As I lie awake at 4am today and realized that I wasn’t going to fall back asleep, I decided to accept this time as a gift and reflect on my surroundings; to be really present and to see where that would lead me on this early Thanksgiving morning.
First, I become aware of the soft, comfortable bed that surrounds me with warmth. I could be lying on the floor of an abandoned building, cold and alone, like the homeless man I had a conversation with, at church, the other day. I could be sleeping on the dirt floor of a hut in another part of the world if my life were different. There are a lot of ways my life could look different and I’m thankful for right where I’m at.
As I rest comfortably, yet still wide awake, I become aware of the deep rise and fall of my chest and stomach as I fill my lungs with air and exhale it back out again. I take breaths every day, all day long, without even being aware. In fact, many times during the moments of my day, I realize how shallow my breathing has become as I rush from activity to activity and deal with the stressors of life. I’m grateful for this moment to be mindful of my breathing and to take it in deeply. I vow to be more aware and try to remember to breathe more deeply to stay grounded and relaxed during my day.
Next, I become aware of the slow, steady beat of my heart that indicates life and pumps blood throughout my entire body. It happens without my conscious awareness, yet it has profound meaning both literally and figuratively. Without this part of me working behind the scenes on my behalf, my time in this earthly body would cease. My work here would be done.
I’m grateful that my heart is part of a combination of intricate systems that work together in ways that humans are still just beginning to understand. From the tiniest strand of DNA to the mitochondria in my cells that give me energy. From the gray matter in my head, that by itself doesn’t look very impressive, to the way it’s connected to my gut and the myriad ways they communicate with one another and other parts of my body. From the community of bacterial organisms that live in my body whose intricate balance creates health or hinders it; to the army of immune cells in my body that watch and protect and the interplay of all cells that give my body its ability to heal itself.
I’m thankful I’m part of a pack. I hear my husband take a deep breath and stir next to me, rolling over in his sleep. Like an unconscious trigger, the dog does the same thing in his sleep and I become deeply aware of the three younger persons asleep in their own beds in our home, and our grown-up daughter across town, each one an integral part of my life; connected to me through love and marriage or biological birth or birth in my heart (adoption).
As challenging as it can be for all of us to get together at the same time, to always agree (an impossibility), to feel happy and generous, to think of the other more than ourselves, to contribute equally in doing our part on the family team, these humans (and furry canines) are my family. Together we form a pack. We do life together. We protect one another. We are forever connected.
As my awareness shifts, I realize that I’m thankful for the silence to just be. To have the opportunity to lie here and ponder my existence and surroundings in a safe place. There are many places in this world where the sights and sounds around me would be much louder and more dangerous.
Then I hear the sound of the furnace as it gently clicks on and fills the chilly house with warm air. I’m thankful. Unlike the homeless man I met, I’m warm. I have a roof over my head and my belly is always full.
I’m thankful I have the ability to think and to choose. I always have a choice. I can choose what I’m going to think. I can choose what I’m going to do. Even if a situation appears as though I have no choice or my choices are limited, I have the ability to choose how I’m going to respond to any person or situation.
My awareness begins to shift beyond myself and my surroundings. I’m grateful for the brave men and women who took the risk and adventure to travel to this continent to build a life where they were free to live and worship how they felt called. I’m grateful for our founding fathers, those brilliant men who established the principles and the government structure and its systems on which our country and our freedom grew and flourished. That same system which allows all citizens a voice and the freedom to express that voice and impart change, if we choose to do so.
I’m grateful for courageous men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line, each and every day, to serve and protect the citizens of our communities, our states, our country. Whether they serve (or served) in our armed forces or on a community police force, those of us who didn’t choose that path can never really know what they face, what it may cost them, and what it takes to continue to make that choice each day. But we can choose to support them and give them our respect and gratitude.
I’m grateful and amazed at just how much I have. Far more than I need, actually. And while I like creature comforts as much as the next person, I see that I have the privilege and responsibility to share what I have with others who have need. Even if all I have to give seems small, it’s enough to make a big difference for someone. Whether it’s my time or my treasure.
I’m grateful that each day I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life. No matter what my role is. Whether I’m always consciously aware of it or not, I have influence. Every word that I say, every expression that I make, every action that I take has the ability to impact someone in profound ways for better or worse. I choose to make an impact for good.
Most importantly, to me, I’m forever grateful I was created by a God with a big vision and how He loves me infinitely more than I can ever imagine. So much so that He gave His only son to die for me that my life will go on even after my time in this earthly body is complete. This awareness causes me to want to use my time wisely here. To use it for good. To live with purpose because I was created with purpose.
There are so many more things I could write here. I realize I could go on and on with this exercise. It was important for me to go beyond the stale “name 5 things you’re grateful for” at which time I recite the usual. But now, I need to go into my warm kitchen and start preparing nutritious food for the family I love on this Thanksgiving Day.
I really want to work on being more present and mindful on a daily basis. A grateful disposition can be learned! And studies have shown that regular grateful thinking can increase happiness, build relationships, improve sleep and increase levels of energy. Not a bad return!
Now It’s Your Turn
- What are you thankful for, beyond the surface, today?
- What would help you develop a grateful attitude?
- How can you build a little bit of time, into each day, to be more mindful?