Thanksgiving and lessons in GRATITUDE from an 8 year old

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time and by far my favorite holiday. Families gather to give thanks for their blessings, cook and eat big feasts, watch football and hopefully remember the Pilgrims and other times in our history for which we are grateful. I have always loved the rich history of this American holiday.

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Before it was a federal holiday, Thanksgiving was a day appointed by Congress, the President or the state legislature; sometimes they would even appointed more than one “Thanksgiving” in a given year.  Wouldn’t that be great? That’s because these were not just days to eat turkey, and watch football. They were, rather, days of prayer.  In fact, virtually every early thanksgiving proclamation includes calls to prayer and fasting.

It is our family tradition each year to read George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789, the kids love it!……..Well maybe not so much, but I can rarely get through the whole thing without shedding a tear.  It is powerful and telling as to how much we have changed as a country in regards to public expressions to God for the blessings we enjoy as a nation.  Washington’s heart-felt offering and acknowledgment of those blessings is always moving to read.

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My love of this holiday is much deeper than those wonderful traditions and history because the virtue of gratitude itself transcends what the holiday has come to mean in general. “Gratitude,” said Cicero, “is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” It is nearly impossible for a grateful person to be hateful or selfish. If you count your blessings more than your grievances, you are bound to be humble, compassionate and happy. Basically gratitude is like a real life super power for any who allow themselves to be governed by it.

A few years ago I experienced this for myself. I had had a really bad week, or what I thought was a bad week and as I drove home from work on Friday I had become bitter and jaded .  It was one of those moods I was bent on staying in because frankly I deserved to feel this way.  When I got home I made it clear to anyone who would listen how unfair I felt life was to me and went off to watch TV and wallow in my misery. Mature, I know.  For the most part my family gave me some space; that was until my wife kindly reminded me I had planned a “daddy Daughter date” with my eight year old for that very night.

Now the last thing I wanted to do was go back out in public but Chloe had been looking forward to this all week. She is a true light in my life and not wanting to disappoint her, I dragged my sorry self into the shower and in no time we were off to Chik-fil-A.  As we sat in the booth I listened to her cheerful jabber. At that age that is usually what I would do on these dates is listen, because man she could talk!  As I sat across from her looking at my phone with an occasional one word answer to her cheerful dialog, I’m sure it was obvious I was not myself, but she didn’t care, she was happy.

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At one point without notice she started singing the chorus to a familiar song. I remember looking up and seeing this beautiful little girl with a chicken tender in one hand and a small Oreo shake in the other just singing.  She sang the chorus of a Zach Brown song with the words “I’ve got everything I need, and nothing that I don’t”. It is not uncommon for her to sing but that song at that particular time is just what I needed.

Ironically this song is called “Home Grown” and is about a man expressing gratitude for all the blessing in his life and as I heard these words and looked into her smiling, singing face, my heart broke. In a good way, my cold hard heart cracked just enough for gratitude to spill in and save me from myself. I could feel a change come over me immediately as I thought how thankful I was to be her Dad. How many more dates would I get like this? She will be grown and gone in the blink of an eye and here I was bitter and disconnected.  If there was anyone in the world who had reasons not to feel and act jaded it was me.  I was suddenly overcome with gratitude for her, for that moment, for a beautiful family, a steady job, my health and the list went on and on in my head and my entire disposition changed.

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Like a real life super power, that small dose of gratitude not only softened my heart, it gave me my sight back, the eyes to see all that was good in my life . Those “big” problems I was so focused on melted away and I was ashamed of my attitude. With a new spirit of humility and repentance  my attitude adjustment was complete all due to my 8-year-old daughter, a song, and a dose of gratitude.  We were both happy now and as we finished dinner and made our way to the theater I offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving.  

Sincere heart-felt expressions of gratitude can be the antidote to much of what ales us as a country and as individuals if we will only remember to use this amazing super power.

Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.

— WILLIAM ARTHUR WARD

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