Grapes and Raisins

There’s a tradition in Spain, some Latin American countries, and Hispanic communities that involves eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Day, one for each stroke of the midnight bell.  It is meant to welcome the new year by ensuring prosperity and warding off evil. I’ve done this many years when celebrating New Year’s with my sister and her family. Her in-laws were the ones who introduced us to this tradition. And this year was no different, since I was living with my sister. We prepared ahead by purchasing 2 bags of grapes, which we thought would be more than enough. As midnight approached, we washed the grapes and started counting them out, passing out the handfuls to the gathered family members. When we got to the end of the bag, there were just 2 people left who needed grapes: my sister and I. And there were not enough grapes left for both of us to have 12, so we improvised. We opened the cupboards and pulled out a box of raisins. Raisins are grapes after all. So at the stroke of midnight, to welcome the new year, I ate 6 grapes and 6 raisins.

Ten and a half months have passed since that day, and what a wild and unpredictable year it has been, for all of us. A reality TV star has defied all expectations and been nominated as the next president of the United States. The Chicago Cubs, the lovable losing Major League Baseball team has also defied expectations by winning the World Series, ending a 108 year drought. Innocent lives were taken in Orlando, Dallas, Nice, France, Brussels, and many other locations of terrorist attacks around the world. An armed militia took control of a government building in Oregon. Pokemon Go launched, encouraging nerds everywhere to get moving and catch ‘em all. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Alan Young, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, and Leonard Cohen. A gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo was shot, a gator in a Florida resort killed a young child. Britain voted to leave the European Union. Hurricane Matthew terrorized the East coast. Ebola and Zika outbreaks began. And ALS announced a breakthrough in research thanks to money raised by the viral ice bucket challenge.

And there’s still another month and a half to go this year.

Personally, it has also been a challenging year for me. I’ve begun to name the incidents: Major Disappointment of 2016 Number 1, Major Disappointment of 2016 Number 2, and so on. From my dating life, to personal finances, to career, and even vacation plans, it feels like no part of my life has gone untouched. In fact, I’m up to 6. Hmmm, at the beginning of this year I ate 6 raisins. Coincidence? Well, probably, but a silly superstition gives me something to blame. This year I’m not taking any chances. I’ll be eating my 12 grapes and someone else can supplement with raisins.

But I can’t tell you about the disappointment of my year without celebrating the accomplishments and pleasant events. I got back into running and completed a half marathon this year. Before this year the longest I had ever run was 4 miles. But, now I can say that I have run 13.1 miles. I began work at a new job, one that has been enjoyable most of the time and also allows me the freedom to crochet and knit while sitting at my desk. While at this job I’ve had the opportunity to make many new and fulfilling friendships. I attended the Gay Christian Network conference in Houston, opening my eyes and heart to the struggles of many brothers and sisters in Christ. I joined a book club that introduced me to many books I would not have otherwise read, while also providing a unique place for me to question, grieve, and heal. I celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of my parents, a beautiful picture of lasting love and commitment, both to God and to each other.

The truth is every year has its good and bad events, its victories and challenges. For every person. Sometimes we forget this because the disappointments are easier to spot and can sometimes feel like they are taking over. I’ve made it a point to consciously remind myself of the blessings during these last couple months of the year, and I still get bogged down with the disappointments.

As Thanksgiving approaches and my Facebook feed is filled with declarations of gratitude, I am reminded “In everything, give thanks” (1Thessalonians 5:18) and “always giving thanks for all things” (Ephesians 5:20). We are told to “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). But…how? I mean, I know how important it is to thank God for my blessings. It’s great to remember who provides the good things in life. The grapes are easy to spot. But the trials are a little harder to be thankful for. The shriveled, dried up raisins are not pleasant to look at.

But the next verse in James says “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (v. 3). Peter shares a similar message in his letter, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). I can be thankful for the trials of this year, Major Disappointments 1-6, because each one was a test of faith. The easy-to-spot blessings of the past year were great, but the not-so-easy-to-spot blessings were even more vital to my growth.

So maybe I asked a guy out and it didn’t go the way I wanted. What’s more important is that I swallowed my fear and anxiety and asked someone out. For the first time in my life. And the second time in my life. So an unexpected expense drained my savings account. What’s important is that God provided even then. Even as I had been saving for a “fresh start” God reminded me that a new beginning isn’t about money, but about my heart. So I didn’t get my dream job. What’s important is that I know I have options and someday I will make a career move that will allow me to use my skills and training in ministry. And until that day, I serve God right where I’m at, whether that means preaching for a friend who’s out of town, or engaging in a discussion about faith with a co-worker.

I can be thankful in all things. Doesn’t mean I’m happy about everything that happened. Doesn’t necessarily mean I’m thankful for every thing, but I can be thankful in everything, knowing that it is the trial that produces perseverance and refines my faith.

Because raisins are grapes after all.

What about you? Do you find it hard to be thankful in all things?

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