July 7, 2017

Counted Blessings

“You are invited to be a guest speaker during our ‘Share Week.’ Selected community and church volunteers will share stories about their work, and our students have a special appreciation program to share with you.” The invitation came from a colleague who teaches second grade.

Three weeks later, sipping lemonade inside a small classroom, I have concluded that this event belongs on my list of top 10 “favorites.” After the guest speakers, our next event: “Second Grade Afternoon Presentations,” where all 18 students share a brief “appreciation monologue.”

All the students have chosen to speak about things for which they are grateful.

All the students have chosen to speak about things for which they are grateful. A boy shares gratitude for receiving good news about the health of his hamster, for bike rides with his older sister, and for having a friend share a Crayola color to finish a drawing (a color he didn’t own). Another student is grateful for her goldfish, the way her mother sings to her on the drive to school, and the new blue building blocks they can all share in class. The last student, a young girl wearing pink ribbons in her hair, reads a poem she has written for the occasion: “Counted Blessings.” She is grateful for the blessings of sunshine and flowers in the backyard, for skipping and smiles, and for the quilt her grandmother made for her.

At the end, students thank everyone by handing out cupcakes covered in red cellophane paper. On the drive home, with the cupcakes safely strapped under the seat belt in the passenger seat of my car, I draft a list of things for which I am grateful: a home, good friends, a job, good health . . . Yet my list does not sound as honest and innocent as theirs. What am I missing?

At home I stare at the bright-red cellophane paper covering the cupcakes. I cannot remember the last time I ate a cupcake “just because”! I smile. Could it be this obvious? As someone way past second grade, I wonder, what could my day of gratitude sound like as a child of God? Have I begun to categorize blessings as “resolved problems” or “answered prayers”? Where do I begin to share the daily gifts of my heavenly Father, to truly engage in counted blessings?

That night, awakened by the sound of rain and thunder, I lie in bed and consider a different form of gratitude, a different shape of counted blessings: regular calls from family reminding me of their daily love and prayers; Mondays at noon when my colleague and I walk to the pond in the middle of campus and feed the fish; the sound of rain that reminds me of second chances; the inspiration the Holy Spirit places in the hearts of my friends who send random e-mails to say hello; the sunrise I get to see every morning on my way to work.

I simply think about heaven’s unexpected brush-strokes that bring beautiful splashes of color into my day; details that make me smile, walk a little slower to appreciate the moment, remind me that God’s presence and grace is with me. Maybe it’s not about counting my blessings, but recognizing there will always be blessings to count.

Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.