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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

Member of:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Representative of:

Hope College, Holland, MI


Thanksgiving Always and Everywhere

November 24, 2011

Trying to make amends for an especially cantankerous outburst that morning, Alma prepared her husband Harold's favorite meal: friend chicken, macaroni and cheese, yams, collard greens, and peach cobbler. Although no doubt delighted at this rare feast, having barely touched his meal, all Harold could muster was a mumbled 'thank you' as he hurried off to lie down. After more than an hour went by--miffed at his supposed dismissal of her goodwill--impatient and hot-tempered Alma marched into their bedroom, ready to force-feed Harold a big piece of her mind only to discover that after nearly three decades of marriage she was now a widow. In his debut novel Red Hats,[1] comedian-and-actor Damon Wayans skillfully describes this fictional encounter between husband and wife. There is no doubt about it. Life is anything but a walk in the park for most of us.

Our lives are like vapor or mist that appear for just a little while and then evaporate.[2] Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks died of natural causes at age 92 in 2005, becoming the first woman, thirtieth American, and only second African American to lie "in state" in the Capitol Rotunda.[3] At 38-years-old Florence Griffith Joyner, the Olympic champion sprinter also lovingly known as "Flo Jo," died suddenly in her California home after an apparent seizure. Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez, the flamboyant member of the R&B group TLC, died at the age of 30 from injuries sustained in a Honduras automobile accident. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry: head trauma after falling out of the back of a pickup truck, age 26. Superfly: pancreatic cancer, age 66. The Original King of Comedy: pneumonia, age 50. The King of Pop: cardiac arrest, age 50. Heavy D: cause of death unknown, age 44.

In my meager thirty-two years of living I have reached the humble conclusion that life is unpredictable, arduous, and complicated. Even when soaking up the sunrays of good times, wisdom and experience remind us that not so good times, and their accompany showers, are always only but a moment away. There is no dodging the reality that Christ does not at all times bring every circumstance of life to a nice, neat conclusion. Nevertheless, while we no doubt strive to love God with every fiber of our being and love our neighbors as ourselves, I doubt that most of us skip around each day singing songs like "Kumbaya," "Oh, Happy Day," or "Ave Maria." No, life is taxing and we know that it can at times be frustrating beyond belief. We see that especially during the holidays when certain loved ones no longer sit at our dinner table because death, disease, or disagreements have prevented their presence. Like Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth we reminisce about how things were and we daydream about how they could be.

I wonder if during these festive seasons instead of mostly just stuffing ourselves full of tasty vittles that, if we were honest, we could probably do without, maybe we could earnestly thank God and find time--no, make time--to give of ourselves to others, to serve those who, too, are indeed blessed, but who go without so much that we take for granted: freedom, food and drink, justice, shelter, health, friendship, hospitality.[4] Maybe we should live lives of perpetual thanksgiving rather than haphazardly spending one abbreviated day or one commercialized season to express nominal or bargain-basement thanks to God. The Bible contains an account of Jesus having once healed ten men who had a horrible, debilitating skin disease of the ancient world called leprosy.[5] After the healing--which consequently allowed them to reenter their communities as full participants, no longer outcasts relegated to the outskirts of town--only one man took the time to thank Jesus. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be like the other nine men who took Jesus' presence and power in their life for granted. We don't know when Jesus will return, but knowing that in Jesus we find salvation ought to be fuel enough for us to live a life of continuous rather than circumstantial thanksgiving.

I, for one, won't be sad when the 365 days of 2011 conclude. This has been--well, let's just say--an interesting year. I began the year unemployed and in the midst of undergoing my first surgery ever, the removal of an obscure although important, but non-essential organ called the gall bladder. Furthermore, even though I have been in graduate school just as long as any lawyer would be I am not--and may never be--compensated to the degree of my education and experience, but student loan representatives have made it clear that they care little about this incongruity. As such, you can understand why I wouldn't be upset should they permanently misplace my contact information.

In October I underwent a three-hour surgery for the removal of a cyst in my neck that stretched from beneath my jaw all the way over to my ear. Come to find out I was born with this cyst, which was news to me, and because of its size and location putting pressure on my jugular vein and carotid artery it had to be removed. If anybody knows like I know, insurance co-pays and deductibles are no joke when you have surgery. So, let me just be honest in stating that my money is sometimes funny,  and at times my change looks strange. But, still, I have so much to be thankful for. Whether on bended-knee, on some indiscriminant gym's treadmill, or during a chaotic daily commute someplace, someone communicated with the Creator on my behalf. As I trudge through the challenges of this life, I know that God is with me and for me, according to divine will, along the journey.[6]

No matter whatever struggles may lie ahead, I know that you, too, have many things to be grateful for. If you have ever awaken from the medicinal abyss of anesthesia. If you have survived divorce or severe trauma in your family or origin. If you know God intimately beyond the conceptual clouds of theory. If you have ever overcome any hurdle at all in life. Then, you, my friend, have something to thank God for. Each moment that you still find yourself in the land of the living, then you are blessed. Therefore, let us heed Paul's instructions to, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."[7]


[1] Damon Wayans, Red Hats (New York: Atria, 2010).
[2] James 4:14.
[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/28/AR2005102801029.html
[4] Matthew 25:31-46.
[5] Luke 17:11-19.
[6] Psalm 18.
[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.


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