Count Your Many Blessings; Name Them One by One
This is the season of gratitude… of Thanksgiving. When we stop to count them, we may be quite surprised at just how many blessings we do have. In a conference talk given in October, 2010, President Monson tells the story of a boy named Gordon who lived on a farm with his family many years ago. They all worked hard and generally had a good harvest stored away for the winter when Thanksgiving time rolled around each year. They, quite literally, counted their blessings each Thanksgiving day.
“On Thanksgiving morning [their father] would take them to the cellar with its barrels of apples, bins of beets, carrots packed in sand, and mountains of sacked potatoes as well as peas, corn, string beans, jellies, strawberries, and other preserves which filled their shelves. He had the children count everything carefully. Then they went out to the barn and figured how many tons of hay there were and how many bushels of grain in the granary. They counted the cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and geese. Their father said he wanted to see how they stood, but they knew he really wanted them to realize on that feast day how richly God had blessed them and had smiled upon all their hours of work. Finally, when they sat down to the feast their mother had prepared, the blessings were something they felt. Gordon indicated, however, that the Thanksgiving he remembered most thankfully was the year they seemed to have nothing for which to be grateful.
The year started off well: they had leftover hay, lots of seed, four litters of pigs, and their father had a little money set aside so that someday he could afford to buy a hay loader—a wonderful machine most farmers just dreamed of owning. It was also the year that electricity came to their town—although not to them because they couldn’t afford it.
One night when Gordon’s mother was doing her big wash, his father stepped in and took his turn over the washboard and asked his wife to rest and do her knitting. He said, “You spend more time doing the wash than sleeping. Do you think we should break down and get electricity?” Although elated at the prospect, she shed a tear or two as she thought of the hay loader that wouldn’t be bought.
So the electrical line went up their lane that year. Although it was nothing fancy, they acquired a washing machine that worked all day by itself and brilliant lightbulbs that dangled from each ceiling. There were no more lamps to fill with oil, no more wicks to cut, no more sooty chimneys to wash. The lamps went quietly off to the attic.
The coming of electricity to their farm was almost the last good thing that happened to them that year. Just as their crops were starting to come through the ground, the rains started. When the water finally receded, there wasn’t a plant left anywhere. They planted again, but more rains beat the crops into the earth. Their potatoes rotted in the mud. They sold a couple of cows and all the pigs and other livestock they had intended to keep, getting very low prices for them because everybody else had to do the same thing. All they harvested that year was a patch of turnips which had somehow weathered the storms.
Then it was Thanksgiving again. Their mother said, “Maybe we’d better forget it this year. We haven’t even got a goose left.”
On Thanksgiving morning, however, Gordon’s father showed up with a jackrabbit and asked his wife to cook it. Grudgingly she started the job, indicating it would take a long time to cook that tough old thing. When it was finally on the table with some of the turnips that had survived, the children refused to eat. Gordon’s mother cried, and then his father did a strange thing. He went up to the attic, got an oil lamp, took it back to the table, and lighted it. He told the children to turn out the electric lights. When there was only the lamp again, they could hardly believe that it had been that dark before. They wondered how they had ever seen anything without the bright lights made possible by electricity.
The food was blessed, and everyone ate. When dinner was over, they all sat quietly. Wrote Gordon:
“In the humble dimness of the old lamp we were beginning to see clearly again. …
“It [was] a lovely meal. The jack rabbit tasted like turkey and the turnips were the mildest we could recall. …
“… [Our] home … , for all its want, was so rich [to] us.”
History of COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1922) wrote the words to this hymn. He had grown up listening to his father sing hymns – and loving the experience. His father, also named Johnson Oatman, had a great booming voice and was in much demand as a singer. As a young child, Johnson Jr. would often share a hymnbook with his father at church as they sang together.
Johnson Oatman Jr. wanted to contribute to the Methodist faith of his father. He had a missionary zeal that he thought could be satisfied if he became a preacher. As it turned out, he was not a great preacher. Nor did he have a voice like his father’s. He was thirty-six years old when he discovered his own gift – and the best way for him to share his faith. He began writing hymns… an average of over 200 hymns a year for over 25 years… five thousand hymn texts in all, many of which became very popular and are still in use today. Turns out he was quite successful in sharing his and his father’s faith in his own way.
Edwin O. Excell (1851-1921) composed the music of this hymn. His father, also a great singer, was a minister in the German Reformed Church in Pennsylvania where Edwin grew up. Edwin became a bricklayer and a plasterer, and eventually a teacher of country singing schools. From there, he went on to become a choir director in a Methodist Church and eventually worked in musical evangelism for many years. He wrote many songs and was considered one of the great song-leaders of his day. “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” is another of his musical compositions.
Congregation Choir Arrangements of COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
Our Congregation Choir arrangements add a beautiful, alternate accompaniment to the original one found in the hymnbook. This alternate accompaniment could be used with the organ part for a piano/organ duet accompaniment for the entire congregation or for a large choir. It could also be used alone as a more embellished accompaniment for a solo singer or group, or just to enjoy as a piano solo.
In the music samples below, you will first hear the organ alone doing the introduction. The piano joins in on the first verse and then the countermelody (vocal in one; flute in the other) joins in for the second demonstration verse.
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS with enhanced piano and vocal countermelody. PURCHASE HERE.
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS with enhanced piano and flute countermelody. PURCHASE HERE.
The second verse of this hymn suggests that if we are ever “burdened with a load of care” we can “count [our] many blessings” and find that “ev’ry doubt will fly, and [we] will be singing as the days go by.” Imagine that – singing! A total turnaround! We may not always get a total turnaround in our perspectives but it can be surprising – in a very positive way – to realize how greatly the Lord has blessed our lives. Though the scope of the blessings may be surprising, the change in our attitudes as we consider these blessings might be even more surprising.