You guys, I can’t say enough about my friend Christine. Mostly because I’ll cry because I love/miss her so much. She is a very close friend of mine who lives in Chile with her husband, sweet baby boy, and baby boy 2 on the way. I’m so glad she is over here sharing on our little corner of the internet today.
Although we missed the opportunity for friendship when we were at Taylor together, Laci and I made up for lost time when she moved to Charlotte. We immediately connected as we shared life together as public school teachers, Midwesterners in a new southern home, followers of Jesus, and great friends. She is the kind of friend that throws you a virtual baby shower so you can celebrate with your girlfriends from half a world away. I am so thankful for her, and honored to be able to contribute to her blog!
Sometimes it’s hard to remember to be thankful. Or maybe it’s not that we don’t remember, but that we rely too heavily on the “feeling” of gratitude. Things get hard and our perspective becomes jaded; we can only see what’s right in front of us instead of remembering the bigger picture.
We get a lot of visitors from the States here, mostly on short-term mission trips. Now, before you get the idea that we live in impoverished dirt huts, our life in Chile is far from it. Like any other country, it has its rich and its poor. By U.S. standards, we live in the lower middle class section of Santiago. But GDP aside, there are significant differences in comfort levels and life opportunities available to the people of our community versus our community in the States.
That said, we get a lot of… “reflections”, let’s say, from our visitors.
“I couldn’t believe how happy they were, having so little…”
“It really makes me realize how much opportunity we have in the States…”
“I just can’t believe how little supplies and how many students the classrooms have…”
“Wait, you guys don’t have indoor heating?”
And so on, and so forth
I won’t pretend I haven’t been in their position in the past, or even in my present during my less-disciplined moments. But I have learned so much about practicing gratitude as a discipline instead of waiting for it to come to me as an emotion.
Because if it is gratitude sparked from prideful or pitying comparison, it just seems tainted to me…
Like waiting for someone else to get cancer to realize that you are thankful for your health…
Or being grateful for your family only when you see the dysfunction or hardships in others’…
Or acknowledging the economic freedom and opportunities you have only when you read about countries that are in a worse state…
The truth is, we are all surrounded by these gifts, we only have to acknowledge them. And then how can gratitude not naturally well up from that recognition??
So let’s not wait for gratitude to come to us. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t many great things in life that just “come” to me. If I want to be in shape, I have to work out. If I want to get better at Spanish, I have to study more and allow people to correct me when I make mistakes. If I want a good marriage, I have to be intentional about loving Tracey more than I love myself.
Language learning is hard for everyone.
None of these things are natural desires that come easy. Like any other discipline, it is something to be practiced. But the practice is always worth the result!
A few years ago I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it. She challenges you to make an actual, physical list of one thousand things you are thankful for. Obviously, once you get past the obvious ones, (family, friends, health, etc.) it takes some thinking to get to a thousand. Which is the point: it teaches you how to actively observe and acknowledge the gifts in your life. It changes the way you think throughout the day and your overall level of awareness. It allows you to recognize and receive new gifts, more than you thought you had in the first place.
I started a little journal with a numbered list that I like to use, writing down a few things each day regardless of how I feel. My sister-in-law gave us a “gratitude jar” where you write your gifts on post-it notes, stick ‘em in the jar, and then read them all at the end of the year. I’m sure there are a million creative ways of doing it, but the point is to make it a consistent discipline. If we want to be grateful people, we have to take time to practice! We have to choose to acknowledge and allow ourselves these gifts that we are often too busy to recognize.
Here’s to practicing gratitude, not just in November, but in every moment!