Every fourth Thursday of November in the United States of America is a humble holiday tucked between two megastars, Halloween and Christmas. When November 1st arrives, the orange and black is cleaned up in the aisles and, in a blink, red and green appears. The only glimpse of Thanksgiving may be one or two sad little turkeys on an endcap. Yes, Thanksgiving is like the Off Broadway hit settled for because the big extravaganza of Broadway was too pricey. In the past, I have felt a societal rush to breeze by Thanksgiving and ready for December 25th. However, this year, I’ve sensed an expectancy around Thanksgiving from a culture longing to return to basics.
For fifteen years, I’ve been married to a guy who is all about enjoying the basics of life. Chris has consistently been an easy-going guy, not swayed by the latest and greatest. With this said, Chris is a huge fan of Thanksgiving. He grew up in a family where not only was his dad a firefighter, but also a co-owner of their family-run business, a chicken market in Queens, NY. Chris worked aside his dad and uncle from a young age doing chores that most young kids would never willingly sign up for. Yet, Chris talks about those days of hard work with fondness. Especially the season of Thanksgiving, the busiest season at the chicken market. Stories are told of long hours as they served many people who came to buy a fresh turkey for the centerpiece of their family gathering. When the shop doors closed on Wednesday evening, Chris’ family took home a turkey with a broken wing, the dejected turkey the centerpiece of their modest celebration. The plethora of food has always been a favorite for Chris, but beyond that, he enjoys that Thanksgiving comes with no pretense. There are no gifts to buy or hullabaloo surrounding it. It’s a day to gather, fellowship, give thanks and eat. Simple.
Unlike Chris, I’ve never had any special connection to Thanksgiving. I’ve always been a person ready to breeze by the 4th Thursday of November and dig into the details of Christmas. But, a few years back, it all changed. It began when I heard buzz surrounding a certain book. It wasn’t November, but January 2013, the beginning of a new year. The book was entitled One Thousand Gifts by author, Ann Voskamp. From listening to the conversation, I essentially knew the book was about God and gratitude. The topic interested me, but I was skeptical. I was confident I already knew about gratitude. Yes… I’m supposed to give thanks. I’m supposed to seek out ways God is good in my life and offer gratitude. “How is this book going to shed any new light on gratitude?” I thought. In addition, the cover of the book had a beautiful nest with eggs on the cover. And, while I know I’m not to judge a book by its’ cover, I couldn’t help but think this would be a light and fluffy read.
Well… how wrong I was. I opened the first page to be swept away by Ann’s descriptive, raw writing style. She begins the first chapter describing a tragic accident in her childhood. Her younger sister was toddling in the farm lane of the family farm when a delivery truck accidentally hits her. Her sister tragically dies. Ann shares this story in Chapter One to explain how this event in her family’s life closed them to the notion of God’s grace. She eloquently questions whether there can be a good God. She writes, “Where is God, really? How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind?… Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt?” (p. 12)
Her questions hit me to my core, because truthfully, I, too, had asked similar ones. Reading news headlines filled with tragic despair, watching undeserving loved ones receive an unfair hand and experiencing difficult circumstances in my life prompted me to wonder about God’s goodness. I was in awe of Ann’s bravery to ask such questions and needed to keep reading to see how she would resolve such soulful questions. It isn’t too much further, when Ann is challenged by a friend to write down 1000 things she loves and her journey of gratitude begins.
In the past, I had attempted to keep gratitude journals. I dutifully wrote my list and about a week in, got bored and gave up. I decided I could live without one more list in my life. It didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference. However, as Ann’s story continues, she takes head on finding thanksgiving, grace, and joy in the hardships of life. This captivated me. She wasn’t merely looking for pie-in-the-sky happy moments, but glimpses of God in the grit. She was on a search for the light in the darkness. This was something I didn’t know how to do but desperately wanted to. I was intrigued and challenged by this notion of God’s presence in the hurt. When life seems to be crumbling, how am I to give thanks?
In February 2013, I decided to give a gratitude journal another shot; my goal to write as Ann had: 1000 things I love. I began my day early, before my kids arose from their slumber. I’d scan the previous day writing down anything that came to mind. They were simple things like laughter, a starry sky, a plate of cookies, my favorite coffee mug, quiet, lunch with friends, snuggles on the couch. Nothing seemed extraordinary about this list. But, I stuck with it. Finding what I love became a treasure hunt. A practice to see what was (obviously) right in front of me all along, but that which I had never noticed before.
As life continued, little aggravations occurred in my days. My personal challenge was to search out one thing I could be grateful for in the midst of the aggravation. But, before long, tougher hardships were pressing. Difficult health issues were arising for several dearly loved people in my life. I was certainly not grateful for harsh health conditions. But, determined to mine for one small nugget, I looked. Thank you, God, for friends and family praying for us. Thank you, God, for the wisdom of doctors and nurses. Thank you, God, for food dropped off. Thank you, God, for safe travel. Thank you, God, for hugs.
As I wrote, I was surprised to find, indeed, there were things to give thanks for. And, I was more convinced than ever to to keep writing daily. I continued to find much of what I wrote was simple, every day stuff. Somehow, by naming it, the every day stuff became holy. By slowing down to name the specifics, I began to see how God loves me. Through friends. Through food. Through nature. Through Scripture. Through music. Through breath. And on and on. I reached my 1000 gifts of thanksgiving in November 2013. But, I couldn’t stop. So, I started over and wrote God’s gifts for another year. After two years of regularly writing that which I loved and gave thanks for, something shifted in me. A Godly transformation: an ability to see gratitude in both demanding situations and joyful celebrations.
Nowadays, the practice of gratitude is part of our family life. Each Sunday evening is our night of thanks at the dinner table. We recall something from the week of which we are grateful for. It’s become something we look forward to. Recently, Luke was having a bad day exceedingly frustrated by life. I suggested we name together ten things we are grateful for. He reminded me how difficult an attitude of gratitude can be. He began the list by mumbling under his breath. By the time we reached ten, he hadn’t changed his tone of voice or stance much. But, that was okay. As a mom, I have the chance to plant a seed in his life showing him even in the hardships of life, a light is shining.
I thought I knew about gratitude. And, I did. My head knowledge telling me to give thanks was right on track. But, I hadn’t been actively practicing it. Only when I put pen to paper and diligently began to practice is when the Spirit of God worked in me to shift my view. Appropriately, I completed both years of my lists in the month of November, the month with the simple holiday. Not only did I transform, but Thanksgiving did. In my life, Thanksgiving shifted from a once a year holiday that I couldn’t wait to breeze through to an every day opportunity. A day by day hunt for grace, joy and God’s goodness. From this, a simple truth emerged: Life is truly better with Thanksgiving.
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19 NIV)
Consider searching for the metaphorical bread in your life. What is aiding you to get through each day? Offer your thanks for these every day gifts.
With a Child:
Let’s name ten people we are thankful for. You go, then I’ll go.
If you have 4 minutes: 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
Ann’s free Joy Dare can be found over here