A couple of years ago, I accidentally got on a kick of books about suffering.
I had been wanting to read CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed for quite some time, so I picked it up. I think I had known ahead of time that it was a more or less private journal of his thoughts and feelings following his wife’s death, but it was a great read.
Then I picked up a book from Jason’s bookshelf by an author I’d already read and really enjoyed, not knowing what it was about. Turns out Bob Sorge’s In His Face is a study of the book of Job and how it can help us in the midst of difficult trials that make no sense.
And then I went to my mother-in-law’s house and saw a copy of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts sitting on the table in her hearth room. I had heard of the book, but did not know anything about it, so I asked what she thought. She hadn’t read it yet, but insisted I borrow it. I remember sitting by the window downstairs at her house, reading with tears streaming down my face, while my boys fished outside, how at four years old, Ann had he watched her little sister be run over by a propane truck in her front yard. And then she told the story of her two nephews, both born with the same genetic disorder, being buried by their parents less than two years apart.
I was reeling, unable to imagine the pain of those losses from the comfort of my unfathomably blessed life. But as I read how Ann began to wrestle with God and how we serve him and continue to believe that He is good despite the pain we suffer in this life, I began to wonder what God was trying to tell me.
Over and over and over again I was reading about grief and loss, and trusting God in the midst of the storm, and I wasn’t choosing books on that topic on purpose. They just kept coming to me. These themes were showing up unbidden, and I was starting to wonder if perhaps God was preparing me. I still don’t know if that was purpose of those books or not. We did lose my sister-in-law tragically last September, and I can tell you unequivocally that it was only God’s grace and his presence that has carried my family through that loss. But I don’t know what is around the corner of tomorrow – perhaps fresh grief awaits me there.
But no matter what I face, I cling to these words from One Thousand Gifts: “He is always good, and I am always loved.”
Of all the books I read that fall, One Thousand Gifts had the most lasting impact on my life. When I saw a sale on it at our local Christian bookstore, I snatched it up, and over the summer I reread it, underlining something on almost every page now that I had my own copy.
I started keeping a blessings journal shortly after I read One Thousand Gifts for the first time. It was an exciting habit at first; I took the journal with me everywhere and saw gifts in everything. But like most new things I undertake, my enthusiasm for keeping the journal eventually faded, and the habit went by the wayside. I would still occasionally write when the inspiration struck, but I was not writing gifts down anywhere close to every day.
Rereading the book renewed my passion for keeping gift lists, as watching this video, where Ann explains that there is no wrong way to count gifts. It sounds a little silly now, but I was super-paranoid about writing down the same thing twice, thinking that somehow it would only count if I was able to name a thousand unique ways God had blessed me. Realizing that it does not really matter if I wrote the same thing more than once was completely freeing for me.
If I’m being really honest, I want to write “coffee” down every morning. Every single morning. Also, looking back through my journal, I can see that there are a number of time where I’ve written “potty in the toilet,” and every mom who has every potty-trained a child understands what a gift that really is.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve written down that I’m thankful for my morning cup of of coffee, because the goal of counting gifts has nothing to do with reaching the milestone of 1000. It has everything to do with learning to find something today, right now, for which you can offer thanks to God.
Looking for things to be grateful about changes the posture of your heart. Especially when it seems like there is nothing for which to offer thanks – only things to complain about. For example, I remember distinctly one night recently, when I was trying everything I knew to get the boys to go to sleep. I’d spent almost an hour hopping off the couch every few minutes to send them back to bed.
Finally, I decided to sit in their room with them and sing to them and rub their backs. At the point where I was finally giving in to frustration and my belief that they were never ever going to sleep again, Ann’s words came to me unbidden: eucharisto (the act of giving thanks) always, always precedes the miracle. So I started thinking of things I could thank God for, even in my frustration with them.
I thanked God for the two little beds sitting side-by-side in my boys’ room, a luxury many kids in third-world countries cannot imagine. I thanked him that they had their own room, and that I could go do something else in another part of the house when they were asleep. I thanked God for the music that was rising softly from the mp3 player we leave in their room, and the way it was turning my thoughts towards him. Earlier that day, I’d seen pictures of orphans in China who’d been abandoned because of their deformed hands, so I thanked God for the five little fingers interlaced with mine.
It was hard thanks, but I started offering it up anyway. And you know what? They fell asleep. They probably would have eventually anyway, but giving thanks changed my attitude about it.
You will probably spend at least a part of today thinking about things you’re thankful for. But don’t let it stop after today. Don’t buy into the lies that as soon as the dishes are cleared away, you need to start planning a strategy for how you can acquire so much more tomorrow. Look around you and really see all the amazing blessings that are in your life.