The indispensable ingredient

Cruising is a continual feast, but I guarantee that some of these people were complaining. Taken on board the Celebrity Summit, March 2010

Cruising is a continual feast, but I guarantee that some of these people were complaining.
I took this photo on board the Celebrity Summit, March 2010

“It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for.  He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire.  Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.  But a thankful heart hath a continual feast.”  — W.J. Cameron

Have you noticed how quickly we come to expect, and then demand, blessings that we were once thrilled to have?  Nowhere is this more evident to me than in the increasing number of comforts and conveniences we think we MUST have, but could actually live without quite easily. I think many aspects of travel fall into this category.

For example, cruising can be one of the most inexpensive ways to see a lot of different places without having to pack and unpack.  The food and entertainment choices abound, and in all the cruises we’ve taken, the things we enjoyed far outweighed the things we weren’t crazy about.

Nevertheless, many seasoned cruisers are terribly hard to please. Go to any cruise review website and you’ll find people griping about all sort of things, but a lot of it will be about the food.  It seems to be some sort of status symbol nowadays, to talk disdainfully about “chain restaurant food.”  Maybe I’m too easy to please, but I don’t understand this sort of ingratitude.  It’s as if people become desensitized to abundance, and caught in a cycle of perpetual discontent, always demanding more in either quantity or quality.

The next time I find myself griping about something that many people only dream of having (such as a car, a trip, food on the table, or the health to enjoy any of it) I want to remind myself of all the ways I should feel thankful.  That I could afford to buy whatever it is.  That I was able to see, hear, taste or otherwise enjoy it.  That I was able to make the time in my day, and in my life, to obtain and benefit from it.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’ve talked with Jeff many times about gratitude, and how I’m almost superstitious about it.  I always have the feeling that if I’m not grateful for what I have, it will be taken away from me.  Perhaps this attitude springs, in part, from an old folk tale that made a huge impression on me at a very young age.

Nevertheless, the importance of living with a grateful heart cannot be overestimated.  I find that when I fully appreciate something, it’s easier to let go of it when the time comes.  If I feel and express thankfulness for someone I love while they are still present in my life, I will have fewer regrets for my negligence later, and less sorrow over the loss when we are parted.

Our lives right now are so unpredictable that I have no idea what will be going on in two weeks when this is published.  However, I can say with confidence that regardless of what is happening in your life or mine, we all share one thing in common: there will be many things for which we can and should feel thankful.  Please join me today in feeling, and more importantly, expressing, sincere gratitude!

One year ago today:

No such thing


  1. HarryS

    It is said that God lives and two places; in His heavens and in a full and thankful heart.
    Wherever God is also is His kingdom.

    • Thank you, Harry – that is a lovely thought.

  2. singleseatfighterpilot

    I wholeheartedly agree with this! Those who have served in the military – especially when totally surrounded by battle-hardened men – see yet another aspect of this. While adages like “there are no atheists in foxholes” may be true, among many combat veterans, dirty jokes, cursing the food, or even more mild declarations like “this food tastes like $#!^ “; all seem to take the place of living a life of thanksgiving. Read again Ephesians 5:4. I especially like J.B. Philip’s translation here: “. . . our life should be an expression of all that we owe to God.”

    • Thanks Eric. I think so much of such complaining is a sort of cultural habit, with each subculture having its own style. Wouldn’t it be great if the reverse were true, and every segment of society had its own particular way to express reminders of gratitude to each other? I read recently someone (I don’t remember who) saying that it’s impossible to be depressed while feeling grateful. I think there are many undesirable states and traits that are effectively blocked by a grateful heart. Lack of faith seems, in itself, to be basically a failure of gratitude.

  3. bobmielke

    “The customer is always right”! Do you remember that montra? I grew up believing that I had the right to ask for anything because, as a customer, I was important.

    That basic requirement to keep customers happy is gone. Today it’s mass confusion, with drive through window customers being the priority money maker customer service has taken a back seat. I wish you lots of luck getting what you ordered and that it be hot, nutritious and taste good. It’s quantity over quality now and management doesn’t care what you want, just hurry up and get out so we can wait on the next fool(customer).

    • Bob, I had that customer service mantra drilled into my heart by Rich’s Department Store and later by Piedmont Airlines, two employers whose service committent vanished along with them. They never let their employees forget that the customer was paying our salaries. I honestly believe that if companies could somehow recapture that attitude, they would soon find that wealth would follow. Still, look at the reverse side of the question. During those days of good customer service, prices were greatly inflated over what they are today (adjusted for inflation) and fewer options were available. I can remember when McDonald’s had only one kind of hamburger, tiny by today’s standards and no lettuce or tomato. One reason that businesses are forced to control costs is that consumers have become entirely too demanding, expecting high quality at low prices. I recommend reading the book Fast Food Nation. It’s not a new title but it’s still eye-opening with respect to what has happened in the business climate over the past few decades.

      • bobmielke

        I did watch the documentary “Supersize Me” about the effects of a McDonald’s diet. 😦

        • Wasn’t that fascinating – and more than a little bit disgusting? 😀 It was influential in my “downsizing” my fast food intake. I hope they never do a show like that about Taco Bell, though.

  4. raynard

    Julia, hold on to your seat now and as I write , I hope you dont have a mouth full of food. As I read your blog, I can hear “Glen Campbell’s Southern Nights playing in the background. My youngest sister’s son and his wife have been on a few cruises. I have not gotten over” The Iraq”Man that’s too much water to drink and I get seasick watching it on TV Syndrome”.. I digress.. I noticed lately the only stores I frequent now are” convience and dollar stores..I just finishing looking at today’s USA Today and it has a story in the travel section about a new cruise ship being built called “Quatum of the Seas”.. No I’m not going to pull out a corn pipe and starting singing” Im Popeye the sailor man” ( Yes I do eat spinish lol. Be blessed

    • Raynard, that may be the first time people in a desert locatation have complained about having too much water! And I’ll bet it was clean and cold, too. See how easy it is to be ungrateful? After 24 hours with no liquids available I bet they would change their tune. Are you sure “Quantum of the Seas” was not invented by The Onion? It sure sounds like it! I’m just waiting for “Grossly Overdone Tonnage of the Seas” followed by “Barely Afloat OneupmanShip of the Seas” complete with a three level parking deck for concierge suite passengers who bring their cars on board.

  5. Good morning, Julia. It’s seems fitting (with this blog about gratitude) to say a special “thank you” for the words, wisdom and beautiful photos that you present to us everyday. For that I am so fortunate and I have the ability to realize it! I am so thankful that my blessings are so many and I must never ever take this wondrous life for granted! 🙂 Thank you, Lord.

    • Sheila, thanks so much for those gracious and encouraging words. Writing this blog has prompted me daily to be aware of all the blessings in my life — and it has even given me MORE blessings, in the form of all the wonderful people who visit us here. Thanks for being one of the most steadfast of those! I think you are the only reader who has never once dropped off of the “top ten most frequent comments” list. I SO appreciate your presence here and your unfailing support!

      • Julia, we never know what our lifeline is, do we? You have inspired me far more than I can ever say. I’ve commented so many times, I sometimes wonder if I’ve said something before! I digress…. 🙂

        • Sheila, I’ve repeated myself so many times here over the past 2 years that I’m sure no one would notice if you did it! I wasn’t kidding when I told Raynard I should call the comment section “We digress!” That’s what makes it fun, all the topics flying around. You have inspired me too so it’s been a great situation all the way around! See you on the VERANDAH! Before too long we will be drinking hot cocoa out there instead of iced tea! My, how time flies…

          • Just a few more days and we go out on a new “porch”! Have you looked yet? 🙂 Until tomorrow… ZZZZZ

            • No, I resisted the urge to peek this month! 😀 It will be a surprise. Of course, I immediately looked at ALL of them when I first got it, but I have forgotten…

  6. Good morning, Julia!
    I remember when my kids were teens and preteens out was apparently quite popular to be cynical. I remember thinking about how it was when we were growing up, when that was not the attitude that we were expected (by our own peers) to have, and how sad I felt for them, being thus robbed of the freedom to enjoy (our at least, to seem to enjoy) anything. We seem to be becoming a country of dissatisfied persons with an entitlement philosophy (we’re entitled to whatever we think we should have). I don’t know how that happened, but I’m glad that you brought this up, because I think the first step out of that trap is awareness that we may be jeopardizing our own happiness with our attitudes.
    I guess I’ll get out of my comfy seat, fix a yummy breakfast, and perhaps eat it while enjoying the perfect weather and charming views from my third-floor balcony, before I put on clean clothes (theme this week: white before Labor Day) and drive my cute car to my fun job where my coworkers are mostly non-judgemental, interesting salt-of-the-earth types, and then tonight I’ll go sing (which, if you think about it, is an almost magical confluence of health, ability, freedom, and access to musical resources such as sheet music, conductor, organist, and fellow singers) in my church choir, surrounded by people who love and pray for me.
    I really don’t have anything to complain about! 🙂
    I hope your day is just as delightful!

    • Susan, if I had gotten this comment earlier, I would have used it as a guest post! You have perfectly captured what I most want to say here, over and over. LET’S WAKE UP, PEOPLE! We are surrounded by abundance and we are too often blinded by comparing ourselves to the illusory, carefully crafted images we see in the media. I pray we do not live to see a time when we think, “If only I knew how good I had it back then.” As I write this I am sitting in the cardiology department of Children’s National Medical Center — not a “fun” day until I remember how lucky we are that this is a routine follow-up by some of the best physicians in the world, in whose care Matt is doing very well after a surgery that would not have been available to save his life a few decades ago. Hard to complain about the DC traffic and the waiting when I look at the big picture.

      • MaryAnn

        Praising our Lord for Matt’s doctors & staff AND for his loving, caring Mom! I agree w/ the comments that you remind us to be ever thankful & to rise above whatever circumstances we encounter.
        Thank you!

        • You’re welcome Mary Ann! I am thankful for you. ❤

      • I’m so glad that Matt has had access to such excellent care! (And such a loving and persistent Mom!)

        • Thank you Susan. Some days I’m more persistent than others, and definitely more loving some days than others. But I hope it all balances in the end. We are so grateful for the wonderful doctors who have been with him literally since birth — different ones in different places and times, but all dedicated and very astute at diagnosis and treatment.

  7. Our minds are so cluttered with the thoughts about what we don’t have that there is no space for what we already have. Yesterday I was looking at pics of some plastic surgery disasters. Surprisingly it is people who are beautiful (for ordinary beholders like me) who go for such extreme measures yearning for perfection. But beauty and satisfaction always remain a mirage just due one important missing element called gratitude.

    • Bindu, that is so true! I once had friend who was a beauty queen – Miss (fill in her state’s name here) and she talked often about wanting to have her front teeth crowned. My (very attractive and stylish) girlfriend in dental school explained to me why this was totally CRAZY for her to even consider. Her teeth were pretty already, but she wanted — what? — who knows! Probably she thought she would look more like Farrah Fawcett (a famous beauty in those days) if she had flashier teeth. To those who seek physical perfection, wealth, prestige or power, MORE IS NEVER ENOUGH. Gratitude is the ultimate innnoculation against this form of mental illness.

  8. Alice Holbert

    Amen to that!

    • Thank you Alice! I am grateful for you. ❤

  9. Carlyle

    The Holy Scripture tells us that we should make our requests to God accompanied by thanksgiving. Also, “in everything, give thanks”.

    • Thank you Daddy. I think it’s so easy to forget that NO prayer is complete without thanksgiving. Even when we are in such desperate circumstances that we are emotionally unable to voice much of anything, the underlying awareness of gratitude stays with us. I’ve heard people say there are times when it’s impossible to find anything to be thankful for, but people such as Anne Frank, Corrie Ten Boom and Helen Keller, among many others, have proven otherwise. Thanks for teaching us from earliest childhood to “give thanks with a grateful heart.”

  10. Julia,
    True, gratitude should be the most important expression of ours each day.
    A thank you does as much good for the giver, as the one who receives it.
    I not only give a prayer of thanks over a meal, but my medication that is available to me and those of loved ones as well.
    Regarding meals: I feel, any meal I can keep down, is a good meal.
    And dining on a steak is better than a bowl of rice, yet I am humbled knowing that a bowl of rice is as a steak to many. For that I am thankful and encourages me to be charitable with my God-given good fortune.

    • Alan, thanks for sharing these happy thoughts with us. Your remark about meals reminded me of something my Daddy used to say when we were traveling by air. After the plane landed, one of us would often ask him, “Was that a good landing?” and he would always say “Any landing you walk away from is a good landing.” 😀 And you are right, we have far more than food to be thankful for. One thing that is hard for many of us, is learning to receive thanks from other people. I’m told in some cultures it’s considered polite to minimize the gift or service, as in “Oh, it was nothing.” In any case, graciously receiving someone’s thanks can be a bit embarrassing, but is actually another way of giving.

  11. Larry

    I think of the old favorite song “Count your Blessings”. If we only took the time to name them “one by one” we would be very busy for a long time. It’s countless and never ending. Even with the advent of electronic devices to record them, our effort to name them all is still beyond our ability. Our list would be infinitely long as our list would just continue on and on.

    • How true, how true! I love that song, though I seldom hear it anymore. It really does help to start naming the blessings and realizing how much we take for granted.

  12. Julia, hello. Thanks for sharing with us about being grateful.
    I serve in my church’s clothes closet, and I’m grateful for my own clothes closet. 🙂
    Last week, a man who show up in only his underwear(our pastor was there to assist him); a family in crisis; many elderly people “shop” in our closet; we went through all the children’ school clothes; a beat up frying pan that we almost threw out last week, a man needed it today; a man looking for work clothes…and the list goes on.
    Meeting these people has a way keeping me grateful…

    • Merry, I am so happy you are able to experience so many joys at once: meeting people, re-using and recycling things that are still valuable to someone, connecting with those who are in need of help, realizing how abundantly blessed we all are. Ministries such as the one you describe are beneficial to all who are involved in any way. Kudos to you for being part of it!

      • Thank you. I’m the one who is truly blessed to be a part of the ministry. 🙂

        • It’s wonderful how it seems to work that way. We are truly “blessed to be a blessing.”

  13. Michael

    That’s a great thought ” A thankful heart has a continual feast.”
    But it is like my friend’s son who was unhappy that he did not have a new car till he was 20.”
    Some will never have enough and always live in want no matter how much they have. Like the stockbroker who was unhappy that he got a five million bonus when his coworker got seven. True story.

    • Michael, that true story is all too believable. We are almost always happy until we start to compare ourselves to someone else. It’s a great evil that we cannot be happy for others who have things we do not have, and it is not limited to material things. Don’t get me started on this “young people think they have to have a car” business. I have enough problem with adults who think they have to have a HUGE truck or SUV even when they have no practical use for it. Suffice it to say that cars are my biggest attitude problem, convenient for me since I’ve never really cared for them. I must admit though, they are hand to have. But I think we do young people a service if we first teach them to find ways to survive without a car. Just my two cents.

  14. Good Morning Julia. I’m grateful for the net this morning and WP, in that I can sit and enjoy your posts in the comfort of my home with my morning coffee. I’m missing you and what a nice place to start.
    It’s hard to understand the naysayers in our rose coloured world of abundance here in North America. The decadence is sometimes alarming and gauche. Honestly, I think the tacky complainers are ones lacking in worldly experience. I’ve heard the same unthankful nonsense on our Europe trip. I bit my tongue but I remember wondering why the heck they had planned the trip. They thought everything was too expensive and the didn’t like any of the food. Being terrible complainers, no one ever wanted to dine with them. They did many other thoughtless things but luckily our wonderful, amazing tour guide had seen and heard it all before and kyboshed their requests for all sorts of nonsense (they wanted the front seat because they got road sick, they wanted to make us all wait while they had communion at a church, they wanted to play their country music on the overhead on the bus…ugh, they were a challenge). I don’t think they had *any* idea how arrogant they came off. There, I think, lies the root of the problem. Arrogance: having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance.

    • Hi Boomdee, I miss you too! I know we have both been busy with big and little obligations, though. I am thankful, too, that we are all able to be in touch over the net from our various homes all over the world, even though we can’t “meet” here as often as we might like to.

      I agree with you that people who are traveling sometimes seem to be the most insensitive and rude. Perhaps it has something to do with thinking they will never see any of these people again, so they don’t need to worry about how they make others feel. But I think that you are right that they likely had no idea how arrogant they came off. Because they were dealing with perfectly legitimate needs (to take care of their health, experience worship, listen to music or whatever) it didn’t seem to occur to them that they could do these things without inconveniencing others — take motion sickness meds, plan their church schedules in accordance with the tour hours, use headphones to listen to their music. Or maybe they just felt these things were “good excuses” to ask for the best seat, take longer in town, and have the sound system exactly to their liking. In any case, it would be interesting to see how they might react to similar behavior from others. Something tells me they would not appreciate having gangsta rap blasting over the bus speakers, or waiting around so that someone could attend a prayer service at a mosque.

      • Your last sentence says it all, Julia. It’s a level of self-centeredness that I think is detrimental to everyone. To the contrary, when I traveled in a foreign country, I bent over backwards to at least try the language, listen to others stories, follow local customs. It’s as if people travel to experience new things, then want everything the way it is at home.

        I’ve only traveled on a tall sail boat cruise (small and rugged with 100 guests) so I don’t have experience with the larger liners. I wonder though, if many of the guests are people who simply want to be pampered in comfort and not really see how the other half lives.

        • Alys, I think this idea of wanting to be pampered is pretty common nowadays and is heavily played upon by advertising. When I worked at USAir they began to tell us to use the word “deserve” when trying to sell people on paying ridiculous prices for first class service, even on short flights. They wanted us to work the term “the comfort you deserve” and other such hype into what used to be a very straightforward reservation process. It was at this point that it wasn’t such fun to work at the airlines anymore. I was relieved to moved to the ticket counter and gate since I’ve always been allergic to trying to sell anything, especially things people don’t need and probably can’t afford.

          Re: the travel to other countries, I have found that making the effort to use even a few phrases in the local language is always met very graciously by the locals, who seem to appreciate my making the effort, no matter how imperfectly I do it. Usually they will switch to English for my benefit but even when they don’t speak English, even stumbling through the communication process is a kind of bonding experience, and it’s also the best and fastest way to learn any language. I so envy people who can speak two or more languages fluently. I have even considered going to graduate school in linguistics since I have always been fascinated by language.

          • I’m not a sales person, either so I can fully relate.

            I think graduate school is a great idea. You’re perfectly suited for it, too, with your library background and excellent writing skills.

            My husband’s family is from Argentina originally, so he group up speaking English and Spanish. I’m so envious of his skills.

            • Thanks for your encouraging comments, Alys. I love the idea of going back to school but when I remember how much energy it took when I was 38-40, I’m not sure I could manage it now! I’m not ruling it out yet, though. I do envy people who are bilingual from childhood. It used to amaze me that many of kids who came to my library program spoke Spanish at home, yet there was no trace of an accent in their English; you would never know they were from a home where a different language was spoken. TRULY bilingual, in the sense that they were just as comfortable with one language as the other. They used to help me by translating for me when someone who didn’t speak English needed help.

              • Mike will frequently translate or he simply lapses into Spanish when it’s obvious he’s speaking with a native speaker.

                His accent always throws people, since a large part of our Spanish-speaking population speak with a Mexican accent and Mike speaks with an Argentinian accent. It is indeed a gift.

                • I guess the accents in Spain would be different from either country, just as English sounds a bit different all over the world. It’s really neat to think of how we individualize even a language we have in common. Dialects and idioms are very interesting to me.

  15. Michael

    How do you keep from gaining 20 pounds on one of those cruises? I don’t think I have the discipline to go on one. Once I went on a dinner cruise and I gained 6 pounds. Bette stay home.

    And in regards to thanks, as one of my Babtist friends say, “I am so glad I can move all my limbs today.”

    • Michael, Jeff and I used to try to eat minimally for a few weeks before the cruise to get ready for the inevitable weight gain. Then we would walk 5-10 miles in every port we stopped in, mostly because walking is the best way to really see a place, but also to burn off those calories. We usually would skip lunch while we were in port and that helped too. Plus we would take evening walks around the deck at night; most ships have a walking trail that runs all the way around the perimeter of the ship. Even with all this, we usually gain 5-10 pounds, but it’s worth it. 😀 YES thank you Lord that I can walk, use my hands, think and write. Just to name a very few things. I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been thinking about how happy I am to be able to see. Vision is an amazing thing, even for those of us who wear glasses or contacts.

  16. Michael

    And now this: Last year Mariah spent 46,000 on pet spa amenities for her dog. At least the animals are not neglected. Do you suppose she is thankful for the ability to pamper the pet in such a manner?

    • Michael, are you referring to Mariah Carrey? I don’t personally know anyone who could afford (or would use) a pet spa. Perhaps I’d better leave it at that, except to say that as much as I love animals, I have no patience with such. As Beston’s quote from the other day might suggest, I think we err when we try to turn them into humans. Part of their wisdom consist in NOT needing such stuff. OK, NOW I’ll leave it at that.

  17. Michael

    Yes. Mariah C.

  18. Michael

    I wonder if that is why her husband Nick Cannon is divorcing her? It was either him or the dogs and he was tired of playing second canine.
    I heard an interesting talk about thankfulness where a Rabbi Gotleib from Seattle said that if you only give thanks when something good happens, or when everything is rosy,” then you will be controlled by outward events. You need to get an internal sense of thankfulness in your heart and then you will not be controlled from outside in. You will be living from a Holy center of thankfulness.” I think that fits in with your quote above from Cameron, ” A thankful heart has a continual feast.”

    • That makes a lot of sense. I guess that we can always find things to complain about, just as we can find things to be thankful for. So it’s really a matter of which orientation you start with. I think some people are naturally more negative than positive, but gratitude can be developed. Often it really does start with being mindful.

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