An Attitude of Gratitude: 5 Reasons to Focus on Being Thankful

Y’all, I love Christmas like the next girl, but I am one of those people who holds out until after Thanksgiving to start celebrating it.  After all, we’re in the season of falling leaves and everything pumpkin! Who wants to rush that?!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV)

So while the rest of you are hanging lights and playing Christmas music, I’m over here trying to squeeze every last drop out of Thanksgiving! I love the food and the smells and time with family. I love the focus on gratitude— I love finding reasons to be thankful. And I love all the traditions that come with special holidays.

What our your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? 

Our family has a unique tradition. Each November, after we set out the pumpkins and scarecrows, we decorate our dinner table with the same tablecloth. 

There’s nothing really special about the cloth itself. It’s not particularly attractive or aesthetically pleasing. It didn’t come from Pottery Barn… in fact, I think we probably bought it at Wal-mart!  

(Let’s just say it’s not something Chip and Joanna would have in their home.) 

It’s simply a plain old white tablecloth with a border of tacky brown leaves in the middle and some scripted words around the bottom.

Not exactly Instagram worthy, I know.

What is special about this tablecloth, though, is the tradition which surrounds it.

Each year on Thanksgiving day, we set out a bunch of Sharpies, and everyone gathers around the table to write what they are thankful for. Among the entries are:

  • Mommy and Daddy
  • Family and friends
  • My Little Pony
  • Our new puppy, May
  • Playing X-box
  • That Charlotte is cancer free!
  • Unicorns, pigs, and uni-pigs (Yes, I know, our kids are super weird!)

(Tik-Tok, soccer, and Disneyworld have also made it onto the tablecloth!)

We add the year to each entry so we can remember how old the kids were when they wrote it. It really is fun to look back at all the things we were grateful for!

Friends, we all tend to focus on being thankful around Thanksgiving, and there is nothing wrong with that! But if we want to develop an attitude of gratitude, it is something we should learn to practice all year long.

So, here are five reasons we should focus on being thankful all year:

1. Gratitude turns our focus away from ourselves.

Let’s face it, we live in a self-centered world. We come into the world focused on our own needs, and our social media culture has multiplied that tendency by a bazillion.  Being intentional about gratitude requires that we take our eyes off ourselves and turn them to the Giver. 

2. Gratitude helps us focus on the positive instead of the negative.

In a year like 2020, it is so easy to wallow in all the things that have gone wrong. We have sacrificed celebrations, milestones, vacations, jobs, and more because of COVID. But when we focus only on what we’ve given up, we miss out on so much! There were also many gifts during this time: uninterrupted time with family, new traditions created, and an appreciation for things we often take for granted. Where we direct our focus has a huge impact on our overall attitude. Gratitude enables us to embrace a positive perspective on life!

3. Gratitude teaches us to learn from difficult situations instead of complaining.

I led a Gratitude Challenge in my Facebook group this month, and one of the prompts I gave them was, “What are some difficult or challenging experiences you faced that you are grateful for now?” Time has a way of bringing perspective. Circumstances that are painful in the moment can eventually lead to great self-discovery and a strengthened faith. The more we take time to look back and glean the good from our difficult experiences, the more we are able to recognize those types of blessings and lessons in the moment. Choosing gratitude helps me embrace whatever the Lord desires to teach me through my circumstances. And that benefits everyone a lot more than just complaining!

4. Gratitude grows our faith.

Being thankful requires recognizing the gifts we have received. Being the receiver of those gifts requires acknowledging that there is a Giver. Most of what I am grateful for I have not earned; I have simply received it. As we focus on the many ways God has provided for us, we learn to trust in His future provision. We learn to trust His ways and His timing, even when they don’t align with ours. Focusing on gratitude becomes an expression of faith.

5. Gratitude is contagious- it spreads to everyone around us! 

Have you ever been around someone who has a grateful spirit? It’s contagious, isn’t it? People who intentionally choose an attitude of gratitude have learned to not take the little things for granted. The more we are around someone like that, the more we begin to treasure and appreciate the little moments as well. And the less we take things for granted, the kinder we tend to be to those around us. 

That sounds like something our world needs a little more of right now! I want to be the kind of person that other people want to be around. I want my gratitude to be contagious. How about you?

So, as you stuff the turkey (does anyone actually do that anymore?) and bake the pies this Thanksgiving, make sure you take time to be mindful of all your blessings. And then, when this season is over and we move into the next one, don’t leave your gratitude buried beneath a pile of leaves. Keep it going!

We have so many reasons to focus on being thankful. Let’s develop an attitude of gratitude that will last us all year long!

My October Book Stack

Okay, y’all, I warned you. My October book stack can barely be called a “stack”…

A duo, maybe. A couple. Two books.

Seriously?

Yep, seriously. Two books. And if I’m honest, I still have a few pages left in one of them!

I have two other books I started reading last month, but they are both part of group studies, so I am still in the process of reading them. Hopefully they will make it into my November book stack.

At this rate, who knows?

But the good news is this will be a short blog post and a quick read! Let’s go!

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Experiencing God at Home by Tom and Richard Blackaby

If you are anywhere near my age and were involved in church in the 90’s, you are probably familiar with the “Experiencing God” Bible study and the Blackaby name.  The youth version of that study is by far the best tool I have found to help teenagers learn to hear God’s voice and recognize Him at work around them. So when I saw this book written by two of Henry Blackaby’s sons, I was immediately interested! This was not my first time reading it— I actually pulled it out as a resource for an online parenting discussion Jeff and I were involved in last month. It is on my bookshelf for a reason!

Experiencing God at Home takes the seven basic steps from the Experiencing God study and uses them to help parents recognize and join God in how He is working in their children’s lives. It also provides tools to teach their kids how to apply these principles themselves. The authors provide plenty of personal illustrations from their own families, which are easy to relate to. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection/discussion, making this a great book for parents to read together or to study with a small group. This is actually one of my top 5 favorite parenting books, so if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it!

Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket: 101 Real World Tips for Teenage Guys by Jonathan McKee

I know, I know, this is a really weird book for a 47 year old woman to be reading! But I have preteen boys, y’all, and growing up is a thing whether we like it or not. I have read a couple other books by Jonathan McKee, and he has a great grasp on the current teen culture. Not only that, but he does a terrific job relating Biblical truth to teens in a way that comes off helpful and appealing, not preachy. This book is no different.

I REALLY like this book! It is set up in one-to-two page chapters, making it perfect for teen guys to use as a daily devotional. Each chapter includes questions to think about which help the guys apply what they are reading to their daily life. It would be easy for a leader to pull some of these questions out and use this as a guide for a small group or accountability group. The topics are super relevant, and McKee’s approach is both Biblical and authentic. He comes off like a big brother or older friend, giving guidance on subjects such as technology use, friendship, dating, prayer, and making wise choices.  

What age is this book geared towards? Well, our oldest son, Eli, is twelve and in 7th grade. I read this book with him in mind, and honestly, I think he would love it. There are a few chapters about girls and sex-related themes that I don’t think he and many other boys his age are quite ready for. At the same time, I know there are some who are. It is definitely appropriate for high school boys. However, if your son is in middle school, I encourage you to preview it yourself first. You know your boy and what he is ready for. This might be a little too much, too soon, or it might be exactly what your son needs to draw his heart towards Christ! Either way, it should definitely be on your radar for the teen boys in your life.

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Well friends, that’s it! I was only able to get through two books last month, but don’t worry- November’s book stack will be larger! I should have at least four books ready to review when this month is over. (Spoiler: I hate one of them! And I rarely say that!!)

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to pass on suggestions of books you think I might like!

What’s on your nightstand?

September Book Stack

Well friends, here we are in November. When I sat down to write about my (really small) October book stack, I realized I never posted my books from September!

What? How did that happen? 

Honestly, y’all, October was just a really strange month for me. First, we kicked it off with our annual family Disney trip; except Sarah had to quarantine at college at the last minute, so it didn’t really feel like a family trip for any of us. Then, the temperature outside kept bouncing between highs and lows, which was totally reflected in my mood. And because I couldn’t get out of my own head, I ended up spending WAY too much time scrolling on social media, and very little time reading or writing (or doing anything remotely productive).  

Thankfully, Sarah finally made it home for her first visit last weekend, and suddenly I feel like I can breathe again! Isn’t it crazy how we can be dealing with emotions internally and have no idea how they are affecting us? Apparently I was missing our girl way more than I realized. 

Anyway, a weekend of Heath Fam adventures was good for my soul. So, I am back in the game again! And my September book stack seems like a good place to start.

Here you go!

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Memories of Glass by Melanie Dobson

I added this book to my 2020 reading challenge after a friend recommended it. When I picked it up from the library, I was a little disheartened. I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo, but the cover consists of several old-fashioned glass perfume bottles, which screamed cheesy romance novel to me. Ugh! 

Thankfully, though, it turned out to be a historical fiction novel after all, with a little bit of mystery thrown in (and a smidge of romance on the side). The matriarchal grandmother and CEO of the family business has secrets from her youth that slowly begin to leak out, threatening the family’s reputation and relationships. As usual, secrets have a way of being found out, and in this case, they end up bringing people together. This story does contain some overt spiritual witnessing, for lack of a better phrase. Y’all know I am a Jesus girl and I am all for weaving Jesus into one’s writing, but in this case, several of these moments seemed to be awkwardly inserted, and more glaringly obvious than necessary. It would have been more effective, I think, to take a less obvious and more natural approach to the character’s faith. However, that’s a minor point for sure! If you like historical fiction, this was an enjoyable story and worth a read!

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. Most people have read or are at least aware of Passion and Purity and Sense and Sensibility. However, Persuasion is not as well known, even though it was her last completed work. There is so much I love about this book! While I have read it before, her books never get old to me.

Anne Elliot is Austen’s oldest protagonist, and as so, brings such depth to the story. I love the premise of an unrequited love given a second chance, particularly when those involved have such strength of character and integrity. I find myself rooting for them all the way through the novel, no matter how many times I read it. If you don’t know the story, Anne and Frederick Wentworth were acquainted in their young adult years and formed a strong attachment. However, Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot, and her guardian, Lady Russell, did not approve of their union, feeling his financial and social status were unworthy of her position in society. Though Anne very much loved him, she felt it was dishonorable to continue the relationship without their approval. In letting him go, she felt as though she were doing the right thing, while also wondering if she had given up her one true love in life.

The actual story begins seven years later, with both characters still unmarried. Circumstance finds them once again dancing in the same circles, but this time with walls of hurt and regret between them. Austen has a unique and wonderful way of peeling back the layers of her characters throughout the novel, slowly revealing their strengths and weaknesses, and weaving their stories together as she goes. People are never quite what they seem, and in the end, their true character is revealed. Persuasion is no exception. By the end, Anne learns that while it is important to seek wise counsel, sometimes the best counsel comes from your own heart and mind. If you are an Austen fan but have never read Persuasion, put it on your list!

Into the Book of Light by Ted & Kara Dekker (Book 1 of the Series)

This middle grade book is the first in a series by Ted Dekker and his daughter, Kara. It reminds me quite a bit of Priscilla Shirer’s Warrior Series, which y’all already know I loved! In this series, the main character, Theo, is a middle school boy who is plagued by fears and finds himself the target of a mob of school bullies.  As he seeks refuge in a secret room in the library, an ancient book falls into his lap, and he soon finds himself transported to another world. 

In this new world, he meets strange creatures and new friends, and is sent out on a quest to find the 5 Seals of Truth. The authors use wonderful imagery to describe everything Theo encounters on his search for truth. There are dark bat-like creatures who aggressively hinder his progress and seek to deceive him. There is a black fog of knowledge which, when breathed in, only increases his knowledge of fear and blinds him to the truth. There is cleansing water and the characterization of God as a lion… and a boy. After a powerful encounter with Elyon, Theo is able to respond with courage in the face of fear, earning the first seal—the seal of Light.

It is a great allegory for many Biblical truths, and teaches children to turn to God with their fears, trusting He is big enough to handle them and take care of them. I have no doubt that my boys will enjoy this book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth by R. Thomas Ashbrook

I absolutely loved this book! It is the kind of book that resonates when you read it and then stays with you, begging you to pull it back out and read it again. 

Based largely on the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, Mansions of the Heart describes a modernized ancient framework of spiritual growth for Christian believers. It is, perhaps, the best book on spiritual formation I have ever read.

Asher takes great care to point out that spiritual formation is not linear in nature, while still giving us a basic road map to use as a guideline. He emphasizes that we can be in more than one stage at the same time, and that we often move in and out of a given stage for a period of time. Most churches and books on spiritual growth direct us towards prayer, Bible Study, and other spiritual disciplines, but with no clear path or picture of where/what our relationship with Christ is going. What often happens, in my experience, is we find ourselves in that stage, vascillating between periods of  silence from God and closeness with Him. When we are hearing Him clearly, we feel like we are growing, but in long periods of silence, we may question what we are doing wrong or if, perhaps, we’ve had it wrong all along. Most of the believers I know never make it any further than this, and live with ongoing frustration sprinkled with moments of closeness, or worse, settle into an apathetic faith.

What I appreciate most about this book is that it gives a further path beyond just prayer and Bible study. It validates these periods of silence, termed “dark nights of the soul,” and encourages us to not only expect them, but even to appreciate them for their place in the process of drawing our hearts to Jesus. Asher points out the stages often coincide in many ways with our overall maturity and the life stages we find ourselves in. I definitely find this to be a true and logical correlation. I am both intrigued by and somehow hesitant to embrace the mysterious, mystical elements of the later stages he describes. As a culture, we do not like to embrace things we don’t understand and can’t explain… and yet, isn’t that exactly who God is and how He works? Having experienced personally a few spiritual encounters of this nature, and having read of significantly deeper encounters than mine by “spiritual greats” who were much purer in heart and faith than myself (Amy Carmichael, C.S. Lewis, Brother Lawrence, etc.), I am compelled to believe there is certainly a path forward beyond what many of us ever realize. Reading this book has encouraged me to continue pursuing communion with God at a deeper level than I was beginning to think was possible.

All that said, this book is not for everyone. If you are fairly new to the Christian faith (or to actively growing in your faith—ie., Stage 1 or Stage 2 of spiritual growth as described in the book), I am afraid you will find this book overwhelming and largely irrelevant. In my opinion, it is better suited for people who are further along in their faith journey and already practice spiritual disciplines fairly consistently. Additionally, if you have a strong negative opinion of any sort of mystical element to Christianity, you will likely find this book a waste of time.

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Well, friends, those are my books from the month of September: Historical fiction, a Jane Austen novel, middle grade fantasy, and Spiritual formation. How’s that for variety? Ha! 

What’s on your nightstand?

Feel free to share suggestions or feedback in the comments! 

So What Do We Do Now, America?

Well, friends, it’s been several days since the General Election. Americans showed up at the polls in record number. All the ballots have been marked and the votes have been cast. America has spoken… (we have no idea what we actually said, but that’s beside the point!)

So, what do we do now?

First, let’s talk about what we don’t do. 

We don’t act like three year olds who didn’t get their way. We don’t throw temper tantrums, lash out, or take our toys and go home. 

We don’t act like middle-schoolers who think we know everything, smiling to our friends’ faces while we talk about them behind their back and find ways to embarrass them on social media. 

We don’t act like many of our politicians who use their words and platforms to emphasize what divides us.

No, America, we are better than that. 

So what do we do now?

We show up.

Remember all those issues we were so passionate about this past month? Remember the things we argued about on Facebook, the things we couldn’t believe our “friends” could be so unconcerned and uncaring about? Abortion, immigration, education, civil rights, the job market, the environment… remember those things?

Guess what? They are still issues.

Believe it or not, they were issues several decades ago, and they will likely still be issues several decades from now. Legislation is important, of course. But making a rule rarely fixes the problem…

That part is up to us.

So what do we do now? 

Friends, we can’t just show up to vote, we have to actually SHOW UP. Period. 

Choose to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

What does that look like? 

  • Put your money where your mouth is. 
  • Actually do as you say, not just as you say you do. 
  • Put down your phone, step away from the computer, and DO something!

You see, we live in this weird time in which everyone’s opinion seems to matter. With the click of a button, we have an enormous audience instantly applauding our words, and if we’re honest, that makes us feel important. It makes us feel like we’ve done something important, just by using our “voice”. 

But it’s a lie, y’all. We haven’t actually done anything.

Newsflash: No one reverses their opinion from a social media post, and the world is not a better place simply because we tweeted something. Posting and doing are two entirely different things. One is easy and self-edifying; the other is more difficult and actually costs us something.

Now, you should know, I am preaching to myself, too. 

Even as I write this blog post, I am fighting the urge to feel heroic. Surely my words count for something, right? And isn’t it noble to motivate people to action?

Not really. 

Talk is cheap, friends, even for people like me who invest a lot of time and thought into our words. Especially for people like me!

I am prone to think I’ve done something simply because I’ve talked about it and advocated for it and encouraged others to do something about it. But at the end of the day, all I’ve done is talk, and the issues still remain.

One good thing about this circus of an election is it has led many of us to honestly evaluate what is important to us and why. But I can’t help asking myself, if those issues are such a strong determiner of what matters to me and to our country, then what am I actually doing about it?

Voting is not enough. Posting is not enough. Arguing is not enough.

It’s time to do something!

Because when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter who the President is or which party controls Congress. Laws will passed and repealed. Parties will be elected and then defeated. 

Meanwhile, there are young women in crisis, praying for someone to rescue them. There are struggling boys without fathers, in desperate need of love and leadership. There are immigrants and refugees right down the road who need furniture, job training, and someone to teach them to speak English. There are foreign countries plotting against us, and not enough people to protect us. There are people living in extreme poverty all around the world.

Pregnant teens need support, neglected children need foster homes, and the local food pantries need replenishing. 

It can be overwhelming when you really think about it!

And honestly, that’s what leads to my personal passivity. 

There is so much to do, so many people who need help, so many issues I care about, that I don’t know where to start. 

How do I decide what’s most important? 

How do I find time to help when my schedule is already so full?

How do I know how much to donate, especially if my budget is tight?

And how do I know if I am doing enough?

It reminds me of watching my boys play soccer. They are usually a force to be reckoned with—they are unbeatable on defense and unstoppable on offense. But this year, I’ve noticed they have struggled playing midfield. They seem unsure of whether they should attack, stay back, or stall for their teammates. So instead, they end up doing nothing. They stand there, frozen, unable to make a decision.

And they end up missing the opportunity to make a difference.

Y’all, I do the same thing. I don’t want to do the wrong thing, or I’m not really sure how to help, so I end up doing nothing at all.

And I miss my opportunity to make a difference. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss any more opportunities.

  • Like Esther, I believe we were created for such a time as this. 
  • Like Abraham, we need to be willing to step out in faith and go where God leads us.
  • Like Moses, we need to be willing to put our fears aside and do what God tells us to do.
  • Like the disciples, we need to boldly share the hope we’ve been given by meeting the needs of those God puts in our path.

My favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot, made popular a poem by an unknown author, entitled, “Do The Next Thing.” She returned to it often when she found herself unsure of what to do.  These two stanzas seem particularly relevant to us:

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

So what do we do now, America?

If we vote our values, we must live our values. We don’t have to do everything, but we must do something!

  • Volunteer to teach English/job skills to some local refugees. 
  • Sign up to be a mentor at your local school. 
  • Buy groceries for the Food Pantry. 
  • Sponsor a child and buy Free Trade products.
  • Get trained to volunteer or lead a Bible Study at your local Crisis Pregnancy Center. 
  • Coach a basketball team in an underprivileged area. 
  • Provide furniture for someone rescued from sex trafficking. 
  • Offer to take dinner or babysit for a foster/adoptive family.
  • Donate to your local homeless shelter and find out other ways you can help. 
  • Send care packages to our soldiers (or become one yourself). 

Get involved! And take your children with you. Our actions speak much louder than our words!

I don’t really care who you voted for or why. We are called to be Light in the darkness, to take the hope of Christ to the nations and to our neighbors.

So, what are you going to do now, America?

That part is up to you. 

Just do something.