Every year during the month of November, our nightly prayers at dinner are written on leaves. Each meal before we partake, we write what we are thankful for and then we share what we wrote as a prayer. Some nights it is comical and some nights it feels serious. Some nights the gratitude rolls off our tongue and other nights my husband will look at me with struggle in his eyes because it has been one of those days. Each person says “God I am thankful for….” and then shares. We then hang up our leaves on our thankful tree. And each year, as December approaches, our tree blooms with hues of green, orange, yellow and brown leaves, each of which tell a story.
This tradition has us keeping the leaves from year to year and we can look at the years past with fondness. We can see prayers answered. We can remember meals we shared with great friends. We can take note of how much things have changed over time, and yet gratitude remains.
My children’s handwriting was barely legible when we began this tradition and the depth of what they are thankful for has grown tremendously. This year they don’t just write one thing on a leaf, but write a word for each bend and curve of the leaf. Each night on their own accord, they both tell God they are thankful for “Him, dad, mom, and each other.” When you remind those you take for granted most, those you disappoint most, those who see your insides most, when you remind them you are grateful for them, it does wonders. Gratitude might be as healing for a family as any medicine can be for a wound.
Today I stand at the tree and see a friend’s handwriting “thankful for the storms of life.” In the midst of living a story she never wanted to tell, she pulls gratefulness out of all she learns. I see another leaf and it says “I am thankful for a warm house.” It is the writing of guest who walked in and felt the heat of the fireplace, saw the light of the candles and smelled the ham and black bean soup with cilantro and in response to her senses, simply felt grateful. Gratitude is universal and it draws people together. We can resonate with what another is grateful for. But most of all gratitude is not just felt, but it is taught.
The other night as we sat down to dinner, I announced that we had run out of leaves. I needed to make more. It was late, we were tired and grumpy and just needed to have dinner. So I suggested we skip the leaf tradition and just pray. Everyone agreed and then Bella piped up, “We can still be grateful without the leaves. Let’s still go around and share what we are thankful for.”
She was absolutely right. Being thankful is never about aesthetics. Being grateful is never about having all that you need or want. Being grateful isn’t about things being perfect. Each one of us can always find things to be grateful for. And sometimes even if you don’t feel like it or you want to get on with things, you need to stop and intentionally enter gratefulness. It is probably in the moments you least feel grateful that it best to be grateful. I saw in an 8 year old a spiritual discipline that has formed in her. Gratitude is so ingrained in her that something “lacking” is not going to keep her from gratitude.
Now read that last sentence again.
Something lacking should not keep you from gratitude. Is that not the whole idea of gratitude? I looked across the dinner table and realized that if my baby is ever lonely, she will still be grateful. If she is ever lacking financial means, she will still be able to say “I am grateful for….” If she ever sits at a table and one of us no longer takes up residence in a chair, she deeply understands gratitude. It has become a part of her. Gratitude cannot come only with plenty. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but gratitude does. Gratitude is a place deep within that you can draw from even when you lack because you have gone to that place so many times. It is the place that has learned to look for God and His blessings so often that you can’t help but be grateful. Live out of Thanksgiving into your daily life. Thanksgiving is not a day, but a place. Thanksgiving. Stay there. Your life’s tree will be abundant with color when you do.