What kneeling on a department store floor taught me about gratitude

November 16, 2011 | 60 comments

As regular readers know, I am a gratitude ignoramus. This concept that flows so easily through the lives of others never fails to leave me confounded; I stand around scratching my head and analyzing what it means to count your blessings, while other people are actually counting their blessings.

Ann Voskamp (whose blog I’m pretty sure the Bible specifically commands us to read) was the first person to get me thinking about this concept. I would read through her 1, 000 Gifts posts and feel the Holy Spirit pouring through my computer screen, beckoning me to adopt the same outlook in my own life. One time I was wiping tears out of my eyes after reading her poetic words of gratitude for all the good things in her life, and I resolved that I would do the same — starting now. I had to go to the grocery store, which seemed like the perfect place to start naming the good things that surround me.

Alas, it only took about three minutes for the whole thing to go off the rails. I arrived at the grocery store entrance, and paused in front of the door to think:

Lord, I am thankful for these automatic sliding doors, which make it so easy to enter this place of abundance! So, I guess you could say I am thankful for the machine that actually slides the door open. And that little laser eye thing that senses movement, which I think is a separate mechanism. So, really, I am thankful for all the engineers of the world, who create such devices. And the manufacturing facilities. Which is not to say that I’m not also grateful to the people who make the glass that not only forms the door but allows us to see into the store! And the people who designed the metal frame that holds it, the miners who mined the materials…

You think I’m kidding.

The people behind me didn’t seem to be feeling particularly thankful as I blocked the entrance with my gratitude paralysis, so I moved inside the store, assuring God that I was thankful for the sign on the door displaying the hours and the paint used to make it, even though I had not specifically mentioned them. Seeing as how I didn’t have a week to complete this store trip, I decided to stop analyzing my physical surroundings and just make a list of things that I had felt particularly grateful for lately. The first few items were:

  • Liquor store gift cards
  • Earl Campbell sausage
  • Techno remixes of rap songs

I was about to add bacon and boxed wine to the list, until it occurred to me that that would leave me with a gratitude list in which 80% of the items were related to alcohol or pork products. Clearly, this exercise was not going to yield the results I had hoped for. So I gave up once again, resigning myself to the occasional thought of, “Hey, thanks!” thrown out in God’s general direction.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having this issue with debilitating stabbing pains in my lower abdomen. The good news is that an emergency room trip that included CAT scans, bloodwork and physical exams showed that I’m the very picture of good health. The bad news is that, umm, I keep having these random, debilitating stabbing pains in my lower abdomen. (As if I’m not socially awkward enough, now I occasionally lean over in agony during polite conversation, grunting out, “It’s cool…The doctor says…I’m…fine…!”) I’m going to continue to seek answers from medical professionals and Dr. Google, but, at least for the short term, I’m stuck with it.

Earlier this week I was at the store Kohl’s with one of my daughters. We were having a great time, trying on clothes, even finding some great sales…and then it hit me. We were walking by the purses section when the familiar red-hot stabbing pain started up again. I’d been worried about this happening in public, and now my fear had come true. This was a particularly bad episode, and it caused me to drop to my knees. To keep from attracting attention to myself, I pretended to take a closer look at the purses on the bottom shelf. It was infuriating. I was trying to do something utterly simple like do a little shopping, and now it had been derailed by this stupid issue over which I evidently have no control.

My daughter knelt down next to me and whispered, “Are you okay?”

I said I was. And when I looked over at her, I thought, Well, at least she’s here with me.

And for whatever reason, that simple thought changed everything. It triggered a cascade of grace, and suddenly, my entire perspective shifted.

…This song they’re playing as background music is actually one of my favorites, was the next thought. And then: How perfect that I happened to be by the purses, so I’d have a good excuse for being on the floor. What a blessing that my mom was able to keep the baby; that it’s me in discomfort instead of my daughter; and that these pains usually don’t last for more than 30 seconds anyway.

Another surge of pain hit, and I made a grunting noise as I dropped the purse I’d been holding. I couldn’t help but smile as it occurred to me that it looked to people passing by like I was having an angrily primal reaction to handbags without exterior pockets. This prompted another round of thoughts of thanksgiving: Thank God for little girls who love to shop with their mommies. For the ER technology that ruled out worries of serious issues. For purses, which help me in my vocation. For living in a land of such abundance that stores like Kohl’s exist. For the fact that I’m even alive to feel this pain at all! I started laughing in between winces, which prompted my daughter to giggle right alongside me.

In my normal mode of thinking, I would not have been able to see past the pain. I would have had a laser focus on my desire to shop without having to deal with this, and would have channeled all my thoughts to that end. But being forced into a moment of surrender prompted me to stop asking “What do I want?”, and looking into my four-year-old daughter’s eyes prompted me to ask instead, “What do I have?” In my previous attempts at gratitude, I wasn’t wrong for being thankful for Earl Campbell sausage and automatic doors at the grocery store — but that was more a generic list of good elements of the created world, rather than a joyful examination of the blessings God puts in my path to draw me closer to himself right here, right now.

There on the floor at Kohl’s, giggling behind a stand of purses with my daughter, I learned that gratitude is an acknowledgment of a relationship more than it is a dry list of goods. It’s a thank-you note for the stepping stones that God places in our paths to show us the way to heaven; a willful act of seeing the hand of God at work in our lives, even when our circumstances aren’t ideal.

(And, while we’re talking about Ann Voskamp, grab a box of Kleenex and go read about what she’s doing in Ecuador, and prayerfully consider if you feel led to help her in this mission.)


  1. aka the Mom

    Beautiful, Jennifer, thank you for sharing this.

  2. Elisa | blissfulE

    Thank you for this! My gratitude prayers are often a lot more like your “before” version. Isn’t it odd how something really annoying makes us realise how good life is? Hope your pains go away completely soon.

  3. anu

    Your “pain attacks” sound like what I used to have. Turned out I had stones in my gall bladder. The gall bladder was removed…pains disappeared.

    • Christina

      My sister had gall stones right after having her baby and had to have her gall bladder removed. However, I’d hesitate at saying it was an easy fix to remove it…that was two years ago and she has never regained her ability to eat (no grains, no fats, no nuts, no dairy…and so forth). Everything she eats causes a lot of “meditation time” in the bathroom and thus she is very malnourished.

  4. Ruth

    I get those excruciating stomach pains too – but upper abdomen, and they last for about 15 minutes. Completely stress related. So this post hit the mark. I hope you find what’s causing them, it’s a nasty thing to live with. These days I’ve been experiencing overwhelming gratitude for the meds I got for them. For living in an age when many things are treatable, once you can give them a name.

  5. Michael

    Beautiful story about being grateful vs. just listing blessings. (I’m not too good at the lists either.)

    I certainly hope someone is able to discern a way to ease the pain, but God uses all things to His glory.

  6. Veronica Mitchell

    I have had occasional stabbing pains in my abdomen that lasted for months at three different times in my life. Their causes were, respectively: an anorexic refusal to eat, a bladder infection, and irritable bowel syndrome. And now you know more about me and my body than you ever wanted to. I hope you will enjoy the catalogue of illnesses that areabout to fill your comments.

    Or rather, I hope you are grateful for it.

  7. Julie Culshaw

    Don’t ever stop being your down-to-earth gutsy self. Love it!

  8. Kathleen Basi

    This is so beautiful. I love this part: “gratitude is an acknowledgment of a relationship more than it is a dry list of goods”. I also appreciate the down-to-earth way you talk about faith. We can’t all be whispering poetry to the clouds.

  9. Barbara

    Stuff like this never happens at the Nordstoms.

    • Martha


  10. Jennifer Doloski

    I love this – and I was really, really worried about you – but then I read the line about purses without exterior pockets. . . and, laughing, I realized something you forgot to be thankful for – your ability to find humor in any situation. I know I am thankful for it!

    I have no medical diagnosis for you. . . If you were a baby, we’d call it colic, I suppose.

  11. E

    Could you be ovulating again? (Not sure how old your baby is or if you’re still breastfeeding.) What you describe sounds exactly like painful ovulation, especially if the pain is concentrated in only one side and lasts for about 5 days (it may be on the other side the next month). If you think that could be it, visit a gyno or endocrinologist.

  12. LuAnne

    What a great journey from the head to the heart in gratitude!

  13. J. C.

    I really find the Catholic blogosphere promotion of Ann Voskamp very problematic. From what I’ve read of her, she’s a lovely, devout, compassionate lady with a real gift for introspection and writing. But please don’t fool yourself. Those missions to Latin America are not exclusively about feeding the hungry; these programs actively seek to “convert” Catholics (even if only nominal Catholics), to Protestant heresy. Of course, Jesus admonished us to feed the hungry as well as care for their souls, but what’s the use of feeding a person’s hungry body when you endangering his soul by separating him from the grace of authentic Catholic sacraments and teachings? By sending money to these programs, you may be cooperating in the grave sin of leading less educated, vulnerable souls outside the Catholic Church. Better to help traditional Catholic orders who are feeding and evangelizing the poor with the true gospel of Christ.

    • karyn

      I agree. I had an acquaintance whose Filipino husband, who had turned Baptist, returned on many mission trips to bring Christianity to his native Catholic country.

      • Jasmine

        Karyn, I’m presuming you meant that the husband wanted to convert Catholics to Baptists . . . because Catholicism IS already Christianity. 🙂

        I deeply appreciate Mrs. Voskamp’s beautiful writing and am grateful for her blog (and I’ve been pleased to see her quote St. Therese of Liseux and St. Teresa of Avila.) Of course, I absolutely agree with J.C. that our donations should go to traditional Catholic orders who are also doing the work of feeding and clothing the poor.

    • charlene

      Wow! I didn’t realize Catholics felt that way about protestants. Is this true for all of you who are Catholics? I guess maybe the question is this: does the church save a person or does Jesus save? And what exactly is the true gospel of Christ? I always thought it was simply that Jesus died for our sins, so that we could have life. Is there more than that? Isn’t that what all missionaries try to communicate? why does it matter what church they end up in, as long as it’s a church that believes this central doctrine?

      • Julie Culshaw

        Charlene, it is not that we believe our church saves. Of course it is Jesus who saves. But we do believe that He established his church upon Peter for a reason. I for one, find it difficult to believe that Jesus really intended us to have thousands of different denominations with hundreds more being formed every single day. For us Catholics, the truth of the Gospel exists along with the tradition of the Church and we dont’ think Jesus was against that.

        So for someone to leave our Catholic Church with the wealth of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is a tragedy. I know that many Protestant pastors and churches are doing a much better job in the missions than Catholics are, but it would be my wish and I think J.C.’s wish, that people would be encouraged in their Catholic faith rather than being brought into another church. We really do believe this is a loss for the person involved. No amount of good preaching and fellowship is equal to the Eucharist in our opinion.

  14. Andrea

    Perfect Health Diet? Inspired by your posting a few weeks ago, I bought the book and am slowly phasing in the diet. Not that it would be easy with a family of seven… I will be praying for your healing.

  15. suburbancorrespondent

    That is the best definition of gratitude I have ever seen!

    And I had to try to get the CAPTCHA Code right 3 times. I’m NOT grateful for that.

  16. Maggie

    My Mom suffered from undiagnosed pain for 3 years. Not to unsettle you, but it turned out her appendix was inflamed. The doctors didn’t believe her when she said she had never had it out because it wasn’t showing up on x-rays. When the pain got so bad she begged the doctor to do something they did exploratory surgery and found at that point, her appendix had burst. The reason it hadn’t showed up was because it was lodged up under her liver. Of course this was awhile ago, so the technology wasn’t what it is today, but if the pain doesn’t subside, make sure you get a 2nd, 3rd, etc. opinion.

  17. WhiteStone

    Because I am an ovarian cancer patient my ears prick up when I hear a woman discuss abdominal pain. Please consider two simple tests…a bi-manual pelvic exam by your gyno AND a simple blood test of CA-125.

    I pray your occasional pains are something that is simply remedied.

  18. priest's wife

    I love this…and I hope all we readers will ‘copy’ you-

    specifically about pain and illness- I also like to ‘offer it up’ for an intention-

    today I am offering up any pain or inconvenience for the soul of +Jose who died yesterday leaving a wife and 3 children after a long battle with cancer

  19. Jenn

    Oh wow. Thanks for sharing this. I am sorry you’re suffering pain–but glad that you got to see more clearly because of it.

  20. rem

    This post hit me, too, because I’m another member of the “unexplained abdominal pain” club. I’ve had a ton of tests but no answers. For me, the pain often (but not always) occurs when I turn around, stand up from sitting, or roll over in bed. It’s good to know that I am not all alone in this, although I don’t wish this kind of pain on anybody! My gratitude list would also have a high percentage of alcohol-related things, so I hope the two are not linked! Maybe that should be the happy thought I use to distract myself from the pain: “At least I can still drink!”

  21. Amy

    Adding my thanks for this post – my initial attempts at thankfulness were (and are) much like yours. It just didn’t seem to help at all. How silly of me to forget it’s all about relationship.

  22. 'Becca

    Wonderful post! It’s amazing what a little gratitude can do.

    It’s probably a good idea–for this and any other health problem that may afflict you in future–to talk with your children about what to do in an emergency that incapacitates the oldest adult present. I happened to learn about this in Brownies just months before my dad badly cut his hand with the hedge trimmer while my mom was out; I applied direct pressure and treated him for shock. So I have talked with my son about basic first aid, dialing 911, and asking for help in a public place. Last summer, I took a sample of a new migraine drug when a migraine began while I was at the park with him, and just in case I showed him the package and which pocket of my purse I was keeping it in–“If anything goes wrong, tell the doctor this is the pill Mama took.” On the way home I suddenly lost part of my vision and doubled over with abdominal pain…and I was amazed by my son’s capable attitude: “I’ll help you lean on this wall. How many fingers am I holding up? Take deep breaths. Do you need an ambulance?” The worst was over in a few minutes, but I am so grateful to know I can count on him!

    I’m glad you got inspiration from Ann Voskamp. I can’t stand her grammar or writing style or whatever you want to call it–I get too confused to find her point.

    • Amanda

      Ooh, I second this, I had to do this with my class of Kinder and First Graders and taught them how to go to the neighboring teacher’s class if needed because I was pregnant and would get ridiculously faint throughout the day. I wanted them to know what to do in case I ever passed out, especially being so young and having no aid in the classroom to go to.

      Loved this post, I struggle with the gratitude thing too, my priest had to remind me that I needed to not just be content to combat jealousy but actually be grateful, oops!

  23. Rose

    I’ve been working on going through 30 Days of Gratitude this month, finding one thing I’m truly grateful for every day. And I realized that at first I was just listing things, not really acknowledging the blessings that have been bringing me closer to God. But I couldn’t synthesize my thoughts about the difference. This post is really leading me towards that. Thanks!

  24. Sara in D.C.

    Such great timing for this. I ran a marathon two weeks ago and then on a “recovery run” the following week hurt my knee that has left me unable to run. Being the psycho runner that I am, I totally flipped. But, then I was thankful that this happened after the race and not before or during. Since I can’t run I have been sleeping in until 6 or 630 instead of dragging myself out of bed at 5 to run in the pitch dark, affording me some much-needed sleep. I rediscovered a love of yoga as another means of exercise. And I live in a land of such abundance that I have to exercise to fit into my jeans. Mind you, I can’t wait to get running again, but for the time being I’ll enjoy the extra hour of sleep and a few sun salutations.

    Hope you feel better, Jen!

  25. Trisha Niermeyer Potter @ Prints of Grace

    Another beautiful example of how even the most inconvenient, painful moments can be turned into something we can offer the Lord. I will pray that the doctors are right, that nothing serious is wrong, and that the sharp pains go away soon and don’t come back.

    In the meantime, surface gratitude that runs down deep is music to God’s ears. By surface gratitude, I mean the type that thanks God for stores, but maybe doesn’t go quite so far as to thank God for the people who made the glass and the paint, at least not while holding up other customers or with kids in toe.

  26. Jamie

    This is such a great post! I think it’s so important to thank God for the little things we take advantage of so often. :o) I am going to go check out that blog which the Bible tells us to read!!

    For Love of Cupcakes

  27. Diane

    I so enjoy reading your blog! Insightful and humorous, what more could one ask for?!

    Now, about that pain. My son experienced pain like you are describing (sudden, severe stabbing, with no rhyme or reason. All medical tests and even an endoscopic exam showed all was normal. Then, while visiting a chiropractor for a totally unrelated problem we happened to mention the pain. The chiropractor looked at his x-rays for his spine and mentioned that there was a lot of gas pockets in his large intestines. That kind of excessive gas could cause severe pain randomly as we had described. He suggested we check out possible food allergies as a cause of the gas and see if things didn’t improve. Allergy testing did show some food allergies. When we eliminated them the pain vanished. Just a thought.

  28. Katherine

    I recently read Mutant Message Down Under about an American woman that goes on a walk about with a tribe of Aboriginals. She talks about the constant thankfulness to the creator God. They get it.

  29. Beth/Mom2TwoVikings

    Oh, Jennifer. you are breaking my heart and convicting me with the beauty of that moment. As a fellow believer, I want to cheer for you for the insight you gain but will be praying for the healing and/or strength to endure.

  30. Rosemary A.

    You’ve certainly had a lot of diagnoses with this post, but you know it just means we all care! Will be praying for you. — Rosemary

  31. syd

    Timely post. I’ve been in a lot of pain for the past 3 weeks, and I certainly cannot see past it. My ear and neck are killing me, and it is so distracting I cannot function. Then I think how my sister is severely sick and non-functional everyday from kidney failure, and I realize how grateful I should be. I’m starting to be much more sympathetic to people in chronic pain; I just hope I don’t forget it when I get better. My sickness will probably end at some point, even if it’s months from now, while some people’s will not ever end. Humbling indeed. Here’s to hoping we both feel better soon and not forget what lessons we may learn from it.

    On a side note, while I get the intent of Voskamp’s blog, I never really could get into it. Much too syrupy/melodramatic for me. While I prefer a different writing style, I appreciate the need for different kinds to reach different people. And right now, the Holy Spirit speaks to me here and in Jan Karon’s books that I just found at a thrift store.

  32. Christine

    Great post. I love your sense of humor. Hope that pain goes away. Sounds like you got some interesting ideas from other bloggers. I feel for drs. trying to figure out problems. Could be a ba-zillion different things going on.

  33. mamabenedikt

    Praying for you.

  34. Kimberly

    I am so sorry that you are dealing with stomach issues! My husband has been in and out of the hospital/GI doctor’s for the past few months, trying to pin down the cause of his own stomach pain, so I can relate somewhat. I’ll be praying that it goes away or gets a diagnosis soon!

    This was a great story! I’m like you, in that I often have trouble recognizing the blessings in my life. So glad you were able to see the goodness in a rough time.

  35. Lauren

    Absolutely beautiful post. I am worried about you- but somehow you had me laughing out loud about your “anger” over a purse without exterior pockets! SO glad your daughter was with you! Hope you feel better soon! Thank for the great reminder of gratitude.

    (Loved your gratitude paralysis at the grocery store…hahaha!)

  36. Jen in Cali

    Always grateful to be blessed enough to go to the grocery store. Thenforce the reminder Jen!

  37. Megan at SortaCrunchy

    Oh, Jennifer. JENNIFER. I am laughing and crying and so, so concerned about you. I wish I had some wisdom to offer up to you.

    This is probably one of the best things I’ve ever read about gratitude. It reminds me of Ushpizin (a phenomenal Jewish movie about Sukkot made in Israel ). At one point the Rabbi is asked how he’s been and he says, “Terrible, Blessed be He.” I’ve made an effort to incorporate that phrase into my very being – Terrible. Blessed be He. When things are terrible, when we are on our knees, when the pain is so real … blessed be He.

    Thank you for passing along this wisdom. It spoke directly to where I am today.

  38. Jen G

    Jennifer – so sorry that you are suffering from this ailment. As I have gotten older, I have run into problems with abdominal pain and digestive problems. I was able to solve many of my problems through a change in diet…elimination of dairy and carbonated drinks solved most of my problems. Thanks once again for your inspiring message (and your sense of humor)!

  39. Barbara

    Adding to the stupid combox dianosis:
    I had an out of whack hip flexor. Doctor said this can cause all kinds of abdominal pain b/c of the insertion point of the muscle. Mine was bladder pain, of all things. FWIW.

  40. Pegofmar1

    Please check out possible cervical problems too, as I think I heard on one of the doctor shows that pain is a symptom that is often ignored.

  41. Sarah B.

    I’m sorry to hear you are experiencing pain. I’ve been reading Ann’s book One Thousand Gifts, and it is truly life changing. She’s phenomenal.

    Also, I had a similar revelation when I was at the dentist this week. Over the past few months I’ve had to have 2 root canals, 1 crown, and about 10 fillings. Thanks genetics! Anyway, I HATE the dentist, but this time, while I was in the chair for TWO hours getting four fillings done, I was able to be grateful. At least I can afford dental care, at least I don’t live 100 years ago, before novacaine, at least I’ll never have to have wooden teeth. Etc. It was really change from the running commentary of “woe is me…this sucks”.

    Anyway, I hope you’ll find some answers soon.

    • Jessica

      Oh, my goodness . . . I had no idea, and I bet many others didn’t either. Thank you, CC, for posting this article.

    • Christina

      Is there a store out there that DOESN’T support PP? Practically every store supports either that org directly or indirectly through the pink ribbons or other such “charities”.

  42. Pamie

    Thanks for sharing your great post..It has a lot of sense..And a lot of great info..

  43. home care charlotte

    What a great lesson for us all. Thanks for sharing.. your blog is truly inspirational!

  44. Leanne Shawler

    I’ve prayed that way (not on the floor next to the purses– I do hope your medical woes are sorted out soon) … but usually when I say grace: “thank you for the food we are about the eat, the hands that prepared it, the hands that harvested it…”

    yeah. so thank you for your post 🙂

    I enjoy Ann Voskamp’s blog too. She has posted on issues I’ve struggled with — on or near the day that the issue comes up — and has provided a Christlike perspective.

    Her Compassion posts have inspired me to finally sponsor a child — not through Compassion though — but so long as she inspires us to care about and cry over and take action on the “least of these”, she is doing good things by proclaiming her experiences.

  45. Pegofmar1

    Jennifer, I wrote above to check out cervical problems (pain doesn’t seem to be a symptom of that) and it just dawned on me that I best not even try to guess what’s going on with you unless I have had a similar experience like some of the others here. Please forgive my poor judgment in posting before checking out my memory on this. Regardless, I will pray for your healing, in Jesus’ name, I will pray. Love your blog.

  46. Eileen

    Grab the tissues before heading to another site?? I should have grabbed them before coming here! Talk about must-reads. I don’t come here nearly often enough — something I intend to correct.

    Thank you for being so willing to share your interior experience. You have such a delightfully disarming way of expressing yourself — it really opens my heart to your deeper message, and reminds me that I can connect with God in surprising and unexpected ways, too, if only I will open my heart.

    Thanks again, Jennifer. I bet you never could have imagined that your personal everyday ups and downs could end up meaning so much to anyone else, but they absolutely do. I hope you will keep sharing like this for a long time to come.

  47. Erin

    You should have your doctor do a quick blood test next time you’re in there to rule out celiac disease. It’s one of the hardest things to get diagnosed, but can have symptoms like you’re describing. Namely, your doctors think you’re in perfect health, and yet… Plus, you’ve described before that you feel better when you aren’t eating processed carbs, and in combination with the pains, it may worth looking into, if only to rule it out. I’m praying for you, that you find an answer to what’s causing those pains.

  48. Ashley

    Did they take an x-ray of your abdomen? For about 2 weeks I had terrible stomach pain (mine lasted longer than yours) and it turned out to be a digestive issue that wasn’t serious. I’m glad to hear it isn’t anything serious.

  49. Sandy Moses

    I bet you never could have imagined that your personal everyday ups and downs could end up meaning so much to anyone else, but they absolutely do. I hope you find what’s causing them, it’s a nasty thing to live with. By surface gratitude, I mean the type that thanks God for stores, but maybe doesn’t go quite so far as to thank God for the people who made the glass and the paint, at least not while holding up other customers or with kids in toe. How silly of me to forget it’s all about relationship.

  50. Jessica

    This post has me giggling on the sofa as I ride out a terrible cold and eye infection. There is always something to be thankful for, even in the midst of ‘suffering’ moments. It’s not every day I get to lounge on the sofa in my comfy sweats, reading edifying blog posts such as yours. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your moments of revelation with the world. Glory be to the Giver of all good things. And many blessings to you!

Connect With Me On Social Media or Explore My Site



The "THIS IS JEN" podcast is on Facebook & all podcast apps


- Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play (audio)

- Get weekly bonus episodes on Patreon

- Sign up for my email list to be the first
to know about new tour dates