Friday, November 21, 2014

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

Thanksgiving is when we pause to think about our many blessings and thank God for them. We shouldn’t just thank God when everything is going well, but we are to be thankful all the time, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. NIV

“In all circumstances” can be difficult – we occasionally find ourselves in some circumstances where we might not feel particularly thankful.

My wife and I had the opportunity to put that principle into practice recently. In October we went on a cruise in the Mediterranean. The cruise originated in Lisbon, Portugal, so we flew there from New York.

1. The Bad News

After arriving in Lisbon, we had some free time, so we did a little sight-seeing on our own, walking around a section of the city near our hotel. As we were walking down a cobblestone street I routinely felt for my wallet as I have the habit of doing. This time it wasn’t there! My wallet was gone! I immediately knew what had happened, because many European cities are loaded with pickpockets. What a sinking feeling, knowing you’ve been robbed, and all the contents of your wallet are gone:
money, medical cards
driver’s license, medical information,
credit cards, bank card (for ATM).

Moreover we were in foreign city where we didn’t know the language, feeling very vulnerable as well as violated. Thoughts of identity theft crossed my mind, since my driver’s license and Medicare card were in the wallet. Plus we didn’t know whether the thief was busy buying all kinds of stuff with our credit cards. But in the midst of this God sent us some angels. Right down the street from where we were standing was an open-air café. We walked over and went up to the guy who runs it and I said to him: “Policia. I need the policia!”

2. God-Sent Help

Fortunately the café owner spoke some English, and asked me what happened. A woman working in a shop across the street came out to see what all the commotion was about, and the café owner told her to call the police. When the policia got there, they said we had to go to the special tourist police station and file a report. When we got there, we saw a line of people. After speaking with them, we realized we weren’t the only victims of these thieves.

So while waiting at the police station I called our credit card companies and canceled the cards that were in my wallet. Thankfully there had been no activity on any of our cards, which led me to believe they took the cash and tossed the wallet in a nearby garbage can. We spent over an hour in the police station with the other victims of pick-pockets, sharing our stories as we waited. The policeman was very understanding and didn’t treat us like a number. When we were finished at the police station we were given a copy of the police report (in Portuguese) and went back to the hotel.

3. The Good News

After being robbed in a strange city, you may ask if there was anything for us to be thankful for. Amazingly, there were quite a few things we could be thankful for, despite the robbery and the trauma associated with it.

*We could be thankful for our safety: we weren’t physically hurt.

*We could be thankful they didn’t get as much money as they might have because we split the cash between us, plus kept some cash in our suitcase.

*We could be thankful we split our credit cards between us so that we still had Sue’s cards available to use. Because I had the credit card companies’ telephone numbers on a piece of paper that I keep in a different pocket, I could immediately call and cancel the cards that were stolen.

*We could be thankful they didn’t get our passports, which would have been a nightmare to get replaced.

*We could be thankful this didn’t ruin our vacation.

*We could be thankful God sent us the café owner and shop-keeper who were helpful and sympathetic, angels in disguise.

*We could be thankful God sent the people in line at the police station to comfort us and one another, and trade stories. One of the people in line was a guy from Australia, but originally from Sri Lanka. He put these thefts into an interesting perspective by saying, “Well, at least someone has something to eat tonight.” For the money they took from all of us, they could have a mighty fine meal!

*Lastly, we could be thankful that God kept us amazingly calm so we could carry on and not become immobilized by anger, resentment, or self-pity. If this had happened when my wife was younger, she would have been crying and very upset. If this had happened in my younger days, I would have been angry, full of self-pity, with a good deal of ranting and raving. Instead both of us were surprisingly calm – only God could do that. I should mention that even though we didn’t immediately say a prayer, our faith in God kept us calm and confident that everything would be all right. But the story doesn’t end there – God had a pleasant surprise in store for us.

4. The Canadians to the Rescue

The next day I got a text message from a Canadian couple telling me they had found the contents of my wallet and were going to mail them to us when they got home. The thief had taken the cash, of course, and the wallet itself, but had neatly placed the contents in that gutter. It’s almost as if the thief wanted the contents to be found and returned.

5. The Urge to Check It Out

When we got home we spoke with the Canadian woman, who told us that she and her husband were walking along a cobblestone street the next day. She was keeping her eyes to the ground so she wouldn’t trip and fall on the uneven surface. As they were walking, she happened to spot something suspicious-looking under a parked car, and she felt a strong urge to check it out. Something told her this was important, so she stopped, got down, and retrieved my wallet’s contents from under the car. Because it had lightly rained, the contents were stuck together, so as far as I can tell, nothing blew away or was washed away. God’s grace, us taking precautions, and a kind Canadian woman who listened to the Spirit’s urging prevented this from ruining our vacation.

6. Another Test of Faith

Our faith was further tested when the envelope from the Canadians wasn’t in our accumulated mail when we returned home. I spoke with the woman and she said it would be mailed in a few days. Ultimately it took two weeks to reach us – all that time we were anxiously wondering what happened – but we kept calm and carried on, trusting God.

7. Lessons from this Experience

So what did we learn from this experience?

*First we learned that we should put our wallets and valuables in a very safe place when we travel, like maybe a money belt.

*We learned it pays to be prepared and equipped to handle possible problems– you never know.

*We learned that God may allow bad things to happen, but also sends help to us in times of distress. Before we even knew it, God was at work in this situation in a number of ways.

*We learned it is better for all concerned to keep calm, which means don’t panic, lose your temper, or go to pieces. The policeman told us some tourists rant and rave at the police when they’ve been robbed, making the situation worse.

*We learned that we must carry on: there are things that need to be done – we must focus on those and not waste time and energy in self-pity or anger.

*Another thing we learned is that God can change a person over time. In particular God has changed me over the years, so that my reaction to a bad thing happening is quite different from what it used to be. I now realize that there’s nothing to be gained by getting angry. God also changed my wife as I mentioned earlier, so she remained calm, didn’t cry or panic as she might have done years earlier.

So when things aren’t going your way, try to keep in mind that God is with you and will help you get through whatever your affliction is.