thank youThis time of year is particularly geared in both the commercial sense and the existential sense towards gratitude.  Facebook is brimming with 30 day thankfulness challenges, and people are engaging with lists of things they appreciate.  As part of the celebration of Thanksgiving, many people are jumping in with both feet to express as much gratitude as possible in 30 days.  To whom is this appreciation directed?  The answers will vary, and some expressions of gratitude actually have no destination at all.

Thankfulness is a feeling that one can have of appreciation for gifts given or grace received, but “giving thanks” is different.  Giving thanks must have a giver and a recipient.  When we give thanks, it is on purpose and with purpose, directed to someone(s) who can receive it.

When I talk to people about cultivating a lifestyle of worship, this topic of giving thanks becomes paramount.  Living  a life of thankfulness is the starting place of a lifestyle of worship, and I don’t mean just the feeling of thankfulness, because that comes and goes.  Thankfulness must take on an action, and must be offered on purpose.

It is the reason your mom had you write thank you cards to your aunt when she gave you a birthday gift.  It is the reasoning behind phone calls to friends and families to express your appreciation for who they are or what they have done.  It is the thinking behind trophies, award ceremonies, tributes, and parties thrown in someone’s honor.  There is an act of thankfulness and appreciation, and it is directed to someone, for someone, and very purposeful.

I have to admit that my generation (myself included) has forgotten or lost the art of “giving thanks” and trades it instead for a general “feeling of appreciation” that never reaches its intended destination.  Prayers around the dinner table turn to rhyme or habit, and no longer speak to someone ever-present, but chime as a tune to someone we once knew, or learned about.  Thankfulness from the masses is now a feeling expressed to the universe (which cannot receive it), not to individuals, who can, let alone God who deserves it.

There is  joy and healing found in gratitude, but it can only be discovered in “giving thanks”.   Giving thanks might mean staying on the line a few extra minutes to speak to a manager of a department in order to praise their employee who gave you great customer service.  It might mean, buying a gift for the lady who babysits your children in Fred Meyer so that you can shop in peace.  When you look people in the eye and say “Thank you,” or when you begin to take stock of your life and realize the millions of things that are yours because of a gift of love and grace, you will find a million reasons to be thankful, and hopefully a million ways to give thanks.

Worship is wrapped up in the discipline of recognizing God’s multitude of gifts and giving thanks to Him directly when that gift is recognized.  It is seeing every breath, every physical sensation, every visual delight, and every expression of grace as being gifts given by God the Creator who delights in giving them over and over and over to every generation.  When you see that sunset and think “Wow! that’s beautiful!” take another step and tell God how beautiful it is.  Tell Him how it impacts you at that moment.  Talk about what you are seeing, feeling, and experiencing in that moment of awe.  Express thanks on purpose.  If your children are with you, tell them about what the beauty means to you and who the Author of that beauty is, and teach them to say “thank you” too.

I want to challenge you in this season and beyond, to go past the lists of thankfulness you may acquire over the the course of this month, and take the extra time to actually thank those responsible for the gifts you are appreciating.  And when you have thanked individuals for the grace they have bestowed on you, turn your praise and thankfulness to God from whom all blessings flow, and thank Him personally, from your heart, with all the gratitude you feel inside.  Express your thanks in a way that matches the amount of thankfulness you feel, and then some.  This is at the heart of worship.

Mama Said There Would Be Days Like This

They told me it would be like this.  Those two beautiful women who had raised their kids already reached out to some young moms like me, who were far from their own families, and took a day to encourage me in mothering and teach me some of the things they had learned.  I soaked up every word.

Trying not to be overwhelming, I narrowed down my need list to this:  “Can you teach me how to prepare meals for a family of six and actually enjoy it?”  You see, up to this point in life, meals were pretty simplistic.  Sandwiches at lunch, chicken nuggets at dinner, pancakes for breakfast, but now my kids were growing and my boredom with food was growing.  It wasn’t until Thanksgiving of 2003 that I realized I needed help.  That was the year that I was pregnant with my fourth and my other three kids contracted the chicken pox.  Due to their illness, our family decided not to participate with the rest of the family for the holiday, so it meant it would be our very first Thanksgiving all by ourselves.  Here was my moment to shine!  Or so I thought.

I began to reminisce on all of the elements of Thanksgiving that I loved…the meats, salads, pies, and stuffing.  I determined to make  this the most delicious meal we had yet and celebrate this holiday with just our brood.  I knocked myself out with a huge dinner.  Turkey, stuffing, vegetables, pies, salads, and candied yams.  With excitement, I presented the meal to my family only to hear the little ones ask, “Can we just have macaroni and cheese?” and “I don’t like turkey.  Do you have any chicken nuggets?”  That moment was very poignant for me and I thought about quitting.

Eight months later, with baby number 4, I joined two women at the home of the eldest ready to learn how to plan meals, shop for food, and cut up a chicken.  What I wasn’t expecting was the wisdom and comfort I received as the teaching began.

“Cate, let’s first talk about the ‘family meal’ and what it represents.  The meal time is when the family all sits down together and shares their life.  There are rules at the table that help give everyone guidelines.  Rule #1, there is no complaining allowed at the table.  The meal time is a place where we practice Thankfulness.  We acknowledge the fact that Dad worked hard at his job to earn the money to provide the food and home and we are grateful and express that gratefulness.  We acknowledge the truth that God has provided for us the ability to work, to make money, to buy food and gave us the ability to enjoy it together.  For this we also give thanks.  So complaining, arguing, or belittling are not allowed at the meal times.  Rule #2:  We share life at the table.  Everyone gets a chance to talk about their day, or what is on their mind.  We give everyone a turn.  We listen.  We laugh, we encourage, and we dream there together all the while keeping rule #1 in our minds…no complaining!  Rule #3:  Everyone is able to eat something from the table –if even just a tablespoon’s worth of the one element of the meal that they aren’t fond of.  A tablespoon of green beans will not harm a child and they are capable of eating it, and they should.  It is up to you, the parent, to teach them about food and eating habits and what are good choices.”

I was taking it all in when the ladies continued:  “Cate, many of your children’s memories from their childhood will revolve around food.  They will remember the smells of bread baking in the oven, or the cookies cooling on the counter.  They will recall the birthday cake you made them with the blue frosting and ice cream center.  They will talk about their favorite dishes and even the hot dog roasts over campfires.  Food is an integral part of the lives of your children as they grow.”  I hadn’t considered that before, although I knew it to be true.  My mind began to wander back to the memories of my mother baking fresh bread and the smell that filled the house on baking day.  I loved her Navajo Tacos that consisted of taco fillings piled onto a thick fried bread.  That aroma was heavenly to me.  Yes, I had a lot of childhood memories that revolved around foods.

We hadn’t even built a salad yet, or cooked a chicken, but I was learning some of the best advice yet when it came to meals and my family, and all of it was wrapped up in this final encouragement:  “Remember this Cate, your children will not thank you for it now.  You will have many thankless meals, harried schedules, dinner blunders and days you want to give up, but your children will thank you when they are grown.  When they leave home someday you will get the phone calls that ask you about recipes for their favorite things.  They will have their own families with birthdays and holidays to celebrate  and want to bake breads and cookies, and make special meals for their kids, and they will think about you and remember that you did this for them, and say ‘thank you’.  So don’t be discouraged.  You are investing now, and there will be a return.”

Yes, they told me it would be like this.  Motherhood is a constant investing with returns that might not be realized right away, but if I don’t plant it, I can’t expect it to grow.  Like mealtimes, parenting is intentional.  What I want to grow in their physical, spiritual, and emotional lives I have to plant on purpose and trust that one day my kids will reap the rewards.

So today, as I manage the lives of four very different children of varying ages and temperaments, I am asking God to help me learn how to invest, and what to invest in their lives that will carry them into adulthood…and it will begin with a breakfast of waffles.