“What do you say to Aunt Donna?” my nephew asked his young daughter. We had just finished her weekly piano lesson. My nephew, a busy pastor at a local church, usually drops her off and picks her up right after her lesson. But on this beautiful Monday afternoon, he had a few extra minutes and sat down to visit for a while.
As he and I talked, my great niece occupied herself by going through some of the boxes that I had stashed in our guest bedroom, filled with books and papers that I still haven’t finished going through since I retired at the end of last school year. In a few minutes she came back with a plastic cup of pencils and pens. “Can I have these, Aunt Donna?” “Sure,” I replied as I went to get the puzzle and game insert from the newspaper that I had saved for her. “You can have this, too,” I said.
The little girl has been taught well. “Thank you, Aunt Donna,” she obediently replied in response to her daddy’s question, as she thanked me for the pens and pencils. She had already thanked me for the piano lesson.
In the next hour, she thanked me for the juice that I gave her when she was thirsty. She thanked me for a little highlighter man that she found in my pencil drawer in the kitchen and then she thanked me for a brand new notepad that she had found in the same drawer. She used the pens and markers to write a note on the pad that said, “You are the best piano teacher,” and on the next page of the pad, “EVER.”
“You can staple those together if you have a stapler and then you can write a note to me, too,” she added, handing me a piece of paper from the notepad. I took the marker that she handed me. “You are the best piano student EVER,” I wrote.
“Thank you,” she replied with a smile that spread across her face.
I love watching my nieces and nephews raise their own children. It is such a blessing to see them take their children to church, teach them about Jesus and live out the legacy of faith that their mamas and daddies taught them. I think back to the most important lessons that I learned as a child from not only my parents, but my aunts and uncles, my Sunday school teachers, and my pastors.
I learned to love God. (Matthew 22:37) I learned to treat others like I wanted to be treated. (Matthew 7:12) I learned to tell the truth. (Ephesians 4:15) I learned to seek after wisdom. (Ephesians 1:17) And I learned to say “Thank you.” (Ephesians 5:20) Yes, I learned the power and significance that those simple words carry when we are truly grateful.
I have always loved the children’s sermons at church. Although the lessons are simple, they often have a lasting effect, not only on the children, but on the adults as well. When my own children were young, it was my job to share the children’s sermon with the little ones at church every Sunday. I prayerfully prepared my lessons every week, realizing the tremendous impact that my words would have on the children.
Recently, I watched several of my children’s sermons that had been videotaped all those years ago. What fun it was to watch children who now have children of their own as they sat wide-eyed and wondering as I pulled an object out of a brown paper bag to teach them a lesson from the Holy scriptures. I used stories that illustrated truth and wisdom and loving God, the same lessons that I had learned as a child in church.
Our pastor’s wife is now responsible for the children’s sermon each week at our church. To be honest, I can’t really remember the story she shared with the children or the verses she read from the Bible a few Sundays ago. But I remember one thing that she said that made a big impression on me. After talking to the children for a few minutes, she simply asked, “What if you woke up tomorrow morning with only what you thanked God for today?”
What if, indeed? My family? Yes. But what about all the other ways the Lord had blessed me? Had I thanked him for my home? My church family? My pastor? For heat in the winter and cool in the summer? For friends and opportunities and all the prayers prayed for me and my family? For people who stand in the gap during hard times? For doctors and medicine and… Well, I could go on and on.
Like my little great niece, maybe I also needed that nudge from my Father. The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Yes, even for pencils and pens and juice and notepads and piano lessons.
As for me, I’m thankful for the reminder. And I’m especially thankful that when I wake up tomorrow I will be abundantly blessed with all the things that I have thanked God for today.
Donna Tobin Smith is pianist and a Sunday school teacher at Bethel United Methodist Church in Thomasville. She is author of Muddy Feet on the Narrow Path and More Than All of It.