Dear donut shop owners, college and post-grad roommates, Bible study leaders and loan officers, authors and video-makers, parents and grandparents, puppy breeders and endodontists and musicians, friends who live on different coasts, my landlord who lives downstairs…
At the end of October, a food writer who I follow on Instagram posted a photo about getting mail from a reader of her blog who had sent her a thank you note as part of her project called “Thank You Year.” The writer of the thank you notes, Gina Hamadey, began the project after she and her son Henry wrote 31 thank-you notes for a food drive she organized. After writing all 31 notes, she realized she missed the practice of expressing written gratitude and decided to turn it into a year-long campaign, writing one for every day of the year.
After reading about Gina’s Thank You Year, I decided to do my own “Thank You Month.” Not only was November beginning, a month unofficially dedicated to the practice of gratitude, but I could also tell that my heart needed to turn from some bitterness I was harboring. I thought it could be a nice thing to do with my time, so I posted about it on Instagram and invited others to join me. A few did! After a trip to TJMaxx’s stationary aisle, I picked up a pack of 50 thank you notes and wrote down a list of people I wanted to write on a couple of sticky notes with little puppies on the top of them.
Admittedly, I had a hard time thinking of 30 people I wanted to write a thank you note to. Who did I have to thank? And what for? I thought. It’s embarrassing to say, but I realized that my reason for writing thank you notes in the past was pretty much centered around someone giving me something – usually money or a gift of some sort. When I took the time to really reflect on why I wanted to do this Thank You Month, I realized that my practice of expressing gratitude was failing to see not only the little things, but the big picture, too. How many little things in my day to day life do I overlook and take for granted? How many times do I ignore the big picture of a person’s role in my life because I’m used to them being around?
How many little things in my day to day life do I overlook and take for granted? How many times do I ignore the big picture of a person’s role in my life because I’m used to them being around?
So instead of thinking about people I had a specific thing to thank them for, I thought of the people who were a part of my life this year. The list started to look a bit funky, but that’s how my life looks, too: a little bit funky.
The list became dotted with people all over, some of them I knew and some of them I didn’t. Some were to people I talk on the phone, some were folks I’ve never even met. They didn’t have a lot in common except for the fact that they mattered to me – they affected me – they, in big and small ways, changed my year. The recipients created delicious food, made compelling videos, wrote profound music and books, fixed my teeth, provided my no-interest college loan, prayed for me, raised me, gave me tomato plants, and sold me my dog. One recipient was a man who I had to search the internet for because I only knew his first name – a man older in his late sixties who I’d often see at the park near my house in Nashville. I knew his first name and that he lived in a nearby neighborhood, but I was determined to figure out who he was to let him know that our little chats in the park when we were walking our dogs made a big impact during that season in my life – a season where I’d go sometimes 2 or 3 days without talking to anyone but my dog. He was kind and good-natured and had a very sweet golden retriever the same age as Tess and a Saint Bernard who was named Grace.
The other night as I wrote that thank you note to my living grandparents, I felt a profound gratitude that I could even still write them – that I wanted to write them.
The other night, I wrote a thank you note to my grandparents (my mom’s parents). As I wrote it, I felt tears unintentionally welling up in my eyes. I thanked my grandparents for memories I had of our times together – time spent at their lake home in New York, at sporting events, and at plays on campus at our shared alma mater. Earlier this year I lost my grandpa, my dad’s dad. After he died, I felt a profound sadness that I hadn’t said more to him, that I hadn’t been more expressive. How many times are we told to tell people how they really feel about them, but then never do? The other night as I wrote that thank you note to my living grandparents, I felt a profound gratitude that I could even still write them – that I wanted to write them. The fact that I know my grandparents and that we have a postive relationship is something I take for granted. How many people wish they could say the same…
So as this month of writing thank you notes comes to an end, I am grateful to look at the list of people who have been a grace to me – the people and things and tastes and sights and memories that the Lord has given me. As my favorite author Marilynne Robinson writes, “There’s so much to be grateful for, words are poor things.” Even if my life were to end tomorrow, what a rich life it has been! So often I’m busy hurrying to the next thing in life – the next event, task, or goal. So often I forget to listen and look and say thank you – thank you to the people around me and thank you to the God who is the source of ALL good things, big and small.
As the Christmas season begins and Thanksgiving is put behind us, it’s my hope that gratitude will not be put away in the closet until next November. I hope I will follow the advice of Frederick Buechner – to listen to my life. He writes: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”Frederick Buechner
I’m grateful for this month of gratitude: for the reasons to say thanks and for the ways my heart has changed. What a grace it all is.