Choosing Gratitude

Last time I talked about the difficulty in giving thanks during years like this one. Yet I know, from experience and from God’s word, that doing it anyway matters. Giving thanks anyway:

  • Reminds us that we do have much to be thankful for, even in hard times
  • Helps us find the small things and appreciate them
  • Gives us compassion for those with less to be thankful for
  • Heightens our awareness of everything around us, to notice the little joys
  • Boosts our mental health, as gratitude always does
  • Shows us the arc of God’s care for us, even when we weren’t looking or seeing
  • Is obedience, and that comes with its own peace.

So today, I’m going to look back at my gratitude journal in 2020 and list some of the things I wrote down. I hope you can find some, too. I admit, I’ve not been great at keeping this journal this year. But the act of doing it always brings me joy and peace. I highly recommend a gratitude journal. 

It doesn’t have to be preciously cute or Pinterest worthy. Mine is a solid red notebook my husband brought back from a medical convention. It says “American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery” on the front. You can see, I’m all fancy.

It’s such a good practice for our hearts and souls. Pick up a notebook form the dollar store, and start writing. I write three things a day. You do you. Here are some great ideas and options in case you need them.

If you want some ways to get creative and make it super fun, I love the ideas of bookending and decorating, talked about here.

And if you want to hear the whole TED talk about gratitude the above article mentions, view it here.

So here’s random list of 20 things I’ve written since April.

  • Coyotes looking at me in the backyard, while I’m on a zoom meeting (Yes. It happened.)
  • I’m learning new patterns of kindness
  • I don’t worry people will kill my white children
  • Garden art
  • Hamilton (How lucky we are to be alive right now!)
  • My new home office
  • The fun quotes I made and framed in my new office, like the one below.
  • Hummingbird feeders
  • Crickets in my house (I love them. I’m not sorry.)
  • The ability to learn new things (hello, zoom church)
  • Morning fog 
  • My husband home longer in the mornings (his gym at work where he went early is COVID closed)
  • Clean mopped floors
  • Almond tea
  • Daughters who decorate my house for my virtual graduation
  • That graduation! That dissertation DONE!
  • People who put the dishes away
  • Quiet mornings on the deck
  • Early morning sunlight filtering through the trees
  • The privilege of white skin, and the responsibility
  • New followers!

That’s a short list. You can see it’s pretty varied. Some big things. Some little things. Some serious and some just plain fun. In this year of hard, find the small things that give you joy. Write them down. Go back to that as often as you need to. Feed your soul on joy.

You are loved.

Drop 4 Anchors

I wrote this blog post in 2018. I went looking for it this morning, because I believe there are definitely some of you who are not coming to Thanksgiving this year with joy in your hearts and thanks on your lips. How could you, given the dumpster fire of 2020? But maybe it’s affected you personally in a deeply painful way. Unemployment. Death. Long illness. Financial distress. Racial tension. Fear for your black sons and daughters. A society that refuses to hear your pain and fear.

I don’t know what it is for you this year, but I know this. The anchor holds. So here is a repeat post from 2018.

I approached Thanksgiving two years ago feeling less than thankful. With a body dematerializing before everyone’s eyes for reasons no one could diagnose, I entered the season sick, exhausted, and scared. I could barely get up most days, and when I did, it seemed everyone was posting their “What I’m thankful for” on Facebook.

It had been six months since I got sick. It would be almost another year before we discovered why. How do you lead people in thanksgiving when you spend your days begging the Lord to heal you, to help you find out what’s wrong, or at least to allow you to get a meal down and feel good for five minutes a day?

I reached for a little-known line in Scripture for answers: “. . . they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight” (Acts 27:29 NLT).

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Back story: Paul is in danger of being shipwrecked here. The men with him are terrified. They aren’t thankfully posting pictures of their holiday at sea; they’re crying out for mercy. “All hope was gone,” Scripture says (Acts 21:20 NLT).

All hope was gone.

I knew the feeling.

The last line of the tale shone like a beacon in my own storm. Sometimes, I realized, we can’t see through the storm, and the best thing we can do is toss our anchors and pray for daylight. Anchors keep a ship stable. When they dig into the seabed below, they hold. It may be chaos up above, but when the anchor is dropped, the ship won’t drift.

There are likely many of you who feel guilty because you are harboring less-than-thankful feelings this thanksgiving. Sadly, guilt drives us farther from the God who is the only hope when all hope is gone. Guilt isn’t an anchor—guilt is a gale blowing us off course. We may not see ahead, but we can know what’s written on our anchors.

Anchor #1—God is good

We toss around “good” all the time. It’s all good. I’m good. She’s being good. But in Scripture, the word “good” means something more. “Good” is a mix of just, holy, gentle, kind, patient, and merciful. Biblical goodness is an anchor because it can never change. God cannot stop being good. He will always be unfailing love, faithfulness, and compassion.

“Good” is also a verb. God doesn’t just have good feelings toward us—He makes good happen. So saying that God’s goodness is an anchor is knowing his power is bent on kindness toward us. Maybe we can’t see it, but we can feel it hold us in chaos.

Photo by Nias Nyalada on Unsplash

Anchor #2—God is love

When the doctor asked my husband nine years ago if he would donate his kidney to me, I knew the answer. He would say yes. His character was to love me as he had promised—in sickness and health. It did not hinge on me deserving it; it was who he was.

How do I know God’s love is an anchor I can trust in darkness? It’s his character, proved by his actions. Do I doubt his love? If I do, I have only to look at the cross where he died alone in agony. There is no greater proof of love.

Maybe you don’t feel it right now, but God’s love is an anchor that will not let go of the bottom of the sea. It will be there until the light of morning.

Anchor #3—God is able

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isa. 41.10 NLT).

I gave birth three times, each time willing to battle the world and all its forces to keep safe the little life in my womb and later in my arms. God is no different when it comes to his children—he is only infinitely more capable.

Imagine this: you are surrounded by the hands that formed the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, and every atom of the human body. God is able. No matter how badly the sea shakes, that anchor holds.

Anchor #4—God is enough

The summer before I turned nineteen was rough. Having lost my mom, I returned home from school to a suicidal, alcoholic father. One of my best friends killed himself. I was in a terrible car accident. All the while I sang in a group that praised God in the evenings while I questioned him during the day.

One of those evenings, I realized I had a choice. I could walk away forever, or I could believe that no matter what else happened, God would be enough. Even if I ended up like Job, losing everything, I would not let go if he was all I had. It was a hard anchor to toss, but it held. It’s held through worse crises than that, and I expect it will continue.

I didn’t feel like praising God that Thanksgiving. Maybe you don’t right now. Don’t feel guilty for not being able to dredge up feelings of thanks. Drop your anchors. You don’t have to feel them to know they’re there. Pray for daylight. I’ll pray alongside you.