I am often a thankless person. I can spend an entire day in a mindset that hesitates to find gratitude. I think it’s called a bad attitude. I can also get so hyper busy trying to take on my to do list that I fail to pause and recognize the blessings surrounding me. And I can spend more time thinking about what I want, than what I now have. Maybe you do this too?
The antonym of the word thankful is thankless. It is also ingratitude, unappreciative, condemnation and censure. I don’t think my spirit, deep down is a thankless one. I think I just don’t make space to be thankful. And I think thankfulness comes out a place that intentionally seeks to find it. If the height of our thankfulness comes every year for the 10 seconds we each say what we are thankful for around the Thanksgiving meal, we have yet to discover the depth of where gratitude can lead us.
As I think about the last year and the moments that I experienced true gratitude, there was something specific about each of them. Let me try and describe a few.
One night this summer, the kids and I decided to sleep out on the deck. I used to do this almost every night by myself in the summer as a kid. I loved it. I love sleeping in the fresh air. I love the air on my cheeks. I love the quiet and the peace it brings. And mostly I love the stars. Aidan and Bella and I got out as many blankets as we could find. We raided the linen closet, if you will. We pumped up an air mattress, threw those blankets on top, got in our cozy clothes and then tucked in. We, of course, looked for the big dipper and then the little dipper. We giggled and told stories, but mostly we looked for shooting stars. The idea of a shooting star still mesmerizes me. I still feel like I did when I was a girl, like a wish will come true if I see one. But now I have two kids and my greatest wish is that I will get to watch them grow up. Under the stars, I come under a big, big God with my little people and as small and insignificant as I may feel, I know God meets me. He meets us. He is Big and yet so personal, meeting us in the small and the ordinary. God made the shooting stars and He also hears my wishes. I don’t even have to utter their words. Psalm 136:7 says “Give thanks to Him who made the heavenly lights— His faithful love endures forever.”
All you have to do to be overwhelmed by gratitude is to sit under the stars.
This summer our family went on vacation to one of our favorite places, Kelowna, Canada. We were in great need of time together. We had been away for a variety things, but all with other people, and we love our people, but we needed to say no to other opportunities and say yes to connecting as a family of four. I found myself so many times on that trip in a matter of seven days with a heart overflowing with gratitude.
And you know what it was? It was turning off the phone, shutting down Facebook, taking zero pictures to post for other people, and not looking at the intraweb. It was not answering anyone’s calls, not putting out any fires, not giving any advice and not being a call away. It was not checking voice mail, not texting, not responding to every ping, every vibrate and every email. It was not using any emojis for a whole week. It is amazing what happens when we intentionally shut out the world wide web and all of its voices. We start talking. To each other. We start looking at each other in the eyes. We get bored. And we actually like it. We have dance parties. We play Gin Rummy 500. We go on bike rides. We make up dumb games and act childlike. We swim under each others legs in the pool and try to do 40 year old hand stands. We pull groin muscles. We ask unnecessary questions that lead to necessary conversations. We say thank you to each other and to God.
I love what Psalm 23 says: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. …
You know when you realize you lack nothing? It’s usually not when you leave the mall, a car lot or the signing of your new house mortgage. It’s usually when you are lying down in a green pasture or sitting beside a beach and listening to the waves crash on the shore or walking a trail surrounded by maple trees losing their leaves. You usually experience the kind of clarity that brings thankfulness when you allow God to lead you beside quiet waters. It is there He refreshes your soul and when your soul is refreshed, you can say thank you. You get to a place where you can even say thank you when your teenagers are being punks, when you are experiencing grief or when you are still wanting what you do not need. So turn everything off and say thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thankfulness is found when you say yes to God’s lead to lie down, slow down, and closedown.
This past year I got vertigo. I was so dizzy for months due to a neck trauma that I fell down a flight of stairs and crashed into a wall breaking through sheetrock. I fell into my friend Breeze. Everything was spinning and the couch became the only place I felt safe.
Do you know what vertigo is? It’s when your equilibrium is off. Apparently we have within our inner ear, a little pouch that contains something like a thousand little ear rocks that send signals to our brain guiding our sense of up and down. And did you know that when just one of those little rocks that rest on your ear hairs gets knocked off, you lose your balance. And when you lose your balance, you can’t exercise, you can’t drive, you can’t work well… It felt like all I could do was try to hold still and keep the world from spinning. When have I ever said “God thank you for my ear hairs.” Never ever have I prayed that prayer! But I tell you what, I now pray it all the time! Thank you God for the equilibrium that keeps me standing straight today!
I like what Robert Louis Stevenson says: “The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you.” When is the last time you said “thank you” for the things nearest you?
Gratitude finds you saying thanks for the simplest of things.
The other day Bella was nearing the end of a week of having the flu. She still couldn’t go to school but was getting bored at home. She walked downstairs with her baby book. And by baby book, I mean a book that has no pictures, it holds cards only because Lord knows I don’t scrapbook. They were cards written by the women who came to my baby shower. Each woman wrote a note to “Baby Weston” before they ever met her. These women had written beautiful prayers over Bella, they shared some silly things about us, her parents, and they encouraged Bella in who God would make her to be. So much life has happened in the women’s lives who wrote those cards over a decade ago; death, divorce, adoption, career changes, more babies. Baby Bella Weston is now 12 and can read the cards herself. So she sat next to me and did just that. She got to one and warned me it would be sad.
She read the card aloud, closing with “Love, Grandma Weston.”
Bella looked at me and said “I miss her.”
I said “I miss her too.”
At the same time that we felt sad that we no longer had grandma, we also shared a gratitude, that we once did.
Gratitude can even come when you make space to look back and see that though you experienced loss, you also experienced love.
I recently got word that our dear friend’s kiddo was in the hospital for a serious illness and they had found irregularities on his brain. He spent weeks in the hospital while his brain was swelling and he was having seizures and the doctors were trying to assess what was going on. Caleb is one of those kids that lights up a room. He sings, he dances, he tells jokes, he does impersonations, and he makes it his mission to make everyone laugh. When his mom, Sarah told me about Caleb’s serious situation, I begged God. Now, I don’t mean to make myself sound spiritual because I often fail to pray or I pray rote prayers or I pray because I am expected to and all the other weird things we unconsciously do or don’t do around prayer. But this was different. I begged God. I said “God I am begging you…” And then I begged. I came before the only One who has the power to do anything in circumstances like this and I pleaded with Him on behalf of this very special kid.
Now just a few days ago, I just got word that Caleb is being released from the hospital! I am so so grateful and relieved! And you know what? I didn’t say thank you. I forgot. I moved on to the next prayer, the next task, the next mission, the next thing I wanted. I didn’t stop and say thank you to the One who quite potentially heard me and many others begging on behalf of Caleb and brought relief. I forgot to say thanks.
Meister Eckhart said: “The most important prayer in the world is just two words long: “Thank you.”
Thankfulness comes when we don’t chalk answered prayers up to the way the story was always going to go because that’s how we wanted it to go. Thankfulness comes when we stop confusing miracles with coincidences.
Thankfulness comes when we stop and actually say “Thank you.”
I have so many more moments that welled up in me a thankfulness this year, too many to share. There was the river rafting accident that took me under a sweeper this summer while my husband watched, thinking I might not come back up. There was the MRI that came out clear. There were all the learning lessons that gave me the chance to do things differently next time. There were the opportunities placed before me that catalyzed one thing that catalyzed another. I could keep going but this I know: Thankfulness, we must intentionally make space for it. It often shows itself in the extraordinary ordinary places. And your response to God can be as simple and profound as “Thank you.”