Cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Lithuania was a bit hard to figure out at first. Finding a big turkey was a challenge, and I’m pretty sure the oyster casserole didn’t happen that first year. But Thanksgiving happened in fine fashion none-the-less, and my wife Chan’s birthday always makes the holiday a bigger deal. I was excited about my birthday gift for her. On a youth trip to Plauen, Germany, I agonized over the purchase of a small leather purse. It was the perfect gift, I knew she would love it, but it cost fifty euros. In those days, we didn’t have a single euro to spare.
Chan loved the purse, and immediately filled it with all of the things one puts in a purse. After the birthday party, we walked to the Grand Café for coffee and Chan’s favorite cappuccino cake. We decided to ride the bus home since the hour was late and little legs were tired. The coffee shop was in an area frequented by tourists; so boarding the bus was like crawling into a sardine can. There was no way the seven of us could stay together, so my brother Steve went to the back door with Ben and Joey, while Chan and I went to the middle door with Ross, who was four, and Clair, who was seven. We were always anxious about keeping up with our kids, but especially so in this press. Two really nice young men hopped on the bus and starting helping us out—they were super nice. I love friendly people. We hadn’t been riding long before they got off the bus. “Goodbye! Thanks so much for your help!” The bus doors close, we’re moving toward home again, and suddenly Chan cries, “Keith! Those nice boys just robbed me—my purse is gone!”
I made sure she had Ross and Clair before jumping off the bus at the next stop. I started running down the street in the direction I thought they had gone. My breath was heavy and cold as I ran, like Batman chasing the Joker. And I was going to beat them up. That’s what Christian missionaries do, you know. They go overseas and beat up bad guys. Of course I couldn’t find them. After running a few blocks I knew it was a lost cause—until I saw the police car. I ran up to their window and explained the robbery. There was a significant language barrier, but with a few words and much sign language, they invited me into the batmobile. The bad guys were doomed. I was desperately searching out the windows, down each alleyway, when I realized the policemen were just chatting it up, not the least bit concerned that criminals were on the loose. They took me to the police station so I could file a police report—in Lithuanian. I smiled a sad smile and said, “Goodbye. Thanks so much for your help.”
Walking home was awful. I had never been robbed before, so these feelings were new to me. I felt violated, angry, and depressed. The purse was gone. The money was gone. The credit cards were gone, along with all those other things one puts in a purse. And she loved that purse. When I got home, Chan was crying. I had been gone for over an hour, and she was sure I was in a back alley with a knife in my back. Her joy at seeing me alive put a spotlight on my stupidity. I’ve learned that my perspective and my awareness of the things that really matter can keep me from living a joyful, grateful life. I’ve also learned that although gratitude just happens sometimes, I actually need to practice being thankful. Gratitude is a spiritual discipline that needs to be cultivated.
Matthew Henry developed a practice of ending each day expressing gratitude for the experiences of that day. One day he was robbed. That night at home he wrote the following in his journal: I’m thankful that I’ve never been robbed before. I’m thankful that they took my purse and not my life. I’m thankful that they didn’t take much, because I didn’t have much. I’m thankful that I was the one robbed and not the robber.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
So, thanks for robbing me. I am wiser, happier, and more grateful for the things that really matter.