This morning as I was hastily cleaning out my son’s backpack before school I came across his papers from last week. One paper in particular caught my attention. It was a list of things for which his is thankful.

While I love the fact that Jackson mentioned his family and friends amongst things for which he is thankful, the third item on his list, the last sentence in particular, managed to bring me to tears: “I’m grateful that we are able to worship God without being harmed.”

Yes, I’m a female and I cry rather easily, but allow me to explain the reason for my tears. In our home, we talk about things that many parents might be tempted to shy away from, or at the very least, keep their children as sheltered from as possible.  One such topic is the persecution Christians across the world face every single day of their lives. Issues arise and rather than pretending like it’s so far away that it doesn’t matter to us, we try to bring it closer to home for him (our four-year-old is still too young to differentiate and understand). He watches the news and when he asks tough questions, we give him honest answers. When we know of people and situations that will help paint a more real picture of understanding for him, those become resources for us as well.

Our son has traveled to Ukraine for a mission trip and is now able to put faces and names with the stories he hears about and sees on the news. It’s real to him. Those are actual human beings that are being torn from their families, whose lives are being lost, and whose country is being overtaken before their very eyes. He sees that now. He feels it. They’re not just some random people a world away.  They are John and Max, Ana and Angelic. They are his brothers and sisters in Christ.

More recently, our family sat down for a discussion about the horrifying conditions Christians in Burundi, Africa face every single day of their lives. Jackson has a friend right here in Artesia named Hans whose mother, Clara, is from Burundi. Over the years we have had the privilege of getting to know Clara through the boys’ friendship and the time they have spent playing sports together. She is a smart, articulate, passionate woman with a beautiful spirit, and she recently shared some personal insight into Burundi with a group of women at a Bible study. It was a gut-wrenching testimony that brought us all to tears, and at the same time generated an overwhelming sense of gratitude for our freedoms here in the United States. I felt compelled to share her thoughts with Jackson and my husband for two reasons: First, it helped me put a face to the conflict a world away, which in turn increased my compassion and created a sense of urgency in my prayers. I knew it would do the same for them. And secondly, it was another opportunity to help paint a very real picture of the world in which we live, which is a stark contrast from Jackson’s “world;” a world in which he has a comfortable life, in a blessed nation, surrounded by family and parents that would lay down their life for him. His is a world in which he can worship whom and how and when he so desires without fear of losing his life; a world in which he can freely carry a Bible down the street without fear of being gunned down. Life is much different in Burundi. He gets that now. We all do.

Jackson, third from right, and Hans, second from right, pose for a photo with their friends and teammates!

My son’s Thanksgiving list told me he gets it. He understands what we have talked about and what he has experienced. It told me he understands that not everyone is as fortunate as we are and he knows exactly who those people are; or at least some of them. That list told me he might be only 10 years old, but he actually appreciates his freedoms. I can honestly say I was much, much older before I fully came to appreciate the freedoms we are afforded here. But he gets it.

My husband and I were not at school with him when he wrote his list. He did that on his own. He could have put down his house or his video games, he could have put down all of his “stuff,” typical of a 10-year-old boy, but he didn’t. He is thankful that he lives in a country that allows him to live and worship as he so chooses. And for that, I am thankful! I realize I have a lot for which to be thankful this holiday season, but his list is right up there at the top of mine!

Our children might not act like they are listening and we might not feel like they understand things going on in the world around them, but they are and they do. His list is my proof.

Friends, I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving. Maybe you have big plans with friends and family, or maybe you plan to be alone and reflect on life. Whatever you chose to do, I hope you will choose to make gratitude a part of your plans. There’s always something to be thankful for!