Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giving thanks.

I've been mulling over this post for some time now. It's November, which means everyone is writing posts about what they're thankful for and how thankful they are for it. Which is nice, wonderful and perfect for this time of year, except I can't bring myself to write that kind of post.

As you may have guessed, it's just not my style.

Instead of talking about what I'm thankful for, I'd rather write about why I'm thankful.

I have it so good. I really do. I've been blessed with so much. But I often become bogged down by all the "haves" of the world. The people who seem to have it all. I think, "Man, I wish I had THAT" repeatedly throughout the day. And by "THAT," I mean silly, inconsequential things that might make my life a little better, a little more convenient and a little more fun to look at from the outside. But maybe not.

Truthfully? I'm not starving, I'm not dying of an incurable disease. We're clothed, clean and full. We DO have it all.

And even if I did somehow get all the millions of things I want, would I be satisfied? Can you ever be satisfied by earthly possessions? Undoubtedly, no. They wear out, they break, they become consumed, they go out of style.

I don't mean to say it's wrong or evil to have nice possessions beyond your needs. I don't live in a four-walled shack, for one thing. But I do think it's wrong not to be grateful for every little thing that makes its way into our lives.

A senior couple in my church congregation, the Leavitts, recently spent some time in West Africa doing missionary work for our church. During part of their mission, they lived in the country of Benin, which borders Togo and Nigeria. Sister Leavitt recently told our congregation a story from her time in Benin that had me weeping with gratitude and feeling rather ashamed of how much I have.

While in Benin, she and Brother Leavitt visited an orphanage called Village of Hope, which provides a home for abandoned children. Most of the children have AIDS and as such are not wanted by extended family members. One of the orphanage caretakers met with the Leavitts and told them he liked to give the children three meals a day. However, because Benin is no longer at war, they are not eligible to receive aid from international food providers. Now, the children at Village of Hope only get one meal each day: about a fourth cup of rice topped with some red sauce.

Upon hearing this, I imagined my sweet children eating only a small clump of rice each day and I couldn't stop the tears from welling up in my eyes.

The Leavitts, kind souls that they are, contacted their family members here in the states and together, they came up with a large sum of money with which to buy food for Village of Hope. With the money, they purchased enough food for each of the orphans to have three meals a day for about two months, she said. Things like tomato paste, yam flour, oil, and dehydrated fish (which Sister Leavitt said smelled terrible).

When the food came in, Sister Leavitt said it was a jubilant occasion at the orphanage. The children were so excited to see the food. When the truck of dehydrated fish came in, she noticed the children ran to the truck, jumped onto the fish and pressed their noses into it. She asked another woman what the children were doing and the woman said, "They love the smell of the fish. To them, it means food."

Imagine being so grateful to see food, even food that stinks, that you could not help but throw your whole body on top of it and embrace it. That right there is gratitude. The very embodiment of thanksgiving.

Robert Brault said, "There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed. If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude." He's right. At some point, we have to look around, locate the source of our bounty and thank it. Thank Him. That act -- saying "thank you" -- takes humility. It says, "I couldn't get this on my own; I needed your help." It's not always easy. But if we fail to do it, we become selfish, miserable ingrates.

I've realized in my life the more grateful I am for what I have, the more I receive. And when I'm weighed down by all of my impossible desires, I just stay that way. Stuck in my wants and feeling unhappy for no good reason with a big ol' stomach ache to boot. What a sad way to feel.

Since listening to the Leavitt's sermon, I've made a resolve to appreciate what I already have and not get caught up in what I want. To be happy living simply and frugally. To wholeheartedly embrace what I'm given as those children embraced the stinky fish. And to always thank the source of my blessings, whether it be a family member, a kind friend, a stranger or God.

Always God.

For more Thanksgiving posts, stories and ideas, go here:

Latter-day Linkup- This Mormon Life


  1. Beautiful post. It really makes me realize that I truly have many things for which I am grateful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Great post, Jenna! Wow, this made me cry :)

  3. I got chills... I feel like I'm always grateful for things, but I don't always express it. Thanks for reminding me that if it's unexpressed, it might as well not be there at all.

  4. Wonderful post!! You are so right. Sometimes I feel like everything is so much a struggle when I really have so much more than so many others.

    BTW, I love your new sidebar pic. You are so beautiful, both inside and out.

  5. I loved this Jenna. Such a beautiful story. Is there a site to give donations to this orphanage? I would be interested.

  6. this is a beautiful reminder; thank you. i also loved the leavitt's talks - so humbling.

  7. Oh goodness. I got teary eyed as well. Those poor children! We really do have it all. Thanks for the post.

  8. Thank you for re-sharing this. I probably never would have seen it otherwise and I loved it. At our recent regional conference Elder Gibbons spoke about simplifying our lives. We get so focused sometimes on the little things we don't have, that we fail to show true gratitude for the things that we do.

    The visualization of those children prostrating themselves, embracing that fish on the ground, is a fitting reminder of how we should be showing our thanks to our Heavenly Father.

  9. Perfect reminder for all of us. Thank you for sharing this story, Jenna.

  10. Wonderfully said. It really is true that gratitude is a choice. Practicing it can make such a difference. We forget so very easily how much we have to be grateful for!

  11. Thank you for sharing that sweet story! Lovely post!


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