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At the beginning of 2018, I had this idea that I wanted to spend the year being intentionally grateful. It was my hope to write about my experiences and journal through what that looked like in my life. What I found out though, was that it was a lot harder than I thought to write about something that I was experiencing in real time. I quickly realized that I really had some growing to do, and I wasn’t ready to share that with the world just yet.
This year has been a particularly complicated year for me. It was the second half of my oldest daughter’s first year of college. It was my middle daughter’s first year as a teenager. It is the last year that my son will be in elementary school. My baby girl is no longer a baby, and she hasn’t been for a while. Things are changing, and sometimes things change so quickly that it will make your head spin. I could tell you so many stories, but those aren’t my stories to tell.
My story is what I have learned that it means to be intentionally grateful when life has you all mixed up and you just don’t know what to do next. One of these days, I may write a book about how to survive the teenage years. As of now, I have one down, one in the beginning and two to come, so we will just have to see how this all turns out first. But for now, I can tell you what standing in the middle of all this beauty and mess and trying to find something to be grateful for has taught me.
The first thing I learned is that I was not always very grateful.
I learned that I am often dissatisfied, frustrated, and exhausted. To be fair, I am a very glass half full kind of person. I try not to be negative. I try to build others up. But, in our culture, stuff or lack thereof can be a huge obstacle in the way of being grateful. So, what do you do when your life doesn’t really look like what you thought it would?
My thirty’s seem to have gone by pretty quickly so far. I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I was 33, and now I am suddenly 37! It seemed like my 20’s lasted forever! The thing about getting older is that you start to measure your life against what you have accumulated. Like how big is your house? How many degrees do you have? Is your home beautifully decorated? Do your kids rooms look like a Pottery Barn ad? Are your clothes fashionable? Do you have a nice car?
Unfortunately, when you aren’t able to tick a bunch of stuff off the list, you start to feel like you may have failed in life. When your life seems stuck in one place and you aren’t moving forward as quickly as you hoped, it can be very discouraging. It is very easy to get stuck in that mindset and become ungrateful.
When you stop being thankful for what you do have, and start wishing for things you don’t have, you run the risk of losing sight of what’s really important.
And that is the biggest issue that I have had to wrestle with this year. Where does it stop? I think we somehow draw an imaginary line where we say, “If I can just get here, things will be okay.” But when we get there, are things really okay? Is it really all that we thought it would be? Do we really believe that the line will truly satisfy us in the long term?
So, one thing I am trying to learn is where to place my value. Is it more important to have a huge house or to have good friends around you? Is it more important to give your kids everything you didn’t have or to love your children well? When times got hard for me this year and I felt as if I was trying to stand up in the midst of a hurricane, I was not glad that I had beautiful decorations to go home to. That wasn’t even on my radar.
I was grateful for my friends.
I was grateful that they cared enough to text me and check on me. I was grateful that they kept my kids all day long. I was grateful that when I was ready, that they were there to listen to me.
I was grateful for my husband.
Josh and I have been through a lot together in the last (almost) 20 years. I was glad to have him to walk through the tough times with. I was grateful that we could discuss everything, and even if we had no solutions, we knew that we had each other.
I was grateful for my church.
I was grateful for the love and support I recieved from our church staff. God really pushed me this year to get out of my comfort zone and serve as a Group Leader at my church. It was scary, but it made our big church smaller and more personal. It is nice to have a place where you don’t go out of obligation, but a place where you truly want to be. A place that fills you up and encourages you to keep pressing on.
What I learned this year is at the end of the day, it’s not the stuff. It’s never the stuff. It’s the people. The people that God has placed in my life.