I could blame the fact that Halloween and the days that followed were filled with the planning and execution of an unexpected trip to North Carolina. Or I could blame the jolting shift to daylight savings time which has the twins waking at five in the morning and my husband and I struggling to stay up later than the older two. I could blame the virus that ran through the house, having its way with us, or the endless loads of laundry and trips to the grocery store, but no matter how I look at it, we're behind.
Every year for the past three we've commited the month of November to the practice of giving thanks. Each night after the dishes are cleared, we pass out slips of paper and put our hands, our minds, our hearts to the task of writing or drawing something we're thankful for. Then we staple each slip into a circle creating link after link on a chain.
In this way we commit ourselves to growing in gratitude and there have been years, like the one in the picture above, where the chain has stretched clear across the living room.
When I first heard the idea I grabbed on to it like a life preserver. I was just beginning to understand the roll that gratitude might have in my life, the way it frees me for hope and joy, the way it stares defiantly in the shadows of fear and anxiety and the way it eases the endless battle between control and resignation that crowds my mind on any given day.
Too often I've arrived at Thanksgiving distracted, unprepared and tried to conjure thanks through guilt. "Well," I'd tell myself, "I ought to be thankful." So I used guilt to badger a weak, limping gratitude from my distracted heart. It was a celebration that fell flat and I was relieved to move on to the distracting demands of Christmas.
As a parent, though, I didn't want my kids to come to Thanksgiving empty, because a meal, no matter how well prepared, can never fill an empty spirit. So we started practicing. There are no rules, no limits, except that everyone has to list something every night. On Thanksgiving, before or after the meal, we all sit around the table and read the slips, taking turns guessing who wrote what, reminding ourselves of our filled souls even as we feel the weight of our full stomachs.
Like I said, though, we fell behind this year. Yesterday started with crying babies at five a.m. and the house was a mess and as we cleared the table last night, as we faced the dishes and baths and waited for the twins to stop fighting sleep, I had to admit that I simply didn't want to practice the discipline of gratitude. I wanted to hold on to my list of complaints, hold on to the hope of controling tomorrow. I didn't want to surrender to grace even if my resistence meant starving my soul.
Thankfully, though, I have children, and their eagerness often draws me along forcing me to let go, forcing me to surrender what I would not naturally. So we sat, settled down to that moment of acknowledging what we'd received and I wrote, "I'm thankful it's almost bed time." My spirit lifted just a little, so I added, "I'm thankful for the right to vote and for homemade apple-pear sauce and spaghetti sauce."
I wrote my son's list for him and watched while my daughter ticked off a list of five things, one for each finger on her hand. Our four year old helped with the stapler and my daughter asked, while still writing, "What's this called again? A chain of what?"
"A Thanksgiving chain," I said, "a chain of thanks."
As I spoke my son stood thinking and looking at the links we'd already added, the words on paper that held us together, that promised to grow and stretch in the days ahead.
Pressing on the stapler, looking at that feeble collection of papers and words, he said, "It's a chain that lifts people out of the bad, right Mama?"
I recognized the truth as soon as he spoke it. A chain of gratitude, a book of thanks, a journal of a thousand gifts, seems foolish, weak and insignificant, but my son's right, it's a chain that lifts us, a chain that lifts me, out of the worst of myself.
"Yes, Solomon, that's right, it's a chain that lifts people out of the bad."
I don't know about you, but I know I need to be lifted. Lifted out of fear, out of anxiety, out of the tantalizing pulls of control and resignation, lifted onto the sure ground of the gospel which declares that all we have is gift, which confirms that for freedom we have been set free, that compells us to serve the greater good of love, even when it appears to be foolishness.
In giving thanks we're lifted, repositioned, into joy and hope, which may not sound like much in the face of the world's ills, until we realize faith, hope and love are always the starting point for every good thing. When we start and end our days with thanks, with faith, hope and love, there's no telling where tomorrow will take us.
I'd love to hear, how does your family celebrate thanksgiving? What are you thankful for right now?
The first five people who comment will receive a free Chain of Thanks packet to help get your family started. If you'd like this free gift, please make sure to leave your email address so I can contact you to arrange delivery. It's never to late to start giving thanks!