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An Attitude of Gratitude: Raising Thankful Kids

July 31, 2017

by Judy Palpant

"Gratitude takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive,
is constantly awaking to new wonder, and to praise of the goodness of God."
-Thomas Merton

We deserve better than this, I thought. Sam left a university medical center in America for this hospital? No other doctors to consult. Nothing but a monocular microscope in the lab.

I stared at my six-foot-two husband prone on the floor crying. Our small children crawled over him like puppies.

"We can't both fall apart," I groaned, wishing for a help-line. I need my pioneering grandmothers. How do I manage without a refrigerator? No hot water. No washing machine. No reliable plumbing. Only three hours of generator-driven electricity at night.

The year was 1980. We had boarded a jet tilted toward the equator. Traveling halfway around the world to Kenya, we arrived only to discover our assignment had changed from serving in the well established, historic hospital at Kaimosi, to the more primitive Friends Lugulu Hospital, a facility recently upgraded from health center.

Surrounded by people of another color and tongue, our family was an anomaly-the only white family for miles around. We'd ventured out on a limb for God. We felt like He'd cut it off, letting us free fall through the air with three small children in tow.

Despite our apprehensions, we kept moving. Diaper to diaper. Meal to meal. Patient to patient.

Our children slept peacefully and played eagerly. Kids on the compound loved climbing the small guava tree next to our porch. Five-year-old Ben joined them. Up in its branches, they picked guavas, calling out phrases in the local language. Ben echoed them.

"Your son is using swear words just like his friends," a neighbor informed me. I could see the headlines: "New missionary kid swears in local language."

Bitterness knocked at my door. Convicted, I recalled a verse: "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God" (Psalm 50:23, NIV 1984). Yes. I can choose to thank God despite disappointments. I'll bake a cake.

Searching through the well-worn Jungle Cook Book from a retired missionary, I read a quote from George Washington: "Actions, not words, are the true characteristic mark of the attachment of friends."

"What actions will make friends in Lugulu?" I wondered, stirring an egg into the batter.

That evening I presented my offering to the family-a plain cake.

Setting it on the table, I suggested we each fill in our own reason for being thankful as we sang O Thank You, Lord.

"My first trip to the market," I said.
"Seeing the Milky Way and Southern Cross," added Sam.
Five-month-old Nathan smiled and cooed.
"Blue sky!" chimed Andrea.
"My bed!" exclaimed Ben.

I ached. A mattress on the floor seemed a poor substitute for the sturdy bunk bed left behind-built by his dad.

One week later a boy turned up on our doorstep. In broken English, he introduced himself as Juma and handed a small parcel to Ben. Removing the brown paper revealed four blackened sweet potatoes, freshly dug from hot coals. Juma peeled off the skins and ate the white potato meat with his fingers. He motioned for us to join him.

What about germs? But we gave ourselves to the gift, savoring the warm, flavorful sweet potatoes-without salt, butter or sugar-a fitting celebration for our one-week anniversary in Lugulu. Off Juma ran. We never saw him again.

His generosity jolted me from my cramped survival mode. Was he an angel? I lifted my eyes, so riveted on us, to see individual smiles and outstretched hands. Below our plateau, a valley dotted with sugar cane fields stretched to the horizon. A luminous sunset silhouetted the acacia tree at the hospital gate.

My heart thawed. Expanded. Gratitude sprouted. "We're not called to survive, but to give," I once read. We determined, though babes in culture and language, to discover ways to give just as Juma freely gave to us.

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