Here’s my 2016 gift list (top 5 things I’m giving thanks for this year and lessons learned). Enjoy and hope you’ll share your own in the comments.
If I had a dollar for every cynical, ungrateful, and whiny social media post I’ve seen about 2016, I’d be covered in cashmere (and feeling fabulous). I’m baffled by the overwhelming negativity. Sure, things often don’t go our way. But what’s new? As Frank Sinatra crooned, “that’s life,” champ.
I’m quite certain that with the exception of a few people in dire circumstances, most of us are surrounded by beautiful people who love us and have all our needs met (and then some). A little gratitude goes a long way, baby.
Each year I create a gift list as I reflect on how God–and the world, the people in my life, and my circumstances–have given to me generously in various ways over the course of the year. Here’s my list for 2016.
1. I learned to take better care of myself.
While answering reflective questions earlier this year, I was asked…
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Today’s post is by one of my male students who prefers to remain anonymous.
I know I am not the best at showing appreciation to you, but during this time of year thankfulness is a common subject that comes up. I want you to know that I am very thankful for you. You have always been there for me. You have always made sure that I have had everything I need.
I am thankful I got to spend the first four years of my life with you before starting to school. Not having to go to a babysitter while my parents worked was pretty awesome. I also enjoyed the camping trips we would go on during the 4th of July. You were pretty good at making worm beds so my brother and I could go fishing together.
You are also a very good cook. You make the best banana pudding, from scratch, just the way I like it. I am also thankful for your ability to sew. You have patched a few knees for me over the years and have sewn a number of patches onto my letterman’s jacket. We all know my mom can’t sew, and it would have never been done without you.
I also enjoyed all the family time we got to spend together at your house. You have always opened up your house to others. You have accepted my friends and treated them just like they were your own grandkids.
Recently, you purchased a camper for me to stay close to my college so I would not have to drive three hours a day. I really appreciate that you didn’t get mad when I decided living alone was not for me, and we brought the camper back home. I found driving easier than loneliness.
I am also thankful for your general knowledge of “life.” You always have good advice to give, even when I didn’t think I needed any. I have found in the end, Nana is always right!
Thank you for being my Nana!
This letter was written by Gabrielle Holmes, one of my students, as a tribute to her mother.
I want to let you know how thankful I am to still have you in my life considering all the obstacles we have faced in life. Since Pawpaw died, you have stepped up and really showed me there is life at the end of the tunnel.
I want to thank you, Momma, for helping me with my children even though I know it’s a hassle for you. I want to thank you, Momma, for always inviting me and the kids over for dinner even though you don’t have to. Thank you, Momma, for being my biggest fan through every single stage of my life. I just want you to know I couldn’t have ask for a better cheerleader.
Thank you for becoming my best friend and being my biggest confidant. You always answer your phone with the same friendly attitude every time I call no matter if I call ten times in a row. You have shown me how to respect people and treat everyone with kindness no mater what. You let me know it wasn’t okay to judge people at a young age, and I respect you for that.
You have been my rock through breakups, life decisions, and new chapters. Thank you for teaching me the importance of hard work and the importance of getting your education so I can have something in life. You have always told me if I wanted something in life, I have to work for it. Thank you for making me independent and telling me to never rely on anyone. Every single day I become more confident in myself.
My hope this Christmas season is for you to find joy, peace, and happiness, and let’s not forget to still cook! I just want to say I love you and thank you for being my backbone.
On our last day, I knew something was askew with you. You were quieter. You didn’t tell as many jokes and stories. You didn’t make eye contact as often. You didn’t even wrestle the kids.
I couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Maybe you felt left out of our chitchat. Maybe you had more trouble hearing. Maybe your blood pressure was off. But something wasn’t the same, and I sensed it.
With my best dad
Other parts of our last day were perfect.
We drank a glass of red wine together. We always did that. You commented on your failure to perfect the gravy’s consistency, and I insisted it was perfect already. I always insisted your cooking was great (it was). I scooped up a huge spoonful of succotash and claimed I loved it. I didn’t. But you made it, and you loved making it, and I loved you.
Our last day…
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Today’s post is written by one of my students, Roy Meisinger, as a token of appreciation to his wife.
I would like to take the time to tell you how thankful I am that God chose you to be my wife. I think sometimes I take you for granted, but truthfully you do and have done so much. I am thankful about how supportive you have been especially in the last five months. Being laid-off caused big changes, and you have tried so hard to be positive about it all. Not only am I thankful for being supportive of me through though times, but I also appreciate how much you do for our children.
It takes a lot to raise our kids. Practices, art classes, and modeling is a lot for one person to run around to and from constantly. Yet you do it each week and have shown me in the last five months that though it is exhausting, it is also worth it. Allowing our children to do all these different things will better them in the long run. Sometimes I wonder why you push yourself to let them do so much, but you are letting them do what they love. I know as their father I have agreed to let them do everything as well. What I did not realize at the time of these decisions is that school was going to keep me from helping with it all. You have taken on the challenge, though, and I could not be more thankful. It is hard to understand what all it takes to care for a house and kids. The time I have been home these last months have shown me how much work it actually takes. It truly makes me more grateful for you each day.
You did not stop with just me and the kids though. This semester while I had class, you took on Wednesday nights with the youth. I am so thankful that you are ready to step up while I go to school in hope of bettering our future. You have done a great job with teaching them. If I am completely honest, it is not just Wednesday nights that you have helped me. You have been such a huge help with the youth over the last year. From scheduling every event to just adding your thoughts during a lesson, you have helped me do the best for them all.
This is not just for brownie points; I am seriously most grateful for you. Supportive of me, a great mother to our children, and an awesome youth minister’s wife, I am thankful that God sent you to me. I look forward to many more years and many more reasons to be thankful.
” I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” Philippians 1:3-4 (ESV)
Today’s post is written by my student, Katrina King. As a mother, I can relate to the love and pride she expresses for her daughter in this letter. I hope to write a letter like this to Maggie someday.
Hey girl, so I got an assignment in my Comp class, and I think it is the best assignment yet, in my opinion of course. We were given an assignment to write a letter telling someone how thankful we are to have them in our life (on the topic of gratitude). I feel really comfortable writing this because I knew before I finished reading the assignment that I would be writing about you.
I know that I am your mother, and we will always have that special bond that so few share and so many others could relate to, but not many know what we have gone through just this fall semester. You had a full course load with 14 hours, me working two jobs, taking my first online course and attending an in-class lecture so I can finally finish school. To say it has been tough is most definitely an understatement.
I appreciate how hard you worked to try to maintain a good GPA in a very unfamiliar territory. I know you have had your struggles; I couldn’t imagine some of the fears you may have faced, especially since you are a deaf child, leaving your mark in a hearing world, a world that does not always understand you. You are doing your best to have your voice heard. You have helped me with getting your brother back and forth to school–practice, tutoring, feeding him–the whole nine, while I work some crazy hours, and you have done it all with a smile and not too many complaints.
Your grace and beauty defines the way a young lady should act and carry herself. I am so proud of you. I am thankful the Lord saw fit to pair us up to do this life together. There will never be enough words to tell you how truly grateful I am to have you as my daughter, and I thank you for being a positive role model to not only your brother but to others who cross your path as well. I pray you continue to strive for greatness; your hard work will not go unnoticed at times when you think you just can not go any further or things start to get rougher than you had hoped. Just know that you have not come this far to turn back.
I love you to the moon and stars and back.
Yesterday my little sister piled up turkey, dressing, casseroles, bread, pie, and salad for a neighbor and walked across the street. We drank coffee while she spent an hour chatting with him; he’s not really into big family gatherings, but he probably appreciated the quiet conversation.
The day before Thanksgiving, I received a gift card in the mail for this same neighbor. I’d mentioned his home repair needs to some friends. His house caught fire years ago, and he’s been attempting to repair it here and there for years ever since.
This woman lives two hours away. She’s never met this man and probably never will. She doesn’t need to; she believes me when I tell her he is living in a shop building with no heat, no running water, and no electricity. She believes me when I explain that he has been unemployed and looking for work. She believes me, and she helps.
Not everything in life is this simple.
But maybe we have made things too complicated.
I’ve served on non-profit boards. I’ve organized fundraisers for organizations and helped raise $150,000 in a single evening. I’m not opposed to large-scale fundraising or development efforts.
There’s something refreshing, though, about hearing a stripped down, simplified “yes” to the question: Do you want to help this man?
My husband asked, “What is your plan once you gather these resources? What are you going to do exactly?”
“Well, I don’t have a plan. We’ll see what happens depending on how much money we can raise and how many people want to help.”
There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t trust God enough to handle any details—details of a project or plan and certainly not details of my life. I don’t feel that way today. I know God loves this man. I know God loves me, too.
Simple as that.
Today’s blog post is by my student, Ladonna Williams, as part of a brief writing assignment celebrating her marriage.
To my loving husband:
I want you to know that you have been a great inspiration in my life. Putting our friendship with love, we created our marriage. You accepted life’s responsibility and turned it into a blessing.
There are great benefits of being your wife, including unconditional love. We look upon ourselves as under no obligation. Being your wife has been amazing. Not because of the things that you do for me, and not even because of how much love you have for our family. Just because you are someone special. I am so thankful for the little things that I may have taken for granted. Washing dishes, grocery shopping, and even taking care of me on my late nights. Those days when I didn’t say thank you, count it to my mind not my heart.
I strive to have a heart as big and warm as the one that you share with me. I value the kind heart that has brought sunshine to my life. I thank you for the love and kindness you share with me on a daily basis. I thank you for being my umbrella on the rainy days. When you felt as if I weren’t happy, there was joy pulled from within your heart to share with your wife. I thank you for the encouraging words when situations got a little hard for me. Always there to keep pushing me to the next step in life.
I can’t express enough of how special I feel to get to spend my life with someone as great as you. Someone who always has the next person’s concern on their mind. Standing there ready to do your best to brighten up their day. I thank you for sharing your love with people who may need a kind word. I want you to know I am always grateful for the things you share. I love you!
Big thanks to my lifelong best friend, MeLissa Massey Horseman, for making gratitude a family affair. I love you, MeLissa.
Dailen (9 ½) – I’m thankful for a house, my family, and myself. I feel that thankfulness means you are appreciative and have a good attitude about stuff people give you.
Lexa (8) – I’m thankful for a roof over my head to keep rain, snow, hail, thunder, lightning, and wind off my head. I’m thankful for my dad and mom who take care of me when I am sick, cold, or hot. I’m thankful for my brother and sister because they play with me. Thankful means you are thankful for something like your clothes or you are thankful for something your mom and dad gives you like maybe a bowl of ice cream. Well, thank you for listening to me. Love, Lexa
Lydia (3 ½) – Thankful for Momma, Daddy, music, milk, tea set, (I think we were looking at what was on the kitchen table when we answered, lol), swimming with Daddy, making creative art with Mommy, playing school with Sister, playing puppy with Brother, and that God is strong. Being thankful is loving all around us.
I asked my three kids to tell me a couple of things they are thankful for and what they think thankfulness means. I transcribed my older kids’ answers from what they wrote and interpreted the response of my youngest. I like that my oldest said to be appreciative. I like that my middle child is so specific and fun. I like that my littlest is in the present and happy for the simple things.
Sometimes it is so hard to be thankful. I am thankful every day because I know we are spoiled. Our needs are met, and we are healthy. However, I don’t know that I am truly grateful. I mean, at the end of that day when I am a frazzled mess, I don’t stop and think, I have a home, family, running water, and ice cream. I get short with the kids because they weren’t getting their bedtime stuff done. I get irritated with my husband because he half cleaned up the kitchen. I’m mad we didn’t read Bible stories before bed, again. I worry if my back will have issues tomorrow and when will my shoulder feel better and if I will write that piece for my best friend’s gratitude blog like I said I would.
As I lay pondering the day after everyone is asleep, I think, tomorrow. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I will not be a stress ball by evening. Well, that may be a lofty goal but today, I will put more effort into slowing down and being thankful. I love fall. It is my favorite season. I love cool weather, pumpkin spice, peppermint, and cozy sweaters. As I was walking my kids to their bus stop this morning, the fall colored trees seemed especially stunning with the sun shining down on them. My kids are like trees with God’s love and mine shining down on them. They are constantly growing and changing like the beautiful autumn leaves and there are times I am not thankful for that process. Sometimes I am selfish and want them to stay little and innocent, and sometimes I am so stressed with life I don’t make time to watch the process. I can get tired of hearing people say, ‘enjoy the moment, they grow up fast,’ and ‘you’ll miss it all when their gone.’ In the midst of clutter and sassy attitude, I want everything to be organized and polite. However, I do need to be more thankful of the everyday memories.
This morning I took a picture of the gorgeous trees. I took time to document that my son wrote his name in cursive and be thankful that he is growing up. I am thankful I have a patient God. He may be frustrated that I don’t put the time and energy into Him that he most certainly deserves, but He still loves me. I am thankful for my husband who works hard at his job and strives to protect and defend me and our three children. I am thankful for my son who is so smart with school and still loves to cuddle with me. I am thankful for my older daughter who is a silly spark of individuality and a sensitive spirit. I am thankful for my younger daughter who is a fun little monkey and keeps me smiling with admiration and amazement. Being thankful is slowing down and truly appreciating life in big and small ways. It doesn’t have to be so hard. I may have a few, ‘Today is the Day’ days, but that’s okay because I am thankful I can try again.
When company’s coming, I normally tidy up the house hurriedly, clearing up clutter quickly. Everything must find its home–James’ smelly socks sitting in the middle of the mudroom floor, Maggie’s tiny pile of clean laundry atop the dining table outside her room, the four coffee cups on the kitchen counter. Even if I don’t have time to scrub each surface with bleach or mop the floor with wood oil soap, I can’t relax until the clutter isn’t visible and the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher.
After the mad dash through the house, I typically glance down at myself in horror and jump in the shower. Even if I don’t have time to apply makeup or shave my legs, bathing myself and brushing my teeth are essential.
This Sunday, after caring for a very sick little girl by myself for three days, I found myself staring at the clock in anticipation of my friend Erin’s visit. I looked around me; thankfully, since James had been out of town for three days, the house was already clean. I looked at myself; if I’d had an ounce more sleep, I might have cried after catching a glimpse of my hair in the mirror. However, I’d reached the point of subsisting solely on coffee fumes, and brushing my teeth and pulling my bangs away from my face was the best effort I could muster.
When Erin arrived, I laughed. She looked similarly smocked and just as exhausted. We consumed even more caffeine while halfheartedly entertaining Maggie and catching up on life. She came bearing gifts of a toy puppy, a teeny tiny watermelon from her garden, cranberry cookies, and s’mores dip. We consumed sugar and watched leaves fall while Maggie chased chickens.
That night, I explained to my mentor that I wasn’t sure what lesson I was supposed to be learning, but every time James left town, one of us was really sick. I often reached out to people asking for babysitting assistance or inviting them to visit, but by and large, I couldn’t reach people or found that people had other plans. What was the lesson I was supposed to be learning here? Could I just learn it, please, and stop dealing with this?
While scrolling through Pinterest, I came across a post about oranges.
“The smell of an orange relieves stress. Smelling an orange or eating one can reduce stress by 70%” (ThePsychMind.com).
Is this true? Is it legitimate? Is it scientific? It’s on PINTEREST, for crying out loud. But I know this—when I peel clementines for my little Maggie (which is rather tedious and a bit time-consuming), I love the scent and seem fully present and engaged. Why? I don’t know. I don’t care. I stopped caring about why things work a long time ago. I just do what works.
As I reflected on three long, stressful, sleepless days and nights of caring for a sick little girl (cuddly, but sick), I recognized that I may have done a great job of caring for her, but I was sucking in the self-care department.
Ah. So that’s what I was supposed to be learning here. The age-old adage about putting on my own oxygen mask. How do you do that when your child is hacking up mucus? How do you do that on three hours of sleep? It wasn’t just about meeting my physical needs. I could handle that part and did so most of the time while taking care of Maggie. But was I mindful of my own well-being, mindful enough to stop to meet my needs even if it meant altering our daily routine and plans? When was the last time I did something frivolous and fun for myself—not related to work, an organization, or my family? Do I care for myself with as much love as I care for my daughter?
I decided I’ll start by peeling an orange every day. I’ll peel it for myself. I will enjoy the way it smells and then eat it myself instead of giving it away, which is what happens 89.5% of the time I attempt to eat one.
I think someday, when Maggie is old enough to understand the importance of loving herself—and not laying herself down on the altar of taking care of other people, or losing who she is in the name of trying to save someone else—she will thank me for eating one small clementine every day.