Our bedtime routines have always included reading. Even if it’s something short and sweet on a late night, I try to fit in at least a bit of cuddle-with-a-book time. We used to snuggle in the cushy chair-and-a-half in the corner of the master bedroom; now the kids are bigger and we spread out on the sofa downstairs. One night my son had discovered a new book on the bookshelf; one I had slid in quietly, intending to see how long it took to be discovered.
It was an enormous book of fairy tales, with incredibly detailed illustrations on each page. I’d been talking to my mom about how I wanted just a book of “regular fairy tales;” no Disney, no marketing ploys, just the basic stories, and she had found this and bought it for the kids. And what did my son choose to read that first night of discovering the book? Hansel and Gretel.
I hesitated. Hansel and Gretel isn’t exactly a bedtime story. Let me read to you about a terrible stepmother who’ll lead kids into the woods to die and a wicked witch who eats children….and now let me tuck you in! might not be the best way to end a day. But I did it. (I then ended the night with my daughter’s choice, a short board book of nursery rhymes, hoping to soften the blow a bit.)
Then things got interesting. As I tucked my daughter in that night I asked her, as always, what she was thankful for. “Mommy and Daddy and my whole life today” (her standard answer) “and food.” She continued quickly, before I could say anything: “Not food like dinner. Food like, we have food. Hansel and Gretel didn’t have food.”
I sat there for a moment. My brain was going a million miles a minute: all the things in that story, the evil stepmother, the candy house, the wicked witch, cooking children, eating children, conquering the witch and making it home safely, and she walks away with….they had no food. They were poor and hungry; indeed, they were literally starving. And she was grateful that she had a house full of food.
I made sure that I included in our prayers that night thanks for a kitchen full of food; thanks that God had blessed us with an abundance and that any time we were hungry all we had to do was open the pantry or the fridge and dozens of choices beckoned. For the rest of the night I looked at things through different eyes: we have a sturdy house, to keep us warm and dry from the wind and rain. We have a furnace that works, and (thank goodness) air conditioning when we need it. We have running water and indoor plumbing and even a yard to play in. My kids have their own bedrooms. We are so overwhelmingly blessed in our standard, day-to-day life and we so often take it for granted. I was reminded of the verses in Psalms: “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord…” (Psalms 16:5-7). I breathed prayers of thanks and praise not only for all these material things that give me such comfort on a regular basis, but also prayers of thanks for a little girl that reminded me of it. And I prayed that God would continue to work in her heart in that way: to make her extraordinarily thankful for even the most basic things and recognize them as the blessings they are.