What am I thankful for? Michael Payton
The last year has been full of new realities to adjust to. Between a global pandemic, times of vibrant political action, and a divisive election season, our country and the world at large have experienced a collective seismic shift of late. Amid this time, I've had plenty of opportunities to reflect on what I am truly thankful for. These things, I've found, are steadfast, even in days marked with uncertainty.
I am thankful for my family. They have been some of the most pleasant people to be quarantined with. Dad makes goofy noises of triumph when he does well at family game night, and while I may roll my eyes, there is something endearing about it. (Don't tell him I said that.) Mom and I have never had more chances to engage in long talks, something I would play sick to miss school for once upon a time. My brother Matthew, my lifelong best friend, has been a better roommate than I could have asked for back at UT. Technically he lives across the hall, but you get the point. If you've ever been with us at an overnight retreat or lock-in, you know our twin language; it is utter nonsense, but it never ceases to amuse us. I love these humans lots, but I can't leave our adorable dog, Ollie, out. He's so cute, it's like living with a teddy bear.
I'm thankful for my friends. In high school, I rounded up a band of brothers known as The Fellers. We would go for spontaneous nights at the movies, local joint Del's Charcoal Burgers, and innumerable raucous rounds of Cards Against Humanity. One time, we even turned an intimidating physics project into an evening of fun. We're unable to go out like we once did, but since everyone's in town, we have been able to assemble in our backyards for birthdays, film screenings, and get togethers. Last weekend, we even went camping. Every Friday and Sunday night, we have a movie night online, and usually stay up way late reminiscing about high school (all of two years ago). They've been with me through thick and thin, even sending me humorous messages last year when I was hospitalized, and FaceTiming me from prom when I was unable to go while in recovery.
This brings me to my last point: I'm thankful to be alive. About a year and a half ago, I had the biggest scare of my life, which has led to an ongoing balancing act with medication, therapy, and spirituality. This congregation pulled through for me, proving how literal the term "church family" is. I am ever grateful for all of the support the people of NorthPark Presbyterian Church showed, and I extend that gratefulness to the Texas Wesley in Austin. They taught me that Methodists too know how to have a good time. My Dad's cousin, Rusty, was in his last year as head minister when I showed up as a freshman, and that year was touched by a friendship which led me to see God in every person I meet. I was angry with God after the hospital; Rusty and the Texas Wesley crowd led me to the realization that "God is love," and "Love never fails" (1 John 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13:8).
These scriptures have connected me to the holy spirit as the manifesto for my spiritual beliefs moving forward. Between the marvels of medicine, therapy, and Christian love, I suddenly find myself living the best life I have ever led. I am happy as never before, despite the dour state of the world. My whole life has felt like an uphill battle, and somehow everyone but me had found a way to soldier on with ease. It never occurred to me that mere existence was more of a battle for my brain than it was for others. I now see the world with clarity.
I'm still my expressive, emotional, artistically-inclined self. Medication has been known to damper that, Tennessee Williams never wrote another play once he got treatment. I suppose that's one more thing to be thankful for: I'm still the full authentic me, but a healthier, happier me, and more in touch with God than ever before in my life.