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!

Teachable Moments: Taking the Fear and Stress Out of Parenting Challenges

“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!

Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.

When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!

I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move! 

But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!

Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind! 

Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.

And that is something to be grateful for!

“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”

When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.

When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence. 

When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected. 

The important thing is how we handle them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:

Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?

—Paul David Tripp

God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us! 

We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know. 

So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.

This is grace.