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I have two gratitude jars (one homemade from a mayonnaise jar, and the beautiful gift pictured here) and three gratitude journals. I start with great intentions, usually at the beginning of a new year, but often during Lent or Advent. My goal is always to write something I’m grateful for each day. One of my goals was to write three things each day, but that became repetitive because of my lack of imagination, not a lack of gratitude.

One jar is about one-third full of folded pieces of gratitude; my journals are but a few completed pages. I don’t know why I have a mental block against listing my reasons for gratitude each day. I’m consistent with other daily disciplines and set aside time for devotion and scripture reading, quiet time in prayer, walking… But somehow it feels like an assignment to list the reasons for gratitude, which is followed by the shame I feel in not completing the “task.” Usually a combination of those two things will shut down any further action on my part pretty quickly. I have failed, once again, at gratitude! Who admits that?? It brings me back to my mother reminding me to write thank-you notes, and to “just be thankful because things could be a lot worse.” And, of course, this is true. Although, for me, it was never a great motivation to be more grateful.

I became further convicted of the importance of gratitude while on a trip with a friend. We stopped to eat dinner and started a conversation with our waiter. He shared some things that had changed his life, and that his faith in God now kept him going and gave him a reason to begin each new day. The thing he emphasized the most was how gratitude made the biggest difference. He leaned over one of the chairs, looked us straight in the eyes, and proceeded to give a come-to-Jesus mini-sermon on the subject. I’ll never forget the sincerity and conviction in his voice as he said, “According to 1 Thessalonians 5:18, it is not a request, but a command. We are to be thankful, all the time. It’s God’s will!” I mean, both of us had grown up in the church and were familiar with this verse, but his words and the memory of that time and place have stayed with me - like a burned image on my brain.

So, I’d love to say I came back and started filling up my jar and journal, but alas, I did not. I continued to struggle with the best and “right way” to show gratitude, as I had with prayer many years before.

My sister and I enjoy recalling how our Dad would be in awe and take such delight in many things he observed. Most of the time we didn’t understand or share the same enthusiasm. But I think we both realized that as a soldier fighting in many of the major battles in World War II, he was probably so grateful just to be alive and have a chance to see how a tall building was being completed or demolished, or how a golf club could magically connect with the ball at just the right moment to become a hole-in-one (always his goal, but never achieved), or how the ignition’s “explosion” could cause the pistons to work perfectly in sync to move an 4,000 pound vehicle. He loved to explain how all of these things worked together and how the odds were against any of it being successful.

When I walk at our favorite park, I am in awe of so many things I see along the way - and they are different each time. I marvel at the reflection of the clouds and trees in the water, the tiny wrens flying in and out of the remains of a small, dead tree on the path, the sheen on the colorful duck’s feathers in the bright sunlight, and the variety of colors and magnificent detail of the flower petals and leaves defining each season.

I am in awe of each and every sunset or sunrise I lay eyes on. The moon and stars take my breath away. But I am in just as much awe looking at the tiny fingernails on my granddaughter’s hands, or watching my dog’s tail start to wag when we say her name. I am in awe of my children’s desire and efforts to change the world. I am in awe of my husband’s untiring ability to say, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” thousands of times and to watch a child’s face light up as he smiles and puts out his arms. And have you ever looked at the detail and design of a piece of fruit? Amazing.

At my typical 3 a.m. awakening, it dawned on me that I have been grateful and expressing it each time I see and marvel at the tiny bird wings fluttering or the branches swaying in the wind. Surprisingly, the definitions and synonyms of awe and gratitude don’t contain any shared references. Most descriptions of awe refer to a response to the grand and massive parts of God’s creation - the ones that make us notice how small we are in comparison: the oceans, glaciers, the Grand Tetons, the giant sequoias.

I think that our sense of awe, for the small as well as the massive, is an expression of gratitude - overwhelming gratitude that is difficult to put into writing or even words. Just as in the miracle of breathing in and out, God’s handiwork is in everything we see and experience. Even our reaction to the realization that we cannot explain or replicate what we see, can’t be forced. It’s an automatic and visceral response.

Even if I never complete a gratitude journal or fill a jar with slips of paper, I will breathe a prayer of thanks for the awe I experience each and every day of this life.

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Mar 29, 2022

While reading this, I could just hear Daddy's voice saying "Isn't that something?" ❤️

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