Grateful. adjective. “Warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful.”
I’ve felt fairly off-kilter this November.
Maybe it’s daylight savings time and darkness by 4:45. Maybe it’s the election (no comment). Maybe I need to start taking Vitamin D again. Maybe it’s this challenging point in the school trimester, where we’re trying to squeeze too much into too few days.
Being me, a person who believes there is a controllable solution for everything!, I figured I could solve this. I could fix my mild discontent, the underlying crankiness that makes me snappy with the boyfriend because why can’t he read my mind yet?, the frustration that builds up when middle schoolers act like, well, middle schoolers, the suppressed road rage that makes me sigh heavily in traffic.
My life can’t be that bad, right? I thought while washing dishes one night and pondering the state of my spirit. I am employed and loved and fed and relatively fulfilled. I must not be seeing all of the good things in my life. Like now. I should be really in the moment while I’m here washing dishes, noticing how good the dish soap smells and how accomplished I feel when the kitchen is clean. Hey. I should write down the little things that make me thankful. Even at school. Even though I don’t have time to go to the bathroom, much less write down more things. But I’ll do it! It will even make a timely November blog post. Look at me, solving everything.
So I set off on my Ann Voskamp-style crusade. (Nothing against Ann Voskamp. Obviously, I liked One Thousand Gifts since I’m using this strategy.) It was a random Thursday, and I decided that gratitude could be fostered on any ol’ day. So I wrote down how thankful I was that students actually make positive comments sometimes and that my 6th hour students are so curious (even though it makes them talk incessantly), and that I’m discovering more teaching strategies that work.
And then Friday came. The thankful list, topped with a smiley face, was sitting nearly on top of my keyboard.
I didn’t think about it all day. I definitely muttered complaints to myself when things didn’t go exactly as planned. (This happens approximately every 5 minutes.)
A blog post I read recently quoted Annie Dillard, who says, “The world is fairly studded and strewn with unwrapped gifts and free surprises…cast broadside from a generous hand.”
Remembering to unwrap those gifts, so generously given, is hard.
Our nice Christian blog posts make it seem like it should be so simple. Just look around you! See the good in the world! Be joyful! Get over your first world problems and think about how #blessed you are!
When I don’t find these blessings at first glance, it feels like I’m a lesser Christian woman. At the very least, I should not be allowed to write about faith. How dare I not find beauty in every sliver of the world and rejoice about it always.
But this practice of hope, of finding gifts in the world, of gratitude, is not so sugar-coated. It’s right at home in a world that’s busted and a heart that’s rough around the edges.
It is easy to bemoan all of the ways our worlds fall to bits. This year alone has shown us so much that is dark and tumultuous and fearful and ugly in the world. At school, all of the distractions and redirections and miscommunications are much more obvious than the times my kids listen and positively contribute. In my own cranky soul, I see far too much selfishness and greed and ego and anger and pettiness.
There are absolutely times to see those things and mourn them. Far too often, we slap a spiritual Band-Aid over gaping wounds and make ourselves move on. Even in this season of thanksgiving, I don’t want to shut my eyes to that bad stuff and pretend it’s not there. God encourages us to lament all that is imperfect.
But right now, I know I need to face the ick, in the world and my own heart, and believe that God is still there among the wreckage. He is still surprising us with beauty and giving us grace. Seeing his gifts is one way we move forward, closer to his light and his hope. Even when we’re scared for the future of our nation. Even when we’re lacking in Vitamin D. Even when we’re cranky too much of the time. Even when the world is broken.
The harder the practice of gratitude is, the more we need it.
I lovingly forced my students to foster hope and gratitude this November with our Thankful Tree. Every Tuesday, we wrote a few things we were thankful for on leaves and taped them to a construction paper tree in the back of the classroom. Here are some of my favorites:
These kids are honest and funny and they make me smile. That’s something I’m thankful for.
There’s more: Autostart in my new car. Leftovers. Good books. Yoga videos. Comfortable shoes. Laughter. Family members who are my friends and friends who feel like family. Long weekends. The small thrill of having a full tank of gas. Pajamas. Audiobooks. Cold glasses of water. The satisfaction of crossing items off to-do lists. Clean sheets. Lip balm.
Today, it might be a struggle to add to the list. But I’m choosing to see past my tiredness, past the insanity that is a classroom before a long weekend, past the many approaching hours in the car, past the dozens of essays I still have to grade, past the newspaper headlines, and be grateful.
Will you join me?