The Last Thanksgiving

In June of 2014, at the age of thirty-two, I was diagnosed with level three spreading malignant melanoma.

When the doctor’s eyes connected with mine and shared those words, I was forced to wrestle with my own mortality. That moment has become etched into my life as a turning point—a pivotal intersection of my own will and the reality that I’m not in control. As I look back, I can honestly say that I wasn’t afraid of dying, I was afraid I wasn’t really living.

Sure, I was raising a family, running my business, and trying to live a good life, but beneath that facade I was still wondering.

Was I really trusting God, or just living in response to my own fears?

Would my kids remember be as a great father, or just as a guy who was too busy to really invest in them?

Would my co-workers and clients miss my presence around the office, or was I forgettable?

Now I understand that some of these questions were rooted in my own pride, but as I continued to quiet myself and let those questions rise, God began to give me clarity, more clarity than I had ever experienced. He weeded through the questions, as if sifting wheat, and allowed me to see the temporary nature of the things that were directing my life versus the real freedom that was waiting if I would only be willing to let go.

My diagnosis was a catalyst for me discovering my identity. As cancer stripped away the facade, God taught me who I really was underneath. It was, and still is, a painful process, but it’s through that pain where His promise is delivered. I still battle the mental barrage and anxiety that my cancer will return, but it is with joy and gratitude that I proclaim, I am cancer free.

 

Your Last Thanksgiving

For many, Thanksgiving is overlooked. It’s just a holiday for eating wedged between Halloween and Christmas, but it has become one of my most treasured celebrations. Probably because, at one time, I had to wrestle with this question:

What if this Thanksgiving were your last?

That’s a sobering though and may seem morbid to some, but it’s something I truly had to consider. It was only until I was willing to pause and reflect that my perspective began to change. I believe that’s why Moses prayed:

“Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

My sincerest hope for you is that it doesn’t take a cancer diagnosis to change your perspective, and that’s why I write. I hope that, in some way, this might help you renew your perspective.

As we start another Thanksgiving, I challenge you to consider:

Will you give thanks, or will you complain?

Will you look for ways to rejoice, or will you look for the flaws?

These subtle questions cause you to pause in each moment and gratitude becomes more real when we learn to appreciate the moment. And as you learn to embrace gratitude, it will lead to praise. Since my diagnosis, my choice in the midst of it all has been praise. Relentless, unabated praise. The kind of praise that fills your eyes with tears and your hearts with joy. The kind of praise that removes your biases and sings as if no one is watching.

Praise becomes a life raft when it felt like the world around you is sinking.

I wept with my wife the night we learned of my diagnosis. We were unsure of how far my condition had progressed and we were scared. Yet in the midst of those tears, I told my wife that I was weeping, not because of what I was fearful of losing, but because of the wonderful blessings I had experienced.

It was that quiet process of facing my fears and trading them for the fear of the Lord where He began to cause praise to flow from my heart. I wholeheartedly believe that God uses pain to accomplish His purposes, and it might seem unloving of Him to cause you to face your own mortality as a way to really bring about your freedom, but it’s a lot better than living trapped.

So this Thanksgiving, pause with me and let gratitude sink in. If you’re willing, it will change you.

 

From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

MH

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  • This brought tears to my eyes. I think you know my thoughts on gratitude, so all I can say is that while we don’t exactly have the picture perfect image of Thanksgiving happening in your first illustration, we are definitely far from living out the image in the second. The holiday season is especially difficult after loss, but that doesn’t mean that on Thanksgiving I lose that sense of gratitude. We are instructed in scripture to be “thankful in all circumstances”. Thanksgiving may look a little different these days, but there is still much to be thankful for.

    • Sarah, I pray that you, Ron, and Moira will have an incredibly special Thanksgiving this year. Thank you for your words.

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  • Steve Long

    Matt, you remind us to life simply, love fully and give abundantly. This was a prayer for grace. Thank you!