One of the best habits I have developed over the years is to have a journal on my bedstand and to write a short letter to God a few times a week.  It always begins with “Thank you, Lord, for . . .”  It can be for big things or small, from being thankful for a warm home on a snowy day to a great catch-up phone call with a friend or child, from a book launch to a beautiful sunrise or sunset, from a new job to appreciating the geese on our pond in the backyard.  This little Gratitude Journal keeps me on the lookout for God’s blessings, and, more importantly, reminds me on a daily basis of all the blessings for which to be thankful.  When I write in my Gratitude Journal before I go to bed, I feel like I am not alone in this world.  I have peace because I have just talked with Papa God and He surrounds me with His comforting arms as I drift off to sleep.  When I write in my journal as I wake up and start the day, it reminds me of His faithfulness, and that He will again be faithful, whatever the day may bring.  This brings confidence and positivity to my day.

About five years ago, my husband and I started a “Blessing Journal” and spent a week on a beach writing down all our blessings – including our parents and grandparents, family, friends, old jobs, new jobs, education, this country we live in, our neighborhood, our home, the dog, the cats, the list went on and on.  It took the whole week to write them all down.  And now, near the end of each year, my husband and I bring out the “Blessing Journal” and update it with all the blessings that we have had throughout the year.  Most of our blessings come in the form of relationships.  We cherish our family and friends as heaven-sent gifts. No matter what kind of year it has been, our hearts are full knowing that God has, once again, blessed us and provided that which we have needed and more. And it increases our faith that God is faithful, He is who He says He is, and in the future, He will do what He has promised to do. It helps us to not worry what the future will bring, because we personally have seen God’s faithfulness each year in our lives, and we remind ourselves often.

In short, these simple practices of gratitude bring joy.

Around 2000 years ago, the apostle Paul found that the key to joy and peace was gratitude. He encouraged us, “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.  Tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.  If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.

And guess what? Modern day researchers have found that same thing! Researcher Brene Brown says that, in her 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, she did not interview one person who described themselves as joyful who did not actively practice gratitude! Her research confirmed the findings of Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast: “It’s not joy that make us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful. . .  If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. . . .  The root of joy is gratefulness.”

If you are healing from (or in) abuse, sometimes it is hard to see the blessings, but they are there. Perhaps you had to flee your home, but a friend took you in and provided shelter.  Maybe you experienced physical abuse, but you were able to get an order of protection. Possibly you had an abusive spouse, but you are now free and out of the house.  You may have had friends betray you, but now you have surrounded yourself with good people who remind you of who you are.  Those who have been through abuse have experienced trauma. But, to heal, it is important to look forward, not backwards. When we constantly look backwards on the trauma we become stuck and unable to heal.  When we focus on our blessings and look forward to a life of freedom and peace, we can finally heal and become the joyful, strong, victorious woman God designed us to be.

As we close 2023 and start a new 2024, what blessings are you thankful for? What are your blessings, small and large? Have you thanked God for them? How can you cultivate an attitude of gratitude to usher in more joy?