14 Medium Cokes Please

Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. ~ A.A. Milne

When I graduated from college, I took a job as an athletic director for the Boys’ Club of Aurora, Colorado, working with underserved kids. On Saturdays in the fall, I would drive our 9–10-year-old youth football team from East Colfax Avenue to West Denver for our weekly game.

After the game, on the thirty-minute drive back to our club, I always craved a cold soda pop, but I had thirteen kids in the plain white Boys’ Club van with me. One Saturday I hollered, “Do you all want to stop at McDonalds for a Coke?” “Yeah, Craig. We love McDonalds, but we don’t have any money!”

“That’s O.K.; I’ll spot you.” Everyone cheered. Patrick said, “Can I get a junior hamburger instead of a Coke, Craig?” Kenyatta asked, “Craig, can I get a fry and split it with Patrick’s hamburger?” Pedro moaned, “Man, I’d really like a chocolate shake instead of a Coke.”

“Hold it everyone. Let’s keep this simple. Fourteen medium Cokes or nothing.” “O.K. What about Sprite or a Dr. Pepper?” “You can order any medium soft drink that you’d like.”

I walked into McDonalds with thirteen little ducks following behind me wearing their entire football uniform including their helmets. I told the server, “We’d like 14 medium Cokes please.” “Would you like anything else?” Patrick, our quarterback started to say something… “No. Nothing else. Just 14 medium Cokes,” I said.

We got our sodas and sat down in the dining room. We talked and laughed about the game. Once Cecil picked up a fumble and ran the wrong way. Fortunately, Patrick the fastest guy on our team caught up with Cecil and turned him around. We shared our hopes and dreams. Everyone was going to play for the Denver Broncos someday.

When we left McDonalds, all the kids would say, “Thanks Craig. Let’s do this again next Saturday.” And we would. Their gratitude was contagious and always lifted my spirit.

Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to confirm and encourage the continued embodiment of the faithful Christ-centered way of life. To live out our faith he writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Do we practice giving thanks for things big and small? A blue sky, a golden leaf, the soft cool breeze, a friendly hello, our next breath, a hot meal, and a warm bed? A cold pop? Do we find hidden blessings in the struggles and difficulties in life? This is a challenge.

When I first arrived in Mancos, I would visit an elderly lady at the Menefee Apartments. I’d knock on her door, and she would open it, smile, and say, “Thank you for coming Pastor!” She always insisted that I sit next to her living room window so I could see the sky and the tree outside her apartment. “Isn’t it lovely?” she would say. “I can see God’s beauty in that tree.” She never stopped talking about all the things she was thankful for. She lived alone and her kids rarely saw her. “Why are you so happy?” I asked. She got incredibly quiet. “I do get lonely. Sometimes I cry. But I know God’s love is all around me. It just makes me happy.”

Morris West wrote an autobiography late in life in which he said, “When you get to 75-years-old, your vocabulary should be pretty simple. You only need to have two words left, ‘Thank you.’” Father Ron Rolheiser states, “Gratitude is the mark of genuine maturity, of spiritual health.”

Gratitude is not always easy to come by. “We all have hurts, deep hurts. Nobody comes to adulthood, let alone to old age without being deeply hurt,” says Rolheiser. Alice Miller, a noted psychologist, says, “At a certain point in our lives the question is no longer, ‘Am I hurt?’ Rather it’s, ‘What is my hurt (my wound) and how can I move beyond it?’”

“Our only real choice is between bitterness and forgiveness, between anger and getting on with life.” To be grateful is to be forgiving. Diane Butler Bass says, “Gratitude calls us to continually remove defensive armor and create inner space where the spirit of God can live.” Paul knew that gratitude heals our wounds and restores us. As we grow more mature, with gratitude and grace we can walk with a “victorious limp” as Brennan Manning states. Our wounds can become sacred.

I remember that rag-tag team of 9- and 10-year-old kids well. We lost our last game, and the kids were mad. “That team was playing 13-year-old guys!” they yelled. “No, we just lost.” “They cheated.” “No, we just lost.” Finally, I went to the league director and asked him if he could check the birth certificates of the kids in question. I had a mutiny on my hand. The director checked and sure enough, the other team was playing 13-year-old kids against our 9/10-year-old kids.

We won by disqualification. Patrick moaned, “We won, but we didn’t get to celebrate after the game. That stinks.” Life does not always play fair. Sometimes we get short-changed. Our team still enjoyed our fourteen medium Cokes.

As far as I know, none of those kids ended up playing for the Denver Broncos. They are in their early forties now and I wonder how their lives have unfolded. I’m sure they’ve had some good times and some exceedingly tough times as well. I hope they still have deep gratitude for the simple things in life like a good laugh, friends, and a cold medium Coke from McDonalds.

May we give thanks each day.
May gratitude continually heal our hearts.

Blessings and peace,