An Introduction To My Angst Over Gratitude Journals
And my alternative practice this November, plus a few Thanksgiving menus
Last week, I prepped our Thankful Turkey. This is a tradition we started last year in an attempt to be a family “with traditions.”
I wanted to have some mechanism for orienting our hearts to thanksgiving in November, and this seemed as good as any. I cut some kraft paper and made feathers from construction paper, then every morning my husband, daughter and I wrote down something that we were thankful for.
To my surprise, I loved it. The spiritual constipation and emotional gridlock I would normally encounter upon doing a gratitude journal wasn’t there. In fact, it was fun to talk about what we were writing on the feathers, then taping them to the wall.
I didn’t think much of it, until this fall when a notification popped up on my calendar reminding me to prep for our November 2021 thankful turkey.
Why was our Thankful Turkey life-giving, while gratitude lists felt performative and disingenuous?
That’s the question I’m going to be exploring this month in my newsletter.
Honestly, I thought it would be a simple question to answer. But as I started writing through my thoughts, more questions arose. So I took to the socials and asked some folks for their thoughts. I Googled things like “Can gratitude journals be bad?” I started reading a few books.
What I’ve uncovered has been illuminating, showing me that the answers to my question is more nuanced than I anticipated, touching on how we respond to crisis and loneliness, how we mark the passing and time, how we view our vocations, how we’re oriented to the world.
If you find gratitude journaling helpful, I hope these next few issues of the newsletter might give you new inspiration to deepen or expand your practice. If gratitude journaling doesn’t “land” with you, I hope you’ll be encouraged that you’re not alone, and possibly find an alternative if you’re looking for a habit to add to your daily life.
So stay-tuned! and if you stumble upon any interesting thoughts on gratitude practices/journaling, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beginning At The End
Last year as I sat with my daughter doing our Thankful Turkey, I was tasked with figuring out how to explain thankfulness to an almost two year old. When I asked what she was thankful for, I got a blank look.
So I asked other questions. What toy do you like to play with? What did you eat that was yummy? Who did we see today? When did we laugh? Where did we go?
And I think those questions got at something. I wasn’t teaching Phoebe to “be grateful.” I was teaching her to pay attention to the life God had given her and to view the world as he views it. That’s what I was doing too. And I’m wondering if that’s why this gratitude practice took differently.
We weren’t trying to be grateful for the “right” things, the Godly things, the moral things. We weren’t over-sentimentalizing life and pretending that the “little joys” can begin to compete with the hurt and pain.
We were simply paying attention to our life, and for a few minutes each morning, letting our sight rest on the good gifts of God (however small), even as we so keenly felt the brokenness and darkness of this world in our own lives, and the lives of those we loved.
My friend Gina (Gina, can I call you a friend?), writes the following in a recent (excellent) article of hers, “Loving the God of Little Things.”
“We serve a God who took time to consider the lilies of the field and their glory, who sees every sparrow that falls. He used the little things of the world to teach us about the greatness of God’s vision and his infinite care for each human life, however small and insignificant it might seem. Our feelings and experiences, our joys and sorrows, matter to him. And so our ability to see and love the little things of the world reflects his character…
The small comforts and consolations that might mean nothing to the person next to us, but that pierce us to the heart with joy—thank God for them. In the beautiful and loving mind that conceived and created them and gave them to us, there is nothing little about them at all.”
It can take practice to see the small good things and linger long enough to receive them with joy, and let thanksgiving overflow. So between now and thanksgiving, I’m inviting you to a little personal challenge I’m doing: “Pay Attention November.”
I’ll talk more about why I think attention is a good habit to cultivate. But in between now and then, I invite you to be attentive to the ways that the God of little things is working in your life.
There really are no rules here. “Pay Attention November” can come alongside your current gratitude practice, or can be a habit all on its own.
You can write down what’s caught your attention in a journal, make your own Thankful Turkey, keep a list on your phone or simply set aside a few minutes at some point in your day to pause.
If you fancy, you can take to the Instagram and share them with the hashtag #payattentionnovember and tag @givenappetities.
What’s something beautiful and lovely in your day? What’s working in your life? Making you laugh? The task at hand is to develop an eye to what’s going on through life and cultivate an “awakeness” to the world around you and what’s happening in your heart.
“The Home and Kitchen Doula” is a new little section of my newsletter. You know the women who help other women get through labor by offering emotional support, practical tips, etc? Well, that’s what I want to do, but not with anything pertaining to childbirth. I want to be someone who gives you information and support you need so you can show up in your home and kitchen so that it’s a place of joy for yourself, those in your household, your neighbors, etc. I’m not going to do the cooking and work for you. And I absolutely do not know everything. But I’ll share what I know and what I am learning in the homemaking sphere, with the hope it will educate, empower and encourage you too.
I adore Thanksgiving food. I always helped my mom with the cooking at home, and since living on my own, I’ve hosted a full blown Thanksgiving dinner once, and made many Thanksgiving dishes to enjoy with friends, contribute to potlucks, or just enjoy on my own with my immediate family.
I’ve learned what matters to me when it comes to the meal, and have found a few tried and true recipes along the way. I thought the most fun way to share this info was to give you three different scenarios you might find yourself in. Take what’s helpful, pertinent and interesting from each of the examples, and enjoy!
If I had a day to plan, prep and cook…
I’d buy rolls, pre-made mashed potatoes, and a pumpkin pie along with a can of whipped cream and tub of cool whip.
I’d set decorate the table with candles and any little fall things from my home or yard (my yellow roses MIGHT make it to Thanksgiving this year!)
If I had a week to plan, prep, and cook…
A week before…
Five days before…
I’d decide how I’m going to decorate my table. I’m a big fan of simple tables with natural elements, so I would mostly just be gathering candles, candle sticks, making sure linens were washed, etc. And make a plan to purchase a bouquet of flowers.
I would also figure out what dishes I would use to bake/serve my food. I’m a BIG fan of prepping food in dishes you can serve in too. I would label note on post-its what would go in each dish.
Three days before…
I’d make sure my turkey was thawing. I’d also make an oven and stove schedule for Thanksgiving, noting what time things would start cooking, how long they’d need to cook, etc. I would decide how I’m going to decorate my table
Two days before…
I’d pull my potatoes and cranberry relish from the freezer and pop it in the fridge
I’d set out the butter for the Lazy Genius turkey, and set out some extra butter for the rolls
I’d make some make ahead gravy
I would consider making a pie. If I made a pie, I would 100% use store bought crust. If I was feeling stressed, I’d go to a nice grocery store or bakery and buy a pie.
I would buy and arrange flowers.
The day before…
I’d tear my bread for stuffing, and chop my celery and onions for the stuffing.
I would prep the Lazy Genius turkey.
I would set the table.
I’d get my turkey in the oven first thing
Then I’d make my green beans and corn on the stove and pop them into crockpots on warm.
I would then follow my oven schedule to bake the stuffing, potatoes, etc.
If my guests were bringing food…
I’d make, the Lazy Genius Turkey, green beans, corn and make ahead gravy (all linked above)
I’d ask folks bring, bread/rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie + whipped cream.
If I decided I wanted to use Thanksgiving as a day of rest, but still feel a little celebratory…
The day before, I’d make Smitten Kitchen’s cranberry rolls to eat Thanksgiving morning with some fruit, and scrambled eggs and/or precooked sausage links. Then, I’d make a huge pot of taco soup and serve it with sour cream and fritos, and make a salad from a kit.
Every November, my church adds this song to the rotation for worship. It’s the perfect song to close out fall and go into Advent. It was particularly poignant on Sunday. Maybe play it while you’re cooking.