1. My work. My job is challenging, often stressful and I have to make a conscious effort to stay positive every day. But it is also very rewarding. There are two specific aspects of my work that are a particular blessing. First, I've been blessed to work where I work. My entire professional career has been spent in small (but not too small) Adventist schools. I love what both Saipan SDA School and Columbus Adventist Academy have been able to offer our students: a safe, loving, environment where it's easy to know each of my students personally and hopefully meet their unique individual needs. We've been big enough to field sports teams and even win a few championships, put on a big Christmas program, and offer some extracurricular opportunities, but small enough that it still feels like a family. I honestly don't know if I could teach in a larger, tougher school, and I know for sure I wouldn't enjoy it.
The other blessing of my work is my students. My students are what make the struggles and stresses worth it. Much of the time the blessing manifests itself after they leave my classroom as I watch them make their way in the world and we can enjoy a friendly relationship now that I'm no longer required to manage their behavior and grade their performance. From my first students in Chuuk, through my years in Saipan, to the CAA graduates, I feel so blessed to have been a part of my students lives. But my students are a blessing while they are in my classroom too. They grow me, teach me, challenge me, and inspire me. Just this week I had a young lady in my math class who had been struggling with long division. She was so focused on working to get the concept that she asked if she could use her recess to keep working. What a blessing to watch her eyes shine with joy as she began to understand and master the math!
2. My health, particularly my teeth. Of course I'm grateful to be in good health, to be fit and able to be active. I know this is not a given and try not to take it for granted. But I'm especially and I think unusually blessed when it comes to my teeth. They may not be the most beautiful (I never got braces) but they make even the strongest of dentists weep with joy. I've been told many times by dentists how amazed they are by my teeth. They seem to me made of titanium, seemingly impervious to decay. Even more remarkable, because we grew up without health insurance, I never went to a dentist until I was an adult. I know what a literal pain it can be to deal with tooth decay and I am blessed to not have had to deal with that.
3. My Facebook friends. I always feel blessed when I look through my Facebook likes and comments. It's not the volume that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, it's the names. Friends from Saipan years, church members at Ephesus and Saipan Central, former students,college, high school and elementary friends, Marriage Encounter friends, current and former colleagues, and family members. Each name represents a person that I've shared a portion of this life journey with. It's like a digital version of our wedding weekend every day--all the people Babs and I have known all in one place sharing in our joy. A blessing indeed.
4. Living in the United States of America. It seems like an odd time to claim this blessing, I know. Many feel that the ship of state now a has a captain of uncertain abilities and certainly poor character and judgement at the helm. I share this deep concern. Furthermore, I'm not an American exceptionalist. I'm not a nationalist. I love my country for the same reason I love my family. Because it's mine. Not because it's better than the rest. Indeed ours is a hypocritical nation of worthy and noble ideals built on a foundation of theft and slavery. Our nation, like most nations, has largely grown based on its crimes, and now the best we can do is attempt to refashion it according to the ideals in it's founding documents retroactively, even though it's now conveniently too late to practically give back what we have stolen.
But despite all of this I do feel that being an American citizen and being able to live in the United States is a blessing. We are rich here, every one of us, compared to much of the world. And while that does that bring its own set of problems, especially of a spiritual nature, I feel it would be ungrateful and entitled of me to not acknowledge the relative ease and safety I am blessed with here in America. In that sense I'd probably feel the same sense of being blessed if I lived in Australia or Japan or many other developed countries. But this is where I live and I do love my country, because it's mine. I am also grateful that the principles of this nation allow me to critique and even protest the actions of my government and fellow citizens. I'm grateful for those who served and even gave their lives to defend those rights. And so I am both grateful and motivated to make sure that my country becomes finally great in actions as well as in ideals.
5. My spiritual struggle. Not all blessings are "good" things. Sometimes the struggle is also a blessing and in my spiritual life I've come to believe that this is the case. I've never had what you might call complete peace in my walk with God. I've had a lifelong struggle with accepting at heart level God's love for me. Intellectually I know it's true, but emotionally I have a hard time accepting His love. I have trouble trusting Him. I often fear getting too close to God and would prefer to keep Him somewhat at arms length. The guilt that used to plunge me into obsessive anxiety as a younger man has receded some, but has never entirely gone away. As Rich Mullins sang, "I'd rather fight Him for something I don't really want than take what He gives that I need." I've often wished I could just somehow let it all go and feel complete spiritual healing but so far that hasn't happened. But in a way, I feel blessed even in this. I am not by nature the most humble of men (my friends can tell you the extent to which I succeed--or fail--at cloaking this tendency towards arrogance), but at least in the spiritual arena my lifelong struggles have not allowed me to congratulate myself very much. I'm ever aware that I will make it in to the kingdom, only because of His grace and His love for me. My love for Him would never get me there. Hopefully that knowledge keeps me from being a total jerk.