Gratitude. It’s a hard thing to teach to kids. They are naturally “me-centered” and if their piece of cake is even a smidge smaller than their brother’s piece it doesn’t go unnoticed. Being thankful for what we have instead of wanting what we don’t have is not just hard on the kids. It’s hard on us too.
We started a project of giving thanks this past week. Each night at dinner we either pick an event of the day or a category (cold, round, purple, etc.) and each kid has to come up with 3 things they are thankful for that’s related to that event or category. My favorite ones have come from my 5 year old. This one has the most sensitive spirit of my 5 kiddos. While the oldest are trying to say a new one before the other does, she sidles up to me on the night we are using the category of “sound”. She whispers to me underneath the clamor of the others, “I have one mommy. The sound of a kiss.” Then she grins at me with those dimples showing. Ok. Stars in my eyes. I just want to kiss her sweet face. And last night she said, “I’ve got one but it’s not about the park (we had been on a family outing earlier). She wanted us to know that she was thankful that Jesus died for our sins.
And I think, that’s the point isn’t it? If we can recognized the small things and be thankful for them, it should only draw more attention to the big things. The Thing. That Christ died for our sins. Our plan is to come up with 1000 things to be thankful for between now and Christmas. If we can see the small gifts of our day as we look toward Christmas, then we might more readily recognize and be grateful for the greatest gift of all during the Christmas season.
My prayer is that this project will not be just a project that we store away when we are done, but that it will be a lifestyle. It will be a learning process. Can it help the child that is selfish? The one that is oblivious? The one that is hurt easily? Can it help me?
I have been reading the book, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. What a game-changer it is. It’s on my top 10 of books I would recommend. It is the account of a woman who is struggling, a woman marked by pain and loss. A depressed, stressed and hurt woman who is challenged to in a Joy Dare to come up with 1000 gifts. As she begins to turn to thanksgiving her heart begins to turn too. She is transformed and so is her family. It is a must read. Check out her blog or order your book. You won’t be disappointed. But I warn you. You might be changed.
As I’ve read this book it’s started me on this journey of thanksgiving with my family. I want them to understand James 1:17 that reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” I remind them frequently that anything good is from God. At supper the other night, my 9 year old asks, “but what if it’s bad? What if you’re sick or get hurt? What if it’s bad? Who does that come from?”
Oh boy. Be careful what discussions you start at the dinner table! But don’t we ask the same kind of questions? If it’s good it’s from God, but what if it’s bad? My answer to her and to you is, “who gets to decide what is good and what is bad?” Only God gets to decide, friends. And what we think is bad, may actually be good.
Here’s an example of what that looks like in the real world. My 10 year old Autistic daughter. She’s proof that what we might think is bad can actually be good. Now, before you think I’m a super-saint, think again. I’m not. Not even close. I’m as ordinary as they come. There’s nothing special about our family. We have just been called to lead and extraordinary life. But I didn’t always see it that way. I thought we had be cheated. That God was picking on us. In the early days when she was first diagnosed I was just plain mad. HOW? WHY? Can this really be happening?
In the course of time I began to thank God for the life he had given me instead of thinking He had messed it up. The long story short is that thanksgiving paves the way for God to do something miraculous and the biggest miracle in our house is my changed heart. To be able to not only accept this life but to embrace it as well.
I do want to be clear, however. Autism can be a mean and hurtful thing to a family. When Autism comes to your house it is like your home is invaded. It’s as though Autism itself is a person. Another family member added to the mix. One that is greedy and demanding. One that controls where you go, how you spend your time, whether or not you sleep and will gladly suck your bank account dry. It will attempt to take over everything. Every. Single. Thing. But Autism and the child diagnosed with it are NOT the same. I HATE Autism. I do. And I always will. But I desperately love the child diagnosed with it and God has been gracious enough to take this terrible thing that has happened to her and to her siblings and our family and He has redeemed it.
He has done so much more than simply let us survive it. He has shown us Himself through it. His very self. And as we see Him for what He is, we know love, strength, purpose, peace. We know that His grace is enough for what we face. Are our lives challenging? Absolutely. Do we have moments when we are overwhelmed, unsure or even scared? You know we do. But this “bad” thing is causing us to lean hard on our Heavenly Daddy and He never lets us down. It’s conforming us to the image of Christ. It is teaching us what is really important in life. When safety can be a regular issue then your focus becomes clearer. You can let go of pretense and performance and other people’s opinions of you. And that, friends, is a good thing. A very good thing.
This “bad” thing has made me a better person. Saved me from the one I was becoming and given me opportunities to meet incredible people. To grow. It’s grown our whole family. It’s taught me of the grace of God. That’s a great thing. So, that brings me back to the question, who gets to decide if it’s bad or good? Maybe we just have to thank God for ALL things and then trust Him to turn them to good.
I know life can be hard and painful and dirty sometimes. Just like Joseph sold into slavery by his selfish, jealous brothers. What good could come of that? They meant harm for him but as he says to his brothers in the scriptures…”You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” – Genesis 50:20. The “bad” thing WAS the good thing. And then there was Jesus’ death on the cross. Satan dealt a terrible blow. To the disciples all seemed lost. It was the WORST thing that could happen…only it became the way to their salvation. It lead to the resurrection and the final victory over death itself. The “bad” thing was the greatest thing. We don’t get to decide what’s bad because we can only see a fraction of the whole picture. So maybe we should take the good and the “bad” as a gift from God and let him sort it out in the end.
So start your list today. What can you be thankful for? … “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – I Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks. Be grateful. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re giving thanks. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7
My husband’s mom tells the story of her father. One of his favorite hymns was “Count Your Blessings”. The chorus says to count your blessings, name them one by one. He would often sing it as count your blessings, name them ton by ton. If you start naming them one by one, you will see that Grandpa was right, they will multiple to ton by ton. Recognize them. Give thanks for them and find fullness of joy.