Being thankful…even when it’s hard

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Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday.  Don’t get me wrong – I love sitting around a table with my family and eating.  Those are, in fact, my two favorite things in the world.

I don’t have anything against Thanksgiving. I’ve just never been inspired by it.  Maybe it’s because we are lucky enough to routinely sit around the table and eat giant meals with our families.   Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving has none of the magic and majesty of other holidays. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is entirely… contrived.  It isn’t about anything except being together.  Being thankful.  Which is, of course, exactly why some people love it.   I get it.

To be sure, it’s easy to be thankful when there is a holiday to remind you.  When you are sitting around the table with your family or friends, your belly and heart full.  But the real challenge is the day after Thanksgiving.  And the next.  And every other day of the year.

It can be hard to be grateful when you are mired down in the minutiae of daily life.

It is difficult when Billy is in the middle of trial and doesn’t come home until midnight for weeks.  It is easier to wish he were home for dinner and books with the boys than to be grateful that I have the luxury of being with my children every afternoon and tucking then into bed at night while he works. That he willingly affords me that luxury, even though it is at his own expense.

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It is excruciating to see your children in pain and know that it is because of faulty DNA they inherited from you.  It is easier to be scream and cry and curse the fates than to be grateful that there are far worse conditions to have.  To know that they, like me, will be braver and stronger and more empathetic because of it.

It is frustrating to review the mental checklist of things in this old house that need to be fixed. The cracks in the wall, the aging hot water heater, the chipping paint.  It is easier to covet my friends’ impeccably decorated houses than to be grateful that we have a home.  Big and messy and loud – just like we are.

It is heartbreaking when someone you love wounds you.  It is easier to be resentful that they were so careless with your heart than to be grateful for the friends who are always there – the ones who would give you their kidneys on a Tuesday in the middle of a blizzard in between their kids’ school plays. The ones who always choose you, even when it is inconvenient.

It is overwhelming to see a messy house, a sink full of dishes, a desk full of bills, laundry baskets overflowing, and a list of obligations a mile long.  It is easier to be short-tempered than to be grateful for the two little boys tugging on my arm who would rather play football or read a book with me than anything else in the world.

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It is disappointing when the team you love has a losing season (or several losing seasons strung together).  It is easier to be apathetic than to be be grateful for every day we sit in the stands together and for all the losing seasons that make the winning ones so much more exhilarating.

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When your dad dies, it is hard to be thankful for anything.  But I was.  I am.   It might be easier to wallow in what we are missing than to be be grateful for what we still have.  For every moment that preceded that one July night.  But not for me.  Today, I will sit at the table and I will not think of what is missing.  I will not look at his chair and think of it as empty.  Today, my new sister will be sitting in it.

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A very thoughtful and dear friend gently suggested to me the other day that I shouldn’t feel the need to always wrap up my writing in a neat bow.  That it is okay to just be mad or sad and leave it at that.

But here’s the thing.  It’s not an artificial construct.  I don’t feel the need to fabricate a happy ending.  I simply choose to recognize the good in everything that happens.  It’s just the way I am built.  That doesn’t negate the pain or the frustration or the heartache.  But I have found that it is an awful lot easier to cope with all the bad things when you don’t let them obscure the good.

It’s not denial – it’s … perspective.  And I will always choose to let the good carry me through the bad.

It is hard to be thankful sometimes.  But then again, it’s really not.



  1. Thank you for these and many other insightful comments you share. Julie often shares with me. (For context, she and I are Jamie’s parents. He and Emily and the boys were here for Thanksgiving.) Your words today exactly captured our feelings. A day like this reminds us of what we try to keep in mind every day. Our lives are blessed, for which we every day should celebrate with thanksgiving.

    Tom Estes