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It is not unusual to see pictures of bare trees with thankful leaves being added throughout the month of November. Every year our Giving Tree looks a little different but we always make it a central part of our lives. What kind of tree do you have?
One of the things that makes our tree different (besides its size) is its not just about counting our blessings. Its also about showing our thanks through actions. The amount of activities vary since Thanksgiving is always on a different day but this year, it consists of 4 weeks of focused thanks.
Week 1: Acknowledging our Blessings
This is the easy part and lots of fun. Cut out lots of leaves, set outs some pens and pencils, and watch the tree fill up. Our tree is special with two types of leaves (oak and maple) and lots of colors. You could assign one color per person or a type of leaf per team if you want to have a little friendly competition. My kids usually claim a certain spot on the tree. I used to make the rule of no repeats but I stopped because why shouldn't they acknowledge that blessing just because someone else already did-it is important to each of them in a different way. I use cookie cutters for my leaf templates but if you need one, here are some great ones to use.
Week 2: Showing our Gratitude
Acknowledging our blessings is a great start but there is more to gratitude then just saying I'm thankful for..... This week, examine your tree and pick either the most popular blessing or maybe one of the ones that is more unique. Each day, highlight at least one new blessing and figure out a way to really express your thanks as a family. For example:
- If it's "Food" then you could donate to the Food Bank or volunteer there (ours always kids 6 years and older with an adult). Or give out food to people standing on the corner or to a family in your neighborhood that is struggling.
- If it's "Family" then write a Thank You card or call them on the phone focusing on listening to them not talking all about yourself. You could also focus on praying for that person more.
- If it's "Prayer" maybe only say Thank You prayers all day instead of asking for blessings or share your testimony about prayer with someone.
- If it's "The Restoration of the Church", record your testimony of Joseph Smith and send it to me to post in our new Joseph Smith series coming shortly. Share it on social media or a friend.
You get the idea. For each act of service or gratitude, put an acorn on the tree. These cute acorns come from Mandee- she makes all kinds of cute things!
Week 3: Using our Talents to Serve More
Not only do we have a tree but we also have turkeys in our tree. Did you know turkeys sleep in trees to stay out of danger? Each member of the family decorates a turkey. Then each day at dinner or just before bed, go around saying one thing that you love about that person. Each thing goes on a turkey feather. Your turkeys may start off brown but by the end they will be plenty colorful! This week, look at all the things those closest to you have said about you. Figure out a way to use these talents to serve others. Last week was more about serving as a family, this week it is more about finding a way that just you can help.
- If someone put "friendly" as a talent, you could make a special effort that day to look for those who may be left out at recess. Maybe you talk to the cashiers at check out more than you usually do and try to actually make a new friend instead of just being pleasant.
- If someone put "creative" you could use your creativity to make a gift for a friend that may need an extra smile. Think of a creative way to give back to the staff at your kid's school- the staff, not just the teachers. What could you do to serve the janitor or nurse?
- If someone said "funny," maybe stop by a retirement home and share some of your jokes with some residents that don't get many visitors.
For each act of service or gratitude, put another acorn on the tree or give one to your turkey to eat.
Week 4: Secret Turkeys
This week, draw names to see who you are going to serve this week in your family. Each day do something nice for your Secret Turkey without spending any money. Make his bed, do her daily chore, go out of your way to play with him, write her a letter telling her how much you love her. On Thanksgiving, reveal who your secret turkey was and share some hugs and more gratitude for those you care for most.
By the end of 4 weeks notice the new feeling in your home. Try to fill up your tree some more and talk about all the new blessings that have come because of your new focus on gratitude. Its the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season.