Gratitude and Presence: A Reminder from the Almost Three-Year-Old

June 6, 2017
Heather Melton

You’ve probably noticed that the e-newsletter skipped May – my apologies. April was a really busy month, and the articles in this edition cover the big news and projects that we’ve been working on for UTO. Thanks to the Communications Department, we’ve got a new format that should be easier to read and that lets us share bigger and more photos and even videos. With that said and out of the way, let’s talk about gratitude!

Last night, I was folding laundry and the girls had dragged chairs into the laundry room so they could sit and watch. Carrie began to sing “Happy Birthday” … there was a birthday party at school that day, so it was on her mind. She got to the end of the song and was quiet, and as I looked at her, she said, “You’re welcome, mom.” I smiled and said, “Thank you, Carrie, for offering that wonderful song.” She grinned and proceeded to sing “Jingle Bells.” The moment caught my attention … this isn’t the first time this has happened, when Carrie has prompted me to stop and give thanks. Perhaps all of this gratitude business is wearing off on my kids. It made me realize how easy it is to miss an opportunity to give thanks … how fast time really moves. It also made me think about how many times we offer something to someone and that person misses that we are offering ourselves. Gratitude isn’t just a chance to acknowledge the deed done by someone else; it’s also an opportunity to recognize the humanity of the other person right in front of us.

When I was in my early 20s, I spent part of my summer working at the homeless day shelter that our church, along with the other downtown churches in Boulder, Colorado, sponsored. I learned a lot from that experience, but the moment that stays with me is one conversation I had with a man who had been homeless for decades. Sitting across from one another while searching the job openings, we discussed the challenges of getting a job when you didn’t have an address. I was learning a lot from him, so I wondered if I had said something wrong when he got quiet. He stared into his coffee mug and said, “The hardest part of being homeless is that most people ignore you. They look past you or through you or away from you. You speak to them and they simply act as though you aren’t there. I sometimes begin to fear that I’m not real, or that I’m actually dead, or that I am as terrible as they must think I am to not even acknowledge my humanity.” I don’t remember what I said to him after that, but I have never forgotten what he said. Whenever I am stopped on the street, I always speak, I try to connect.

I share these two stories because in Carrie’s simple act of saying, “You’re welcome, mom,” I realized that there are so many times we fail to recognize the presence of Jesus right in front of us, so many moments when we get busy and forget. I say all of this because it has been a very busy month, and looking back, I’m certain I’ve missed opportunities to give thanks or opportunities to be present to the people around me and not just in their presence. Perhaps the spiritual discipline of gratitude is also about being proactive – being awake and vigilant about responding to the gifts given to us in the everyday moments of our lives. It’s a challenge. We love our phones and always being connected, but what if we tried to be more deeply connected with those right around us – family, friends, and strangers? What gifts would we receive if we paid attention, if we stood vigilant looking for Jesus in our midst? I’m going to try it this month … I hope you’ll join me and let me know how it goes for you.