Learning Thanksgiving

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“I don’t want to go dance class!”

“I’m not hungry for dinner–I want goldfish!”

“I’m so bored! There’s nothing to play with.”

We’ve all been there, mama. Every blessed one of us who’ve been blessed to bear children sooner or later finds our hearts stabbed raw, ripped bare by their stinging tongues. Their whims and disappointments cut deeper than they know. We work so hard to fill them brimful with all.the.things. and there it is–ugly and sharp in the midst of all our hard work–ingratitude.

I have a theory. I think that God gave the world preschoolers to remind us of what we sound like to Him. Everyone makes much of the terrible twos, but I’ve got to tell you, it’s those three- and four-year-olds that get my goat. Get it every time.

When my two-year-old bursts into blubbery tears over a broken animal cracker, or wails because he wanted the green cup and not the blue, or trips over his own feet because he’s too tired and refused to take his nap (again), well I can get down and snuggle with the best of them. I can wipe those tears and even smile through it. Poor little guy, it’s tough to be two, isn’t it?

I wish I could say I had the same compassion for my preschoolers. After all, they’re not much further along this tricky trail called life. They’re still learning the ropes. But, there’s something about a four-year-old that makes me think, by golly, she should know that that animal cracker tastes just as good when it’s broken in half! There are plenty of kids who would love to have that broken animal cracker. Why can’t she just be grateful?

Why can’t I just be grateful?

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Somedays, by golly, it’s hard to see the good stuff. I’m so focused on everything that’s gotten away from me, that’s gone wrong or ruined or just plain fallen off the radar because there’s too much in the balance. But I have to ask: when there’s spilled milk, why do I jump straight to exasperation and plum forget to give thanks that there was milk to spill in the first place?

What if you woke up tomorrow with only those things you had thanked God for today?

That’s the thought I’ve been curling around this mama heart of mine these days. And wouldn’t it do His heart good if I gave thanks for all my broken animal crackers? And isn’t it amazing that when I dissolve in tears instead, He still holds me in the midst of all my pitiful ingratitude? Poor thing, it’s tough to be human, isn’t it?

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I’ll never forget the first time I put on glasses. I was in second grade. Probably I’d needed them for over a year, because my eyesight was pretty bad by time the optometrist fitted those frames on my little wide-eyed face. Sky blue: they must have been the ugliest frames under heaven, but there was no telling that to my seven-year-old self. I walked outside beneath the clear blue sky with my mama, and I looked across the way and gasped in awe: “I can see every leaf!”

For a year after, whenever I drew a tree, I drew it with individually shaped leaves. Not that puffy-cloud type of tree: each. little. leaf. Because for the first time, I could see them: separate and distinct and every one a miracle.

Gratitude, I think, is like that pair of glasses. So often, we wander through life seeing it in a blur and only looking up when we stub our toe or something falls just out of place. We miss all those moments when God’s reaches down to bless us. Gratitude is the vision that brings it all into focus: every mundane miracle. Sometimes it’s a beautiful sunrise, and sometimes it’s a brimful glass of spilt milk. If we can find His hand, it is all and always grace.

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