November | Gratitude | A Lesson by Sarah Hauser
Throughout my entire life, I’ve listened to my dad repeat the refrain, “We have much to be thankful for.” He’d say it at the start of a meal as he prayed over the food. He’d say it when the family was together celebrating a holiday or a birthday, or simply at the end of a long day. For years, those words were just another dad-ism, a phrase heard so often I’d be tempted to dismiss the sentiment and opt for an eye-roll instead.
As I grew up and heard those words spoken on good days, in mundane moments, and even in the midst of sorrow, I began to realize how impactful that regular expression of gratitude really was. Hearing him say, “We have much to be thankful for,” in the midst of his own cancer treatments, and then as my mom passed away ... it wasn’t an attempt to put on a fake smile. Those words were uttered through tears. The loss was real and the pain was raw. Gratitude didn’t replace lament; it often grew out of it. I remember a season of sorrow, yes, but also, surprisingly, joy. True, deep joy as I also learned to say, “I have much to be thankful for.”
Yet over the last few years, I've forgotten the lesson of gratitude that had once seemed so obvious to me. When I started writing this lesson, it quickly became clear how terrible I am at practicing gratitude. Reading articles and watching TED talks about the importance of gratitude was easy. I nodded along in agreement as writers, artists, and researchers discussed the mental and emotional effects of living a grateful life. The stories of lives that changed as people focused on what they have rather than what they lack stirred me. I knew sharing gratitude with others can build and even help heal relationships.
But as I sat down to reflect on what gratitude looks like personally, how it affects me as a mother and influences my creative work, I went blank.
It's not that I couldn’t find things to be thankful for. I could write a list a mile long. But that's just it. I never paused long enough to make gratitude a regular practice beyond reciting an obligatory “thanks.” I couldn't express how gratitude affected me because I’d stopped letting it. Scarcity, fear, and negativity crept in, leaving little room for much else.
Do you ever get stuck in a rut when all you do is compare or make excuses? You see what everyone else is working on - what creative projects they’re doing, what resources they have, how well behaved their kids are, the fact that they seem to do everything - and rather than find inspiration from their lives, you sink into a mindset of scarcity?
I am guilty of this more than I care to admit. It has kept me from creating - whether writing, photographing, cooking, blogging, or whatever else I’ve wanted to do. It has also kept me from playing, laughing, smiling, taking risks, and pouring into relationships. The mindset of scarcity says because I lack x, I have nothing to offer. I’m not really a writer, so no one wants to read my words. I’m struggling with the stage my kids are in right now, so I’m failing as a mother. I’m not really creative, so spending time creating is a waste. I don’t have enough, I’m not good enough, and another day has passed when I didn’t accomplish enough. We make excuses, sometimes out of pain that needs to heal, but often simply out of fear.
We live out of a sense of deficiency because it’s safe.
What we don’t have can’t be taken away.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “We think not being grateful and not feeling joy will make it hurt less. We think if we can beat vulnerability to the punch by imaging loss, we’ll suffer less. We’re wrong. There’s one guarantee: If we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.”
Practicing gratitude may come more easily when our outward circumstances warrant celebration and thanksgiving. Yet it’s just as important—if not even more important—during other times. It doesn’t diminish sorrow or mask true need. In fact, our gratitude practice may even need to begin with lament. Honest cries before God and ourselves may unearth pain we've buried, but it's often in torn up soil that gratitude grows.
I've missed out in life when I haven't stopped to be thankful, or I've focused on what I lack, or I've buried heartache so deeply I've numbed joy in my attempt to numb sorrow. But I’m learning what it means to be grateful. When we live out of gratitude instead of scarcity, we nurture creativity rather than extinguish it. We give rather than hoard. We reach out instead of hide, and we listen without defensiveness. Our fear gives way to courage, and our bitterness turns to joy.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G.K. Chesterton
When I was a kid, my family ate together around our big, oval kitchen table for what seemed like hours. Sure, there were plenty of days when my squirmy six-year-old self wanted to do anything but sit around that table. Yet, it was during that family ritual that we laughed, made jokes, cried, prayed, and talked together. Those meals with family and friends, even the most ordinary, weeknight dinners comprised of leftovers or takeout, remain some of my most precious memories.
And then I think about the times when we had family health issues or when I had my twins. Our refrigerator was chock-full of pulled pork, baked pasta, and chicken casseroles. We’ve gotten to know our neighbors through invitations to enjoy s’mores and beer. We’ve marked both times of celebration and times of grief with food. It’s been a means of sustenance and physical nourishment, but also a way to exercise creativity, express gratitude, and cultivate relationships.
This month, let’s get messy in the kitchen! As you dive into these creative exercises, reflect on our theme of gratitude. Are there recipes that have been handed down to you from parents or grandparents that remind you of a special memory? Is there someone you’d like to bake for to thank them for their kindness? Can you bring friends or family (maybe even your kids) into the kitchen to cook with you? Are there meals that remind you of how thankful you are to simply put food on the table? As you practice gratitude, allow these creative exercises to nourish your body and your soul.
Option 1: Try a new recipe (or two) this month. We’ve provided a few here for you, or you can choose your own. Share cocktails with friends, bake with your children, or bring over a batch of soup to a neighbor who just had a baby. Let go of the pressure to get something on the table for dinner or make a meal your toddlers will actually eat. Pick a recipe you can have fun making, and let yourself enjoy being in the kitchen.
Option 2: Some of my favorite recipes are scribbled on note cards or written in cookbooks splattered with grease and cake batter. Adjustments and variations have been carefully and thoughtfully squeezed into the margins. They’re the recipes passed between families – from generation to generation, from parent to child.
What are a couple recipes you cherish? Ones passed down to you, or ones that you want to pass down to your children? Write down one or two on recipe cards you can keep for yourself, or share with friends or family.
1. Write a letter to someone for whom you’re grateful. Be specific. What was it that they did or said? How did they treat you that was memorable? You could write to someone close to you, like a spouse, child, or parent, or you can choose someone that you may not interact with quite as much, but they have had a positive impact on your life (coworker, mail carrier, barista at the coffee shop you frequent, etc.).
Now to the next, and more important, part of this writing exercise. Many times, we’re grateful for something or someone, but we never have the opportunity – or we simply forget – to tell them. As you write your letter, you reflect on what you’re grateful for, but let’s take it a step further and actually share that gratitude. Deliver your letter of gratitude to the person you wrote about. Better yet, if you are able, read it to them in person (or on the phone if they don’t live nearby).
After you share your letter, take a few moments to reflect. What was the other person’s reaction? How did this exercise make you feel? Did you find it easy, or was it challenging? How did practicing gratitude in this way affect you?
2. Gratitude is closely connected to awe. John Milton said, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” When we take time to be in awe of what is around us - nature, art, people, acts of kindness - gratitude naturally flows out of that awe.
Find a place that evokes a sense of awe. It could be an art museum, a hiking trail, a nearby park, or the cozy armchair in the corner of your room that’s surrounded by pictures of friends and family. Write about what you’re in awe of, and in turn, what you are grateful for. What are you feeling? Why is that spot special to you? What do you see that you are grateful for? Are there “everyday epiphanies” you are encountering?
3. Before you practice gratitude, do you first need to practice lament? A lament is an honest, passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Maybe this lesson on gratitude seems completely impossible, and celebrating Thanksgiving feels cruel. Write out your lament. Whether you write it as a prayer, song, poem, letter or any other form, allow yourself to mourn, cry, and grieve if that’s the season you’re in. “Admitting grief over loss does not mean we are ungrateful for God’s provision. Lamenting actually deepens our gratitude, giving us the capacity to be more receptive to the blessings that do come.” -Esther Fleece (No More Faking Fine) Gratitude will come, but often lament must come first.
1. What are you thankful for this month? Click here to download a printable gratitude list. Stick it on your refrigerator or post it to the wall in your laundry room—put it somewhere visible where you can be reminded to jot down something each day this month. If your kids are old enough to do this too, we made a print just for them! Click here to download the ABC's of gratitude, where you can help them come up with something for each letter of the alphabet.
2. Does the mindset of fear, scarcity, and negativity ever creep into your life? In what areas does it seem to have its greatest effect? In your creative work? In motherhood? Marriage? Parenting? Friendships? Career? How can you practice gratitude in that area of your life? What would change if you lived from a place of thankfulness rather than lack?
Artist Interview with Jocquillin Shaunté
1. You are a wife, mom, artist, and business owner—you wear so many hats in your day-to-day life! What does a typical day look like for you and your family?
Ha! Honestly, there is nothing “typical” about my day - my husband works as an aquatic restorative aid, freelances as an illustrator and is currently taking front-end web development courses. I manage the household (cleaning, making meals, playing referee to small kiddos, etc.) while also running a business (this includes: replying to email inquiries, writing blog posts and newsletters, posting to Instagram, meeting with potential clients, shipping commissions, treating clients to lunch, negotiating contracts, creating custom pieces, attending workshops, meeting with other creatives or sketching at an event). Together we homeschool all four of our children, so, needless to say, every day looks different. The following are a few constants in our day: 1) My husband and I wake up, pray and spend time with God together - matcha lattes in hand, 2) We have breakfast with the kiddos and everyone gets ready for the day, 3) The kids do their chores and then we start school, which we usually do for about four hours each day, and 4) Depending on the day, usually Wednesdays through Fridays, I’m off to work on my business while my husband stays home with the kids. Sundays through Tuesdays we switch and he’s off to work on whatever he needs to while I’m with the kids. At 5pm we switch gears: he starts his coding classes and on my work days, it is the time when I stop working to take a nap … I mean clean and hang out with the kids before I start dinner at 6pm. After dinner, we give the kids a bath and either let them watch a show or let them play a bit longer before it’s lights out. Once lights are out, we’re back at it, finishing up on whatever we didn’t have a chance to finish during the day. I’m literally writing this at one of those times!
2. You do live sketching for events. You are really putting yourself on the spot to create something beautiful, and your clients really trust you to provide them with lovely art. How do you develop this trust with yourself and with your clients?
Well, first off, I hardly ever trust myself. I always think that I’m going to screw it all up! Each and every time I sit down to sketch, I give all of myself up and trust in God to guide my hands. I have no other choice because I always feel like I’m not ready. However, before I get to the point of sketching for a client, I practice, practice, practice. This practice is what gives me the confidence to even take the chance and I believe that my body of work is what develops trust with my clients.
3. In your most full or challenging seasons, how have you still managed to create? What have those seasons looked like? Do you feel like you’re in one of those seasons now?
This is something that I struggle with often. In a sense, I’m constantly creating. However, it is not always realistic for me to create for myself on personal projects. Which, ironically, is usually when I create my best work and ultimately what attracts clients. Lately, I’ve been trying to heed the advice of fellow illustrator Pascal Campion, he starts his day off with a personal sketch before he moves on to client work. I’m not quite there yet, but this would be ideal.
4. How are you seeing the fruit of your creative work blooming now from seeds that you planted long ago?
It’s funny because I started my brand in 2014 and I can’t tell you how often I’ve worked on blog posts, newsletters, illustrations and social media posts, put it out there for the masses to see, only to receive virtual “crickets.” It wasn’t until 2016 that I realized I had to start local. I had to go out, meet people, and tell them what I do! I was terrified of this because as a stay-at-home mom, I had only been talking to my kiddos for so many years. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to carry a decent adult conversation and I knew that I needed practice. I decided to join a meet-up called “Tuesdays Together.” We meet on the second Tuesday of every month and it’s a place where creatives and entrepreneurs can gather together for coffee and conversation. I can’t tell you how instrumental this group has been for me in learning the art of networking and building the confidence to share my work with others. The first company that I approached to sketch for was Kate Spade New York (in Cherry Creek, Denver). I walked into their shop with my iPad in hand and showed them my website, blog and portfolio. They were super excited to support me and together we planned my first live-sketching event!
5. What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and artist?
As a wife I am mostly inspired by my super sweet, handsome, but humble husband. He has the patience that I do not, and I am constantly learning from him. He is a man that truly loves his family and I appreciate that we have the same morals, values and goals so that we are able to live out our lives as a team. He is honestly my best friend.
As a mom I am inspired by each of my children. There is nothing better in the wold than getting to know them as individuals and seeing their personalities shine! They inspire my husband and I to create a life that is crafted specifically for their faith, growth and joy, which in turn brings us fulfillment.
As an artist I am inspired by color, shapes and lines, all revolving around the female figure, as well as by the beauty and confidence of each woman that I sketch. I’m also heavily inspired by traditional animation and its ability to bring drawings, LINES even, to life.
6. What or who do you read to help inspire your work? What other resources do you recommend to fellow creatives?
I am most inspired by traditional Disney animation (Cinderella, Bambi, The Little Mermaid, etc.), which has greatly influenced my drawing style. Because of this, I love learning about an animator’s process and listening to things like “The Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast” to inspire me. I also really enjoy Jenna Kutcher’s “The Goal Digger Podcast” and I’m obsessed with taking her super helpful online courses for social media. I also learn A LOT from creative lawyer Christina Scalera and love reading her “The Contract Shop” blog, as well as her informative newsletters.
7. Do you have a scripture, word, or mantra that guides your work?
The Proverbs 31 woman constantly inspires me. Anytime I feel discouraged about having to wear so many hats each day, I remember her and then I’m instantly encouraged! I also live by John 15:5. Without Him, I am nothing and have nothing.
8. How do motherhood and creative work complement one another?
All of my children are super creative and they inspire me to create the way I did when I was a child - free and without restrictions. If they want to draw something, they just go for it and are not afraid. I envy their innocence. It’s also a plus that I can include them by having them model for me whenever I need to practice figure drawing. I love to pay them in lollipops!
9. What is something you have learned in the past year that you are taking in to this next year with a new perspective?
This has been a hard lesson for me but I’m learning that I don’t have to keep up with everyone else. Fulfillment is greater than success (Shanna Skidmore). At times I struggle because I dream big and have such big plans for my business, however, I often feel like I’m a hamster on a spinning wheel - going no where fast - especially if I compare myself to other fashion illustrators out there who are extremely successful. But most of the ones I follow are not married and do not have kids. This is something I like to remind myself of whenever I get discouraged. I also remind myself that success to me is having the freedom to homeschool and spend time with my kids, so my walk may look much different than the walk of others’. Moral of the story? It’s okay to slow down, pick some flowers and just enjoy the journey. I’ve never really understood that saying until now.
10. If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a word of advice, what would it be?
Automate as much as you can!! I love using apps to help my day run smoother. Trello, Planoly and Dubsado are my favorites for business. Chore charts, Trello again and meal planning (this one is challenging for me) are great for homeschooling. Also, some days can be a bit tough but I often remind myself that those little ones are the reason that I’m doing it all in the first place.