Thanksgiving morning two years ago, I discovered that Juliana's room was being overrun with mold. I spent a day furiously scrubbing and bleaching and moving furniture. The next day I painfully sprained my ankle and hobbled on crutches to our Thanksgiving celebration (down 6 flights of stairs, up 5, down 5, up 6... it was tricky, but I was determined to make it to the turkey!)
Thanksgiving morning one year ago, I spent in my parent's warm, turkey-scented kitchen while my mom and sisters scurried around making voluminous amounts of traditional foods. I made a chocolate salted caramel pecan pie because...we were in America and Americans do that kind of thing. It was my first Thanksgiving with my family in 9 years, and I loved all the traditional foods and all the traditional people, plus a handful of new children!
This year I am looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with the other teams in our province. Thanksgiving Day itself probably won't be anything out of the ordinary, but this year I am delighting in thankfulness. If I could go back and re-choose my "one word" for the year, it might be gratitude. It's not that I have been amazingly grateful all year, but it may be the most important lesson I have been learning throughout the year.
Actually I spent the first part of the year stewing in discontent. I was stressed with the thought of all the changes coming up as we ended our time in the States. I was frustrated that months after moving back to China, settling into our new apartment and school and teaching positions, I still felt so unsettled!
I pushed against the constraints of mothering; planning my life around naps and nursing, telling my stubborn 3 year old the Same Things every other minute of every single day. I looked longingly at other people's lives and was frustrated that mine didn't seem to be working as well as theirs. I stewed over the days filled with endless, seemingly empty tasks. Laundry and more laundry and didn't I just cook last night and now people expect to eat again? Shouldn't life be more meaningful? Where was the Important work I was supposed to be doing?
There were many happy moments as well, as my baby's first year flew by, and as my 3-year old occasionally broke out of her "I rule the world" delusion, but often I just dreamed about getting away. When I read back over my occasionally-kept journal, I see themes of discontent spring up everywhere. I was exhausted from discontent. Also from not sleeping, but discontent emptied my soul every day.
This summer I came across Ann Voskamp's book 1000 Gifts. I had been hearing about it but started reading a bit skeptically because the writing seemed rather flowery. I discovered I not only found the writing beautiful (although it was flowery and I did do some skimming), I also loved what she had to say. There are many times I have read an inspiring book, but soon after I finish reading the inspiration fades. What I appreciated about this book is that it introduced a practice, a very simple habit of developing gratitude. While I've forgotten most of Ann's wise, quotable sayings, I have made the practice my own.
Ann Voskamp talked about her experience with keeping a gratitude journal, simply noticing and writing down the small, everyday beauties. I started keeping my own gratitude journal, but after a few weeks I never remembered to write things down. However, I have continued noticing. And in noticing, I have realized how much beauty there is in the most simple things.
The scent of baking bread.
The warm sun caught in the prism, throwing rainbows across the floor.
The soft, warm cheek of a just-woken baby.
The silly words of a stubborn 4 year old.
The feeling of satisfaction over a momentarily clean floor or empty laundry basket.
The way my student's eyes shine as we discuss important things.
I still grumble and take things for granted and notice the ugly, dull, and unpleasant parts of life. But I make much greater effort to stop and absorb the beautiful moments. When I see a colorful sunset, I force myself to stop and drink it in instead of rushing off to accomplish something. I have become a seeker of beauty. On the days when I am feeling crabby and ungrateful, I look even harder. I always find something.
My life has changed somewhat since the spring. We are more settled. I am getting better sleep. Four-years-old has been easier than three. But mostly what has changed is not my life but my eyes. I see the depressingly old, rusted windows, but I also see the sun reflecting brilliantly in them. The beauty is there; we just have to open our eyes and see it.
"We don't have to change what we see. Only the way we see." - Ann Voskamp
[Linking up with Velvet Ashes today]