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On Plastic Bags, Sugar Cookies, and the Art of Giving Thanks

It’s funny how we change, the older we get. I am only 30 but I am continually surprised how every year seems to bring me exponentially farther from who I was before. Maybe time speeds up the longer you have been alive. Or maybe it slows down.

It’s little things that surprise me, like plastic baggies. I was startled to find myself staring intently at a used plastic bag from my lunch recently, my hand lingering over the trash can. There’s nothing wrong with this bag, I thought to myself, and I am still throwing it away because I know that I have a whole box at home, and there are stores with aisles packed full of plastic bags. I have thrown away countless used baggies before without a second thought, but that very fact seemed to throw me into an even deeper dilemma: I have wasted so much in the course of my whole life: what if all the plastic bags I had wasted were piled up before me?

Perhaps it is silly, having a moral dilemma over whether or not to throw away one insignificant bag, but it seems symbolic of a larger issue–both in our culture and in myself. I am constantly disturbed when, listening to the news, I hear the American people labeled as “consumers.” As someone who cares about words and the significance of naming, I find it troubling that no one seems to find such an identifier troubling. We are not bothered to hear that our primary way of being understood is in terms of our financial and economical actions.

The danger in self-identifying as consumers, I think, is that it makes it very difficult to be thankful. Consumption becomes a given, something expected, a right that we are entitled to, and it is very easy to slip into a thankless state.

My wife and I recently bought a house. After months and months of fruitless searching we were thrilled to finally move into our new home in lovely Concord, NC. As we have continued to unpack our things from boxes and set up the place the way we like it we have often looked at each other across the room and grinned at the sheer joy of the newness of it all–of really owning a home that is ours, that we can make our own. But in the midst of that joy it has been a stressful time as well, and between moving the last random pieces of furniture, wrapping up the end of the school semester, and taking care of our three children, we have had our hands full to overflowing. As I pulled into my driveway today, I realized that already, after 3 short weeks of living in my new home, it had already become mechanical–I pulled up to my house after a long day of work and a head full of worries and cares. I stopped myself, forcing myself to feel once again the newness, the excitement of having a home to come home to, a beautiful family to greet me with cries of excitement when I walk in the door. How on earth do I so quickly forget how blessed I am? How do I constantly get so wrapped up in trivial anxieties (or vanities) that I lose sight of the tremendous blessings that I enjoy on a daily basis?

I am a consumer in more ways than I would like to admit, in more ways than I am aware.

Sometimes with training and disciplining children, it can be months and months before you see any fruit. Tonight I brought home a Christmas tin full of amazing cookies and deserts given by the PTO at school. After supper, my boys eagerly gathered around as we picked out a few choice morsels to sample. When I had given them as much sugar before bedtime as I dared, I closed the tin and told them, “All done! We can have some more tomorrow.” Instead of melting into a fit of screaming and sobbing as they have often done before, both of my boys looked at me with mouths full of sugar-cookie and said emphatically, “Thank you for the cookie, daddy!” I have to suspect that there are few things that please the Father’s heart more than genuinely thankful children.

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