Kelly Ramke Lardin is the author of the children's books Josiah and Julia Go to Church, and Let's Count From 1 to 20 (bilingual counting books in French and Spanish). She holds degrees in French from The University of the South and Tulane University and studied translation at SUNY-Binghamton. She has always enjoyed writing and loves studying languages. She converted to Orthodoxy shortly after marrying her husband, who is also a convert to Orthodoxy. Her journey to the faith was fraught with struggle, but she wouldn't trade it for anything. Together she and her husband are raising their two daughters in the Orthodox faith. This continuing journey still has its moments of struggle but is also a joy. Visit her at kellylardin.com for more information on her books and to read short stories and other writings. She also blogs about her faith, family, and life in Chicago at A Day's Journey. She is available for speaking engagements through the Orthodox Speakers Bureau.
There is a little girl whose toy box is not overflowing with toys, but is full enough to keep her occupied for hours. She is not a spoiled little girl. But after playing, when her mom tells her it is time to clean up, this little girl would rather see her toys given away or thrown away than put them away herself. Literally. As I watched this child refusing to put her toys away for her mom and telling her mom she could throw them away, I thought to myself, this child is just not grateful for her blessings.
The more I thought about this particular situation, the more I realized it is not an isolated problem. We live in a time and place where even though “times are hard,” we as a society are more comfortable than many kings of old. Most of those around us can afford to have the things they want when they want them (or shortly thereafter). We gather to ourselves all sorts of gadgets and goodies. Then we see a friend with an even better gadget, and we begin to feel deprived, and forget to be thankful.
I know another little girl whose mother plans innumerable outings and fun activities to do with her, but when the girl is not allowed to participate in some activity or other, she throws it in her mother’s face and calls her mother mean and swears that her mother never let’s her do anything fun. There is also a man at my church who was out of work, and when he found a job, it was clear that things were looking up. But after a month or so, he began complaining about all sorts of other problems and was certain that things were just going to get worse.
I know that in my family, too, when we first receive a blessing, we are mindful of it for a time. We do pray and thank the Lord for the good He has given us. Nonetheless, I see that the gratitude is not long-lived. Before I know it, we are moving on to the next thing we want, or focusing on the next problem that needs to be solved. And it can begin to look like the man at my church is right. There is always another problem around the bend…Why is it that, despite the many blessings we have, we can only see what is lacking?
In 1Thessalonians, Saint Paul tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:16-18) How do we instill gratitude in our children and in ourselves? How do we remind ourselves of the many blessings that surround us when we are in the midst of difficult times, or when we see others with so much more than us?
Clearly, it is important to be mindful. Yet, that is not so easily done. I need reminders about all sorts of things just to get through my day and accomplish something. Here, too, reminders would be helpful. This time of year, we’re usually pretty mindful as we approach Thanksgiving. My daughter’s school is focusing on gratitude as their character-building trait of the month. Many people make “Gratitude Trees” for Thanksgiving. But once Thanksgiving passes, we tend to stop being so mindful.
So, I have decided to create a gratitude tree poster to hang year round. I’ll have a basket with blank leaves and blossoms for picturing or writing our blessings as they come. Placed near an icon corner, it would be a clear reminder during daily prayers of the many things for which we should be grateful and thank the Lord. I usually have a craft with instructions, but a quick Google search reveals a multitude of ideas for creating your own, if you so choose. And this is but one reminder; I would love to hear what ideas you have for remembering to be grateful for your many blessings and reminding those close to you, as well.