In the second grade, our teacher, Mrs. Platt, asked us to write a few sentences about gratitude. She then collected our responses, typed them on one of our school’s green-screened Macs, and made the resulting copies into Thanksgiving books for each student in the class. Given the fact that we were six and seven years old, we did not know a lot about what it meant to be grateful. In fact, had my teacher omitted our names, we would each have thought that we had written every entry. Many of us expressed gratitude for family, friends, food and a home. A remarkably large number of us included God in our entries; something that I am surprised, but pleased, we were allowed to do in our public school.
This exercise was the extent of our understanding of gratitude. It was never explained to us what being grateful actually entails. We merely thought about what we have in our life, and wrote down that we were grateful for it. Case in point, I wrote I was thankful for my cat, my parents, my toys, my cousins and my clothes. Wow, one point for originality.
While I am still thankful for my cat (although now I have a different one than in my original writing), my mom and dad…and now my sister (I was an only child until I was nine), my cousins, my clothes, and my toys (adults have toys too, they just look like Nikon DSLR cameras and iPhones), I have come to realize that being grateful is about more than just people and things. In my precocious second-grader ways, I wrote two things that I did not really believe then, but do now, “I am thankful for being alive today” and “I am thankful for God for blessing me.” Nineteen years later, I realize how truly grateful I am to be alive and to be a recipient of God’s blessings.
After going through at least fifteen years of depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder…a broken nose and arm, a car accident, self-harm, being a first generation college student, a super annoying nail biting habit, serving in Americorps VISTA…I am alive. I have had the opportunity to experience all of those things because I am alive. While not every aspect of my life had been easy, neither has everything been difficult. And yet, through it all, I am alive. There is a purpose in my life greater than myself that has kept me alive despite everything I have been through. Because I am alive, I know that God is not done with me yet. There are still lessons to be learned, lessons to teach, mistakes to make, and who knows what else. The important thing is that I do not have to know. I must merely wake up each day grateful for the opportunity to learn God’s lessons, teach lessons, and make mistakes. Who would have ever thought I, the perfectionist, would be grateful for the ability to make mistakes?
If Mrs. Platt were still around, I would write this to be included in our book:
I am grateful for the ability to make mistakes; for in making mistakes I learn lessons, grow stronger as a person, and gain insight into who I am as an imperfect human. I am grateful that God has blessed me, or chosen not to bless me in certain situations, with everything that He sees fit; His will is not my own. I am grateful for my recovery and the support from others I have received along the way; there is something truly remarkable that dwells in the heart of those who serve others. I am grateful for the kindness of strangers, the frost on the autumn leaves, the way my cat, Rowan, is always ready for a game of fetch, and a quiet walk through the fields of my friend’s farm. I am grateful to be alive and for the ability to experience everything it has to offer.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms,hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.