Thanksgiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of this holiday dedicated to thankfulness, I would like to offer a book recommendation.

For those of you who don’t know me well, I am a certified bookworm. I’ve been known to sit and read for hours at a time, or maybe even finish an entire book in one day.  My favorite books are non-fiction – true accounts of grace and triumph. Those are the stories that stay with me the longest.

I started Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts this summer in June and finished it in August. Two months is a long time for me to complete a book, especially one I like. But this was a book I had to read slowly.

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I have to tell you up front that Voskamp’s writing style is quite unique. The entire book feels lyrical, almost like reading poetry. It is beautiful, no doubt, but you have to be committed to finishing because at times it’s not easy reading.

However, it is so worth it.

The book begins with an experiment. In the throws of depression, Voskamp decides to keep a thankfulness journal, hoping to combat her despair with the practice of noticing and acknowledging gifts. Her goal was to record 1,000 every-day gifts – simple things. Here are her first three:

1.  Morning shadows across the old floors.
2.  Jam piled high on toast.
3.  Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce.

What started with a journal leads Voskamp into full-blown research on gratitude. She explores the theme of thanksgiving in the Bible and studies the way Jesus modeled gratitude throughout his life. She begins to witness the profound effect that intentional thankfulness has on her own well-being, while simultaneously discovering how her gratitude affects the people around her, primarily her family. I found it fascinating.

When I think of the impact this book had on me, the two words that come to mind are practice and noticing.

It may seem strange to think that it takes practice to be thankful, but for me sometimes it does. I’m not talking about when things are great. I have no problem being thankful during life’s major ups – a wedding, a new baby, holidays spent with family, special gatherings with friends. Those are the times when gratitude comes naturally.

But what about in the every-day moments of life?

What about when you’re cruising down the same aisle in the grocery story for the fourth time because you can’t find what you need? What about when your toddler son is pitching an ugly fit in public? What about when you get an unexpected bill? What about when your co-worker gets credit for something you put together? What is the role of gratitude then?

During the normal, mundane, sometimes annoying or inconvenient moments of life, I do believe having an attitude of gratitude takes discipline… and practice.

Maybe it’s my background as an athlete, but I was exceptionally encouraged by the idea that I can practice living my life from a place of gratitude. I know what it’s like to practice – sometimes you rock it and sometimes you bomb, but every attempt makes you better and better. Practice isn’t an all or nothing moment – it’s a process.

Ever since reading One Thousand Gifts, I’ve been practicing living a grateful life. I don’t always succeed, but I think I’m making progress. And the more I practice, the more natural and easy it becomes.

Noticing is the other key Voskamp found to living a life of thankfulness. It’s what her gratitude journal was all about – taking the time to notice life’s gifts. As I’ve followed suit and tried to practice gratitude, noticing has been crucial for me as well. When I feel myself getting frustrated or bothered, it helps to slow down and notice the gifts and the beauty already around me.

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Noticing beauty on an afternoon walk with TJ and Finley

Today is the only day of the year dedicated completely to gratitude. It’s my favorite holiday for that reason… well, and for the food and football too!

If you’re interested in keeping an attitude of gratitude on the other 364 days of the year as well, I recommend reading One Thousand Gifts for inspiration. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with lots of love, joy, and relaxation!

 

PS – Since I’m on the Ann Voskamp train right now anyway, she has a new book out called The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. It’s a 25-day devotional starting December 1 and leading up to Christmas day. I haven’t read it yet so I can’t really make a solid recommendation, but I am anticipating good things! Would anyone like to read it with me? If so, let me know and we can share thoughts in-person or by email! I love a good book study. 🙂

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SIM Training: New Friends, New Community

I am a whole-hearted believer in the power of community.

I don’t mean community in terms of geographic location, like your neighborhood or town. Not to say that sort of community can’t be powerful, because it can be depending on how you interact with those living around you.  However, the type of community I’m referring to is one defined by people. A community defined by people isn’t glued together by mere proximity, but is cemented instead by something a little more meaningful – shared experiences or beliefs.

At the beginning of November I had the delight of joining a new community. For the first two weeks of the month I attended SIM missionary training here in Charlotte, further preparing me for my transition onto the Sports Friends staff.  Accompanying me at training were sixteen other people from around the country, each one also in the process of transitioning into full-time ministry, most planning to live and serve overseas.

The Cliff Notes version of our two weeks together goes like this:

We learned a lot about our organization, cross-cultural service, and support raising. We drank a lot of coffee. And there may or may not have been an epic volleyball match we won played against the SIM staff on the last day.

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Bryan and I sporting some intimidating war paint on the day of the volleyball game. Bryan will also be working with Sports Friends here in Charlotte! She is my new co-worker and office buddy! 🙂

All of that was important, but here is what I really took away from the time at training: being with people who are traveling the same road I am is not only refreshing, it’s critical.

For most of my life, I’ve found myself surrounded by people similar to me. When I was a swimmer, I was surrounded by other swimmers. When I was a teacher, I was surrounded by other teachers. The commonality present in those previous relationships always encouraged me – I’ve found that shared experiences, especially challenging or emotional ones, have a natural tendency to bond people.

These past six months I haven’t had the luxury of being around many other missionaries, and I’ve sorely missed being in constant community with people who deeply understand my position. While this season has certainly drawn me closer to God, at times it’s also been JUST. PLAIN. HARD. For me, this training could not have come at a better time.

For two glorious weeks the seventeen of us shared laughter and tears. We told each other stories of triumph and disappointment, stories of encouragement and confusion, stories of times when God showed up in ways we never expected. Every day we ate lunch and dinner together, swapping seats for meals like a game of musical chairs. We prayed for each other, for the people we’ve yet to serve, and for the people who have yet to impact us.

During our time together I was reminded that God never intended for us to go through life alone. Community was His original design for humanity, and I believe He’s still in the business of using human relationships as a primary way to display who He is to people.

Psalm 27:27 – As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

My beloved new community has disbanded as of last Friday, each of us returning to our respective homes in different parts of the USA. Within a year or so our physical locations will further separate, the miles stretching longer as members of our gang leave to make new homes in countries like Malawi, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Kenya, Japan, and more.

I’m so thankful that ours is a community founded not on proximity, but on shared experiences and beliefs that can stand the test of any distance.

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All but one member of our group!

Dear God,

 Thank you for Bryan, Michelle, Keesha, Meg, Christina, Dana, Sarah, Shelby, Monte, Andrea, Peter, Ashley, Chris, Holley, Rachel, and Brian. Thank you for two soul-filling weeks of being poured into by our new SIM family. Thank you that you give us one another to reflect your love. Thank you for speaking truth and encouragement into our lives through each other. Thank you for the gift of community.

 For each of my new friends I pray peace on the journey, joy in the serving, comfort in the hardship, and love, brilliant love, every step of the way.

 Amen