Gobble! Gobble! Gobble! Gobbling Up Gratitude Yearly!

As a high school teacher, I used to invite my students to do an extra credit assignment for Thanksgiving each year – but it was due on the Monday before Thanksgiving!!!   Since this extra credit assignment would elevate an ‘F’ quiz to a ‘B’ or makeup a skipped assignment, almost 95% of the class completed it!  What was the assignment?

Write a five paragraph Thanksgiving Reflection sharing: one paragraph explaining a gift you received in the last calendar year, one explaining an event you attended in the last calendar year, one explaining a new relationship (with a person or group) started in the last calendar year and one sharing a problem (it doesn’t have to be solved yet) that you encountered in the past calendar year.

In each paragraph, state what the event was and why you are grateful for encountering it this year.  End with a paragraph that summarizes, using an image, what this year has been like for you and briefly explain how it reflects your last year of life.

On the Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we would spend the class sharing and talking about what we were grateful for. Each class always went the same way: after one student opened up the floodgates, the story sharing would continue until the bell rang…   Each year after Thanksgiving, students would share how doing this reflection and sharing it in class helped to transform their holiday.

Many students often discussed how their reflection on the past year allowed them to actually see their own growth (or their family’s) in the past year – something few teens get the chance to share and talk about openly. Some talked about how it helped them to see how others have helped and loved them throughout the year.

Just hearing others share the why’s they are grateful for the specific gifts they have received or about the new relationships started seemed to magnify our common understanding and appreciation of gratitude as we approached the holiday.  Surprisingly, a few students even remembered and mentioned it in their end of the year evaluations – seven months later!!!

Now as a chaplain, I continue to do as I used to do back then as a teacher: I do this reflection each year, for myself!  In doing so, I to have relearned that I must make and take the time to critically reflect on each holiday’s real meaning – each year – if I want them to remain meaningful as my life changes.  Here are my brief Thanksgiving Reflections for this year…

Gift:   The new Camry Hybrid that I purchased last November… After driving a 2002 Lexus for years, it was very nice to FINALLY move into this century automotively, with things like Bluetooth, a rear view camera, great gas mileage, etc.  I am grateful because this purchase reminded me of the blessings that new technology can bring to everyday activities like driving. The purchase has highlighted the importance of staying technically up to date – if just because of the safety considerations – as I age.

Event:  The six weeks spent caring for my wife as she recovered from a hip replacement surgery this summer.  It was an extremely important event for both of us and we are grateful to God for making it possible for me to attend and care for her. This period gave us insights into and a foretaste of the care we may have to provide for one another as we age.  This time has allowed me to ponder and to prepare for it more realistically now than ever before.

Problem: It surfaced this spring as I had to decide whether I was going to continue and complete the Chaplain Residency program in August – with an extra and unnecessary credit! Or, whether I was going to leave it June after securing my final credit for board eligibility and begin searching to find a job! Almost all, from my wife and colleagues to friends, suggested that I should stay and complete the program for various reasons, but God told me in prayer to leave it and walk by faith! So that is what I did…

…And what did God do?  God showed out and once again proved to me that standing on faith is the only way to go!!!   By the time my resident peers graduated out of the residency program in August, I had already been working for almost a month in the field as a chaplain…

New Relationship/Community: The St. James/Franciscan Health Community that I am serving as a chaplain. Since starting in August, it has been simply a joy to walk with and to serve both my peers and patients in this Catholic healthcare community.  I am soooo graced and also grateful to – once again – be working closely with others who are on firein loving the Lord and in serving His people!

Image: I envision myself as an opened book lying flat on a table – the Book of My Life – with roughly two thirds of the pages turned or read and lying to the left of the book’s spine… The right page of the book is beginning a new chapter in my life that includes aging, empty nesting and how God is now calling me to serve through chaplaincy and writing…

Each year I do this reflection, it always summarizes the year’s memories for me and slathers them with a heavy dose of gratitude…

By God’s grace, I am able to glimpse – a bit clearer in retrospect – just how God’s hand providentially guided me through yet another year. This is by far – one of the greatest blessings of this reflection, especially as we end the liturgical year.

I invite you to review your past year one last time– through the lens of gratitude focusing on specific gifts, events, new/restored relationships and problems…

In it, may you come to see more clearly how God’s Spirit continues to walk with you and has guided you,  protected and/or restored and healed you this past year…

May your holiday celebration flow from and rest in a true Thanksgiving, one nurtured by gratitude and grounded in the graces that undergirds your memories…

Author: P. J. West, Jr.

Paul J. West Jr. is a cradle Catholic and native Chicagoan who has ministered in Catholic Schools, parishes and hospitals for over two decades. His current ministries are focused on both hospital chaplaincy and writing. Prior to this, he ministered as an educator for almost twenty five years teaching religion, scripture, philosophy and ethics at four Chicago area high schools and adults at the Chicago Catholic Scripture School. His parish ministry has included preaching, teaching, writing and serving as a Eucharistic minister. Mr. West, who is native south sider, has been married for almost 30 years to Dr. Joy West. They have raised four beautiful daughters who are all hardcore Bears and White Sox fans!!!!

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