Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Generating Gratitude

Thanksgiving is this month… unless you live in Canada (like I do now). If you do, Thanksgiving was last month.

Traditionally, Fall- or harvest-time in western cultures - includes a specified time of celebration, family and giving thanks. But that doesn't mean western cultures have the corner on this sort of celebration.

Have you already guessed? Our monthly theme for November is thankfulness... and we hope to spark a conversation about how Thanksgiving (or Action de GrĂ¢ce as we say in French) is celebrated around the world. 

To start things off, I'd like to revisit something I wrote a few years back... while I was still living in West Africa... all about gratitude!

...I feel a bit stupid starting out like this – 

I REALLY can’t stand listening to a generator.

I know. You’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?”

First, I’ve listened to them an awful lot lately.

Additionally, generators are noisy, they stink, there’s usually a big puff of black smoke as they start up, I’m quite sure they can’t be good for the environment and they consume a whole lot of diesel fuel. That gets expensive. 

And while that list of five might actually be considered valid reasons for my churlishness, they aren’t the real ones behind my stronger than ambivalent dislike.

My antipathy towards those monstrosities which authorize electricity for some while everyone else has plunged into darkness is nothing short of sinful.

I detest them because I don’t have one… everyone else around me does… which repeatedly jogs my memory of something I’d rather ignore.

When the power goes out
  • I’m stuck sitting in the dark trying to mark papers until I get frustrated and my head aches (candlelight is hard on these getting-older eyes of mine).
  • I’m finishing looking up the Zarma words with unfamiliar symbols for Saturday’s Bible study.
  • I’m washing dishes hoping they’ll look as clean in the daylight as they do under that dreamy, flickery glow. 
  • I’m praying that the little ones don’t wake up because the difficulty of rejoining Mr. Sandman increases exponentially when the air seems deader than the inside of a tomb. 
  • Last, but not least, I sweat literal buckets at 11:00 at night when working near even the tiniest flame.
I used to begrudge those who experienced nothing more than a blip when the current sagged or disappeared altogether. I think I’ve gotten past that. I don’t wish they didn’t have one because I don’t, and I certainly understand why they use their generators. If I had one, I’d be using it, too.

EACH time, however, I hear a generator roar into life I’m vehemently reminded of something I’d rather ignore….

I balk at the instruction to give thanks in all circumstances. 

I'm reminded of that reality in slow motion replay each time I hear those machines jolt into life and I begin to growl and complain. 

My father-in-law served for some years in Haiti and tells of visiting a local electric company. Night had fallen, the plant was elevated, located on a small mountain outside of town, and from the plant, he could see the entire lighted city. An employee began pointing out different neighborhoods and then with a sly grin told my father-in-law to watch.


He switched a button, an entire neighborhood went dark... and the employee laughed. Out loud. 

It is easy to joke that something similar takes place each time our power goes out. But reality is that I can live and still function adequately, even with this particular frustration that is so common to the expat experience of life in an impoverished, still-developing locality.

I can also willingly choose to refuse to give thanks.

We’ve had a smattering of power outages in recent days and weeks. More than normal. Each time I hear the neighboring generators roar into life, a still small voice whispers: “I don’t want to thank the Lord that the local powers that be have once again denied me any power.” That voice doesn’t stop there, however. It continues, whispering: 
“It isn’t the electric company denying you power. You’ve done it to yourself, by not choosing gratitude.”
Not only am I stumbling and sweating it out without electricity, I’m also self-rendered powerless, spiritually, choosing to be a victim of circumstances when God offers me practice at building a practice of joy and contentment, regardless.

Just like that dude at the electric plant in Haiti, by refusing gratitude, I’m flipping a switch, laughing… and plunging myself (and sometimes those around me) into darkness.

Choosing gratitude, however?

Choosing gratitude siphons out any clout out of darkness. It leaves opportunity for vibrating voltage, exhilarating energy, and contagious current.

An electrical stream of thankfulness pulsating powerfully can provide perspective and light for me and maybe for those nearby as well.

William Faulkner noted:
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”
Faulkner was absolutely right…


What, in your life, reminds you of those times you reject a thankful spirit?

How can you celebrate Thanksgiving throughout the year - intentionally producing, discharging and using up gratitude?

This article, original form, first posted here.


  1. I really needed to read this! We just came out of months of daily, LONG rations and are expecting rationing to return again now that elections are over. We have a generator...sitting in our store room and not currently working in spite of trying to get it fixed. It makes it even harder knowing we are so close to a power source, but cannot take advantage of it. Its so easy to allow frustration to reign in my heart rather than thankfulness. An expat neighbor of mine is trying to overcome her lack of thankfulness by not only shouting, "Praise the Lord!" when the power returns, but also shouting "Praise the Lord!" when it goes off. Again, a good reminder to choose to be thankful in all things. Thank you!

    1. I'm thankful that God used these words from several years back (power cuts in my present location would still have unpleasant repercussions... just very different looking ones) to encourage you. I'm studying through James (I always feel like I'm getting sucker punched when I study that particular book of the Bible) - and again talks about perseverance and counting it all joy!

  2. I am a friend of Tammy's and have been practicing thankfulness in those same power cuts! And I laughed at your thoughts on generators (although I have found gratitude when hearing one fire up, that this means the problem is not with our power and thus it will come back on without us needing to fix anything!) And we too were going through the book of James as a family and I blogged on "considering it pure joy"! http://themongers.blogspot.com/2015/09/consider-it-pure-joy-even-half-haircut.html Thank you!

    1. Thanks for sharing the link! Will have to take a look at it in the morning! :-)