Thankful Thoughts 2015

You know it’s getting close to Thanksgiving break when you start talking smack to a 5th grader about how your stuffing tastes better than his mom’s stuffing, instead of giving constructive feedback about his production of /s/ in the word “stuffing”.

stuffing

It’s Wednesday morning, and the kids and I are lounging around in our PJs. Ellie is snuggled up on the couch with Calvin and Hobbes, Jack is listening to a Christmas station on Pandora and playing with Snap Circuits. John’s working a half-day from home. I am sipping some eggnog coffee and having some Thankful Thoughts before the potato peeling begins.

Here is what comes to mind:

  • 15 years of marriage to a guy who gets better every year, who says and does hard things because they are right and good, and who adores me with a steadfast love that is more than I deserve. He is strong, smart, funny, thoughtful, trustworthy, and kind. Love him.

John and kids

  • Thousands of hugs and conversations and poignant and mundane moments with Ellie and Jack. These two color my days, shape me, delight me, and send me running to my compassionate Father.

kellars and mud

  • Our four parents who have learned the art of parenting adult children well. They give generously, encourage without criticism, love unconditionally, and are transitioning to a new stage of life with humility and grace.

_DSC7898blueberries

  • Our neighborhood elementary school. Five mornings a week I drop off my kids at its front door knowing that they are being received by a caring and competent staff. I am thankful that they welcome me in, too. Spending a few hours cutting and copying paper, stapling and removing staples, helping 2nd graders read and practice math facts, and sitting on uncomfortable cafeteria benches unexpectedly delights me every week. Ellie and Jack get their brains and their hearts filled up in this building – what more could I ask for?

Gause

  • Andy, Heidi, Elias, and Johnny, who moved to Washougal! We love having our family close enough to pop back and forth for bonfires, Saturday breakfast, tool swapping, kid swapping, and Angry Orchard brother counseling sessions.

Johnny

  • A new baby in the family! I’m so excited about the new niece or nephew growing in my sister.
  • My friend Tanya, who nagged me every Tuesday at work for four months before I finally agreed to exercise and hold her accountable to exercise three times a week. I hadn’t exercised regularly in almost 20 years, and while I was perfectly satisfied with the size of my jeans, the flesh underneath was rather wimpy and squishy. We started last April, and thanks to Jillian Michaels being “totally committed to making me stronger” and imploring me to “show up for my own life”, I have miraculously kept up with at least a twice weekly 20-minute exercise routine (stunning, I know). I still hate it Every Single Time, but I like that my abs and thighs can theoretically pass the “quarter test”. Thank you, Tanya, and thank you, Jillian.

ripped in 30

  • Speaking of friends, this hard core introvert is bowed-down thankful for the many relationships that enrich my life – too many to describe here. I think of my friend who lives five minutes away and, according to the children at our kids’ school, is my twin. Sometimes my house is a wreck, my face is without makeup, and my attitude is stinky, but I am just glad she’s coming over. She gives me “parenting fail” high-fives, and we laugh and intellectualize and agonize over the same things. Our husbands and kids are kindreds too, and every last conversation we have inevitably turns toward Jesus.
Heidi and Jenae

After nagging me for three years, John and the Kellars finally got me backpacking. Thankful for friends who wear you down for your own good.

  • These two families who fill up their vans and drive over to our house two Sundays a month. The six of us adults and our 10 kids eat dinner together, clean up together, pray together, disciple each other, drink tea together, and laugh together.

life group

  • I have brothers and sisters scattered across the globe who have richly colored my heart. Pablo, Sarah, Johny, Rosadite, Liz, Mercy, Lorna, Janet, Bassam – you are my heroes and sometimes I can’t even believe the grace that has allowed me to share a bit of my life with yours. jenae and mercy

A friend said something like this to me this week: “wouldn’t it be nice if we could just know that everything will turn out ok?” I have been painfully reminded this year, this week even, that the future we imagine for ourselves is uncertain, and each day is a gift. I am thankful for the hope I have in Christ, and that God has given me eyes to see his good gifts and people to share them with. I am thankful for the heroes out there who live life well, no matter how many days or dollars or healthy cells they have.

Finally, I’m thankful for Ree. Because of her, my stuffing is going to be awesome tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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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