I ask them to tell me something good, something grateful, something excellent, right there in the last light of day, and she grins at me, dipping her chin into the shadows.
Coming home, Zoe says. It’s the thanks-giving she offers every day. She tucks her hair behind her ears as she says it, still grinning. It’s not a lie, but it is an easy answer, and one that doesn’t require a lot of thought or threaten to plunge to too great a depth. Coming home is always a gift, and one we could so easily take for granted, even with the words still sitting on our tongues.
Sometimes I push for more, sometimes I don’t. Tonight, I let it rest, because I can see that part of her that wants to hide slowly ducking away. She doesn’t really yet understand why at random times she feels so vulnerable.
I move on, shifting my gaze to Riley.
“Well, what I am thankful for is, I’m thankful for getting to be with my friends today at school, and I’m thankful for Dad working to take care of us, and I’m thankful for Adam and how he tries to…” Riley lifts her hand in the air and flips it, as though she’s emptying a box that sits flat on her palm, just dumping the contents out into the night air. Gratefulness is one of her gifts, and she has no barometer for self-consciousness or sensor. Her blessings float over our arms and settle on our empty plates, a whole bursting list of thankful, until finally Zoe quietly says, “Okay. I think that’s good,” lightly pressing her elegant fingers against her sister’s shoulder. “You don’t have to say any more.”
“But you can, if you’d like to,” I say slowly, evenly, letting the syllables develop, smiling first at one daughter and then the other. I’d love for gratitude to become a whole language for me, as it is for Riley.
“No, I’m good,” Riley says happily, turning toward Adam. Adam almost always mentions something immediate, like the dinner he just finished, or the anticipation of going upstairs and ending this whole togetherness project. His approach tends to be similar to Zoe’s—not untrue, just easy, quick, within reach.
But tonight, when we turn our eyes toward Adam he sits up, sliding one long, bent leg off of the other. He’s been thinking about this. He smiles and slowly says just three words, the name of the place he’s going on his first overnight field trip with our co-op. This is neither an afterthought nor just some easy reach to satisfy Mama, but a gift carefully unwrapped and weighed, something he’s waited to say. I know he carefully gathered, ordered, and held the words one by one, and so his gift becomes a gift to me. I reach for his hand across the table and squeeze.
“I know. I know you’re excited about your field trip.”
If only all of our thank-full-ness, all our thanks-giving, happened so carefully, so purposefully, so genuinely. Because if I’m honest I often grab for the near and easy things, the always things. Or I run back hastily, five shades of crazy stirring up the dust behind me to say, “I almost forgot to say thank you for the…” And it’s not that God feels dismay over my fumbling with gratefulness, nor begrudges me the things He knows are always true. I’m his daughter. He loves me lavishly, and with generous grace. I imagine it thrills Him to know those things still and every day matter to me, just as it thrills me to know that Zoe is always, always thankful to come home and Adam is always thankful for his dinner. But the grateful words I purposefully gather, the ones I carefully unwrap and thoughtfully hold on my tongue, just waiting to mention what He’s given me—I think maybe those are the gifts that turn back to praise, the ones that become gifts offered back to Him.