It was my birthday this weekend and I had BIG plans to do very little. It’s a wonderful family tradition in our house: a day of complete, guilt-free laziness. Of course, since it happened to fall on a Sunday, this wasn’t entirely possible.
I’m not going to lie, I was a bit choked when I realized that I would be teaching Sunday School that day. Mind you, in a contemporary church like ours we call it something much more hip and fun-sounding than “Sunday School”. But regardless of the name, I wasn’t looking forward to the workload on this, my special day of sloth.
It’s not a lot – arranging the supplies, reading through the lesson a couple of times, then wrangling some adorable little first graders into some semblance of order until parents arrive for pick-up. I’ve done it a thousand times. In fact, I started teaching Sunday School when I was only 16. After a little quick math, what with it being my 36th birthday, I realized that this means 20 years of nose-picking, pee-pee dances, barely audible answers and completely unrelated stories about parents/siblings/pets/somebody-they-once-met-somewhere-they-can’t-remember.
And though I may have dragged my feet upstairs, by the time I was sitting around that table in an absurdly small chair with ten sweet little faces and three eager helpers, I was kind of glad to be there. We talked about gratitude, that we always have something to be grateful for.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thesselonians 5:18)
Closing our eyes, we imagined happy circumstances (a surprise trip to Disneyland), sad circumstances (too sick to go to the birthday party) and frustrating circumstances (losing the ice cream off of your cone), then came up with a list of all the things we could be grateful for in each situation. Being alive, parents who love us, siblings to play with, not getting friends sick, more birthday parties still to come, a funny story to tell… they hardly needed any prompting. I’m sure our Pastor preached a fine sermon that day, but I doubt it could have done me as much good as that table full of 6-year-olds.
I’m 36 now (or “almost 40” according to my husband) and I keep coming back to this same lesson. I don’t need to be thankful for bad things or, as I once thought, pretend that they are actually good in some twisted form of Christianized stoicism. But wherever my life ends up, good or bad, I need to make it a place of gratitude.
Immediately after I finished writing this post, before I had a chance to post it, I had a chance to put this into practice. Not the easy kind of gratitude I found on my birthday while I sat with my feet up on the couch, watching my husband clean the house and spending quality time with my new i-phone. Not the kind that spontanteously wells up in me as I eat the chocolate cake my daughter made for me and open even more presents (fair trade chocolate bars – yes!). This kind of gratitude is hard.
It is the kind of gratitude that hears disappointing news about a friend’s health, but chooses to see the time we have with him as a gift and the skills of the doctors as a blessing. Even while I wonder why life is so cruel and so unfair. I hate cancer.
It’s hard for me to see the silver lining when once again we are “not what they are looking for in an adoptive family”. What’s wrong with us? It’s been more than two years and I can’t spend the rest of my life in waiting mode. Yet, I am thankful for the things we’ve learned along the way, the deep conversations and the wrestling with who we are as people, as parents, and as a family. I am thankful that we can enjoy our family holiday without wondering if we will get a call. I am thankful to have more time to organize and paint the future baby’s room. I am thankful that we are free to find the right child for us.
So here’s me, thankful for another year and the circle of first graders who taught me an important lesson this week.