Counting versus Recounting

It’s that time of year when we all begin to think about gratitude.  The lists are showing up everywhere.  My Facebook feed is full of them.  One a day, lengthy lists, or random thankfulness.  It’s the question on everyone’s mind.

What are you thankful for?

Count your blessings.

I love it all.

There is something so right about taking time to be grateful, and making a list is a quick way to remind ourselves that we have so, so much to appreciate.

Still, sometimes I wonder if making a list is enough.  Sometimes I wonder if we need to take the time to tell our stories in order to truly feel the gratitude we ought to feel.

A list may tell how many things I have to be thankful for, but it doesn’t begin to express how deep that gratitude goes.  

A list will say that I am thankful for my husband, but that seems like too trivial a way to express how I feel about the man I called in college to come change my tire in the rain.  Not only did he drop everything to come, not only did he lie on his back in a puddle to make sure I could get safely home, but he took the time to show me how it was done, to make sure that the next time I ran over a nail, I wouldn’t be helpless.  We weren’t even dating, but already he knew how important my idependence was to me.  That same man climbed up on my roof last night to clean out my gutters after a long day of work and also didn’t bat an eye when I said I didn’t need to call a plumber to fix the clog in the sink because I could take it apart myself.  He called me on the phone after I got a rejection letter last week and began making plans for how to move forward, completely refusing to allow me to wallow in self-pity, and he also rubbed my feet when I dropped onto couch exhausted after our Halloween party.  These stories and a million more are what I mean when I say that I am thankful for my husband.  One word is really not enough.

A list may highlight the important people and moments in my life, but it doesn’t say why they bring me to my knees in gratitude.

A list will mention that I am so thankful to watch my oldest daughter grow and mature, but that’s a cliche if you don’t know about the little girl who raged at me day after day, losing her everloving mind over things like crust on her sandwiches and how much time she had in the playplace at McDonalds, screaming at me and kicking me and once even biting me.  You need to know the girl who slowly began to control that fury, only unleashing it on special occasions, like when her little sister touched her things or when I insisted that she wear socks with her shoes.  You need to know about the day that we went head to head, just like all those hundreds of others times, and I sent her to her room to cool off, and she came out a while later, still sniffing back her tears, and threw her arms around me and said, “I’m sorry for yelling at you, Mom.”  Am I thankful for that moment?  More than you can possibly imagine without understanding all that came before it.

A list may cover all the things that have made me happy, but it doesn’t help me find gratitude in the things that interrupted my plans, the things that caused me pain, the things that broke my heart.

A list will never mention the time we left behind our life’s work in another country to start all over again here, three kids in tow.  It’s not something I felt particularly thankful for at the time. But if I sit down and tell the whole story, I can’t help but mention how my husband was offered a job even before we left Argentina, how my extroverted oldest daughter arrived here just in time to start first grade and was caught up in no time, how happy our children were to be close to their grandparents and what that has meant to the grandparents.  The whole story reveals how I had to face my fear of failure head on and realize that life as a failure isn’t as bad as I would have thought.  And if I keep telling long enough, eventually it will come out that being here, where we never planned to be, meant that we were only minutes away when a dear friend’s life crumbled away and that we are still here to be a support as she puts together a new and wonderful one.  That one painful story introduces a whole new list of things to be thankful for.

So here’s my thought for Thanksgiving month: maybe we can take a few extra minutes and do more than count our blessings.  Maybe we can recount them, telling the stories of our blessings and being blessed by them all over again.

Maybe those stories can become something that our children can be thankful for.

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