By Jonathan Friesen, M.A.
The space between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to shrink each year.
Stores opening on Thanksgiving no longer surprise us; neither do commercials highlighting weeklong, pre-Black Friday sales. I guess all that early advertising has had its desired effect on me, because I slide into this Thanksgiving season already thinking about gifts.
The media is not the only thing pushing my thoughts in this direction. Truth is, I can’t make it through November without a loved one urging me to ponder the many gifts I’ve received.
They are numerous; the gifts of family, friends and faith once again enrich my life. But this year the gift I’m thinking on most is a relatively recent addition to my registry. See, attempting to hide among all the neatly written blessings on my ledger is a very messy entry. I have Tourette Syndrome, and it too is a gift.
I have it on good authority that everyone has received gifts, and usually that truth brings joy. When we see someone living out their gifting, we know it. We smile and nod because we’re witnessing the marriage of earth and heaven, of hard work and divinely inspired inclination, and who doesn’t like a wedding?
Yep, most gifts are marvelous to behold.
Others, however, arrive as uninvited guests. I tell you, Tourette’s was not on my guest list.
I’m guessing this past year you’ve had a few wedding crashers of your own, and though your unwanted visitors may not take control of your muscles, they likely produce their own undesired ache.
I can’t lie; sometimes we receive very painful gifts.
When my youngest was not yet one, we arrived at Thanksgiving frustrated that we had money enough to purchase a single, small Christmas gift. Three kids, one gift. The secondhand store blessed us with a stuffed dog for our daughter, and we blew our remaining twenty on our oldest son, which left us nothing for the little guy.
But in the rafters, we had a box. A large, cardboard box. We wrapped it up, and presented it to our babe filled with nothing but love. He tore at that wrapping, laughing and yelping.
“It’s a little house for you,” I said. He crawled right in. Moments later, he screamed and backed right out. Apparently, his dad (that’s me) had forgotten to check for staples. My son was a little scratched; I was a lot sorry. But soon, all was put right, the staples were gone, and he played inside that painful box for the next two years.
When he was three, we needed a large box that could hold a gift for his brother.
“Use my house,” he said. And we did.
The same painful gift later carried my wife’s dishes into a new home.
His painful gift was also the birthplace of five little kittens.
His painful gift, hardly recognizable, now centers my car when I pull into the garage, catching the drops of oil that fall from the engine. It guides. It protects. It is part of our home.
Painful gifts are like that. If they are true gifts, they rarely leave, though the form they take shifts over the years. When we first meet them, these gifts wound in ways only they can. Suddenly, sometimes violently, they change the trajectory of life. Over time, if we’re willing to raise them to the light, their true purpose reveals, and they touch those around us. That is, if we let them. If we stop seeing ourselves as those to whom the gifts were given, and instead understand that we are simply those through whom they are to enter this world. I’ve heard it from many mothers, and read it about my Lord: but for the joy set before them, they endured great pain … a pain that produced a beauty unreachable by any other means.
So, this Thanksgiving I would like to introduce you to a gift; it is one of my more underappreciated scars. I have both wept over it and raged at it, but now I find strange solace in the lessons my Father speaks through it.
I have Tourette syndrome, and I am very thankful.
When we meet, I hope your heart is blessed by the strange, messy, wondrous gift. I hope you smile and feel right at home, and a little more at peace with whatever painful gift crashes your Thanksgiving party.
Jonathan Friesen, M.A., is assistant professor in the School of Education at North Central University, a speaker, and author of more than a half dozen books including Jerk, California; The Last Martin, and The Unfolding. His work can be found at jonathanfriesen.com.