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Gratitude is the common theme for November since the prominent holiday of the month focuses on giving thanks and all, but thankfulness is so much more than a one-day, or even a one-month, long event. Having an attitude of gratefulness can strengthen your relationships (and make it easier to build new ones), keep your stress under control, improve your self-esteem, help you sleep better, and boost your immune system to keep you from getting sick, not to mention have a powerful impact on the state of your heart, both physically and emotionally.
Our church has been having the most beautiful month of giving thanks. We have a wall in our welcome center where people can pin up pictures, words, and other reminders of things they are thankful for (that race number that you see in the picture there is one that I added!). We had a photo booth one Sunday where people could write down what they are thankful for and get their picture taken with it, then the next Sunday, there was a slideshow of everybody’s pictures running at the beginning of the service. Our worship director (and one of my dearest friends) put together a devotional for the month of November with every day’s entry written by a different member of our congregation, all focusing on the theme of thankfulness. There is also a table set up for people to make their own jars and take little slips of paper that they could write things that they are thankful for and drop them inside.
And that’s exactly what I wrote about in the devotional I contributed to the book. I am the eternal optimist. I can find sunshine and rainbows pretty much everywhere and I have a smile on my face almost all the time. But my experience goes along with Madeline L’Engle’s words -“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”
It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of thankfulness. I tend to dream up images of stunning sunsets, blooming flowers, hopeful rainbows, and the ripple of laughter making its way through a close group of girlfriends. Thankfulness is a bright, happy, light emotion.
Except my journey to finding true, raw thankfulness began on the floor of a dark bedroom closet, crouched and hidden behind a row of hanging shirts. See, I had invested every ounce of energy I had into a relationship and after years of disappointment and rejection, I had fallen into a deep pit of loneliness and fear. I had unknowingly wrapped my entire identity around another person’s approval of me. But I was relying on a sinful person with an unquenchable desire for more, which so many of us have, so no matter how hard I tried or how much I gave, I was never enough.
And my strength was gone. I had absolutely nothing left to give. I had no words left to speak and no tears left to cry. I was stripped. Broken.
It was a desperation that drove me to fall into the arms of the One who had the power to pierce through the darkness surrounding me; the One who loved me just as I was. The One who gently whispered, You are enough. Come as you are.
And I did. I cried out to Him in prayer. I searched His Word for guidance. I reached out to my family in Christ. One ray at a time, light, joy, and truth started illuminating my life again as I rebuilt my identity, not as the shattered remains of a failed marriage, but as a dearly beloved daughter of the One True King, rooted in Him and His unfailing love. Instead of being torn down by my inevitable mistakes, I was built up knowing that my weakness allowed more opportunity to rely on His strength.
So many people express their apologies for me going through those tough times, but the thing is, I am so thankful for them. If I had never reached the end of my own strength and felt that need, that desperation to rely on my heavenly Father for my every hope and every need, I never would have found this depth of gratitude. Now, I live in a near-constant state of immense joy, overflowing with thankfulness. And it all started that dark night on the closet floor; the night that I offered up an empty vessel and was given wholeness in return.
I am so thankful that you’ve taken time to spend here in my little corner of cyberspace, dear friend. I encourage you to find a way to boost your own spirit of gratitude, this season and always. Maybe you want to make a thankfulness jar yourself. Maybe you’re a writer and you’d like to write notes of gratitude to people who have made an impact on you. Maybe you can just spend a few minutes each night before bed thinking about 3 people that you’re glad to have in your life. Tell people how much they mean to you, because so often they really have no idea. Share it and share it often. Gratitude can change lives – yours and everybody around you.
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