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2020 has been quite the year. The fear and panic of a pandemic, the hate and divisiveness all over social media, and uncertainty about when normal will return. If the word normal can still be defined. Many have struggled to find gratitude during this time.

The shutdown for our area began the evening of Friday, March 13. My son had a baseball game and when we got home the news was announcing it all. This was just a couple weeks after my hysterectomy so I had already mostly been home. My son adjusted to virtual learning as well as any teenager could. His school did a great job continuing the curriculum so he was quite busy with schoolwork. My husband and I are both self-employed and our work drastically slowed down. So, we just embraced the shutdown as best we could. We began spending an hour over coffee every morning. We cooked amazing meals. Brunch on the porch with bacon and eggs, sausage, French toast, and a mimosa (on more occasions that I probably needed). Full hibachi with fried rice, steaks and shrimp, and loads of veggies. A glass of wine on the porch and watched the sunset. Boat rides on weekday mornings. I could just go on and on about all the little things we did. Over and over. But they never felt mundane. We had fully embraced simple. We had slowed down long enough to see the blessings in the everyday. One of my favorite things about the shutdown was that expectations went away. What a weight that is when you realize it's gone. I have been guilty of fulfilling expectations for a long time.

A few weeks ago I started a devotional by Ann Voskamp and there was a lesson the other day that was perfect timing for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. It was about love being in the little things. All the little things we do and receive all add up to really big love. But if you don’t have love in the little things then there will never be big love.

And this is what got me thinking about a heart to heart conversation I had with an older friend. She didn’t have love in the little things. I don’t think she even had the little things. She proceeded to tell me how terrible her marriage had been even though it appeared storied from the outside. Her husband was habitually unfaithful for decades. She went into elaborate details and my heart hurt just listening to the stories. I couldn’t help but think about my own marriage as she spoke and how thankful and blessed I am by a wonderful man. After she had told countless stories, I asked her why she had chosen to stay with this man all these years. I expected her to say she stayed for her children (even though they were now grown), but what she said floored me. She told me that she stayed for the lifestyle. I stoically said to her that she would have gotten at least half and her response was that she wanted it all. All will continue to be more and more and you will never be satisfied. And my heart hurt again for an entirely new reason. I could not imagine a lifestyle being so important to me to endure an unfaithful and loveless marriage. I could tell her heart was full of anger and bitterness. And a heart like that misses out on gratitude. Gratitude has to be nurtured. A garden can not grow from darkness and without water and gratitude can not grow when it is fed anger and bitterness. When I left the conversation, I knew that I would actively focus on keeping anger and bitterness out of my heart and feed it joy, peace, and contentment.

We nurture our hearts with the little things. And that is how our hearts become grateful. I have had the most peace, joy, love, and fullness of heart since the pandemic started. I recognized all the joy in the little things. It’s not fancy vacations (although they can be nice too) and things of the like, it’s the people you do life with. Simple, mundane, everyday life. When we are grateful for all those little things, we nurture a big, grateful heart that can show the world just what love and gratitude really are.

Voskamp’s lesson stated that small acts of intentional love trigger oxytocin, the soothing hormone of maternal bonding. And that little acts of large love release dopamine, the hormone of positive emotions and the feeling of a natural high. And that is where I have been all this time. On a natural high. My heart truly feels full. I am so grateful to bring my husband coffee in the morning because I have a loving husband that appreciates it and does the same for me too. I am grateful for cooking dinner for my family because I have food to eat and a family to share it with. And I am grateful when they clean up the kitchen afterwards to show their love and appreciation. I am grateful to do our laundry because we have clothes to wear. I am grateful to run the vacuum because I have a home that is lived in (by our 4 legged family members too). I could go on and on but when you pause long enough to truly be grateful for all the little things, the love and gratitude you exude is contagious.

So this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to reflect on the little things. Be grateful for them. Even if you have had a hard year. I know the pandemic has caused differing degrees of emotional, financial, and physical hardship. A tiny seed of gratefulness can grow into a garden full of gratitude.

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