2018 – Another year… a new year – an opportunity to build on the foundation of faith that God has given us in His Son Jesus Christ. I love new years, new journals, new pages, new starts. But my failures to keep the promises I made at the start of the previous year, niggle at my mind and stir up feelings of inadequacy and … and that makes me want to take a nap. So while I am loathe to make resolutions or goals – one thing I do know: it is only by practice that we become any of those things we want to become! Tim Loyola, a former pastor and friend at my home church, Grace Church (www.gracetoledo.org), used to talk about spiritual disciplines as those activities we do off the court or field (…love those sports analogies!) so that while in the “game” they become second nature!

One thing I know as I think forward to the next (last?) decade or so of my life (please… don’t be maudlin Jean!) – is that more than anything I want gratitude to permeate my life. I want to be a thankful person – I want to be an optimist (which in my mind is someone who is at heart a thankful person).  Optimism doesn’t come naturally to me. I tend to be a half empty glass kind of person. But gratitude changes people. Gratitude makes half-full glass people out of pessimists. And because I know I can’t just decide from this moment on I’m going to be thankful I’ve decided to work on the practice of thanksgiving this year. And because these plans are best lived out in community I thought I’d invite you along. I’ve decided to call this a gratitude project because that describes to me a process or practice of becoming. I don’t use the word project as in there will be an end to this, but more as a description of a practical hands-on way of becoming a different kind of person.

I would love for you to walk out this journey with me. To help keep us grounded I have come up with prompts for the year which I will update weekly.  I am doing this with women from my church through prompts and interaction on the Facebook page for “Women of Grace.”  But if you’re not a part of that community feel free to join along with the prompts and connect with me and others through comments here on the blog!

Gratitude journals, lists, prompts, are very popular in the journaling (art, bullet, spiritual…) world. And I’m grateful (did you get that?) for them. But as followers of Christ Scripture points us to some very practical and outward focused principles of thanksgiving. So, to help me (and hopefully you!) I have set out some basic principles that I think are key to gratitude!

The first principle is that thanksgiving implies a giver and a recipient. We don’t have to be grateful to the sun for being the sun, we can be grateful to God who formed and shaped the world and called the sun into being! Our gratitude is rooted in prayer – that is, we say to God (not to the universe) that we are grateful for _____!

The second principle for me is that we can be thankful in our circumstances (even though we don’t necessarily have to be thankful for our circumstances). This is something that needs a great deal of practice! God does not create evil, or sin, or brokenness, but He alone can redeem it. I can be thankful that He used the circumstances of my early life (Polio, my father’s early death, my mother’s alcoholism) to make me a unique kind of person with passions to see wholeness abound in other people! So we will use this principle as a prompt every month through the year.

Some of the other principles I feel are integral to practicing gratitude include: our need to share our gratitude with other people. Saying it out loud, writing it down, posting a comment on here or on the women of Grace Facebook page are all ways our thanksgiving becomes more tangible and effective. We can make a difference in other people’s lives when we talk about what God has done for us!

We also make our gratitude more tangible when we “do” something with it! If God has helped you to be grateful for your spiritual leaders show them in real ways that you are grateful! (I can give you my Paypal account info if you wish… – I should insert a winking emoji here, right??) Write a letter, bake a cake, take their kids! (just for a few hours – I don’t mean kidnapping them!)  Be creative and imaginative in this! And if your gratitude was hard-won, as in being grateful for a difficult person in your life – don’t keep that light under a bushel!

Finally, let’s make some ground rules in our postings or comments. Let’s avoid advice-giving, shaming, or any behavior that doesn’t build up others. Let’s be discreet, confidential, and encouraging.

The deets: I will post a prompt every Monday – and I encourage you to take some time each day to reflect on that prompt (but let’s face it…. Sometimes our lives are so hectic! But just remember – you are in training to become a grateful gold medalist!). For the first few weeks I’ll explain more what I mean by the prompt and I encourage you to never hesitate to ask questions!

The prompts on my mind have been: being grateful for all our relationships (I’ll make it more specific); thanking God for spiritual blessings; being grateful in difficult circumstances; giving thanks for more general things. And finally I will give a prompt that focuses on Scriptures about thanksgiving.

Thanks for considering joining me in this project! I hope and pray that at the end of 2018, even in spite of the challenges we often face in keeping commitments, we will be a more grateful faithful people!

So, to start the year out well, let’s spend this week thanking God for all of our prompts, just to get our thankful juices flowing! Let’s thank God for significant relationships in our lives (it’s okay to be general here). Do you find yourself in difficult circumstances? Ask God to show you how to be thankful! Find a scripture that expresses your desire to be a more grateful person, and finally let God show you a spiritual blessing you are grateful for (like grace  – “thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” – 2 Cor 9:15)!

I will post the prompts here on my blog – www.hamewith.org . If you are following along in the women of Grace group on Facebook, I will post links that bring you to my blog, and then post the prompts for the week both here and there.