When my son was two our life took an unexpected and terrifying turn.
An unrelenting seizure, a flight-for-life, and a week in the pediatric ICU would forever paint how we remembered his second year.
Though he survived and life returned mostly to normal, that single event was defining for how we would remember his toddlerhood.
Some years later I sat down to begin writing my son’s story.
Starting with our pregnancy, I would share highlights of each year of his life.
Pregnancy, birth and his first year were easy.
But I got stuck on two. I didn’t want his seizure to become his story.
So I made a mindful choice.
I would tell the story of what I wanted to remember.
Instead of writing “When Sage was two he had a terrible seizure and was in a coma. We were so afraid,” I wrote this:
“When Sage was two he loved to ride in a big blue backpack on his mama’s back. He slept at [Grandma and Grandpa's] house without his parents for the first time and visited the zoo where he rode his first train… Sage loved to play in the water, eat berries, and read books. He finally had some hair, and it was curly and blonde around his ears…”
While both stories are true, I chose to “skim the cream” and remember the sweetest moments of that year.
That simple choice transformed the darkness.
Sure, I still remember that week in the hospital in every detail, but I also remember the blond curls around his little ears.
I rewrote the story that played in my mind to include the pieces I wanted to hold onto. And I’m so glad.
So I’ve put “skimming the cream” to daily use.
No matter how dark a day may seem, there is a light shining in it somewhere. We just need to look deep inside to find it.
It isn’t always easy, but for me it always helps me focus on how blessed my life truly is.
Five family projects to cultivate gratitude
As we move into the new year, why not focus on all that is right in your world?
Here are five simple and fun ways to involve your whole family in seeing the goodness in life.
1. Keep a family journal
A simple sketchbook can be transformed into a family journal to capture the highlights of each season.
Have your children decorate the cover of a blank book with paint or decoupage. On the first page, write your family name and the date your journal began.
Encourage each family member to write or sketch the things that bring them joy throughout the year.
Add special mementos like birthday cards, photographs, leaves, and feathers.
Be sure to note acts of kindness done by each member of your family as well as the beauty you see in each of your children.
At the end of the year, revisit all the goodness of the past seasons.
2. Make a gratitude tree
Each Thanksgiving my family creates a gratitude tree. It’s a simple and beautiful tradition that everyone in my family enjoys.
Cut watercolor or construction paper leaves large enough to write on.
In a stable vase, place a few branches from the garden or hang a larger branch horizontally above your table.
Place leaves and pencils around the vase and encourage family members to share what they are thankful for, then hang their leaf on the branch.
After dinner as you gather for dessert or tea, take turns reading each anonymous blessings aloud.
3. Start a gratitude jar
I came upon this idea online and thought it was a lovely way to count your blessings throughout the year.
Beginning on the New Year, keep a jar in your home for blessings.
Keep strips of paper and pencils nearby.
When something wonderful happens, write a note and drop it in the jar. (Non-writers can draw their picture and have a parent or sibling help with the writing.)
Then on New Year’s Eve the following year, take turns reading – and remembering – the many blessings in your life.
4. Make a prayer bunting
A prayer bunting is a lively way to send out prayers or count blessings.
Inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, a prayer bunting is simply a long ribbon tied with strips of cloth.
On each cloth is a written or drawn prayer, wish, or blessing. As the banner flaps in the wind the blessings are carried out into the world.
Here’s how to make your own: Tie a long piece of ribbon across your porch, between two trees in your garden, or anywhere in your home. Tear or cut fabric strips approximately 2″ wide by 10″ long.
Working together, write or draw blessings on each strip with fabric pens, then tie each strip of cloth to the ribbon.
Make your prayer bunting all in one day, or add blessings to it throughout the year.
Then make another!
A prayer bunting makes a thoughtful gift to welcome a new child or celebrate a birthday.
5. Write a Rainbow Bridge story
The story I shared above is an excerpt for my son’s Rainbow Bridge story. (My children’s complete stories are here.)
Inspired by the Waldorf tradition, our Rainbow Bridge stories tell how each child came to join our family, and then shares a few sweet memories from each year.
We celebrate each child’s birthday by reading their story aloud.
I love the idea of modifying this tradition to write the story of your family’s year, capturing the goodness that came to each of you.
What tradition does your family enjoy to remember the goodness in each year?