Why Your Gratitude List isn’t Working

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought;
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”  -G.K. Chesterton

I gathered the shirt arm holes up like a panty-hose leg one at a time, left arm then right.  My two-year-old’s blonde tuft of hair popped through the shirt’s red circular neck hole.  He looked down at his chest and then up at me, his face gleaming.  The Spider Man on his new hand-me-down pajamas had him buzzing, electric.

Like a dart, he spun away from me and shot fake spider webs, “Pew, pew, pew, pew,” he said with each wrist thrust.

My four-year-old daughter and I couldn’t quit grinning; this was cute stuff.

“Mama,” she said elbowing me, “I want Supergirl pajamas.”

Turning away from our little spider web shooter, we went to the one place guaranteed to help us hold onto this joy and give us lasting peace and happiness, Amazon.com.

We scrolled through pink and red, white and blue options, each one cuter than the next, but we were stumped again and again with sizes too small for my growing girl.

“How about this,” I said placing the phone down on the colorful bed quilt, “I’ll check tomorrow at Target and see if they have your size.”

“Okay,” she said looking disappointed but hopeful.

The next day I found myself in the Target girl’s section, turning hangers like pages of a book.

My Little Pony. . . No.  Dora the Explorer. . . No.  After the pajama rack came up empty, my eye caught the corner of a shiny-silver “S” in the shirt section.  Its soft gray arms were covered with stars, the perfect Supergirl shirt for C, just right.

As I checked out, the cashier in red said, “Find everything?”

“Yes,” I said, with growing excitement for the trip home.

After parking my car in our garage at home, I removed the tags and curled-up the shirt into an off-white roll-up, thinking unfurling would only add to the surprise.
I found C on my bed, playing a game.  After quietly setting the surprise beside her, she looked up at me with can’t-wait eyes, and set her game aside.  Holding her gift up, her shoulders instantly slumped down, her bottom lip darted out, and her soft whimper snowballed into an all-out hyena cry with aching moans between.
“I WANTED PAJAMAS!” she roared after gasping breaths and angry stares, “WHERE ARE THE PANTS?”
I sat there.  Split in two as my thoughts scolded me, “What were you thinking?” and then scolded her, “How can she be so ungrateful?”

But sometimes our thoughts are dual and wrong from both ends, and the third way is the only way as the only thing left to do is do nothing.  So I rubbed her back, kissed her head, and headed out of the room to wait out the storm.

My husband’s eyes raised as I walked into the living room, our daughter’s cries blaring in the background.  He headed in to talk to her.  
Minutes later, she trudged out of the room ahead of him and begrudgingly spit out the words with her eyes glued to the floor, “Thank you, mama.”

And in that moment I am and am not grateful.  Sometimes we bring our offering, our best efforts to the world, and the results aren’t results as much as they are a mess.  I heard a speaker say recently that if we lean hard into our deep-seated beliefs, they often give way.  And while that has been true for many things, others don’t shift no matter how hard I lean and kick and punch into them.

One of these is gratitude.

But the problem is that sometimes it doesn’t “work” right away.  It’s a slow burn, one that rewards “a long obedience in the same direction” (in the words of Eugene Person).  The reason why our gratitude doesn’t always work is that sometimes it is working upstream.  It is taking its time working on us, training us to see things that weren’t there before.  Sometimes we’re too busy seeing how what we’ve got today isn’t pajamas, so we’re blinded to the shirt that’s actually pretty cool right in front of us.

On the evening of the Supergirl shirt crying-pocalypse, I announced the time for teeth brushing to my two kiddos, and my daughter asked with clear eyes, “Can I wear that new shirt tonight?”
I gathered the arms holes up like a leg of pantyhose, pushing her arms through one at a time, left than right.  Her blonde tuft of hair emerged through the gray circular collar, and she looked up at me together in love, electric.
After a quick glimpse in the mirror, fingering the plastic-y silver “S” corner, she brushed past me, threw her left arm into the air with her right elbow bent and raised.  She flew into the living room, exclaiming the whole way, “Dun da da DA. . . Super girl!”
It doesn’t make sense how our pains can turn inside out, if we’re patient.  If we try gratitude and then try again, it comes around reminding us that we aren’t in control, in the best way.  It reminds us that all things contain everything somehow.  An entire tree lives inside a little, plain, brown seed.  What if instead of crying at it’s small, sure lack of potential, we watered it, waiting in thanks, hoping to see what might grow?  We might find ourselves sitting in the shade, soaring like a superhero waiting with anticipation to unfurl what’s next.

Today’s Thanks:
Fall chill in the air, a turn to something new
Morning coffee on the deck with friends
New brightly-colored Sticky notes
Pork chops grilled to salty perfection by my amazing bearded hubby
Carol Dwek’s empowering growth-mindset word, “yet”
Parenthood on Netflix, #allthefeels
Your turn. . . 

THANK YOU for reading.  If you like what you read here, if it helps you in some small way, would you share it with a friend?  I need your help: Facebook, Twitter, Pin it up on Pinterest.  Your words of recommendation mean more than mine.  Judging from the notes I get from people, we’re hungry for conversations around gratitude and grace, and your sharing is a form of gratitude–I appreciate it!

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