Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:
“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family,
that you have brought me this far?”
-2 Samuel 7:18
When I was in college I played football. Specifically I played for Whitworth College in the years that playing football at Whitworth wasn’t something to brag about. We were smaller and less skilled than almost every team we came across. In addition, it probably should be noted that I played receiver, a position reserved for people taller and faster than I was. But there I was, a little guy with a big heart, playing football in college for a team that at best, was hoping to win a few games each season.
During my sophomore season, I proudly started the season as 3rd string. Maybe 4th string…but definitely not any higher than 3rd string. There were some awesome athletes and guys way more skilled than I was ahead on me on the depth chart. Faster. Stronger. Just plain better. But I continued to practice and have fun with my buddies that were on the team and hope for the best. Our coach quit literally a few weeks before the first game and so we were coached by an interim coach that was pretty hands off and let most of the duties fall on his graduate assistants, guys just a few years older than I was who had recently graduated. We had a few victories that season but a ton of losses- and we got POUNDED on some games. But the strangest thing happened as the season progressed- I kept moving up the depth chart as guys in front of me got hurt. One of our senior receivers broke his hand or his wrist in the first or second game. Then another star hurt his leg (ankle?) during a game at Central Washington University where we pulled off one of the biggest upsets that we had ever accomplished (it was our first victory over Central in over 2 decades!). The season progressed, guys kept getting hurt, I kept showing up, and before you knew it I was starting at receiver for the mighty Whitworth Pirates. Keep in mind- I wasn’t the best guy out there- not by a long shot. But I worked hard and kept showing up and an opportunity presented itself.
On the final game, we played Simon Fraser University, another overmatched and under skilled team that we actually had a shot against. We had won 2 games that season, lost another 6 or 7, and were hoping to end the year on an upswing. The weather in Spokane that week had been bonkers- we had a foot of snow the day before the game but by game time it had turned to rain. We were playing in 6 inches of mud in places. I had a few catches (also dropped a wide open 40 or 50 yard touchdown grab…but that is a different story) and as the game finished I caught a touchdown that put us ahead to win the game. When it was all over, the team had won its 3rd game. And I had caught 10 or 12 passes for over 200 yards. In fact, I was just a few yards off the single game record (but that is also another blog post). It was an amazing end to the most improbable seasons I could have never suspected. After the game, the team said some tearful goodbyes and I connected with family and friends in the stands before riding my bike back to the dorm room where I lived. It’s not a very far bike ride from Whitworth’s Pine Bowl back to Stewart Hall where I lived, but I rode slow. I had to ride slow, because I couldn’t stop crying. Not just the odd tear in the corner of my eyes, but literally bawling my eyes out. “Who am I, God?” I asked over and over and over again.
The reality that hit me on that bike ride home was that God had taken my very average athletic abilities and allowed me to do great things on the football field. It was like an inside joke between God and myself, because we both knew I wasn’t very talented, but yet God was able to use me in such a surprising and incredible way. I just slowly peddled and thanked God and asked over and over, “who am I that you would use me like this?” It was a lot of fun. I was humble, and very, very grateful. It’s like King David in the passage at the top. I love this image, him going into the most sacred spot in the tent of worship and sitting before God and just smiling and asking, “why have you been so good to me God?”
When God uses your little bits of talent and does something huge with them, you can’t help but be grateful and thankful. It becomes an inside joke when you see how God is using ways you never quite expected. God delights in using us in unsuspecting ways, and He also delights in us being grateful. And though football was fun, I’m grateful for much bigger things now. Things like my kids, food, friends, God’s provision. Its not all touchdowns and big wins; learning to be grateful is also being thankful when things get hard. But this journey of gratitude is a necessary one to give us postures of thankfulness. Because the very best people I know in my life are people marked by profound gratitude. Gratitude that keeps people grounded and humble and reminds them that all good gifts are signs of an even better Giver. Psalm 92 says:
“What a beautiful thing, God, to give thanks,
to sing an anthem to you, the High God!
To announce your love each daybreak,
sing your faithful presence all through the night.
Yes, we are supposed to be full of gratitude for all that we’ve been given. I’m reminded of this now writing from a warm house with forced heat and a fridge full of food. Our friends and families on the east coast are in darkness as the hurricane has ravaged much of the eastern seaboard. A team from my church is getting back tomorrow from Rwanda where they’ve been ministering to people who have so little. The children of our church are collecting quarters and dimes and nickels to buy simple meals for children in Zambia. Friends- don’t forget this- we have been given so much. We have so much to be grateful for. Personally, I’m reminded every day in the utter and joyful chaos of a family of now 6…God has been so good. Though there are problems and things causing big challenges and lots of work on my horizon, I’m choosing to be grateful and keep myself grounded in the truth that God is the great giver of all gifts. Who am I, God? Who am I, to deserve all these good things? Today is a good day to practice the fine art of gratitude. Will you join me? What are you thankful for today?