Gratitude, Even in Hard Situations

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How many times a day do you give thanks for the blessing of sight?

Fanny Crosby was six week’s old when she was left blind from a doctor’s treatment to cure an eye infection. Nonetheless, Fanny grew up active and happy surrounded by strong women of faith as she learned how to navigate the world differently than most. At eight year’s old, she composed the poem above and although the poem may not use the grandest of word choices, the wisdom is greater than most people will ever acquire in their lives. To be content and thankful in your circumstances.

Fanny Crosby went on to write more than 8,000 hymns. That’s enough hymns to fill fifteen complete hymnals stacked one on top of the other, enough to cause her publishers to resorts to ascribing to her multiple pen names to make her output more believable.¹

BUT the thing that impresses me the most, beyond her amazing writing abilities, is her attitude and her THANKFULNESS. She was thankful for the blessing of blindness.

“I could not have written ten thousands of hymns if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing all the interesting and beautiful objects that would have been presented to my notice.” “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation.” A situation that others may see as a curse, Fanny saw it as a blessing!

I wonder about us. What circumstances do we find ourselves in? Maybe we are dealing with situations we may not have asked for or never in a million years wanted?

I wonder what would happen if we could find blessings in what seem to be curses. Contentment in unhappy places. I am not saying we have to love everything that comes our way or we have to be happy every moment in dealing with these things. Grieve, yell, cry, and then breathe. Repeat. When you are ready, try to start to look at things a differently and maybe you will find something, even if it is one little thing to start with, to be grateful for.

Some of the hardest, most difficult circumstances, situations that seemed unfair and definitely most unwanted, have been the situations I have grown from the most and eventually been the ones I have been most thankful for. So, today, I would encourage you to try to look at things with a new view and come up with at least one thing you are thankful for in your current circumstances. I am praying for you! 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

¹ Demoss, Nancy Leigh. Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. Moody Press, 2011.

An Invitation to Explore Gratitude

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grat·i·tude  ˈ(ɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/)

noun- the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

I wonder how many times a day we say “thank you.” Someone hands us something, we say, “thank you.” Someone does something we’ve asked, we say “thank you.” Someone holds the door open for us, we say “thank you.” In many ways, saying “thank you” has become an automated response. Words that have been modeled and encouraged, and engrained in us by our parents and teachers. These two little, socially acceptable words seem to roll off our tongue without much thought to the weight they carry.

In English, “thank you” derives from “think,” it originally meant, “I will remember what you did for me” but in other languages (the Portuguese obrigado is a good example) the standard term follows the form of the English “much obliged” — it actually means “I am in your debt.” ¹  This brings to mind a formality and sincerity that my daily flippant use of the phrase is lacking.

Maybe, we should start thinking of our “thank yous” in a more meaningful way. Yes, please do continue using polite “thank yous” in public social exchanges but in our private, heart spaces, maybe we should start to explore the deeper meaning of thankfulness and why practicing gratitude is so important.

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This may mean slowing down a bit and recognizing some things. It means acknowledging, with great sincerity, the “whos” and “whats” in our life that make us better people. It means remembering the people who we may have taken for granted or haven’t taken the time to tell them how much they mean to us. It may mean forgiveness and grace. It may mean thinking differently about the difficult situations in our life. The ones that seem to have no end, and may mean acknowledging that even through those situations we are learning, growing, and God can use them for good things. It may mean the realization of a lack of something, something more to grasp, but what that something is, you are not quite sure. All of this is good exploration and great discoveries can come from it.

Gratitude is more than a choice.  It’s is a discipline. A discipline that needs to be developed and practiced through every situation. Exploring and cultivating gratitude brings about a grateful heart. A grateful heart produces joy and joy can carry us through life and all life has to bring.

Gratitude does not necessarily come easy though. Exploring and cultivating gratitude requires dedication. It can be difficult work that requires effort and the ability to think beyond ourselves and our current circumstances. (Ever notice how much easier it is to be thankful when things are going good.). But the results of your work, and the joy it will brings, far outweighs the difficulty of the practice.

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I am dedicating the rest of November to explore, discuss, and write about gratitude here on my blog and on my Facebook page.  I would love for you to join me in your own exploration of gratitude.

Here’s some questions to get you started:

1.) When you think of “thank yous” and gratitude, what do you think about? Proper etiquette, emotions, attitudes, a choice?

2.) What does gratitude look like in your own life?

3.) Does thankfulness boil down to polite manners and ethically-correct responses, or is it something that you work on and through to bring joy and strength?

4.) How can you practice true gratitude in your daily life?

 

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks for everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

And One more thing, it’s not too late to join November’s Gratitude Letter Challenge. You can find more here: Letters of Gratitude- A Challenge for the Month of November

 

 

Gratitude Letter Challenge- Daily Letter Prompts

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I’m proposing a time time to slow down. A time to reevaluate our priorities, reevaluate our time spent, and the words we are giving and receiving. I’m proposing taking at least ten minutes each day in November to be intentionally grateful for the people and situations in our lives and then encouraging others with our words.  I’m proposing a new challenge. An every day letter writing challenge with some new prompts and new suggestions that might possibly stretch us out of our comfort zones. See more here.

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Download Gratitude Letter Challenge Prompts here.

Letters of Gratitude- A Challenge for the Month of November

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Last November, I completed a Twenty-One Day Gratitude Letter Challenge  Twenty-one letters. Twenty-one different people. Twenty-one different sentiments of appreciation and thanksgiving. Some people I knew very closely, others were strangers. But to each person, I sent my gratitude. I thanked them for being uniquely them, for making a difference in my life, for doing their best for our community, and making the world a better place.

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Words are powerful little things and we often forget how much potential they hold. We get so busy running around, conquering the next thing, shouting short commands over our shoulders. We opt for the fastest modes of communication in the forms of emails and texts. We use shorthand, acronyms, and pictures to express our thoughts and emotions. All the while we are left weary, sometimes lonely, and desiring connection and relationships. I get it. I’ve been there. I’m often there. I’m preaching to me.

For some of us, it’s a season. For others, it’s a lifestyle. For all of us, it’s a choice.

I’m proposing a time time to slow down. A time to reevaluate our priorities, reevaluate our time, and the words we are giving and receiving. I’m proposing taking at least ten minutes each day in November to be intentionally grateful for the people and situations in our lives and then encouraging others with our words.  I’m proposing a new challenge. An every day letter writing challenge with some new prompts and new suggestions that might possibly stretch us out of our comfort zones.

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” – John F. Kennedy

I’m going “old school,” “snail mail,” and if you have a horse and rider to deliver letters that’s even better (Just kidding….maybe I’ve been watching too much Poldark?) You will need paper, something to write with, envelopes, and stamps. Each day, try to find ten minutes to write. It does not have to be an uninterrupted time period. It could be a minute here and a minute there. You can write at a desk, the kitchen table, in the carpool lane, or in the bathroom. It does not have to be a letter filled with long, elaborate, flowing words and rhymed prose (although. so totally awesome if it did) but it does need to be genuine and sincere and point out one or two things you appreciate, admire, and like in the person. Seal up the letter, write the address, and drop it in the mail. And smile! You just made a difference in someone’s life.

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You can find the writing prompts here. They are just a suggestion. Please write to whoever is on your heart. Be creative. Use your church directory, address books, MOPS group directory, pull names out of a hat.

And pray! Pray for the people you are writing to and pray over the envelopes before you drop them in the mailbox. I believe these letters have the power to strengthen and change relationships. Just imagine if 100 people take this challenge for thirty days, that’s 3,000 people who could have their day brightened and possible make a difference in how they look at their purpose and potential! My three kids are doing it with me. So together, that’s 120 people just from our household!!!

So, will you consider joining me in spreading some kindness and gratitude? I would love to hear from you if you do. And if you want to really take the challenge up a notch, hand deliver your letter and spend some time with that person. Oh, just think about that!!

 

Circles of People, Circles of Prayer

 

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It was Thursday night. It had been a long, good week but I was tired. On top of our usual routine busyness, there had been a MOPS meeting to prepare for and a Sisterhood message to finish. I had just finished making dinner and I was craving some moments to myself. To my kids delight, I let them eat their dinner on trays in front of the TV. The sound of Miles from Tomorrowland and quiet kids gave me some peaceful moments to take a deep breath and strategize my next steps. I could only manage to think one step ahead and doing the dishes seemed like the next logical thing to do.

I stood at the kitchen sink and sighed over the mountain of dishes. The dishes were not going to get done by staring and sighing so I began to scrub and circle the dishes clean. The warm, soapy water became a salve to my weariness. And as I scrubbed, I became overwhelmed. So overwhelmed, I began to weep. This was a different “overwhelmed” than I have become accustomed to. Not the overwhelmed by busyness or by my to-do list or by expectations, but overwhelmed with deep gratitude for my life and the people in it.

Right there in my kitchen, in the quietness of my heart, memories came back to me so clearly I felt as if they were present time. One by one they came. I could smell things, feel things, and see details of things I had forgotten. I was with people who have long gone to be with Jesus.

I was a little girl standing in the church kitchen, looking up into the faces of a circle of kind, older women. The women were smiling, chatting over their work of cleaning up the communion cups. They welcomed me in their space and allowed me to eat the leftover communion crackers. I felt accepted and safe.

I was a little girl sitting in an oversized metal folding chair among a circle of other folding chairs placed around the small living room of my childhood home. Each chair was filled by a Godly man or woman. Some held hymnals and others large, beautifully tabbed Bibles in their laps. Their songs of praise beautiful. Their prayers powerful. I felt accepted and safe. 

I was a preteen kneeling on the rug in my parent’s friends living room, not quite happy that all my other friends were out at the movies and I was at a Bible study. Regardless of my inside-ungrateful-attitudes-struggles, I was still still in the circle and I listened to God’s word be discussed and life struggles shared. I felt accepted and safe.  

I was reminded of the countless times my parents had us hold hands around the kitchen table. This happened with whoever was joining us for dinner, when we needed the Lords’s guidance, or when we were praying for someone who needed prayer. I felt accepted and safe.

Circles of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe. 

These were the people my parents chose to surround me with. Faithful, Jesus-loving, people who seeked God with all their heart. These were people who let me sit at their feet, invited me into their discussions, welcomed me to participate, let me ask my questions, and loved me through my attitudes and seasons of growing up.

They were not perfect people. They struggled with life. They went through trials. Some of them lost their way. But these are the people who God used to shape my life. These are the people whose stories and testimonies shaped how I saw God and Jesus. These are the people who have prayed circles in and around my life.  Prayers I am just starting to see answers to. These are the people who I wept to God in gratitude and thanksgiving over.

Somehow, the dishes seemed to get done quicker than I thought. I lingered in the memories as long as I could. I didn’t want to leave. But the call of “Mommmm!!!!” brought me to my next task. I wiped the tears from my eyes and heading into the living room to fulfill some random request. The feeling of overwhelming gratitude remained.

I want my children to have what I had. I want to leave a legacy like my parents have left for me. I want my children to grow up in circles of Godly men and women. To be able to sit at Jesus-loving people’s feet, invited into conversations about faith, feel safe enough to ask questions, sing songs of praises and embrace their part and purpose of the Kingdom of God. I want my children in circles of imperfect people who know they need Jesus, where powerful prayers are prayed, where life struggles are prayed through, where testimonies of God’s faithfulness are declared.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Where they feel accepted and safe. 

As I write this, I am overwhelmed and weep again. This time for the people currently in our life. Our faithful parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Our Godly friends. Our intergenerational church family whom I love so much. People who have graciously given us room to grow in our faith and have come alongside us, encouraging us in our parenting and leadership, and loving us unconditionally. People who have welcomed our kids at their tables, fed them, watched over them, given them smiles and a hugs, invited them into prayer circles and to join them in singing songs of praise. Imperfect, Godly men and women, who know they need Jesus, who pray circles around them and encourage them with their words.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe.   

 

Gratitude Letter Challenge

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21 Day Gratitude Letter Challenge

Wow, we made it through the day! If your social media feeds were anything like mine, a broad spectrum of thoughts, raw emotions, declarations, and many opinions stemming from the election were represented. Today, I sat quietly on the other side of the screen, reading and liking comments here and there, and cheering on friends who offered positive suggestions for moving forward (regardless of their political stance.)

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the benefits of choosing gratitude over grumbling. I noted several positive benefits to a thankful attitude and mindset. I love the brain research on this topic and could write and discuss much more about it but I want to give you a way to put into action the information I wrote about.

I have heard it takes 21 days to form a habit. Although this may be a myth, I think 21 days is a good place to start moving forward with positive change. The recent election has put a lot of focus on the differences between people, thoughts, and ideas. I would like to challenge us to take the next 21 days to try something to help us switch the focus off of our differences and put them on our similarities. Something that will help us highlight the things we are grateful for in each other.

We are going old school, bringing back letter writing and snail mail. You will need, paper, a writing utensil, envelopes, and stamps. Each day, try to find about five to ten minutes to write. It does not have to be an uninterrupted time period. It could be a minute here and a minute there. You can write at a desk, the kitchen table, in the carpool lane, or in the bathroom. It does not have to be a letter filled with long, elaborate, flowing words and rhymed prose (although that would be totally awesome) but it does need to be genuine and point out one or two things you appreciate, admire, and like in the person. Seal up the letter, write the address, and drop it in the mail. And smile!

If you need a little help thinking about who to write, I created a document/picture (see above) with letter prompt ideas. This is just a suggestion, please write to whoever you like. Be creative. Use your church directory, address books, MOPS group directory, pull names out of a hat. Include your kids in this challenge. I believe these letters have the power to strengthen and change relationships.

Will you consider joining me in spreading some kindness and gratitude? I would love to hear from you if you do. And if you want to really take the challenge up a notch, hand deliver your letter and spend some time with that person. Oh, just think about that! What a way to make someone’s day brighter!

PS You can post on social media and follow along at hashtags #embraceletters, #embracegratitude

Choose Gratitude Over Grumbling

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Hold on to your donkeys, elephants, porcupines, and stop to consider the Earthflowers. With Election Day on Tuesday, this week is sure to be an emotional one. The election has created an atmosphere of negativity and complaint that will continue if we do not do something about it. Come Wednesday morning, some Americans will be happy and celebrating and some will be angry and grieving. And regardless of who becomes President, I would like to suggest we all should be grateful.

Just like voting, we have a choice to choose gratitude over grumbling.

Did you know that grumbling is bad for your health? Complaining rewires your brain to expect more negativity forming a habit of negative thinking. Researcher, Professor Sapolsky at Stanford Medical School found exposure to just thirty minutes of complaining and negativity per day (including viewing this on TV) can cause physical damage to your brain.1  Indulging in negative emotions can weaken one’s immune system and triggers physical symptoms such as anxiety, increased blood pressure, and trouble sleeping. 2 Negativity attracts and breeds negativity.

On the other hand, gratitude makes your brain and body healthier. It changes our perspective, helping us to see beyond self-pity and self-centeredness. With practice, our brain becomes wired to seek out the good and positives in any situation and help us to appreciate the people and situations around us (even in the most dire circumstances.) Practicing gratitude has been associated with many health benefits including improved kidney function, reduced blood-pressure and stress-hormone levels, and a stronger heart. “A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to both fortune and misfortune,” says Robert Emmons, a pioneer of gratitude research. We see the blessings, not just the curses.3 

For those of us who follow Christ, we are commanded to be thankful to God in all circumstances. Our heart and thoughts turned upward and outward in His love extended towards others through us.

This is the day that the Lord has made;  let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24(ESV)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Philippians 2:14-15 (ESV)
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV)

You do not have to be happy with the election results. It is okay to be disappointed. In the days following the election, let’s all think before we speak. Expressing our dissatisfaction in respectful discussions that do not include stereotyping, assumptions, and accusations. Disagreeing in grace and in love. Allowing the words out of our mouths not to be ones of anger, wrath, malice, and slander (Colossians 3:8) but rather words used to build each other up (Ephesians 4:29.) Use the days to come as an opportunity to be an example to our children, our neighbors, friends, and our family members. Let our gratitude attract gratitude and let our words become actions that point others to the real Hope of these days. The hope of Jesus!

REFERENCES:

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

(3.) Kamps, L. (2016). What Gratitude Can Do For You. TIME Magazine: Mindfulness:The New Science of Health and Happiness, 54-57.