Is it just me or did November just zip right on by with December doing the very same thing? It feels like it’s just been a month since my little family was exploring the San Antonio Riverwalk, but that was 4 months ago.
My husband and I have been back from our anniversary trip for a little over a five weeks now. We went to California and saw some of the most beautiful scenery God just spoke into existence; yet, now, we’ve been back to work for over a month—hard at it—and life just "keeps on truckin'."
Want to know about many times I’ve already complained about work since I’ve been back? To be honest, I’d be too embarrassed to say, and the craziest thing about it is that, for me, my job is the dream job. I couldn't have a better situation than what I have now. I don’t answer the phones, and I get to go different places rather than staying central to one location. The work is hard…mind-boggling at times, but it pays well and comes with lots of perks. So, why is it that I fell so quickly back into the same old habits of being ungrateful? Well—I think the answer, if we were all being honest, is that kind of negativity is easy for all of us to slip into from time-to-time.
What if we lived every day of the year like we live every day of the month of November?
November: The month of endless gratitude
Each day we found a new reason to be grateful and then many of us shared that reason with others until it caught on like wildfire and spread across the entire United States of America, culminating in one massive, nation-wide state of thanksgiving. We did that, and we do it again and again, every single year.
If every single human who participated in the month of gratitude would commit to participating in the exact same way we did just last month, can you imagine how monumental the effects on this entire world would be?
What if we kept going? What if we could commit to another 30 days, then 90 days, and then 365 days of nothing but gratitude? What if we took it one step further and shared that gratitude with someone else, and then THAT gratitude caught like wildfire just like it does during the month of November, until we become an entire nation of thankful people?
My mom had a favorite song that she’d remind us of often—she’d also share the lyrics with those around her when they seemed to struggle finding things for which to be grateful:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly, and you will keep singing as the days go by.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small, do not be discouraged, God is over all; count your many blessings, angels will attend. Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
Mom would even have all my siblings, our spouses and our children list five things we were thankful for before we could eat our Thanksgiving meal together. She was the greatest blessing counter I’ve known; yet, from the outside looking in, others could have easily found justification for her living in a different light.
Life was tough on her more times than one, and at the end of her life, she was watching her husband--my sweet, sweet dad--deal with the uncertainties of terminal cancer. She was scared, and she was hurting; yet, she’d tell you all day long about how blessed she was for the time she still had with Dad, for her job, her family and for the life she got to keep on living.
Committing to 365 days of gratitude means exactly that, committing to gratitude with a “come what may” attitude... amid the conflicts, amid the burdens... keeping all of the blessings at the forefront of our minds. Living a life of gratitude doesn’t mean life will come without its challenges. Living a life of gratitude also doesn’t mean you have to ignore those challenges when they come up. It does mean, however, that we have to shift our focus.
So how do we accomplish gratitude when life is hard?
Let me use my work as an example. I am a real estate title abstractor, which means it’s my job to make sure the title to a property is clean when the deed is signed from the sellers to the buyers. The buyers want to be sure no one else has claim to their land, and I have to go back, at minimum, 32 years in the history of a property to price that. That can mean chasing down potential heirs from many past decades. I've had to "connect the dots" from the 1800s going forward on some properties. I've had to work out potential property line disputes, and sometimes, I find multiple owners of the same piece of land.
This job can get hairy fairly quickly, and when it does, my instinct is to complain. But, those tough files have taught me everything I know as an abstractor. They’ve given me the knowledge that keeps me at the top of my game, so to speak, and that knowledge is what lets lenders or attorneys know that if there is an issue, I will find it and know how to fix it. I should be thankful for every single awful, no-good, "dirty" file I touch because those hard files have presented the challenges I had to overcome to be where I am today.
Challenges with work may seem too trivial of a comparison when it comes to other challenges we face in life, but in reality, the same concept applies all across the board. It's those challenges that teach us if we let them.
What about the real world stuff?
It's the one word I can find to sum up all other challenges that could cause us to lose sight of the many blessings we still have in this life.
Divorce. Loss of a job. Death. Sickness. Financial hardships. Addiction. Grief plays a role in every one, and it can be a monster that steals every bit of joy we have if we let it.
I’m no stranger to that either. Loss for me started before I could speak when my biological father left. I met him when I was a 9, after I already knew another man as “Dad.” My biological father died--because of addiction--when I was 13. From then until 2018, there were several BIG losses in my large family, all of them hard in their own ways, but none of them prepared me for the events that would unfold between 2018 until now. After 7 years of marriage and a super hard divorce, I received a call that my first husband had taken his life. Talk about some dark days! Then in 2020, I lost my mother suddenly, and her short illness was pretty traumatic to witness. There was nothing dignified about it, except for my knowledge that she was a faithful Christian, so I knew then that she'd be with Jesus the moment we let her go. A few months later, in November of the same year, I lost my grandfather to Covid, and then, this past May, a little less than 7 months ago, I lost my dad after his 5 1/2 year battle with cancer.
Putting it mildly, it's been a tough few years. I have days when it seems the grief is in full focus; yet, at the very same time, my gratitude is also in full focus. It is absolutely possible to experience both, and I am here to challenge everyone reading this to try doing just that.
You will never be able to out bless God
Have you ever had one of those days when it seems nothing is going as it should? You wake up late, and then you panic and rush to work. Maybe you forget your lunch. You get in your vehicle and realize you have to stop for gas, making you even more late for work. Then, your boss is upset you were late, and you can't seem to focus on anything else, and the day of unfortunate events just keeps unfolding until you're home again, in a terrible mood, and in no shape for being warm or inviting with your family.
When negative is the focus, you will perceive nothing but negative. You'll still receive the blessings, but you'll be blind to them because you've already told yourself, for that one day, that you are at a loss. Without even realizing it, you've sold yourself short and adopted the belief that, you deserve the negative things that will come, and then they do and you feel every single one of them.
I am living proof that the opposite attitude of focusing on your blessings while living a life of gratitude has the same exact effect. Only, it's in the positive direction, which is a very, very good life to live.
During the hardest, most painful years of my entire life, my life kept getting better. In just three years, I moved from a job not paying me enough to live to a job with amazing benefits that gave me the ability to learn everything I needed for the job I am doing now, which pays more and gives me more satisfaction than anything I could have imagined just three years ago. I also married the greatest man on this planet who surprises me, daily, with the amount of love, patience, and dedication he has to our family, our marriage and to his spiritual life. The blessings are endless, friends. They seem to just keep coming, and God is behind every one of them.
You will never be able to find more negative than the devil who will always find more negative to give you, but you will also never be able to out-bless God Who will always find more blessings to give you. You do have to choose, however, and making the right choice requires a totally different train of thought than what society tells us we should think.
More, more, more....
Our culture tells us we deserve more than what we have. If our marriages are struggling, we're told we can upgrade them for something better. We upgrade our phones, our vehicles, our closets, our homes, our relationships, and the cycle never ends. It's impossible to be content with that mindset. It's also impossible to see the blessings you currently have when you're never looking inward.
What if, for the next 365 days, we committed to finding new blessings, daily, in our current situations? Is your marriage struggling? Find a new blessing about your spouse, daily, and tell him or her why you're thankful. Is your workplace causing stress? Start a journal and list a new reason, daily, for which you can be thankful for your job AND the people you work with. Problem-solving skills, the ability to strengthen your verbal filter, and patience are blessings. Find reasons to be thankful for your house with very little storage or bad plumbing. Find reasons to love the old vehicle you're still driving. I'm driving a 2012 Nissan Altima with nearly 170k miles on it, and I'm still in love with its worn out, heated leather seats and sunroof because I worked HARD to buy it and not have a car-payment on it, and it's still blessing me every single day. When life hits hard, be thankful for the time and for the memories, and when loss comes, be thankful for the lessons you learned from those you have to let go.
In the very same way that focusing on the negative can cause you to put on the blinders and find nothing but more negative to follow over the course of an entire day, the same is true for focusing on a life of gratitude. It can completely overhaul our relationships. It can change how we interact with our children. It can create enough change in the workplace that allows for promotions.
A life of gratitude will open the door for you to see blessings all around you. It goes much deeper than what we accomplished during the month of November, but I have full confidence in every person's ability to accomplish that very same thing every day of the year. I also have full confidence in the blessings every person can receive by making that one simple adjustment in thought.
So...it's now December. Are you still thankful?