Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What is it about gratitude?

Tis the season!  Here's a leftover thought I tweaked to go with that turkey sandwich.

There must be something about gratitude.

When I was new in the gospel I remember being puzzled a bit by the scriptural story of Christ’s healing of the lepers.  You know the one…….ten were healed but only one of them came back to express his gratitude.
Jesus made it a point to inquire of the one grateful man about those who hadn’t returned to thank him.

What puzzled me at first was that Jesus even mentioned this.

It seemed out of character to me.
Jesus never wanted anything for himself.   Certainly not public praise.  Why would he be concerned about those who were ungrateful?
Was he offended?
Did he want credit for the good he did?
He saved ten people from a fate worse than death.   That was what he wanted to do wasn't it?
Why did he care that most of them never even looked back?
After thinking hard for a while I decided this.

There must be something about gratitude.

There must be something in it for those who feel it and express it.
Maybe there's even a little something in it for those who receive it.
Something important must be involved here. Something essential even.

I thought some more.

One thing that came to mind was a recollection of a Friday many years ago when I was given a very special gift.  As far as presents go it surely wasn’t fancy or expensive, but I’ve never forgotten how it made me feel.

I remember I was leaving my classroom after a really difficult week.  I can’t recall exactly what made that week so hard, but I know I was exhausted.
Among other things, I think it involved several days of state testing for my poor kids. Report cards and parent conferences went late into several nights.  Irate colleagues were upset about something.  Irate parents were upset about the colleagues.  More kids than usual were in trouble.  And the always endless faculty meetings actually became scary when you realized that everyone battling it out in the current argument about lunch duty had a college degree.

Anyway,  I was leaving my classroom…..late again.
As I locked the door I remember thinking that I hope my family didn’t need anything from me this weekend.  Things like patience, energy, or kindness.  Or an interest in any of their problems.
All that remotely resembled a functioning human being was left in a puddle on that classroom floor.  I had nothing left.

As I turned the key I decided to cross the hall to check my mailbox before heading home. I flipped on the light in the dark mailroom and there in the wall of cubbies was the gift I've remembered all these years. In fact, in every mailbox there was a gift.  In every mailbox there was a bright red apple and an envelope.
I went to mine and opened the note.
I read….“Thank you so much for all you do for our kids. We know it’s sometimes hard. You make a difference to them and to us.” It was signed… Grateful Parents.   
Well, I’ve been given many gifts over the years, some expensive even, I’m sure. Most of them I can’t recall. But I’ll never forget that apple and the way it made me feel. As I opened the door to leave the mailroom the doom and gloom I’d been wallowing in began to lift a little.

Lifted.  By an apple and a thank you note.  From way down in the dumps I was lifted.
There’s something about gratitude expressed that lifts people, isn’t there?

I walked down the hallway heading to the parking lot and there outside the office door stood our dear principal talking to one of the staff.  I knew his week had been even tougher than mine.

I called, “Hey Sarge, have a good weekend,” as I passed.

He looked up and with a big grin said,  “Well, it's Friday. And the boat we been a'rowin's taken on a load of water. But, by gum, we’re still afloat.”
I chuckled, waved, and went out the door.

The last time we’d had such a terrible week he’d said with a big smile, “Well, here we’ve been shot at every day now and we ain't dead yet.”
Sarge was well known for his wise and pithy counsel.

But as I walked to my car I realized something important.

Even though he was joking I’d heard a note of genuine gratitude in the tone of his voice.
He was only half kidding.
He really was grateful to have made it through a tough week.
He seemed tired but hopeful.  He was looking forward to the weekend, to his family, and to his fishing pole probably.  He wasn’t running on fumes…..he was ready to rest, fill up and have a great weekend.
Yes ….there’s something about gratitude that changes your outlook. That puts your life in a clearer, more positive light.  It seems that gratitude and attitude are related.
There's that lift again. There must be something about gratitude that lifts whether your giving it or feeling it.

As I drove home I began to think.  I remembered a story that I’d heard once in some church meeting.
It was about a woman who’d been invited to a very special banquet held in her honor.  She’d been given an elaborately engraved invitation.  It explained that at this banquet all kinds of wonderful dishes were being prepared for her.  All of her special favorites would be served from lobster to strawberry shortcake.
But there was a rule.
She could take as much as she wanted from any of the dishes offered but she had to take at least one`bite from all of them.

On that special night she entered the beautiful banquet hall, gazed in amazement at all the dishes and then did the strangest thing.
She took a crystal plate, placed it on a silver tray, and walked slowly up and down that laden banquet table. She passed by the lobster, strawberries, and all the luscious desserts that she adored and went straight to a covered dish at the end of the table.
She lifted the lid.  Inside was liver and onions.  She detested liver and onions but she knew the rule.  At least one bite from everything offered.
She began to cry……“ Liver and onions! I hate liver and onions!

Then she did the strangest thing.

She pulled up a chair in front of that loathsome dish and sat down. She filled her plate with a huge helping of the detested liver and holding her head in her hands cried louder and louder……Oh no, I can’t bear it!  Oh no…..I hate liver and onions!
Then she picked up her fork and began to eat, wailing all the while. 

The banquet workers couldn’t believe their eyes!  She had passed by all of the wondrous things offered without seeming to notice.  All their careful, loving preparation of those exquisite dishes had gone unnoticed.
Instead, she sat in front of the one thing she hated and wept.

Well, I guess there must be something about ingratitude too.
Something essential.
It somehow distorts your vision, I think.
It makes the blessings surrounding every one of us seem to disappear.
It puts a magnifying glass on the negative and robs us of happiness and the ability to deal with life.

I know that woman.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been to that same banquet a time or two in my life. Maybe even this week a little.
And I can tell you that she’s not happy eating only liver.
Now I want to shake her and say “Look at all the beautiful strawberries!  Be grateful!”
Because there's definitely something about gratitude.

Almost to the turnoff to home now I began to think about tests. We'd been knee deep in state testing all week. Oh well, that's just the way things are, I guessed. The kids better get used to it.

After all, life itself gives the hardest tests.  You know the ones.

Then I began to think of those really hard "Life" tests.  And I began to think about gratitude and what a difference it made on the really tough questions.

In the years when we lived in our small mountain community two young people from wonderful families were called home to Father unexpectedly.
One was an amazing and beautiful young woman in her first year away at college. She was the oldest daughter and a light to everyone who knew her.
She was killed in a highway accident.
Another was a shining, bright, precious little boy.  A toddler not much more than a year old.  He went home after a drowning accident.
Both young people had large and loving families left with broken hearts.
And now all of them must take the test.
Then I remembered back to my own childhhod.  I was eleven, oldest of four. My father, then only 38 years old, husband and father, was killed in a car accident on his way home from work.
My brokenhearted family had to take the test too.

All had been given the same test.
They must take it in the darkest hour of their lives.
The answers they gave would make a difference for an eternity.

There were tears on every face. There was almost unbearable sadness at this parting.
But on some faces there was something else too.
For those who knew the truths of the gospel there was hope.
And gratitude.
In their darkest hour some answered with gratitude!   I could see it through the tears.
I saw those who knew the truth giving that answer to life's hardest question.

I saw gratitude that those beautiful young people were a part of their families and would be forever.

I saw gratitude for the mission of Jesus Christ, who conquered death and made it posssible for all of us to do the same.

I saw gratitude for the Temple and the sealing ordinances performed there that bind families together forever.

I saw gratitude for the certain knowlege that they would see their dear ones alive and well someday. They would hold them in their arms again. Not one hair on their heads would be lost.  So that the day told about in the scriptures, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," would surely come.  For that's the only way they truly would be comforted.
I saw gratitude for the peace and comfort of Father's love.

My own family didn't have the light of the gospel when our loved one died. There were the same tears and broken hearts. But despair was the answer my mother gave. Life gave her an incredibly hard burden to bear. Surely one of life's most difficult tests. But she felt only despair.
She seemed to answer with with every breath, "This can't be happening to me!  I can't go on!  I can't bear this pain!  Stop this pain!"
And so she tried to stop the pain with alcohol.  She tried every day.
And the beautiful life she and her children had known ended when their loved one died.

Yes, there certainly is something essential about gratitude.
It seems to be the right answer on some of the really hard questions that life gives you. It seems to go hand in hand with hope. It seems to be a key to survival. It might be an important part of happiness even.

It seems to be an eternal truth.

Christ may have been thinking of this when he asked about the nine who didn't return to give thanks.
He never cared about himself. He was always thinking of the happiness of others.
Maybe he was worried about the nine.

Because there's something about gratitude, isn't there?

Hello Again...

Hello Again,
I know it’s been a long time since I scribbled one of my stories. I’d like to explain.

My husband Larry is an only child. His dear mom, in her eighties, has been in the gentle care of our two youngest daughters for the last 6 years. Recently her health began to fail and it’s been every family members’ "hands on deck" for several months.
She passed away in November and her funeral was the day before Thanksgiving. We miss her and think of her every day.

One quick story about Gramma.
Katie wasn’t a member of the Church but we had her surrounded by her “All Mormon” posterity. Every single one of her descendants is an active Latter Day Saint. When needed, Larry or grandsons would give her a Priesthood blessing.                         
Well, Gramma loved the holidays. She was known far and wide for her decorations. From before Thanksgiving to New Year's they filled every room of her house, including the bathrooms!  She looked forward to these special days all year long and this year would be the first time in her life that she wouldn’t be able to spend them with her family. She was in the hospice and unable to travel. All of us were heartbroken about it.
Well, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving Larry gave her a blessing. In it she was blessed that she would be able to spend the holidays with her family and friends.
“How in the world is that going to happen?” I wondered. Then I started looking into having an ambulance transport her to our holiday celebrations.
Instead, a few days after placing his hands on his mother’s head, Larry came out of her room and said to me, “Mom’s gone.”
The very first thought that came to my mind was that the blessing had been fulfilled.
Indeed, she would be home with cherished family and friends to share all those special things she loved about the holidays.

I’m so grateful for the ties that bind us. They continue forever, connecting past, present, and future.
By the way, on the other side of the veil, Gramma may be surprised to find that she’s still surrounded by a family of Mormons. For years, her grandaughters have been busily doing temple work.

I hope many blessings were yours during this special time of year. May you especially have felt the love of our Heavenly Father when He sent His Son.
Happy New Year to all of you.