7,430 Thankful Thoughts

There is a poster on the wall of a 4th grade classroom at York that caught my attention a couple years ago:

Watch your thoughts; They become words.

Watch your words; They become actions.

Watch your actions; They become habits.

Watch your habits; They become your character.

Watch your character; It becomes your destiny.

The message is both unsettling and hopeful – the idea that thought upon thought, action upon action can build into something as momentous as character and destiny. It makes me wonder, what kind of words and actions are on repeat around here?

The last few years I have been trying to foster the practice of gratitude. Knowing what the Bible, what research, and what wise, joyful people I know have to say about the positive impacts of gratitude gave me plenty of motivation to work on this.

In Ann Voskamp’s blog and her subsequent book, One Thousand Gifts, she described a challenge someone gave her to chronicle one thousand gifts in her life – things she was thankful for. The book is the outcome of that practice. She discovered that giving thanks for the life she already had – from the mundane, to the beautiful, to the hard and ugly – caused joy to invade heart and pointed her to God’s grace.

Four years ago this month, I started keeping my own list of thanks. I had already established the habit of rising every morning at the same time each day, before the rest of my family. Along with my cup of coffee, Bible, and prayers, the numbering of thanks began to repeat, day after day. I would reflect on the previous 24 hours, and as events, people, things, and words flashed by, I’d recognize the goodness they added to my life, and gave thanks to the Giver. I wrote them down, starting with number one.

After a short amount of time, I started noticing the gifts while they were happening instead of just remembering them the next day and realizing they were gifts. I’d hear little words and phrases spoken between my kids and delight in them. I’d see a pile of laundry overflowing and thank God that my family is always amply clothed. I smiled when I realized that we were out of milk because I knew how easy it was to hop in the car and pick up a gallon at the store.

When my life looked and felt like this, I could give thanks:

mess

This is not an uncommon scene in my kitchen. Why don’t I close cupboard doors? One of life’s mysteries. And in case you’re wondering, that is a bird’s nest in a tin pan in the bottom left corner.

My messy house, my chattering children, my husband, home later from work than I anticipated, were all numbered in my journal, and gratitude and joy slowly pervaded my character.

As of this writing, I have logged 7,430. Four years of counting and thanking, sometimes two or three a day, sometimes long lists, some days skipped entirely. Number 7,430: “John and Ellie exercising in the kitchen.”

Over the years, I have also attempted to cultivate gratitude in my kids, but honestly, it’s hit and miss. We have written things we’re thankful for on cut-out leaves and hung them on a tree, we have written things on cute post-its and stuck them on the window, I have encouraged my insomniac daughter to think of 20 things she is thankful for while trying to fall asleep, and when my son was having some rough days at school I encouraged him to hold up his hand, fingers spread and count five things he is thankful for whenever he felt sad. Extended family members joined the conspiracy and designed a game around the dinner table, seeing how quickly we could list 64 things we are grateful for (five minutes). I still hear a lot more grumbling than thanksgiving from my darlings’ mouths, but hopefully they are hearing the opposite ratio coming from mine.

I love that we have a holiday whose very name forces us to think about gratitude and the giving of thanks. Like New Years, this is a good time to begin or renew a pattern of thoughts, words, and actions that form a habit and cultivate character. Plus it’s just plain good for the soul and the souls of those around you.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Advertisements

Ok, September is Good, Too

Around mid-August, a little pit started in my stomach. Summer was almost gone! Only two weeks until my kids and I were to go back to school and work! Only two more weeks of lazy mornings, romps down to the river, kids sprawled with books on couches for hours at a time, swim lessons, berries, camping, spontaneous visits with friends, and forts and crazy art projects that take up large spaces of time and square footage. I think I mentioned before that I adore summer. And that spring can bring me to my knees in happiness because it means that summer is near.

Goggles

Well, August ended. The first day back to school (for me) arrived. One of my best friends works with me and she greeted me with excitement at reuniting with colleagues and friends. I looked around at the competent, caring teachers and staff who were also sad to say goodbye to summer but ready to tackle the 2014-2015 school year. I remembered the students and work ahead of me for which I had labored three years in graduate school, who challenge me to creatively solve problems, and make me laugh almost every day. Then one of my co-workers whispered, “you remind me of Angelina Jolie”, and that filled my bucket for the remainder of the inservice on longitudinal math data.

Momentum gathered as back-to-school night for my kids came and went, I attended a three-hour workshop on “Executive Functioning”, and new shoes were purchased. Our family gathered at a cottage in a pear orchard with two other families we regularly meet with through the fall, winter, and spring. The trees surrounding us were heavy with nearly-ripe fruit, perfectly formed and full, ready for harvest.

This summer has been a season of plenty for us. All summer long we have gorged ourselves with every good thing – friends, nature, beauty, learning, home-grown vegetables, family, rest. We are ready for fall’s harvest. We release our kids to their elementary school, I return to part-time employment and volunteer work, and John starts a new job at the Forest Service.

We renew our minds and bodies for schedules and discipline: wake up times, lunch-packing, homework, IEP-writing. We look forward to what the season holds: new friends, piano lessons, holidays, and visitors from Haiti. For the first time, John and I both have Fridays off together while the kids are at school from 9-3:30!

First Day of School 2014

The September harvest and scattering of our family reminds me how much I like my kids and miss them when they are away. Something I noticed the first week of school was that in the evenings, I found myself initiating interaction with my children (shocking, I know). One evening, after dinner at my in-laws, Ellie and Jack ran outside and I found myself following them to watch the bike riding and roller skating and cheerful chatter instead of my usual lingering at the dinner table among the adults and blessed adult conversation. Bedtime tucking-in this month has inspired longer conversations and extra hugs. Our weekday routine of Ten-Minutes-With-Mom after school has been reinstated after fading away last spring.

September is also good because actually, it’s still summer for about 70% of it! So, bedtime reading may take place at the river, summer squash and green beans straight from the vine grace the dinner table, and we can sneak in a couple camping trips before the month ends.

Paradise Creek

September has turned out to be full of goodness – hot, sunny days, reading in hammocks, adorable kindergartners who need speech therapy, and a cookout at the river with friends.

October may not be so bad either: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee. Amen.