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Gratitude, Week 1

Give Thanks No Matter What

1 Thessalonians 5:18

You always have something to be grateful for.

Ilsa sighed as she trailed along behind her mom in the grocery store. “Can I just go wait in the car?” she begged.

Mom handed Isla a tiny loaf of bread to put in the cart. “You need to learn for yourself what you can eat,” she said.

“Nothing,” Ilsa pouted. “I can’t eat anything!”

Earlier that day, Ilsa had gotten food sensitivity results back from the allergist.

“No gluten,” she recalled. “No dairy.”

“No artificial colors or flavors,” Mom added.

“I don’t even know what gluten is!” Ilsa grumbed.

“It’s in bread and pasta and crackers,” Mom explained. “And a lot of other things.”

Ilsa grabbed the loaf of bread in the cart. “Then what’s this?” she demanded.

“Gluten-free bread,” said Mom.

Ilsa wrinkled her nose. “It looks like cardboard.”

As they reached the dairy case, Ilsa spotted the new holiday display. “Yes!” she exclaimed. “They’ve got eggnog!”

She reached for a carton, but Mom shook her head. “Eggnog has dairy in it, hon,” she reminded. “You can’t have milk. Let’s try this instead.”

Mom picked up a small carton and handed it to Ilsa. “Soy nog?!” Ilsa read. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

By the time they returned home to unload groceries, Ilsa was miserable. “What about Sunday dinner?” she wondered. “What about Aunt Ellen’s stuffing and Grandma’s rolls and pie and all the good stuff?”

“We’ll find options for you to eat,” Mom said. “I promise.”

Ilsa reached for her plastic pumpkin full of candy on the counter. She grabbed a mini candy bar and then stopped—a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“I can’t eat any of this now, can I?” she asked. Mom nodded. “I’m sorry, hon.”

When Ilsa opened her lunch at school the next day, she tried not to groan. Mom had packed a sunbutter sandwich with gluten-free bread, a bunch of grapes, a few carrots and some weird-looking oatmeal cookies.

“Where’s my string cheese?” she wondered, and then remembered: she couldn’t eat cheese anymore.

Ilsa couldn’t bring herself to finish lunch. Her stomach still felt empty as she settled into her seat for social studies, where their teacher, Mr. Mendel, dimmed the lights for a slideshow.

“One of the best ways to learn about other cultures is through something we all do every day,” he said. “Any ideas what that might be?”

Kendall in the next row waved her hand. “Like, what clothes we put on?” she suggested. “Actually, I’m talking about something we do at least three times a day,” said Mr. Mendel. Ilsa raised her hand. “Eat. We all eat,” she said.

Mr. Mendel smiled. “Bingo. A famous photographer took photos of families all across the world— along with the food that they eat in one week. I want you to pay attention to the details. This first family lives in Great Britain.”

The first photograph showed a family from the United Kingdom. Their overflowing table of food included cookies and pizza.

“Mmmm . . . pizza,” Ilsa murmured to herself.

Mr. Mendel clicked again. “Here’s a family in southern Italy.”

The next image showed a family with three small children. The loaves of bread on their counter looked so fresh Ilsa could almost smell the scent of baking bread.

“This is Germany,” said Mr. Mendel, switching to the next slide. The image showed another table top loaded with food. But Ilsa could only focus on the container of ice cream front and center—yet another thing she could no longer eat. Her stomach rumbled.

“Here’s a family in Bhutan,” Mr. Mendel pointed out. “It’s a small country beside India.”

The new photo showed twelve people with a colorful display of vegetables, a large bag of rice, and a small amount of meat. Ilsa frowned.

Kendall blurted, “They just eat rice and veggies?”

“It’s what they have to work with,” said Mr. Mendel, nodding. “This next photograph is from the country of Chad, in central Africa.”

A family of six sat on the ground. In front of them: a tiny bag of grain, a small bag of beans, and a handful of vegetables.

Ilsa shook here head. There was no way that could feed a family for a whole week. “Where’s the rest of their food?” she asked.

“That’s it,” Mr. Mendel confirmed. “For an entire week.”

“That’s just—” Ilsa began, struggling to find the right words.

Mr. Mendel paused. “Ilsa? What are you thinking?”

She swallowed hard. “I guess . . . I knew that some people don’t have the same things to eat that we do. Or as much. It’s just different . . . seeing it.”

The colorful photographs haunted Ilsa for the rest of the afternoon. She was quiet as she took off her backpack in the kitchen at home.

“You want a snack, hon?” Mom asked. “I’ve got some trail mix . . .”

“I’m good,” said Ilsa, pulling her lunch bag out of her backpack. She opened it up.

“How was the gluten-free bread?”

“It was . . . okay, actually,” said Ilsa. “I’m going to finish my sandwich now.”

Ilsa took a bite and chewed. It wasn’t like regular bread. But she could get used to it. “What’s that thing Grandma always says before dinner?” she asked.

“What thing?”

“I don’t know, before the prayer. It’s a verse. Like, ‘Say thank you whatever happens.’”

“Oh, um . . . it’s from Thessalonians, I think,” said Mom, checking her Bible app. “‘Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.’”

Ilsa nodded. “Yeah. That.” She smiled and took a bite of one of the oatmeal cookies. “Hey, these are actually really good. Thanks for making stuff I can eat!”

Ilsa knew it would take some time to adjust to her new eating plan. But she was glad for a reminder that she still had a lot to be thankful for.

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Share about something in your life recently that hasn’t gone the way you hoped or expected.

Whether it’s big or small, you still have things you can be thankful for: Food to eat. Clothes to wear. Friends. A beautiful sunny day. Each breath God gives you. Together, make a list of at least ten things you’re thankful for right now. Pray together, thanking God and asking Him to give you eyes to see all the good things around you, no matter what’s going on in your life.

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Gratitude, Week 2

David Dances

2 Samuel 6:12b-22a

Celebrate what God has done.

After many years of war and uncertainty, David had finally become king of Israel! But something was missing from the royal city of Jerusalem.

“The Ark of the Lord belongs here!” David exclaimed.

The Ark was a wooden chest that in some special way carried God’s presence among the Israelites. It had been captured by the Philistines and then returned. Now it was sitting in the home of a man named Obed-Edom.

“We’ll set up a tent right here for the Ark,” announced David. “Let’s go get it!”

His wife Michal was less than enthusiastic. “The dust on those back roads takes the curl out of my hair,” she grumbled.

David gathered all his best soldiers, and marched to the place where the Ark rested.

At last, David was ready to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. “This is a wonderful day,” he exalted. “An incredible day. An absolutely fantastic day!”

With great care, men lifted the heavy Ark with carrying poles. “Wonderful. Excellent. Let’s go!” said David, as they began to walk. “That’s one step closer to Jerusalem. Two. Three!” Within six steps, David called out, “Wait, stop! We need to thank God for everything He’s done!”

Right then and there, David sacrificed a bull and a calf to honor God. “Okay, now we can move on,” he told the crowd. As they started off again, David began to dance. “If you’re not carrying the Ark, celebrate. Sing. Shout. Blow the trumpets!” he cried out.

The people shouted and ran alongside the Ark. David danced before the Lord all the way to Jerusalem.

As the laughing, shouting parade arrived, Michal stared down in disbelief from a window. There was her husband, the king, dancing in a simple linen garment among the common people.

“Unbelievable,” she scoffed. “He looks ridiculous! Certainly not like a king!”

Down in the streets, David continued to dance all the way to the beautiful tent he had set up. There, he made more sacrifices to honor God. Then he stood before the people.

“The Ark has returned. God bless you!” he called out. “God is the One who rules over us all. He deserves our thanks for everything He’s done. So let’s keep celebrating! We’ve got fresh bread and date and raisin cakes for everyone!”

Though all of Jerusalem had turned out for the festivities, one person still refused to celebrate. When David returned home, Michal met him, furious.

“You are the king of Israel. You have really brought honor to yourself today, haven’t you?” she fumed. “Dancing around in that thing—”

“This is a linen apron,” David pointed out. “It’s what the priests wear.”

“But they’re common people. You’re a king! You made a fool of yourself in front of all your officials and even the servants,” Michal complained.

“I did so God would be honored,” said David. “He made me ruler over His people. I will celebrate so that God is honored! I will honor myself less if it will honor God more!”

While Michal cared more about appearances than anything else, David kept his gaze fixed on God. He knew nothing was more important than celebrating to thank God for the amazing things He had done.

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Do you see God at work in your life?

If you aren’t sure, brainstorm together what that might look like. God is the Source of everything good that we experience—being able to move and breathe and eat and laugh and think. He gives us our families and our friends. He provides us with creativity to work and play and help others. This week, as a family, choose one meal as a special mini-Thanksgiving celebration. Maybe you have pizza or do a special breakfast with fun- shaped pancakes. Take a few moments and each share a couple ways that you’ve seen God at work in your life and your family.

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Gratitude, Week 3

Jesus Heals Ten Men

Luke 17:11-19

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.

Leprosy is a painful skin disease and 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. They had to keep more than a social distance. If a leper had a wife and kids, he probably hadn’t seen them in years.

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!”

Then one day, news reached the lepers of travelers approaching along the border road. “I hear it’s that Jesus fella!” said one of the lepers.

“The Teacher?” wondered the Samaritan. (We’ll call him Zach.) “They say He makes sick people well.”

“You’re a Samaritan,” scoffed the other lepers. “Why would He care about you?” “What have I got to lose?” asked Zach.

Zach hobbled toward the road, walking stick in hand. The other lepers straggled after him. They could see a crowd now, traveling along the road.

Soon, Zach could see faces. Everyone seemed to group around one Man in the middle—a Man with a strong face and kind eyes.

“Jesus! Master!” called Zach. “Have pity on us!”

To the lepers’ surprise, Jesus stopped, right in the middle of the road.

All the lepers cried out, “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!”

Those in the crowd around Jesus backed away, whispering. But Jesus stood firm as Zach and the other lepers dared to limp closer. Then, He smiled.

“Go,” Jesus told them. “Show yourselves to the priests.”

Zach gasped. The only way a leper could approach a priest was to confirm that he’d been healed.

But as Zach 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. “I don’t get it,” said one.

“We should go to the priests,” urged Zach. “Like He told us.”

Limping, the lepers headed out across the fields toward town. Zach tripped over a rough root, and tumbled to the ground.

Instinctively, easily, he jumped to his feet.

Zach glanced down again. This time, he saw feet and legs strong and whole, the skin clear and healthy.

“Look!” he shouted. “My skin. It’s clean!”

The other men glanced down at their own arms and legs and bodies. They were all whole and well too!

The lepers danced and laughed until they cried, amazed at what Jesus had done. Then they took off racing toward town to show the priest.

But Zach stopped as the others ran ahead. Even as he imagined the joy of seeing his family again, a face flashed into his head.

“Jesus! He’s healed me. He’s the One who’s made me whole.”

Turning back, Zach hurried toward the road. He ran fast, catching up to Jesus and His followers as they reached the village. The crowd parted quickly as Zach headed straight for Jesus.

“Praise God, I’m well!” he cried out.

Zach threw himself down on the dusty road at Jesus’ feet. “Thank You, Jesus. Thank You!” he exclaimed.

As Zach lifted his face, the dust mixed with tears of joy. Jesus smiled, but His eyes searched the road behind.

“Weren’t all ten healed?” asked Jesus. “Where are the other nine?”

As Zach 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 Zach was the only one.

Jesus smiled down at him. “Get up and go,” said Jesus. “Your faith has healed you.”

Zach 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.

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How often do you say “thank you?” All the time? A few times a day? Hardly ever?

The truth is, we can’t make it on our own. There are so many people who help us out each day: our parents, friends, siblings, coaches, teachers, cashiers, librarians, crossing guards . . . the list is long. And each of them deserves our gratitude—even if it’s just a quick smile and simple “thank you.” This week, challenge each other to say “thank you” as often and to as many people as you can. Pray for each other, that God will give you eyes to see how others are helping you—and remind you to say “thank you.”

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Gratitude, Week 4

Workers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-15

Adjust your attitude.

While Jesus taught in many different ways, He often shared the most important truths . . . as stories. He used 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.

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There once was a man who owned a large vineyard called the Grape Escape. One bright autumn day, the man called in his manager to find out how his harvest was doing.

“It’s doin’ grape!” declared the manager.

“Thanks a bunch!” said the owner. “We shall pick the grapes immediately before the beetles nibble them up.”

“That’s some good raisin-in’,” agreed the manager.

The next morning, the vineyard owner rose while it was still dark and hurried down to the center of town. He arrived around 6 a.m. A few people stood around, noshing on grape jelly muffins.

“Are you looking for work?” inquired the owner.

“Indeed! How much do you pay?” asked one of the men.

“One hundred dollars for the day,” said the owner.

“Precisely perfect. Let us proceed,” said the man.

The owner led the men back to his vineyard, and they immediately got to work.

However, the vineyard owner wanted to be sure the beetles didn’t ruin his precious grape harvest. So three hours later, at 9 o’clock, he returned to the town square and found some more people lined up.

“You come pick grapes for me,” he invited. “I’ll pay you well.” So these workers began to pick as well.

The workers were all picking as fast as they could . . . but there were still long rows to harvest. So three hours later, at 12 o’clock noon, the vineyard owner went back to the center of town and gathered more workers. And after that set of workers had been picking three hours, the vineyard owner returned to the town square again, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and called even more grape pickers.

The blazing sun beat down as the vineyard owner added the new workers to his crew. One of the men hired at dawn wiped sweat from his face as he sipped his water.

“Showing up for work in the afternoon?” he sniffed. “What a terrible work ethic!”

The first workers returned to picking grapes, filling basket after basket. But even though it was already 5 o’clock, the vineyard owner returned once more to town. He discovered folks still hanging out, counting cockroaches and looking bored.

“Why have you just been standing here all day?” he wondered.

“No one, like, hired us,” said one of them.

“I’ll hire you. Come work in my vineyard,” said the owner.

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!” he exclaimed.

“A grape job, if I do say so,” agreed the manager.

“Pay the workers!” instructed the owner. “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.

“Here you go—100 dollars,” he said.

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?” they marveled. “That means we should get . . . over a thousand dollars!”

The manager continued handing out pay packets to the workers who started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, noon, and 9 o’clock in the morning. They all received one hundred dollars too.

By the time the workers who started at 6 a.m. reached the front of the line, they were getting worried.

“You’re paying us what’s fair for working all day, right?” asked one.

“Yup,” said the manager. “100 dollars.” “What?” cried the first worker. “Preposterous!”

The early morning workers stalked off to find the vineyard owner. “You paid those hooligans who only worked an hour the same as us!” they complained. “Even though we sweated all day picking your grapes. Just look at this crispy sunburn.”

“Friend,” said the owner, “didn’t you agree to one hundred dollars for the whole day? Take your money and go. I want to give the one[s] I hired last the same pay

I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?”

The early workers glared and skulked away, cash in hand. They had allowed the owner’s generosity to someone else to ruin their day.

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Jesus’ story made it clear: God gives freely to everyone. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, adjust your attitude. Choose to look at what you do have.

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What do you think it means to “adjust your attitude?”

Take a few minutes and share some situations at home or school (or work!) where you could “adjust your attitude.” Brainstorm together ways that you could approach those situations with a different outlook. Pray for each other, that God will help you face everything this week with an attitude of gratitude.

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Gratitude, Week 5

Lord's Supper / Last Supper

1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Exodus 12

Get in the habit of being grateful.

The night before He gave up His life, Jesus ate a special dinner with His closest friends—the Passover meal.

The Israelites had been celebrating Passover for a long, long time. It all began in Egypt, where God’s people were forced to work as slaves for hundreds of years. At last, God sent Moses to face down Pharaoh and demand freedom for the Israelites.

Over and over, Pharaoh promised to let the Israelites go—but then changed his mind. And each time, God sent a plague, a terrible warning, so Pharaoh would release the Israelites.

There were frogs. Flies.

Hail.

Darkness.

And more!

Finally, God sent the tenth and most terrible plague of all:

“The Lord says . . . ‘Every oldest son in Egypt will die,’” Moses warned Pharaoh.

It was a terrible day. But God made a way to save the sons of the Israelites. “Go at once. . . . Each family must kill a Passover lamb,” Moses told the Israelites. “Put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. [The Lord] won’t let the destroying angel enter your homes.”

The Israelites did just as God had told them. That night, Pharaoh finally ordered the Israelites to leave. The people packed up so quickly they didn’t even have time for their bread to rise— so they baked flat bread without yeast. Then God led them out of Egypt to freedom!

“Always remember this day,” God told them. “You and your children after you must celebrate this day as a feast to honor the Lord.”

As God instructed, the Israelites made a habit of celebrating Passover with a meal that included lamb and flat bread with no yeast, like the bread they’d taken on their journey out of Egypt.

Jesus Himself grew up celebrating the Passover every single year! But when He shared the Passover with His friends the night before He died, Jesus did something different. He changed the Passover meal.

The apostle Paul wrote about that evening years later in his letter to the Corinthians:

On the night the Lord Jesus was handed over to his enemies, he took bread. When he had given thanks, he broke it. He said, “This is my body. It is given for you. Every time you eat it, do it in memory of me.”

The bread was a reminder of how, the very next day, Jesus would give Himself up and allow Himself to be killed . . . for us.

Paul continued:

In the same way, after supper he took the cup. He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do it in memory of me.”

The drink was a reminder of how Jesus would allow His own blood to be spilled out so that we can live.

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to try to prove to God that we’re good enough. All we have to do is believe that Jesus came to rescue us, and choose to follow Him!

Jesus took an old habit of gratitude, the Passover, and turned it into a brand-new habit of gratitude—the Lord’s Supper, or Communion.

The Passover meal was a celebration of how God had rescued His people from slavery.

Now, the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of how God has made it possible for everyone to be rescued from sin and death . . . through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

And for the last two thousand years, people have been celebrating what Jesus did for us by eating bread and drinking wine or juice together.

Some churches do it every Sunday or every month. Others might do it a few times a year. They use different kinds of bread or wafers, or wine or juice.

But in every case, the habit is the same. It’s a beautiful chance to remember together the amazing way that God has rescued us—and to thank Him for all He’s given us.

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Do you have any habits? Take a few minutes and share.

Sometimes it’s hard to even identify a habit because you’re so used to it that you hardly think about it. Brushing your teeth is a habit. Maybe you’ve formed other good habits, like doing your homework right when you get home from school, or always reading to your little sister before bed. Forming good habits takes work—research shows that you have to do something every day for about three weeks until it starts becoming an automatic part of your routine. And one of the best habits you can form is gratitude—choosing to express your thanks as a part of your daily life. Maybe it’s prayer before meals. Saying “thank you” to God for specific things in your day before you go to sleep. Choosing to say something you’re thankful for every time you go out or come in your front door. Together, choose a time for your family to practice a habit of gratitude. Then pray for each other, that God will help you follow through daily to form a new habit of gratitude.