Gratitude and Grown Ups

We have a practice with our kids that when they are stuck in a complaining-only mode- we make them say a certain number of things they are thankful for.

You can see my previous post for an example of how magical this can be. It works on my 2 year-old, 4 year-old, 11 year-old, and 12 year-old.

Today I re-realized that it also works on a 30 year-old.

I’ve been sick with the worst cold of my entire memory for seven days and counting. Two days of intense headaches, then two days of repeated fevers, chills, and total non-functional living (I pretty much slept for 36 hours). I started to come out of the fog… but couldn’t breathe for an entire day (until I found the perfect blend of Neti pot, congestion spray, and ibuprofen), a day of face pain, and a day of snot: today. I’ll spare you the details. Other than last night my pinkie toenail fell off…. random! No injury, no infection, just came right off. *sigh*

You can see why I was caught in a mind-cycle of misery. Each day I’ve improved in health… and each day had a new challenge to face. Sometimes when I cough, I also pee. Really? I’d had it.

Something struck my on the drive to my son’s pre-school.

“Corban, you know how I have you say things you’re thankful for when you’re stuck complaining?”

“Mmm-hmmm” came the sweet reply.

“Well, Mommy is stuck complaining and I need to say things I’m thankful for.” He completely understood, of course.

Image by Lachlan Hardy

My list began, “I’m so thankful for each of my children- the unique ways that God has made them- and that He would bless my life with them. I’m thankful that today looks like it’s going to be a sunny day. I’m thankful that they’ve found a home for us in Germany- and that it’s better than I could have dared imagine. I’m thankful that I’m not as sick as other much less fortunate people who put me to shame with what they endure. I’m so thankful for my friend Dorina– what a gift to me (and one that I’m not ready to say good-bye to!)”

My list carried on and the tears came.

Picture this… a congested mommy, with a nasal-frog voice listing these gifts… tears falling, voice wavering… getting higher pitched and weepy. Oh, my poor children.

I explained that saying what I was thankful for reminded me of the many good things God has given me… and that makes my heart so happy that tears come out!

He giggled. I’m sure he was thinking, “My mom might be nuts…” but he hid it well.

The amazing thing was that 1) the tears cleared something in my sinuses and I could breathe a little better and 2) I felt better. Not healthier. Lighter. Lifted. An end to the dreariness was in sight because I’d chosen to shift my focus. Ahhhhh, the sweetness of looking at things greater than myself. I may be sick for another 7 days (that’s how long I’m hearing this cold lasts) but so what?! I have SO much to be thankful for and I will not let a stinkin’ cold rob me of all things beautiful!

Yes, gratitude even works on the grown-ups.

Transformational Thanksgiving

I have been the child who yelled out the injustices of my upbringing to a closed door- half hoping my parents heard what I really had to say, and half mortified that they might actually hear what I had to say.

The tables have turned.

I am now the parent on the other side of that door with a ranting child, loudly sharing opinions on fairness and right-parenting, proclaiming small-person authority to make the world right… at least in their own mind.

Thus, this post.

A week or so ago, one of my children was found in the midst of some natural consequences spawned by poor choices. This was evident to all, including to my child. Knowing that this “suffering” was the result of personal decisions was not enough to prevent the rant. My child went to their room, closed the door, and loudly began to whine about the many years of injustice, “like that time that dad…” and “It’s just not fair that…”

Remember that mingled feeling of mortification and glee that your actual thoughts might be heard? They’d been heard.

I opened the door.

“Really? You’re in this situation because of ‘the time that Dad…’? Oh no. If you want to throw a fit, throw a fit that sounds like this: ‘AH Man! Why didn’t I listen to Mom this morning when she warned me about the choices I was making?! BLAST! Why did I rush through that chore and leave it a mess? I wouldn’t be here right now if I’d only…’ THAT’S the fit you should be throwing!”

Silence.

Mortification.

Glee?

I closed the door and stood outside silently.

This child began again. Softly. Not taking my advice on the responsibility-claiming fit that I’d suggested. I wanted to run in there, throw my own fit, and force this mind to grasp the concept! Take responsibility, learn from your mistakes, and MOVE ON! Don’t find ways to blame it on everyone else! But alas, I knew my approach would not help.

Then it struck me.

Gratitude.

I learned a year or so ago that your brain can not possibly be anxious and grateful at the same time. Those two emotions occur in opposite sides of our brain and fight each other for the oxygen they need to function. This is also true for worry and worship. Can’t do them at the same time. Essentially, when you choose to be grateful, you join the tug-of-war in your brain in a battle-winning kind of way. You help drag the oxygen away from the worrying part of your brain and being grateful becomes easier. Oh believe me, the first seconds are a serious challenge- but the more oxygen that arrives, the easier gratitude will be.

All of this information came rushing back to me as I thought of my child- a child stuck in the ugly part of the brain. The only way I could effectively help this one get un-stuck would be to get ’em thinking gratefully.

I walked back in.

“Okay… you haven’t taken my advice on the kind of fit you should throw, right?” Shakes head. “Then I have a new assignment for you. I want you to write a list of fifty reasons that you are grateful for your dad. Let me know when you are done.”

Door closed.

This is what I got. (Click to enlarge)

No more ranting. No more raving. A heart changed. Gifts listed that my child is able to claim and name. Suddenly memories of a childhood not exclusively unjust (according to them) but fun trips, special outings, gifts, moments in time worth recapturing. And my child truly is grateful. SO grateful, that the paper is turned over and words are written that I wanted to hear from the beginning.

Gratitude.

It changes hearts. It changes minds. It changes lives.

Are there areas in your life that seem entirely bleak? Or other areas that cause in you the kind of worry and anxiety that lead to health or emotional disruptions?

Choose thankfulness.

And get your kids to choose thankfulness too!

*For a great book on how gratitude can change your life, read Ann Voskamp’s “1000 Gifts.”

Grateful for Gratitude

The last part of our bedtime routine, in my home, is prayer with and for the children.

Tonight, my three-year old son excitedly exclaimed that he would be praying for me and that I would be praying for his little sister. Oh, and that I would be starting first. I prayed for my daughter (and the other three of my children) and notioned that it was his turn.

“Dear Jesus, thank you for Mommy and my sister and the big kids and Daddy. Thank you for Auntie Laura and Auntie Zelda and Auntie Chris and her kids, Noah, Sam and Gabe. Thank you for….” and the list went on. After thanking God for the entire world, nearly every animal on the planet, and every item in his room, I realized that he had opened a book. As he turned the pages in the book (also on animals) he thanked God for whatever he saw on each page. Really, he was stalling to keep me from leaving the room. The Mommy in me wanted to close the book, kiss him goodnight, and finally have my own time!

Suddenly my brain-train switched tracks. Actually, his idea was brilliant! How many times have I had a poopy day (literally and figuratively) and had the hardest time being thankful for anything? How easily I could pull just about any book of my shelf (with pictures, of course) and begin to choose thankfulness for whatever I see! What a great solution to the gratefulness-block!

As if that weren’t reason enough, I was reminded of an event at my local MOPS group. Karen Wood, a woman with much experience in the Psychology field, came and spoke with us about the human brain. She taught us that it is impossible for the human brain to be grateful AND complaining at the same time. Those two occur in very separate areas of the brain and therefore, can’t be done simultaneously. Equally, your brain can not worship and worry at the same time, for the same reason. (Or be grateful and worry or worship and complain).

Try it. The next time you are in a grumbling mood, stop and begin to be thankful for things. Your life. Air. Water. Whatever. The oxygen in your brain will begin to flow to the part that is required for gratitude. Beautiful!

With all of that in mind, my son’s choice to pull out a book and be thankful for its contents (when he’d depleted his own bank of items) inspired me to remember how important it is to choose gratitude. Its mind-transforming. Literally.


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