by Karen D. Koch
When I was in sophomore English a gazillion years ago in a small logging town, the best teacher I’ve ever had, Mr. W, gave us an interesting assignment one rainy November day. I don’t actually remember if it was raining, but it was in coastal Oregon where it’s always raining, so it likely was, so allow me that creative license.
Our teacher had handwritten sentence openers on the left of a blank sheet and copied them for the class. Most of the lines began, “I am thankful for. . .” but interspersed were lines like “One thing I’m good at. . .” or “I hope one day to. . .” or “People think I’m. . .” etc. We had about three sheets like this to complete. He didn’t grade them other than noting they were complete, but I still remember that meaningful exercise. Much of it was 16-year-old-person-perspective and not my now grown-up self who smiles at things I was thankful for like my jelly-bean jacket or a phone jack in my bedroom. At that age I didn’t even know to be thankful for coffee yet!
Let’s see. That was November of 1982, and I still have that list somewhere in a box. I review it occasionally over the years (usually when I move and I’m sorting through all those paperwork boxes again to see what to throw out. This list never gets tossed). Mr. W’s gentle and encouraging comments are still in the margins here and there in kindly purple marker next to my adolescent musings. Because this was an encouraging assignment for me all those years ago, I print out my own simple one-sheet version for everyone at my Thanksgiving table each year. Print your own copy here. I have saved a clumsy pile of these in the back of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, by Barbara Rainey, a book we review each year with the kids.
I think we Americans struggle with thanksgiving and contentment simply because we have so much. Homeschooling families generally live on one income, so I don’t mean “much” like exotic vacations, sports cars, and jewels, but things like running water, little people running around our houses, grocery stores, cars that run, cell phones, a washer and dryer, and a faithful coffee maker. Life is often so complex, stressful and ever-changing that we sometimes need to pause and marvel at these amazing things we have. When we are well, we don’t think to be thankful that we aren’t sick. When we are blessed, we don’t often pause to notice it. For example, I wish I had been more thankful for my 16-year-old eyes now that I have bifocal lenses (no longer correctable to 20/20) and the beginning of cataracts. I notice, regrettably, that I didn’t record “I am thankful for my correctable eyesight,” back in 1982. Alas, youth.
We need to slow down and give thanks to be more sane human beings. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday for this reason. It’s simpler than most American super-sized holidays. We eat. We give thanks. We eat some more. If we are especially blessed we spend time with people we love and who love us. We eat some more.
So between courses or football game commercials, take some time to complete a thankful list. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:17,18 NIV).