Focus on gratitude

Originally Appeared in : 9901-1/3/19
Merry Christmas. As I write this I’m in a restaurant where they are taking down all the holiday decorations two days after Christmas. I told the manager that one of the things I love about being Catholic is that Christmas goes on for so many days after the 25th. It’s so wonderful.
Our own celebration was delightful this year (I hope yours was too.). The Swenson family Christmas tradition includes a talent show after dinner as aunts, uncles and cousins dust off their performance skills to share a song or poem or funny joke with the rest of the family. My dad always ends the evening with a polka he writes and plays on his accordion. This year everyone got to pull a percussion instrument from Papa’s vast collection, and he also managed to include Isabel and cousin Quinn who are both learning to play the violin.
Other highlights of the Christmas Day talent show included my husband Paul singing Mario Lanza’s “Guardian Angel,” several singer/songwriter performances and one brother singing a sweet song with his wife and three young children.
The family singing together reminded me of a Christmas talent show a few years back when another of my brothers did the same thing. He and his wife and their children sang a song as a family and it was the sweetest thing ever -- so sweet and cute and perfect that I was jealous. I can’t believe I’m even admitting that now. The memory came back as I watched this year’s performance and I was reminded of how I felt all those years ago.
I was in a funny place that year. My brother’s oldest child is the same age as our fourth child, so I was beginning to experience the growing pains that come along with kids getting bigger.  It stung a little to watch a sweet little family all sing together while I dealt with kids whose attitude about singing together as a family was closer to “no thanks.”
Veteran parents all know what I’m now learning, which is that part of family life is dealing with people who are dealing with stuff. I look back on that year and realize that’s just where a few of my boys were at. In the moment it felt like some cosmic shift (Oh no, they won’t cooperate.). Now I look back and think, “of course they weren’t into that.” Some of those boys have come around and now love to participate and one or two, well it still just isn’t their thing.
There is so much that I’m grateful for this season, which is the real gift God gave me this Advent. I prayed for a focus on gratitude, and for an ability to be thankful. That same envy I experienced those years ago as I watched my brother’s family perform together­—  that can seep into so many areas of life. The holidays especially bring that out and the only real, effective antidote is gratitude. And gratitude is a decision.
When she was a girl, St. Therese of Lisieux had a moment one Christmas Eve where she was tempted to let her old ways of behaving ruin the celebration for her family. In a split second she realized she could stop this way of behaving and start a new chapter in her life, free of petty whining and bratty behavior. She calls this moment her “Act of Courage” and from then on she was free of this behavior that had caused so much hurt to her family (and to herself).
“Many people say, “I don’t have the courage to make this sacrifice. Let them do what I did: exert a great effort. God never refuses that first grace which gives one the courage to act; afterwards the heart is strengthened” -St. Therese of Lisieux
At the beginning of Advent, I asked God to help me have that Act of Courage so that I could focus on all the ways things went right, instead of all the ways they could be better. He answered my prayers and I’m so grateful for his love and faithfulness to each  one of us.
Rachel Swenson Balducci is a freelance writer and member of Most Holy Trinity Church, Augusta. She can be reached at
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