The Manila Envelope of Gratitude

On a recent Monday morning I climbed up the sun-drenched stairs to my office, my bag slung over my shoulder, my lunch balanced precariously on a stack of papers and books, the last notes of sung Morning Prayer dancing through my head. And then I saw it—a manila envelope peeking out of the bin by my door—and sun and song vanished with a small pop.

A manila envelope that someone has taken the effort to leave outside my door, rather than consign to the plodding pace of campus mail, is a portent of trouble, and complicated troubles at that. I left it in the bin while I bustled about putting away my papers and books and lunch. When I couldn’t put it off any longer, I grabbed it, emptied the contents onto my desk—and blinked.

manila envelopeA stack of index cards, each with a message in bright marker, tumbled out. “I love your class!” “You make chemistry interesting and fun.” “Thanks for the cookies. :)”

Thank you, each of them said, not with a dashed “thx,” but with wonderfully wrought expressions of gratitude for the routine things I do. Preparing lectures and having office hours. And a few for untangling the difficulties that hide in manila envelopes.

One of the gifts of the Examen in my life has been the way in which it makes gratitude more of a habit, opening my eyes to see the graces in my morning cup of tea or reminding me to look up at the sky and to thank God for the routine miracles of caffeine and sunrises. Yet this manila envelope of gratitude made me wonder if I’ve been avoiding peering deeply inside of the difficult moments, to remember with gratitude that God is equally present there. Do I respond with a rushed eyes-squinted-shut-thanks-for-that, or can I unhesitatingly open my eyes to what is hidden inside the events of my life, even the events that open into swirling chaos and pain, and be grateful for the specific graces inevitably entangled within them?

Last week, my youngest brother’s wife was rushed to the hospital, critically ill. That night, I sent him a short message, ending with a blessing drawn from St. Patrick’s Lorica, “May you know that Christ is with you both, under your feet, behind you and beside you.” He said in response that he had been clinging to that prayer throughout the long and terrible day, asking for the grace to look for God’s presence in the terror and grief, to be grateful for what he could see in each moment. I was, and remain, humbled by his willingness to open his eyes and look for God in the midst of such terrible times.

There have been miracles over the last two days, for which I am indescribably grateful. But I am immeasurably grateful, too, for the lessons which open my eyes to the terrible beauty of God at work.

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Michelle Francl-Donnay
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.


  1. Thanks Michelle! You offer a helpful reminder of the importance of gratitude. The power of a simple yet sincere expression and of course the necessity of finding God in all things, yes even the pain.


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