“But Thanks be to God”: A Reflection

Introduction

Today is the day designated to publicly give thanks to our Creator for the gracious gifts of his divine Providence which he has lavished on us. Since I graduated last spring, and don’t yet have a job, I’ve had oodles of time to reflect on many of the ways God has blessed me over the span of my life so far (which I will recount below): “the boundary stones have fallen for me in pleasant places,” and he has put some wonderful people into my life (if you’re tagged in this on Facebook, you’re mentioned in the “Scholastics” or “Fellowship” section below). But that reflection also reveals how utterly I have failed to properly respond to God’s gifts, and prompts thoughts in the same vein as this poem I posted about a month ago: God has put my friends in my life (among other inscrutable reasons) to turn me toward him, but also for me to show Christ’s love to them by my own actions; coinherence and mutual edification are the goal, and while I have been built up, my actions to help my friends in the same way have been inconsistent at best. Similarly, time and other material and immaterial possessions God has put in my care are not for mere amusement; I am instructed to be a good steward. However, since today is a day for gratitude rather than regret, confession, or penance (the next season devoted to that sort of thing begins Sunday, and provides plenty of time for that before the Christmas season begins), I shall attempt to confine myself to praise in the remainder of this post.

Spiritual Heritage

To begin briefly at the beginning: I am grateful for the family God placed me in. Because of my parents’ obedience to the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

I was baptized as an infant (by immersion, which is apparently an oddity in those parts of the Christian community where infant baptism is common). This is not an accepted practice at Milan Baptist Church, my church here, but I believe that my parents were right to by this sacrament signify my entrance into God’s covenant with his people. (I’ll write an essay on what I believe about sacraments, covenants, and the like later.)

Among evangelical churches like Milan Baptist, “Grown Up Born Again” is a term for kids who call themselves Christians because their parents are Christians, they’ve been going to church forever, etc., etc., and usually know all the right answers to religious questions, but don’t have true saving faith and live lives reflecting that lack. In contrast to that, I cannot remember a time when I did not know that God deserved my perfect obedience because he made me, that I was a sinner who did not measure up to that standard, and that he sent his Son to die for my sins on the cross, while I can remember many times that I came to a crisis of doubt as to whether I was saved and prayed the “sinner’s prayer” again.

God gave me parents with faith so strong I could make it mine rather than merely repeat it, and that any teaching in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School or at summer camp was largely merely a reiteration of what I had already learned through my parents in a different setting (that could force me to think it through again). My parents made it their practice to end nearly every day as a family with the reading of a chapter of the Bible and a psalm, a song (with young children most often a “chorus,” now most often a hymn), and prayer. Even when I have allowed my busy life to crowd proper devotion out, this repetition has by the grace of God kept the Word in my mind and me closer to the path of virtue and obedience than I would otherwise have strayed.

“‘Thanks be to God my Savior,’ let his redeemed ones say!” I give thanks to God for giving me godly parents, a strong inheritance in the faith, many years of instruction in “life and godliness,” and, most of all, for sending his Son to live, die, and rise to reconcile us to himself and his Spirit to remake us in the likeness of his Son.

Scholastics

Another reason I am grateful to God for giving me the parents he did: My parents decided, years before I was born, to not get a television. Until my senior year of college, I had never lived in a house with a television. So, from a few years before I started kindergarten (a short while after my parents had tried to get me interested in it, and then given up for the moment–that’s a story that bears retelling, but not here) I have largely found my amusement in books, and in learning in general. My parents have always strongly encouraged me to learn more about whatever I was interested in, and were often the most accessible resource to learn from. Similarly, my grandparents and aunts and uncles often gave me the most interesting books as Christmas and birthday presents.

God has also given me a bright, inquisitive, sharp intellect. While not without its disadvantages (more about that in another post later), this gave me an excellent head start in the academic world and allowed me to succeed and learn with a lot less effort than I would otherwise have needed.

In my academic career, I have been blessed by the tutelage of some outstanding instructors. I needed and received encouragement to excel and expectations of excellence in academics and conduct in addition to mere tuition, and most of the teachers that I remember most fondly were notable more for their pedagogical style than for the content of their lessons. For instance, I was greatly encouraged in my academic ambitions by Mrs. Price, my first grade teacher, who got me together with the two other students in the grade at my reading level for a reading group, and Mrs. Viets, my fifth grade teacher. I was also helped by the strict expectations of Mrs. Miles, my second grade teacher, and several middle school teachers, including Ms. Kraske, my math teacher. My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Gilzow, went to great lengths to provide the best education possible, and stands in a class by himself. In high school, several teachers helped me to continue my academic growth by demanding and inspiring excellence, including Mr. Huber (I am particularly grateful to God for letting me have his class before he retired that year) in the pre-chemistry Introduction to Physical Science, Mr. Gephart in American History, and Mr. Fahlstrom in AP Literature and Composition. Mrs. Glushyn, my teacher for tenth and eleventh grade English and three semesters of debate and my quiz bowl coach for two years, stands in a class by herself; she is the only teacher I have ever had who I am certain both demanded my best work and knew when she got it, as well as quite probably my best critic, and somehow she managed to get this intensely shy student equally intensely interested and involved in debate class.

I pause here to give thanks to, and to God for, my grandparents, who from my birth set aside money for my education. Because of their generosity, though I have drained those assets significantly, I have not yet had to borrow a cent to pay for higher education.

In college the general characteristic of my professors that I am most grateful for is the way that they inspired me to interest in or increased enthusiasm for their subjects and for the material at hand. I am particularly grateful for the chance to learn from Professors Corcoran (philosophy), Stevenson (political science), Kuykendall (music), Vander Linden (computer science), Frens (computer science), Fuller (speech), Pomykala (Religion), and Rienstra (English). And the esteemed Dr. Laura Smit, the Dean of the Chapel until that position expired, whose classes I never had a chance to take (the class I most wanted to take from her ended up as one of three Interims all at the same time my senior year, and I had to take Artificial Intelligence to be certain of graduating on time) but whom I heard in chapel when I could.

I must also give thanks this year for several professors’ almost Christ-like mercy in granting extensions and accepting late assignments; there, but for the grace of God and Professors Pomykala and Vander Linden, fail I.

And I would be remiss to not mention the deep debt of gratitude I, who did a senior project in computer science this year, owe to, and to God for, the Calvin Computer Science department secretary, the inestimable Sharon Gould, and the department’s system administrator, Gary Draving. Without their all-but-thankless effort useful work in the department would cease.

Fellowship

I have never been gregarious; until college I could count my true friends (maybe even on one hand) without running out of fingers. I think. But in what true friends he has given me, God has blessed me richly with sweet fellowship (a shadow of coinherence, a picture of the City to come–but I’ll write about that, too, in a later post), with mirrors of his glory, with sharpening tools (Proverbs 27:17), with edification in life, writing, and godliness, and with inspiring examples of faithfulness, life, love, integrity, and piety. Here, too, I will begin at the beginning, listing those for whom (and to whom) I am grateful by name. I am sure that most, like I would were they to name me in a similar list, would say at most, “I have only done my duty,” but that does not diminish my gratitude.

First, I am grateful to God for the loving family he put me in. While small in number, I have the sudden mental image of heaven as my Aunt Ruth’s kitchen table, or my maternal grandparents’ front porch swing, as I remember it from a decade or so ago, somehow scaled up or replicated over and over. It is particularly unfortunate that the only time I ever get to see most of my relatives is at funerals (since none of my generation of the family seems to be getting married yet). This year I particularly give thanks for my paternal grandfather, who passed through death early this year after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He is the primary reason I have any sense (other than any I inherited) for or interest in economics, I suspect, and was a great encouragement to my life in general.

In my early life, before I remember myself as having started school, I can only remember having one or two real friends near my age: Meg and her friend Sarah. While we have drifted apart quite a bit since then, I am very grateful for their friendship at that formative stage, and for the continued blessing the whole Sinclair family has been to me since then.

In elementary school, I had very few friends. I would have been a prime target for bullying, but at my school in my grade there was, if my memory serves, a group of girls who prevented any potential bullies from becoming such. My memory of who was in such a group has faded completely, but I owe gratitude to them, and to God for them.

In middle and high school, I found myself caught up in a group (or, perhaps, more precisely, several intersecting groups) of friends that, while not approximating coinherence even as much as the “fam” does, welcomed me into Christian, academic, and musical fellowship, providing encouragement, leadership, and inspiration. Thank you, Erica, Charissa, Ed, Kim, Stephanie, and the others; I thank God for putting you in my life.

Around the same time that I was being brought into this group, my family transplanted itself from Ann Arbor Free Methodist Church to Milan Baptist. I am very thankful that such a church existed mere blocks from our home, and for the warm welcome and generally sound teaching we have received there.

When I went off to college (and I thank God for Calvin College, even with all its many flaws), my first year was for the most part a rather lonely one. The primary exceptions that I remember to this mood for the year, other than chapel, church (Church of the Servant has been a spiritual home, for which I am very grateful), and LOFT services, were a long conversation I had when I first met Jess at Passport (orientation) and my Prelude group, only one member of which I remembered by name and face well enough to add on Facebook when I thought of it the next year. Thank you, and I thank God for the joy you gave me in an otherwise dreary year.

I thank God for my sophomore year at Calvin. While it began in much the same mood as my freshman year had been, by the middle of October if not before the “fam” had drawn me into the closest approximation of divine coinherence I have experienced in my life. Thank you, Luke, Holly, Amanda, Jess, Stef, Caitlin, Hannah, Matt, Dan, Allison, Rebecca, Cynthia, and all and sundry; I thank God for bringing me to you. The “fam” was the first reason I was glad I had chosen Calvin. At much the same time, though I did not become aware of this for months later, the joy the “fam” tended to demand, as well as much of the rest of my better nature, was being coaxed out of me by my friendship with my Latin classmates. Gratias ago vobis, Libby, Cate, Amy, aliisque, et Deo qui vos in vitam meam posuit. And third, beginning at roughly the same time, I began to find my academic home within the college in the Department of Computer Science. I thank, and thank God for, my professors, my peers, and those older students who have all been so welcoming.

I was thrown into more joy and coinherence with my introduction to and welcome into what I came to think of as “the Daybreakers group,” which unexpectedly overlapped with the “fam.” I thank God for bringing me to this group, and you all (Amanda, Steven, Ryan, Luke again, Caitlin, and all the others) for welcoming me, walking beside me, and sharpening me.

Conclusion

But above all, I give thanks to God “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” rose, and ascended, and sent his Spirit upon us until he comes in glory. That while we were once without words before him, his “Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” That we once “were not a people, but now are the people of God.” And so on; I shall someday have an eternity to give proper thanks and praise to God for all that he has done for me, but must now write only these few brief words.

Comments? What are you thankful for?

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