The Gift of a Thankful Heart
This is the tenth in a series by our writers and guests regarding spiritual gifts. We hope you enjoy our take on giving and receiving spiritually this Christmas season.
We very rarely have missionaries in for supper. The biggest problem is the schedule mismatch: missionaries in our area eat Really Early… and by that, I mean something along the lines of time travel back to 1952. Feeding my family on missionary time means feeding my family again three hours later, because no one was hungry enough after lunch at 2:00 to eat again at 5:00, but three hours after that? They’re all ravenous.
Add to the 1952 Dinner Hour Factor the Husband Factor: I have a sweet one, but he is absurdly happy with his record of smashing missionaries (he’s in double digits now, after 17 years of marriage to me). He isn’t abusive. He just… frustrates them. He’s not an instant joiner. A challenge to be baptized after just a few casual conversations isn’t going to work for him (or at least, it hasn’t worked for the last 17 years). And he sees Supper With Missionaries as an opportunity to make them crazy, which I don’t consider to be good for digestion.
So I’ve ignored the list for the past few years. But a few weeks ago, the lovely sister who coordinates meals for the missionaries gently cornered me, and asked if I’d had a chance to see the sign-up list.
I explained my Factors, and she presented an option: two days a week, our Sisters serve down at the Temple Visitor’s Center, and need to take their supper hour there. Could we deliver a meal, rather than host them in our home?
(My heart took a moment to smile: my Heavenly Father really does see me, and knows how to set up opportunities I need. Nifty!)
So we signed up. I called the Sisters to see if they had any allergies or preferences (they are each from different parts of South America), heard they were feeling a lack of fresh crunchy items in their diets, suggested dinner salads (a favorite at our house), and received a vigorous Yes Please in response.
The children all got into the spirit of Feeding The Sisters, and suddenly, our normal dinner preparation was more like gift-planning. What roll recipe might the Sisters like? What are the best packaging options to keep all the crunchy things crunchy? What if one of them doesn’t care for chicken? Put that on the side. What dressing options? Thank goodness for saving small jars! They’ll need dessert; what goes best with all these flavors? Our whole family focused on creating something simple that could delight two young women we didn’t actually know, from a portion of the world we’ve never seen. We settled on mix-and-match packaging, a portable salad bar (Salad Bar Supper being a favorite for us, we hoped it would be for them, too.)
My middlest girl, who turns eight early in the coming year, wanted to come be Mother’s Minion for the delivery at the Temple. She’s a small girl of strength and good balance, which came in handy as we carried our bags to the Visitor’s Center. She took the lead explaining How This Supper Works (sharing our family rule: It’s your supper. You get to choose what goes on your salad. The End.) and handed over the bags.
Our missionary Sisters each gave her a hug, then gave me a hug, then went back to the lounge to unpack.
Then one Sister came back out and gave us another round of hugs, because the greens were so many lovely types, and no iceberg! Then the other Sister came out and gave us another round of hugs for the rolls. Then they both came out for another round of hugs because of the little clever packets of options. And for dessert. And for being us. And for being sweet. And for the gospel, and the Temple. And for our family, and for us wanting to love them up a bit. There were a lot of hugs going on.
As we walked back toward home, my little companion said, “Mother, I do think those Sisters are about the huggiest people in the whole world. Why do they hug us so much?”
I thought for a minute, then told her about my best friend from my university days, who was also from a Latin country, and very huggy.
“I think it’s because they want us to hear their thanks, but they also want us to feel their thanks, and when you got a hug, couldn’t you just feel how much love they wanted to wrap around us?”
She thought for moment (she’s my deepest among deep thinkers), and said, “Yes, I could. It felt very… happy. Just good, and happy. That’s the nicest kind of thanks. We gave them a gift, and they gave us a gift back!”
How many people know the knack of being thankful? The gift of expressing thanks? I see gratitude as one of the main gifts of the Spirit, as it leads us to one of the best blessings of the Gospel: Joy! No matter the circumstances, feeling and expressing pure gratitude leads to joy. Expressing thanks and gratitude for the multiplicity of blessings poured out on us every day is a gift we can share with each other, with our neighbors, with our communities, with our world.
Our Sisters, serving far from their homes and families at a time of year when Home and Family are at the top of every list, surrendered themselves to gratitude for the little service of a meal prepared with them in mind, and prompted a small girl to think about what Thankful feels like. Their expressed thanks reminded me that my Factors do not have to be Full Stops.
This morning, the crisp scent of fresh snow made my heart leap for a moment, and I expressed that gladness to my littlest girl, who grinned with her great-grandfather’s toothy wide grin and said, “It’s a best Christmas present, isn’t it?” And then she gave me a hug, too full of shared gladness to say more, and yes, I could feel her thankfulness and joy. We both surrendered to that gift, just for a moment.
Last week, that littlest girl with her great-grandfather’s toothy wide grin made a sudden leap into understanding letters and sounds and words, and that middlest girl who helped me carry dinner to our Sisters jumped straight on the phone to my mother, to share the amazing, wonderful, grateful gift of news that her little sister is now a Reader. The ability to be thankful for and rejoice in a new ability for her sister is a gorgeous thing, and she lit up with the fruit of it: Joy.
Perhaps the gift of a thankful heart is linked to the ability to be as a child: to exude joy in our blessings, and the blessings of others, regardless of our other circumstances. Thankfulness and the resultant magnification of our joy is not limited to just the times when everything is perfect. It’s a gift that allows us to see God’s kind Hand in every moment. It’s an ever-present present, a consistent Loving Hug from our Creator.
And, like all gifts of the Spirit, it’s one we can deliberately cultivate in our lives. Even while our efforts are imperfect, we’re blessed for the cultivation, and others are blessed because of our imperfect efforts, too.
- How have you felt the encompassing thankfulness of another?
- How have you felt and expressed your own thankfulness?
- Is it a gift that comes easily to you, or one you crave?
- What unexpected blessing has caused your heart to leap with gladness this season?
Image credit: (50s Dinner Hour) Shanna Cistulli