Although the months seamlessly flow from December into January, a mental wall of closure exists as December and the end of the year draws near. Over the years, these walls are the milestones that mark our days and frame our experiences and life events. Although it is just one day to the next, we start January first with the perspective that the past is behind us, and embrace an outlook of new beginnings, opportunities, and a fresh start with new plans, new goals, and another chance to create and bring to life the ideas and hopes for making ourselves a better person and the world around us a better place.
I was thinking on this, because, just as January is the month of beginnings, November is the drawing close to an ending. January may hold the hopes of the future, but for me sometimes, if I view things from a certain perspective, I can, unfortunately, and not something I am very proud of, focus at the end of the year on what I didn’t accomplish, on how I have fallen short on ideas that never materialized, and on disappointments and personal failings.
As a person in my latter years, I can even find myself realizing that I am in the November of my life, and there is an uncomfortable inner panic in realizing some opportunities may come only but once, and that I have missed out on them. As fast as I seem to be paddling, I am in November, and there is so so much more I long to squeeze into my remaining time of those opportunities I still can see as an option in this lifetime, while consciously letting go of those which I have realized are no longer a possibility.
I guess that is why I think Thanksgiving comes at such a perfect time. Taking time to be grateful and to appreciate what did happen as well as recognizing that in the midst of interuptions and unrealized dreams and ideas, there exist hidden jewels that were really so much more important than the dreams or ideas themselves. I have come to learn the value of looking for and finding those jewels to be an important component of contentment.
It is all about the view, and where and how one looks at things.
Thanksgiving is a STOP and a shaking of sorts. We know we are supposed to be grateful for every day, but the days weigh upon us sometimes, and we just don't get to it, so it is a good thing at a good time to get our attention, so we can put life back into perspective. The view changes and in turn one's sense of gratitude.
Perhaps other people are better at this than I, but sometimes I just need help, and although Thanksgiving has come and gone, I sense the perfect timing of it and the surrounding activities has created an overflow of gratefulness that spills in a timely way into this present season of giving. We stop, we appreciate, we count our blessings. We realize our abundance, and from this fountain and overflow of appreciation, our heart's response is a desire to give to others.
Years ago, when the children and I were homeschooling, someone suggested keeping a thank you book and so we all did. Recently my oldest daughter cleaned out our schoolhouse. Our schoolhouse was a converted construction trailer filled to the brim with shelves and shelves of books and supplies, artwork, and cassette tapes of historical music, timelines carefully colored with colored pencils, and so much more. Even though years have passed, I had a hard time disassembling the space, perhaps partly because, in all honesty, I had a hard time facing some of the difficulties of how some things turned out.
As the years went by, the trailer began to leak and detiorate, damaging the piles of what had been left behind of our library and notebooks we used for many many years. Our daughter worked hard to recover the best of the remnants of years of life in that little room. One of her greatest discoveries were these simple journals that each year the children had made a concerted effort to write in each day as best they could. These were our thank you journals. They were expressed gratitudes for the simplest of things. Looking them over, I see within them, the essence of that which is so needed in the midst of all we think we need to do and be.
It is an attempt to not miss THE BEAUTY AND DAILY GIFT OF THE ORDINARY ELEMENTS OF LIFE.
There was no online anything when we were doing these books way back when. No one really told us exactly a set format for what we should do. They just each had a notebook and started. The children painted a picture and wrote a sentence. It was as simple as that. Sometimes they had so much to say that they wrote a paragraph. It is a timeless activity, with basic instructions. Draw or paint a picture. Write a sentence or two, or first write phrases, a sentence, prose, and then draw a picture afterwards. The younger children would start out by telling me what to write and they would draw or paint the picture. As soon as they were able to write, they wrote their daily thanksgivings.
For the children, we used the blank books by Strathmore with lines below for writing and a blank space above, but really any blank book will do. Sometimes we even decorated and embellished the covers. These days there are so many wonderful ideas to be gleaned, but simple is fine. It is in the moments of writing and coloring that joy is found, and I remember they would look over the pages and reread their earlier writings day by day, savoring the appreciation from previous days.
When daughter Rose showed me those old thank you journals, I decided that I was in need of that same simplicity of meaning in the midst of my personal wrestling with contentment.
There are many creative ways and projects from many sources to incorporate these thoughts and ideas, but the core is universal. We are simply advised to be content, count our blessings, and be anxious for nothing, Although the instructions are simple, taking them to heart may sometimes be challenging.
And so, inspired by the earlier writings of my children, I attempted to put this directed journaling into practice, simple and focused on at least one daily statement of gratitude.
For November, I used a narrow linen covered watercolor journal, and for each day I made a point of drawing and writing in the same way the children used to do. Some days I used my paintbox, some days I just used a leftover paper plate of colors from a shop workshop.
It wasn't always easy for me, and even somedays found myself writing and wrestling with life, frustrated by my ingratitude, and embarrassed by my inability to appreciate. I am not sure why I wrestle so much with myself in life, but taking time each day to intentionally sift out the positive from my everyday mixed up life helped me to remember and see that in the midst of some challenging times that there is always something to be grateful for and always Someone to thank.
For each of us, this is personal and private. We know what holds meaning in our days, and for each of us it is as unique as each of us are as individuals. The painting part of the exercise is an opportunity for the non verbal release and expression of paint and paper, and for me, as is generally in my journaling, the most soothing and comforting part of the exercise, as it provides relief from thinking and a form of pure appreciation beyond words. My words could be stilled as the paint flowed, and in this, I could rest in the acknowledgement of simple joys by way of these hand colored primitive drawings.
This project gave birth to another project for me, where I surveyed my year for positive elements, and wrote on leaves that I cut out and painted and then glued to a wreath base. I was trying to turn my perspective away from what hadn’t happened or what was not accomplished, and remember and record that which had. I love the thought that leaf by leaf I was able to combat my discouragement and in the meantime create something handmade and laced with meaning and reminders for future days of all that was praiseworthy in the year gone by.
What is the good that did happen this year.? What is the good in the hard things that happened? What are the daily things that we love and feel grateful for…?
I brought this exercise to our Open House and each person made a leaf and we made a group wreath (not quite complete, but almost), which could easily be done as a form of advent calendar where each day the family members could make a leaf that could be put together for a candle wreath for Christmas. Our family members began making leaves on Thanksgiving and we will continue to add leaves until Christmas. I think it would be fun for everyone who walks through our home threshold this holiday season to make a leaf to be incorporated into a wreath which we will put to use over the winter months. I use a wash of "wink of stella" to give it a glisten, which catches the light whether on a wall or as a candle wreath.
Life has difficult moments. Physical and mental health issues, relationships, work, family, finances, all present challenges that test our faith and our ability to stay positive and grateful despite the circumstances. I needed an extra dose of gratitude to help me overcome my feelings of discontentment and discouragement. Watching and being part of these collective thank you's as in making this wreath of thanksgivings was encouraging as our gratefulness multiplies as we all come together with our collective thoughts of appreciation and gratitude.
November is nearly over and there are just a couple of pages left in my book. When I look back on my journal entries I can see a golden thread of Provision day by day woven throughout. With each writing, though, I became acutely aware that contentment was something within, and not always tied to what was outside of me, or to what I was receiving, even though I felt grateful for those things. Most often, in the process of reflecting and recording, I realized that my most contented days were those where I was able to help participate in making a contribution in some way.
Could the internal sense of contentment be found within from a special interplay between making the effort to realize and acknowledge the care and provision offered through the lives and gifts which externally surround us in our everyday lives, in conjunction with making the effort to collaborate with this Provision as we seize the opportunities that arise to extend ourselves outward as voices of encouragement and arms that reach out to those who, like us, need some loving care?
Lessons learned and something to ponder.
Thanks for listening.
If you are interested in a month of thank you's we have small journals available to purchase. I find it handy to use a Staetler permanent fine point marker and a set of watercolors as well. Find these and other journaling supplies in our art section.
We plan to refill our art kits very soon.
I am also going to work on getting the children's journals we used long ago to have available as well.