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Thankfulness on a Kenyan bus

We had just celebrated Thanksgiving together before each team headed off to a different part of the Kenyan countryside.

Our squad of 50 was spending a year traveling around the world visiting 11 countries in 11 months and 14 of us hopped on a bus to journey deep into the desert; a ride promising 12 hours of overnight travel.

I watched the seats fill up sure that we’d depart after the final one was filled which seems laughable to me now, but after all, my ticket had a seat number on it. Long after each seat was filled people continued loading on the bus. Some sat three across, others stood in the aisles, and a Kenyan woman planted herself squarely on top of my feet. Her chicken settled down on my teammate’s.

I tried to have a good attitude, I really did, but the bus got hotter, the dust became heavier, my feet fell asleep and my head was tucked just under an open armpit. I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into frustration.

Just before I got to the ugly place, the one where my frustration leaks on everyone around me, my teammate asked me to name 5 things I was thankful for. I wasn’t the least bit interested in that, I had far too much to complain about and how dare she try to force me out of the self-imposed funk I had started to feel justified in. But I did it.
  1. I’m thankful that the chicken is on your feet and not mine.
  2. I’m thankful there’s not one more person on this bus.
  3. I’m thankful I have a seat….
She joined in with me and we went on well past 5, even starting to laugh at the ridiculous items we found ourselves listing.

I found a change in my gratitude in that moment.  This Thanksgiving, I pray that you are able to experience three types of thankfulness:
  1. Thankfulness for the obvious gifts the Lord has given you – family, friends, good jobs, new opportunities, answered prayers. Don’t take for granted that all of those come from the Lord.
  2. Thankfulness for the small mercies in hard circumstances – for a bad job that’s better than no job, for great friends even when a significant other is desired. This is where you’re thankful that at least there’s not a chicken on your feet.
But I said three types of thankfulness. By practicing thankfulness when things go well and by training our heart and mind to be thankful for the good in the midst of the hard, we’re actually opening ourselves up to what I realized on the bus that day.

I felt a smile just starting to form when I turned my head and came face to face with a little African toddler, wide eyes staring directly into mine. The smile froze on my face as I took in his situation. He’d been standing for several hours already, one arm stretched high above his head to hold on to the seat as the bus bounced its’ way down gravel and dirt roads. It was well into the night now and I wordlessly looked up at his mother asking silent permission to hold him on my lap. She nodded her head, “yes,” and I picked up his stiff body, gently folding him into mine. He fell asleep on my chest, his sweat mixed with mine, but I barely felt the heat any longer.

3. Thankfulness for the hard circumstances. Period. Not just that they aren’t worse, not just that you find some small nugget of goodness in the middle of them, but thankfulness because the Lord knows better than us and God can’t give us something that’s not good.

It’s good to recognize the obvious gifts we’ve been given and to be thankful for them. It’s good to find small mercies in the middle of hard situations and give thanks for them. But the Lord goes a step further and actually gives us the grace to be grateful even for the hard circumstances because even those are from him.

May Thanksgiving overflow in our hearts this week and into the year beyond.

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