ABCs of Gratitude

Abacos – The Abacos are a group of islands that surround the Abaco Sea which is a part of the Bahamas. It is not a tourist destination nor is it an easy destination but it is special. This is where John and I spent part of our honeymoon and it has become our favorite destination. After our honeymoon we vowed to come back often and to always bring someone new with us. We have made good on that vow which means we have made many good memories with some awesome people in our lives in this beautiful location.

Beach – Summer and I were made to be together. Summer, I and time on a beach is even better. Summer, I, time on a beach reading a book is even better. This is my happy place. And then there is this 80s movie named Beaches which is nearly the story of one of my best friends and I—and it takes place on beaches! Nothing on this list will give even a hint of gratefulness for snow.

Christmas movies – John and I will watch every one one of Hallmark Channel’s new Christmas movies–every one of them. (Please don’t tell John’s friends that their paintball hero enjoys these so much.) We will watch the bad acting, the bland whiteness of everyone, and wonder how anyone in the movie lives on a real-world budget and enjoy all of it. Not only because they give us the Christmas spirit but because we know that we won’t have to worry about excessive violence, excessive behaviors, and excessive language. As I grow in my faith, I am growing more and more sensitive about allowing that stuff before my eyes and into my minds. I am grateful for the sappy Hallmark channel for this very reason. I know exactly what I’m getting.

Practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives. These two go together. It’s more than just being grateful, it is practicing it in some tangible way. Gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works—it’s not alive.

Donuts are such happy food. I’m always grateful when I can eat a donut.

Every teaching opportunity – Why? Because I stutter. When I was younger my stuttering kept me locked up inside myself. Now? I feel like teaching was what I was born for. I feel Jeremiah 20:9 all the time, But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it! I’ll burst if I don’t get the opportunities to teach to get all this knowledge out of me—whether I stutter or not. I am so grateful for this—and surprised.

Food – I love to eat. I love to eat good food with good friends.

Graham Park Middle School – I’ve purposely been substitute teaching at a public school for over 25 years. It is part my love to be with teenagers and partly so I can learn more about teenagers. For most of those years (I’ve lost track) I’ve been at Graham Park Middle School. I stay because this suburban-but-really-urban school has gathered a collection of the best teachers I’ve ever met. They are the teachers who know how to teach preteens who too often come to school with burdens too great for anyone to carry. Because of these wonderful teachers, every student has this chance that education gives them to do better and find that place God has created them for in this world. I am so grateful to know teachers like this exist.

At teen summer camps there is one message I have taught that is the favorite on the evaluation forms every time. It is “How to Pray.” Instead of teaching on the theory of prayer, I give the teens at least 20 creative ways to pray. All of them use one or more of the five senses. Because I give them at least 20 ideas this lesson tends to go overtime in the time slot but no one ever complains. I’m assuming that is because they are actually being taught how to pray or that praying just became possible for them using one of these creative ways. One of the favorites is always this one—using the alphabet to list things we are grateful for.

Heat, in all forms. Comfort for me is being warm. This often doesn’t make me the easiest person to live with.

IJMs or Innocent Joy Moments – I’m grateful for each and every one Kenneth gets to have. But I’m also grateful for the ones I experience in my life too.  Like this random text that I got three days ago (and still warms my heart):  “I am grateful for your thoughtfulness with how you handle all of your kids.  It’s something I haven’t had much of and so I see it very clearly in you.  Keep going.  You’re doing so well.”

Jamon was the first of our boys to reach out to me and he has “stuck” in my life ever since. He remembers it as me reaching out to him but I strongly remember being amazed that this attitude-full 12-year old would want to hang with me again and again and again. I couldn’t get rid of him and his crew. I distinctly remember not having a clue what I was doing but knowing deep in my soul that this was a God-thing and it was good. It sure was good! Nothing has shaped my life for the better as inviting these boys into our family. Shouts out of gratitude also go to Curt, Terrill and Kenneth for also sticking with us. Every day I am grateful.  This is where my heart beats the most.

is for the “kick in the butt” from friends and family that opens my eyes to the potential in my life.  This is part of my decision to live vulnerable and it has paid off again and again and again.  I love these people.  As for the “kicks in the butt,” I love them sometimes and am grateful for them all of the time.   

alphabet-prayerAnother alphabet-type of prayer is to get a Scattergories dye. Roll the die and whatever letter comes up, use that to start listing everything you are grateful for that begins with that letter. Hint: You can find these on eBay.

Louie is my third dog as a grown up. I’ve always had rescue dogs and have chosen to adopt rescue dogs that had extra “issues.” Louie has the most issues. Louie lives in fear all the time. I learn from Louie how fear is irrational and cuts into what could be a good thing. I don’t know if he will ever look at me and not have fear in his eyes. I don’t know if he will ever understand that he has a safe home. But I am growing to understand even more how fear does not give you control over your life.

Memories – I have long taught that our faith grows from memory to memory. When our boys were younger John and I intentionally decided to give them good memories and lots of them. I am so grateful for every one of those memories. I miss those years with our boys. I sort of hate that they had to grow up. Which makes me all the more grateful that we chose to make so many memories with them.

NFL – My favorite hobby, pastime, passion. For 20 weekends a year I get to sit down (and stop my life) and watch this sport I love. Thankfully I married a passionate football fan too because now this is part of the rhythm of our marriage. I grew up with this passion with my family and this is something we now share with our sons. Go Vikings! Though not every son is a Vikings fan.

Occoquan – I love my home. It is a 1920s arts and crafts bungalow that was restored by the sweat of my husband and our boys. Their hard work is visible everywhere. And I love where my home is located. I would love city living in Washington DC but I’m a suburban pastor. So in the crazy busy congested suburbs of Washington DC my home is located in this tiny historic district that is a lot like Mayberry. We are filled with quirky people with small town moments but I still get to live very close to big city living. Here’s one of my favorite quirky Occoquan stories. Every year we hold a “Duck Splash” where we dump 500 rubber ducks into our river. The first to float down and cross the finish line gets prizes. The first year we did this no one checked when the tide would be coming in. The ducks were dumped and didn’t float down river. They stayed put. So people got their kayaks and a motor boat hoping to stir the water enough so the ducks would float downstream. Finally—and it was quite some time later—the ducks crossed the finish line but no one was there to officially declare with duck crossed first. Everyone in authority was creating waves. Only in Occoquan.

Our world is a scary, broken mess. It feels scarier than it ever has been. Fear can be a constant “friend” (though it is never a friend). Negative attitudes are bad for you. But gratitude, it turns out from science and scriptures, makes you happier and healthier.

If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and broken, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and broken. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off. Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not (even though that often feels like the best option). Intentionally live grateful. Whether with this ABC method or with a journal or with a daily gratitude check at the dinner table. Do something. It changes you.

Power-undering – I am Caucasian, Christian, middle-class, and a natural blonde. All four of those traits put me in the dominant culture in America. The power in this world is inherently with me mostly because I was born into it. What I do with it has been a holy tension of mine for a long time. I recognize my dominant power and am uncomfortable with it. So I am grateful to learn (and to keep learning) more about Christ’s model to “power under.” The American way is to power over as a way to create change or to create success. I’m choosing to power under in as many ways as possible. It’s a transformative way to think and I’m grateful for the changes it has brought about inside of me.

Queen – I’m not sure how I got this nickname in the beginning. It just sort of grew and stuck. Once I got married to John the nickname grew even more I think because I am loved so well. I’ve always had a little vanity so mix that with John’s willingness to freely love me has caused that to grow. I never have to “queen” anything over him to get my way. John’s love is so willing to serve that I know every day he loves me. Which does increase my little vanity so I’ve grown into even more of a queen. When John calls me Queen it is just another way letting me know he loves me. It may not seem apparent in this description but I am grateful for my husband.

If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.  Practice gratitude!

Roots – My roots are in Minnesota. Though technically I’m a “California Girl” as I was born in California. I’ve spent my formative years in Minnesota where I will never ever ever ever live again. I couldn’t wait to move away. Yet 29 years later I still find myself reading the local Minneapolis newspaper every day. I take pride in my Minnesota-overcomingness (there is a lot of harsh winters to overcome there!) that I didn’t recognize until I moved to the soft South. My roots are a larger part of who I am more than I realize.

Sabbaticals are a time of rest, a time to change the regular patterns of one’s life. But in this change of pattern there is a lot of holy tension because I don’t know how my life pattern will look when I’m done. This holy tension causes some anxiety nearly every day for me during a sabbatical but I’m even grateful for that. Something good is brewing for the “what’s next” of my life. I just need to sit through the holy tension until it is completely revealed to me.

Tech Help – I tried to keep up in this new techy world but gave up after my first smartphone. I decided then that I’m just going to be one of those who lives with this tech stuff but never really becomes an adapter. So that puts me pretty dependent on everyone who helps me adjust, fix, and whatever so I can take advantage of technology. I’m grateful for the help that I will forever need.

Under power – As in Under Power of the Holy Spirit.  Because of this obedience I find it easier to live “power undering” (see P).  

Vulnerability – I am so grateful for vulnerability. Yes, I know most people fear it. But choosing to live in my holy tensions has moved me to live more vulnerable which has given me quite the life to be living. It’s a good story. That all started when I figured out somehow that I was worthy enough to live in that holy tension and see where it would lead me.

From 2 Timothy 1:4, I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. Can you feel the vulnerability that leads to the joy Paul is looking forward to?  Then there is this verse.  1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy. Us. Us humans who fail our loved ones, strangers, God, too often. We are still the source of joy. If we enter into the vulnerability that love is.

Walking is my favorite exercise so I can stay healthy so I can eat more food. Otherwise I wouldn’t exercise at all. It always comes back to food. I am grateful for the time I get to take to walk daily and what it does to my body and mind. Plus it is one of the few times Louie does not run from me and acts like a brave dog.

Xavier – X is an easy gratitude when you have this wonderful grandson named Xavier. I’m grateful for all of my grandchildren. In them I can see generational curses breaking because I bravely got involved in their dads’ lives. That does sound a bit too complimentary to me (and a bit of power over) but my grandchildren make that painful and brave decision worth it every day. Words cannot express the joy they give me.

Look at these precious faces. You are filled with gratitude also, right?!

Look at these precious faces. You are filled with gratitude also, right?!

I have another X. I am grateful for my car, a 1999 BM X3 Coupe. It is such a fun car to drive. I am grateful it is still running.

Youth Group Teens – The oldest teens I ever got to work with are now over 50. They are two of my most favorite men in my life. I love love LOVE still being in the lives of so many of the teens from my youth groups the past nearly 40 years. I love watching the good men and women they have turned out to be. The only reason I stay on crazy Facebook is to stalk these many grown teens.

Z – Amazing – This is a bit of a cheat, though Z is the strongest consonant in this word. Amazing is my favorite word. With the strong Z sound it feels the emotions I feel when I am amazed at something—which most often is when I recognize a random God-moment in my life.

“We can spend our entire lives in scarcity . . . just waiting for for the other shoe to drop and wondering when it will all fall apart. Or, we can lean into the uncertainty and be thankful for what we have in that precious moment. When I’m standing at the crossroads of fear and gratitude, I’ve learned that I must choose vulnerability and practice gratitude if want to know joy. I’m not sure that it will ever be easy for me, but I have learned to trust this practice. For that, I give thanks!”Dr. Brene’ Brown 


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