The Grace that is Gratitude

I am walking along, feet feeling chafed along the inside of my sneakers. These shoes are wearing thin. And I feel the many miles I have walked in them so very much tonight. Feel the tired, the exhaustion, feel the weariness. But with the sunset in the distance, the wind at my back- it is a good night to take pause for thought. A good night to think and wonder at the life I have been given.

Even as I call to mind- first the few minor irritants in my day-to-day life; those things that cause me slight annoyance and minor setbacks (and then, later recalling the good- is not that just the way: glass half-full!), I am reminded that these are still gifts for which to be thankful. For we are called to be thankful in everything. Not only in the good, in the pleasant, and in the enjoyable: but to give thanks in everything.

In everything?

Even in those moments we feel we have failed?
In those moments we feel we have been wronged?
In those moments we feel we have been misunderstood?
Even then?
In those moments when we’ve been slighted, offended, hurt or angered? Then?
Even then?

Oh, but yes, offer thanks in everything. For in offering gratitude in everything, that blanket of grace that covers and permeates all, we open the door for understanding more of what we were meant to know about thanksgiving. In everything, we learn. In all our life experiences, we come to know, come to understand. Come to glean meaning about ourselves, about the others whom we share this living space, and about God’s compassionate, merciful, holy love.

So even when we have little to be grateful for, it is still enough. Little is much. It is enough. There is always something to cling to, always something on which to build a foundation of gratitude. Even if only for the little things we count as graces.

When thinking of what we don’t have, let us remember what we do have.
When thinking of what we want, let us be grateful we have what we need.
When thinking of how we have been wounded, let us remember where we have been healed.  When thinking of wrongs in our lives, let us focus for mere moments on what has gone right? For in so doing, we will shift our thinking just enough to allow the room gratefulness needs to make a difference.

And always remember:

“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.”
-Alan Cohen

For the Bitter and the Sweet

Coffee on the veranda

I pick up my scorched oven mitts off the damp, October ground, leaving flakes of charred material and black soot on the earth to mark the spot. There since midnight, they are a testament to the previous night’s disaster. Bright red cloth contrasting with charcoal black. Stationary, since I threw them out the door, onto the step and then again onto the grass where I proceeded to hose them down until the flames subsided—all after they had caught on fire from the heat emitted from my oven burner. And this: because I had brushed the knob of the burner (ever so gently) as I reached into the cupboard for a bowl. Having sat back down at my computer to type, I was oblivious to the smolder, until smoke began to curl around the cupboard, up toward the ceiling: alerting me to the calamity.

If I had only:
Not wanted a cookie.
Not reached for the bowl.
Not brushed the knob.
Not left the oven mitts on the burner.

If I had only.

Life is wrought with “if onlys”.

This week has been a series of unfortunate events, a series of “if onlys”…or so it seems. There is always something to complicate the day. Be that arriving late for appointments, forgetting appointments, or scheduling too many appointments. Be that day-to-day complications like not enough sleep, sickness and low energy. Be that bigger-than-everyday complications like additional work meetings, late night projects, lost luggage, health concerns, and worries that go deeper than surface level. Add to the list, if you will: parenting issues, relationship issues, marriage issues. Life.

There is just always something.

How can we say thanks when life is just not what we want it to be? How can we say thanks when things are just not how we wish they were? How can we say thanks when we don’t FEEL particularly thankful for everything we’ve been given? Giving thanks for both the little things on our ever filling plate…along with the bigger things that make our lives chaotic and stressful?

Is it even possible?

I wake up in the morning to the smell of the charred remains of the previous day. Add to this, the cheesecake boiled over in the oven last night so I now realize that I have the pleasure of a pre-breakfast, ‘make-work’ project. I can now officially confirm that I will be late for church. And on the very day that I have to lead the singing.

I can feel the resentment rising within. Give thanks for this?

How easily I forget that gratitude is a state of the heart. A choice of the soul embracing life in its fullness, both the bitter and the sweet. Joel Osteen: “One of the main reasons that we lose our enthusiasm in life is because we become ungrateful..we let what was once a miracle become common to us. We get so accustomed to his goodness it becomes a routine..”

Life is hard. Of a truth: it is not easy. But it is always a miracle, a gift to have the opportunity to live.

The air in our lungs.
The roof over our head.
The clothes that cover.
The shoes that fit.
The water we drink.
The food we intake.
For the everyday, commonplace miracles of life.  For both the bitter and the sweet.
We are eternally grateful.

This thanksgiving I offer gratitude for the miracles. Everyday and otherwise. They are what cause me to remember how much I have.

And impress on me how much I must be grateful.

Wonderings {on gratitude}

What would our prayers be like if we focused them around the things, people and situations in our lives for which we didn’t feel overly grateful? Thanking God for the things we’d sooner we DIDN’T have…rather than asking Him for things we DON’T have and want/desire.

I wonder.

Would we then appreciate more the difficulty and trouble we see as obstacles in our lives, viewing these instead as blessings in disguise? Would it make us more grateful? More appreciative? Would we realize that these difficulties are things that make us and shape us into beautiful people, stretching our hearts so that they can hold more love?

I wonder.

Would that gratitude that was grown and cultivated cause us to give more love? To be love to those around us- even to the ones we are ungrateful for? I truly wonder.

What would happen if we were grateful for things like the following:

Snow and other weather related annoyances
Dirt and mud and soggy grass
Messes (both large and small)
Chores
Work/employment/jobs
Inconveniences (make this one personal)
People who rub us the wrong way
Mundane activities (you name one)
People who offend us
People who challenge us
Financial issues
Health and its challenges
Marriage and its complexity
Relationships and their intricacy
Pain and its hardship
Loss and sorrow

What if the pain in our lives was there to teach us gratitude and how to offer words of thanks for each and every moment we’ve been given…as if everything we’d been given was a gift? For is it not?

We are owed nothing. We come into this world naked. We leave the same way. What happens in between is ours to use as an offering of gratitude, as we can. As we are able. So that we can grow in grace and understanding. So that we can grow in compassion and empathy. So that we can reach out to people in our circles of influence and show those people care. Trouble is here in our lives so as to move us toward something. Might it move us to love? Move us closer toward the Author of gratitude Himself?

Might it cause us to be a grateful people?
Making us mindful of who we are, what we have and what we can give as an outpouring of our gratitude.

Might it open our eyes to a whole new way of living?

“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.”― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

And echoing these beautiful words, I say: I want to be grateful.

For today, for all my tomorrows and for each day that leads towards always, even after that.

Does Being Average Make you Happier?

We are finishing up supper when a knock comes to the door. It is a family friend and acquaintance that we recently hired to construct a bookshelf for us just arriving for a quick check-in about a piece he’s already built. He wonders if it fits okay over the radiator. It does. In fact, it’s a perfect fit.

Earlier this month, this gentleman arrived in the middle of supper hour and spent the better part of the evening talking to both Husband and I about our dreams for our family room. What were we wanting him to fashion as an entertainment unit to house our most beloved pictures, books and games? At what level would we want our entertainment system to be set? What style should the framework be? What vision did we have?

As we talked, it became increasingly clear that this man cared a great deal about his work- and even more so, cared about our ideas, our thoughts and opinions. To illustrate my point, he had talked to Husband about some additional thoughts he had for this unit on the Sunday past- proving to me that if we were paying him for his time, we’d owe him for the incredible amount of thought he’s invested in considering our best options. You don’t get this kind of service from the box stores. To have him drive from town this evening for a five-minute drop-in just to check whether the piece he was building fit neatly in place, meant a lot.

In fact, it’s priceless in MasterCard terms.

Some might say that everyday people such as our retired friend who make furniture for pleasure- such as you or I, us plain-folk people: some might say we are not the ones that make this world turn. Not the ones who are the real movers and shakers. I read a quote about mediocrity lately and it said that being average should be feared- should push us to our limits, causing us to reach our true potential. Whatever that means.

To be honest, some of the most average people in my life have made the biggest impact. We don’t remember the chance encounters we have with celebrities (if we have them at all) nor do we chalk up as the most life-changing, the brief glimpses into the world of the extraordinary as the part of life that we could not live without. It is the average, everyday people and pleasures of life that we count as life’s greatest blessings.

After my last two posts on being average, I decided to share an article I found on-line and read called “The joy of being average” found at “http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2014/03/13/the-joy-of-being-average/  In the article, the author Sam expounds on the joys of being average, highlighting such benefits to life as lowered expectations, more safety, more happiness, less restrictions, more freedom, less pressure, among other benefits. In the article, he poses the question: should we continuously try to live up to our potential? Sam concludes that ‘no’, we should not feel that pressure- it is ours to choose how we live our lives, how we use or don’t use our potential.

I contend: there is joy in acceptance as well. I feel that in accepting that our lives are short, fragile and fleeting helps us to put perspective on things. Who are we really trying to impress? What really matters? What are the most important things in life? What decisions are the most crucial?

What really makes the difference?

Celebrity, both at local, regional, national and international levels, as enticing as it might look and seem, is just a mirage. The people behind the celebrity still have to get up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.  They still live and die. And so do we.

The question should not be based on how to live up to one’s truest potential but rather focused on perspective: how can I live my life with joy and contentment? Gratitude and grace? And what non-essentials can I eliminate so that I don’t miss the boat and waste this one chance I have at truly living life well?

Being average isn’t a wasted opportunity, a shameful decision.  Living simply is not to squander one’s life; but chasing after dreams that are only a mirage certainly are.  Life is beautiful- even when it is average, ordinary and simple, and living an average life is more than admirable when we can do so with joy and contentment. When we choose to embrace the life we’ve been given, average isn’t ordinary.

It’s amazing. Truly amazing.

Giving is the way to gratefulness

When we count our blessings in the midst of life’s brutal storms, rather than waiting for the sunny days with warmth and light and gentle breezes to appear, it is truly the greater sacrifice. As those watching from without, there is nothing so admirable as observing someone with very little making a great deal about what they do have, however small and humble.

Gratitude can be experienced even when the outlook is dismal, can be presented even when the offering is slight. For even when the pool from which we gather is shallow and lacking in resources, there is still something there.

There is always something in which to be thankful.

It matters not what we’ve been given- we still must find the words to offer thanks.

He was feeling low again- not really in that frame of mind to offer gratitude. Not really in that mode of thinking, really. How can one offer praise when life feels destitute of joy, bereft of common everyday pleasure? He really wasn’t able to pick himself up either, like he sometimes could. Couldn’t rise to the day. It was like he’d been beaten down one too many times and the game was now over. He was ready to throw in the towel.

But she reminded him again of his call to chronicle gratitude. Reminded him of all that he’d already found in which to offer thanks. The five gifts he had committed to finding each and every day- small offerings of gratitude to a Father of good and perfect gifts. And even though it was hard- even though it wasn’t easy, he promised her he would still look for something in which to offer thanks.

And while he was looking for those small five in which to portray his day, something else happened. He started to notice people around him. People just like him, all in need of finding a gift. And as he was noticing people, he began hearing people too. Hearing their hearts, sensing their needs, listening to their stories. And he realized that he could not only count gifts, he could offer them to others as well.

And so he did. He offered a small gift.

And that one, small seemingly insignificant gift- it made all the difference for him. And for her- because she wasn’t expecting it- and to be truthfully honest, neither was he. But because he realized that he was still a giver, still a messenger of hope, he was able to stand in the gap. Even with the limitations of his life and struggle.

Actually, in spite of them.

We all can find gifts- that treasure trove of life that we each have been gifted with. But even more than this, we can all be givers: can give something each day to someone else. We can be the gift. Can be one of the five that another counts as a blessing on their gratitude list. For when we give the gift, rather than merely counting it as acquired, we come to understand:

Giving is the very best way to experience gratitude.

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Experiencing the light {Counting Blessings}

I stand at the gable window, pausing momentarily to fold a blanket and set it on the window seat. It is 7:30 a.m., and I am in the midst of morning routines. So much to do, and so little time in which to get it all done.

What I wish is that I could go back to bed.

As I come out of Daughter’s bedroom, I notice the glow of daybreak through the upper window. Just this once- instead of rushing past to make the bed (without a thought to anything else happening in the universe)- I pause. Catching a glimpse, as I do of pink and purple ribbons extending out across the sky. Just a quick glimpse from the corner of my eye, but it is enough to stop me in my tracks. Pastel hues, as if stolen from an artist’s palette, wash light over grey horizons in a glorious watercolor display. I am awe-struck for several moments as I try to capture in my mind this picture I have been afforded.

A defining interlude in my day.

My mind could never quite do justice to what I am viewing from our upstairs window just now. This image is so exquisite, so rare (if only for the reason that most mornings I miss it). So I run for my half-charged cell phone in an effort to seize the moment; when I return, color is spreading ever wider out from the source, reaching further across the sky. I watch as beams of sunlight extend towards the grey, barren landscape, touching treetops and brushing snow-covered fields, illuminating as they move in regal formation. I watch while frosted roads kissed with color reflect the light. And I cannot help but delight in the wonder that is the shoulder of our road, which runs parallel to our old farm house, as it blushes in rose-tinted tones that reflect the beauty of the sky. The world, a painting in progress, and I am witness to the art unfolding.

“Look at the sky!” I call to my son. “Even the ground is pink.”

We stand in silence for a moment. But then reality sets in again and reminders of the day ahead dictate the schedule. Lunch orders to fill out, bags to pack, beds to make, laundry to wash. Rush, rush. Hustle, hustle. We move about with hardly a conscious thought to the wonder to which we just were given front row seats. Rushing through breakfast routines. Rushing through bed-making. Rushing to the van to make it to work/school on time. Forgetting commitments and then remembering them just in time. And realizing that it is duty day and someone has the wrong boots packed for the weather- just another highlight (low light). And it quickly becomes a day in which I find myself rushing everywhere, noticing little along the way.

But isn’t every day the same? And in all the rushing, I find myself just putting in time as I count down the minutes until each hour is over. Counting down hours until the day is done again.

This is no way to live.

Much later, we talk on the phone, she and I- chatting about this, that and the other, when she tells me that he has started counting little gratitudes. Counting blessings. I am touched by this- knowing what a test this will prove to be. He, who appears to have seemingly very little of which to be thankful for (at this point in the game), has taken up the challenge to count the ways in which he is grateful. And she mentions that he’s starting by noticing the little things- things that might mean nothing to anyone else- but which mean everything to those who have been challenged to be grateful.

Little blessings that mean everything to him.

I conjure up an image of him taking part in this ritual of counting gratitudes: and in my own mind, I am humbly inspired. For isn’t this the way? The way to truly experience light?

Light shines when we choose gratitude.

And yet, it isn’t until this very moment that I truly see light today, although I have witnessed the glorious natural wonder that is the sunrise from the vantage of my window. It isn’t until now- as darkness covers everything a velvet black- that I experience light. For in choosing to focus inward on that which envelopes me in darkness, I cannot see the truth of daylight, cannot appreciate the joy that is today. It is only in allowing the light to penetrate my soul that I am free.

So I too begin to number my many gratitudes, naming them one at a time. And I finally realize what I have been missing all along: the opportunity to make each moment as worthwhile as those precious minutes I spent drinking in a mid-winter sunrise early on a Monday morning. It’s all light if we allow it to shine.

And so. Like him, I will count- for if he can do this from a hospital bed with far less at his disposal, then so can I. I will name my gratitudes.

1. Steaming hot coffee in a tall mug.
2. Raisin bread toast laced with cinnamon.
3. Helpers at recess.
4. Laughs at bedtime with my girls.
5. Unexpected emails that make my day.

And of course there are always others. But for today, I am comforted by the light that I have already witnessed, this ritual of counting moving me ever closer to the Source of light as I name my little and big gratitudes, putting words to paper one by one.

Counting one simple blessing at a time.

Credit to Ann Voskamp for the challenge found in her beautiful book “One Thousand Gifts”.

When You Don’t Feel Thankful

Retrieved from Clouds 365 Blog

She stands folding clothes as they talk on the phone. A small stack of washcloths emerges as she reaches the end of the pile. She starts in on the socks trying to find matches while the other voice carries to her over phone wires. And all the while she is listening. Sometimes God speaks loudest when we are doing the basest of tasks. The laundry room can be a holy place.

“I am having a hard time feeling thankful,” she admits. It’s hard feeling thankful when you reach breaking point. When you are falling. When you lie face to the ground. This is not a place to say ‘thanks’- it’s a place to ask ‘why’. A place to demand answers, reasons, explanations.

Ground Zero is not a place for gratitude.

She closes the laundry room door and starts walking, phone to the ear.

There are so many biblical verses that tell us we will never be given more than we can handle and that there is always enough grace- but it is hard to believe. Sometimes. Hard to believe that God is enough. That we can live life. That there is more than enough strength thorough steady, common grace. Hard to believe that God’s grace is sufficient.  It’s a matter of perspective really. Not always circumstance.

For even in our darkest moments- there is light that shines.

I tap out words many hours later. The sun is just rising on a darkened world. Through the trees, I can see the beginnings of light. Through all obstacles, light shines through. Soon, there will be a brilliant display of glorious, epic proportions. There will be a wash of colour, a splash of pinks, oranges, yellows and reds. There will be a glorious sun rising. And it will be beautiful.

But in this given moment, it’s just a peek of light. A promise that more is on its way.  There is still darkness all around.  And if we didn’t know otherwise, we would think it would be like this forever.  But this we know: there is always the promise of a new day.  If yesterday wasn’t all it was suppose to be cracked up to be, well there is always today. Bleak night will turn into morning light.  We have this surety.

And even if that isn’t enough- if the promise of a new day with new hope isn’t enough, and I don’t really feel thankful or particularly grateful in spite of that hope, there are some things that can draw in in spite of my feelings, in spite of my circumstances and the particular place I find myself occupying in life RIGHT NOW. There are things I can still be thankful for…
1. Thankful that I have a choice in how I view my life. I can view it through a lens of despair or a lens of hope. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to view this. It’s mine to make.
2. Thankful that I have a choice in what I voice about my life. I can describe it in gloomy terms or in glowing terms. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.
3. Thankful that I have a choice in how I interpret meaning for all the events in my life- both difficult and joyous as they stand right now. These events can be interpreted as disastrous shards that should be discarded or as beautiful pieces fitting for the masterpiece in the making that my life is.

I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.

I stop looking out the window and look deep into my soul- searching for light, for some kind of illumination. And I remember that I had found some earlier this week in an exchange made between two dying women, both of cancer- but one full of hope and promise, the other without either of those spiritually speaking. And this is what the latter said in her beautiful letter to the woman bent on ending it all:

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.” (Kara Tippetts)

Although life is full of pain and suffering and tears and unknowns, our lives are not meant to suffer through, to log as if in a chart book- ‘glad that day’s done’, to check off as over and finished. They are meant to be lived. To be experienced. Enjoyed and known. To be analyzed and understood as part of a Master Design. Meant to be celebrated. For each single day on its own is beautiful or terrible, depending on the perspective I might have had that particular day: but the entirety of the life is beautiful. And in our suffering, along with our joy, we find that God is making something incredible of all the pieces.

But He’s not finished with us yet.

Sometimes when things seem the messiest, the most work on the exquisite design is underway. And even when we don’t FEEL thankful, we can still BE grateful that the design is still in process.  It’s not completed yet. It’s just getting started. And it will be something beautiful- a breathtaking display of glorious wonder. When all is said and done.

We just have to strive to believe.

Satisfied

I am running up the uneven and worn sidewalk blocks, grass growing up between them. Frost from past winter’s freeze has shifted and changed their original direction. Water soaks the ground beneath my feet, splashing up and over the sides of a rather closely situated water slide. I run towards the entry point high above so that I too might ride, running towards the staircase as if I am ten years old again. Ten years old: just like my Sarah who made this milestone today at exactly 6:26 p.m. this very evening. I race up the slope towards the inclined steps that lead to two rather small and well-used waterslides. Small but perfect- that’s my view. These waterslides: ‘just right’ for the forty-year old woman who believes she just might have a ten-year old heart. Perfect for me.

And oh! the exhilaration. To stretch one’s body in pike position and feel the speed. The water beneath and the wind above. Yes, for some it might be a small thrill. But for me, I am just satisfied. Satisfied! With this. All of this. This day and the juxtaposition of special and mundane. This weather, a mix of rain and sun. This park, this place, these people.

I’m satisfied.

Satisfaction. It’s a form of contentment. A feeling of being fulfilled. It is an experience of pleasure, happiness and joy. A state of being gratified. Grateful for what one has, whatever that “what’ might happen to be. Grateful for the small- grateful for the vast. It is a sentiment that calls one to give thanks for the gifts ones has been given, seeing the gift in the ordinary simplicity of everyday life. Feeling satisfied with commonplace, everyday pleasures. Commonplace, everyday blessings. When we are no longer able to feel satisfied, something happens. We start feeling ungrateful. Unappreciative. We start looking around, noticing that what we have is less than what others might have- not as special and unique as what someone else has in their possession beside us or next to us. We start evaluating our stuff, our things, our situation, our people- on the basis of what we see around us. We place unfair expectations on the gifts we’ve been given, unwisely wanting them to be something they were never meant to be. And then, there is a feeling of desire that ensues. Desire that craves something more, something bigger, brighter, better, bolder. Something beyond.

It’s a nasty cycle. And it can lead to darker places by the name of Greed and Envy and Jealousy and Dissatisfaction. Trust me, I’ve been there. They are not places you’d wish to visit.

We all know our vulnerabilities. Our area of weakness. It’s how we shift our thinking so as to make our response one of satisfaction, one of sweet contentment rather than one of discontentment and irritation. This is what that determines our joy.

And what a difference a day can make.

Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling frustrated. I was not happy with anything- the state of my house, the state of the day’s affairs, the people around me, the fact that it was August. I mean August: the summer might as well just end RIGHT NOW, now that August has arrived. Am I right?

And no. Nothing made any difference. I was just miserable. The more I thought about how miserable I was, the more miserable things were. I found bugs in the beds (seriously? Gross me out the door), dirt on the floors (okay, so this is every day, all day), clutter on every conceivable living space in my house (ditto). I couldn’t seem to get out of the kitchen for the life of me, one project led to another and then to another and so on. By noon, I was hot, sweaty and tired. I felt a headache coming on. And I was just ready to throw in the towel.

I might have thrown in the towel. There have been a lot of towels going through my washing machine lately. But at the end of the day, I went to bed, only to wake up again this morning. And I discovered something. I have a lot to be thankful for in this little house of mine. This little world I call my own.

What a difference a day makes.

Nothing in my environment really changed with the dawning of this new day. Same house, same mess, same people. It’s just that here we are together again- in this brand new beautiful day. We are alive, we are together…and we’re here. And what’s not to love about a fresh start? This is not to say that feeling frustrated and discouraged is wrong or shameful. It’s just to say that it is not really much fun. It’s actually depressing. And so I choose today- joy. Joy, and peace and contentment. I choose to see all that I have as the gift it is, rather than as the burden it might seem to be. I choose to see what I have been given as delight rather than trouble. And in so doing, I find myself feeling more and more content.

In so doing, I find myself satisfied.

So today, I am satisfied for the fact that I found no bugs in my bed. Score. Satisfied again because I wasn’t baking anything today- I bought a store-bought cake for precious Sarah- and she loved every bite of it. Score again. And I got to race my Husband and beat him FOUR TIMES ON THE WATERSLIDES. Score, score score. And they say that three times is a charm.

It all is- it’s all a gift. And for all this and so much more- I’m satisfied

Offering gratitude

I remember the Christmas I was about seven or eight years old. I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. It was all I really wanted that year, to be honest. I had made that much clear to anyone who was listening (Mom, Dad, Santa….God?). I think I dreamed about her, my doll: those chubby cheeks, that rag-doll yarn hair. Those two lumpy pig-tails tied with ribbons, along with the signature on her rounded derriere that guaranteed she was truly made by ‘the’ Xavier Roberts. To have a Cabbage Patch doll would have been to have a dream come true. An answer to prayer, even. (I am not sure if I prayed for her, my non-existent dollie- but to think that I might have makes total sense.)

So imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas gift that year to find a beautiful china doll with porcelain skin staring back at me instead of a dimpled plastic one. This replacement other- this actual doll was a fine toy complete with dark, wavy hair, finely stitched Victorian dress and a velvety blue bonnet that just never would stay put on that her head. She was lovely, but she wasn’t a Cabbage Patch Kid.

I don’t remember feeling very thankful.

What I do remember was receiving that doll and the disappointment I felt. She was beautiful, elegant and far more of a classic in comparison to the trendy Cabbage Patch doll I craved. But she wasn’t what I asked for. I felt quietly disappointed about the whole thing.

Years later, I find myself still asking. Only this time, my requests aren’t as trivial and innocent.

“Please God, protect them…” “Please God, allow rest…” Please God bring healing…” “Please God, more time…” “Please God….please.” Sometimes the litany of request feels like a shopping list of needs that I rhyme off- with hopes that I will get everything on my list. But what if what I am asking for is no longer in stock? What if it is not available at this time? What if what I am asking for is something not the very best for me- nor the very best for those for whom I am requesting that certain something? What is best, anyway? Do I even know?

What if prayer was less a list of ‘please give…’ and more of an “I thank you…”? What would prayer be like then? Would it change?

Our lives are full of blessings. Some of those blessings come through rays of sunshine and hope. Some of the blessings come through tears and storm clouds. But through the joyous moments and through the difficult times, there are slices of time when light shines through and we see the absolute beauty in life. Yes, our lives are precious in all their complexity- even in the midst of absolute darkness and sorrow, beams of light will radiate.

These little moments for me can be seen as answers to prayer. True, these little blessings are not always the big ticket items on my proverbial prayer shopping list- sometimes they are just those little somethings I noticed out of the corner of my eye. The little things. Things like…

• A friend stopping by to say they are thinking of me
• A phone call just when I needed it
• A message, email or note
• A smile timed just right
• A hug
• A drive to Tim’s
• A rainbow
• My flowers blooming
• A found kitten

The little things in life are sometimes what bring the greatest joy in my darkest hour. They are what get me through.

I have been asking God for some pretty big-ticket items lately. I have a feeling a few of us might be in this same boat. But I wonder if we have sometimes forgotten how to pray gratitude into our prayers. To thank instead of ask. To offer gratitude.

To thank God for the gift of time- what a precious commodity that is. To thank God for the gift of memories- we have such precious recollections of the ones we love- even as we make new memories each and every day. To be grateful for each moment we’ve been given. Even for today. To just relish the very minutes we have right now and breathe a prayer of thanks for this priceless gift.

We are so blessed.

Our lives may seem complex, complicated, rushed, maddening, stressful, anxious and short. But viewed through a different lens, they can also be seen as beautiful, intricate, intense and precious. Our lives are a masterpiece- and this life is only the beginning.

For every breath we’ve been given, our grateful hearts say “thanks”.

The Art of Appreciation

I was reading a blog the other day that gave kudos to teachers, in support of Teacher Appreciation Week. It talked about the work that teachers do and acknowledged teachers and educational assistants as doing important, worthwhile things, in both academic and other areas, so as to support children and young people in their growth, learning and development. It talked a lot about the little unnoticed things that teachers do, things that often fall below the radar as far as visibility. It was a nice article- it made you feel good to read it.

Particularly if you were a teacher.

And then I scrolled through the comments.

And as I did, I came across some negative feedback- as there so often is- to counter the opinions of the author. Comments placed there so as to undermine the author’s attempts at acknowledging her intended audience: teachers. Comments placed there to whine about why other groups of people hadn’t been thanked. Comments placed there to diminish the efforts of individuals committed to their calling and willing to make sacrifices so as to continue doing so. They were rather hurtful comments to read, whether one was a teacher or not.

I am a teacher. But these comments didn’t irk me because I am a teacher. They irked me because I am a human being. A person with a desire to continually acknowledge the best in people and thus see and commend the value of other human beings in service, whomever those individuals might be. And I do this, quite often, through the art of appreciation. Which is to say: I try to watch others. And whatever they might be doing or saying or being matters to me. So much so, that I try to extend to them, as often as I can, a word of appreciation. Thanks and gratitude. It’s not rocket science- but it is pretty important stuff: actually, it’s how I was taught to be by my own gracious mother. So I continue to do so as often as I can. And it is what I now teach the next generation to do as well- my students and four children as well.

It’s quite easy really. Appreciate people. Tell them once in a while what they mean to you. Carry on and repeat.

Couldn’t be simpler.

But I am finding, at times, that this ability of ours as people, to appreciate others: it is passed over in favor of the all-important critique. It is more trendy to critique someone on their performance, abilities or job and less favorable to find the best about them instead. It is more interesting to find fault. Less interesting to build up. More interesting to point fingers rather than to join hands.

As a result, we are losing much, not the least of which is a dying art. That is, the art of appreciating people and things and ideas. The ability to recognize possibility. Particularly, the potential in another human being and then acknowledge that same person for their endeavours. I think that we as people can never do enough appreciating in this life. And it certainly should never come at the expense of a lost opportunity taken instead to undermine another human being’s worthy attempts at celebrating other human beings for their efforts.

Appreciation matters.

My students had a tea party for their mother’s today. It is my third annual tea party for mothers. I once also threw a pizza party for fathers. It is possibly in the works again for this year. The point of me telling this is because the whole event is organized so that my students can take time to think about and reflect on their parents and the hard work they do at raising them. The important work they do in loving them. And thus come to appreciate them a little more. We spend time thinking about what parents do. How they look after us. How they provide for us. We take time to thank them. We sing songs in praise of them. We prepare things that we know they will like and then we serve them. We let them eat and drink first, for a change. In short, we take time to honor their legacy.

It’s very important work- and not just for five and six years olds. It just might be some of the most significant work I do with my students all year. I take it very seriously.

What I am trying to say here is this: we need to instill in our children, our young people and thus in adults as well, the value of appreciation. The worth of acknowledgment. The importance of telling people what they mean to us. The art of appreciation.

Not because we as receivers of this praise need it so as to shore up our self esteem.
Not because we are needy of accolades.
Not because we can’t function unless we have a set number of compliments.
Not for our egos.

But for our souls. Because quite simply, we matter.

No matter what we do we matter. That’s because people matter.

And because our person matters: our contributions thus matter, our influence matters and our legacy matters.

And when we are told as much, it causes us to want to do the same for another human being, starting a chain of appreciation to begin to form.
One can only imagine what ways this world could change with such a chain. Such a possibility for seeing worth in the world around us.
It is quite simply the power that is the art of appreciation.

And I believe that when we appreciate, there is no end to the possibilities for hope.

It’s just that influential.