Choosing Gratitude

attitude

After three days of a kid with a fever, we finally got out of the house yesterday. It was glorious. We went to the pool with some friends.  The girls burned off some pent-up energy, and I was happy to simply sit on the sidelines and enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Then we got home, and my younger daughter (the same one that had just gotten over the fever) started complaining about an itchy, watery eye. One look at her eye, and I stuck her in the car and took her to the Minute Clinic. A half hour later we had a pink eye diagnosis and a prescription for eye drops.

I would love to sit here and tell you that in light of the post I wrote on Monday that I took this all in stride. I would love to tell you that I didn’t rant and rave in my mind about the unfairness of it all. I would love to tell you that I started counting my blessings.

But I didn’t do any of those things. As I washed pillowcases and blankets and pretty much anything my daughter had touched in the past few days, I raged inside. This wasn’t fair. I’m not accomplishing anything this week. I just want a few days of normal.

I didn’t say any of it out loud, but I thought it. Oh, did I think it. Until my daughter started voicing her thoughts about the unfairness of it all. Her attitude went from smiling and happy earlier in the day to frustrated and mad. And I understood it. I felt the exact same way. Except that when my daughter started raging, I realized what it looked and sounded like. I realized how insignificant these illnesses are in the grand scheme of the world. And I set out to change my attitude and my daughter’s.

We spent some time talking about it. We acknowledged that it wasn’t fair that she had just gotten better and now she was sick again. We talked about how frustrating that is for everyone in our family. And then we talked about choices.

You see, every day, we have a choice about how we’re going to deal with our circumstances. We can choose to let our circumstances overwhelm us or we can choose to be thankful despite our circumstances. The point of view we choose will affect every part of our day and every part of our attitude.

God doesn’t tell us to be thankful when bad things happen. He tells us to be thankful in the midst of our circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Our circumstances have the ability to rob us of joy and thanksgiving — but only if we let them.

I am not thankful that my daughter is sick again. I am not thankful that we may have to change our plans for this week yet again. I am not thankful that my older daughter is getting the short end of the stick in not being able to hang out with her friends because her sister is sick. And God doesn’t ask me to be thankful for all of those things.

However, even in the midst of our circumstances, I can find things for which to be thankful. I am thankful for the relative health of my girls. I am thankful for doctors and medicine. I am thankful that these illnesses, though they have come one on top of the other, are not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. They’re not cancer or diabetes or some other life-threatening illness. I am thankful that even when I’m less than grateful, God is still there, loving me and caring for me.

So, today, my daughter and I are going to choose to be thankful despite the circumstances that will keep us home for one more day. We’re going to choose to be thankful that we have a house to stay in, doctors to care for us, and a family that loves each other — even if today we don’t want to touch each other for fear of spreading germs. We are going to choose not to wallow in self-pity but to enjoy the blessings this day brings our way.

It may not be easy to set aside those feelings of frustration and anger, but it is necessary. And having a grateful heart pushes those feelings to the side. It’s almost impossible to be frustrated and angry and thankful at the same time. So, today we’re choosing gratitude in our house. Will you choose it in yours — no matter the circumstances?

Day 3: A Note for the Teacher

Welcome to the 25 Days of Giving. Each day we’ll focus on a different way you can teach your kids to give to others. If you missed the start of this series, you can find it here. Put the focus on giving instead of getting at Christmas this year because Jesus was a gift to us. Join in the fun by reading each day, then posting in the comments ways that you help your kids give to others at Christmas. Don’t forget to share this series with your friends on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Neither of my daughters is all that fond of school. There’s a variety of reasons for that, but let’s just say it’s not their favorite way to spend a day at the moment. However, they both have some really good teachers that brighten up their day and make the school day not so dreary. For that, I’m grateful, and I think my daughters should be, too.

So, yesterday’s direction from the giving box was to write a note to one of their teachers, telling them how much my girls enjoy being in their class. Lots of moaning and groaning followed the reading of the direction. No one wanted to write a note. “That takes too long.” “What am I going to say?” “I don’t have enough time.” “That’s embarrassing.” Those were all complaints I heard, but still the direction remained to write a note — not an email, not a verbal thank you — a note.

Having my kids write a note of gratitude to their teachers doesn’t cost anything to give except time and effort, yet it’s a gift from the heart. It forces our kids to think about what they are grateful for, even when it comes to something my girls don’t necessarily like. It makes them think about someone else for the 10 minutes it takes them to write the note.

Writing a note of thanks also makes the receiver feel special. There’s something about getting a written note card of thanks that warms the heart in a way an email or a phone call doesn’t. It’s solid. It’s permanent. You can go back and read it over and over again.

I personally think that we don’t spend enough time thanking the people who make an impact in our lives. We don’t often take the time to stop and think about how others have helped us along the way. Yet, we want to have hearts filled with gratitude, and we want to teach our kids to be thankful. We want to follow the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Our notes of gratitude are packed in the backpacks and ready to go to school today. Our daughters may be a little embarrassed when they hand them to their teachers, but that’s OK. The rewards of being thankful are so much greater than a little embarrassment.

Is there a note of gratitude that you or your child need to add to your Christmas gift-giving list?

For more great ideas to keep your kids’ attention focused on Christ in the Christmas season, check out my Everyday Christmas e-book. You’ll find lots of simple to implement ideas to create a Christ-centered Christmas.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife.

Day 7: Books

Welcome to Being Thankful for the Little Things, our annual November Thanksgiving family devotional series. This year, we’re focusing on being thankful for the little stuff, the things we often take for granted. Each devotional is meant to be read as a family. At the end of each devotional, you’ll find a journaling prompt (you can download a free journal cover and pages here) and an action step you can take to help out someone else. Thanks for joining us and be sure to share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Reading is one of my favorite things to do. It’s how I relax and wind down after a long day. I love getting caught up in a good story and forgetting my own world for a minute. Books can take us places we might never go in real life. They can teach us about things we might never experience any other way.

Think about it. I’m probably never going to walk on the moon, but a book can tell me the story of the men who walked there. I’ll probably never sail around the world, but I can read about the men and women who have. I’m a terrible artist, but books can show me the masterpieces of those who are great artists.

Big or small, loaded with pictures or not, I’m so thankful that God gives us books to read. I’m thankful for the creative brains that He’s given to certain people who can write really great stories for me to read. But the book I’m most thankful for is the Bible.

The Bible is all the things I love about books rolled into one. It has great stories. Who doesn’t like stories about floods, battles, romances and giants? And the great thing about the Bible is that those stories are true. The Bible also teaches us new things. It’s chock full of information about how God wants us to live our lives. It’s a practical how-to manual for life. Having trouble holding onto your temper? The Bible has words about that. Do you worry about everything? The Bible has advice for that.

The Bible is an amazing book, and we’re lucky to be able to read it. In some countries, it’s illegal to own a Bible. Yet, in the United States, we can not only own the Bible, we can read it, we can give it away, and we can tell others about it. All without the fear of being thrown into prison or killed just for owning one.

So, today, I’m thankful for books of all kinds, but I’m especially grateful for the Bible and the freedom to read it.

Journal entry: Write down at least three things that you’re thankful you’ve learned from the Bible. Then write down three books that you’re thankful for.

Action step: Save up your money and buy a Bible. Then give that Bible to someone who doesn’t have one. You may know someone personally or you can donate the Bible to your church to give away or to a local homeless shelter. Share the gift of the Bible with someone else.

Speaking of books, don’t miss our book giveaway. Enter to win A Thankful Heart devotional. This book is chock-full of ways to get your kids focused on having a spirit of gratitude through serving others. Practical, easy ideas will have your family serving others in no time. If you just can’t wait, you can purchase your own copy here. All of the proceeds from the book go to the support of the children Jackie’s children support through World Vision. Enter by clicking here and going to the bottom of yesterday’s post.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife.

Day 3: My Feet

Welcome to Being Thankful for the Little Things, our annual November Thanksgiving family devotional series. This year, we’re focusing on being thankful for the little stuff, the things we often take for granted. Each devotional is meant to be read as a family. At the end of each devotional, you’ll find a journaling prompt (you can download a free journal cover and pages here) and an action step you can take to help out someone else. Thanks for joining us and be sure to share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Look down. What do you see? No, not that gum wrapper on the ground. Your feet. Those things you walk on and probably take for granted most of the time. How often do you think about your feet? When you get out of your chair to walk across the room, do you think, “OK, feet, do your stuff?” Of course not. Our feet just work when we need them to. We don’t even really think about it.

My daughter hurt her foot playing hockey last night. She came off the ice and couldn’t walk. She had to hop all the way to the car. I bet she didn’t think about her feet all day yesterday — until one of them didn’t work very well.

Our feet are something to be thankful for. They take us places. They support us when we stand. They allow us to run, hop, skip, jump, walk and play. They get us from here to there. They let us skate, ride a bike, and jump on a trampoline.

God even calls our feet beautiful. Check it out. Psalm 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” When we use our feet to take us places to tell other people about God, it makes them beautiful.

I don’t think too much about whether my feet are beautiful or not. They’re just there at the end of my legs. As a matter of fact, my feet are kind of oversized. I tend to trip over them a bunch. But God says when I use my feet to take me places to tell others about Him that my feet are beautiful. Of all the things my feet can do, this is the most important one.

So, whether you walk, run, skip, jump or skate someplace today, be thankful for your feet. Let them be beautiful today as you use them to take you places where you can tell someone else about God.

Journal entry: Write down three things that you are thankful for that would be difficult to do if you didn’t have feet.

Action step: Have beautiful feet today. Tell someone about God. It can be a friend, a teacher or someone you just met. Share something about God with another person.

Linking up today with Women Living Well , A Wise Woman Builds Her Home and Word Filled Wednesday.

Contentment is Learned

I remember when my kids took those first steps. After weeks of holding their hands and encouraging them to walk, they finally took that first toddling step on their own. I also remember teaching them to ride a bike and how to read. I could teach them those things because I knew how to do them.

I also remember trying to teach my younger daughter how to do a hockey stop. It was frustrating for both her and me. Why? Because I can’t do a hockey stop. All I could do was tell her what I had heard other people tell her. I couldn’t demonstrate it. I couldn’t tell her what it felt like. I couldn’t tell her what she was doing wrong. It was an exercise in frustration for both of us.

We can’t teach our kids something that we haven’t learned ourselves. If we haven’t learned to be content, then we can’t expect our kids to learn to be content. Yesterday, we talked about the fact that contentment is a choice. When we choose to be content, we are choosing to learn to be content no matter the circumstances.

Paul says this in Philippians 4:12-13: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The secret to learning to be content in all situations is to rely on God for the strength to do so.

So, how do we learn contentment? How do we stop striving for more all the time and enjoy what we have — whether it be tangible like cars and houses or intangible like talents and health?

1. Ask God to help. Being content whatever our circumstances goes against human nature. We like to complain and grumble. It seems to be a constant of human nature. To overcome that desire, we have to have God’s help.

2. Focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t. No matter our circumstances, we have things in our lives for which to be grateful. It may be that we need to be content with the weather on a beautiful day, the ability to get out of bed in the morning or the love of our family. Find reasons to be grateful and content.

3. Stop comparing your circumstances to other people’s circumstances. Comparison is the fastest way to kill contentment. Make it a point to stop comparing what you have to what others have. When you find yourself caught in the comparison trap, make a conscious decision to choose to be content with what you have.

4. Cultivate a heart of gratitude. Create a thankfulness wall or journal in your home. Every day, write down something for which you are thankful. It’s hard to be envious of others when you’re focused on your own blessings.

We can’t teach our kids to be content unless we have learned it ourselves. Spend some time today relying on God to give you the strength to be content — no matter what your circumstances are.

Linking up today with Women Living Well , A Wise Woman Builds Her Home and Word Filled Wednesday.

Memory Monday: Small Blessings (Genesis 49:26)

Friday was a frustrating day for me. I already had one child at home sick for half of the first week of school when I got a message from the school nurse asking me to come pick up my other daughter who was running a fever.

We had big plans for the weekend — a birthday party, first soccer game of the season, tickets to the Red Sox-Royals baseball game. Two sick kids were not on the agenda.

After picking up my daughter and settling her in a chair to watch endless episodes of “Phineas & Ferb,” I texted my frustrations to a friend. By the time she texted me back, my oldest daughter had started feeling better and my youngest was showing few signs of being as sick as her sister had been. I was feeling a bit better about life and was able to point out during the conversation that it could have been worse. It could have been hockey “tryout” weekend.

My friend texted me back with a statement that made me sit back and take notice. She said “Small blessings are still blessings.” In the midst of feeling sorry for myself and being frustrated that my plans were being messed up, those five little words forced me to take a look not just at my attitude for the day but my attitude toward life.

How often do we miss the blessings that God offers because in the grand scheme of everything going on in our lives, they seem small?

What I really wanted on Friday was two well children. I wanted a big blessing. What I got was two children sick on the first week of school, a week where they would not miss a lot of work. However, I was so caught up in the misery of my messed up plans that it was too easy for me to gloss over that blessing.

Genesis 49:26 says “Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills.” God has lots of blessings He wants to offer us, big and small. Yet, too often, we can only focus on the big blessings, and we miss the small ones.

Even as we parents are prone to missing the small blessings, kids are often so single-minded that they, too, miss God’s small blessings. We need to be able to find the small blessings in our own lives and help our kids focus on the small blessings in their lives as well.

  • Treat God’s blessings like blessings. It’s easy to write off God’s small blessings as coincidence or luck. Start giving credit where credit is due. When God blesses you or your family in a small way, point it out and give Him thanks. Whether it’s finding your car keys so you won’t be late or doing well on a test your child thought he would fail, praise God for those things.
  • Make it a point to notice the small blessings in your life and point them out to your kids. If something good happens to you during the day, point out to your kids how God takes care of us, even in the small stuff.
  • At dinner one night, talk about what blessings are. Explain that they don’t have to be big. Then ask your kids, “What blessings did you receive today?” This gets your kids thinking about ways that God has blessed them in their own lives.

Counting our blessings, both big and small, gives us a heart of gratitude. It focuses our hearts on all God has done and is doing for us. It can put the little annoyances and frustrations of life in perspective. Watching for the small blessings and being grateful for them can change our hearts and our attitudes.

Be on the lookout today for the small ways in which God blesses your life. Because small blessings are still blessings.

Remembering to Be Thankful

I spent a lot of time when my kids were toddlers teaching them to say “thank you.” We started before they could talk and taught them sign language for thank you. When they could speak, we gently reminded them to always say thank you when someone had done something for them.

Having our kids say thank you is polite. But I think telling someone else “thank you” is as much a reminder to us to be thankful as it is a sign of politeness. Unfortunately, too often our thanks becomes rote. We simply say thank you because we are supposed to, not because we feel any gratitude at all.

I think this is true in our conversations with God as well. Our prayers of thanksgiving can become a habitual recitation of the same things. It’s not that we’re not grateful for those things, it’s simply that we’ve lost the awe and wonder involved in true gratitude.

Our kids tend to struggle with this as well. In our materialistic culture, it’s easy for them to overlook all that they have because others appear to have more. We need to help our kids cultivate an attitude that recaptures the awe of knowing that God provides for us.

Psalm 106:1 says “Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Our thankfulness should be rooted in our knowledge that God is good and He loves us. Because of those two qualities, He gives us good things.

When we let gratitude take over as the attitude of our hearts, we can find the good in all situations. It will change our perspective on just about everything. Teach your kids to live their lives with an attitude full of thanksgiving so they can focus on what God has provided and not on what others have that they don’t. It’s impossible to be jealous and thankful at the same time.

  • Model an attitude of gratefulness for your kids. If you’re always bemoaning the things you don’t have, your kids will assume that behavior is OK. When you are tempted to be jealous of something someone else has, make a list — mental or written — of all the things you have to be thankful for.
  • Have your kids make a thankfulness list. Give them a piece of paper and have them write down everything they can think of that they are thankful for. Post the list somewhere and use it as a reminder to be thankful when your kids are tempted to be jealous of what others have.
  • Have a thankfulness day. Give everyone a little notebook and a pen. Tell them to write down everything they are thankful for during the day. At the end of the day have everyone share what they wrote. This is a great way for your kids to see how much they truly have for which they can be thankful.
  • Express your gratefulness by making thanksgiving a specific part of your prayers. Encourage your kids to thank God every day in prayer for different things.

When you create an attitude of gratitude in your home, selfishness and jealousy will take a back seat. When we begin to view the little things in our lives as things for which we can be grateful, we take the focus off of ourselves and put it on God, our provider. Begin creating a grateful attitude in your home today and watch the atmosphere in your home change.