A primer on gratitude

Originally Appeared in : 9823-11/8/18

My phone camera is filled with screenshots of beautiful table settings, ideas for perfect centerpieces and stacks of just-right china and silver. I have a plan for the perfect Thanksgiving tablescape: I just can’t execute it.


It’s a combination of the crazy pace of my life and also, the scope of it. I want to set the perfect table, worthy of my favorite magazines. But the truth is, it’s all just too much. Too much time, too many dishes. The truth of my life is that when I entertain, it generally does not involve my fine china.


I was sort of lamenting this recently: holiday tables filled with paper products as my Lenox looks on from the distance. I’m hosting Thanksgiving and my dream table doesn’t end up making an appearance. I mean, I love how it looks, but it’s not my ideal.


But, I realized not too long ago (as I compared my dream table tops with my reality), that the reason I can’t have “what I want” is because I have exactly what I want. The table I dream of doesn’t totally line up with what works best right now, because my life is filled to the brim. It’s filled with my sons and daughter and husband; with my parents walking over from next door and my brothers and their families driving from across town. The reason I won’t have a neat and tidy scene is because real life trumps that.


What I’m learning, finally, just a little, is that true joy comes from being at peace with where we are. With loving the life we have, with having gratitude for what God has given us — in this season — and not just what we hope to have eventually. Celebrate all the goodness, the crazy or the quiet. The paper plates or the imported crystal. God is among us, let us rejoice.


There are so many articles and books on procuring the right attitude for life which makes me think I’m not the only one who is tempted to complain. Our outlook is a choice, and I think I’m just now realizing that. If you want to be happy, make a decision to do so.


Here we are at the onset of the holiday season and I’m filled with such a sense of hope and joy and expectation. And yes, I’m writing all of this in the weeks before we step into the crazy but here’s what I want to remind myself: Choose joy.


Make your brain choose the happiness. Don’t let your anxiety steer the ship. I’m learning this because I finally, not so long ago, got tired of focusing on what wasn’t going right. For too long, I focused on agitations and frustrations because I thought that would help. I spent too many years going back to the same negative thoughts because I thought if I could finally learn to think about things in the right way I could wrap my head around circumstances in the right way.
But over-analysis isn’t always the answer. Sometimes the solution is to change our gaze and just do it — just choose joy. We need to focus on what matters, on the goodness of the Lord, to let our minds wander to beauty.


“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things... Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8).


As one motivational speaker recently wrote, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over the other.”


Let us rejoice and be grateful! And look for Jesus in the ups and the downs.


Last week, as I moved through my favorite shopper’s warehouse, I eyed a stack of inexpensive china and realized, as I got closer, that it wasn’t china at all. “Can’t believe it’s plastic!” declared the label, and I threw it in my cart. One step closer, and I’ll take what I can get.


Originally appeared in the November 26, 2014 issue of the Southern Cross.


Rachel Swenson Balducci is a freelance writer and member of Most Holy Trinity Church, Augusta. She can be reached at

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