I’m all about the honesty so here it is:
I love Boney M.
I love their crazy Afros. I love their funky disco-era renditions of ancient holy carols. I love their proclamations of glory: Oh my Lord, you sent your Son to save us, oh my Lord . . .
I get that musically, Boney M is atrocious stuff. But it’s my childhood. It’s summer holidays and my sisters and me dancing on the lounge carpet in front of the Christmas tree. It’s market shopping and tinsel and turkey.
Scandalously, I have passed on this passion to my sons. Now, in March, and July, and every day from mid-October until Christmas, I get requests for ‘Christmas songs pleeeeeez, Mommy!’ They don’t care that it’s inappropriate – freaky – to listen to (bad) Christmas music in the middle of the year.
And I don’t care either. Because of a trip I took in 2013.
Towards the end of 2012, while I was preparing to exit my teaching career, I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. It’s her ‘dare to live fully right where you are.’ And it totally inspired my theme for 2013: thanksgiving.
I decided to count 2013 gifts in 2013. It worked out to thirty-eight-point-something gifts per week, for fifty-two weeks. I blogged my gratitude lists, week in and week out of that year. No repeats. I kept lists in my journal, on my phone, on the fridge.
Some weeks the thanksgiving was easy.
I couldn’t type fast enough all the blessings I saw and smelt, tasted and touched. And some weeks I stared at my screen and wracked my tired brain for scarce moments of joy. I learned how to give thanks even for very lousy things – because they were real and they had passed through the hands of God over my life and I knew they had purpose.
I didn’t realise how much those lists and lists of things and things were changing me until I was done. By the time we headed down to the Western Cape for Christmas at the sea with my family, I had finished. I had said thank you 2013 times.
So I stopped.
Except that I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. I’d been searching so hard all year for goodness and the grit of glory that I’d forced a most beautiful habit. And forcing that habit of thanksgiving taught me to live in the moment.
I was looking for things that made me go, ‘Thank you, God!’ So I started seeing the way morning sun fell golden crisp on the wood of the dining room table – even though my two-year-old was simultaneously throwing a magnificent tantrum. If I hadn’t been looking for the sun, I would only have seen the tantrum.
And that Christmas on the coast? It ranks as one of the best of my life.
The thanks habit had me seeing the gift – just the gift – of each moment – just that moment. I didn’t drag baggage into every conversation, as I’m wont to do when the air is thick with the exquisite sadness of nostalgia. I didn’t dredge up memories unless they were poignant – helpful – beautiful – to the moment at hand.
I just lived the moment.
With Ann, I realised that ‘in giving thanks for the life I already had, I found the life I’d always wanted.’ Counting the gifts had made it Christmas every day. I didn’t have to wait for once-a-year gifts under a bling tree. Because every day there are things to unwrap at the foot of the tree that split history in half – the tree that held the Messiah so we could be held by Him in eternity, and in the here-and-now.
In 2011, Time magazine cited various studies proving that the optimism bias – the resilient belief that the future will be better than the past – drastically improves physical health and emotional wellbeing.
The truth about thanksgiving is that it’s the heavy grace that tips the happiness scales. Thanksgiving keeps us from blaming others (or God or the government or the neighbour’s cat). And that keeps us happier because blame is just another way of saying to the person or thing that we’re blaming: ‘Here! Take my happiness. Hold on to it.’
The courage that thanksgiving demands is to form a habit.
Get a journal. Open a document. Be accountable to someone. If you have kids, get them to start a thanksgiving habit too.
A while ago, whining was fast becoming our boys’ regular and preferred medium of communication. It drove me wild. So every time they whined I would say, ‘Come on, what are you grateful for? What happened at school today that was really fun?’ We stuck up on the fridge a one-hundred-days-of-thanksgiving challenge. We would take turns at supper to say what we thanked God for. Three things a day. It took courage: discipline, effort and patience. And it took gentle encouragement because every night they wanted to give thanks for the tomato sauce and I wanted to open their eyes to the wonder that there was so much more, so much all around them for which to give thanks.
Some people, if you ask them, ‘How are you?’ they answer, ‘God is good!’ I always want to say, ‘Yes. I know God is good. But how are you?’ Because it feels like they’re giving me a shiny happy cop-out and I want real.
But Paul writes, ‘Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.’ So, should you be saying, ‘Thank you, God, that I was abused as a child? Thank you that my car was stolen? Thank you for my postpartum psychosis? Thank you that I lost my job?’
Paul says, ‘in all circumstances’. Jesus gave thanks the night He was betrayed. He could taste the approaching agony. But in those dire circumstances, He didn’t thank God for the betrayal. He thanked God for the bread.
Because there’s always something to give thanks for.
Even if you’ve scoured your circumstances for a glimmer of grace and found none – even if there is nothing left to be grateful for – God is in the circumstances and God hasn’t changed. You can give thanks for that.
Our youngest son’s favourite Boney M remix is Joy to the world. It’s a standard request, and he hums and mumbles it around the house some days. It reminds me that always there can be joy because always there’s the gift of the greatest story ever told:
Of a King born low to live love beneath stars He flung.
To die a promised death nailed to a tree He seeded.
To rise so that we could be free.
Joy to the world – the Lord is come.
. . .
Thank you Dalene Reyburn
for this extract from your wonderful book, Dragons and Dirt: The truth about changing the world – and the courage it requires.
Dalene Reyburn is a writer and speaker who looks for worship and wonder in the mundane and the magnificent, sharing weekly at www.dalenereyburn.com. She is the author of The Prayer Manifesto for Moms, co-author of the children’s novel, Flight to Fabuland, and a contributor to theWordSpace.mobi.
Her book of 365 devotions, Walking in Grace, can be found where books are sold in the USA and South Africa and worldwide on Amazon (Kindle and paperback editions). She has a Master’s degree in Applied Language Studies and was a high school teacher before giving that up to pack lunchboxes and play astronaut-astronaut. She and her husband, Murray, have two sons and a golden retriever. They live in Pretoria, South Africa, and there is often mud on their carpet.
Does Dalene’s idea of giving thanks every day resonate with you? Please comment below.
See next Monday for details on my challenge to you (and to me!)