Sometimes, when at a loss about what to write, I resort to list making. Indeed, I am one of the world’s great list makers. 

“What are you thankful for, Randy?” If my mind goes initially blank, I might just start with something simple and silly, like the ABCs. I am thankful for ... apples, bananas, cottage cheese; and dogs, elephants, frogs, and grizzly bears, as long as they keep their distance. Kids love this approach, although it gets a bit rough towards the end of the alphabet. How meaningful is it to give thanks over and over for xylophones and zebras, or x-rays and zip codes? 

It is ever more evocative and, over time, transformative, to give thanks after reflecting on the experiences of just one day, just 24 hours. We tend to be so doggone abstract, giving thanks in generalities, but it is a more probing and edifying exercise to give thanks with concreteness, with details, in living color. 

In 1996 I began the habit of listing specific things in response to the phrase, “I am thankful for ...” To be painfully honest, in the busyness and hurry of my life, I have let this fall aside and I need and want to begin again. By the way, you need not be a writer to do this – just a blank page and a pen or pencil and about 15 minutes with the TV off. 

Reflect for a moment on the experiences of the day – the people, your interactions with them, the squirrel staring a you in the back yard as you pulled into the drive, the woman who greeted you at the convenience store, or whatever you can remember from the day. And then, start filling in the blank. “I am thankful for ...” Don Postema, author of “Space for God”, says, “Be sure to write specific things that have happened for which you feel thankful. And stick with today! If necessary, think back to yesterday, but no further. No generalities from the distant past, please!” Spend about 10 minutes writing, then read your list, and then say thank you. 

The last time I did this, my list evolved from squirrels and birds and sunshine into memories of songs, choirs, music, and people. Before I knew it, I was transported back to the 70s and “Prof” Van Wyk back in my home church. Dr. Lawrence “Prof” Van Wyk (1915-1992) was my church choir director and the conductor of the A Cappella Choir for many years at Northwestern College in Orange City. It isn’t an overstatement to say he infected me with his passion for choral music. As I gave thanks again for his life, I felt even more grateful for all the other musicians in my life (past and current), for bell choirs and organs, for classical and jazz and the blues, for composers and poets and arrangers. 

And, now, do you see how this can be transformative? Gratitude, I believe, is the heart of a compassionate, contemplative, joyful life. Saying thank you creates a spiral of gratitude that spins beautifully upward ... I softly whispered, “thank you” to the God of music, joy, and grace. And then I began singing a chorus from a John Rutter anthem:

Praise to thee, O Lord, for all creation;

give us thankful hearts that we may see

all the gifts we share, and every blessing,

all things come of thee.

Rev. Randy Lubbers, a lover of great music, poetry, and fresh-brewed coffee, is pastor and teacher at First United Presbyterian Church in Winterset.