Finding the Unlikely Path to Gratitude

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I’m an Accidental Optimist.

Thankfulness and positivity are just not the natural ways of me. I’ve alway been a glass-half-empty girl who faked that I’m not unless I was around those safest and closest. Bless their hearts, they have long borne my frequent lament, my incessant pining, my uncanny ability to see all that I was missing instead of all that I had.

My journey from empty to full began about nine years ago when I began writing on the internet. Turning the everyday stories of my messy, post-career life as a mother of three littles began to reorient my perspective. I’d begin a post with some sort of frustration or less than ideal situation, and lo, by the time I was finished, lemonade had replaced the lemons. Gratitude had replaced complaint. Grace had replaced failure.

It was the most serendipitous thing of my life. My own words would show up, one at a time, and take me somewhere else, even though I still lived in the same life. That’s still the way it happens. I never know exactly where they’ll lead; I simply follow the letters like bread crumbs toward a destination.

Usually that destination is a hopeful one, but not always. Like the Psalm that ends in honest declaration instead of victory and refreshment,

Darkness is my closest friend. 

Even then, our souls can find consolation as striving and pretending come to a halt, giving way to the strange peace of acceptance.

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Through writing, I discovered that that even our messiest of days are tinged with possibility. Redemption awaits. We only need to find the smallest of pathways and choose to keep walking.

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The gateway to a life of gratitude looks different for each of us — nature, reflection, rest, stepping away from it all for a moment or a day, prayer and meditation, a needful anti-depressant, reading Scripture, helping someone else, counseling, books.

I’m not talking about escapism or running away; I’m talking about reorientation. We find a way to see the same situation with different eyes.

We do this in both everyday and epic ways. I’ll share a story for both.

For years now, my vehicle has felt like a second home. With three kids in three different schools, with sports and youth group and all the things, I became downright bitter about the constant running around. Sadly, my martyrdom wasn’t a silent one.

And then I began doing the math, realizing that my days in the minivan with these kids were numbered.

Picking my daughter up from cheerleading practice every day felt like an inconvenience and an interruption until I began to see it as an opportunity for connection. Sometimes that connection looked like listening and biting my tongue as she vented her anger. Sometimes the connection looked like swinging by Sonic on the way home and laughing together as we listened to the Popcast. Sometimes it looked like arguing and steely silence. But always, it was an opportunity to water the soil of relationship.

And then there are the “epic” reorientations.

This usually requires divine intervention because it means life has so completely gone off the rails, all we can feel and see is that last line of Psalm 88: Darkness is my closest friend.

In 2011, I had just finished reading Ann Voskamp’s modern classic, One Thousand Gifts. It was providential to say the least, though I had no way of knowing it at the time.

Life did go off the rails.

And through the most unexplainable yet clearly divine power, I dropped to my knees, face to floor and gave thanks. I remember exactly where I was in my house. I remember the time of day.

I had never done that before and I haven’t done it since. But the message of that book had prepared my soul for the uninvited story I was just beginning to live.

Though I didn’t stay in that posture of gratitude moment by moment and day by day, I believe that experience shot a sacred arrow into an unseen battle. I knew my circumstances weren’t a cruel cosmic joke. This was all out war. And the battle was for my family. I resolved that day to fight for what was mine and for what was God’s.

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It’s the strangest, most counterintuitive thing to say but it’s true: the grief and the fight began with thankfulness.

Whether it’s something as inconsequential as a disappointing grade or something as devastating as family fracture, redemption begins when we dare to look Devastation in the face and call it Possibility.

Ann Voskamp says this,

That which we refuse to thank Christ for — we refuse to believe Christ can redeem.

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It’s the season of thanks but that doesn’t mean it’s all holiday drinks from Starbucks and happy Thanksgiving anticipation. I’ve learned that giving thanks isn’t a list or conjured up sentimentalism or an obligatory thing we do around the family table.

The deepest gratitude often looks like surrender.

It looks like humility as I relinquish my rights and expectations to receive what life is instead of what I want life to be. 

It looks like a discipline that doesn’t get easier but comes to me more quickly over time.

It looks like fighting the emotion of resentment with the counter emotion of thankfulness. 

It looks like choosing to see the good that’s there instead of the good that’s missing. 

It looks like receiving the everyday and epic moments with a heart of faith and trust in the One who lived and died and lived again — teaching us that every death actually holds the potential for new life. 

leaves + mirror

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Resources and Inspiration

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are :: This modern classic is one to return to over and over again.

Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love :: The real life story of Katherine and Jay Wolf. Their lives point others to choose hope and gratitude, no matter the circumstances. I love following them on Instagram too!

The Lazy Genius Practices Thankfulness {short podcast} :: “It feels right to give thanks in November, but it also feels forced and annoying sometimes. Let’s get back to the basics of gratitude and actually enjoy a season of giving thanks. No daily journals necessary.” Yes and Amen.

How to Give Thanks for Your REAL {messy * beautiful * laughable * sorrowful * honest * hopeful} LIFE :: a November post by yours truly : )

Follow me on Instagram for 30 days of thanks!

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My friend Kimberly invited me to join her in this endeavor. It’s something she’s done the last few years and she said it’s helped to prepare her heart for Advent. I need that. My hope is to inspire all of us to give thanks for the ordinary gifts of our real lives. 

“30 Days of Actual Gratitude” :: Because we should never take ourselves too seriously. : ) You guys, Knox and Jamie from the Popcast are doing #30daysofactualgratude on Twitter. It’s the best.

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, Marian. Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you for writing. Thank you for your willingness to tell the unvarnished truth–but for taking the time to make the telling beautiful.

    I for one am very grateful that you started writing on the internet all those years ago.

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