Forty Years of Gratitude

gratitudeOn May 31, I spent some time reflecting on four decades of life. Gratitude quickly became my dominant feeling, and I determined to form a list of suitable length. Items started in a somewhat logical order, but eventually a bit of randomness took over. And then it took a few days to finish! 🙂

1) God
Everything is from Him, and everything is for Him. He is the source of all we see, and a whole bunch more that we don’t. I praise Him as the giver of life, marvel at Him as the Redeemer of all, and seek Him as the guide who hasn’t failed me yet. And if He were not, the rest of this enjoyable list would quickly fade in its beauty.

2) Wife
This lovely woman pledged herself to journey with me before either of us had any clue where we were going! She has enriched my life more than I could calculate, and it gives me pleasure to know our forever-road is a shared one. She was full of beauty when we met, more when we married, and now full of still more as the candles on our cakes increase. Being loved is a good thing, being loved by Shannon is a great thing.

3) Daughters
These three young ladies have added more delight to my life than I could have imagined. A week after our oldest was born, a friend sidled up to me at church and asked knowingly, “So are you feeling things you never felt before?” The answer was yes on that day. The answer is a repeat — but louder — on this day. Loving children is a good thing, and loving these children is a great thing.

4) Parents
I have often counted the first great gift of my life as that of landing in a loving and nurturing family. One wishes this were the experience of every child, but one knows better. Our family has as many quirks as any, but I can truthfully say that care and encouragement and affirmation and support have always being marks of my parents. And four decades in, they continue to love me – and now my own family.  I’m grateful for you, Mom and Dad.

5) Sisters
One of my sisters factors in to the majority of my childhood memories. The other arrived after most of those had occurred, instead sweeping in to my teenage years. Both of these women are intelligent and gifted, caring and powerful. Both of them could likely achieve whatever they set their minds to, and both of them mean more to me today than they did when I first met them. 🙂

6) Extended Family
Mine was a childhood where extended family was spread over many years and many miles. In that sense, my experience of extended family lacked the tightness of some. Still some of my very special and fun childhood memories link back to Christmas holidays and family reunions, fun around card tables and presents around trees. Each of these relationships has evolved over time, and I suspect some of them will become even more special in the future than they were in the past. Family is a good thing, this is something to remember.

7) In-laws
Countless folks live out the jokes that comedians make about in-laws. As much as I laugh at those jokes, I don’t live out any of them. For over 20 years, my in-laws —even before they were my in-laws – treated me with grace and kindness and generosity. I’m certain both the Bandura family and the Tucker family could provide sufficient fodder for an observant comedian, but it’s my blessing to report that Shannon’s latter has been a great addition to my former.

8) Nieces and Nephews
Aiden, Sydney, Mareesa, Jesse, Kalum, Klaya, Deacon, Ryley —  Every one of these kids is special, from the oldest – now driving cars and working shifts – to the youngest, with crawling still on the horizon. Uncles and aunties can play really special roles; I hope that in some way we will play that spot for this growing group.

9) Church
Many church circles use family language to speak of their relationships. That is no stretch for me. There are many for whom church has been an environment of hurt or disappointment. To be sure, my lifelong association with churches has involved experiences that should’ve been better, but the vast majority of mileage that I’ve logged with churches has involved environments of grace and gentleness, where love has been lived out and life has been shared well. Some traditions speak of God as Father and church as Mother. Beneath those “parents”, I have been well nurtured for many years.

10) Gravelbourg
If one must choose a nation in which to live, I nominate Canada. If one must choose a province in which to dwell, I vote for Saskatchewan. If one must choose a community in which to grow up, I’d have been hard-pressed to pick a better one than Gravelbourg. Beginning at age 8, this little town was a sweet place to be raised. I hope it enjoys a bright future for many generations to come!

11) Teachers
I always loved school. Much of that was likely due to good teachers. To the best of my memory, I think I’ve got the near-full roster here, right from Kindergarten through College. I have fond memories or everyone on this list!

K-7: Klassen, Labas, Specht, Moquin, Beaudoin, Léost, Dauphinais, Harbus

8-10: Marchand, Piché, Legault, Bell, Stringer, Loiselle, Bandura (yes, my Dad taught me!)

11-College: Olson, Husband, Husband (again), Muller, Close, Kirkpatrick, Roberts, Bolton, Hart, Perry, Deal, Buchanan

Good teachers are gifts, and I received many of them. Heck, I’m still receiving them!

12) Dakota Preacher
When I was 18 years old, I was touring with a singing/drama group through North Dakota and South Dakota. Each night, the dozen of us were billeted out to stay with families of the local church that was hosting us. Around that time, I was determining my career path. One night, I was hosted by an old preacher and his wife. I’ll never remember their names, and I’ll never recall the city. But he gave me two sentences in a late-night conversation that helped me discern that the Lord was nudging me in a direction that I’d best not ignore. When people speak of “calling”, that’s what was unfolding in that season. And that’s what I prayerfully said “Yes” to that night. Every time I recall the story, that anonymous old gentleman makes me smile all over again. Bless you, Dakota Preacher!

13) Writers
It would be no exaggeration to state that my values and worldview have been forcefully shaped by a multitude of people I have never personally met. From the moment I could sound words out, books have been a vital part of my life. Set me in a library or bookstore, and you can leave me for the day if you like. Leave me a sleeping bag, and you can pick me up in the morning. At this point, it’s impossible to formulate even a Top Ten list of authors who have impacted me; there are just too many. The names on that list would range from theologians and scholars to economists and comedians, from jocks and journalists to kings and apostles, from professors and prisoners to monks and mystics, from poets and preachers to fathers and friends. Words can create worlds, I know this full well.

14) Musicians
Words are powerful; I just said that. Words set to music — those can be even more. Part of that is simply that words-with-tune lock into our minds like few other things! I still know a couple tunes by the Oak Ridge Boys, from the radio stations of childhood car trips.  The first album (on cassette) I ever bought with my own money was Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet”. A bargain-bin demo tape by the Langley Vineyard in the mid-1990’s introduced me to worship music that awakened my soul. A double-disc CD by Delirious a few years later continued that journey. Albums — many of them no longer fresh — that I will still hold dear years from now may include some by Steve Bell, Caedmon’s Call, Third Day, Shane & Shane, Steffany Gretzinger, Bethel Music, with some Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, Genesis, and Beach Boys thrown in for way-back-when variety. 🙂

15) SESPU
For over 10 years, I’ve been a member of the unofficial South East Saskatchewan Preachers’ Union. The acronym long ago outgrew its geographic accuracy, and its sound-similarity to “cesspool” serves to keep us steadily humble, while also encouraging great hygiene practices. More importantly, this group — while its members have changed multiple times in the past decade — has been a steady source of encouragement, camaraderie, and friendship to me. Many pastors I know generate facial expressions of envious longing when I describe to them what we’ve created together. It’s been a pleasure, gentleman, and I look forward to reconnecting and building more!

16) Seminary
I completed my graduate studies in 2003, basically a lifetime ago! It wasn’t long after that that I determined the point of a Master’s degree had nothing to do with the courses or the content. Rather, it had everything to do with altering my processor, in order that every thought from that point forward would be better than it might have been otherwise. I like to think that’s been true. I’m sure there’ve been exceptions! Regardless, those three years were precious, during which I received the gifts of many more wonderful teachers: Ralph, Carter, Janzen, Boda, Kenzo, Friebel, Remin, Cummins to name but a few. The list of classmates would be longer still. Thanks CTS community — you were a gift to me. Still are!

17) China Years
In 2003, we owed and owned nothing. From that place of freedom, we determined to spend a year teaching English abroad. One year turned into three, and I have often stated, “ When we are old and grey, recalling the ‘good old days,’  some of those days will be China days.” There have been many special days since then, but those three years were definitely formative and fun and unforgettable for this once-younger couple. 🙂

18) Bible Camp
Reflecting on my childhood generated a thought: Some of my greatest memories are from Bible Camp. ClearView Christian Camp became an annual highlight for me around the age of 8. Over 30 years later, I still spend a week there every summer, long ago joining the volunteer side of the equation. The time of my children attending is not likely far off. Recent years have seen our entire family richly blessed by LifeLinks Family Camp in Montana as well. Kind friends invited us into “their world”, and I now doubt whether they will ever successfully push us back out. 🙂   What can I say? There’s just something special about Bible Camp.

19) Guitar
I was the least musical kid you’d ever have met, aside from singing at church and rocking along with whatever was playing from my ghetto blaster (there’s an 80’s term for you) — always in the privacy and safety of my closed-door bedroom. Our family didn’t have a musical emphasis, and even if my parents had pushed me in that direction, I would have balked. Sports was all I wanted. However, when Shannon and I married midway through her university years, I determined that I needed a hobby to fill my wife-has-homework hours. Encouraged by a couple friends who were teaching themselves at the time, I brought my first guitar home in a wedge-shaped cardboard box because we didn’t have enough money for the case. I then purchased a small coiled book of worship songs and proceeded to begin with all the ones built on only three chords. My main goal: Learn to strum steadily and speedily enough that I could enjoy singing in my living room. I did. And I still do. 🙂

20) Sports
As just mentioned, I’ve loved sports since I was born. Hockey, baseball, badminton, basketball, volleyball, and swimming all provided fun and pleasure for spans of my life. For all its benefits, exercise in itself doesn’t allure me nearly so much as when it involves ways to score or strategy and skills to hone. While that passion has found a different place within my adult list of priorities (anyone else notice those aren’t the same as in high school?!), I still follow enough sports stories to roll Shannon’s eyes on a good day. And I’m happy to do so!

21) Milkshakes
Who doesn’t love milkshakes?! I’m also grateful for their cousin ice cream. They both make the list. And if you treat me to either in the year ahead, you might even make the list.

22) Health
I’m grateful for a healthy 40 years! I’ve had more injuries than illnesses, mostly from the sports mentioned above and mostly healed up. But health has been a blessing, so much so that I often joke (only partly) that I’m aimed at living until 120, meaning my “over the hill” experience won’t be arriving until around 2062.

23) Faith
Without hesitation, my spiritual journey is the richest dimension of my life. That doesn’t mean I’m a guru on a mountain-top. It doesn’t even mean I have more answers than questions — quite the opposite actually. What I mean is this: I have often mused over how very impoverished my life would feel without spirituality, particularly the path I have discovered in Jesus. The pursuit of knowing and trusting and loving and following God has been central to my existence for well over two decades. Every other piece of my life is interwoven into it, stemming from it. My greatest intellectual stimulation, emotional development, relational depth, character formation, and gut-level satisfaction has all been found there. Well over 1500 years ago, Augustine expressed it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” I have found this to be true, and rest is wildly better than restlessness!

24) House
We have lived most of our past year in a rental property, and it’s served us well. We furnished it as basically and cheaply as we could, treating the year as an extended camping trip. And it’s worked. But would you believe that our house back home is looking pretty sweet in our imaginations right about now? A space of one’s own is a privilege and pleasure, and we’ve had both in owning three different homes through our marrieds lives. They’ve all been more-than-adequate and well-suited to our seasons of life. A house of one’s own — a gift to be stewarded and enjoyed for sure!

25) Bed
Sleeping on a cheap, secondhand mattress on the floor for the past nine months has reminded me well: Never underestimate the value of a good bed!

26) Vehicles
In 1993, I took my drivers test in a 1976 Chevy Nova.  The first few cars I might have called my own were Mercury Topaz. The first car I felt some pleasure in was a Pontiac Grand Am. We now own a Pontiac Vibe and a Toyota Sienna.  It is not a blessing lost on me to own reliable vehicles that require only reasonable and occasional maintenance. Yay for this!

27) Technology
For all the struggles that technology has added to the world, I confess to significant gratitude for the inventions of computers and Internet, GPS and PVR. I love my iPhone, and I marvel at Facebook’s ability to both reunite long lost friends and to assassinate helpless hours who were certainly created for nobler purposes.

28) Down Ancient Paths
Less than a decade ago, I had two separate opportunities to travel the Holy Land through this organization. While I have likely blurred into his memory, I will forever count Charles Nienkirchen as a friend, as well as one of my all-time favourite teachers. Travelling portions of Israel, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey with him was a rare privilege, which I will never forget. If you ever wish for a first-rate, faith-centred travel-learning experience, check DAP out. You’ll be grateful you did.

29) Sandwiches
Such a simple and perfect meal! Shannon and I have spent an inordinate portion of our marriage bickering over whether normal humans pronounce the word as it looks phonetically or rather more like “samwich”. Regardless of how the syllables are uttered, the world is a better place because of stuff stuffed into bread.

30) Arrow Leadership
From 2011 through 2013, this leadership course enriched my life in ways I’d never have imagined. The relationships were rich, the facilitators were exceptional, and the contacts made there continue today to bless both me and many within my sphere of influence. I’m grateful for the extraordinary community experience that this was — indicative of the grace, wisdom, and power that Christ-centered relationships can really wield. If you’ve ever longed for “more”, I guarantee you, friend: It can be had!

31) Fruit
Poorly-informed tradition views the fall of humanity revolving around an apple. Truthfully, it was more likely to have been a number of other options in that lured in Adam & Eve. And stupid them! But if it had been a mango or a cherry or a raspberry (or a few others favourites of mine), I’d have been likely to have plunged all Creation into a Fall as well.

32) Laughter
If there’s a better sound than a child laughing, I’ve not heard it. If there’s a better feeling than gasping from a tear-causing bout of the funnies, I’ve not felt it. Whether it’s stirred up by a stand-up comedian, a witty friend, a clever story on an audio book, a wildly honest word from the lips of a child, or the latest viral prank video, humour is something I’m quick to say thanks for. A world without laughter would hardly be a world at all. Gratefully, I’ve not lived many days in any world like that.

33) Science
Though any formal “science classes” ended for me in high school, I think I’ve actually been wired to love science since birth. So I have great appreciation for those who devote their lives to being driven by curiosity to discover new technologies, to answer age-old questions, to improve the human experience, and make the world a better place. Those who undertake such endeavours with intelligence and integrity, humility and wonder are always some of my very favourite folks to learn from.

34) Nature
Imagine a world without a world! No… wait: Don’t bother. What I mean is: Nature is good! Trees, water, animals, air, sky, sun, fields, flowers, bugs, rainbows, stars, clouds, soil, wind. No exhaustive list could be formed! I read a study recently that said claimed quantifiable results that people are healthier when they spend time with trees. I don’t doubt it’s true, and I do doubt it’s limited to trees. Goodness and life pour through Creation. Enjoy it and treasure it.

35) Conversation
Minds and hearts turning thoughts and feelings into words — this has long been fun to me! Not just fun, but feeding. As I’ve aged, I’ve also discovered more of my introverted nature that reveals itself at times with a strong inner sense that it’s time for all conversations to stop. Because for me, there are moments when it had better be silence or stillness in a hurry. But lives are made to intertwine, and conversations with special people factor into many of my most precious times through four decades.

36) Sabbatical/BSSM
This list is something of a close to four decades of life. It’s also something of a conclusion to a very special nine-month period for our family. We’ve been richly blessed by churches in both Regina (for sending us) and in Redding (for receiving us). I’m well aware of the inability I currently feel to concisely or even coherently answer the upcoming question, “So how was BSSM?” For a guy who just admitted his love of conversation, that reply may be one requiring groanings that the Holy Spirit then interprets! This opportunity has been rich and rough, fun and full, exhausting and refreshing all at once. And in a decade from now, I’ll still be unearthing things that were initiated here.

37) Work
I’ve always had a job when I wanted or needed one. Some were mundane, some were more interesting. Either way, I always gave my best, enjoyed my coworkers, and learned what I could. For over a decade, I’ve served with the Glen Elm Church of Christ. It’s had moments of all over the spectrum, but overall, such a privilege and pleasure. My pad answer when strangers ask me about my work is that “I love most of it most of the time.” And typically, they reply to me, “I’d take that!” I would too! And I do. 🙂

38) Showers
One of the simple pleasures of life, without a doubt! Coincidentally, it’s also where most of my best thoughts take place. If I could put one in my office, or rig up a desk space and waterproof computer in my shower at home, I dare dream that I’d get productive enough to sweep a few Nobel Prizes in a given calendar year. That may be an overstatement, but I would be mighty clean!

39) Travel
The world is a glorious place! To be sure, it’s full of struggle and hardship. At times, the beauty and the heartbreak are holding hands beside one another. However, the point here is that the opportunity to travel and be shaped by such discoveries is a luxury, one that I have both enjoyed and cherished. Nineteen nations and counting have impacted me — some for days, others for years. To be sure, there are many ways to travel — it may be commonplace for people to trek and take. But I’ve never tried to be that type of traveler. Going and giving seems more appropriate, and as if by supernatural mathematics, one ends up receiving even more in return! It would be near-impossible to list all the ways I’ve been impacted by lessons learned in other lands, but it is a certainty that I am a different man today than I would have been, had my feet never wandered off.

40) You
If you’ve slugged it through this whole list, then there’s definitely a spot on it for you! You’re obviously an individual of grace and care, and I’m grateful for such folks! I’ve needed such folks for 40 years. And I don’t suspect my need has worn out yet. Thanks for being you!

JOIN IN: Your comment makes this post better!

  • How about your list?
  • Any obvious or obscure gratitude items pop to mind as you read the list?
  • What did I miss? 

2 thoughts on “Forty Years of Gratitude

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this list, Jay…and thinking of your awareness in gratitude…warm love to you.

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