Sparking Gratitude to Be Real-ly Thankful 2023
It is November and while I am trying to live a life all year with a thankful heart, this is the month I express it aloud and with intention. One of the rhythms of my life is taking stock of how amazing and spectacular life is in spite of and in the midst of hard seasons, disappointments and pain. Life is so fragile and yet we each have a choice as to how we face it. We can choose to be overwhelmed by it all or to be overwhelmed by all God is and does on our behalf. I am trying the latter.
I am reminded of the truth that God is not as concerned with the circumstances of my reality as He is with my heart. Everything is a chance for Him to show up, to shower me with His favor and His grace. Quite honestly I do not want anything but His mercy and grace even though my focus tends to be so myopic and self absorbed.
There is a social media app that many people use called Be real – The premise is to post an unfiltered photo as a selfie in the moment once a day when prompted by the app to do so. It is meant to encourage people to be more authentic. Similarly, in the moment there are things that existentially spark one’s own gratitude if we focus and look for it. So this year I am going to try to employ this method and look at the single word prompt and respond with what comes to mind for which I am thankful. I hope to use the day at hand to look for something I am thankful for using the following one-word topics.
What Sparks Gratitude? Here goes:
Nov. 1. NATURE – My gratitude is sparked as I spend time outside on a walk, at the zoo, and on a vacation. I am grateful for so many things in nature including sunrises and sunsets, the ocean and redwood trees. It is a beautiful world and I am grateful for how much of it I have seen, for the rhythms of seasons and the good weather in CA. Today I specifically watched the sun rise with renewed hope, grateful for another day. Thank you God!
Nov.2. FRIENDSHIP – What can I say about how friends spark my gratitude?! There are not enough words. I am blessed beyond belief by the people I call my friends. Just the thought of them makes me so thankful. I want to list them all here or call each them all for a long and sweet visit. Today I was reminded of how friends hold us accountable to truth and vulnerability and really listen (hearing what we mean); Thank you for that, LAS. I often reflect on my greatest blessings and most of the time I only count people. Mostly I am glad for the Friend who counted me worth the cost of laying down His life.
Nov.3. TECHNOLOGY Technology can be a mixed bag but it does spark gratitude for me in many ways. Today I was at a funeral and people from far away could watch it through a streaming service. I am so grateful for how it keeps me in better touch with people than I would otherwise without it.
Nov.4. NECESSITIES These are the first things to be taken for granted and often overlooked on a list of items for which to be thankful. Essential things in life really do spark a heart of gratitude. Having one’s needs met every day is not a reality for everyone and it is so important to remind and reframe my thinking as I remember how good I have it, how I have more than one set of clothes, that I have shoes, clean and hot water, a bed and more than enough food. Today I am specifically grateful for transportation, electricity, clean sheets, and love.
Nov.5. SENSES – The senses spark gratitude. Think about it: the things we observe, taste, touch, hear and smell trigger so many thoughts and responses. Today I woke early and heard some birds as I watched the sun rise, The air smelled clean and crisp as the morning began and I snuggled into my sheets and reflected on the memories of Jim. It was a sensory expreience and it began a thankful day. But my favorite sense is a sense of humor.
Nov.6. CREATIVITY There is a strong connection between creativity and thankfulness. Because gratitude is the antidote to fear and anxiety being grateful allows feelings of well being, grace and optimism to thrive as negativity dissipates. This sparks creative problem solving and healthy emotions. Having a thankful heart doesn’t deny the situation nor does it change the setbacks and crises but it does change perspective. It helps reframe and refocus and the best part is that it can be developed and strengthened through practice. Since saying thank you is most often skipped at work than anywhere else, it is even more important to say thanks specifically, aloud and often to increase productivity, motivation and joy. Creative ways to say thank you is my goal for the day. maybe it will spark gratitude in others!
Nov. 7. MOVEMENT – The very idea that if gratitude keeps things moving then when we move with a thankful heart we can generate (spark) even more thankfulness. Since we never step in the same river twice because the world is always in motion, we have a chance to move into every situation and experience with a better perspective! Taking a walk, traveling to visit people, having a car and money for gas and maintained roads is no small thing. Neither is the ability to walk, to play sports, to swim, to watch skilled athletes and to ponder at a baby learning to walk are all sparks for gratitude. Anyone up for a gratitude walk? By the way, I am thankful for the inventor of the bike!
Nov.8. FAMILY – Though often raw and real, My family initiates and fuels my gratitude all the time. My family of origin loves me and sharpens me which I count as a blessing. My nuclear family, created with Jim, is the thing for which I am most proud and I am so thankful for my children and their new families. My church communities, work family, friends that have become family and my kids’ people are among my greatest blessings.
Nov.9. BEAUTY – There is a lot of beauty in the world and I am thankful for beauty in relationships and nature. While thinking about what I am most grateful for, I want to take a left turn and mention that sometimes it is easier to think more about what we don’t have, or like or need. Life is unpredictable and it is harder to be thankful for or in the bad stuff. And yet anything – even the ugly parts of life – can strengthen us, change us for the better, refine and teach us, push us to lean into the Lord if we choose to let it. Or at least if we choose to not let the broken and horrible parts of life control us. Everything in life is a chance for God to show up. I am not sure I can say as the Apostle Paul can (Eph. 5:20, 1 Thess 5: 18) that I am thankful FOR such things, but I am working on it. I think that so much ugly, enhances the sweetness of the beauty I have known. May I never take for granted the smallest of blessings; for the beauty I do know and experience I am grateful.
Nov.10. WORK – I am thankful I have a job (I am an admin at Fullerton Free). When most of the day, most of the year, most of my adult life is spent working it is important to look for the blessings in that space or else life will become pretty dismal. I can say that when I was in ministry it was much easier to grow my gratitude. Now it often takes intentionality to notice the good things, to appreciate the opportunities which come much less often and to put my full wight down on thankfulness. So today I am grateful for the past career and ministry I was given. I am glad for my abilities and my mind and I am glad for the occasional opportunity to stretch my ministry wings, like an upcoming teaching in HSM. (PS – so grateful I don’t work at medical billing anymore!)
Nov.11. PLAY – Play is the real work of childhood and it represents serious learning according to Piaget and Montessori. As adults we have mistakenly been trained to separate work from play, as though work is the more important thing while play is only for children– almost as though play is dessert or a reward for hard work. It isn’t. “All play and no work” is just as wong as “All work and no play”. Like faith and works (James 2), play and work are to be held in tandem; they are 2 sides of the same coin called life. Further, I believe with all my heart that life is meant to be lived as play and playing is meant to be an essential component in our relationship with God because God is a God of joyful play. Recently I heard a friend try to devalue its critical importance. Today I am grateful for the work on laughter, joy and play that Tibby and I did for our company Jest in Time. And I am thankful to be able to play and laugh as worship.
Nov.12. WEEKENDS – I think about the Israelites who worked as slaves 24/7 and had no time to restore and reframe. Taking the time to care for other parts of life that get overlooked in the busyness of the work week and spending time recharging is huge. And I never want to take weekends for granted. Often they are spent recklessly and I suppose that is okay! While I am not equating a whole weekend with Sabbath rest, I am certainly glad that God encourages us to take time and to keep margin in our lives. Yesterday was a well needed gift.
Nov.13. FOOD – I have choice. I have leftovers. I have refrigeration and cupboards. I have people to enjoy it with. There is abundance and I have not known hunger. Not really.
The best way to have food is with others! Today I had the joy of sharing a meal with one of my heroes – NB! So grateful for the opportunity!
Nov. 14 HOME – More than a location, home is a sense of peace and belonging. It isn’t easy to define, but you know when you’re there. It is where one feels safe, secure, loved and accepted. Home is where one finds light when everything else is dark.
I used to own a house and often, in this crazy housing market, I miss that security, but I am grateful for the sense of home that Jim and I enjoyed together and created with our kids. They are still my home. AND I look forward to the hope of a heavenly home.
Nov.15. HARDSHIP We are naturally wired to focus on problems; we are wired with an instinct to look for threats so we can escape unharmed. That is why the news has that same negativity bias. For better or worse that is how life works. This is why it is important to practice gratitude. Doing so is NOT a form of denial. Being thankful does not make the problems go away, it just makes living through them tolerable. Rather, it is a way to reframe a situation. Resetting thoughts leads to a different perspective and more solutions and feelings other than the pain. Quite clearly the world you paint for yourself is the world you live in. I would rather find joy and hope, love and acceptance. Nightbirde said it this way, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore until you decide to be happy.” Hardship is what happens. Gratitude is what we can choose. No. Matter. What. Life is hard for most people most of the time, but we can still enjoy it. That is why Jesus came, isn’t it? To give us abundant joy!
Nov.16. MEMORIES – I have memories that I like to run into as I walk down memory lane. Simultaneously, there are somethings I would rather forget. But I am grateful for memory as it is the fabric of our soul. Memory makes us who we are and it allows us to keep our loved ones close and alive, even when they are far.
Memory houses our joys, our hurts, and all of life’s lessons. The point of this seasonal exercise is to remember. Remembering is a faith practice, or spiritual discipline; It’s a muscle to exercise. We’re called to remember God, to remember God’s works, to remember Christ’s sacrifice. But in order to grow from all that remembering, there is a need to do something: make a memorial, tell a story, celebrate with others, serve God and neighbor.
“Today, I know that memories are the key not to the past but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do.” Corrie ten Boom
Nov.17. ACCOMPLISHMENTS – Society tends to make us believe that success is the big stuff like the fancy car, the big house and the fancy vacations; so we tend to pursue “success” hard. It is easy to feel discouraged when we haven’t achieved all the big stuff and others have. Further, we live in a microwave world that believes that it should take very little effort to accomplish big dreams. But what if the small stuff is actually worth celebrating? What would it be if we practiced gratitude even in and for the little victories? Gratitude turns what we have into enough. I am guilty of big picture thinking which downplays little “wins”. While I have accomplished some things in my life for which I am very proud, I am grateful for each day and being able to check stuff off my to do list! May God get all the credit for everything everyday always!
Nov.18. GIFTS God is the giver of every good gift and His good hand graces me with provision overflowing in uncountable and unmeasurable ways. (Neh. 2:8, Jas. 1:17) In every detail of my life God has been faithful and generous and everything in my life hinges on His good hand. I still remember the days I prayed for the things I have now. This ignites my gratitude in advance of all I will have in the future.
Nov.19. RELATIONSHIPS Ministry best happens in the context of relationships. This was Jim’s rule of thumb and pattern of his life and ministry. When I think of my relationships my thankfulness grows exponentially. Thank you for loving me, praying for me, befriending me, putting up with me and more. I am still awestruck and the personal relationship we enjoy with a God who loves.
Nov.20. FAVORITES These are a few of my favorite things: Raindrops on Roses. Whiskers on kittens. Amazon. Games. Travel. Baseball. Disney. A good glue movie. Photo albums. A meal with a friend. Admiring the creativity of others. Tea and Scones. The beach. Redwoods. There are so many things to be thankful for and the more I list the more thankful I am. This is a core reality!
Nov. 21 SMILES Smiles can trigger happiness and build relationships. Did you know that there are at least 19 types of smiles? Smiling releases endorphins, natural mood boosters, and reduces stress. Smiling also helps you appear more approachable and trustworthy, making people more likely to want to help you if you’re struggling. Smiling is contagious and is the universal language of kindness. It helps stay positive and healthy; it actually signals the brain that everything is going to be okay.
Nov.22. CHILDHOOD – There are many who did not have a happy childhood, making it difficult to find things about it for which one is grateful. On the other hand, the fact that God created us to be His children reminds me that He is interested in redeeming all of my life – even the history, the broken places and the scars. But mostly I think about the concept of children and childhood and how they ignite gratitude. Kids are silly and cuddly. They believe the impossible. They are inspiring and hopeful. They are eager, honest and tender. They are unfinished and full of potential. They give purpose. And, even as adults my kids continue to bless me, make me happy and remind me that God loves me.
Nov.23. HOLIDAYS Holidays are a time to reflect, celebrate and be thankful for many aspects of life however practicing gratitude throughout the year is just as important as practicing gratitude around the holidays. Gratitude is more than saying “thank you”. Expressing gratitude for we have, even simple things, instead of worrying about what we don’t have, can actually grow joy and contentment in life. God created an opportunity to celebrate thankfulness during the feast of Pentecost. The people were to remember how God had provided to them and give generously to the poor. Happy Thanksgiving!
Nov.24. FAILURE While I do not like to fail it is guaranteed that I have, I do and I will. Additionally, I have a hard time being grateful for failure. Yet, failure gives perspective. It teaches valuable lessons It grows my compassion for others. It reminds me I am human. It challenges me to not give up and keep trying. It pushes me into further dependence on a perfect God who never fails. So, I am learning to be thankful even for failure and loss.
Nov.25. MUSIC Music changes us. Makes us better. Helps us think. Gives us a way to express ourselves. Lifts our spirits. Impacts our memory. Gets us moving. Boosts self-confidence. Raises IQ and academic potential. But music also instills values, perhaps one of the most important values being that of gratitude. If it wasn’t for music I would never have met Jim and had the live I have enjoyed.
Nov.26. EXPERIENCES Thankfulness is subjective and its expression comes in many different forms. It is a choice that is not difficult when life is good. I know that I did not grow up with many personal horrific experiences. My parents loved each other and we always had plenty. I married a man I loved and who loved me for over 30 years; our beautiful children added to our happily ever after life. It is easy to be thankful when life goes our way, isn’t it?! It is the experiences of life – all of them – that put feet to the thankful spirit within. Thankfulness and gratitude are tested with real life experiences and situations, even the events we don’t want, plan, have time for, or feel we deserve – like cancer and death. Life is full of interruptions and complications that are tougher for which to be grateful, but they all are opportunities to be reminded of God’s bigger plan. It is knowing the experiences we have lived through were carefully designed so we experience true thankfulness daily.
Nov.27. SIMPLICITY I have been slowly purging and it is not easy for me. Many memories are tied to things, but I am working on it. Contentment leads to simplicity because it frees you from comparison and consumerism. I want my focus to continue to shift from acquiring to enjoying. The simple truth is that gratitude changes your brain chemistry. (It causes activation in the brain’s reward pathways and it increases serotonin and dopamine). Hopefully, being rooted in gratitude will make it easier to let go of possessions and change purchasing habits. The definition of gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness.” It is finding joy in simply everything. So today – again I say thank you.
Nov.28. AGING – I have spent most of my life being “young”. Learning to accept what my body can no longer do and how it is going from shapely to saggy is important. I am grateful for every day I am alive and I know I am no more entitled to a far reaching lifespan than anyone else. One of my favorite cards has the quote, “Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most, live the longest.” What a great reminder to celebrate whatever we can, whenever we can, and to take absolutely nothing for granted. Nothing except, maybe, that the longer we live, the more we will age. That everyday miracle seems worth celebrating gratefully and gracefully!
Nov.29. GENEROSITY – The challenge is to be generous with our kindness and our thankfulness – EVERYDAY – ALL YEAR. 24/7/365. To whom much has been given much is required… most of the world will go to bed tonight hungry, cold or scared; The disproportionate distribution of stuff is mind-numbing. While I do not know why I was chosen to be one of the “haves” and not one of the “have-nots”, I do know that I have no excuse for selfishness, greediness or stinginess. And one of the best habits I can have is to reflect the generous heart of a good God and extend joyful generosity like confetti, knowing I can never outgive Him.
Nov.30. GOD – Thank you for giving me a way to rejoice at all times and all the good gifts I enjoy. May everyday forever be spent thanking you for your faithful love, your kindness toward me, and your unending power! Keep gratitude as a habit my friends! There is so much for which to be thankful!