Gratitude has never come easy for me.
When you grow up being taught (by action if not word) that everything is transactional, everything dependent, then it becomes hard to accept gifts - whether they are physical gifts, gifts of service, or even gifts of self-care. Everything given means that something of equal or greater value must be returned. If someone pays attention to you, then they expect something back. It is irrelevant that it may be something you don’t want to give. What is important is that you give it. That’s how you say thank you. Payback = gratitude.
Needless to say that growing up having this mindset modeled for me and reinforced to me made it hard to learn to say ‘thank you’ in a way that was genuine. I would say thank you, but it was performative and done to maintain social connection. I was incapable of genuinely expressing gratitude. Even now, after all I have been through and all the work I have done on myself, I am still shitty at accepting help. I still struggle at times to ask for what I need. And it is still hard to accept that someone, anyone, the universe, would be willing to give a gift to me without asking it to be repaid, or asking for something in return. I still struggle at times to see gratitude as an expression of joy.
And despite all that, I am surrounded by gifts. I am surrounded by people and places and things that are in my life because of grace and love, not because I did anything to earn them. They have all been freely given to me by people who did so out of love and grace and care, not because they had to or expected anything in return.
I am surrounded by a loving community or friends who care about me and my well-being. Friends who have been there when I have needed them, even from a distance, and who have been there even when I didn’t know I needed them. My friends near and far who eat lunch and drink coffee and text random things at odd hours. My veteran friends with whom I share common experiences and who will always listen to a random rant, even when they disagree. My friends in my recovery groups who have become closer than family. From across the country and around the corner, I am thankful for you all. I spent a whole lot of time thinking I didn’t have any “real” friends. It turns out I was surrounded by them.
I am grateful for my church family. Our place on the hill isn’t perfect, and goodness knows the last few years have tested our bond and our commitment to each other. And there will be more trials and tribulations in the months ahead as we reckon with the things that have happened in our community. Church is hard because church is people. All the petty squabbles and disagreements and slights and hurts. All the trauma and the breaches of trust. If it happens in the world, it happens in church, only under a microscope and with extra expectations. And with all that… my church is the place that welcomed me at my worst. Who accepted and didn’t judge. Who have celebrated and encouraged me. The church is people, and that means there’s a lot of mess. There is also beauty, and care, and a deep, abiding love.
I am grateful for my readers. For those of you who show up every week and read what I say. The ones who reach out by text and email to say thank you. Those of you who comment on these posts. All the people who see me in person and take the time to say stuff like “this week’s post was really good” and ask me when the book is coming out. Those of you who help financially support this work. It touches me so deeply, and helps me see that my struggle matters. My experiences aren’t just hurt, they can help people better understand their world and their own challenges. Our stories matter. Sharing them matters. And I have learned that from you.
I am grateful for my family. My wild, wonderful, messy, beautiful, blessed family. We have shared so many joys and so many struggles. We are perfectly imperfect and eternally linked. I am thankful for every moment I get to share with these people.
Finally, to my wife Barbara. It has been a crazy year. One in which the future of us was not guaranteed. It has been the hardest year of a marriage that has seen some hard years. And here we are. Still standing. We came through it all and arrived at the best place we have ever been. I am only able to be thankful for everything else because I have you.
My sincerest wish is that each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, however you choose to celebrate it. I hope you find time to reflect in joy and love on all the many gifts you have. Even if it is hard to see them, they are always there.
There won’t be a subscriber’s weekly update this week as I focus on family time. I will have a new essay on November 29.
In the meantime, be well. Share love. Spread bliss. Scatter joy.
And no matter what, keep pounding the rock.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.