Silver Linings and Giving Thanks
by Cindy Woodsmall
Thanksgiving. The mere mention of the word can cause all five senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch—to become tantalized with the abundances of past memories and future hopes.
As beautiful and majestic as that day is, with the fall colors and seasonal aromas and the boisterous racket of family, for me, giving thanks means so much more than can be wrapped up in this glorious celebration.
Being grateful sustains me. I consider it my sanity, and I don’t mean that flippantly. The power of thankfulness fosters good mental health year round. Whether life is giving me enjoyable days, as if I were on a beach vacation, or if life has buried me under the fresh-turned dirt of the gravesite of a loved one, gratefulness is both roots and wings during the ups and downs of living.
When I wake in the mornings, my mind goes from 0-60 miles per hour in the blink of an eye. To-do lists are zipping through my brain before my feet hit the floor. Anyone who isn’t a morning person wouldn’t fully appreciate this aspect of me. Actually, I often don’t appreciate it much, either. From my observations, we all find complaining extremely easy any time of day, but during that first hour, while my body still feels fatigued, my mind is racing, and it would like to take my mouth with it. If I let my guard down, I’ll let numerous complaints slip from my lips before I recognize them for what they are. Isn’t that a strange place for work boots to sit? The dishwasher wasn’t started last night? Are we out of paper towels, because the rack is empty?
If you listen closely, you’ll hear a complaint hiding behind every question I’ve asked, perhaps even an accusation pointed at someone. Worse, if I let myself, I can easily ask two dozen questions before taking my first sip of coffee.
If we as a nation, family, or individuals need a cure, I believe it can be found in the simplicity and difficulty of everyday thankfulness.
Real gratitude looks beyond the splendor and abundance, beyond the loss and pain, beyond the unique and mundane in order to find a truth that outshines our reality—whatever our reality is.
It seems to me that the cure is thankfulness. Not a momentary pause, not a day of giving thanks, but the kind of gratitude that becomes its own ingrained integrity. Day after day, month after month, year after year, events happen that give us the opportunity to gripe or be grateful.
It may take some looking to discover what to be thankful for, but those who’ve uncovered the power of it will find little things to be grateful for even during the most dire of situations.
I have a long way to go in perfecting the art of being grateful no matter what. Honestly, it’s just so much easier to complain and whine. Didn’t sleep well last night? Unexpected bill arrived? Restaurant too full? Boss too harsh? Health insurance covered too little? Days too short or maybe too long? (I smile as I wonder: How is it possible that some days are both too short and too long?)
About thirty years ago, back when the skies over my life constantly rumbled with threatening storms, I made a decision to search for every silver lining. As the years passed, I got better at finding the hidden thing to be thankful for inside the latest problem. Pharmacy out of needed meds for a sick toddler? Be grateful that we live in a country where we don’t have to travel for days to get medical help. Be thankful that after a few miles of a trip in a heated or cool vehicle, we can find a pharmacy that does have the needed meds or, worst-case scenario, the first pharmacy can have it within twenty-four hours.
At first finding something to be grateful for was hard work for me. It took effort and brainstorming. Then it became a little easier. I soon learned that nothing will make a person quite as thankful as the realization of our blessings compared to those who’ve gone before us. So being grateful became even easier. And somewhere along the line, I became a dancer.
I would find myself dancing while cooking, while doing laundry or during the walk to the mailbox—to mention only a few of the times. Today I hardly take notice of when I’m dancing. Once in a while, when I’m driving down the road, I’ll see someone look my way, and then realize I was bebopping my head and shoulders, often to no music whatsoever.
Did the frustrations of life go away? Nope. Actually, as we age, the problems often grow exponentially. Even though I still have to temper myself once my feet hit the floor, sometimes while waking, before I even remove my sleeping mask, my arms will wriggle out from underneath the covers and I gently sway my arms to some little ditty, all the while thinking, Oh, yes, another day, and I feel well enough to get up! Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
My mom, who was a skilled survivor of harsh storms of all kinds, was a hummer. She hummed her way through all her chores day after day. Some people are whistlers, singers, or finger snappers. Some jiggle the change in their pockets. Some express themselves by interacting with others—hugs, smiles, chats, or kisses. Some fidget with loved ones’ clothing or hair. Some bake. Some smile, often unaware that their lips are curving upward.
All of the above have one thing in common—thankfulness and love. The list of actions may look like mere happiness bubbling forth. But have you met a happy person who wasn’t first thankful for something? Happiness is a byproduct, a side effect, if you will, of being thankful.
But life steals the dance at times, doesn’t it? As nonchalantly as I noticed the dance, I have times of noticing it’s gone. Where did it go and why?
Sometimes it is hiding behind the most recent cold or under mounds of work or personal pressure. What do I do when that happens? For starters, I’m thankful that I once danced. And if life becomes so difficult that I can’t find my dance ever again, I will bask in the knowledge that of all the people who’ve sojourned this planet, I had a few years when I danced without meaning to.
At the end of that thought, I start searching for every silver lining possible.
I stumbled onto a truth many years ago: we should all look for ways to help others dance. Then, when we can’t dance, we can enjoy the silver lining of knowing that God allowed us to be the cause of someone else having reason to dance—or whistle or hum or whatever.
Almost twenty years ago, my husband and I began to sponsor a child in a third-world country. So now, during the roughest of times, I’m grateful that as crazy as this world seems at times, it affords us the opportunity to help complete strangers who can’t thank us or repay us. Just as we can in no way repay Christ—but because of His sacrifice, we can dance. And because of our sacrifice, those we’ve helped can discover reasons to dance.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:15–16 ESV, italics added).
Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times, CBA, ECPA, and USA Today best-selling author who has written fifteen works of fiction and one nonfiction book. Her connection with the Amish community has been widely featured in national media outlets. She’s been a finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards, Christian Book of the Year, and Christian Retailers Choice Awards. Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains.
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