As new members of the Seventh Day Adventist faith, my parents were looking for a church we could attend. The social worker assigned to help our family settle in and make connections reached out to the Sioux Falls Seventh Day Adventist Church to see if there was anyone willing to transport our family of 10 to and from church. Shortly after, Don and Delilah, along with their spacious caravan, were sent to us.
We didn’t speak English and they didn’t speak Kinyarwanda but somehow we managed to communicate using hand gestures. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we could intuitively tell they were good people. My parents say there was an unexplainable sense of trust from the beginning.
Every Saturday they would pick us up, take us to church and bring us back home until my parents were able to get a vehicle of their own.
Don and Delilah often came to visit us during the week, too. They brought me and my siblings toys and treats and spent time teaching us lots of new things like how to swim, ride bikes, go sledding and roller skating. They showed us around the city. Took us to parks, zoos, museums, and restaurants. They were there for us through thick and thin. Sickness and health.
When I got sick, Delilah came to many of my first doctor’s appointments with my parents. I was only a child and couldn’t fully grasp what was going on to explain it to my parents. Delilah was there to explain what the doctors were saying, in the hopes of figuring out my illness. I remember her face being the first thing I saw waking up from my frequent bronchoscopies. For that, I am forever grateful.
It’s not too often you cross paths with good, genuine people. Don and Delilah are good, genuine people. They’ve always been there to believe in me and help me discover my potential. They have always been selfless and quick to share their love and wisdom. They quickly became a part of our family and now, seem to have been there since the very beginning.
Make a connection, make a difference
Our experience in America was filled with many shifts and changes but through it all the one constant was the church. Soon the members too became near and dear friends.
Eventually my parents enrolled me and my siblings in the Seventh Day Adventist Church School. Being able to attend the church school was a blessing. It opened up opportunities for us to forge deep and meaningful relationships with our church family.
When I was 9 years old, I started piano lessons with our school’s piano teacher Collete Doss (Mrs. D to her students). She became the catalyst to my passion for singing and music.
I was a carefree, whimsical child. I would often become distracted or goof around rather than practice my lessons. Many times I dreaded going to our weekly lessons because I didn’t practice and I knew it would show. My fingering was always off. I had trouble concentrating, reading notes and soon preferred to just play it out by ear.
Even after we left the church school, Collette, out of the kindness of her heart, offered to continue giving me and my sisters piano lessons. She even went as far as to drive to our home from time to time.
I remember a time when I was about 20 years old and my disease was getting worse. My sisters and I were singing How Deep The Father’s Love For Us for Vespers. Half way through the song I became short of breath and had to stop singing.
At that moment I was overwhelmed with a mix of emotions and nearly burst into tears. Here I was praising God, singing the lyrics; “How deep the father’s love for us. How vast beyond all measure” but why was he letting this happen? If his love is so deep and so vast, why couldn’t he even allow me to finish singing the song?
My sisters continued to sing the song as I stood there in silence. After the song was over I exited the stage through a nearby door and began sobbing uncontrollably. In that moment, I realized my passion for singing was something I could potentially lose because of my disease and that broke me.
As I stood in that hallway alone, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Colette walking towards me. I explained to her what was going on and why I had stopped singing.
She told me her struggles with her heart and how she too would get frustrated and wonder why it was happening. I felt connected to her. I felt like she really understood my pain. She saw how devastated I was and asked if she could pray with me. I felt like her 9 year old piano student all over again.
I don’t think she knows how much that moment meant to me. I’m not sure what told her to walk down that hallway but I am so glad she found me. Her prayer and encouraging words helped to lift me out of a dark place. I will never forget it.
These are just two stories among many. As I’m writing, many people come to mind and my heart can’t help but swell up with gratitude.
Lois and Dan Kelly, our church school teachers whose lessons and kindness I will never forget.
Steve and Trudey Hatch who generously gave us Christmas gift cards every year allowing us kids to get things our parents couldn’t always afford.
The Hars family whose children became some of our very good friends.
Betty Dodds, one of the sabbath school teachers. She always made learning bible verses and stories fun and exciting. She would often have little goodies for the children as well.
Mary Mayer and her husband Allen who always greeted us with kindness.
Richard Wolf and Ed Simanton, kind friends who encouraged and grew our love for singing and music as well.
I could go on forever naming the people I’m thankful for and who’ve made a lasting difference in my life. These are just a few people out of many.
As I read my daily devotional the other day, I came across a passage that really resonated and went along with the theme of gratitude. It read; “Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. Thankfulness opens your heart to My Presence and your mind to My thoughts. You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective.” -Jesus Calling (Enjoying Peace in His Presence) by Sarah Young.
This couldn’t be all the more true. Reflecting on my family’s life journey, my eyes, heart and mind have been opened to God’s mysterious trail of blessings. How faithful is He! He has never and will never leave our sides. I am forever thankful.
God be with you always,