Gratitude, Week 1
Psalm of Thanksgiving
Celebrate what God has done.
Randall idled his car in the middle school parking lot and checked the time on his phone yet again.
“She’s twenty minutes late!” he muttered, glancing up at the school doors one more time. There was no sign of his little sister, Annie. Randall had been drafted into picking her up after her rehearsal. But he’d been sitting here almost half an hour, and she hadn’t even bothered to text.
To make it worse, he’d just survived a long day of testing at school and finally made it to the start of Thanksgiving vacation. All he wanted was to go home, relax, and bust into that big bag of Doritos® stashed in the back of the pantry.
At long last, Annie showed up, swinging her backpack. She hopped in the car, bubbling over with excitement.
“Mrs. F. says I’ve got a really good voice!” she exclaimed. “She gave me a solo, and she’s helping me with my vocal technique and—”
“Yeah, okay, I get it,” Randall said, cutting her off.
“Hey, can I turn on the radio?” Annie asked, unfazed. Without waiting for an answer, she clicked on the stereo and switched stations. “Oh, I love this one!”
An upbeat worship band played, the vocalists singing, “Shout for joy to the Lord, everyone on earth….Come to him with songs of joy…”
Randall gritted his teeth and forced himself not to slap Annie’s hand away. He wasn’t in the mood for this.
“Give thanks to him and praise his name,” the music continued. “The Lord is good. His faithful love continues forever.”
Randall accelerated fast from a stop sign and shook his head. “At least I can turn on my own tunes at home,” he groused to himself.
When Randall walked into the house, though, he found pure chaos. Mom was running the vacuum, stacks of laundry sat everywhere, and bags of groceries waited to be unloaded.
“What, are we feeding an army for Thanksgiving?” Randall wondered.
Mom shut off the vacuum. “Randall! Aunt Rita called, and they’re all coming for Thanksgiving after all. Four whole days! They’ll be here any minute.”
Randall groaned inwardly. His little cousins were fun, but they never stopped moving—and he’d really been looking forward to unplugging for a few days. Plus, he already had plans for the long weekend.
“I can still hang with Jose and Luke on Friday and Saturday, right?” he asked.
Mom hesitated. “Well, yes. But I do need you here part of the time to entertain your little cousins while Aunt Rita and I do some Christmas shopping.”
Randall knew exactly what that was code for. “Entertain? You mean babysit.”
“Annie can help,” his mom pointed out, and handed Randall a set of clean sheets. “Oh, and can you put these on your bed?”
“I just changed the sheets two days ago,” Randall protested.
“I’m really sorry, Randall,” Mom said, “but I need you to sleep in the family room so Great Uncle Solomon can have your bed.”
Randall wrinkled his nose. “Great Uncle Solomon smells like, I don’t know . . . fish.”
“Randall!” Mom exclaimed.
“Now my room will smell, too,” Randall declared.
“He’s your favorite uncle. Remember when he took you up to the cabin for that fishing weekend?”
“Like I said. He smells fishy.”
“Just clean up your room, please.” Randall took the sheets. Fuming, he stalked to the pantry and reached in the back as Mom started the vacuum again.
“Hey! Where are my chips?” he yelled over the noise.
“Your chips?” Mom asked, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t seem to remember you paying for groceries.”
“That bag of Doritos®,” Randall clarified.
“I let Annie and her friends have it for their sleepover. You could eat some carrots and hummus.”
Randall grimaced and grabbed a granola bar instead as he headed for his own room. He cranked up the volume on his speaker, blasting music as he started stuffing clothes and gadgets into his closet. The rumbling beat felt so good, Randall amped the sound as high as it would go, even though he knew it would get him in trouble. But before Mom could show up . . .Randall’s speaker busted.
Leaving dead silence.
He wanted to scream, but instead he threw himself down on the messy bed, just as Annie waltzed by in the hallway, singing at the top of her lungs:
“Shout for joy to the Lord, everyone on earth . . .”
Randall sighed. Annie was way too cheerful. But even though he was annoyed, the words of the Psalm were still true.
“The Lord is good. His faithful love continues forever . . .” Annie’s voice faded out as she headed down the stairs.
Taking a deep breath, Randall sat up. His Thanksgiving wasn’t going as planned. But that didn’t mean he had to be miserable the whole time. Grabbing a laundry basket, he loaded it with the dirty cups and dishes from his room and carted them down to the kitchen.
Mom glanced up in surprise. “Thank you, Randall! I kept meaning to go collect those.”
Randall started stacking cups in the dishwasher. “What are we doing for dinner when everyone gets here?”
“Just ordering pizza, I think,” Mom began. And then, as their dog began to bark, “Oh, that’s them now!”
An hour later everyone crowded into the kitchen with pizza and soft drinks. Great Uncle Solomon took a seat on one of the barstools beside Randall. He didn’t actually smell like fish. More just . . . outdoorsy.
He grinned at Randall as he lifted a slice of pepperoni. “You wanna bless the food, Rand?”
“Um, I guess,” Randall replied. “Sure.”
The chatter stilled as everyone turned to Randall. He was going to dash off a quick prayer, but as he looked around the room at his wacky family, he realized he needed to do more than that.
“I’ve been kinda busy lately. And stressed out. And . . . I’ve kinda missed the big picture. I mean, God’s given us this great place to live. And food to eat. And a really awesome, talented, funny family. And . . . I don’t want to forget any of that.”
Randall bowed his head, and everyone else followed. “So, God . . . thanks for this pizza. And for my family. And . . . for everything. Amen.”
Randall’s family attacked the pizza, and his cousins started talking a mile a minute again. Uncle Solomon, pizza in hand, was still watching Randall.
“What, you wanted us to order you a pizza with salmon and trout on it?” Randall joked.
His great-uncle grinned. “Nope. Just proud of a nephew who can see the trees and the forest.”
Randall smiled back. “Uh, thanks, I think?”
He shook his head and got to work on a slice of ham and pineapple pizza. His family was a little weird. But he was grateful for each one of them. And for a chance to celebrate everything God had given him.
It may not always feel like it, but God is at work in your life.
Even when things seem tough, He’s given you life. He’s promised to always be with you and provide what you need. So grab a piece of paper. Take a few minutes and share with each other ways that you have seen God at work in your life in the last year—and even right now. Now write them down. Post this list on the fridge door or somewhere your family will see it all month. Then together, thank God for all the things He has done in your lives. Ask God to give you a grateful heart and eyes to see where He is working.
Gratitude, Week 2
Parable of the Vineyard Workers
Adjust your attitude.
While Jesus taught in many different ways, He often shared the most important truths as stories. He used the things and animals and situations from people’s everyday lives to help them understand something bigger. One day, He explained to His closest friends what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. And to help it connect, He used a story.
If Jesus told that story to us, in our world today, it might sound something like this.
There once was a man who owned a large vineyard. One fine autumn day, the man called in his manager to find out how the grapes were doing.
The manager adjusted his beret and twirled his moustache. “The grapes, they are fabulous this year!” he announced.
“Great,” replied the owner. “We’ll be able to sell even more grape jam and grape juice.”
“Do not forget the grape soda,” added the manager.
“Grape syrup!” exclaimed the owner. “Grape pie! Grape tarts! If there’s extra, we’ll make dried grapes.”
The manager cleared his throat. “Raisins, monsieur.”
The owner shook his head. “No, just dried grapes, I think. Speaking of which, we must pick the grapes immediately before the beetles get to them.”
The next morning, the vineyard owner rose while it was still dark and hurried down to the center of town, where even the man at the coffee cart was still yawning. A few people were already lined up nearby, drinking lattes and noshing bagels.
“Are you looking for work?” asked the vineyard owner.
“Yessir!” replied a tall man with a big hat and bowed legs. “Rarin’ to go! How much do you pay?”
“One hundred dollars for the day,” the owner told him.
The tall man grinned broadly. “Spiffy! Let’s get on with it.”
The owner led the workers back to his vineyard, where a faint clicking sound greeted them.
“Those are the grape beetles!” he pointed out. “We gotta work fast.”
The vineyard owner wanted to be sure the pesky beetles didn’t have time to ruin his precious grape harvest. So at nine o’clock he returned to the town square and found some more people lined up. He hired them to pick grapes. He even went back again at noon and three o’clock, selecting even more workers.
The blazing sun beat down as the owner added the new workers to his crew. One of the men hired at dawn wiped sweat from his face as he took a chug of water. “Showing up for work in the afternoon?” he muttered. “That’s just lazy. Can’t get ahead like that.”
The first workers returned to picking grapes, filling basket after basket. But the grape beetles attacked the vines with equal drive.
“This won’t do!” frowned the owner, as he flicked a beetle off a cluster of grapes.
Even though it was already five o’clock, the vineyard owner returned once more to town. He discovered folks still hanging out, sipping espresso and looking bored.
“I hope that’s decaf, or you’ll be up all night,” he exclaimed. “Why have you just been standing here all day?”
One man shrugged. “No one, like, hired us,”
“I’ll hire you,” declared the owner. “Come work in my vineyard.”
For the final hour of the workday, everyone pitched in. As the last baskets of grapes were brought up, the owner called to his manager. “Just look at these beautiful grapes, all safely harvested! Stayed ahead of the beetles the whole way.”
“The workers, they need to be paid,” the manager reminded him.
“Then pay them! Start with the ones I hired last of all.”
The manager pulled out his cashbox and lined up the workers. He began with the ones who had picked grapes for only an hour.
“For you . . . one hundred dollars,” he said, handing out crisp bills.
The men hired at five o’clock grinned. “Like, totally rad, man!”
At the other end of the line, the workers who began at dawn were doing some quick math. “A hundred dollars for one hour of work? That means we’re about to get over a thousand bucks!” gloated the tall man. “Score!”
The manager continued handing out pay to the workers who started at three o’clock, noon, and nine o’clock—giving them each one hundred dollars.
By the time the workers who started early in the morning reached the front of the line, they were getting worried. “You’re paying us what’s fair for working all day, right?” demanded the tall man.
“That is correct,” agreed the manager. “One hundred dollars.”
“What?” shouted the tall man. “No way!” He led the way as the early morning workers stalked off to find the vineyard owner.
“You paid those slackers who only worked an hour the same as us!” they groused. “Even though we sweated all day picking your lousy grapes. Just look at our sunburns.”
The owner listened carefully, then asked, “Friend, didn’t you agree to one hundred dollars for the whole day?”
“Well, yeah. But that’s a technicality.”
“Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?” wondered the owner. “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?”
“But it’s not fair,” protested the tall man.
“Take your money and go,” said the vineyard owner. “I want to give the ones I hired last the same pay I gave you.”
The early workers glared and skulked away, cash in hand—still dissatisfied with the wages that had seemed perfectly fine that morning.
Jesus finished His story and looked directly at His closest friends. “So those who are last will be first,” He said. “And those who are first will be last.”
The story made it clear: God gives freely to everyone. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, choose to look at what you do have.
It doesn’t take a lot of work to focus on what you don’t have.
In one minute, share with each other some things you want to happen or would like to have. Easy, right? How do you feel? It might be frustrated, impatient, or disappointed. Now, take a few minutes and share with each other the stuff you do have right now or the things that have worked out well for you recently. How do you feel now? You probably find yourself more content, at peace . . . and grateful. You can’t control all the things that happen to you. But you can adjust your attitude when you focus on what God has given you. Pray for each other, that God would
help you adjust your attitude each day as you thank Him for what He’s done for you.
Gratitude, Week 3
Jesus Heals Ten Men
Say thank you.
Outside a village on the border between Samaria and Galilee lived ten lepers. We don’t know their names or stories, but we know at least one of them was a Samaritan—a group that Jewish people distrusted. We’ll call the Samaritan, “Joe.” Perhaps the leprosy on his feet and legs was so bad he could barely walk!
Leprosy is a painful skin disease, and in Jesus’ day there were no doctors or medicines to treat it. But even worse than the sores was the loneliness. Lepers weren’t allowed to go near anyone healthy, even their own families. If Joe had a wife and kids, he hadn’t seen them for as long as he’d been sick—maybe even for years.
“My baby girl, Judith. She’s five now. Or six?” he may have wondered. “I bet she can ride a donkey by herself!”
“Yeah, well, you’ll never know,” said another leper sourly.
Joe tried to take a step on his sore feet, but nearly toppled over. He picked up the stick he used as a cane. “I’d give anything to see her . . .” he said longingly.
The ten lepers’ lives seemed hopeless. All they could do was stand back from the road and shout at those who passed by:
“Stay away! Don’t come close.”
But all the same, they had to beg people to leave food, just so they could survive.
Then one day, news reached the lepers of travelers approaching along the border road.
“Big crowd. Think it’s that Jesus fella,” said one leper.
“The Teacher?” asked Joe, his heart pounding a little faster. “They say He makes sick people well.”
“Yeah, and I hear there’s gold buried under that willow tree by the creek, too,” scoffed another leper. “You’re a Samaritan. Why would He care about you?
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” Joe pointed out. He hobbled toward the road, and the others straggled after him. They could see the crowd now, the dust kicked up by dozens of feet.
“People won’t like us standing so close,” worried one leper.
Joe stood his ground. “I’m not throwing away my shot.”
He could see faces now. Everyone seemed to group around one Man in the middle—a Man with a strong face and kind eyes.
“Jesus! Master!” cried Joe. “Have pity on us!”
To everyone’s surprise, Jesus stopped, right in the middle of the road. The other lepers quickly joined in with Joe.
“Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!”
Jesus stood firm as Joe and the other lepers dared to straggle closer, still calling out. But those in the crowd around backed away, whispering.
As the lepers neared Jesus, He took a long, clear look.
They fell silent. Joe could hardly breathe.
Then Jesus smiled. “Go,” He said. “Show yourselves to the priests.”
Joe gasped. The only way a leper could approach a priest was to confirm that he’d been healed. But as Joe looked down, his heart sank. His feet and legs were still shriveled and splotchy. His knees still ached.
Jesus moved on, and the crowd followed. The lepers stared at each other.
“Welp. That happened,” said one.
“I don’t get it,” mumbled another.
Joe tightened his grip on his cane. “We should go to the priests. Like He told us.”
The other lepers shrugged. “Guess it can’t hurt. Any more than it already does.”
Limping, the lepers headed out across the fields toward town. They hesitated as they reached the willow tree by the creek, then painfully clambered down the banks.
Joe’s stick caught in the twisted roots of the willow tree. It went flying, and Joe tumbled to the ground. He cried out in pain. Instinctively, he jumped to his feet.
“How’d you just jump up like that?” exclaimed another leper.
“Like what?” Joe glanced down again. This time, he saw feet and legs strong and whole, the skin clear and healthy. “My legs . . . the leprosy is gone!” he said in amazement.
The other men glanced down at their own arms and legs and bodies. They, too, were healed! The lepers danced and laughed until they cried, amazed at what Jesus had done.
“Gotta get to the priest!” cried one.
“Race you,” shouted another.
The lepers splashed across the creek, hurtling toward town. But Joe stopped at the water’s edge as the others ran ahead.
“I’ll get to see my baby Judith again!” he told himself.
But even as he imagined the joy in her eyes, another face flashed into his head. “Jesus!” Joe recalled. “He’s healed me. He’s the One who’s made me whole.”
Turning back, Joe hurried toward the road. He ran fast, catching up to Jesus and the crowd as they reached the village.
“Jesus. Jesus!” he called out.
The crowd parted quickly again as Joe headed straight for Jesus.
“Praise God, I’m well!” shouted Joe as he threw himself down on the dusty road at Jesus’ feet. “Thank You, Jesus. Thank You!”
As Joe lifted his face, the dust mixed with tears of joy.
Jesus smiled, but His eyes searched the road behind. “Weren’t all ten healed? Where are the other nine?”
As Joe shook his head, Jesus turned to the crowd. “Didn’t anyone else return and give praise to God except this outsider?”
Everyone was silent. It was clear Joe was the only one. Jesus smiled down at him.
“Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
Joe leapt to his feet and hurried on his way to see the priest. He had delayed his chance to see his family by a short time. But it was worth it to thank the Man who had given him back his life.
No matter how independent you like to be, no one can go it alone.
Whether it’s your mom washing your laundry, your little sister taking your turn to load the dishwasher when you’re sick, or the server at the restaurant who gave you free ice cream, you’ve got a lot of opportunities to be grateful. Together, list as many people as you can think of who have done something for you in the past few weeks. Now, make a plan to say “thank you” the next time you see those people. You might even write a thank you card! Pray for each other, that God will help you notice and say “thank you” in the moment any time someone does something for you.
Gratitude, Week 4
Give Thanks No Matter What
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Always be grateful.
As the wails of her baby brother filtered down the hall, Leigh turned over in bed to look at the clock and groaned. 2:35 a.m.
“Is he going to cry all night?” she mumbled.
Leigh had spent much of the last ten years begging her parents for a sibling. But babies were supposed to be cuddly and smiley, not howl all night.
On top of that, her room was too bright. “Where’s all the light coming from?” she wondered. Sleepily she staggered to the window. A wild explosion of Christmas lights from next door met her eyes.
“Looks like Ms. Sue forgot to turn off her lights again,” Leigh sighed. She yanked the curtains shut and curled up in bed again, trying to ignore the recurring cries.
At least they’d be going to get the Christmas tree tomorrow. Every year, Leigh’s family cut down their tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Then they came home and decorated while drinking Mom’s amazing candy cane hot chocolate and listening to all their favorite Christmas music. Leigh was hoping for a super tall tree this year—one that would reach all the way to the ceiling. She fell asleep again dreaming of Christmas lights.
The next morning at breakfast, Leigh’s parents looked exhausted and bleary eyed. Baby Tristan, on the other hand, slept peacefully in his swing.
“We’re getting the tree today, right?” she asked.
Mom and Dad exchanged glances. “Maybe just you and Dad can go . . .” Mom suggested, stifling a yawn.
“What?” Leigh exclaimed. “No! This is something we do together. I mean, it’s Tristan’s first Christmas. It’s got to be good!”
“Okay, sweetie,” Mom agreed. “We’ll make this a family adventure.”
Leigh hopped up right away to grab her coat, but it took an entire hour to get out the door and into the car with all the bottles, diapers, and baby gear. Tristan slept through everything, and Dad grinned back at Leigh. “You always slept in the car seat just like that. No matter where we took you.”
But as soon as the car engine started, Tristan woke up and began to cry.
Leigh groaned and muttered a line from one of her favorite movies: “Someone’s an angry elf.”
Mom sighed. “Can you just pop the paci in his mouth, Leigh?” she asked. But Tristan just spit out the pacifier and kept howling. For the next ten minutes.
“What is wrong with him?” Leigh asked.
“I guess he’s not a sleep-in-the-car kind of baby,” Dad began—just as they heard a loud bang and the car swerved.
“What was that?” exclaimed mom.
Dad quickly pulled off the road into an empty parking lot. “Must have driven over a nail,” he said. “I’m going to have to change the tire.”
Tristan cried the entire time Dad was changing the tire. Mom jounced him on her lap. At last, Leigh slithered up to the front and turned on the radio.
A vocalist crooned, “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes…”
Leigh shut off the radio. “Ha! Someone tell that to Tristan.”
“I know this is tough, Leigh,” said Mom. “It’s a big adjustment for all of us.”
Dad finally hopped back in, streaked with grease. “Going to be a bumpy sleigh ride on the spare tire,” he warned. “All set?”
But the moment the engine started, Tristan’s wails increased.
Mom took a deep breath. “Actually . . . I think we better go back home. It’s Tristan’s naptime and he’s clearly not going to sleep in the car.”
Leigh gaped. “Seriously?!”
“Look, there’s the Home Stop Store,” Dad pointed out. “They’ve got precut trees.”
“But we always cut our own,” Leigh protested.
“Maybe you and Dad could go tomorrow,” Mom began.
“Nevermind,” Leigh snapped. “Whatever. Let’s just get one now.”
None of the precut trees were as tall as Leigh had hoped, but they picked one anyway. At home Mom and Tristan both disappeared for naps, leaving Leigh and Dad to decorate.
“What about the candy cane hot chocolate?” asked Leigh. “We can’t decorate without hot chocolate!”
Dad opened the cupboard, searching. “I think we have some of those cocoa packets . . .”
“But Mom always makes it from scratch with milk and real chocolate and stuff,” Leigh grumbled. Too frustrated even to hang decorations, she grabbed her coat and stalked outside, slamming the door behind her.
In the early dusk, Ms. Sue’s explosion of Christmas lights shone brightly next door. Every Christmas, Ms. Sue added new decorations and then used light strands to write something all the way across the front of her house. Leigh couldn’t quite see from her yard what Ms. Sue had written this year.
A voice interrupted her thoughts. “Like it?”
Leigh turned to find Ms. Sue standing next to her, wearing a light up elf hat over her pink-dyed pixie-cut hair.
“It’s . . . bright,” Leigh commented.
“I added the Candy Cane Forest and Swirly Twirly Gumdrops this year!” Ms. Sue pointed out.
Leigh brightened as she studied the decorations. “Like from Elf? I love that movie.”
Ms. Sue grinned and nodded. “’I just like to smile; smiling’s my favorite!’” she quoted.
Leigh managed to smile back. “What’s it say on your house this year? I can’t quite read it from here.” She squinted, reading: “Always . . . something . . .”
“Always be grateful,” Ms. Sue finished.
“Oh.” Leigh didn’t see a lot of reason for gratitude at the moment.
“Kinda the short form of a Bible verse I really like,” explained Ms. Sue. “‘Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.’”
“Sounds more like Thanksgiving than Christmas,” Leigh noted.
“Myself, I think they fit right together like chocolate and peppermint!” said Ms. Sue. Then after a moment she asked, “How’s the new baby?”
Leigh sighed. “Okay, I guess. Not what I expected.”
“Never met a baby who was!” agreed Ms. Sue. “Now, I gotta go put Santa’s sleigh on the roof. But you come by for hot cocoa anytime you want, deal?”
Leigh nodded. “Deal.”
Leigh watched Ms. Sue go. Then she glanced back at her own house, where she could see Dad decorating the tree all by himself. It actually was a pretty good tree. And Baby Tristan was super cute, even when he was crying. Even though Christmas was turning out so differently this year, God’s big gift hadn’t changed. Leigh took a deep breath and headed back inside.
“Hey, kiddo,” Dad said. “Cold out there?”
“Feels like Christmas,” said Leigh. “Can I hang up the Rudolph characters?”
Just then, more baby howls echoed through the house. Leigh and Dad both glanced toward the upstairs.
“Dad? I bet Baby Jesus did cry,” Leigh declared.
Dad nodded, giving Leigh a half smile. “Won’t argue with you there.”
Together, Leigh and her dad finished decorating the tree. It was easy to focus on the disappointing things—but this Christmas, Leigh was determined to look for ways to be grateful, instead.
The Christmas season can be a lot of fun . . . but it can be stressful too—especially if things don’t go exactly the way you want them to.
Is there something difficult for your family this year at Christmas? Share with each other anything hard or frustrating that you’re facing right now, whether it’s small or big. No matter what you’re going through, God can help you be grateful in the middle of it as you focus on what He’s done for you and how He will work in your tough situation. Pray for each other, that you will have an attitude of gratitude to God and to others throughout the Christmas season, even when things get tough or stressful.