Thanksgiving is barely over. The highway home was crowded with others like me who had visited family for a few days.

Aside from a couple extra pounds, one thing I brought back with me was actually, well, 8 things. My old photo albums from high school, college, and beyond. They’d been in my mom’s shed in a box for about 20 years, when I first left to live overseas. I had not looked at them since.

Flipping through the photo albums that chronicled my adult life was like rediscovering myself, liketry1-2 reassembling scattered, forgotten pieces of my identity. I needed that wash of memories to bring me back to the previous chapter and stitch it together. You see, when I left Europe three years ago to return permanently to the U.S, after nearly a quarter of my life spent there, I closed the door on a life, a career, a culture…and opened another one.

Not that I’ll never go back to France. Au contraire, as often as possible! But turning the pages of the photo albums and seeing myself at different stages of my adult life led me to one overwhelming thought…gratitude. What a life God has given me up to now. Ups, downs, and everything between. It was a tapestry of growth, uncertainty, trying things, failing, succeeding…and seeing God’s faithfulness through it all.

It is a temptation for all of us, I’m guessing, to look backward and feel a pinch or more of regret, not only for the things we didn’t do, but for what we didn’t have. One person regrets not having children, another not having a spouse, or a good marriage that lasted, or a linear career path. Circumstances didn’t grant these to us, and maybe we played our part too…and yet, how much better to look at what we DID have over those years. Health? Good friends? Memorable experiences? We can’t have everything, but there are plenty of blessings to consider, if we look in that direction.

Now I’m middle-aged, I guess you could say (But please don’t say it! I can remain in denial a bit longer!) with a birthday hovering near. Maybe that makes one reflective. I’m not sure what I’ve learned from paging through my old photo albums. Maybe not so much learning as stopping the whirlwind to see the whole of life, and all its varied ingredients bringing me to where I am today. Again, this surge of thankfulness rises and surrounds me. How fitting, just after Thanksgiving.

The future is exciting too, but I don’t want to forget that elements all along my life from its inception will contribute to whatever the future will be.

Stop. Remember. Savor the life you have. And each day, start the day…thankful.