This past weekend, we experienced our first “Bolivian Thanksgiving!” We decided to get out of the city for a bit and headed to Tarija, a region in the south of Bolivia, to breath in the fresh air and soak in the warmth of a lower altitude. Thanksgiving is my all time favorite holiday, so it is always tough for me to be away from my family during this time, but our mini-vacation provided enough adventure and distraction to keep me smiling. 🙂 The respite from the crowded city and busyness of school allowed me to reflect on this past year, and, in the spirit of the holiday, on what I am thankful for.

Our church here in Bolivia has been going through a series titled “Love Lessons.” We have been discussing God’s great love for His creations (that’s us!) and how we can be an overflow of His love to those around us. To help us become more aware of God’s love for us, the pastor challenged us to view every good thing that happens in our lives as a precious gift from God that He is using to show us how much He loves us. From big things like a promotion at work, to small things like seeing a pretty flower or remembering to take an umbrella to work on a rainy day, view ALL those good things as a special token of love from the Father.

So, here are just a few of those good things that I am so thankful for today:

  • I am thankful for my husband who diligently works from home each day to allow us to live and serve here in Bolivia, goes on adventures with me, always keeps a cool head, loves me unconditionally, and even brings my lunch to school when I forget to pack it in the morning.
  • I am thankful for my family and friends back in the states who continue to keep in contact with us, pray for us, Skype with us, and encourage us in our work here, without letting the physical distance get between us.
  • I am thankful for my students who ask thoughtful questions, write me encouraging notes, complete incredible projects, and keep me laughing.
  • I am thankful for my co-workers at Highlands who are passionate about their work and the kids in their classrooms. I am thankful that they have welcomed us with open arms, encouraged us when we’re homesick, taken us to the doctor or pharmacy when we’re physically sick, lent us their shower when our apartment has run out of water, prayed for us continually, and travelled with us to see the country we call home.
  • I am thankful for my Spanish tutor who has helped me feel less isolated and allowed me to understand and communicate with the people I share a country with.
  • I am thankful for the opportunity to play sports in Bolivia! Although softball isn’t super popular here, I love to compete and have been able to play Wally-ball, soccer, and Ultimate Frisbee with friends and students. Yay for physical activity!
  • I am thankful for the mountains here in La Paz and the views that daily remind me of God’s creativity and power. How Great Thou Art!
  • I am thankful that I have all my Christmas shopping done!
  • I am thankful for a long weekend full of rest, relaxation, good food, and beautiful views.
  • I am thankful for the full pot of coffee that always awaits me when I get to school in the morning.
  • I am thankful that we have our plane tickets purchased and will be back in the states with our families in 3 weeks!

Our pastor didn’t stop his challenge there. He also challenged us to see every bad thing that happens in our lives as a gift from God that He is using to show His love for us as well. This challenge is, understandably, more difficult. So often in the midst of hard times we want to say, “Why, God? Why is this happening? Do you even love me? Are you even there?” The answer is, YES! God still loves us and is still with us in troubling times. Romans 5:3-5 tells us to “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” God loves us enough to allow struggles in order to produce perseverance, character, and hope. He does not leave us in a stagnant, ignorant, hopeless place. Instead, He helps us to grow, and most importantly, to grow in our relationship with Him. In God’s greatest gift of love to us, suffering was involved. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” to die on a cross in our place so that we “shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And so, here are some of those struggles that I am (learning to be) thankful for:

  • I am thankful for the water shortage here in La Paz, because it is showing me just how blessed I’ve truly been my whole life to have access to clean, running water. I never realized before now how incredible and convenient that is! And I am developing more empathy for the 783 million people who, according to the United Nations, live without access to clean water.
  • I am thankful that our AirBnB host family this past weekend did not speak English, because it allowed me to get some much needed Spanish practice!
  • I am thankful for the days when I botch lesson plans, misspeak in class, forget things, and lose track of time because it gives me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes, become a better teacher, apologize, be forgiven, and build more authentic relationships with my students and co-workers.

In Ephesians 3:16-19 Paul says this, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

God’s love is unimaginable! It is unconditional, and it is powerful. Above all, I am thankful for this love. In good times and in tough times, God’s love is real, and it is amazing! We may not understand it – after all, it is difficult to see “love” in the midst of crisis, fear, or pain – but it is there, and it never fails.

I’ll end by passing the pastor’s challenges on to you. View everything in your life – good, bad, or ugly – as an expression of God’s love for you.

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