We don’t have to change what we see.
Only the way we see it.
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
…Dimly lit lights.
…Soft hum of music through the house.
…Watching candles dance on the mantle over delicious fireplaces.
…The stillness of trees outside the window.
…The rhythm of rest – with no threat of breaking.
A weekend away in the mountains of Vermont affords little hardship in counting gratitudes. Moments when the whirl of life has slowed and day’s demands have been abandoned; where woodstoves beckon and trumpet melodies offer steady company; all chaos and fluster of days and weeks sits, stilled. Who struggles to count the things they cherish then?
But what of gratitude when stress is raging? When dishes aren’t done and schedules overflow; when coffee is bitter and almond milk’s gone bad; when no one is seeing the gifts you are giving, steadily giving, of self and life and resource? What of it when no sweet sun streams in window shades cracked – and all that’s seen are cracks in table glass?
…the habit of discontentment can only be driven out by hammering in one sharper. The sleek pin of gratitude.
- Ann Voskamp
Gratitude is a decision, not a feeling. Thankfulness is not a matter of circumstance, but of focus. The mindfulness to slow ourselves long enough to consider the subtle gifts of life – the sacred, the simple – takes practice. Our lives are too full – our busyness too blinding – for the gifts of life to bring themselves to our attention without some intentionality. And the probability of meetings running late, traffic backing up, and cranky tantrums raging loudly is unfortunately greater than projects finishing themselves, dinner showing up miraculously on the table, and bags packing themselves for the morning.
How then do we practice gratitude?
“Seeing is … very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it…I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing. And…if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present.”
- Annie Dillard
Naming that which is in front of us gives us the capacity to be grateful for it. A thing, a moment, a conversation, a gesture – by naming these things we recognize their meaning and value, allowing ourselves to see more fully the worth they hold. And in naming that which we would otherwise miss, ‘the invisible becomes visible.’ So, we name those things we relish! – and relish the things we may not value at first glance – till we let ourselves look long and hard enough to see the gift wrapped tightly in each valuable moment.
Over the extended Thanksgiving weekend, my heart was provoked to look long and hard for blessings. My senses, much more attuned than they’ve been for the past six months – thanks to a serious intake of plant matter, sleeping a regular pattern of seven hours nightly, and daily tasting of movement as a nutrient – were capable of recognizing gift after gift with notable ease! – a cherishable gift in itself!
I began what became a precious record of sweet flavors and precious songs, moments shared with my mother on the driveway, and hours spent with my dad by the fire. As I stood at the counter chopping onions one morning, I realized I was looking – searching – for the next gratitude to count – the next gift to praise God for – the next hidden treasure waiting to be named. And, like little miracles, I found them all through the weekend:
…Garlic in burlap sacks, hanging next to bicycles in the basement.
…Dad’s sneezing (and sneezing!), with a body fighting hard to keep him healthy.
…Nervous tummy calmed when being asked to Grace our Thankgiving meal for 22.
…Pain on mile three of the turkey trot, reminding me the gift of running with Dad.
…Later-than-I’d-like night driving, affording headspace to think and pray and sing.
Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant is a seed that plants a giant miracle. Do not disdain the small – the whole of the life – even the hard – is made up of the minute parts. And if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole.
– Ann Voskamp
There is much to see. And much to be grateful for. Here’s to adjusting our mind’s eyes to discovering such gifts – Thanksgiving weekend and beyond.
Author Ann Voskamp, whom I’ve quoted through out this post, offers a few magnificent ways to help practice gratitude: