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Karen Bates ~ Choosing Thankfulness in a Harsh World

Occasionally, I pay for people’s coffee while I’m buying my own. Not because I’m rich, but because it’s a nice thing to do.

Recently, I decided to buy coffee for the man behind me, but contemplated whether the kindness was warranted after he was less than kind to the person serving us and to another person in line. I remembered I had no idea what kind of battle the man was fighting and told the cashier I was paying for his order. After I left the store, the man came behind me demanding to know why I bought his coffee.

When I turned to talked to him, he had tears in his eyes. “Thank you. You are a nice woman. Thank you. You made my day.”

It would have been easy to justify not buying his coffee. He was rude, unnecessarily short with the employee and nasty when a person accidently bumped him with a bag. But several months ago I wrote myself notes to always be kind and always be grateful.

It’s hard to do that in situations that challenge basic decency. It’s even more difficult when the adverse actions are taken because of people’s skin color, religion, or for no reason at all.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, the Apostle Paul said:  “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Somehow, being thankful seems inappropriate when people have lost their lives, name calling is out of control, and being mean, nasty, and rude is commonplace for some. However, what I have found is that in all the tense circumstances, there are reasons to give thanks — and one reason is for the communities that rally around people when it seems that all is lost.

On October 27, the day that eleven worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed, I was in the city  (my hometown) to celebrate my mother’s birthday. I watched people rally around our Jewish brothers and sisters, reminding them that hate does not win. There were vigils, blood drives, and words of affirmation to those who were viciously targeted by hate.

I was further encouraged when the community expanded.

On November 7, the Washington Capitals played against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a hockey game. At the game, the Capitals had a 50/50 drawing where one half of the pot was going to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to assist the victims and families of the shooting. However, instead of splitting the pot, the winning fan, who wanted to remain anonymous, waived his right to his half of the $38,570 prize.

When something like that happens, it is a reminder that there are more decent people in the world than there are those who publicly display hate. The deeds and support of people who show love is one way to strip away the power people think hate gives them. Hate is nothing more than fear of the unknown.

When good and love overtake hate, it is also a reminder that God is omnipresent, good and merciful — and not as a cliché.

In Mark 14, there is a woman who crashes a dinner party to minister to Jesus. The Scriptures say she lived a sinful life, but it didn’t stop her from using her tears to wet Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

The host, Simon, was not happy about the uninvited guest, and thought if Jesus was a prophet he would have known the woman touching him was a sinner. Instead of asking the woman to stop and leave, Jesus gave the host, Simon, a lesson about hospitality and then forgave the woman of her sins.There were other guests at the party, and some of them were probably feeling the same as Simon. However, what wowed them was Jesus’s forgiveness of the woman’s sins.

I imagine the woman responded with thanksgiving and appreciation after having faced a group of people who only recognized her for her sin, not Jesus’ ability to forgive her. This incident could have ended differently if those around the woman had recognized she needed to be forgiven instead of ridiculed, or if they had thanked her for caring for Jesus.

When I purchased the coffee for the man I wasn’t sure deserved it, I returned good for evil and in a crazy sort of way I was thankful for him — despite his behavior.

In these days when the culture is trying to normalize hate and bad behavior, be thankful for the people who stand up against it. Be thankful for communities that show love when others are the victims of hate and un-Christlike behavior. Know that you can be a member of a community of love based on how you respond to situations you know about, see, and experience.

Be thankful for your voice and use it — even if you are a community of one. People on the receiving end will be thankful.