A Beautiful Spirit of Gratitude

It was just another average day in the spring of 1999. The temperature was -30 degrees with at least two feet of snow of the ground. Over the sound of the freezing cold wind in my ears, I heard the sharp crunch of ice under my hiking boots as I trudged the five minute walk to my college classrooms.

Yes, I said spring. By my reckoning, April was a time for the snow to melt, the grass to start changing to green, and the sun to have a bit of warmth. However, Manitoba that year had a different plan as winter continued to stretch longer and longer.

I still don’t know what possessed me to go to college in Manitoba although I made memories that will last me a lifetime. There was the time I froze my feet watching a hockey game. I’ll never forget crawling over the snowdrifts to get to my dorm because they were too large to walk through. One night we had to brave a blizzard of epic proportion to get home. The conditions were so bad that we had to run down the road to show the driver where to go. When we switched places, the driver’s door was blown so hard that it didn’t stop opening and hit the hood of the car. Two of my friends got lost in this blizzard while guiding us. We weren’t sure if they’d survive, but thankfully they did. There were the two days when the wind chill dropped the temperature to -70. Don’t ask if that’s Celsius or Fahrenheit. At a certain low point, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s called Insanely Cold. Then of course, there was the flooding that followed when all the snow melted, and we all gave up studying for our final exams to sandbag around the campus. Yes, such memories never fade.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. The temperatures stayed around a balmy -30 degrees. So, you can imagine after five or so months of this, it got old. And, that morning, as I was trudging along, wrapped up under twenty layers of clothes, I was sick of it. I was probably upset about a guy, exhausted because I had stayed up too late, hungry, tired of homework, and facing an Ancient Greek pop quiz. I don’t really remember. I just remember I was in a foul mood and fed up with the frigid weather.

I was halfway to the cafeteria and warmth when I heard a noise I hadn’t heard for months. Somewhere in the trees beside me, a bird began to sing. It was a plain old sparrow or chickadee, nothing marvelously unique. I stopped in shock. It was still winter! And birds are a lot smarter than people. They go south when it starts getting cold. I don’t know if this one came back early or had been hiding out in a barn all those months. But for some reason, it decided to sit on a branch that was basically an icicle and sing in -30 degree weather.

The only thing I could think was I can get inside where it’s warm. The bird can’t. And yet he continued to sing. I stood and listened to it for several minutes. Maybe it was his death song, maybe he was on the verge of freezing to death, maybe he was lonely and wondering where the other birds were. But I prefer to think that he was singing for joy. He was happy, and he was doing what God had placed him on this earth to do.

This week we are celebrating Thanksgiving. We all know that we have so much to be thankful for – a roof over our head, clothes to wear, clean water to drink, yummy food to eat. Even if this year has been hard, we have survived. We made it to another Thanksgiving. I’m not denying that there haven’t been bumps in the road and maybe some major potholes, but God has been beside us. That statement only should give us cause to be grateful.

Matthew 6:25-27 tells us to “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

On that frosty cold morning, a bird taught me what a life of thanksgiving looks like. It can sing in the face of a storm. It can enjoy what it has without sadness of the past or fretting about tomorrow. A life of praise to God is filled with a song of praise even if life is miserable or almost unbearable. We can sing because of the hope that God’s promises brings. Promises like…

  • “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
  • “Plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
  •  “I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:29
  •  “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless….  But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength….  They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31
  •  “And this same God who takes care of you will supply all your needs from His glorious riches,” Philippians 4:19
  •  “Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”  Romans 8:37-39
  •  “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27.

So don’t be troubled or afraid. Even when the cold winds of disaster howl. Even when the around becomes frozen and cold. When the sky is the blackest and you are alone. Don’t be troubled. God loves you and will provide for you. And that is reason to sing in the face of all adversity.

I often think of that little bird. I like to imagine him meeting the love of his life. They have a nest full of little eggs. When fall comes and the nights start getting chilly, they with their family travel down south where it is always warm and live happily for the rest of their little lives.

One little bird. One small song. And one powerful message.

But I’ll never forget him with his beautiful spirit of gratitude.







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