Today, meet my cousin, Jess. You can read her bio below, but let me introduce you to her from my perspective. Growing up in another country had one negative effect – I never really got to know my extended family very well. If I could tie my introduction of Jess into a nice gratitude post, I’d say, I’m very grateful to know her now – to see what an amazing wife and mom she is, and to have someone in my life that makes me want to be a better me. We still don’t spend a ton of time together, but Jess is one of these people that lives out her life with a lot more walk than talk, and I get to see, even from a distance a life lived to the fullest. I know she will have you thinking today…
For years I have been taught that Thanksgiving was a time to express how thankful I am for everything I have – my family, my home, my job, my freedom, ect. I have done the 30 Days of Thankfuls on Facebook faithfully, until this year. This year, I got to about day three and stopped. I am not sure if it was because I felt like my thankfuls were becoming mere methodical utterances of the standard things that folks typically express thanks for – my family, my home, my job, my freedom, ect – or if I was feeling less thankful this year. Both options sort of bummed me out and made my thankful expressions feel even more fabricated. Then my cousin, Amy, asked me to write about gratitude month, and I quietly said a “Thank You” because I knew this was exactly what I needed to kick the dust off my Thanksgiving Self.
But days later, I still had nothing. Leaning against the counter in lime green Christmas pjs, I was considering this dilemma. The typical morning chaos began to form around me, and I observed the hustle and bustle of getting-the-kids-out-of-the-door. The almost 2 year old stood (not sat, because that is a skill we have not enforced since she is the third) at the table in her pajama top and droopy diaper eating her yogurt and toast – a dog waiting at her feet to catch the raisins and bits of bread that tumble down. I cringed as I watched the yogurt go plop, plop, plop onto the table, chair and floor. Well, that’s what dogs are for, right? Then the two older girls burst from the bathroom, naked, and began running laps – living room, kitchen, office, foyer, living room, kitchen, office, foyer, living room – all the while belting, “WeEEE are never ever ever getting back together. You go talk to your friends…” Coffee, where is the coffee? I dove into the chaos, “COME EAT YOUR BREAAAAAAAAKKKKKKFFFFFFFFFAST or I swear you will go to school hungry!” 45 minutes later, my Daddy backed his truck out of the driveway with my kindergartner in tow (he takes her to school each morning), and my Husband backed out of the driveway with my almost 2 and almost 4 year olds (he drops them off at daycare on his way in to work). I had about 10 minutes to gather my thoughts and throw on some jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt before I was due to sign in (in my home office) at my job. The kitchen was a wreck from the chaos, the laundry piled up (literally) in the laundry room, and there was a ginormous pile of unopened bills stacked by my computer. Unopened because I didn’t have the energy to look at how much is due. That would mean acknowledging how much money we have. And that is another level of chaos that I was not prepared to deal with at that moment. So, I decided put it off, again.
As the thoughts settled, my mind drifted back to writing about being thankful. How am I supposed to write about being thankful? Everything is a freaking mess. I could feel the wallowing in selfish pity starting to creep up my toes as I finally poured myself a cup of coffee. Only then did I notice the news in the background. Oh, I am so loving this hazelnut organic creamer – yum. The reporter described the damage on the New Jersey shore caused by Hurricane Sandy. Still barely paying attention, I heard him detail how the police were organizing buses that would allow families to spend 4 hours at their home “sites” collecting what they could, assessing damage, and taking video/pictures. The families would then be bused away from their homes with no indication of when they would be allowed to return. A little more creamer. And some sugar – it has been a hectic morning.
There were a few minutes left before work officially started, so I scrolled through my Facebook updates, I am thankful for…I am so thankful… Today, I give thanks…, and between likes, cute pictures, and sips of coffee, I heard another reporter yammering on about a General who apparently cheated on his wife and this means he betrayed the country and now he is resigning and there are a bunch of cover ups and he isn’t going to testify… Then it was time for work. And the day flew by.
The next day, I was thinking about being Thankful again, and feeling frustrated with what I was coming up with – everything was so cliché. As an English teacher and a person who loves to write, I appreciate the power of words and sometimes the simplest thing can change the entire meaning of a sentence, a paragraph, a thought, or in my case, a season. I went back to square one – What does it mean to be thankful? Which led me to – What does it mean to be grateful?
According to Webster, here is the breakdown:
Thank-ful 1. conscious of benefit received; 2. expressive of thanks; 3. well pleased
Synonyms: blissful, chuffed [British], delighted, gratified, happy, joyful, joyous, pleased, satisfied, glad, tickled
Antonyms: displeased, dissatisfied, joyless, sad, unhappy, unpleased, unsatisfied
Grate-ful 1. (a) appreciative of benefits received (b) expressing gratitude; 2. (a) affording pleasure or contentment (b) pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated
Synonyms: appreciative, appreciatory, glad, obliged, thankful
Antonyms: unappreciative, thankless, unappreciative, ungrateful
Conscious of benefit? Appreciative of benefit? Wait a minute.
I began to cry. I sat at my computer and looked around – the dirty dishes, the dirty dogs, the dusty shelves, the stack of bills, the “yeyyow” highlighter (probably the instrument used to create the scribble scrabble design on the wall above my couch), the Frankenstein stencil – the Chaos. And I said, out loud, “I am so thankful for the benefits I have received – my husband, my girls, my parents and siblings and nieces and nephews, my neighbors, my home, my job, my freedom, ect. I am thankful, every day. A thousand times thankful. But, am I grateful?”
Do I appreciate what I have?
In retrospect, I consider the morning when I just leaned back and observed the chaos – and realize that it isn’t enough to be thankful that I have a house my girls can run in, and pets my girls can play with, and food (good, healthy food) that nourishes my family, and a Daddy who understands his value to his grandchildren, and a man who is the definition of a husband, and a job that allows me to work from home, and freedom that allows me to write this blog. Being thankful – being aware that I have these things and that they are good for me – is not enough. I must be grateful – be appreciative of them. Because without them, I am not me. Appreciation is far deeper than consciousness. It comes from the soul, not just the mind. It takes but one edition of the morning news to remind me that my chaos is the result of some serious blessings.
So this Thanksgiving, I will be thankful for food and fellowship, but I will be grateful for my blessings. It is gratitude that can mollify hearts and strengthen bonds, and it is Gratitude that should rule this season – not simply thanksgiving.