A 12-inch cardboard tree inspired a personal challenge while shopping for a friend’s birthday present at Target with my kids. It came with perfectly cut paper leaves in fall colors. The idea was to affix one leaf on a branch for 30 days, each leaf representing what I’m thankful for during the month of November. I resolved to post (almost) every day, on Instagram. Then I could be pleased with myself for “practicing gratitude.”
If only it was that simple.
The first anniversary of mom’s passing into the heavenly realms is upon us, so this challenge has been a way to honor her and deal with other upsetting circumstances.
My mom would have delighted in this feeble attempt at re-training my brain. (She may have hoped this exercise would make me less grumpy). She would have tried to start her own Instagram account just to follow me and added her list. Having kept gratitude journals for years, she was an accomplished practitioner. Even down to her last days with us, she was focused on her blessings.
Week one wasn’t so bad. Week two was harder. By week three, I was ready to give up. So much bitterness and resentment was boiling up within me over issues beyond my control that I came this close to stuffing that cheap piece of junk in the trash. I was sinking further down under raging waters.
Then I felt a gentle push. My head broke through the surface. Next, a whispered, “breathe.”
I found myself in the basement office, staring at the bookcase when my eyes fell on Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life.” (read that 20 years ago, but worth a review) Some unseen force prompted me to pull it from the shelf, and the book fell open to a page on which one of mom’s famous index cards was placed.
How did that yellow index card end up here? I read mom’s beautiful cursive handwriting:
“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength when the labors increase; To added affliction He addeth His mercy, To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace. His love has no limit. His grace has no measure, His power has no boundary known unto men; For out of his infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth again!” September 28, 2018.
I dropped to my knees and wept. It was exactly what I needed from her. Apparently she had come across this old hymn, recorded by multiple artists and knew it might bring me comfort five years later.
Bible teacher, radio personality, author and founder of Revive Our Hearts online ministry Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has a beautiful treasure in her 2009 publication “Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy” that has enabled me to exhale bitterness and inhale gratitude to a deeper level as well. We must choose gratitude because, if you’re anything like me, it does not come naturally. (Grateful to dear friend Krissy Moehling Geffel for this amazing gift several years ago.)
Wolgemuth suggests committing to a set season of gratitude. How about this Christmas season? I can’t think of any better time to start. Can you? Because, unfortunately, reading books on gratitude does not a grateful person make. Not anymore than putting paper leaves on a cardboard tree.
“Ungrateful people don’t become grateful overnight. Nor do we become grateful by merely thinking about it or wishing to be more so. Like any other virtue, a grateful spirit is the work of God’s spirit within the life of a believer who is purposeful about putting off fleshly inclinations and cultivating spiritual ones. That takes time, effort, and focused attention.”
Especially when you’re doing it during adversity or a season of grief. Then it becomes a thank-sacrifice. “Those who say NO to resentment and “YES” to gratitude even in the face of excruciating pain, incomprehensible loss, and ongoing adversity, are the ones who really survive,” writes Wolgemuth.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? That’s next on my to-do list for December. It shouldn’t take me more than five minutes at the end of each day to write down a few material and spiritual items. I will also be more intentional about cultivating gratitude in the hearts of my kids. Do you write thank you notes? Not just for gifts received, but to recognize the kindness and generosity of others? What are some other ways of cultivating gratitude?
The Bible is full of verses that instruct us to offer thanks to the Lord and find contentment in the moment. It is a matter obedience. Focus not on what you wish was true, but focus instead on your current reality and pray to find contentment in that.
Freedom to worship the Lord anywhere in this country without fear of imprisonment or death
A husband who enjoys meal planning and preparation and is gifted in organization and planning
An empathetic daughter
Bible training and knowledge from Bible Study Fellowship
Making music with others
48 years with the best mom God could have given me
fellowship of other believers